Summer Superhero Movie Round-Up

The summer superhero movie season has come to an end. We have seen the release of the Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises. So how do these movies stack up against each other?

Let’s take a look.


First off, how do I, as a long time comic book and movie fan feel about each one and compare them?

Cutting to the chase here is how I personally rank them

  1. The Avengers
  2. The Dark Knight Rises
  3. The Amazing Spider-man

When thinking about this ranking I used a simple model of rewatchablity (which I think we can agree should be a word.). This should be true of any Superhero movie ranking, how often do I want to watch it. I saw both Iron Man and The Dark Knight twice in theaters and have watched the DVDs repeatedly. I saw Green Lantern once but have not unwrapped the DVD my wife bought on sale.

With The Amazing  Spider-Man I saw it once in the theater, and I do not think I will be buying it when the home release comes out. For the Dark Knight Rises, I saw it once, and I will be buying it when it is released. I saw the Avengers twice at the theater, would go again if they release the extended cut next month as they have hinted at and will buy it and watch it on September 25th. So from a “do I want to watch it again point of view” the ranking is really clear.

But the big question is why do I feel that way? What makes one Superhero movie better than another?

With Avengers it is simple enough. That movie spoke to the little boy in me whose imagination was set free by reading the comic books he bought at the corner drug store. It was a close to the four color experience as I have ever seen in live action, and the anticipation was built up over 5 previous movies. I fully plan to set aside a day in the near future,  start with Iron Man at breakfast and watch all 6 Marvel films in one day. I still smile when I see pictures from the Avengers on-line.

The Dark Knight Rises works on a more mature level. It is a satisfying wrap up to the Nolen Dark Knight trilogy. But in the end it is not as good a movie as the Dark Knight. The Joker raised that movie from being simply very good, to being great. I doubt I will do a marathon of this series however. I also think that The Dark Knight Rises works extremely well as an intelligent action movie, but not as well as a superhero movie.

So what left the Amazing Spider-man holding the short straw? I certainly enjoyed watching it. I even felt it did some things better than the Raimi series, such as the more complex relationship Peter Parker has with Flash Thompson. The problem is that it doesn’t feel fresh. Spider-Man 3 came out five years ago. I know that Sony has to make a new Spider-Man film every so often to retain the film rights, but I doubt that time frame is five years (I looked but could not find the exact time frame).  So when I was watching the origin portion of the film I was comparing it in my head to how the original Spider-man handled it.

But even without that I felt that in the end it was a good superhero movie, but not a great one.  I smiled during it, but I never clapped or cheered like I did during the other two movies. So I can recommend seeing it, but I have no desire to go out and do so again myself.

So there is how I see it. Next year we get Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World, Man of Steel, and The Wolverine. It will be interesting to see how they stack up.

The Dark Knight Rises: A comic fan’s perspective

Like just about every geek in the nation I saw The Dark Knight Rises this weekend. In fact I was at a midnight screening on Thursday. I am not going to get into the tragedy that was happening at the same time, it is being covered enough elsewhere.

I am also not going to give a review of the movie itself other than to say I loved it.

What I want to do instead is look at it in how it represented the characters in it.

The story of The Dark Knight Rises is a mash-up of the comic book storylines Knightfall and No Man’s Land. This was a good choice for the final part of the trilogy. Both storylines represented loss and Batman being brought to his lowest and still prevailing. They gave Christopher Nolan the chance to up the odds from the previous movies and end the series on a high note.

The Batman in this movie could well have been the Batman from Dark Knight Returns. He is beaten down both mentally and physically. It takes a massive threat to bring him out of retirement.

Catwoman in this movie is hands down the best representation I have seen of the character outside of the comics. She is a thief, end of story. Not out for revenge, not a campaigning environmentalist, not a hooker looking for redemption. She is a master thief looking for a big score, who finds she might actually care for something.

