The Shelf Is Half Full

An optimistic geek's blog on comic books, movies and professional wrestling.

Archive for the category “Editorials”

From the Rescued to the Rescuer – Princess Leia

The Star Wars trilogy is a series of films that is primarily focused on character arcs. While there is a broader story going on with the Rebel Alliance challenging the might of the evil Galactic Empire, these movies are not meant to be broad history of that conflict. Instead we see the war through the eyes of a select few group of characters, primarily Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Han Solo. However, today’s article is not about any of the men in Star Wars, but on the lone female presence in the movie: Princess Leia.

This really should be obvious, but if you are one of the poor souls who has not yet seen these movies, there are many spoilers to follow. Why are you reading this instead of watching those movies already?

Princess Leia

If there is one criticism I have against the original Star Wars films it would be the lack of female characters. The original film has Luke Skywalker’s aunt Beru and Return of the Jedi has Mon Mothmaand The Empire Strikes Back… maybe it has some female civilians in Cloud City? I don’t honestly remember. My point is that these movies do not have an overwhelming female presence. Fortunately, it does one of the best female characters in a major blockbuster film series. Princess Leia Organa is not treated as inferior to her peers or as eye candy for the male audience (usually…), but is a fully fleshed out character with her own set of skills to contribute to the adventures of everyone else. I kind of view her as analogous to Wonder Woman: clearly the only female presence on the team, but also enough of a personality that she never feels like the odd one out.

I have previously discussed that the basic structure of Star Wars follows classic medieval tropes: knights, wizards, castles, that sort of thing. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Leia’s character: she is named Princess Leia and is placed in the position of being the damsel in distress. While this trope was played out even then, Leia manages to subvert this by.. well, not being in distress. More like a damsel in dire straights. She isn’t stupid, she isn’t weak, she doesn’t show fear. She shoots a stormtrooper in the beginning of the movie (right after we’ve seen these things mow down rebel fighters like they are nothing), so we know she can handle herself. Darth Vader has her tortured but she doesn’t give any information; even when her home planet is destroyed by the Death Star she doesn’t give away the actual location of the Rebels. The fact that this woman is captured and held hostage is more a mark for the Empire than it is against Leia.

Gun

One of the defining aspects of Leia’s character to me is her reaction to her rescue; she constantly points out the flaws in the plan Luke and Han have concocted, but doesn’t sound like she’s whining. The tone is of somebody who knows how to pull off a rescue mission and is having to deal with two numbskulls who don’t. She convincingly assumes command of the group by showcasing her intelligence and willingness to risk her neck.

Leia’s role as a leader is expanded in The Empire Strikes Back where she is the one who gives orders to the Rebel pilots during the escape from Hoth. It’s clear that she is comfortable leading an army, which makes Empire perhaps the movie where she is at her weakest. Not in a bad sense, but when she’s stuck on the Millenium Falcon with Han Solo she doesn’t exactly have a lot of resources to work with. She’s got a cocksure loose canon pilot who’s routinely shown to care more about himself than anyone else, a prissy protocol droid, a wookiee who she can’t understand, and an entire Imperial Fleet on her tail. Staying true to the dynamic of their relationship from the first film, she doesn’t view Han as being overly competent until she’s around him long enough for him to show that he can be capable when he wants to be.

Empire

Empire is an example of developing a character during quieter moments; Leia doesn’t have to stay strong in the face of her enemies as much in this sequel, so we get to see her be a little more emotionally vulnerable. And I don’t mean emotional weak, I mean open and exposed; real. She’s obviously used to taking action and tries to help Han however she can even though most of the situations are out of her control, and it’s also clear that she’s more used to being a leader than a partner. Leia is authority, and Han challenges authority, which she finds both frustrating and attractive. Han and Leia’s romance is one of the more organically created ones in Hollywood history. The characters don’t seem fated to be together, the just get thrown together through circumstances and get to know each other and find that they actually like each other.

