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Batman v Superman is a movie out of context

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As evidenced by movies like Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and 300, Zack Snyder excels at grim and dark stories. Snyder is known for his gritty antiheroes, so while it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s incapable of telling other kinds of stories, it does make for an interesting directing choice for Batman v Superman. Yeah. Supermanthat guy whose kindness and moral compass are his leading motivationsand Batmanwho despite his best attempts to convince people otherwise, is basically a rich guy who collects orphans. Snyder ditched both the morals and the orphans for this film.

Giving iconic characters like Batman and Superman to Snyder wasn’t necessarily bad at the onset, but it wasn’t the loving or faithful adaptation of the source material that Snyder produced with Watchmen. Instead, the bizarre experiment of throwing Batman and Superman into the boxing ring produced a film dripping with masculinity and misogyny. Batman doesn’t need a ragtag group of bird-monikered children to make a movie interesting (though it does help) and, okay, Superman has been successful without the presence of other Kryptonians. However, cherry picking plot threads and personality traits made for a story consistent with the grim-dark movies Snyder is known for, but inconsistent with the characters themselves. Both Batman and Superman were written like antiheroes instead of the widely respected and morally upstanding characters they are in the DC Universe. The end result was a film that seemed wildly out of context, one that also upheld a seriously toxic version of masculinity without scrutiny.

The core concept of Batman v Superman is a theme of absolute power, loosely based on one scene from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. To be fair to Snyder, Miller somehow managed to pack retrofuturist gangs, a new Robin, the Joker’s death, an almost there theme of governmental control of superhero activity, the role of the vigilante, and Cold War conflict into a four-issue miniseries. Adapting the entire story for film could have easily resulted in a frustratingly muddled five-hour epic. Batman v Superman took a single element from the story—Batman fighting Superman—as its base. The Frank Miller versions of these characters have been present in modern cinema for some time, first with Christian Bale’s angst-ridden Batman, and more recently with Henry Cavill’s first outing in Man of Steel.

Batman holds Superman responsible for the attack on Metropolis, which destroyed the city and killed thousands. He’s not wrong, per se, but it’s also hard to imagine the same judgment coming down on the comic version of Superman, since Superman did go out of his way to save the planet in the end. Superman, in turn, believes Batman to be a reckless vigilante who endangers the lives of Gotham residents on a nightly basis. Each believes himself right. The conflict at the center of all of this is the question of absolute power and who should have it, a theme that comes into play early in the film…and is dropped just as quickly as it was drummed up. The three central characters–Lex Luthor, Batman, and Superman–all grapple for power with no real winner. The movie offers no real answer to this conundrum and doesn’t force anyone to consider his own course of action in relation to how it affects the city.

The “Dawn of Justice” subtitle feels inappropriate, because justice is generally lacking in the film with the exception of Lex Luthor getting prison time and his signature haircut. Neither Batman nor Superman are held accountable for their actions, by each other or anyone else. The film lacks humanity in the most basic sense. Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent attack each other’s humanity while forgetting their own, giving the sense that the world belongs to the heroes and everyone else is just living it. The rest of Earth’s population is so unimportant that it’s impossible to gauge how Batman and Superman are received by the public outside of the conversation about Superman as a god. Batman, for his part, seems more like Gotham’s worst-kept secret than its savior. By not setting aside time to show the impact the so-called heroes have had on more than a select few characters, it reinforces the emotional and physical disconnect consistent with an unhealthy masculinity.

The conflict in the film, drawn from the conflict between Batman and Superman in The Dark Knight Returns, is absent of the thing it is also contingent upon. Despite the multitude of themes and events present in The Dark Knight Returns, the plot (scattered though it may be) is given an overlying political theme that is a direct result of the Cold War. Batman v Superman aims for a political nature, but it lacks the social and political context of the Cold War or an equally threatening situation adapted for the modern age.

