Man of Steel: A comic fan’s perspective

man-of-steel-logoMuch like Dark Knight Rises last year, rather than just review of Man of Steel, I want to look at how it represents the characters in relation to their counterparts in both comic books and pop culture in general.

Fair warning, this article is going to have spoilers for Man of Steel, consider yourself warned.

Since Man of Steel is a reboot of the Superman movie franchise, we find ourselves with yet another telling of Superman’s origin.

The first part of the movie I like because it gives one of the best takes on why Krypton is doomed; the planet’s core was drained to provide energy, and lead to the planet imploding. This is of course topical, but also has a feeling of realism, compared to what is normally just a hand wave.

Of course this part also has some downfalls. The first is that amidst the end of the world, the military decides to stage a coup. I know this was done to provide an introduction for Zod and set up him for later, but it just comes off as odd.

You also have a bit with the genetic codex of Krypton. This I am more forgiving of. It harkens back to the post-crisis relaunch of Superman with Krypton being dependent on clone technology, and gives added motivation for Zod to come after Superman. Other than that, it is basically a McGuffin to drive the plot.

As for the characters, it is an interesting mix.

Or course we have to start with Henry Cavills’ performance as Clark. Right off the bat, you’ll notice that I called him Clark instead of Superman on purpose. While they do call him Superman in the film, it is treated initially as a nickname. The character is treated as a man on a journey to find himself and his place in the world. A lot of people complain that he is not the Superman they grew up with, and that is a fair but incomplete take on the character. This is Clark Kent figuring out who he is and where he fits in the world; so no, he is not the Superman you know, at least not yet. If this film is about anything, it is the events that shape Clark into Superman. He already has the instincts to do the right thing, but is not necessarily sure how to go about it.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane is on a completely different front. This is one of the best representations of Lois outside of the comics ever. She is smart, competent, brave, and a bit of a daredevil. There are two factors that put this Lois above the rest. One is that they show her investigating the mysterious figure that is Clark, and she figures out who he is. I think this is a first in any version of Superman, in which Lois knows Clark’s secret even before the public at large knows about him. The benefit is that there is never a need for her to be played as clueless in not being able to figure out that Clark is Superman. She knows from the onset and is an active partner. This leads to the other factor – Lois is as important to the resolution of the story as Clark. She has information he needs in order to defeat the bad guys. Trusting that she knows what she is doing, he never once tells her to go to safety. And of course Adams’s performance is perhaps the best in the entire film.

Michael Shannon as General Zod is another interesting study. I have been a fan of Shannon for a while and was happy to hear he was cast in the movie. I was also happy to hear that he was in no way even going to attempt to copy anything from Terrance Stamp’s performance from Superman II.  The role of Zod in the movie is very consistent with his recent portrayal in comics. He is devoted to Krypton above all else, and if he must destroy Earth to recreate Krypton, so be it. I like the inference in the film that this is a result of how Krypton bred and raised children to fill a specific role in their society, and so Zod had no idea how to do anything else, but it could have been done better if this was made clearer earlier as I mentioned with the issues with the prologue.

My biggest issue with the film is the portrayal of Jonathan Kent. I think this is one of Kevin Costner’s better performances in the last few years, but I do not like how he was written. In the comics, it is Jonathan that instills the values into Clark that will lead him to be Superman. The movie tries to say this is what happened, but it is not what they showed us. Every time we see Jonathan mentor Clark, he is more concerned with keeping the secret than he is with doing what is right.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El is pretty straight forward. He is playing Jor-El just as he has been portrayed in the comics since 1985. Honestly, it is a solid performance and does more to move Clark towards Superman than Jonathan does.

For the rest of the performances, they are generally well done, but brief. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White is good casting, because he provides a shorthand to the character, which is needed as there is not much on the page.

Diane Lane gets about the same as Martha Kent. She doesn’t have much to do in the flashback scenes with Costner, and in the present, she is the tough widow who believes in her son and isn’t going to let an alien invasion phase her.

Real quick I want to call back to an earlier article and talk about the character Jenny, played by Rebecca Buller. It is never made clear if she is supposed to be a female version of Jimmy Olsen, or just a Planet staffer who Perry looks out for. Either way the character is too minor for it to make much difference.

So let’s talk about the scene that has all the fans in an uproar.  Again, spoilers ahead.

After all the destruction that has been visited on Metropolis by the Kryptonian invaders, after said invasion force has been destroyed, after Superman and Zod have had a battle that has caused untold damage, the final show down occurs.

With Zod threatening to just keep killing humans and actively trying to kill a family, Clark breaks his neck, killing him.

This rubs most fans the wrong way as one of Superman’s big rules is that he does not kill.

Except in the comics he has, and it was Zod he killed.