While Leia started as a strong damsel in dire straights in Star Wars, she becomes a more fleshed out, human character in Empire Strikes Back. Which is really the general goal of this movie on the whole. The first movie introduces the archetypes and gives us a bit of a glimpse into the characters, but is more about telling the story of an adventure. Empire is the middle act where characters are developed, given layers and humanity, and consequently the stakes are raised because we now have a strong emotional attachment to the characters. Leia’s defining moment in Empire is when she makes an attempt to save Han Solo from the bounty hunter Boba Fett, firing helplessly at his ship as the man she loves is carried away to some distant planet. She may never see him again, and that is a powerful moment that sets up Leia for greatness in the third act.

Someone Who Loves You

Return of the Jedi is something of an uneven film, with some glaring weak points in the narrative but arguably the greatest thrills and most emotional resonant moments as well. It is also where we get to see Leia at the height of her “action heroine” capability. She sneaks into Jabba’s palace as a Bounty Hunter to save Han Solo; the woman who was rescued is now the one doing the rescuing. This whole first act is so utterly brilliant because we never have a scene where the heroes discuss their plan, so we don’t even know there is a plan at all until the pieces fall into place. We never see Leia dress up as a hounty hunter; we just assume that some bounty hunter has captured Chewbacca and wants money from Jabba. Then the bounty hunter frees Solo from the carbonite, and we still don’t know until that glorious moment when reveals who she is.

And seriously, everybody talks about the gold bikini, but this is the real moment where every Star Wars fanboy fell hopelessly in love with Leia. She rescued her beloved when there was no way for him to escape, risking her life to do so. In short, she’s a dashing hero who has come to save the day. I don’t really know what it feels like to be a girl who falls in love with some handsome knight in shining armor, but I have to imagine it’s pretty similar to how we feel when Leia takes off her helmet and kisses Han. Is it emasculating? Maybe? Who cares? Leia is freaking awesome.

Bikini

But okay, let’s talk about the bikini. The infamous golden bikini. Now there is clearly an argument to be made that this is a wholly unnecessary thing in Return of the Jedi and reduces Leia to being a sex object. It gets worse when one considers the extreme lack of other women in these movies. But to me, this was never really a huge fanservice moment; there’s not a lot of sex appeal in seeing this awesome hero reduced to slavery at the hands of the despicable Jabba the Hutt. Within the context of the story, it’s more unsettling than anything. My most distinct memory of Leia in this outfit is not when she’s sitting there like this (though I do love her looks of annoyance and disgust), it’s when she turns the leash around on Jabba and strangles him, killing off a major villain who has made life a living hell for the person she cares about most.

Leia has plenty of other action scenes throughout Empire, but it’s this opening act where everything comes full circle. She is now in the opposite situation that she was in when the saga started. While the Star Wars movies still have a long way to go in terms of presenting a film that doesn’t have a male gender bias, Leia is an example of how to do a character well. When somebody asks me to point to strong female character, she’s one of the first that pops in my head. It’s a combination of Carrie Fisher’s acting, how the character is written, and Leia’s overall role in the universe that makes her one of the standout characters in a movie series full of excellent character development.

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A Tribute to Dusty Rhodes

“I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and I have slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.” – Dusty Rhodes.

Dusty

The world of professional wrestling lost one of its true legends today; the man born Virgil Runnels but not all around the world as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Blessed with unlimited charisma and the gift of gab, the son of a plumber sang the working man’s rap and earned a place in the heart of millions of wrestling fans. Battling the likes of Harley Race, “Superstar” Billy Graham and “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Dusty became a three-time NWA World Heavyweight champion and one of the biggest box office draws of the 1970’s and ’80’s. Rhodes also possessed an astute mind for the creative aspect of wrestling, working behind the scenes to help deliver quality programming to the devoted fans of Jim Crockett Promotions, the company that would one day become World Championship Wrestling.

Dusty was, without question, one of the best promo men in the history of the business. His pronounced lisp, high-pitched voice and penchant for jive talking created a unique presentation in his interviews, and he was able to deliver memorable and quality lines that stuck with people. More than that, he was able to connect directly with his audience. He spoke the language of the common man, addressing the problems that concerned them most and told those fans that he was fighting for them, and for that he became beloved and revered.