Bane is a little trickier. This is a better portrayal than he got in “Batman and Robin” where he was a mindless brute. Here they remember that he is a brilliant strategist and deadly fighter. In the comics his whole goal is to show he is better than Batman and take over Gotham’s underworld. Here they give a more idealistic motivation. It works but it is a deviation for the character.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character of John Blake is an interesting take as he is really an amalgam of several characters. He is filling roles in this story that in the comics were filled by Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Jean-Paul Valley and Mackenzie “Hardback” Bock.  On one hand it is a good move to have all that action condensed down to one character as the storylines themselves are condensed and Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job with the role. I understand why they made him a new character, but I feel it was a missed opportunity to make him a known character. Spoiler here in Invisotext: it would have been best to have just made him Dick Grayson.

Commissioner Gordon has done well through the whole series. He is taken directly from his comic book counterpart as a man of action.

In the end what I will say about The Dark Knight Rises is this. It is a great movie, but really the entire trilogy is best if you look at it as one whole story told in three parts.

Misogyny in Geek Culture

Misogyny is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately in the geek community. A lot has been written on the subject of misogyny in geek culture recently. It would almost seem redundant to write another piece on the subject. And yes I realize I am a guy writing about this, but here is why it is needed, because there cannot be enough voices speaking out about it. In fact with so much misogynistic speech going on in geek culture right now, to not speak out on it would be an act of moral cowardice.

I’m about to go into some specifics now so if you are reading this and the subject of various ways women can be attacked are triggers for you it would be best to be prepared.

So why are we seeing so much misogynism now. Well I don’t think it is a recent development. I don’t think a bunch of guys went “Oh man, the women are getting uppity; I better act like an entitled prick to put them in their place.” It’s always been there, but a couple of things have made it more visible .One is the internet. People can communicate online more easily and rapidly then they use to. Add to that the anonymous nature of online communication and you have people who feel they can get away with things they would never have dared in the past. That’s the bad news, the good news is that people are not shutting up and taking it as much now. These two combine to create the greater visibility.

Of course why it happens in the first place is no secret. From the start the collections of interests and hobbies that compose geek culture have been traditionally male dominated. And not just any males, these are usually the guys that were not part of the popular crowd in high school.  Add a tendency for those with already poor social skills to be drawn to fandom and you have your stereotype of the geek.

And now you have to look at how women are traditionally portrayed in comics, science fiction and fantasy. You have the damsel in distress, who waits for the manly hero to save her, or you have the kick ass female who makes up for poor character development with skimpy over-sexualized attire.

Here is a great example; this is the cover for the upcoming issue #0 of Catwoman

Notice how you can see her face, breasts, and butt all in the same shot. For that to be possible her spine would need to be made of rubber. In fact rubber spine is fairly common in female superheroes.

So your average woman looking at this is not going to feel welcome in most geek settings. This has led to women in fandom historically being treated as rare as a unicorn.

Of course these days you have women who are making their mark in fandom. And here is the seed of the misogyny. The guys have had it as their special corner and now the ladies are showing up and expecting to be treated as people. A lot of guys do not know how to deal with this and feel threatened, and when people feel threatened they often go on the attack.

In the end the misogyny is all about power. The guys employing it want to make the women do what they want and are using what they perceive as the best tools to do it.

No better example exists than Anita Sarkeesian and her Kickstarter campaign to fund her web video series “Tropes vs. Women” which looks at how females are portrayed in video games. Since this is certainly going to look at the sexist way a lot of games treat women (We’re looking at you Duke Nukem) a backlash arose against Sarkeesian and took on a very ugly misogynistic tone. Beyond sexually harassing messages on line people have made pictures of her being raped by video game characters and one person even went so far as to make an online game where you can beat her up.

Clearly the goal was to shut her down, but the good news is that it has had the opposite effect. Her Kickstarter goal was $6,000. At this point she has now made over $100,000 and is looking to expand the scope of the series. Rather than make her shut up, the attack has given her an even better chance to speak and brought supporters out in droves.

This is a part of the story that seems to keep coming up again and again. The use of misogyny to make women shut up is being met with defiance and a refusal to be backed down. It is by no means easy. I’m sure Anita Sarkeesian has had many low moments during this.