When Batman and Superman do duke it out in an extensive but unsatisfying fight, it gives purpose to the “v” at the center of the title that has been confusing fans and non-fans alike for months, but doesn’t add much weight to the story. Previous squabbles forgotten, Batman and Superman tumble around, destroying the property they had been so committed to protecting in the first half of the movie. All of this results in a grudging team-up befitting a buddy cop movie, but one that lacks any of the humor of an Odd Couple trope. Throughout their fights, Batman and Superman are written as uncharacteristically cruel–Superman threatening to kill Batman, Batman launching Kryptonite grenades–and engaging in behaviors their comic counterparts would likely never consider. Both are disconnected from the communities they’re attempting to protect and to protect from the other. Batman fails his most known tenet of Don’t Kill People on multiple occasions, something Superman has already accomplished by the end of Man of Steel. Batman writes the death toll off as criminal scum and collateral damage, and Superman watches an entire courtroom blow up with silent detachment, then flies off without searching for survivors in the wreckage (or putting out the fire with his freeze breath, at the very least). Again, it’s hard to imagine both of their comic counterparts coming to the conclusion that death is an acceptable outcome without seriously questioning who they are and who they want to be as heroes.

All of this serves to build up a toxic masculinity that doesn’t offer nuanced portraits of its subjects. Batman and Superman and Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent tick off nearly all the boxes in this category, exemplifying violence, a severe lack of emotional response, and righteous anger framed as an exception to the no-emotion rule. It was disconcerting to not see Superman–or even Bruce Wayne, charming businessman and philanthropist–smile. Serious movies can and do have moments of brevity, but without them, the result is a film that simply ticks off squares like “cold and aloof,” “vigilante,” “brooding,” “scowls a lot,” and “They killed my wife/child/family!! I’ll make them pay!!!” in Tormented Male Protagonist Bingo.

Batman v Superman wasn’t great in terms of other characterizations, either. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was a new version of Lex that missed the mark on an old foe. The new Lex is a millenial boss, an outgoing guy who wears Chuck Taylors and t-shirts with suit jackets and has a basketball court in his office building. Making Lex such a seemingly young version of himself was an odd choice, especially in a film where Batman and Superman are older versions of their characters. The overall effect was more of an Edward Nigma than Lex Luthor, so while it was easy to picture Eisenberg playing a dark and twisted version of the Riddler in Snyder’s DC Universe, it was harder to take him seriously as Lex.

This aside, Lex Luthor was his own form of toxic masculinity. Though he isn’t calling bingo on the “biceps the size of your thighs” square, Lex is instantly recognizable as the kind of guy women on college campuses cross the street to avoid. He too possessed a disconcerting lack of emotion (save, again, for anger) as well as a tendency to commit violent acts without a thought. While it’s not made clear what his motivations are outside of an unexplained hatred of Batman and Superman, Lex Luthor makes no bones about destroying anyone who gets in his way. Women, especially, are inconsequential, as shown when he pushes Lois Lane from the top of the LexCorp building, and more subtly in how he treats his assistant, Mercy Graves. Though clearly on his side, Mercy was treated more as a fashion accessory than a human, barely communicating beyond nods and glances until her death in the Capitol explosion. It adds to Lex Luthor’s particular brand of toxic masculinity that she falls victim to the dreaded refrigerator. It’s also troubling because where other versions of Mercy portray her with a quick wit and expert martial arts skills, her lack of agency in Batman v Superman also plays into the harmful “submissive Asian” trope.

The film’s treatment of women doesn’t get much better with its remaining female characters, and it often plays hopscotch between toxically masculine and misogynistic. Mercy Graves and Senator Finch exist solely for their deaths, to further the conflict between Lex Luthor and Superman. Martha Kent’s, and largely, Lois Lane’s presences in the film are contingent on the fact that they’re used as bait in order to wind up Superman on numerous occasions. They too lack agency and the richly developed personalities of their source characters, and instead are entirely subject to Lex’s whims.

