Batman Ninja (2018)

The hell did I just watch!?

When originally announced, the idea of a Batman reimagined into a samurai adventure sounded amazing. An all new, almost Elseworld take on the Dark Knight sounded incredible. How would they re-imagine the cast? What would a Batman from Sengoku period Japan be like? Imagine my surprise when the film begins and instead of an Elseworld adventure, we are treated to a time travel experience!

When Batman arrives at Arkham Asylum to stop Flash villain Gorilla Grodd from setting off a deadly machine known as the Quake Engine. The device activates, and Batman finds himself hurdled backwards through time to Sengoku period Japan. Upon arriving, he discovered that not only had he been sent back, but several others had been sent back and been living there for two whole years. He finds himself surrounded by samurai guards wearing Joker masks. Upon escaping, Batman finds himself face to face with Catwoman and Alfred. They explain the situation to him and along the way he finds allies in the time displaced Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood and Robin alongside the Bat Clan of ninjas. As they go up against not only Gorilla Grodd and the Joker, but also Poison Ivy, Two Face, Penguin, Harley Quinn and Deathstroke. It’s a battle to return to the future in a time displaced, manic adventure.

The fantastic character designs of Takashi Okazaki are striking and beautiful. Something that seems to come naturally to the creator of Afro Samurai. Figures in this style are sure to be hitting the shelves soon. The films cinematography and choreography make all the more sense when you discover that the films director is Junpei Mizusaki. The man responsible for the bombastic opening sequences for many of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series, particularly the fan favourite Stardust Crusaders. Along with Mizusaki, Batman Ninja brings on another JoJo alumni with music composer Yugo Kanno. Unfortunately, this may be one of Kanno’s weakest scores, as the visuals overpower the score to the point of being forgettable.

All the characters feel ripped right out of the comics and help the film feel even more dynamic. With the glaring exception of Damian Wayne/Robin. The film portrays him as a happy-go-lucky and obedient kid just happy to be there. This is not Damian. Damian is a serious assassin in the body of a 10 – 13-year-old boy. The one who would possibly appreciate being stuck in this period of Japan the most. He has his fun moments, and does have a love of animals, but the Robin portrayed here feels like a completely different character.

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The films style is incredibly memorable and striking. Its backgrounds have a glorious hand drawn feel, with the occasional break into a water colour motif. However, the films 3D characters stick out terribly against the background and frequently break into very jerky and unnatural movement.

The film is by no means a serious story. It’s fun for the sake of fun. The characters work well in this new environment with a simple plot that allows the characters to stretch out and just be themselves. Mostly. It’s a bombastic adventure of spectacular proportions that’s not afraid to go over the top or bring out the big guns. The big, mecha, feudal Japan, guns…

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Salinger in the Shell – The Intertextuality and Literature of Stand Alone Complex

The Ghost in the Shell franchise has taken many forms in its history. Beginning as a manga series by Masamune Shirow [Shirow.1989-1990], with two sequel books [Shirow.1991-1997] [Shirow.1991-1996]. The property was then adapted into a cult film from director Mamoru Oshii [Oshii.1995]. Since this, the series has expanded to include multiple television series [Kise.2013 – 2015], sequel films [Oshii.2004], and a live action American adaptation [Sanders.2017].

In 2002, the first season in the show Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex [2002-2005: Kamiyama] began airing. A show that has gained critical acclaim and become a cult favourite among the Ghost in the Shell fanbase. Both seasons of the show developed its cast of characters wonderfully, as well as exploring different themes ranging from identity, artificial intelligence, war, profiteering and terrorism. However, the first season draws heavily from literary references. Especially the works of J.D. Salinger. Primarily his novel, The Catcher in the Rye [1951: Salinger].

The novel follows the character of Holden Caulfield as he recounts the few days after leaving his boarding school in Pennsylvania and spends several days walking around New York. We see the world from Holden’s perspective. The people around him, the ‘phonies’ of the world and his overly protective nature of his younger sister. The story is a classic if controversial coming of age story about a young man finding his place.

The first season of Stand Alone Complex however, follows the counter terrorist unit, Section 9. Lead by Major Motoko Kusinagi. As they go up against a terrorist plot thought gone for many years. But as it suddenly rears its head again, Section 9 are deployed in order to stop it before anyone else is hurt. The return of the ‘Laughing Man’ leads to uncovering the many coverups and deceptions of the Japanese Government and health care system.

The logo of the eponymous Laughing Man character of the series, displays a blue smiling face with a portion of text moving around the edge. This text is a quote from the books twenty fifth chapter. “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes” [Salinger.1951:178]. The phrase shows up repeatedly in the show, in the episode Portraitz [Kamiyama.2003], one of the main characters, Togusa, while undercover discovers the phrase written on the inside of a telephone box. He repeats the phrase several times through the show, pondering it’s meaning. In the book, the phrase is part of a larger portion discussing Holden’s desire to just get away from everyone and never have to say anything or listen again. The name itself, Laughing Man, comes from the short story of the same name [1953: Salinger]. A story within a story of a boy taken from rich family by the mafia, who becomes horribly disfigured when his parents can’t pay the extortionate ransom. The boy grows to live among the mafia, having to permanently wear a mask to hide what they did. Secretly destroying the mafia’s plans from the inside.