In 1988 John Byrne wrote a story where Superman faced a Zod from another universe. In his universe, Zod had destroyed Earth, even with our Superman trying to save it. Superman defeats Zod, who then claims he will find a way to the main DC universe and destroy that Earth. Superman believes him and finds the only way to make sure this does not happen is to kill him.

But that is not the end of the story. The next years’ worth of stories are based around Superman struggling with that decision and ultimately declaring that he will always find a better way in the future.

In the movie, immediately after killing Zod, Clark is overcome with grief over having done it, and is comforted by Lois. Clearly this was not a light decision and weighs on him. If we do get a sequel, my hope is the writers build on this just as the comics did.

In the end I did enjoy Man of Steel, but I also think it was not a perfect film. I think it made the mistake of being too much of a disaster film to be a completely satisfying superhero film.

Hopefully Warner Bros. can learn from this film and any sequel can be the Superman film that all fans can get behind.


Rock Sugar

 Today I would like to introduce you to the band Rock Sugar.

There are a lot of ways that music can combine with geek culture. Obviously, the work of Jonathon Colton and Kirby Krackle show this. Rock Sugar comes from a different angle.

The band’s connection to geek culture is not immediately obvious, but just listening to one of their songs gives one the sense of it.

The reason we care starts with the band’s lead singer, Jess Harnell. Jess is also a very successful voice actor, best known for being the voice of Wakko Warner from Animaniacs and Ironhide from the Transformer movies.

He is also an excellent singer, which should not be surprising to any Animaniacs fans.

But it’s not the fact that Jess is the band’s singer that makes them stand out. It is their hook.

Rock Sugar is a heavy metal band that does mashup songs of heavy metal and pop songs from the 80s.

I’m sure that last sentence didn’t make a lot of sense.

Basically, they will take two songs from the 80s, one metal, one pop; and arrange them into a single song with elements of both.

Mashups are nothing new. There is long history of taking two songs and mixing them together. Go on YouTube and you will find an endless stream of mashups, to the point that it has become a kind of art form all its own.

In the case of Rock Sugar, the difference is that they aren’t making a mix. They are writing a new song combining the two original songs and performing it themselves.

For example, one of their best known songs is called “Don’t stop the Sandman”, which combines Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin” – and yes, they make it work. You can see the video for it here.

A personal favorite of mine is “Shook me like a Prayer” which combines AC/DC’s “’You shook me all night long” and “Hell’s Bells” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”. Here is a video of Rock Sugar performing this song in concert.

As that last video shows, they are well-liked at music festivals, which is certainly helped by being excellent musicians.

Rock Sugar also have an active fan base, and they work to interact with them. Fans are encouraged to come up with new mashups for the band to make. This doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen, but they still want to include the feedback. 

If you are interested in hearing more about Rock Sugar I would suggest going here and checking out their web site.


The Crying Klingon


Klingon-death-cryI think it is story time again.

When I worked for Wizards of the Coast, part of my job was to travel to gaming conventions to promote the WotC game line. The company had sent me and a co-worker, one J.D., to a gaming convention in the mid-west (I have no idea what it was called anymore). Our job was to man the WotC both, demo games, and sell some product. Basically nothing out of the ordinary. What made this convention special was that the big guest of honor was my good friend Shawn . He was a game designer by this point, and therefore a big shot as far as the convention was concerned. Now let me take a moment to describe Shawn. He is a tall man, maybe 6’2”, broad in build and maybe a bit overweight at the time. He was dark haired and wore a goatee, and was without a doubt the hairiest man I had ever met.

Shawn was also the loudest man on earth as far as I was concerned. We had nicknamed him Captain Volume. Now I have a reputation for being loud, but I suspect that Shawn’s voice could kill small farm animals.

Let’s be clear, I like to think of my self as basically a nice guy. No, Really. But one thing that even nice guys do is prank their friends.

And Shawn had a weakness.

Not that long before the convention Shawn was on a date where he was made to watch a movie called Hopfrog. I have never seen this cinematic gem, but apparently it involves puppets and dwarves. Seeing it traumatized Shawn so much so that saying “Hopfrog” would always make him flinch.

At this point I think it is important to point out that the convention had a PA system, and a convention committee who liked a prank as much as anyone.

After a brief negotiation I arranged for someone to go over the PA and say “Hopfrog” every 10 to 15 minutes. It was a thing of beauty, because no matter where I was in relation to Shawn I could hear his mammoth voice cry out “Damn you Jeff Harris!”

This went on for 2 hours.

Did I mention that the convention had a Klingon jail?

What is a Klingon jail, I hear you ask? Well imagine if you will a charity drive where a bunch of Star Trek fans dressed as Klingons set up a “jail cell” at the convention. For a charitable donation they will go arrest someone and make them stay in the cell for one minute for every dollar you spend. Shawn, it seems, felt he had twenty dollars to spare for the worthy cause of revenge.

