Gotham: The TV show Batman deserves?

It’s official — I added a Batman category.

I’ve been watching and enjoying the hell out of Gotham. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s Batman without Batman. It follows Jim Gordon as a new cop in Gotham City right around the time of the Martha and Thomas Wayne murders. Said murders, in fact, occur in the pilot. It’s an origin series — for the villains. And my, what villains. The only villain that’s slowly becoming established at this point is Penguin, but they are doing a marvelous job with the slow burn. He gets ahead because he’s completely unassuming, very clever and absolutely ruthless. They introduce Selina Kyle, but she’s still a kid (probably 12 or 13). The probable future Poison Ivy is even younger. You have Carmine Falcone as a major villain, the Marrone family (which is his competition), and a made-for-tv character, Fish Mooney, who’s an underboss for Falcone but wants to supplant him, played by Jada-Pinkett Smith. Oh, and there’s a certain Edward Nygma who works for the GCPD; so far he’s just a pain in the ass, not really a villain, but again, seeds are being planted.

What I really like about this series is the emphasis on the Waynes, of which Bruce is the last member. Both directly and indirectly, the murder of the Waynes is the culmination of a long trend; Gotham has always been more or less shitty, but removing the Waynes is what throws the entire city into the toilet. The Waynes stemmed the tide of criminal corruption by being wealthy, selfless philanthropists. Bruce (who’s probably 13, maybe 12) and Alfred try to replace their contributions, but they can’t, because Bruce is a kid and Alfred is a dick. Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth is such a radical take on the character, as a side note. Alfred is out and out an asshole to Bruce from time to time, like he wants to just spank the bejesus out of him, but Alfred has to come to grips with how strong willed Bruce is.

This series has a frightening amount of potential — if it gets time. Pacing is going to be so ridiculously critical. Penguin has slowly worked his way up in the Marrone family; it’s clear he’s being positioned to become a major factor, but not clear how he’ll get there. The other villains — so far each episode has had its own — have all been one note characters. They’ve resisted the impulse to work other major villains into the plot. That’s exactly right; I think by the end of this season, we’ll see Penguin’s rise to the top of the criminal underworld, and maybe one other major villain (I’ve seen a trailer that seems to indicate Hush — how awesome would that be?) and a couple of minor ones.

The only way the show could fail is if Fox pulls the plug (surely they aren’t that stupid… surely?) or rushes things. People will want Batman; they will expect to see Batman. But they shouldn’t get Batman, not for many seasons yet (if at all). I’d even say keep the Joker out for at least two full seasons, maybe even three. I love how Arkham: Origins handled Joker’s origin; he’s a mysterious psychopath who kills people for fun, but he’s so non-descript nobody even knows who he is. It’s his first meeting with Batman that transformed the Joker into the Joker, gave his life purpose and meaning. Nobody’s had the chance to tell Joker’s real origin; this is that opportunity. Make him a minor character, or even a major one, but he has to be at least partially sitting on the sidelines. A complete free agent, unattached to any crime family.

Smallville got 10 seasons, but it was largely marketed to teens and young adults. Gotham is manifestly not. Hopefully that means patience will be the watchword. I’d like to see each season cover maybe two years, if they’re going to ultimately give us Batman. If they aren’t, one year per season is sufficient.

All I know is, I can’t wait to see what happens.

Batman and the villain who hates him

It may seem to you, dear reader, that I am undergoing some sort of metaphysical experiment, devoting this entire blog to troll Kevin and provoke a response from him. That’s a filthy lie. 

However, I did happen to find a couple of articles about the Man of Bats (not to be confused with Bat Manuel) and his principal villain, the Joker. 

First up, we have a ranking of everybody who has ever played the Joker. Noting that I’ve seen relatively little of the animated series, I think any list that has Nicholson over Ledger is just, well, wrong. Mark Hamill as number one… Kevin will, almost certainly, agree with this assessment (I believe he’s done so before). Based on the video games, I will say that he’s done a remarkable job of capturing Joker’s essence, even if he’s just a tiny bit more cartoonish than I’d like my Joker. 

Second, we have a report of a disaster nearly averted: Pierce Brosnan as Batman. I like Pierce Brosnan. I really do. The Thomas Crown Affair was a great flick, and he’s my generation’s James Bond. He was even great in Remington Steele. What he would be awful as is Batman. At no point in his film career have I seen intensity, and intensity is a sine qua non for Batman. Christian Bale had it, Val Kilmer had it in small doses (even if it was more imperiousness than intensity). Michael Keaton had at least some of it. Brosnan has zero. He’s spent so much time playing “cool, calm, and collected” that it’s completely mad to think of him genuinely losing his shit, or just barely hanging on. 

