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Dr.Bedlam

The Dark Age Of Super Heroes

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So back in 1986, I knew this guy who was BIG into comics. He introduced me to independent comics, which I barely knew existed (stuff like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the hilarious Dr. Radium), but he also turned me on to two other very influential comics: Watchmen, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

 

Batman was pretty amazing. It started off as your typical "imaginary story," with a fifty year old Batman, and from there, deconstructed the entire IDEA of Batman, turned it on its head. Very good stuff!

Watchmen was even more amazing, starting with its artistic choices (the cover image was invariably the first AND last panel of the actual story) and following through with its bizarre, noirish deconstruction of everything superheroes stood for. Only one hero had powers, and he seemed like an example of why a society (and government) would never be able to tolerate a genuine superhuman. All the OTHER heroes? Only one is genuinely motivated by the idea of truth, justice, and righteousness; the others fight crime for a variety of reasons judging from sadism, sexual sadism, commercialism, fameseeking, cosplay... and sheer hatred. Author Alan Moore made a creepy point: in a real world, people who dress up in costumes to fight crime are going to be a rather ... odd bunch of people. Most of them won't be very nice.

 

"Wow," I thot to myself. "This is the first comic I think I have ever read that really qualifies as literature." And then I got on with the rest of my life.

Fastforward four years, and another friend of mine has got a job at a comic shop. The night Superman died, he asked me if I could come help out, in exchange for store credit; the Death Of Superman had made the news, and everyone was gonna buy fifty copies and save them for ten years, and then retire on the profits from the resale. Superman dies tonight!

"You are large and bearded," he said. "Could you put on that jacket that makes you look like a biker, and come play security, just in case? We're not expecting trouble, but..."

And so myself and several other thuglike presences formed a human barrier while the owner and my pal unbundled the comics and put them out for sale. Two copies to a customer. There was grumbling, but no trouble. And I spent a lot of time looking over various comic books with which I was unfamiliar. Apparently, super heroes carried guns, now. Guns, bigger than my torso. The artwork seemed sketchier than I remembered. And pouches; apparently capes were out, but ammo belts with many, MANY pouches were now mandatory. Whatever these heroes were using to fight crime, apparently, they needed a LOT of it, in single-serving sizes, even the ones who didn't carry guns.

Since I wasn't a regular consumer of comics, I had missed the Dawning Of The Age Of Grimdark, aka the Dark Age Of Comics.

In hindsight, the reason was obvious. The Dark Knight Returns had been grim and gritty, with dialogue like "There are seven working defenses from this position. Three of them disarm. Three of them kill. The other one... HURTS!" And a Batman who was filled with anger and rage and not QUITE willing to kill the Joker, but fully prepared to put him in traction, break legs and bones, and do whatever it took to restore order. And in the same story, Batman gains a mob of teenage imitators, who go so far as to maim a store clerk that they think "didn't put up enough of a fight" against a robber. The Russians launch a nuke, which blacks out Gotham and nearly kills Superman, who stops it from wiping out the city. Grimdark, indeed.

 

Watchmen is similarly dark and violent; hell, the story BEGINS with someone throwing one of our heroes out a window, and ends with a slew of murders and a near apocalypse. 

And these were the two most influential comics to come out of the eighties. It's no surprise that the trend after that was "Grim and gritty, to the point where there's not much difference between the good guys and the bad, as long as there's plenty of blood and gore and guts and veins in m'teeth, sarge, I wanna KILL... KILL... KILL..."

And so all this leads up to a few years later when superheroes carry gigantic guns that look like Star Trek vacuum cleaners, many ammo pouches, have superhero names like Deathkillblood, and Superman is dead. Not long after, there was a market correction. Market saturation and waning interest on the part of the fans led to a shock in the comic book market. People quit buying. Some publishers went out of business. A LOT of comics went unsold. And on eBay, you can still buy a black bagged "Death Of Superman" comic for only slightly more than cover price, more than 25 years later.

Two comics, made by very talented people, who had a reason to deconstruct, and an actual story to tell, had revitalized... and then gradually derailed... the entire comics industry.

Which got me to thinking about the movies.

I saw the movie version of Watchmen. It was among the first of the current wave of superhero movies, if I recall. And it was among the first to get that grim, gritty, grimdark feel. I walked out thinking, "Well, that Zach Snyder guy got the overall LOOK right, but somehow, I think he missed what the author was trying to SAY."

And while the Marvel movies drew audiences and made big big box office, whoever was in charge at Time Warner said, "Hey, this Zach Snyder guy seems to 'get' superheroes. Let's put him in charge of all OUR superhero movies, so we, too, can draw audiences and make big box office."

And Man Of Steel was... well, it wasn't a Superman movie, despite the presence of a guy dressed in a rather dark colored Superman suit. And Batman Vs. Superman just freakin' creeped me out. These were not superheroes; these were simply people strong and ruthless enough to force their will on others, and the little people should damn well stay out of their way if they know what's good for them. I haven't seen Justice League yet, but I had come to a decision: the characters on all the CW superhero TV shows were far closer to the comics I grew up with than the violent, ruthless, arrogant man-gods of these dark, unpleasant movies.