At the end of the season, when the true Laughing Man is confronted about everything that’s come from this. He leaves a red hat at the building’s entrance, that Major Kusanagi eventually brings back to him. While in a different style. The notion of a red hat and the character of Holden does have a connection. In the books third chapter, Holden describes a hat he had bought earlier that day. “I took off my coat and my tie and unbuttoned my shirt collar, and then I put on this hat that I’d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck” [Salinger.1951:015]. While the hat that the Laughing Man owns is not a hunting hat. The hunting aspect remains in the character through his actions in the series. Hunting down those he felt had wronged the critically ill by the government’s suppression of information that could have saved lives.

The first time we see the Laughing Man in his civilian identity, he is masquerading as a deaf-mute boy in a hospital. This is also in the episode Portraitz. Through out the episode, as he is quietly wheeled around, he is seen holding a left-handed catchers mitt, something that also appears prominently in the book. “So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He’s dead now. He got leukaemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18,1946” [Salinger.1951:033]. This connection between an ill loved one, and a left-handed catchers mitt is made stronger by the location of the hospital and sick children taking up the majority of the cast for the episode. As the episode ends, he leaves behind the catcher’s mitt for the children, but now with a quote written on the side. Having something written on it being a node to Allie’s habit of writing on the glove. What is actually written on the glove as the Laughing Man leaves, is a corrupted and shortened quote from the books twenty second chapter. “’You know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice?’ ‘What? Stop swearing.’ ‘You know that song “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye”? I’d like – ‘ ‘it’s “If a body meet a body coming through the rye”!’ old Phoebe said. ‘It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.’ ‘I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.’ She was right, though. It is ‘if a body meet a body coming through the rye.’ I didn’t know it then, though. ‘I thought it was “if a body catch a body,”’ I said. ‘Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy’” [Salinger.1951:155-156]. This is condensed down to just three lines, “You Know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice, I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all” [Kamiyama.2003].

When the Laughing Man and Major Kusanagi finally meet in the episode Scandal [Kamiyama.2003]. The pair talk about ideology, the events so far, and each of their respective goals. Kusanagi gives the Laughing Man a piece of advice, a quote. This also ties back into the novel, as the same advice is given to Holden by a former teacher of his. “He went over to this desk on the other side of the room, and without sitting down wrote something on a piece of paper. Then he came back and sat down with the paper in his hand. ‘Oddly enough, this wasn’t written by a practicing poet. It was written by a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel. Here’s what he – Are you still with me?’ ‘Yes, sure I am.’ ‘Here’s what he said: The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.’ He leaned over and handed it to me, and then I thanked him and all and put it in my pocket” [Salinger.1951:169]. While the relationship between the Major and the Laughing Man is different from that of Holden and his teacher. The point of the quote remains.

The ’Laughing Man incident’ is often brought up in the early episodes of the show, and later shown towards the end. The incident involves the Laughing Man taking a public figure hostage and pointing a gun at him, screaming about how it’s not fair. Even bringing him in front of a news camera and telling him to tell the world the truth. In this case, to admit that the government has been suppressing life saving information. The intertextual references to the works of Salinger is perhaps most strongly connected here. Rather than tying it to a book or character, this incident parallels the real-life death of John Lennon. This incident is paralleled again at the end of the show when Togusa takes up this same obsession and briefly considers shooting the same public figure out in the open. Complete with a copy of the book in his jacket pocket.

One episode in particular includes two very unusual references to Salinger’s work. In the Episode Escape From [2002: Kamiyama], an A.I. driven tank known as a Tachikoma escapes from Section 9 and spends the day exploring the city. The curious machine stumbles upon a young girl and ends up helping her as she explores the city trying to find her lost dog. As they travel, the young girl asks the Tachikoma if he know the story of the Secret Goldfish. The story she is referring to comes from the first chapter of The Catcher in the Rye as a story written by Holden’s older brother, D.B. “He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was ‘The Secret Goldfish.’ It was about this little kid that wouldn’t let anybody look at his goldfish because he’d bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute.” [Salinger.1951:001]. The story she tells the Tachikoma is identical, and is ultimately her way of telling the machine that she knows her dog is dead, but doesn’t want to admit it as they finally arrive at a pet cemetery. Towards the end of the episode, the Tachikoma brings back a device he found during his adventures. When the Major investigates the programming inside, she finds a virtual movie theatre. While she’s exploring a poster can be seen in the background. ‘A Great Day for Banana fish’, a reference to Salinger’s short story A Perfect Day for Banana Fish [1949: Salinger] from his Nine Stories collection. The same collection that contains The Laughing Man story.

A final but subtle reference can be seen in the final episode. As the Major goes to confront the true Laughing Man in the library, her hand moves over the handrail of the stares to reveal that someone has scratched in the words ‘fuck you’. While only a second on screen, this could be a double reference. When going to pick up his younger sister at her school, Holden finds the words ‘Fuck You’ scratched into the banister. He frantically tries to clean it up, hoping his younger sister didn’t see it. But at an earlier part of the book, in a far more pessimistic tone. Holden states, “That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact. “[Salinger.1951:183]. The words her in the show appear both right under the Major’s hand, possibly so out of place that she never even noticed it. But also, in a place that should be peaceful. Anger and hatred infecting a place of peace and knowledge.

Salinger’s estate is noticeably protective of his work. With The Catcher in the Rye in particular having no licences for adaptation. [Salerno.2013] However, these intertextual references, not just confined to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but it in other media, may be the closest we get to a full-fledged adaptation.