A very satisfied-looking Shawn and a very ragged-looking group of Klingons came to the table. I was arrested on the charge of impersonating a professional wrestler (Shawn was part of the infamous wrestling RPG group – Go back and check that story out if you need details)

“Hey guys, I’d love to play, but I have to work the booth.”

“No, I have it covered,” said J.D., damn him.

I had a great debate with myself. I knew that the cosplayers could not make me go off against my will, so I could always just say bugger off, and that would be the end of it. But on the other hand, there was the peer pressure to go along with the gag. And on top of that was the fact that I had been tormenting Shawn for 2 hours and he was due some payback. So off I went to the Klingon jail. They tried to cuff me, but I threatened to break the plastic cuffs if they did.

The “Jail” was about the size of a walk in closet. There were already 4 guys in there and only three chairs. There was no ventilation and so it was hot and smelled of sweat.

Now let me explain a few important facts. I don’t do well with heat. Or cramped spaces. Or sweaty guys I’ve never met. Add to this the fact that at the time I had just recently been diagnosed was diabetes and was probably having a blood sugar issue. The point here is that after just 5 minutes I was pretty pissed off.

I came to the realization (or perhaps rationalization) that I had only agreed to this with much coaxing, and that I saw no reason why I had to play in anyone else’s fantasy if I didn’t want to.

I got up to leave.

And the Klingon at the door went to stop me.

And here is where everything went horribly wrong.

The Klingon guard was a girl who I estimate may have been about 20, but possibly younger. She was maybe 5 feet tall. Rubber Klingon armor, rubber Klingon forehead, tin foil Klingon spear, and coke bottle thick glasses.

“Halt, you shall not pass.”

“Get out of my way little girl.” I said; well past the point of good manners.

She looked at me for a moment, and then burst into tears.

You see, here is what I think I missed at the time. In my very limited assessment, we have a very short young girl, thick glasses, probably not very popular at school, and doubtful that she felt empowered in her day to day life. Now I can see where dressing up as a Klingon warrior would give her a sense of power and importance that is missing from her day-to-day life. And here I am at 6’1”, not lacking in confidence, and frankly being very rude and condescending. I broke her illusion and made her cry.

And now everyone was staring at me. The Guards, the guys in the cell, passersby. And every stare said the same thing….


At the core I like to believe I am an empathic man. I do not like to hurt people. Yet here I have made this girl cry just because I had gotten cranky. So of course I turned around, went back into the cell, and sat in the corner until my sentence was up.

I’m not sure where the girl went. Some burly guy (well burly in the way Chris Farley was burly) took over the guard post. Eventually my sentence was up and I was released. As I left I could actually feel the stares following me.

I got something to drink and went back to the both.

JD was waiting for me.

“Dude, what’s this about you making a Klingon cry?”


“Everyone’s talking about it. What did you do?”

“What do you mean everyone? It was just 15 minutes ago.”

“So you did make a Klingon cry.”

“I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted out of the cell.”

“Yeah, well I think you had better let me handle customer relations for the rest of the weekend.”

Shawn, of course, was not going to let this slip on by.

“So Mr. Harris, you made a Klingon cry. What’s next? Stealing candy from a Ferrengi?”

And years later after repeating this a few times a friend of mine who does a web comic adapted the story. And I am now played by a chain smoking Russian musician.

So what did I learn?

One, that there is no excuse for being an ass to anyone.

Two, that just because I don’t think something is a big deal doesn’t mean it isn’t to someone else.

And as for the practical joke war with Shawn, let’s just say I think I came out ahead there. Maybe someday I will share the tale of the Barney incident.

Arrow Season End Review

tv-arrow02Back at the beginning of the season I did a review of Arrow, the CW’s take on DC Comics character Green Arrow. At the time of that review, the series had only aired five episodes. At the end of the review I promised to revisit the series at the end of the season. Well, the season has ended, so here we go. Go here to see what I said of if you haven’t already, as I am going to write this review with the assumption that you have read the previous one. I will not be avoiding spoilers either, so be warned.

First, let’s see if any of my opinions changed between then and now.

Back then I complained that Oliver Queen’s mother Moira, sister Thea, and best friend Tommy all suffered from underdevelopment compared to the rest of the characters. To varying degrees, all of them got better development as the season wore on.

Thea got the least. She is still Oliver’s troubled little sister, seeming to follow the pattern he set in his life pre-island of party girl excess. But after a drug bust and near imprisonment she had to do community service at the Laurel’s law office. This led her to meet a street tough named Roy Harper and start a relationship. It got her out of self-obsessed territory and made her more than just window dressing.

Moira got even more interesting. Her involvement with the villain of the story drove a lot of development, especially when it became clear that she was in over her head and just doing whatever she could to protect her family. This culminated in an attempt at redemption that was well played and should prove fodder for great drama next season.