Rhodes

“Hard times are when the auto workers are out of work and they tell them “Go home”. And hard times are when a man has worked at a job for thirty years. THIRTY years! They give him a watch, kick him in the butt, and say ‘Hey, a computer took your place, daddy!’ That’s hard times!”

Dusty’s ability to communicate may be unrivaled; he was funny, he was intense, he was smart, and most of all, his words had power. It never mattered that he was a chubby, out of shape performer who spent more time dancing than he did trading holds; Dusty’s words always carried more weight than his physical appearance. And while he was never the most sound technician, Dusty knew how to entertain, and he knew how to fight. His matches were hard-hitting, often bloody, and always had a molten crowd cheering for him and booing his opponent.

Dusty’s legacy as a performer is unparalleled, but he also deserves recognition for his work in developing young talent. For the last decade or so Dusty’s work has primarily been coaching aspiring WWE superstars in the company’s developmental territory FCW, which eventually evolved into NXT. The impact he has had on their careers and lives is almost impossible to quantify; the superstars of tomorrow were just as vocal about expressing their grief as Dusty’s peers.

The Family

“I don’t look the way the athlete of the day’s supposed to look. My belly’s just a little big, my hiney’s just a little big, but brother I am bad and they know I’m bad!”

Dusty is also the father of professional wrestlers Dustin and Cody Runnels, known as Goldust and Cody Rhodes respectively. Both were blessed with much of their father’s charisma and ability to captivate audiences; Goldust is a legend in his own right and Cody is perhaps a future legend himself. While the wrestling world lost one of it’s brightest stars and many fans lost someone they consider to be a hero, Cody and Dustin lost a father, and my heart goes out to them during this sad time.

Dusty’s in-ring career was a bit before my time, but the impact he has on the industry can still be felt today. Through the magic of video, I have been able to see this man perform and very few wrestlers have been able to give me goosebumps just by grabbing a microphone and talking. Dusty did that every time. He will be deeply and sorely missed.

Comparing Transformers Characters

Most of us read, watch, or listen to some kind of storytelling media, be it books, movies, television shows, comics, original fiction, whatever. Now some people simply wish to be part of the audience; they know whether they enjoyed something or not but probably don’t think too deeply about why they enjoyed it or didn’t enjoy it. But then there are people who really get into the science of things and try to piece together what exactly makes something enjoyable to them. Being an analyst and critic myself, I fall into the second camp: I like to tear things apart and put them back together again to understand why they work.

(This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of those who don’t look deeper into stories. It’s okay just to enjoy a product that works. I don’t care how a car works, I just care that it will do it’s job. This is a perfectly valid approach to stories.)

There are many elements that go into good storytelling; an interesting setting, a compelling plot, good dialogue. All of these things matter and work together to make something good, and if one of those cogs doesn’t work the machine will fall apart, or at least not work as well as it could. But at least in my view, the most essential, crucial thing to get right in a story is having compelling characters. Which is not as easy as it probably sounds. But there are some creative writing teams that so utterly fail at this that I have to ponder if it can be easier than people think it is.

Maximals

To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at two vastly different media products that have something in common; Transformers: Beast Wars, a 1990’s CGI-animated series, and Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. Both the show and the movie operate on the same basic premise; there are robots who transform into other shapes (vehicles or animals), with some being heroes (Autobots or Maximals) fighting against a group of villains (Deceptions or Predacons). The leader of the good guy is named Optimus (Prime or Primal) and the leader of the bad guys is Megatron. There’s more than a few cosmetic differences, but they are essentially the same basic story.

Beast Wars is considered by most serious Transformers fans to be the apex of the series creatively, while the Michael Bay-directed films are generally regarded as well, to put it kindly, garbage. Commercially successful garbage mind you, but they are pretty much universally considered to be bad movies. And while one could point to a variety of things, from the racism to the horrible editing and pacing of the movies, those films fundamentally fall apart because of one reason: none of the fighting robots that it took billions of dollars to make on a computer have any real character. I maintain that if at least some effort was put into fleshing out these giant ugly robots, we wouldn’t care so much that they were giant ugly robots.