 

  • Ghost in the Shell. (1995) Film. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN.
  • Ghost in the Shell. (2017) Film. Directed by Rupert Sanders. [Blu-ray] Paramount Pictures: USA.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: (2004) Film. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN
  • Ghost in the Shell: (2013 – 2015) OVA. Directed by Kazuchika Kise. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. (2002 – 2005) Directed by Kenji Kamiyama. [DVD] Production I.G.: JPN.
  • Salinger, J.D. (1951) The Catcher in the Rye. Penguin Books. London: UK.
  • Salinger, J.D. (1949 – 1953) For Esme’ with Love and Squalor and Other Stories. Penguin Books. London: UK.
  • (2013) Film. Directed by Shane Salerno. [DVD] The Weinstein Company: USA.
  • Shirow, M. (1989 – 1990) Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku Kidotai). Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.
  • Shirow, M. (1991 – 1997) Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface. Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.
  • Shirow, M. (1991 – 1996) Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human Error Processor. Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.

Action Comics #1000: A Celebration of 80-years of The Man of Steel

The image of men running in terror. One fleeing from the scene, another on the ground in confusion, and the final running straight towards the audience with a face that can’t seem to comprehend what he’s witnessing. A crimson and yellow sky engulfs the scene while at the centre, the destroyed remains of a 1937 Plymouth hoisted up by a mysterious figure. Clad in blue and red, a flowing cape, boots and trunks, with an emblem across his chest that screams “I am here!”. This is the cover to Action Comics #1. Cover date June 1938 with a copyright date of April 18th. 80 years later we celebrate that mighty figure on the cover with the publication of Action Comics #1000 on April 18th, 2018. That figure:

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Action Comics #1000 brings together ten stories by all-star creators, three pin-ups and an array of glorious variant covers. Celebrating 80 years of THE premier superhero. The talent contained within these 80 pages ranges from industry favourites such as Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Lee, long time Superman creators like Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway, and current staples of the industry including Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason.

From The City That Has Everything:

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The book opens with one of the longer stories “From the City that has Everything”, a title nod to Alan Moore’s famous “For the Man who has Everything” issue. Written and pencilled by long time Superman creator Dan Jurgens. The city of Metropolis throws their own celebration for the Man of Steel. All the while Clark is on edge as he knows of an impending invasion from the Khunds. During the celebrations people come forward on stage to talk about the good Superman has done for them. Some are police officers, others are former criminals who Superman never gave up on. When Daily Planet Editor-in-Chief takes the stand, he tells the crowd:

“When I think of Superman, I think of what they used to say about the best fighters in the World. That they always answered THE BELL. For Those of you who don’t know boxing, answering the bell means that during a fight, in between rounds. When the bell rings, telling the fighters to get off their chairs and FIGHT some more. No matter how beaten and weary they are. They get up and FIGHT.

As Perry continues, Clark realises that something is wrong and that what he’s been tracking with his senses is completely off. As he takes off into the sky, Wonder Woman comes to stop him. Informing him that the threat he has been so worried about has been taken care of by the Justice league, wanting to give him this day off. The league appears on stage along with all the others grateful for the impact he has on all of them.

“Your father is the most understanding man I’ve ever met, Jon. He knows he shares a bond with Metropolis. And That every now and then, in appreciation for all he’s given them. The people get to return the gesture. That’s what makes him Superman.”

Never-Ending Battle:

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From the writer/artist team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. “Never-Ending Battle” is a wonderful tribute to the legacy and 80-year history of the character. Framed as Clark telling Lois and Jon about his day and how hard he had to fight just to make it to them in time. An encounter with Vandal Savage has him using time distortion and disruption against Superman. A fantastic plot device that makes full use of it’s premise in order to highlight and celebrate everything from the 1930s, the Elseworld outings and iconic scenes from both Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns, right up to modern day and DC Rebirth.

“I want you to remember an old adage. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Staying true to yourself. Abiding by the morals and ethics ingrained in you by your mom and dad. Along with the lessons you’ll learn in your own life, can pull you through the DARKEST moments. But if even THAT’S not enough. Sometimes pure GUMPTION and WILLPOWER are all you need to get you where you want to go and be with who you want to be with.”

Combined with there 2-year long run on Superman, which saw it’s final issue release on the same day as this. Tomasi and Gleason prove that they know what Superman is and stands for. Gleason’s art is stunning and stylised. Making full use of entire pages rather than shifting to panels.

As Superman’s quest through time and reality comes to an end, we catch up with Superman together with his wife, son and dog Krypto. Calm and happy as the story concludes with a birthday cake. Complete with 80 candles and a lovely message to the Man of Steel from the two authors.

Pin-Up: John Romita Jr.

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 The first of the books pin-up illustrations, John Romita Jr returns to Superman after his run on the New 52 incarnation. Unfortunately, this maybe the weakest of any of the book. His style doesn’t fit the character in the same way it does that of Batman or Wolverine. The composition and framing is wonderful, though the choice of Romita Jr. over someone like Gary Frank or David Finch is a confusing one.

An Enemy Within

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As Super as he is, Superman can’t always be there. What makes it worse is that even when he’s rushing to one disaster, he can hear another. As Superman is on the other side of the world, trying to stop Brainiac’s latest scheme. He can hear it taking effect back in Metropolis. Causing a high school principle to snap and take his students hostage. As Superman is still in Japan, he can hear how the good people of Metropolis take care of the situation. Praising Maggie Sawyer’s strong but compassionate command. Superman’s actions do help as it’s Brainiac’s devices causing the insanity, but the story still uses Superman to praise the hardworking people that keep Metropolis running. Fantastically focused story by Superman veterans Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan.

