Jan 7, 2020

Return of the Sadguy

Hello, internet people.

It appears I have not used this blog in over two years. I was apparently only using it to write about DC movies that I didn't care for. That's not a super-constructive use of time, probably. In fact it may be less constructive than just not writing anything at all. Over the past few years I've done a lot of writing, mainly for Comics Beat, which is amazing. But I haven't done much writing that's just for myself in quite a while. It's 2020 now, and I want to get back to that. I apologize in advance if the quality is not very good.

Anyway, here I am. And friends, I am sad. I would even go so far as to say I'm depressed.

It's a familiar feeling, but not one that I've felt for an extended period of time in quite a while. Probably not since...2007? Whenever it was that I got medicated for it. I take anti-anxiety meds, a relatively low-dose, but it usually keeps me pretty stable. For the past three months or so, though, it's been less effective. There are pretty clear reasons for it, at least.

I'm sad about Max, our dog of over nine years, who got sick in late October and died in late November. His absence isn't as obvious now as it was in the days and weeks immediately following his death, but I still feel it. I have to stop myself from reflexively saying 'my dogs' when talking about pets. Thankfully I work at home and don't talk to people very often. That also gives me a lot of time to wallow, so maybe that's not the best.

I'm also sad about Mara, our other dog, who was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago. That's had its ups and downs, but she's been pretty stable following an initial surgery (and another surgery for a new growth late last year) and with medication. Most of the time you wouldn't even know she's sick. I think in the wake of Max being gone, though, both Jennie and I have become hyper-vigilant of her behavior, so any change, however slight, is causing a lot of concern. I still haven't adjusted to Max being gone. I'm not anywhere near ready to say goodbye to Mara.

There are a lot of other things I'm sad about. I'm sad about the state of the world. About leaders who do not have our best interests, or anything beyond their own interests, in mind. About the fires burning in Australia. About gun violence that continues unabated. And about what feels like my overall inability to do anything about any of these things.

So yeah. I'm sad. I'm pretty sure some of this is the weather, too. It's been raining for the past week and a half, and I don't remember the last time I saw the sun (Joe, you live in the Pacific Northwest, what did you expect). My depression has never been as bad as I know it is for others. It's not the kind that keeps me from getting out of bed. But it's the kind that crushes all motivation to do basically anything but the bare minimum to get by. It's the kind that results in sitting on the couch for hours on end, mindlessly scrolling through Twitter until my phone dies while a TV show I've watched numerous times already plays in the background. (The Twitter scrolling doesn't help.) It's the kind that makes me want to order food instead of make something. If it requires any sort of mental effort, I'm not interested in doing it.

That's not really conducive to trying to make changes or keep resolutions or whatever in a new year. But one of my goals for 2020 was to write more personal stuff. Whether that's fiction or comics or just rambling nonsense like this. I think voicing some of this out loud has helped. And the fact that I even sat down to do it is probably a good thing.

So that's progress?

Nov 19, 2017


At around the ninety minute mark of Justice League, I took my phone out of my pocket and started texting with friends.

I want to be clear about something here. People who use their phones during movies, like people who talk loudly during movies, are garbage people and should be wiped from the face of the earth in a cleansing flood, so that the rest of us onboard the ark of proper movie watchers can enjoy movies in goddamn peace. This is how I feel about using a phone during a movie.

And yet, I was so bored during Justice League. I was seated in the back row of the auditorium, and no one was around, so I was relatively confident that I wouldn’t disturb anyone. And so, I broke my cardinal rule of going to the movies.

I did not like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but I enjoyed watching it. There were moments within it that delighted me, and things about it that I found laughably bad. There is nothing particularly delightful in Justice League, and it was not bad enough to be laughable. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that it’s a bad movie. It’s just boring. It’s a limp noodle without any sauce. Would you ever eat cooked, dry pasta? Why would you?

There were things that I liked in Justice League. A few jokes that landed pretty well for me. There’s a Teen Titans Go! reference that made me laugh and that I think I was the only person in the theater to notice. Wonder Woman’s initial action sequence is fantastic. And it was really nice to hear Elfman’s classic Batman theme in a new context. Towards the end of the movie I found myself just listening for that amidst the crowded action sequences.

Those few things that I enjoyed are surrounded by...I’m struggling to come up with a descriptor because honestly it’s all so non-descript. What should have been a thrill - to see my favorite heroes plus Aquaman and Cyborg all together on a big screen - ended up being entirely underwhelming.