Watchmen was the finest comic event in years... but it shook comics, and ultimately, its imitators badly damaged the entire industry. And crazily enough, the movie based on it had the same effect on the comic book movies made by the same company.

Alan Moore went on record as saying he felt that DC/Time/Warner had ripped him off, and that he would never work for them again, after Watchmen. Wonder if he's realized that his revenge was practically built into the process?



 





 

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Harris Bomberguy did a semi-comedic video essay about the great comics that influenced the Dark Age of Comics and why it ultimately led to its downfall, while also discussing the failures of the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke.

 

 

 

It is kind of interesting how after Watchmen, Swamp Thing, the Killing Joke, Miracleman/Marvelman and others, Alan Moore then worked at reconstructing the superhero genre, amusingly enough mostly through Rob Liefeld creations like Youngblood (Judgement Day) and Supreme.

And Frank Miller just fell off his rocker.

 

 

As for the Watchmen film, I'm paraphrasing but the best description I've ever heard of it was "I've never seen someone adapt a work so faithfully while missing its point so entirely".

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I loved the Watchmen graphic novel and the film, I don’t think it missed the point at all

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I love Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but for me the pinnacle of DC in the 80s was Crisis on Infinite Earths. Sadly some  years later DC undid every significant thing in Crisis with Infinite Crisis.

 

I've more or less quit reading any mainstream comics. I enjoy Invincible quite a bit, but it's winding down. Two issues 'til it's over I think. I also liked Rising Stars and Midnight Nation, because they were conceived with a definite end to the story. 

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The problem is that Snyder gets the surface, but does not get the under currents.

 

I actually liked Watchmen - both movie and book.

 

But part of the enjoyment of the movie was reading what I had seen in the comics into the abbreviated version shown on the screen - if I had not read the comics first then the story would have fallen apart.

 

It was like a Cliff Notes version, or maybe Reader's Digest.

 

I honestly think that they need to do a soft reboot - ignore everything Snyder, and build from Wonder Woman.

 

One thing I find very annoying is that I have no idea how good or bad Henry Cavill is as Superman - Snyder's directorial decisions overshadowed everything else in both MoS and BvS. Everything from the dialog to the color palette stemmed from Snyder. (Hey, look! We just killed Jimmy Olson, before he even got any dialog! Hilarious, isn't it! Huh, that's funny, ticket sales dropped like a rock after the first weekend....) On the flip side of that, Henry Cavill has admitted that Snyder's style just did not work for Superman. (It may have worked for Batman... but instead Snyder got the world's biggest boy scout, and turned him into a thug.)

 

I enjoyed Mystery Men - which is kinda a grim dark comedy. And has an even more lunar tinged palette than Snyder uses.

 

Nolan's Batman movies are pretty danged Grim and Dark, and take serious liberties with the characters - but also had coherent plots, and characters that were more than two dimensional shadows.

 

Snyder's super hero movies don't even hold together as movies. ::(:

 

Yeah, not a fan of Snyder....

 

The Auld Grump - Captain America: Civil War was the cheap, rushed knockoff... but was a better movie than the one it was competing against. They got both the characters and the audience. Snyder... didn't get either.

Edited by TheAuldGrump
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I gave up on mainstream comics a long time ago.

And when I heard about 'collectors issues' where they had several versions of the same comic, but with different covers, I KNEW that the mainstream comic storytelling was not just dead and buried, but had been dug out by liches who had gone on to Elf it Hard in the number 2 orifice, without lubricants...     

 

And these days when Diamond is trying to kill off the small, established FLGS and comics stores... 

(Forcing them to order obscene amounts of 'special' editions with foil-covered, fingerpainted or whatever's the 'rage' covers to get a decent stock of normal issues that the comic book READERS wants... )

 

Watchmen is a special comic. There's MANY stories in it, uplifting, funny, thought-provoking, scary, horrible...   

I just flat out refuse to believe that they could get all that into a movie. 

 

BTW; The best supehero movie ever, based on a comic, is Mystery Men.

 

And the most 'Faithful' movie adaptation that should never have been made is Toxic Avenger...  

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I wanted to like the animated adaptation of Killing Joke, but tacking that preamble nonsense on where Batman and Batgirl have mad passionate sex just icked me out. It did nothing to improve or enlarge on Batgirl's role in the story, which was largely to be a plot device, and it was way out of character for both participants.

I agree with BlazingTornado. Frank Miller did some fine things in the eighties, but somewhere between there and 2005, something ate the man's sanity. And affected his talent; his trademark chiraoscuro style is way more jagged and sketchy than it used to be.

And while everyone gripes about how in Man Of Steel, Superman allows collateral damage to destroy half of Metropolis, kills his enemy, and exiles the last surviving Kryptonians... MY beef was how his parents tell him that he doesn't really owe anyone anything and is justified in being as selfish and/or indifferent as he pleases.