Other examples include the recent incident where a writer for the gaming website Destructoid, Ryan Perez, went on an extremely sexist rant against Felicia Day, and the very recent incident of comedian Daniel Tosh joking that it would be funny if a female who called him out on making a rape joke were gang raped right then and there.

Perez did apologize and is no longer with Destructoid.  The back lash against Tosh was so strong that he had to issue an apology less than a day after the story broke. But in both cases it feels a lot like both apologies were more prompted by “we got caught” then “we are truly sorry”. Also a lot of people came out in support of Perez and Tosh saying they should not have been called out in the first place.

Moving away from the power struggle itself for a moment, one of the big laments of people in the comic book and gaming industries is the desire to bring in more female consumers. However while they say this they still put out the objectifying material to appeal to the male demographic.

It doesn’t help that in most of the geek industries that not only are the customer base primarily male, but so are the creators. Let’s face it most men are not sure how to write or present women.

Here is an example. Here is how the Black Widow poster for Iron Man 2 looked

Now here is the Black Widow poster for the Avengers.

So it is the same actress, the same character and the same basic costume. But one looks like she is posing for a Maxim cover and the other looks like she is about to kick your ass. So what is the difference? It think it is that the Avengers is directed and written by Joss Whedon and he likes to present strong women that are actually empowered.

While we are on the subject of the Avengers I should note that a lot of reporters would tend to ask Scarlett Johansson questions that were the verbal equivalent of male gaze. One reporter asked if she wore underwear under her costume and she asked if he would ask her male co-stars the same question. The best thing to come out of that was the fact she would not put up with that crap.

As I said earlier, in the comic book industry a constant effort is put forth to bring in more female readers. However you just need to look at that image of Catwoman again to see the problem there. Another hurdle is the phenomenon known as women in refrigerators. For those not familiar with the term it comes from a story line where a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, was chosen. Kyle had a girlfriend Alex DeWitt. 6 issues after she was introduced Alex is murdered and her body stuffed into a refrigerator for Kyle to find. This is what sparks him to take being a superhero seriously.

Writer Gail Simone cited this as a prime example of writers in comics using the murder or abuse of a female character to propel the story of a male character. She maintains a site called Women in Refrigerators listing the significant examples of this trope. It also has a listing of responses it has gotten. Want to take a guess at the tone many of them take?

Another view on this is more personal. My sister* and I use to both work at Wizards of the Coast. During that time we both would be sent to conventions to work the booth. It amazed me that amount of guys who thought she was just a “booth babe” and didn’t know what she was talking about. For the record she is just as much a gamer and con geek as I am and most definitely knows what she is talking about. In fact go check out her site and tell me if you think she knows nothing.

The point of this is that the geek culture has a bad habit of objectifying women. The end result is that you do not see them as people, and this can make it way too easy to treat them horribly.

So how do we fight this? The first thing is easy to say, but hard to do. Speak up about it. When you see someone make misogynistic comments you call them on it. Even if dozens of people jump on you, you need to speak up. The peer pressure can get really bad. People feel a sense of entitlement when they make these comments and no one wants it pointed out that they are on the wrong side of the issue. But this is not an issue with two valid sides, misogynism is wrong, period. If Anita Sarkeesian can handle the crap being hurdled at her, you can stand a few flame posts.

The next part is even harder. You need to take a long hard look at your own comments, especially you guys. The misogynistic attitudes are cultural and it can get so indoctrinated that you can fall into it without realizing it. I know I have caught myself more than once.  We have to make sure that we are not part of the problem. The best advice I can give is take your brain with you. Think before you comment. Remember that the people you are dealing with online, at a convention, or at a comic book shop are in fact real people with feelings that can be hurt.

If you want to read another site that covers this really well I would like to point you to Geek Girls Rule. This is a site that covers geek culture from a female perspective. As you can imagine they have covered this subject more than once and have received more than their fair share of grief for it. But they know what they are talking about.

As for where we go from here, this site is still going to be about celebrating geek culture and I will be going back to the fun stuff soon enough, but I am also pretty sure the we will be covering this again at some point in the future.