I wish I could put my finger on what it was that didn’t excite me about the movie. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’ve seen a lot of people point to the villain. There’s really nothing compelling at all about Steppenwolf. Like Zod in Man of Steel, Steppenwolf is (I think) trying to remake Earth to be more like his homeworld. Unlike Zod, his motives for trying to do this are pretty unclear beyond ‘it’s just what he does’. But the movie spends so little time with Steppenwolf that it’s hard to pin everything on him.

There were other little things that bugged me. Not surprisingly, I had nits to pick about The Flash. The speed effects for The Flash clearly cost more than those on the Flash TV series, but they were also a lot harder to follow, a mess of blue lightning and blurs. A super-speed slowdown scene for the scarlet speedster was reminiscent of similar Quicksilver sequences in the last two X-Men movies, but without the whimsy of its predecessors. And then there’s the hastily-executed resurrection of Superman, the notion for which came seemingly out of the blue and which resulted in a really unpleasant sequence of Kal-El beating the hell out of the Justice League while a stepped-down, grimdark version of the John Williams Superman theme played. There’s something I never needed to hear in my life.

I think, ultimately, the thing that most disappoints me is that I could see the potential for a good movie there. The story hinges on Steppenwolf finding three Mother Boxes that have been hidden on Earth for thousands of years. The thing is, everyone knows exactly where the three boxes are from the moment Steppenwolf arrives. He actually arrives in the location where one of them is being kept (on Themyscira). We also know, based on an exposition dump from Diana, that the Atlanteans have one of the boxes. And anyone who saw BvS knows that the third box is what helped Silas Stone turn his son, Victor, into Cyborg. But how great would it have been for even one of those facts to be a surprise? This movie needed a sense of urgency to propel it forward, and the League and Steppenwolf racing to find and/or protect the Mother Boxes could easily have been the thing to give it one.

I’ve seen a lot of people praising the movie who’ve tweeted or said some variation of, “I never thought when I was a kid that I would see a JLA movie.” I agree with them on that - I never thought it would happen, either. I just wish it had done these rich, wonderful characters justice.

Mar 24, 2016


I am massively conflicted about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Objectively, it’s not a good movie. It’s an ugly mess of scenes thrown together in a semi-coherent order, leading to a whole that is not at all satisfying. Most of the characters are aggresively unlikeable, and those that are are in far too little of the movie to swing it back towards the direction of watchability. It looks at the chaos and destruction of Man of Steel and asks, ‘But why don’t we set it at night?,’ and then it does exactly that. It’s hard to watch, not because the content is difficult, but because everything is so muddy that it’s frequently hard to tell what’s happening.

All of that said? There were things - scenes and characters and ideas - that I liked, and one part that I kind of loved.

Spoilers both general and minute ahoy.

"Tell me...do you need a ride? It's a two-seater."

The opening sequence yet again gives us the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. I don’t know how many times it’s been said but apparently it didn’t sink in the first hundred thousand times so I guess we have to say it again: the Wayne murder never needs to be shown again. We get it. Bruce’s parents were killed in front of him when he was a kid, and that’s why he hates crime. I understand that you feel the need to keep showing it because how else will we set the tone that this is a grimdark movie and that Batman is a grimdark character if we don’t show the murder of a kid’s parents in the first ten minutes. But come on. We’ve seen this a dozen times now. Can we move on?

That said, I kind of liked how it was handled in this movie. There were things about it that were different and visually unique, particularly about Martha Wayne’s death. The gunman’s weapon catches on the pearls around her neck, and the gun firing on her is what pulls them from her neck and causes them to spill. The spray of the pearls as she falls makes for an interesting stand-in for any blood in the scene. I really appreciated how that was done.

Another reason that they had to show the Wayne murder was to establish that Bruce’s mother’s name was Martha. You know who else’s mother’s name is Martha? Clark Kent. That’s something that I’ve always found kind of amusing, and that is both addressed and used as an important plot point in this movie. (Before anyone asks, no, they don’t have the same mother.) It was one of those things where I kind of groaned, but again I appreciated it. Like a really well-executed pun.

Another thing that made me smile was what I think was an attempted correction of mistakes made during Man of Steel. There’s an extended sequence at the beginning of the movie about what Bruce Wayne was doing during the events of MoS - a lot of that has been shown in the trailers and commercials, and it’s basically all about how many people died during the fight between Superman and the Phantom Zone criminals, which, unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ll recognize as one of the largest complaints people had about MoS. So now we’ve got this movie, and we get towards the end when shit starts blowing up and there’s again massive destruction from fights between super-powered beings, and at more than one point in this movie, someone on-screen makes a point to mention that there are no civilians in harm’s way. Either it’s because it’s night and apparently everyone who works in downtown Metropolis commutes in from the suburbs, or because “Stryker’s Island is unpopulated” so it’s not a big deal that it gets completely destroyed. I appreciate that they added those lines of dialogue, but I also feel like maybe it was done out of spite, which kind of makes me like it even more. Either way, it made me smile.