Prime on Grimlock

Which is why a picture like this one will never have the same emotional resonance with me as the one of the Maximals. It’s not nostalgia; Beast Wars is a show that lived and died by its characters. Every single character had a defined personality, strengths and weaknesses, fears and desires, goals they were working towards. They could play off of each other, sometimes against each other and sometimes to compliment each other. I love those transforming robots as much as I love the X-Men or the cast of the original Star Wars films. My point in this is that with just a little effort, strong character work can make even the most ridiculous ideas resonate and create an emotional response with the audience.

So what makes a good character? That’s somewhat difficult, but let me use a simple exercise to demonstrate the strength of three of these characters.

Character A is headstrong, reckless, eager to impress, doesn’t handle criticism, has an inferiority complex that he covers with cocky swagger, and generally acts like a kid wanting to impress his parents.

Character B is pessimistic, sarcastic, fatalistic, selfish, paranoid and intolerant, but possesses useful skills and can always be relied upon to get the job done and to do the right thing when it matters most.

Character C is quiet and contemplative, finds joy in simple things, is both spiritual and scientific, is fully capable of being a leader but rather be a follower who gives counsel, and acts as the wise man giving guidance.

Falcon

No, I’m not talking about those three. But I could be, and that’s the point; Cheetor, Rattrap and Rhinox are as fully realized, fleshed out and entertaining as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi. And just as human.

At no point did I say that these characters were a robot that transformed into a cheetah, a robot spy that turns into a rat, or a mechanic who turns into a rhinoceros. These characters have rich personalities and naturally form bonds with the characters around them. I can describe them without saying what they look like or using terms like “cool” and “awesome”. And if you think that’s just me blowing smoke because I’ve over-analyzed the show, I challenge you to watch Beast Wars, even a couple of episodes, and tell me that my descriptions of these Maximals aren’t spot on and evident by the scripts.

Then I challenge you to watch Dark of the Moon and tell me anything that you can remember about any of the characters aside from what they looked like or transformed into. And then perhaps you’ll understand what I mean about how fleshing out characters can make or break a story. Audiences need to understand, connect to and feel for the characters in a work of fiction or nothing that happens to them will have any emotional resonance. Good characters can make simple conversations riveting, but no amount of creative action or epic plot can make bad characters more interesting.

Some Thoughts On The “New” Wolverine

One of the many ways Marvel Comics grabbed readers attention in 2014 was killing off one of their two most popular superheroes: the X-Man known as Wolverine. The man most readers know as Logan (no matter what name they tried to give him retroactively) was a breakout character from the Uncanny X-Men book series and soon became the face of Marvel’s most popular franchise. Only Spider-Man has been able to maintain a similar level of popularity for longer, so this was definitely a risky move for Marvel.

Well, maybe not in Marvel’s book, since they seem to view anything outside of their cinematic universe as disposable, but that is a rant for another time. Regarding Logan’s death, the event sold a ton of comics for Marvel in 2014, but most comic book fans were expecting Logan to make a return to our comic stands in a matter of months. For those who don’t read comics, death and rebirth are so common that is generally regarded as both a joke and a cheap cash grab when it is as promoted as heavily as Marvel promoted the death of Wolverine.

Wolverine

While I do consider The Death of Wolverine to be a cheap cash grab from Marvel, I will at least give them credit; so far, Logan’s death is not a joke. They seem committed to keeping him dead for a good long while, which I don’t think is supremely intelligent, but I at least Marvel’s dedication to trying to make death mean something. For those of us who were expecting Logan to be back on our shelves, Marvel finally did something to silence us today by announcing a new Wolverine: X-23.

X-23, or Laura Kinney, is a female clone of Wolverine created to be a living weapon; her last name comes from her mother Sarah Kinney, a scientist who raised her. She is initially planned as a way for the Weapon X scientists to either kill Logan or capture him for further study, but X-23 ends up liking Logan and the X-Men a lot more than the people who created her. Laura actually debuted outside of comics in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon series, but the idea proved popular enough to bring her to comics. Now she has taken a huge step into cementing her own legacy by embracing the legacy of her father and becoming the new Wolverine.