“You can knock them to their knees and threaten them with any number of tortures, but even against overwhelming odds, they won’t long bow down to any master. Compared to the natives of other worlds, their bodies are fragile. But it always amazes me how strong they can be. And while human passions can be infuriating, their unstoppable will to ultimately do right, even under the threat of danger, is INDOMITABLE. And I’m the one they call SUPERMAN.”

The Car:

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Ever wonder what happened to that car? The one on the cover that started it all. In “The Car” Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Oliver Coipel explore the driver’s life. As he takes the car into a mechanic, tries to explain what happens and takes a long walk home, only to run into the man who stopped the car. Superman. He tells Superman all about his life. How his father was killed in the war, his mother died when he was thirteen and life in an orphanage was rough. He was stopped by Superman before in the middle of a crime. And yet instead of dragging the man back in, he leaves him with something to think about.

“You’ve had your fair share of knocks. And you can keep knocking the world back like you’ve done. Or you can make a decision. Today. It’s your life Butch. You can fix it, or you can junk it. it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”

A short but very interesting look at the part of Superman’s first outing we never saw.

The Fifth Season:

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Perhaps the most surprising of all the stories in Action Comics #1000. The team behind American Vampire as well as the iconic Batman writer, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque give one of the most grounded and heartfelt looks at the relationship if Lex and Superman. Joining the pair in an observatory as Lex explains to Superman, unaware the he truly is the Clark he once knew. The talk about how Lex used to spend his free time in the observatory, trying to send messages to other planets. Wanting to contact intelligent beings. Feeling stuck in this small town and unappreciated. He confides in Superman that on one occasion he made a mistake and didn’t heat up the nitrogen in his experiment. He should have died. Through a change in perspective, we see the reason he didn’t was because Clark had stumbled in and used his heat vision when Lex was looking away. The story of the two of them there as children are wonderful parallels. Lex wanting to make contact due to feeling alone, and Clark possibly there for a similar reason, but instead of comfort, he wanted answers.

From a writer that’s more known for his darker takes, particularly with Wytches and Batman. This story feels so full of heart for them both. A fantastic surprise from a master of horror.

Of Tomorrow:

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A short but bitter sweet tale from the minds of Tom King and Clay Mann. A future where the Earth is degrading. Superman comes back every year to a world that’s almost fire and brimstone, talking to himself about how he needs to stop coming back. That it feels like this is the five billionth visit. That Jon is growing into a fine man. Lois is being kept alive with an eternity formula, though is growing to hate the taste. That ‘they’ would be proud of Jon on Lois, before finally turning away and leaving. Revealing the final resting place of Ma and Pa Kent.

“We’re all Stardust Fallen. And so, we look to the sky. And we wait to be reclaimed. Good-bye, Ma. Good-bye, Pa. And thank you. For everything.”

Clay’s earthy artwork fits the story beautifully but adds a whole new level of depth by drawing his Superman to heavily resemble the late Christopher Reeve. Another fantastic nod to the legacy and history of the character.

Five Minutes:

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Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway prove once again why they are legends when it comes to Superman. “Five Minutes” is a fantastic little day in the life piece of both Clark Kent and Superman. As Perry is shouting over that Clark has five minutes to finish his story while the presses are on hold. Clark hears a disturbance and hurries out of the building. The fantastically energetic and invigorating story shows everything that could possibly happen to him in those five minutes. As he manages to rush back to his desk and finish on time, Perry shouts over that the stories dead and that Clark needs to take Jimmy and go report on Superman’s latest outings.

“The rush! The focus! The fact that I’m helping people – sometimes even SAVING them. Superheroing. Reporting. They’re not so different if you do them right. Man, I love my jobs.”

Though short, it feels like we see the world through Clark’s eyes. How fast paced and to the bone his world can be, and yet just like the Man of Steel himself. We can’t help but love it.

Action Land:

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Perhaps the strangest, and most divisive story in the collection. Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez bring us a roller-coaster amusement park history of Superman. Already a strange concept, but when it’s revealed to be all the doing of Mr. Mxyzptlk, it feels like one big loving send up to the silliness of the silver age and all the fun Superman comics can be. An enjoyable story that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, heightened by Garcia-Lopez’s stunning artwork.

Pin-Up: Walter Simonson

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Industry legend Walt Simonson brings his classic and dynamic take to the Superman in this fantastic pin-up! While the style may not be to everyone’s liking. It’s dynamic and attention grabbing presence is undeniably Simonson.

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet:

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Brad Meltzer and John Cassidy bring up an interesting but heartfelt take on what it feels like to be Superman in an emergency. Flying as fast as he can, he can hear a woman in distress. He can hear the trigger on the gun as he cocks, and he knows that he’s going to get there a second too late. To his surprise, the woman does something that buys him those few seconds he needs. The short story shows not just how Superman inspires others, but how he is inspired by them. Their courage, ingenuity, and bravery. The final moments show how humble Clark is, as Lois is the one to point out that today, “he met a good one”.

Pin-Up: Jorge Jimenez

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The final and strongest of all the pin-ups. Jimenez continues to prove why he is one of this decades best Superman artists. Dynamic, strong, with an overwhelming presence, but completely natural. Embracing even the classically mocked trunks as symbol of strength once more. Jimenez’s use of lighting gives Superman and ethereal presence. A man who has fought for truth, justice and the American way but remains true to who he is. A symbol of hope.