Ben Affleck can have a vindictive asshole type personality — see the brilliant Dogma — which means that he could bring that level of “he might lose his shit” to Batman. Maybe he’ll fail, but as I’ve already argued, Batman movies rarely succeed or fail based on who plays Batman.

The greatest villain in comics, movies, and comic book movies

He has been played by two magnificent actors, both incredibly talented who have been fantastic in multiple roles. The first to play this role on film has been nominated for Academy Awards; the second a young actor, also nominated for Academy Awards. He is among the most recognizable villains in film today.

… Oh, sorry, did you think I meant the Joker? I was talking about Magneto.

I could have sworn Chris Sims of Comics Alliance did an “Ask Chris” about Magneto that made all of the points that I’m about to make. If I find it, or you find it, dear reader, I will link it. In any case, while I love the Joker and Batman as characters, and they’ve made for two mighty entertaining films, Magneto, as a villain, is heads and shoulders over the Joker.

I don’t remember who said it originally — Michael “P.S.” Hayes of the Fabulous Freebirds, or perhaps Jerry “the King” Lawler — but one of the all time wrestling greats said that the best heels are the ones who are convinced they’re right. A villain who recognizes himself as a villain is not as compelling one as one who thinks he is genuinely doing the right thing. The Joker is the former. He embraces chaos and destruction for his own sake. His mission in life is to remake Batman in his own image. Everything else is secondary. Especially Harley Quinn. He has no principle, he has no guiding purpose; he merely exists. Batman is always facing “timeless” enemies — Ra’s Al-Ghul is only the most obvious example — and the fact that the Joker is always there, even when he isn’t (maybe especially when he isn’t), gives him a larger than life character. That’s his strength — and also his weakness.

Magneto, or Erik Lensherr (at least in the movies), is very much grounded in reality (pardon the pun.) The guy was a Holocaust survivor. One of the things Marvel does better/differently than DC is making characters “real” people who happen to be superheroes, and Magneto is no different. He has seen the absolute worst that humanity can achieve and vows it will never happen again. He believes his opinions are the correct ones, and to hell with anybody who disagrees with him. He can and will work with others to achieve his goals (unlike the Joker, who is always manipulating them, usually for the sake of doing so), because his goals are all that matter to him. He is a charismatic leader of men, and if his goals weren’t ultimately so horrific, he wouldn’t be a villain at all.

The Joker’s origin story, perhaps alone of all major villains, has pretty much been “BECAUSE REASONS.” Look at The Dark Knight, where Heath Ledger’s Joker tells a dozen different versions of his origin, almost all of which are certainly lies (if not all of them.) He is, after a fashion, mocking the viewer, who has been trained to expect “official” origin stories for their villains. There isn’t one for Joker. The origin story isn’t just part of Magneto — it is Magneto.

 

Clone Wars: Upgraded to required viewing for all Star Wars fans

So, Lucasfilm and Disney have ruled on the Expanded Star Wars Universe and… it’s all out. The six films and Clone Wars (which I guess George Lucas had some role in?) are canon, everything else is not.

I’m surprisingly okay with this. I like Mara Jade and Kyle Katarn as much as the next gamer who played the Jedi Knight series, and I’ve even enjoyed some of the books (although I really ought to read more of them). However, I do think this is the right move, as a single unified continuity is key to making Star Wars VII-IX work.

Clone Wars

I just started watching the Clone Wars series recently, once Netflix instant picked it up.  I’m still in the middle of season one, but so far, it’s fantastic.  Because George Lucas had nothing to do with it, the writing is great, and it “feels” Star Wars-y, even if it’s set in a time when Y-wings are the hot new thing.

J.M. Stevenson says what I’m thinking (though I will say that I do like the first season, which makes me all the happier about anticipating season 2) and points out that you’d probably be better off just watching the series than the (generally bad) prequels.

Continuity: Friend or enemy?

io9 has a great article about continuity and/or the lack thereof in the major contenders to the Marvel Universe.

I begin this with the following preface: I did not and do not read comics. As a kid, I was fascinated by the Transformers comics (why? Because fucking robot dinosaurs, THAT’S WHY), but I never internalized them the way others have. It’s only been the tremendous comic book movies and video games of the last few years that I’ve gotten interested. I still don’t know that I’d want to read comic books, but I’ve mulled it over, which is more than I can say as opposed to, say, ten years ago.