Laura

And perhaps surprisingly, I find this to be a pretty easy pill to swallow. Laura’s been around long enough that she’s an established part of the X-Men’s history. She’s an interesting character in her own right, battling low self esteem and difficulty understanding social behavior because she was basically raised in a lab. She’s a clone, so she’s not exactly human (or mutant as the case may be), which makes her even more of an outsider in a group of outsiders. So, I already like Laura. And if somebody is going to take up Logan’s mantle, I find her to be the most appropriate choice.

She’s got his powers and she’s got his DNA. Now she has his codename and his costume. It’s relatively new territory for Marvel, but it’s not unprecedented in comic books. Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were not the first Flash and Green Lantern in comics, but they are far better known than Jay Garrick and Alan Scott. Now, I’m not saying that Laura is going to become more popular than Logan; considering Wolverine’s popularity that seems virtually impossible. But perhaps she can live up to it. Looking at more recent examples from DC, Wally West and Tim Drake were both more than capable of filling the shoes of Barry Allen and Dick Grayson. They took up iconic mantles, but became popular in their own right and put their own stamps of the legacies of Flash and Robin. Laura now has a chance to do the same for Wolverine.

Weapons X

Another thing I have to comment on is that I feel this is probably the best example of Marvel’s recent experimentation with their most famous characters. Marvel has recently done some pretty heavy tinkering. Jane Foster took possession of Mjolnir and became the new “Thor”, while Steve Rogers’ longtime friend and crimefighting partner Sam Wilson went from being The Falcon to being the new Captain America. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jane Foster as Thor but felt Sam’s transition into the role was fairly logical and provided an opportunity for Marvel to spotlight one of their more underrated characters. Laura’s transition from X-23 to Wolverine works better than either of those two though; I daresay that this is best major shift of a character since Bucky Barnes became Captain America after Steve Rogers’ apparent death after Civil War.

Obviously we will have to see how things play out, but at this point, I’m excited. And considering the major changes to the world of X-Men that are coming when Marvel reboots their comic book universe in two months, it’s nice to have something to be excited about. For those who have enjoyed Laura up to this point, I think it’s nice for us to see her get a larger role and we will look forward to seeing how she handles embracing her father’s mantle. For those who may not know X-23, don’t worry; I have a feeling you’ll enjoy the new Wolverine soon enough. Short of bringing Logan back, this is the best creative direction Marvel could do for Wolverine’s legacy.

X-23

What We Can Learn From – Jane Foster As Thor

Last year Marvel made some headlines with the announcements that two of their franchise characters were going to undergo some big changes. Steve Rogers would no longer be Captain America, with Sam Wilson stepping into the role. The new Thor’s identity was kept a mystery, but was decidedly different; it was a woman. Though this is not the first time we have had a female Thor, it did cause quite a lot of debate with fans. Some saw it in a positive way with Marvel trying to diversify and appeal to more readers, while others thought it was a bad thing for a multitude of reasons.

My solution was to take the “wait and see” approach. The comic never seemed to get particularly good reviews and it seemed to me that they were dragging out the mystery Thor’s identity for a bit too long, but now the cat is out of the bag.

Thor

The latest and final issue of the series has revealed that Jane Foster is the new Thor. The long time love interest of Thor has been in and out of Thor comics, although she was important enough that they brought her along for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. With a pretty big name actress in the role, no less. But the fact that they changed Jane Foster from a nurse to an astrophysicist and only a few people complained reveals a pretty big truth; Jane Foster is not an engaging love interest and she isn’t all that important to Thor’s story.

Now she is an important part of the story, and while I haven’t read the comics to comment on how she is written as a character, I have to say the reveal feels… underwhelming. Not horrible, just… safe. A little too predictable.