Though Lois did get the chance to do some investigative reporting in Batman v Superman, her screen time was skewed toward the time she spent with, pining for, or being rescued by Superman. This Lois isn’t the tough, resourceful character established in the Golden Age, and while her story is inextricably tied to Superman’s, Batman v Superman lacks recognition of the fact that it is, in fact, possible to be in love with someone without losing one’s independence. Lois was damseled on at least three separate occasions, and her presence in the film is relegated to Superman’s Love Interest, Kind Of. Superman, still reeling from the destruction of Metropolis, says at one point that he doesn’t know how to be Superman and her boyfriend, so instead of working through this like people in healthy adult relationships do, Clark spends half of his scenes with Lois ignoring her and the other half rescuing her. Lois seems to cause him more anguish than anything else, a relationship that lends itself to the newer, more tortured Superman.

In a way, this film seems inevitable, precluded by nearly ten years of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The success of these films have produced a brooding loner Batman and Superman, versions that exist only in a film genre that has produced lots of dark and gritty over the years. It’s a tone that can work in film, but with intention. There’s a difference between using grit to critique a genre (think Alan Moore’s Watchmen) and using it for the sake of being edgy and new, and that’s another aspect in which Batman v Superman missed the mark, because nothing about it felt new or exciting.

Wonder Woman and cameos from Aquaman and the Flash were bright spots in the movie, but weren’t quite enough to save it or reverse the damage done by its portrayals of other characters. It was nice to meet Gal Gadot as Diana Prince before her debut in the upcoming Wonder Woman, but her screen time was fairly limited, and Jeremy Irons was another enjoyable addition to the cast as Alfred. Despite fans’ initial surprise at the casting, Ben Affleck wasn’t the worst part of the movie, and was daresay entertaining, most notably in Bruce’s sleuthing and his interactions with Alfred. In a different film, Batffleck would have been a delightful surprise, but even Snyder’s version of Batman is still overshadowed by Nolan’s work. There’s a distinctly new story being set up, even though the Dark Knight trilogy also used The Dark Knight Returns as its base storyline. Nolan’s Batman is characteristically similar to Snyder’s, at times exhibiting the same toxic masculinity, and it’s clear that many of Batffleck’s traits were grandfathered in. The problem, then, is that Snyder’s Batman was written with the goal of being a new version of Batman while doing nothing to distinguish Affleck-Batman from Bale-Batman, except perhaps giving Batffleck an even darker outlook and a distinct lack of human connection. Because Bale-Batman was such a recent event in the DC Cinematic Universe history and Batman v Superman wasn’t given the eight-year gap that Batman & Robin and Batman Begins had, the effect was more of an indirect continuation than a fresh start.

Batman v Superman’s plot simply didn’t hold, trying to do too much from too little source material taken out of its original context. It tried and failed to be a new take on two of the most established superheroes in comic book history by losing their morality and asking questions it failed to answer. The toxic masculinity present throughout the film overshadowed everything else. The most radical thing this movie could have done was to show two compassionate characters who respect each other working together, but by treating Clark and Bruce as two men steeped in their own pain, it failed its source material and its fans.

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Review: CHAINMAIL BIKINI The Anthology of Women Gamers

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Copacetic Comics carries a lot of local and indie comics–if you’re in or near Pittsburgh, it’s definitely worth checking out.

I am a terrible gamer. So terrible, in fact, that I don’t really consider myself a “gamer,” rather, I’m more of a “person who plays one game and that game is the Batman Arkham series and actually I’m not too bad at it.” Batman is the exception to my rule.

However, I enjoy gaming in theory, so in the spirit of my 2016 resolution (be less terrible at video games, stop playing only Batman) I recently picked up Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers at The Copacetic Comics Company in Pittsburgh. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen much buzz about it, even though the book was released in September 2015.

It’s great.

Chainmail Bikini came to fruition after a campaign on Kickstarter funded
its printing. It’s a comic anthology about many things: gaming as an escape, how gender influences gaming, how it impacted a generation. It’s a unique approach to the conversation about women gamers in the wake of GamerGate, focusing on individual storytelling rScreen Shot 2016-01-07 at 9.05.53 AMather than making a singular point. All anecdotes fall within the categorization of “about gaming,” but forty different writers/artists took this theme in different directions. Some stories focus on relationships and sense of community the storyteller developed through gaming while others are centered on how gaming helped the author develop their sense of identity. The stories range from quick and fun to deeply serious in tone with a mix of each, resulting in a tone that isn’t overwhelmingly happy or sad–it is what it is, and more than anything, it is experiences in gaming laid bare.