The Truth:

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Finally, the last story in the collection had both the most to prove but brought the least. With art by Jim Lee, who’s style really doesn’t fit the character, and the Superman debut of Brian Michael Bendis, the story acts as a teaser for his upcoming run on both Superman, Action Comics AND his Man of Steel mini-series. The few pages lack substance. The focus should be on this new villain and his final page ‘reveal’. However, the most memorable parts are two women debating about Superman’s trunks, and Supergirl piledriving into the villain. It’s possible that due to this being Bendis’s first outing, this could be a result of nerves or pressure, but let’s hope with time he improves.

 

The companion Deluxe hard cover, Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman, puts Superman’s history on display for the world to see. Action Comics #1000 honours that history. With a mixed array of takes on the character and an all-star creative team, here’s to many more years of the Man of Steel!

Justice League Steel book – Jim Lee Edition

For collectors, steel book are a fantastic inclusion to your library. Especially if designed well. With the home release of Justice League, this was no exception. Regardless of your feelings on the film, personally I rather enjoy it, it was inevitable that it would receive a steel book. Several in fact. While some retailers such as HMV offered a simple black case with the logos of each of the respective member. Very simple and stylish for what they are, but of the options released none is more stunning than the ‘Jim Lee’ edition.

This stunning edition features a front cover with the main six beautifully rendered by artist and co-publisher for DC Comics, Jim Lee. With a back cover that features the inked art. Interestingly, Lee is usually inked by artist Scott Williams. In this instance however, Lee inked himself, giving it a familiar but new presence. The colour by Alex Sinclair does add that extra dimension. Making this an absolutely stunning edition to the shelves.

With the increase of comic book films and steel book editions, it’s refreshing and amazing to see actual comic book artists lending their talents to promotional work such as this. The steel books for Marvel’s cinematic universe could certainly benefit from this level of affection. With both this and the two other Jim Lee designed DCEU steel books, it’s a pleasure to see the comics and films merge even further.

Jor-El’s Golden Folly – Superman #233 (1971)

Superman 233-00Superman #233: The Fabulous World of Krypton – Jor-El’s Golden Folly.
January 1971
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Artist: Murphy Anderson

A back up story in Superman #233, the beginning of the infamous Kryptonite Nevermore. Jor-El’s Golden Folly is the first of the ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ mini stories. Meant to build up and explore the world that Clark will never know and his own people. This first story follows Superman’s father, Jor-El, as well as showing his work and meeting Clark’s mother, Lara.

Jor-El and his friend Kim-Da find themselves with brand new assignments and are now separated. Splitting up the good friends and having to go their separate ways. With Jor-El being sent to the ‘Kryptonopolis Space Complex’ and Kim being sent to the ‘Kandor Observatory’. For the reader, we know that Kandor is the city that will eventually be shrunken down and stolen by the villain Brainiac. A city, and villain, that makes its first appearance in Action Comics #242. The final fate of Jor-El is obvious to us, as it’s a defining catalyst for Superman being sent to Earth in the first place. However, the fact that Kim-Da is sent to Kandor begs the question of weather or not he survived, only to be trapped within the bottled city. It’s a minor thought, especially with how little the character appears, but interesting none the less.

Superman 233-17 - Copy

As he arrives at the Space Complex, Jor-El is shown around by a man named Ken-Dal. The idea is explained to him that a major goal right now is to break free of Krypton’s gravity and reach the stars, the problem is that the science council has cut their budget. While showing him around, Jor-El sees Lara Lor-Van, his future wife and the mother of Superman, as one of the ‘test fliers’. He comments on her beauty within seconds of seeing her. Time passes, and Jor-El is experimenting with Anti-Gravity. Eventually developing an ‘Anti-Grav Belt’ and testing it by attaching it to a white dog and controlling where he floats with a remote control. Later, he demonstrates it on himself in front of both Ken-Dal and General Zod, another little Easter Egg for readers. They are both greatly impressed and allow him to continue with the next phase of his plan.

Jor-El’s next thought is to use his Anti-Gravity technology to help fly and stabilise a rocket ship. Due to its abundance on Krypton, he makes the decision to use gold in it’s construction. The idea that gold is such a common material on Krypton helps to re-emphasis the fact that this is not Earth. That we are watching a different civilisation entirely. However, due to the weight of gold. Those around Jor-El mock him for thinking that this gaudy, hunk of metal would ever fly. Nicknaming it “Jor-El’s Golden Folly”. The only person who does seem to believe in him is Lara, how offers to fly the ship due to her excitement at reaching the stars. Jor-El tells her that because they don’t even know if it will fly, so for this maiden voyage they will use the same remote-control system he had used before.

Superman 233-19 - Copy (2)

When the big day comes, the ship finally flies. Taking off through the crimson skies. As they celebrate, a message comes through over the communicator. Lara is onboard the ship, seemingly forgetting the time and not getting off. How very Lois Lane of here. The ship eventually lands on a nearby planet, Wegthor, and since communication is lost it is assumed that the experiment failed and had crashed landed. As the higher ups walk away, laughing at Jor-El’s failure. Jor-El is informed that a cargo ship is leaving for Wegthor in a few days. Using the technology Jor-El had invented and an oxygen mask, Jor-El sneaks aboard the cargo ship hoping that Lara is still alive. When they finally land, Jor-El sneaks away and traverses this strange planet before final discovering the ‘Valley of Gloom’. At the centre, Lara. He ruses to find her and in a final panel they embrace. Ending with Jor-el saying; “My discovery may have been a failure, Lara… But it did have one success. Bringing us together!”