Frost Giant

When Marvel made the announcement that Thor was going to be a woman, I knew that it would only be a temporary thing. Something new to shake up the book and generate interest. And as a fan of strong heroines and a proponent of them getting a chance to headline comics, I was perfectly okay with the idea. My hope was that Marvel would be able to craft a new character that would be able to gain her own cult following, and that she could continue to be a big part of the Marvel universe going forward. And that does seem to be Marvel’s plan going forward, as Thor is about to be replaced with “Thors“, a book featuring both the original character and Jane Foster’s version.

I just don’t think it’s going to work. I think Marvel dragged the mystery on for too long and that Jane’s reveal is too much of an anti-climax. I think readers are just going to view this as a disappointment. Ten years from now it will just be viewed as another silly experiment that didn’t pan out, and discuss how Thor is best when they keep the comics in relative status quo. Which is a shame for something that should have been a really big deal and a chance for Marvel to make another star.

Steer

I think the key thing to learn here for writers is that if you are intent on giving the readers a mystery, it is important to have a satisfying conclusion at the end of it. Readers should be going “wow”, not “Well, called that a few months ago” when you do the big reveal. I would also argue that the monthly comic book release schedule isn’t exactly the best format for this, since fans have weeks to pour over each chapter and figure out the answer instead of being dragged along on a roller coaster ride.

But I also hope that we don’t look back on this and say “Well a female Thor was never going to work”, because that’s a shame. The idea is okay, I just think the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I think Marvel saw this only as a gimmick and not as an opportunity, and that’s why it falls flat. There’s not enough creativity behind the idea to make it work. But poor planning and underwhelming writing should not be used as an excuse to keep women out of important roles in the future.

Jane

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m assuming too much, and in a decade Jane Foster will have a massive cult following. Maybe she’ll even replace the original Thor. Perhaps the fourth MCU Thor film will feature Natalie Portman smashing fire giants with Mjolnir.

But I doubt it.

DC Bombshells – A Look at the Sexual Worship of Superheroes

Last year, DC released a series of variant covers to their comics called “DC Bombshells”, featuring their female characters drawn in the style of classic pin-up models. The characters were featured in poses and dresses that were reminiscent of mid-20th century advertisements and somehow managed to find a balance between using sex to sell comic books and not crossing the boundaries of good taste. Usually.

Supergirl

These covers proved to be quite a hit among collectors due to the quality of the art, the unique style of the art, and of course, for the sex appeal. Most of the designs have been recreated into statues and have been popular outfits for cosplayers over the course of the last year. So it isn’t really surprising that DC has chosen to bring the concept back in 2015.

What is surprising is that DC’s Bombshell line is no longer limited to women; their most popular male superheroes are also getting the Bombshell treatment. And DC isn’t afraid to have these guys show as much of their sex appeal as their female counterparts. I for one, couldn’t be happier. It’s nice to see a major comic book company take a step towards gender equality in one of their most blatantly sexual marketing campaigns.

Aquaman

I’ve written before about how comic book writers and fans can get hung up on the sexuality of their female characters, in opposite extremes of the spectrum. Some think that women should not be portrayed as being overtly sexual at all, a view that I’m sure come from the sexually inhibited who think that sex is evil and do not wish to be tempted. This viewpoint certainly has merits in some form; some characters are not known for being overtly sexual the same way many people in real life do not choose to be overtly sexual. Barbara Gordon is often shy and inhibited; she should not be in the same kind of outfits that Catwoman is because it does not suit her character. And I do think that any comic book medium which is aimed at small children should have a certain level of modesty just for the sake of good taste.

But too often, we get hung up on the fact that these characters are meant to be fleshed out, fully realized individuals in their fictional world. Sexuality is a major driving force in human life; it helps us decide who is going to be the most significant other person in our life, after all. So wishing that characters will not presented as sexual to appeal to some archaic notion that sex is evil is not the solution.

And who’s to say that a modestly dressed female character who never has sex can’t be just as sexually provocative as a woman in a swimsuit flirting with everyone she sees?