In the end I would rather say that I am part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

And if you feel the need to flame me for saying this, bring it.



*(We aren’t actually blood relatives.  I may get around to explaining the nature of that relationship someday.  I call her father dad and he refers to me as son, so it’s good enough for us)


Some thoughts on San Diego Comic-con

San Diego Comic-con logoIt’s time for San Diego Comic-con again.That time of year. when the title of Geek Capital of the World temporarily moves from Seattle to San Diego.

I’ll admit that I don’t feel as excited about San Diego Comic-con as I use to. Last year I had such great plans about commenting on the news that came out of the convention daily, only for that news to either be rehash of what we already knew, of just hype about upcoming movies and TV shows.

I almost feel I could copy and paste my pre con post from last year and have it be almost as relevant this year.

Once again we will be treated to a focus on Movies and TV shows, many of which have no relationship to geek culture at all. A lot of cos-play will be featured and we will likely get a return of the pictures of guys acting inappropriately at female cos-players. And I am sure there will be plenty of coverage about the Twilight panel since, in theory, this will be the last panel for an upcoming movie.

My biggest cause for apathy however is not due to the content of the convention at all. It is based on the issue of attendance.

When I started going to San Diego Comic-con in the early 90s you could still show up at the convention and buy a membership at the door, or at least get a day pass. Not only are those days long gone, but now it is long odds to get any kind of membership at all. While they have not moved to a lottery system like Burning Man has, you do have to preregister into an online system just to have a shot at registering on line when the registration system goes live. This year they sold out in minutes, not hours, minutes. So basically you have several hurdles to jump to get a badge and if not, you are out of luck.

I understand this is due to a combination of the capacity at the San Diego Convention Center and the popularity of the event, but I still see it as a troubling sign. If people are frustrated in their efforts to go they may start just not bothering. Right now this may not seem like a problem, but if you go back and read my article Food of the Geeks you remember I pointed out that geek themed restaurant the AFK Tavern runs the risk of running off new clients due not having tables available to walk ins. It’s the same theory.  After a while people may start saying “Screw it I’m not going to bother, there are other conventions I can go to that aren’t sold out.” And this is what can lead to an event’s decline.

The simple answer that inevitably crops up is move to a site with more capacity. As simple as that sounds there are complications. At this time San Diego Comic-con is signed to stay at the San Diego Convention Center through 2015. Every time the question of moving to a larger venue comes up the city of San Diego fights vigorously to keep the convention.  Since last year it brought 162.8 million dollars to the local economy it’s not hard to see why. Part of this effort is a drive to expand the convention center, but as that would cost an estimated 750 million dollars it is far from a sure thing.

Anaheim and Las Vegas both are lobbying hard to try to draw the convention away as they do have venues that could accommodate a larger attendance, but they have a strike against them, and that is that they are not San Diego. The convention organizers are located in San Diego, so they have an interest in staying local.

While the attendance issue is a pressing one, there is another factor at play that could also contribute to a decline. The convention has drifted away from its original core. When news comes out of the convention, it is again the big media stories about those Movies and TV shows. Lost in the shuffle are those pesky comic books. Every year I hear stories about how it is harder and harder for comic book vendors to get booth space due to increased costs and competition for space with other better funded media vendors. The name may be Comic-con, but the focus is clearly on movies and TV.

One thing I have been hearing is that comic industry pros prefer shows like Emerald City Comicon as they still have a primary focus on comic books. And these shows are not lacking in attendance. I learned from a staff member at ECCC that this year’s attendance on Saturday was more than the entire weekends last year, and then they surpassed attendance estimations by several thousand. This has led to them securing the use of more of the Washington State Convention Centers facilities for next year.

What this adds up to is the potential for another convention to challenge San Diego Comic-con for the title of geek convention king. I for one this would be a good thing as it would give the fans more opportunities.

So here I sit waiting to see what will happen. I will of course pay close attention to what news comes out of San Diego Comic-con this year. If it is good information I will certainly write about it. If not, well I have other articles I am working on.