Superman 233-22 - Copy

  • Binder, O & Plastino, A. (1958) Action Comics #242: The Super-Duel in Space. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Bridwell, E. & Anderson, M. (1971) Superman #233: Jor-El’s Golden Folly. DC Comics: New York: USA.

World’s Finest – The Passage of Time and the Meeting of Batman and Superman.

Superman 76 CoverSuperman #76: The Mightiest Team in the World
May/June 1952
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: John Fischetti

When it comes to the icons that are Batman and Superman, the question that often comes up is ‘Who would win in a fight?’. When people ask for stories involving the pair, it’s usually stories of them at opposite ends. 1986 “saw the publication of Frank Miller’s historic miniseries The Dark Knight Returns [Miller.1986], with its revamping of the two heroes’ relationship. Since then, things have been a little strained to say the least between the two superheroes” [Anders.2005]. Miller presents an older Batman going up against Superman in the final act, as one is continuing illegal vigilante work, while the other is now a ‘lapdog’ to the President. Another notable example is Batman: Hush [Loeb & Lee.2003] which includes a notable scene of the pair fighting, while Superman is under the control of Poison Ivy. Even on a cinematic level, the first time the two met on the big screen, excluding animated outings, was in a film explicitly titled Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice [Snyder.2016]. It seems that our fascination with these two heroes when together, is that of conflict. However, this raises the question. Have they always been at each other’s throats?

While they had previously appeared in the same issue in 1941’s All Star Comics #7 [Fox, et.al.1941]. Batman and Superman first met face to face in 1952’s Superman #76 [Hamilton & Swan.1952]. Despite the cover depicting Batman and Superman almost fighting over who gets to save Lois Lane from an oncoming train. The two become fast friends in the 12-page story contained within. The closest to an argument the pair engage in, is one partly planned by the two and somewhat encouraged by Lois.

The story opens with a text box addressing this monumental issue. “Superman, might man of steel whose super-powers have conquered catastrophes and wrecked wrongdoers! Batman, hooded foe of crime whose flashing feats have crushed crooks for years! Are any two names in the world more famous than these? Yet these two mighty champions of the right have never met – until now! Yes, at long last Superman and Batman meet face to face on a voyage of peril – and strange and startling is the outcome when two legendary figures form… The mightiest team in the world!” [Hamilton & Swan.1952:01]. The issue follows Batman and Superman as they have both independently booked spots on a cruise in their civilian identities. Due to over booking, Bruce and Clark end up being bunk mates and both start to worry about the other finding out their secret identity. When a fire breaks out on the docks, the lights go out and they both change, but as light comes in through the window, their identities are discovered. They worked together to stop those that started the fire, and while they got away, it’s discovered that a diamond has been stolen. It’s believed that the criminal is on board the ship as one of the passengers. Batman and Superman decide to continue their cruise as their secret identities. Problem is that now Lois Lane has decided to tag along in hopes of getting a scoop from both Batman and Superman. The pair come up with different tricks and tactics to hide their switching places. Pretending Clark is sea sick and in bed, using port holes to sneak back in. Even Superman flying Batman back to Gotham overnight, so no one would notice that Batman and Bruce Wayne were not out of town at the same time once the heroes have supposedly left the ship.

The pair show a high level of respect and admiration for each other. Their level of trust and comradery feels natural. Even the final take down of the crooks, a sort of Superman/Batman “Fast Ball Special” ala, Wolverine/Colossus. Shows an incredible level of confidence and skill. While the pair do team up every now and then. There is always this notion that one doesn’t always trust the other. That it’s easy for them to bicker, or even be on opposing sides.

Looking back at their first team up is an incredibly refreshing experience. The thrill of seeing the two side by side when the issue originally came out must have been a dream come true for readers of the time. While we see them together often now, the spirit of this first meeting seems to have been forgotten.

 

  • Anders, L. (2005) A Tale of Two Orphans: The Man of Steel vs. The Caped Crusader. The Man from Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman. Benbella Books Inc. Dallas, TX. Pp.69 -75.
  • Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. (2016) Film. Directed by Zack Snyder. [Blu-Ray] Warner Bro. Studio: USA.
  • Fox, G, et.al. (1941) All Star Comics #7: Justice Society of America $1,000,000 for War Orphans. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Hamilton, W & Swan, C. (1952) Superman #76: The Mightiest Team in the World. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Hatch, A. (2015) Batman and Superman: Comparing Two Iconic Superheroes. [Online] May 12th. The Artifice. Available From: https://the-artifice.com/batman-and-superman-comparing-two-iconic-superheroes/ [Last Accessed: 05.04.2018]
  • Loeb, J. & Lee, J. (2003) Batman: Hush. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Miller, F (1986) The Dark Knight Returns. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Salmon, W. (2016) Every time Batman and Superman have met (for the first time) in the comics. [Online] March 8th. Games Radar. Available from: https://www.gamesradar.com/every-time-batman-and-superman-have-met-comics/ [Last Accessed: 05.04.2018]

Superman’s Metropolis (1996) – Fritz Lang, Futurism and the Mother City

The city of Metropolis. A staple in the Superman mythos. The city is as iconic as Superman himself, they go hand in hand the same way as Batman and Gotham. You can’t have one without the other. Many Elseworld stories like to play around with the location Superman lands and the city he protects. A big example would by Superman: Red Son [Miller & Johnson.2003] which made Superman a protector of the USSR rather than the USA. However, Superman’s Metropolis [Lofficier, Thomas & McKeever.1996] plays with this relationship far more, by experimenting with the city itself. In this case, transforming this comic book Metropolis, into the film version of Metropolis.