The two most important aspects of this anthology, perhaps, are its diversity and its definition of gaming. Women of different ethnicities, sexualities, and gender identities are responsible for and are represented in Chainmail Bikini’s stories, proving, yet again, that gaming isn’t exclusively for heterosexual white guys–it’s for everybody.

Something that I hadn’t considered before I read Chainmail Bikini is what makes a gamer. I always think of gamers as men who take things way seriously and yell at consoles, but not all gamers in the anthology play video games. LARPers and tabletop gamers are also represented, and there are references to Animal Crossing and Tamagotchi.

As it stands, I’ve reconsidered my gaming experience. Reading “Let Me Do It” by Sara Goetter reminded me of the hours my brother and I would spend working through Kingdom Hearts and Scooby Doo: Night of 100 Frights (the only games we could agree on enough to play together). “Pocket Worlds” by Anna Rose gave me a sense of nostalgia for the times my mom and I would hunch over at our desktop computer, playing through HER Interactive’s Nancy Drew fantastic computer game series (by my count, we played through an impressive eighteen of them).

The point being: This book redefines gaming. I am perhaps more of a gamer than I thought.

Though it’s not without flaws–some stories are a bit muddled in their art and are hard to understand in the first read–Chainmail Bikini is well worth a read by anyone who is interested in comics, gaming, and/or feminism. I would also encourage men who inhabit these spaces, whether they’re online or physical, to give it a read. It’s worth it just to consider a viewpoint different from your own, because the important takeaway of this book, though not stated in an explicit thesis, is to remind readers that almost everyone has experiences with gaming, because gaming is for everybody.

Buy/Preview Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers

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Maddi’s 2015 Top 5

I read a lot this year, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Between textbooks (which, more often than not, were novels) and massive reading binges in July, I plowed through a sizable amount of the stack of unread trades that seems to be a permanent fixture on my bedside table. These were some of my favorites:

5. Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Brooke Allen, Grace Ellis, and Shannon Watters

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From Lumberjanes #3

Lumberjanes is my go-to feel good comic. It never fails to make me smile, and while it is aimed toward a younger audience, there’s a lot for the older crowd to enjoy, too. The main characters–Mal, Molly, Jo, April, and Ripley–are diverse in background and personality, and I’d like to think that this comic has something almost everyone can relate to. At the very least, there’s a huge focus on healthy friendships, which can be lessons for younger readers, or good reminders to us older fans.
Buy: Digitally || As a holdable thing

4. Wytches, by Scott Snyder and Jock

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Wytches is an ongoing horror comic about that thing that lives in your woods. No, really, those gnarled old trees out back are full of terrors. The story is equal parts compelling and don’t-wanna-read-it-in-the-dark, as all good horror stories are.
Buy: Digitally || For a shelf

3. Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

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The comic is about as SFW as you’d expect, so instead, here’s a picture of THE Margaret Atwood reading the collected version, Big Hard Sex Criminals.

I’ve told a lot of people to read Sex Criminals, and have since developed the ability to deadpan the phrase, “It’s about people who, when they orgasm, stop time and obviously use this to do what any of us would do, and rob banks.” If that doesn’t convince you to read this comic, please take another gander at Margaret Atwood reading this comic.
Buy: Digitally || The Big Hard version

2. Pretty Deadly, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

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Pretty Deadly came back just in the nick of time. After a year-plus long hiatus, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios have resurrected the vibrant and beautifully told story of Sissy, Deathface Ginny, and Big Alice. Pretty Deadly is a story of vengeance and, of course, death–a beautiful story brought to life by even more beautiful art.
Buy: Digitally || Not Digitally

1. The Wicked + The Divine, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

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From The Wicked + The Divine #2