That, to me, was the exact opposite of what Superman is all ABOUT... and then Zack Snyder goes on some talk show and remarks about how the haters just don't understand the Superman character? Bite me, ya empty headed yob; the character was around and inspiring others before you were a twinkle in yer parents' eyes! And to some extent, I agree with the Grump; Snyder's kind of subscribed to the Michael Bay school of filmmaking, where getting the characters right is subservient to the big noisy expensive set pieces that get put in trailers and sell tickets.

But I'll tell you: Suicide Squad would have sold a hella more tickets if they'd worried less about the set pieces and more about the characters.

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Heh - just got an e-mail from Megan - she has picked up the Blu Ray of Wonder Woman.... ::D:

 

One of the episodes of the Throwing the Gun podcast had a Nerd Fight over Wonder Woman, with opinions ranging from 'Excellent! The Best superhero movie ever!' all the way down to 'Really, really good!' - even the people participating admitted that it was not much of a Nerd Fight. (The one on BvS on the other hand... got its own episode....)

 

And, yeah... telling the audience that they don't get the characters... means that Warner should have dropped Snyder, not given him another movie.

 

The Auld Grump - for the love of mud, if you change the entire basis of the character's personality, you do not get to complain when people don't like the changes that you made, let alone say that they don't get it.

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Coming soon: The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, about a wacky pair of misfits, one being a robot cowboy angel with an addiction to Chips Ahoy and tuna fish, and his sidekick, a teenage hip-hop superhero pixie witch!

BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT!

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36 minutes ago, Dr.Bedlam said:


And while everyone gripes about how in Man Of Steel, Superman allows collateral damage to destroy half of Metropolis, kills his enemy, and exiles the last surviving Kryptonians... MY beef was how his parents tell him that he doesn't really owe anyone anything and is justified in being as selfish and/or indifferent as he pleases.

That, to me, was the exact opposite of what Superman is all ABOUT... and then Zack Snyder goes on some talk show and remarks about how the haters just don't understand the Superman character? Bite me, ya empty headed yob; the character was around and inspiring others before you were a twinkle in yer parents' eyes! And to some extent, I agree with the Grump; Snyder's kind of subscribed to the Michael Bay school of filmmaking, where getting the characters right is subservient to the big noisy expensive set pieces that get put in trailers and sell tickets.

I do hate the killing/destruction in MoS but it'd be a blip were it not for everything else in that trainwreck of a film.

It failed to give us a good Clark Kent story, it failed to give us something unique, it failed to establish a good narrative or arc, failed to give the "Superman kills" moment any proper weight because it failed to establish an aversion to killing in Kal beforehand...

Dan Olson did a pair of video essays about Man of Steel, I should share em....

 

And yes, Zack Snyder is a dimestore Michael Bay, but at least Bay makes no pretense regarding what he does... Snyder honestly thinks he's some sort of deep filmmaker.

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21 minutes ago, Dr.Bedlam said:

Coming soon: The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, about a wacky pair of misfits, one being a robot cowboy angel with an addiction to Chips Ahoy and tuna fish, and his sidekick, a teenage hip-hop superhero pixie witch!

BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT!

 

 

There are worse things than Grim Dark....

 

The Auld Grump

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Killing Joke is a good movie if you skip to where it starts telling the actual story. I'm afraid Gotham By Gaslight is going to end up the same.

 

I figure a reboot of the DC Cinematic is coming, since they are saying the Flash movie is going to be based off of The Flashpoint Paradox. Be a good way for them to write out Affleck as Batman, since I hear he is done. 

 

I thought Brandon Routh was a great Superman, the problem with Superman Returns is that it wasn't about Superman, it was about Clark Kent, and I just don't care.

Like the few minutes we had of him being Superman I thought was quite good. 

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5 minutes ago, TheAuldGrump said:

 

 

There are worse things than Grim Dark....

 

The Auld Grump

5a4d64553db52_e66a94b314a276da5c07002ca402f339(1).jpg.29e4915f32d5469d9415f98d9b296cfa.jpgfacepalm-ernie.jpg.5907e009104804750b94cee391d11c44.jpgimages.jpg.12558086e2aff28b903c1b425f18c1d5.jpg

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8 minutes ago, Dr.Bedlam said:

5a4d64553db52_e66a94b314a276da5c07002ca402f339(1).jpg.29e4915f32d5469d9415f98d9b296cfa.jpgfacepalm-ernie.jpg.5907e009104804750b94cee391d11c44.jpgimages.jpg.12558086e2aff28b903c1b425f18c1d5.jpg

When I saw that trailer, a small part of my soul shriveled up and died.... ::D:

 

The Auld Grump - but ya gotta admit, it made your suggestion look good!

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I miss the awesome Ma and Pa Kent of the “Lois and Clark” TV show.

 

I think the current DC TV shows are way better than the current movies.

 

Heck, I may not care much for “Arrow”. And “The Flash” has some seriously deep-rooted problems with its women characters (although I like Grant Gustin’s portrayal of the main character way better than the movie version). But “Supergirl” has been a delight and “Legends of Tomorrow” has been cheerfully stupid and occasionally surprisingly moving.

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