"We make cameos for some reason!"

This movie plants seeds for the future Justice League - you could say that it dawns here - in probably the most clunky way possible: Lex Luthor has been collecting data on metahumans, and he has files on would-be Leaguers Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Each of these files contains brief videos of the characters out-of-costume. Overall, this added nothing to the movie other than setting up future movies. But one thing that I loved was the Cyborg video, which essentially shows recordings made by Vic Stone’s father, Silas, leading up to an origin for the character. Silas Stone is played by the creator of SkyNet himself, Joe Morton. I love seeing Joe Morton in things, and the mental connection to his character from Terminator 2 in relation to his character here made me happy.

It’s been said in other places already, but Wonder Woman is great, and in far too little of the movie. Gal Gadot has a presence about her both in and out of WW costume that really took me by surprise. In a movie about super-serious dudes trying to kill each other, she was a breath of fresh air. Equally great is Jesse Eisenberg, who has a great time devouring scenery as Lex Luthor. His Luthor is evil, make no mistake about it, but there’s more nuance to him than we’ve seen on-screen before. He’s reminiscent of the Luthor in the great miniseries Luthor: Man of Steel, and of his portrayal in Superman: Birthright. And, as much as I loved Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey, he didn’t mention land once.

Those are all things that I liked and appreciated. The one thing that I think I loved came towards the end of the movie, after Superman and Batman had forgotten why they were mad at each other, after Doomsday had arrived, and after Wonder Woman had made her perfect arrival on the scene. There was something genuinely thrilling about seeing Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman fighting together on a big screen. The action was still muddy, and Doomsday was still an amorphous CG abomination, but seeing those heroes teamed up made me positively giddy. I feel like, more than anything, eliciting that response from seeing those characters all together, in a movie that was otherwise nearly devoid of anything new or interesting, might be the sole purpose for this movie having been made. And if that’s the case, mission accomplished.

It was just neat to see them all together, y'know?

Again, it’s not a good movie. Superman and Batman have never been more unlikeable. For the most part I did not enjoy watching it. But I’m also glad that I saw it so that I could make up my mind about it for myself.

Oh, also, Superman dies.

Jun 14, 2013

On Superman and MAN OF STEEL

*Warning: Analysis and Mild, Non-Specific Spoilers for Man of Steel ahead.*

I’m not sure when I fell in love with Superman. I’ve been reading Superman comics for as long as I’ve been reading comics, but I wouldn’t say that I loved the character until recently, and I’m not sure that I can pinpoint just when it happened. It was before Superman Returns came out, for sure – the tears of joy that I cried while watching that movie for the first time were copious, and while I later came to recognize that it’s a flawed film, it's still one that I really enjoy.

I think, actually, that it was Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s incredible All-Star Superman that made me really get what Superman is all about. Superman is about the best of us. He exemplifies that ideal, and makes those around him strive to be better than they are. He inspires hope and peace. Batman is about the darkness in us; Superman is about the light, the inherent good in people. Superman is for everyone.

I went into Man of Steel hoping that the film would capture those feelings. Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are dark, painfully serious affairs. That may work for Batman, but with Nolan producing Man of Steel my fear had been that it would feel the same way. The last couple of trailers gave me hope, though. The voiceover from Russell Crowe’s Jor-El made it sound like Nolan and director Zach Snyder got it, that Superman would be that inspiration, that beacon for the world that he’s supposed to be.
There’s a lot to like about Man of Steel. I thought the cast was superb. Henry Cavill is a likable Clark Kent, Amy Adams is stellar as Lois Lane, and Michael Shannon is wonderfully maniacal as General Zod. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane’s turns as Jonathan and Martha Kent give the film nearly all of its emotional depth. Antje Traue is great as Faora, Zod's number one lieutenant and a major adversary of Superman's during one of the larger fight sequences.  The bit players that surround the headliners are a who’s who of favorites – Laurence Fishburne, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, and Harry Lennix all get a good amount of screen-time, and it’s great to see Battlestar Galactica alums Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani in anything. Schiff in particular is masterful casting as the Superman universe’s resident scientist, Emil Hamilton (a role that, coincidentally, Juliani played on Smallville). The effects are beautiful, particularly during the Krypton sequences. The action sequences are intense and the stakes are high. Anyone who complained that Superman never hits things in the other movies should have no complaints here. And yet…

They missed him. They missed Superman. They missed the thing that makes me love him – his complete and utter selflessness.

