Fair warning: I am in a bad mood today.
Lots of reasons. This damn cold that’s been bugging me for a month keeps surging back whenever I think I’m finally done with it. I have to go get fingerprinted for school again because somehow my records are gone, they didn’t get transferred when the new agency took over the afterschool program from the YMCA; and the Thursday evening email telling me this closed with “it’d be awesome if you could bring the new card in on Monday!” (Fun fact: I have a full-time day job the rest of the week, so there was no chance Friday, and places that do fingerprinting — mostly police stations and licensing agencies — are not open weekends. So I have roughly an hour and a half between the end of my shift on the day job and the start of class on Monday to do this, or, the rules say, I’m not allowed to teach.)
What else? We had to blow off the Antiquarian Book Fair last week and the Jet City Comics show this week because of financial issues. We weren’t able to get our shit together at school with the new admins in time for my kids to table at a couple of shows we really like, particularly the Olympia Zine Festival. Three book projects of mine are apparently indefinitely in limbo, because of factors I have absolutely no influence over (illustrator is late on one, editor has screwed up on another, publisher is stalling the editor on the third.)
And on and on. Suffice it to say that Real Life and Adulting have been a heavier lift than usual the last few weeks. Normally in such times I seek refuge in the world of entertainment, but even that is annoying me; mostly because lately I am seeing nothing but rehashes of tropes that should have had a stake pounded through them before they ever became tropes in the first place.
So in an effort to vent some of this bile, I’m going to list a few of those irritating tropes for you and unload on why I hate them so much. Buckle up.
“I’m re-inventing the character for the modern audience.”
Right now Joker is doing huge box office.
I hear it’s pretty good, but I’m mostly hearing it from people who are prefacing it with, “Normally I hate comic-book movies, but…” The worst one was, “I’ve seen comic book movies, but Joker is the first comic-book film.”
You know what? Fuck those guys. They can take their film school degrees, fold them till they’re all corners, and shove them up their clenched snooty asses. Joker is, as near as I can tell, a dark character study made for fans of stuff like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy who wouldn’t be caught dead going to see a Marvel movie, but bankrolled by a studio that couldn’t bear to give up their shot at that sweet superhero-blockbuster cash.
Guess what, edgy filmmaker guys? Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola still won’t like you no matter how dark you make your licensed comic-book movie. If you really think you can do better than Taxi Driver or American Psycho or, hell, Hitchcock’s Psycho, then step up. Show us what you really have. Do your own thing. Don’t paper it over with a licensed DC villain– especially since it’s the wrong one, for Chrissakes. The Bat-villain that’s made for a dark and tragic character study is Two-Face, Harvey Dent, not the damn Joker.
Even the people making the Adam West version of Batman, both comics and animated, understood that part.
There’s a whole column to be written about how badly DC has done by the Joker since Frank Miller and Dark Knight, and I’ll get to it one of these days, I promise. But for right now, let’s make one thing clear– modern audiences already understand the Joker. There’s no need to re-invent him. He’s an evil clown who thinks sadism is funny. See? That’s all you need. It’s not that goddam hard.
It’s not just the Joker. I hear these guys carrying on about how they’re “re-inventing the legend” from every direction. The HBO Watchmen is another one. Don’t take my word for it, here’s Damon Lindelof:
“What we think about superheroes is wrong,” Lindelof said in 2017 about his reasons for adapting Watchmen. “I love the Marvel movies, we saw Justice League, and I’m all for Wonder Woman and Batman and I grew up on these characters, I love these characters. But we should not trust people who put on masks and say that they are looking out for us. If you hide your face, you are up to no good.”
I saw the first episode of Watchmen and okay, it was interesting, except for the part where there was no need or visible reason for it to be called Watchmen at all. If there is a concept that absolutely DOES NOT NEED to be revisited, re-imagined, or re-invented, it’s Watchmen. Lindelof’s letter explaining how he finally caved does not make this any less true.
And so on and so on. But it keeps happening. Why? Because they want the guaranteed audience, the people that love the original. And the go-to move is always to make it darker, on the theory that this equates directly to lending a project dramatic weight. Nowhere is this more evident than in the new Titans TV series.
This I’m-too-cool-for-this-kind-of-material, let’s-make-it-darker-so-my-hip-friends-won’t-jeer approach has been annoying me since Mark Millar trashed the Avengers in The Ultimates and now the disease has spread to movies and TV.
You know why the Marvel movies have been so successful? Because they’re not at all embarrassed about what they’re doing, and because they understand that different stories have different tones. There’s been a ridiculous online kerfuffle the last few days about whether or not the MCU catalogue is art, but all I hear is “I’m scared the cool kids will laugh at me.” Get over yourselves and stop being ashamed of your material. Pro tip: darkness of approach doesn’t automatically confer seriousness. Often it just makes you look pretentious and silly.
The Person I’m Talking To? I Hallucinated Him!
Jesus Christ I am SO DONE with this bullshit.