Despite its strong ties with the Man of Steel. The city remained unnamed for over a year until Action Comics #16 [Seigel & Shuster.1939]. “On June 7, 1939, Clark Kent, while on assignment in ‘Boravia,’ sends his editor a telegram addressed to ‘Metropolis, NY.’ Meanwhile, in the September 1939 issue of Action Comics (Which would have been on newsstands in June), Clark Kent poses the question ‘How come gambling is permitted to flourish in the city of Metropolis?’ These concurrent instances represent the first time the Man of Steel’s home city is given a name.” [Weldon.2013:39]

The word ‘Metropolis’ comes from 1350 – 1400 Middle English, Late Latin. Meaning ‘Mother State’ or ‘Mother City’ referring to the parent state of a colony. In modern times, the phrase refers to the chief or sometimes capital city of a country or just a very large city. [Dictionary.com:2018] In the DC Comics universe, Metropolis itself fits this by taking the form of New York City, a trait it shares with Batman’s Gotham City. However, while the cities share an inspiration, both show a different side. As stated in The Many Lives of Batman, “The difference between Gotham and Metropolis succinctly summarizes the differences between the two superheroes. As current Batman editor Dennis O’Neil put it: ‘Gotham is Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at 3am., November 28th in a cold year. Metropolis is Manhattan between Fourteenth and One Hundred and Tenth Streets on the brightest, sunniest July day of the year” [Pearson & Uricchio.1991:009]. This duality in a city can also be seen in 1927s Metropolis [Lang.1927].

METROBIG

Superman’s Metropolis takes its lead and plot from Fritz Lang’s classic film. Which is in itself is adapted from the novel of the same name by Thea von Harbou [von Harbou.1925]. The story is set in 2026, the city of Metropolis is ruled by the wealthy industrialists while the working and lower class operate the machinery underground, out of sight. The city is essentially run by Joh Fredersen, while his son Freder spends his days in the pleasure gardens. When a young working-class girl named Maria brings a group of children to visit the high-rise towers to see how the other half live, Freder is smitten before she is ushered away. Freder follows her back into the underground where he witnesses one of the machines explode, killing and injuring many. He hallucinates a worse incident, where a machine is powered by being fed the working class. As Freder retains his senses, he runs to his father to tell him the conditions the working class have to put up with, but upon seeing his father’s reaction, he vows a secret rebellion against him. Vowing to help the workers.

However, secret maps are found in the possession of some of the dead workers, and the foreman, Grot, brings them to Fredersen. Fredersen takes the maps to the inventor, Rotwang, a man who had once been in love with Fredersen’s now deceased wife, Hel and has created a robot in order to “resurrect” Hel. The maps show the catacombs under the city and as Rotwang and Fredersen investigate, finding a gathering of workers, including both Freder and Maria. Maria is addressing the group, prophesying the arrival of one who will unite the working and higher classes someday. Freder believes that it could be him, and declares his love for Maria while Rotwang and Fredersen watch on. Fredersen orders Rotwang to give his robot the Maria’s likeness in order to spread chaos through the underground and disrupt the rebellion. However, Rotwang plans to use the robot to kill Freder and take over the city as revenge for the death of the woman he loved. Maria is kidnapped and her likeness is given to the robot, being sent to Fredersen when the transfer is complete. Freder walks in on the robot Maria and Fredersen in an embrace and falls into a depression at the idea of losing his love, and the one he wants to fight for. During this time, Maria is unleashed into the world and using her charms and influence drives men to murder and causing dissent amongst the workers below.

Freder eventually returns to the catacombs below and finds the robot Maria encouraging the workers to destroy the machines and rise up. Freder accuses her of not being the same person he knew, but the workers don’t listen. Leaving their children behind, they destroy the machines, causing the worker city below to be flooded. The real Maria manages to escape and rescues the children just in time with Freder’s help. The workers are horrified at what they have done, fearing their children dead. They turn on the robot Maria and burn her at the stake. Freder watches on horrified, until the fire finally reveals to them all that the false Maria is a robot sent to trick them. Rotwang appears, delusional. Believing the real Maria to be the long dead Hel, chasing her to the roof as Freder runs after them. Rotwang and Freder fight on the cathedral roof, Fredersen and the workers watching from the streets, until Rotwang falls to his death and Maria is finally safe. Freder and Maria return to the others, linking the hands of both his father Fredersen and the foreman Grot, bringing them together, and proving that Freder is indeed the one prophesised.

metropolis-image-9

Superman’s Metropolis tells a very similar story, though takes the ‘saviour’ metaphor of Metropolis and makes a more direct connection with Superman himself. Freder is replaced with the character Clarc. The son of Jon-Kent, ruler of Metropolis. While talking with another high-born woman, Lana, it’s Lois who brings the children and tells them of how the better live. As she’s being escorted away, she turns and looks at Clarc. Commenting, “The one I’m searching for is here…. But he doesn’t know it yet” [Lofficier, Thomas & McKeever.1996:07]. Clarc follows, and finds and workers in the underground, chanting bitter hymns with his father’s name in place, as they work themselves to death. Clarc witnesses the fatal accident, before returning to his father, telling him of what happened, only to be turned away. The plot continues the same, the maps make their way to Jon-Kent who takes them to the inventor, Luthor. Now bitter over the death of Marta.

