MARTHA (or the problem with making your universe smaller)

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I would tell you to stop reading if you haven’t seen Batman v Superman, but that would be pointless. If you haven’t seen it by now, the chances of you deciding to watch it are slim. So buckle up — I’m ‘about to spoil a key plot detail from perhaps the most disappointing superhero movie of the last two decades.

So in BvS, the audience is geared up for some superfight between the hero alter-egos of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. All through the TWO AND A HALF HOUR (THREEEEE!! if you watch the Ultimate Cut) of this dark and dreary movie we are told that this is the fight to end all fights. Somehow the audience was expected to buy into some punk Lex Luthor and how he manipulated two of the greatest superheroes on Earth to fight each other, specifically Superman.

But that isn’t the worst part.

Martha.

Now, I’m not opposed to the name Martha. In fact, I have a Martha in my life and my mother-in-law is a wonderful person (honest!). But when these two DC titans are engaging in some fisticuffs, Superman tells Batman not to let “Martha” die. Of course, Martha is Clark’s mother, but in a weird twist………Bruce Wayne’s mother was ALSO NAMED MARTHA. It makes him stop the fight and the entire movie hinges on the moment when Batman is shook by a name.

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Pretty much.

It’s lame, but ultimately what it does kinda makes it worse. Instead of giving the characters outside issues to affect their fight, it actually shrinks their universe and draws us back to their past. And when that happens, it hampers storytelling. It starts getting into an almost unspoken prequel territory (I’ll save my prequel talk for another day), and restricts the options for what the characters can do.

In a way, this is what fans want…up until the point it happens. For instance: Rey from the new Star Wars trilogy. Fans need to know: is she a Skywalker? Is she secretly Han and Leia’s daughter? Is she Emperor Palpatine’s long-lost daughter? Is she Lobot’s neice? Is she R2-D2’s mechanic’s dogwalker’s friend?

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She’s handing this to her father…or a complete stranger…

Or how about Finn? He’s black, so OF COURSE he has to be Lando’s long-lost son.

Why do we do this? Ultimately we like to have connections and meaning to something new. As a teacher, we get a new crop of 8th graders each year coming up as freshmen. Often we try to figure out who they are by older siblings, parents, what school did they come from — we try to peg these students as one thing before they’ve even had a chance to show us who they really are.

We like comfortable. Sure thing. But what challenges us and allows growth is fresh and foreign situations. What if Rey isn’t related to ANY character from the previous eight movies? Fine. We’ll get a lot more story and a widening of a vast universe that we already know and love. But perhaps the folks at Lucasfilm have added her to a family tree from a character we already know. That’s fine, too, but the problem will continue. If we really value fresh content and new stories from Hollywood, we need to push for that same freshness and creativity in our familiar franchises.

It’s the same reason that the Transformers are now embedded into the lore of Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. It’s the same reason we’re making sequels of movies like Blade Runner and Alien. It’s the same reason that Disney is making “live-action” remakes of the films that were already near perfect in the first place (looking at you, Beauty and the Beast).

We need to demand originality, but not from the entire movie. We need to demand originality within the movie. The script, the characters, their mothers. With Justice League coming soon (a week and a half away), I’d like to see that DC has learned from their first few movies, but I’ll withhold judgment until I see it.

Until then…I’ll be looking forward to Thanksgiving at Martha’s house.

 

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Book Review – The Dark Knight

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Dark nightWith his hand solely responsible for two of the Apocalypse Weird novels thus far, and half of another, it’s safe to say Nick Cole is guiding the direction of the AW stories. With The Dark Knight, Cole ups the ante even farther, introducing new characters we can’t help but root for, and a startling aspect that no one saw coming.

Out of the six AW novels complete so far, Cole’s The Dark Knight (releasing Monday, Feb. 23) is the first sequel in the ranks. Because of that, there is little stage setting for the main group of characters we met the first time out. But, Cole gives us a new character – literally the title character of Cory, who goes as Batman (or The Dark Knight). I’ll come back to him in a moment. The sequel gives Cole a lot of freedom to push the boundaries of his existing characters (which he wasn’t afraid to do back in The Red King anyway) as well as smash the expectations of a sophomore effort.

Back in TRK, Cole gave us the shady figure of Holiday, along with the steady Frank, and the mysterious Ashley. By the end of the book, we find Holiday refusing to accept reality, diving back into his drunken ways, and almost killing his friends along the way. In his wanderings, he finds new survivors and brings them back (and they’ve got their own issues and mysteries as well), but Frank swears Holiday off. The two men who depended on each other and survived due to that trust are done. Frank will not give Holiday any measure of trust, no matter what Holiday does to try to become the hero the group deserves.

While that is playing out, we wander outside of Frank’s newly-built castle and meet Cory. Cory is special. Cole doesn’t ever say what it is that makes Cory special – Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X, or whatever – but it’s clear a person like Cory wouldn’t survive long in a post-apocalyptic world without help. So where has he been the past few weeks as zombies terrorized the city? That’s a twist I’m not going to share, but suffice it to say, I didn’t see it coming. It adds an entirely new dimension for the AW world to explore and I loved it.

Cory is searching for his father, a police officer, who inspired Cory to become Batman, costume and all. Whether searching for diabetic supplies for his neighbor at the nearby pharmacy, or trying to survive a world gone mad, Cory’s safety and security lies in his alter-ego.

I am Batman.

I am the Night.

Cory becomes the Night and survives the horrors of Apocalypse Weird, only to be discovered by Ashley, setting up some potentially exciting scenes in Cole’s third book, already named The Lost Castle.

There is a great story in this book, but at the same time, Cole is teasing us. He is setting the chess board. The titles aren’t coincidental – The Red KING, The Dark KNIGHT, The Lost CASTLE (otherwise known as a ROOK). Cole has a master plan up his sleeve and isn’t willing to tip his hand just yet. There are more moves to be made, some by him, perhaps some by other writers.  I can’t wait for the third book, and frankly every book to be put out under the AW banner in the future. The world is being destroyed and I’m having a great time in the process.