I understand that actors need someone to talk to and react to. But positing that the default reaction for stress and exhaustion is to somehow engage in long expository conversations with your dead relatives, or whoever, is absurd. It undercuts the main story by making your audience wonder how stable your hero really is. I’ve been stressed and exhausted over serious stuff like loved ones possibly dying, and my dead father never showed up to lecture me.
Although I have to admit Dick Grayson hallucinating a hectoring Bruce Wayne doing the Batusi in TITANS is pretty damn funny.
But that was a sight gag in an episode that mainly underlines the complete plausibility of the thing Dick is trying desperately to disprove — he really IS a bad leader and reforming the Titans really IS a bad idea. At this point you can’t help but think that clearly what Dick needs is a nice long stay in a sanitarium away from any sharp objects, and some serious therapy.
I get it, yes, it’s a dramatic device. But it’s a stupid one. Let it go. Find some other way to get there, writers.
We Have To Stop The Big Beam Of Light In The Sky!
Do I really need to explain why this needs to go away?
When you’ve even got frigging Godzilla doing it, I think it’s worn out its welcome.
You know what’s really scary? Aiming your giant energy beam at stuff on the damn ground.
“I’m your dark mirror image, your perfect opposite; you claim to oppose me, but we are really alike, you and I.”
Not gonna lie: I’m getting really sick of this one, no matter how well done it is.
You can trace it back to Darth “I am your father!” Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, I suppose, but I think it really got a foothold with the 1989 Batman, where it was needlessly shoehorned into the origin of the Joker.
But now it’s everywhere.
Possibly the dumbest and most unnecessary version was the Daniel Craig Bond’s version of Blofeld, in Spectre.
It’s apparently not enough that he’s the head of a global terrorist organization. No, what gives everything that extra little serving of EEE-vil is that Blofeld is really Bond’s forgotten, never-before-referenced stepbrother. Or something. It comes out of nowhere and it’s so completely stupid it pulls you right out of the movie; in fact, you can make the argument that it’s no longer really James Bond at that point. This is yet another case of getting everything about the basic concept completely wrong.
To quote the 007 Social Media project:
In all four of Daniel Craig’s Bond movies, James Bond has gone rogue/off the grid/loose cannon. If Craig’s Bond cannot escape his childhood, he can never truly become James Bond. He’s more Jason Bourne, ceaselessly investigating the past he has forgotten, searching for connectivity. Jason Bourne isn’t protecting the United States; he’s engaged in a struggle with his former employer to find personal freedom. By fixating on his own past – whether it be the death of Vesper or his surrogate family, Bond has become a petulant superhero whose childhood traumas have driven him to a profession of crime fighting. Rather than a heroic protector, Bond had become a national liability.
That sums up the so-NOT-007 essence of the current take on James Bond so beautifully I have nothing to add. I loved Casino Royale, but everything after that has been a disappointment. Mostly because it’s not really James Bond at all. Larding the dark-mirror version of Blofeld on top of that makes it unbearable.
Being Captured Is Actually A Key Element Of My Master Plan!
Because that’s a really dumb fucking plan.
Especially if you’re in a transparent cell with cameras on you all the time.
The only way this idea works is if your heroes are just adenoidally stupid. But screenwriters keep going there; it’s the dramatic-device thing again, it allows you to have long dialogue scenes where actors can intensely emote (usually about how I’m your dark mirror that’s why you hate me but we are really alike, blah blah.) The only time I ever bought into that kind of psych-out dialogue scene was in The Silence of the Lambs, and the reason it worked there is because the evil Hannibal Lecter was already in jail; all his psych-out stuff was because he was engineering a situation where he could get out.
That, at least, makes sense. But all the stories that followed where the bad guy gets himself captured just so he can do his sinister Hello-Clarice riff with the heroes before escaping with ridiculous ease? Come on. Enough already.
Superhero Stories Without the Hero!
This is another variation of trading on a property people really like just to get an audience to check it out, without actually giving them the thing they genuinely enjoy. How exactly were Superman fans supposed to stay interested in Krypton? Nothing that happens on that show is going to matter because we all know the entire planet blows up. But it lasted two whole seasons and every last episode hammered on the idea that THIS LEADS TO SUPERMAN even though Superman never shows up.
For some reason Batman is particularly susceptible to this. I already talked about Joker, but the poster child for this is, of course, Gotham.
Five seasons of constant coy Batman references, but no actual Batman, until a couple of silhouettes in the final episode.
Then the moment Gotham wrapped we got Pennyworth.
I think about the only Batman live-action adaptation fans were demanding less than a solo Joker movie was a solo young-Alfred-in-wartime-London TV show.
You know what I’d really like? An actual live-action Batman. Can we maybe get on that?
In the meantime, in fairness I have to admit we are digging Batwoman a lot.
We like Ruby Rose, and it amuses me to see Rachel Skarsten back in Gotham City after Birds of Prey. Certainly, it’s more justifiable than Pennyworth.
That’s enough for now, I guess. Feel free to chime in with your own pet peeves down below in the comments. We can all be crabby together.
Back next week with something cool… and hopefully in a better mood.