Tommy ended up getting the best development in the series other than Oliver. While sharing the name of Oliver’s arch-enemy from the comics, it turned out that the Dark Archer was actually his father. This led to plenty of speculation as to which side Tommy would eventually end up on. His arc was well played. Once his father cut him off from the family money, Tommy honestly grew as a character. He found a job working for Oliver at his night club, and started an honest relationship with Laurel. One of the interesting points of that relationship is that every time Tommy was presented with a challenge that might have lead him back to his insincere party boy ways, he instead made the right choice. It created great tension in that he was good for Laurel, thus adding complications to Oliver’s relationship with both. This got even more intense when Tommy learned that Oliver was the Hood, leading him to abandon both Oliver and Laurel. This led to the biggest twist in the finale when Tommy risked, and lost, his life to save Laurel, and reconciled with Oliver as he died.

Since the last review there were five major characters introduced.

Roy Harper, played by Colton Haynes, I have mentioned before, as he is Thea’s boyfriend. He is significant to comic fans, as in the books Roy is the first Speedy, Green Arrow’s sidekick who ended up as the hero Arsenal. Roy’s arc is that the Hood saved him and now Roy wants to find him and learn from him. Basically Roy feels called to do better with his life, and feels working with the Hood is the way. It was not a big arc, but a good set-up for one next season, especially with his actions in the finale. Roy is going to be promoted to series regular next season.

Another character getting promoted to regular next season is Felicity Smoak, played by Emily Bett Rickards. Felicity is an odd addition, because in the comics she is a supporting character in Firestorm, not Green Arrow, but that is just a fanboy nitpick. At first I was annoyed by the fact that they had this obviously very attractive actress playing like she was an ugly duckling nerd. I had no problem with her being a nerd, but the way she acted was not matching how they had her look. Fortunately as the season progressed, she became more of a socially awkward and insecure character. She knew how she looked, but it was treated as another hindrance to what she loved to do. At first she was just someone that Oliver would come to when he needed some information that required computer skills. When he had to turn to her for help while wounded, she was not surprised, as she had deduced most of what was going on already. This makes her another example of not making smart characters act dumb for the sake of plot convenience.

Since then she has been part of Oliver’s team. However, she brings a problem I like to call the “Chloe syndrome,” named for the character Chloe Sullivan from Smallville. This is where the lead character has more on-screen chemistry with a secondary character than the official love interest. In this case, Felicity has a lot more on-screen chemistry with Oliver than Laurel does.

The third late addition is Tommy’s father Malcolm Merlyn, played by Torchwood star John Barrowman.  As stated earlier he took over the role of the Green Arrow’s arch-enemy, the Dark Archer. It was good to see Barrowman break type and play a villain, especially one with some sympathetic aspects. Malcolm was a well-intentioned extremist.  Sadly he will not be back next season.

The final newcomer is Slade Wilson, played by Manu Bennett. His character was teased from the first episode, as Slade in the comics is the villain Deathstroke, and we saw the Deathstroke mask in the first episode. His role is currently limited to flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island. It was a good idea to bring on a new regular as part of the flashbacks if they are going to stay in use. It is also interesting to watch as Oliver and Slade are allies right now, but in the comic they are enemies.

Of the remaining cast, Paul Blackthorn is about the same as he was early in the season as Detective Lance. His arc was a minor one, with him eventually coming to realize that the Hood was needed to save the city, and that maybe they could be allies. It was a slow build that took all season, and for the most part it works.

The biggest disappointment is Katie Cassidy’s character Laurel, and in a lot of ways it isn’t her fault. While she did drive a certain amount of the plot, the writers put her in a bad spot. As a love interest for Tommy she worked great, showing his growth and making his final fate really hit home. As a love interest for Oliver she did not work as well. The two do have chemistry, but again it seems pale compared to the Oliver and Felicity. Add to that the fact that the writers have put just too many obstacles between them. But the worst part is that she just seems to be there as a motivation for Oliver, which is sad when you compare her to her comic book counterpart.

David Ramsey as John Diggle, Oliver’s partner in crime fighting, got a good arc in the latter part of the season, the discovery that reoccurring villain Deadshot killed his brother, and Diggle’s thirst for revenge, which created tension in the Diggle/Queen partnership. This plot thread has not been resolved, so there is more to mine from it. Outside of that they maintained the intelligence and skill that was shown early in the season and portrayed that Diggle is not just a sidekick.

And of course you have Stephen Amell as Oliver. Over the season, it is clear that he was a good find and perfect for the role of superhero. His athleticism has made his portrayal of Oliver all the more realistic. He also had two versions of the character at different times in his life, which has gone smoothly. The season finale showed him wounded and yet determined.