I agree with choice #1 being doomed — Spider-Man is a great character, but you can’t build an entire universe around him. The supporting characters are shit. The only way to pull it off would be to give Green Goblin his own movie, having Spider-Man entirely in the background. I just don’t know if people would watch them. Venom is an interesting character, but you’d need an insane slow burn to pull it off properly, as far as I understand. Slow burns don’t work in movies — TV series, maybe, but not movies.

#3 is also a tough sell, but I haven’t seen Man of Steel yet, so I’ll refrain from comment for the moment on Superman. Yet the Batman trilogy was brilliant, and one I can watch again and again (or would, if I had a Blu-Ray player here). And Ben Affleck as Batman…  You’re going to have a nearly impossible time, in terms of pure continuity, trying to connect Nolanverse Batman to Ben Affleck. The only alternative is to treat Batman vs. Superman as a complete reboot of Batman, which runs the risk of losing the very trilogy that made DC Films so profitable, profitable enough to the point where you COULD think about a Justice League film.

So entry #2 — Fox, who owns the Fantastic Four and the X-Men? How doomed are they? According to another io9 article, very.

There’s an inherent weakness to the X-Men, in that it’s pretty much an ensemble cast. The X-Men are about complex interrelationships between lots and lots of people. There’s a core — Wolverine, Magneto, Professor X, Jean Grey, maybe Mystique — but there’s a lot of byplay, people being brought forward and pushed back. That’s all perfectly acceptable. Yet what makes the Avengers work is firmly established characters, with clearly defined roles. That doesn’t really exist, at present, for the X-Men films. Cyclops/Scott Summers — a focal point in the comics and many of the video games — is killed off camera in the third movie. Okay, so let’s make a spinoff, say, about Wolverine? Give him his own movies? Those range from “eh” to “god awful.” The Magneto movie — and if any single character needs his own movie in X-Men, it’s Magneto — never materialized.

Yet Fox has made a decision — that decision is to make continuity out of all of the existing X-Men movies. First Class was really good; I enjoyed it immensely. Then again, I liked the first two X-Men movies also (the third one was a C+, until I saw what the actual story ought to have been; it’s drifted to a low C, high D now). To get any kind of reasonable continuity seems nigh impossible, and given the heavy use of time travel in Days of Future Past, which will make internal continuity difficult? I think it will take a herculean effort. If they pull it off, great; I’m looking forward to seeing how they treat Apocalypse and the Horsemen in the 2016 film.

This brings me to the subject of the Fantastic Four. Those movies I also enjoyed, somewhat. Michael Chiklis was an absolutely brilliant Thing. Jessica Alba was, uh, hot, I guess. Everyone else is more or less forgettable (Chris Evans nailed Captain America in a way he couldn’t the Human Torch). The problem began with how they conceptualized Dr. Doom. Look — Dr. Doom is the key to making the Fantastic Four work. He’s one of the best villains of all time. He’s smart, rich, and has diplomatic immunity; what’s not to hate? The movies made him into a sniveling twerp.

The reboot planned… I really don’t have high hopes. I like Kate Mara. I even like Michael B. Jordan. What we don’t know is who will play Dr. Doom. If a good choice is made, there’s a lot of room to grow there. Use the Silver Surfer/Galactus storyline again, too, but AFTER Dr. Doom is well established. Except — I’ve heard of precisely none of the people on the Dr. Doom shortlist. Okay, you’re going young, so you need a young Dr. Doom also. We can’t have Michael Fassbender play Magneto and Dr. Doom, I guess. (They want to make Fantastic Four and X-Men part of the same universe). Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, wouldn’t be a bad name, to pick one at random, but I’m honestly struggling to think of a great young actor who could pull this off. Everything will depend on his choice. If he works, the franchise will do okay out of the gate (because very few people will watch it based on the name, and there is almost zero starpower right now). If he doesn’t…

Maybe io9 is right.

Who is the most pathetic character on the Simpsons?

There may be others I’m not thinking of, but in any case the finalists would have to be some ranking of Moe, Moleman, and Gil. Yet who is the most truly pathetic? (Comic Book Guy is pathetic, too, but he’s so arrogant most of the time that his patheticness is less funny.)