Clarc, taking his friend Olson with him, begins working underground, wanting to help those down below. He attends the gathering lead by Lois. A corrupted Superman logo on the wall behind her. She speaks out to the crowd. “My brothers. Today I will tell you the story of the new Tower of Babel! There were men who wished to build a tower whose summit would touch the skies. And on it they would inscribe: ‘Great is the world and its creator, and great is man!’ Those who conceived the idea of this tower could not have built it themselves – so they hired thousands of others to build it for them. But those toilers knew nothing of those who planned the tower. While those who conceived the tower did not concern themselves with the workers who built it. The hymns of the few became the muttered curses of the many. Babel! Between the brain that plans and the hands that build, there must be a mediator. A Super-Man! It is the heart that must bring about an understanding between brain and hand! That saviour will rise to bring goodness and peace and love. The Super-Man will come – to free men’s souls of their inhuman bondage!” [Lofficier, Thomas & McKeever.1996:22-23]

Luthor and Jon-Kent watch on as Clarc is enraptured. Luthor even comments on Lois’ resemblance to the late Marta. Clarc stands and asks if he could be that saviour, declaring his love for Lois. She gives him a small version of the Super-Man symbol, before promising to see each other again tomorrow. As Lois leaves, she is kidnapped by Luthor, and in a departure from the source material, we briefly cut to Jon-Kent removing a book with the same symbol from a vault in his office. Luthor shows Lois the artificial being in his chamber, revealing his plan for the robot to take a human’s likeness. Originally that of his lost love Marta, having died by Luthor’s hand as revenge. But instead, he chooses Lois in order to disrupt the underground. As the robot is taking Lois’ form, Clarc and Olson discover the vault and a mysterious capsule inside. A slot on the front seems to fit the symbol that Lois gave him. As he placed the symbol inside, Clarc’s origins are revealed to him. His abilities, his history, the fact that when Luthor murdered Marta, he couldn’t kill Clarc as much as he tried. That Luthor learned so much from the craft that brought the boy here, and used this knowledge to take over. Swaying the mind of Jon-Kent, and erasing Clarc’s memory of his abilities or the death of Marta. With this new knowledge in hand, and the clothes he finds within the capsule, Clarc declares himself THE Superman! [Lofficier, Thomas & McKeever.1996:38]

Having now unleased the robot Lois into the underground, she used her sexuality and charm to sway the workers into an uprising. Smashing machines and destroying the underground. As the furnace is about to explode, Clarc flies down, complete in a new colourful garb and saves them. Asking Lois why she would encourage them to do such a thing. He tries to calm her, as he realises that she is not the woman he loves. As Superman and the robot battle, Luthor reveals that he has been experimenting on himself. Making himself part machine, and a possible equal to Superman, powered by Kryptonite. “I am more than human. Far more than just my hand was shattered on the night a projectile from space crashed near me. Even in my bed of pain. I supervised the doctors who replaced half my flesh with mechanisms I had previously created. Yet my crowning achievement was not those mechanisms – nor the robot in whose design I utilized many secrets I learned from that rocket. But this pulsing inorganic heart, held in its chromium cage – which makes my own still beat! I shaped it from the glowing metal fuselage of that star-spawned vessel – a last little piece of Clarc Kent-Son’s birth-world!” [Lofficier, Thomas & McKeever.1996:50].

As Clarc’s long battle with the robot ends, he flies to his father to learn that Luthor has Lois atop the cathedral. Clarc flies over and begins to fight the robotically enhanced Luther, but finds himself weak around his Kryptonite heart. As the fight continues on, Lois falls from the roof, only to be saved by Clarc. Revealing that despite his weakened state, he managed to remove the Kryptonite, killing Luthor in the process. In the light of a new day, Clarc stands with both his father, Olson and the people of the underground. Declaring that the day of the Super-Man has come and gone. That from now, “your hands and the city’s finest minds will work together to forge the destiny of Metropolis” [Lofficier, Thomas & McKeever.1996:64].

Superman’s Metropolis continues the film’s spirit in its use of art. The early German film heavily used both Cubism and Futurism imagery to further its futuristic feel. Both movements began in the early 1900s, “among modernist movements futurism was exceptionally vehement in its denunciation of the past.” “Futurist Painting used elements of neo-impressionism and cubism to create compositions that expressed the idea of the dynamism, the energy and movement of modern life” [Tate.2018]. The artist of Superman’s Metropolis, Ted McKeever, used elements of cubism and futurism in order to bring the same feel to the book. “By breaking objects and figures down into disctinct areas – or planes – the artists aimed to show different viewpoints at the same time and within the same space and so suggest their three-dimensional form. In doing so they also emphasized the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas instead of creating the illusion of depth.

The incorporation of Superman into the story of Metropolis works well. Both Freder and Clarc are versions of Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero of a Thousand Faces’ [Campbell.1949]. However, Superman stands above them all regardless of this new-found equality. The Nietzschean Ubermensch that follows the idea posited by Nietche. A goal for humanity to set for itself. That human life would be given meaning by how it advances a new generation. [Nietche.1883]

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