Sure, at one point Superman hands himself over to the Kryptonian army in an attempt to spare the Earth. That’s great. But after that? Superman spends so much time hitting things that he doesn’t have time for anything else. He doesn’t have time to make sure no one’s in his way. He doesn’t have time to direct the action away from populated or developed areas. He doesn’t have time to save people who might have been caught in the crossfire of the one-man war that he’s fighting against an army of human-hating Kryptonian killers.

And that’s not Superman.

Superman always has time for those things. He always makes sure no one’s injured, or if they are that they’re taken care of. He always tries to move the fight to a location where minimal damage will be done. His first thought is always about how to keep people safe. How to beat the bad guys is part of that, but it’s not all there is.

There is one moment in Man of Steel of pure joy – Clark’s first flight, of course – and a few brief bits of humor, but overall it’s exactly what I feared it would be: a relentlessly dour, almost completely joyless movie. Superman in this film feels like a weapon. When he flies, he thunders away, and when he lands, he tends to tumble and crash. He is the most powerful man on the planet, and he’s worried about how people are going to react to that, and given the way he acts he’s right to be worried. There’s a grace to Superman that is absent from him in this movie. Maybe it’s because it’s an origin story and he’s still learning. I tend to think it’s just something the filmmakers didn’t think about while they were making the movie.

One thing you can tell Snyder definitely thought about was wholesale destruction of cities large and small. There are action sequences in both Smallville and Metropolis that basically leave both cities demolished. It’s as if Snyder watched the Destroyer sequence from Thor and the climactic battle of The Avengers and thought, ‘This shit is amateur hour.’ If the quality of a movie is directly proportional to the cost of repairing the city destroyed in it, then Man of Steel must be the best movie of all time.

All in all, Man of Steel is a fine movie. The story is decent and the action is exciting. As a Superman movie, though, the film fundamentally lacks an understanding of what makes Superman Superman . It takes more than a set of powers to be Superman. Hopefully Clark will have developed those qualities by the time Man of Steel 2 rolls around.

May 21, 2012

The King of Cartoons

My friend Jason Young has been making comics for as far back as I can remember. So, since 1999, the year of my traumatic head injury. Okay, that didn't really happen, and I can remember lots of stuff from before '99 (most of it involves toys or comics). True story, though: when I was in high school I fell off the side of a flatbed truck. It wasn't in motion or anything, but as soon as I hit the ground I was certain I had broken my neck and was paralyzed forever. That turned out to not be the case, but man, that was the most terrifying four seconds of my life.

Where was I?  Oh, yes, Jason Young.  I've been friends with Jason for a long time - we both work/have worked together at Mavericks Cards & Comics in beautiful Dayton, OH, and we both friggin' love comics. I've read all of Jason's comics since Panic Attack oh those years ago, and I've been a fan ever since. And not just because he's my friend. If I thought his comics sucked, I wouldn't be writing about them.  He's an excellent storyteller, and I've really enjoyed watching his writing and art evolve and improve over the past decade-plus.

Jason does a mini-comic called Veggie Dog Saturn, filled with autobiographical tales of the past and present. Last year he told me he was going to be doing a special issue with all of the artists that he knows. He would write stories and have them draw them, and it would be really fun and cool. I told him I thought that was a great idea. Then he asked me to draw a story for the special, and I asked if he was feeling alright. He assured me that he was, and after I made sure he really wanted me to do it, I agreed happily.

He sent me the script for the three-page story in May of 2011.  By March of 2012, I had completed one page. When he gave me a deadline for it, I managed to crank out the remaining two pages within two weeks.  Lesson learned: Joe needs deadlines.

The story I drew is called "The King of Cartoons". The Veggie Dog Saturn Special is available for purchase here. While you're on his site, check out Jason's other work, including his regular diary comics, "Day-Off Diaries".  A preview of "The King of Cartoons" is here:


I have to admit, I'm really proud of this story. The rest of the special is excellent as well and features some really funny and really touching stories. Everyone who worked on this book is amazing. Plus me. You should all order a copy from Jason right away.

Between working on this book and going to a small-press comic convention up in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, I'm seriously itching to make more comics. Post-Script was a good warmup (copies still available, kids!), but drawing this story for Jason instilled some real confidence in me. Writing scripts and doing concept work at the moment.  More to come sooner rather than later.