I have told everybody and their mother to read The Wicked + The Divine. If you’re not everybody and their mother and haven’t heard of it, the concept is that every ninety years, twelve gods are reincarnated as artists, performers, musicians, etc. In two years, they’re dead. Currently, the issues focus on the most recent Pantheon and the dramatic lives and deaths of its members.
Buy: Digitally || Throwable version for when you read #11

Honorable Mention for comic that I still wouldn’t stop talking about even as it ended early this year:

Hawkeye, by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu

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From Hawkeye #2

Hawkeye could technically count because it ended this year, but that was mostly due to a wildly unpredictable publishing schedule. Hawkeye ending is probably for the better, because I think people are tired of me talking about it, but it’s absolutely one of my forever favorites. Clint Barton is probably the least super Avenger, and it’s perfectly fitting that he’s the central character of this comic. More than anything, it’s a story that focuses deeply on humanity and ordinary people going out of their way to help others, with a little room left over for a happy ending.
Buy: Digitally || Not Digitally

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#RenewAgentCarter: Season 1 Recap

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This article contains minor spoilers! You have been warned.

Agent Carter wrapped up its first season with “Valediction” last night. The show, which ran eight episodes over seven increments, ended the season’s arc neatly but left several loose threads that a potential season two could pick up.

One of the highlights of the episode was the showdown fight between Peggy and Dottie Underwood, something that has been looming since episode six, “A Sin to Err.” (Without going too in-depth, it was very satisfying to watch and stayed true to Peggy’s style of taking whomever comes at her and hitting them very hard.)

That being said, one of the other highlights of the episode was Peggy finally getting some closure after Captain America’s death. In an emotionally charged scene toward the end of the episode, Peggy got to say a final goodbye, prompting a general outcry of sadness from fans on Twitter.

Agent Carter is Marvel’s first solo-female title, though AKA Jessica Jones is slated to hit Netflix later this year. It’d be remiss to write a review of this show without mentioning that Hayley Atwell’s acting brings Peggy Carter to life in a very human way, and with her, this show has managed to accomplish a heck of a lot in developing well-rounded women—something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a fairly poor track record in doing, so far.

Peggy is consistently shown as having emotional depth in her relationships—with Steve Rogers, but also with Angie Martinelli, Edwin Jarvis, and Howard Stark—but she can also kick some serious butt. She is more than her badge, more than her heels and trademark red lipstick. Peggy is a complex character, and one of the best parts of the show was watching her strength in dealing with sexist coworkers and gender expectations.

However, not all strong women have to be physically strong, and it was also nice to see Angie given depth and character traits besides “Peggy’s friend.” One of the things Agent Carter succeeded in was creating relationships that seemed to have weight and meaning to Peggy, and it would be nice to see the show renewed not only for plot reasons, but also to watch Peggy’s development as a character as she continues to find her place.

In coming seasons (fingers crossed) it would be nice to see Peggy facing a more worthy villain. While the antagonists this season set up a crucial part of Captain America canon (the origins of HYDRA, the Winter Soldier project and the Black Widow Program were hinted at, if not explicitly shown) Peggy seemed to have them far outmatched and outsmarted.

One other thing Agent Carter could improve on would be its cast diversity. Even though it was great to see women taking center stage, there were almost no characters of color featured. Racial diversity has always been something the MCU has ignored, but it would be a step in the right direction to show more of the Howling Commandos (Captain America’s team, and an integrated unit) or to have Peggy’s romance with Howling Commando Gabe Jones recognized on screen.

Hopefully, these aren’t damning flaws, and are things that could be addressed in a subsequent season. Though no second season has been officially announced, according to TV By the Numbers, Tuesday’s episode had 4.0 million viewers and held its own against The Voice and FOX comedies. Both the #RenewAgentCarter and #AgentCarterFinale tags are going strong on Twitter a day later.

Flaws aside, Agent Carter is a breath of fresh air in a genre absolutely dominated by male heroes. It’s smart, witty, certainly worth a watch, and hopefully worth a shot at a second season.

Miss an episode? Catch up with Peggy and the gang on ABC or Hulu.