Moe, of the three, most often takes it too far, as he has tried to commit suicide on multiple occasions. Gil’s bizarre level of optimism in the face of his patheticness is a key part of his comedic value — one might say it’s all of his comedic value. Moleman is an old guy with bad eyesight who is remarkably well fleshed out; more so than Gil, at any rate. His value is being overlooked. “I was saying Boo-urns” is a classic line that doesn’t work if anybody else says it.

I’ve have to rank them, from least to most, as Moleman, Gil, and Moe.

I’m willing to listen to arguments, though.

Replacement level acting and Batman

As of this post, there have been a total of 8 Batman films. (I am including the hilarious Batman film in 1966 produced in Italy. You must see this film.) I could stretch this out over eight posts, but I don’t have that kind of energy, so here’s a list of them ranked.

8. Batman and Robin. Let me start off by saying that I don’t hate this film. It is very much a B-movie, or perhaps a C-movie. It is only in the context of its cast that it is a disappointment. It reminds me of Godfather Part III. Imagine a universe in which you watched only Godfather Part III. You would walk away, say “that film was okay” and walk away. You might even watch it again. So it is with Batman and Robin.

7. Batman ’66. Has any one actor ever got more enjoyment out of playing a character than Adam West did with his version of Batman? It’s corny and schlocky, but great fun.

6. Batman Returns. It may surprise you that I have this ranked so low. It’s generally well received, after all. Again, I’m not saying I didn’t like it. In fact, I enjoy it immensely. However, Michelle Pfeiffer struck me as something of a flop as Catwoman, and while Christopher Walken was awesome as Max Schreck, The Penguin is just not an ideal lead villain for Batman, especially when he isn’t fleshed out very well. Danny DeVito did a great job portraying him — it’s not his fault Penguin’s backstory wasn’t more developed.

5. Batman Forever. Here is where you call me insane. I will explain my ranking of this film after the list.

4. The Dark Knight RisesDespite owning this on Blu-Ray, I’ve only seen it once. I loved how cerebral Bane was in this movie (although he’s supposed to be Hispanic, you fools!) and didn’t find his voice as distracting as some. Anne Hathaway was a brilliant Catwoman, better than Michelle Pfeiffer in my book. I have only one complaint about this film (and another viewing might change my opinion); it really needed a secondary villain. Catwoman doesn’t count, since she’s a tweener to use wrestling terminology. (That is, sort of good and sort of bad.)

3. Batman ’89If you’re going to do a Batman film with only one major villain, it’s got to be the Joker. Up until recently, Jack Nicholson was The Joker for me. Michael Keaton was a serviceable Batman, but this was Jack Nicholson’s film.

2. Batman Begins. The first Batman film I’ve ever seen in theaters. A fantastic trio of villains, Ra’s Al-Ghul, Scarecrow, and one could argue, Carmine Falcone. Great cast from top to bottom.

1. The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger was the Joker we didn’t know we needed. Easily the single best performance of any actor in a Batman film. Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face was almost as brilliant as the B-villain. This is an all time great film, without question.

Now, in all of my discussions, you’ll notice that I’m focusing heavily on the villains and not on Batman. That’s intentional because (takes a deep breath) the least important actor in a Batman film is Batman. Batman is a blank canvas, the backdrop on which the story is told. The actor who plays Batman gets the most visible role, but will almost inevitably be overshadowed by the supporting cast. That’s fine, and I daresay, that’s intentional.

That doesn’t mean a bad Batman can’t kill a Batman movie. George Clooney was abysmal in Batman and Robin. Why? Because he had the audacity to make Batman the star of his own movie. He completely overshadowed the rest of the cast. I really liked Ah-nold as Mr. Freeze, but he shifts between being a villain and being a good guy (like Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises). That leaves you with Poison Ivy as your main villain. Uma Thurman is a talented actress — we know that from Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction. She is not, however, worthy of being the main villain in a Batman picture. Even if she played Ivy well (and I will grant that), Poison Ivy just doesn’t work as a main villain. If you have only one villain, Poison Ivy is among the worst choices you could make, apart from Calendar Man maybe.

Michael Keaton starred in Batman Returns, and while it’s an okay film, again, we have Batman overshadowing the villains. It’s pretty obvious that Returns was written to emphasize Catwoman, and Catwoman is a secondary villain at best. It doesn’t help that Keaton’s Batman is kind of like Superman wearing a bat costume. Keaton is too goody-goody to be a great Batman. Batman ’89 works because of Jack Nicholson, who tries to bring Batman down to his level but fails. I just never got that from Returns.

This brings me to Val Kilmer, who I think is severely underrated as a Batman. How many truly bad films has Val Kilmer been in? None that I can think of. Why? Because Val Kilmer is a replacement level actor. He will never truly star in a film. (Salton Sea was a possible exception, but Vincent d’Onofrio DOMINATED that movie). He doesn’t need to. Val Kilmer is Val Kilmer, 100% of the time, and sometimes Val Kilmer is what you need in a film. Val Kilmer knows when to bring himself forward and when to get out of the way. He is the anti-Christopher Lee; he has as much screen presence as the situation demands and no more, which makes him almost perfect for certain films. Batman Forever was one of those films.

Val Kilmer and Chris O’Donnell worked great together as Batman and Robin, better than Clooney did with O’Donnell. Nicole Kidman was a very respectable second-tier good guy. The villains dominated (which is key for a Batman film) and they had two great ones: The Riddler and Two Face. Tommy Lee Jones looks like he had fun playing Two Face, as well he should. Jim Carrey was brilliant as The Riddler, and he’s secretly the focus of the film. Now, maybe you don’t like Jim Carrey. I don’t like him in everything either. (I can’t watch The Mask again, despite loving it as a kid. I just can’t.) Yet he played the Riddler as delightfully sinister, even evil, which is something the Riddler rarely gets to be.

The Riddler may be the most difficult Batman villain to portray effectively. Part of this is because he and the Joker are so very close in gimmick, only the Riddler has OCD and the Joker doesn’t. If you ever try to show them at the same time, you doom yourself, because the Joker will eat him alive. What’s more, in Batman Forever, we see his origin story and his attempt to hide his own identity. The Joker doesn’t hide; he couldn’t even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t.

So who is the very best Batman? Christian Bale. Why? Because he found the one way Batman can shine in his own story — by making him a quasi-villain. He has an intensity that nobody else brought to the role before; he is the only Batman I believe that literally makes most bad guys shit their pants. The raspy voice has spawned a number of imitators, which is somewhat irritating, but it worked for him. Christopher Nolan, perhaps realizing that Batman can’t be at the center of his own story, put him slightly off center, and it worked brilliantly.

All of this is a leadup to the question that was on my mind: will Ben Affleck be a worthy Batman in the 2016 film? That’s a question I can’t effectively answer. Of all the actors that played Batman, he’s closest to George Clooney in stature, and that worked out really badly. Yet a Superman vs. Batman film is a different animal than any other film on this list. In that kind of matchup, Batman almost has to be the villain, at least initially, so it’s okay. Ben Affleck has been in some really great films and some really shitty ones. Yet he can get out of the way if the situation demands it (look at Good Will Hunting or, even more so, Dogma). That’s why I’m not worried about Ben Affleck being Batman.

Now, Jesse Eisenberg being Lex Luthor? That’s a whole different matter.

Top thirty crime procedurals, #1: Dexter

IMDB link.

Basic premise: Is it okay to be a sociopath?

Why it’s the greatest crime procedural (and second best TV show, behind Doctor Who) of all time: Most shows that focus on the supply side of crime rely on anti-heroes. Breaking Bad or the Sopranos are good examples. Yet, Dexter Morgan is not an anti-hero. He is, in a short sentence, Batman if Batman were ever truly broken by the Joker. Dexter, like Batman, is an orphan. His mother is actually killed in front of him as an infant and he is sitting in her blood. The visceral impact of this scene cannot be understated. Maybe Batman would have become a sociopath in such a situation (hell, maybe he is already). In any case, Dexter is an unfeeling, inhuman monster who desperately tries to fit in with society. He likes to kill; he needs to kill, but he does so in such a way that he actually is a genuine hero, in my estimation, perhaps a bigger hero because he has to fight so hard to overcome his impulses.

Top thirty crime procedurals, #2: Psych

IMDB link.

Basic premise: How to con the police into being a cop without all of that training (or carrying a gun).

Why it’s here: I hate some of the new portmanteaus the English language has invented. I especially hate anything with the word “bro”. But there is no better term to describe the relationship between Shawn and Gus than “bromance.” It is the core of the show, and it is what makes this show the absolute best television program on basic cable. Hell, it does “Twin Peaks” better in its parody episode than Twin Peaks did. It is the very finest program the USA network has ever come up with.

Why it’s not higher: Because something has to be #2? If I had to nitpick, the show borders on the edge of too flippant at times. Still, it’s kind of the point, isn’t it?