Rogue

I rest my case; the amount of clothes a character is wearing is irrelevant to whether we find a fictional character sexually appealing. After all, they are fictional; we are attracted to the idea that the person could be real, not the physical characteristics of a drawing. Those who want female characters to be dressed a certain way, be it modestly or immodestly, are far too preoccupied and controlling of women because they view them only as sexual objects. Which is the same problem behind the dangerous opposite extreme of sexuality in comics; writing a character purely as a sexual fantasy and nothing else. After all, there is a reason that longtime fans of the Teen Titan Starfire were so upset when Kori was reduced to a bad costume and the personality of a cardboard cut out in Red Hood and The Outlaws.

Fictional characters cannot simply be big muscles and nice curves; those characters are boring and the only the most deprived of people would find them attractive.

Which is why I find the DC Bombshell line to be so refreshing. While definitely operating under the belief that “sex sells”, it is clear that the artists understand the importance of getting the character in the picture. There is a lot of thought put into the designs so that the drawings feel like interpretations of the characters we know and love in an alternate universe. These are not just brainless cheesecake and beefcake drawings; they showcase the characters’ sexuality without compromising who the characters are.

Bruce Wayne

If you look at this post, the film noir style, the pose and the way Bruce’s face is drawn is what makes the drawing sexual appealing. It’s also a style unlike anything else in the Bombshell line; completely fitting the period of the other drawings, but designed to play to Batman’s strengths as a character. It’s genius. And Bruce isn’t the only character like this; every character is given an appropriate amount of care in these variant covers. They aren’t just swimsuit models; they are shown in positions of power, shown to be having fun, and fully representing both the characters and the style of artwork the pictures are paying tribute to.

In short, the DC Bombshells are the perfect example of how sex can be used in comic book characters. I can only hope that artists and editors can discern the reasons these work and try to follow that example in the future.

Justice Bombshells

Star Wars Archetypes – Bickering Droids & Space Pirates

George Lucas’ 1977 space opera adventure film Star Wars is perhaps the most successful film ever made. The universe, characters, mythology and themes of the movie and its sequels have entered the collective conscience of the public in a way that very few films before or after have ever been able to do. While not the greatest movie of all time, it may be the best example of the artform’s potential to impact the world, for good or ill. There really is nothing quite like the phenomenon of Star Wars; there is a reason that small children of this generation know who Darth Vader is despite the character making his debut nearly forty years ago.

Last week I took a look at the main characters of the original film and explained their origins in medieval fantasy archetypes: there are mighty wizards and kidnapped princesses and a simple farm boy who becomes a valiant knight. But Star Wars is obviously not solely inspired by fantasy; science fiction is just as much of an influence on the world. While Star Wars isn’t true science fiction and is more of an epic fantasy in space, there is certainly science fiction elements; the most important is the space travel and the robots called droids.

Droids

Through the Eyes of Peasants: R2-D2 and C-3PO

While the main characters of the first Star Wars are Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, they are not the first characters we are introduced to. The first twenty to thirty minutes of the movie are told not from the perspective of the mighty heroes, but from the perspective of two “droids”, the robotic helpers of the Star Wars universe: C-3PO and R2-D2. R2-D2 (often affectionately called Artoo) is an astromech droid that is charged with the duty of getting Princess Leia’s call for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the old Jedi Knight living on the desert planet of Tatooine. C-3PO (called Threepio for short) is a protocol droid, basically an interpreter fluent in over six million forms of communication, goes along for the journey for his own safety, and the two droids escape to Tatooine and eventually end up caught by small sentient aliens called Jawas and sold to Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle.

While an interpreter robot and a hacking/repairing machine on treads are hardly the most qualified heroes, they do serve a vital purpose to the story. Through them, a message is sent to Luke and then to Obi-Wan about Princess Leia’s capture; they are the messages, the minstrels if you will allow the comparison, who give our heroes the information they need to get them going on their adventure. While they are not the heroes, Threepio could be called the narrator of the film; the story is told from his perspective for the most part. Artoo is one of the great achievements of movie magic, especially the sound design of Ben Burtt, who was able to create a personality for the character using electronic beeps and whistles.

These two are also an example of another great influence on George Lucas’ work; the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who would often use peasants (the lowest class in feudal Japan) to tell the epic stories of the upper class and the samurai warriors in his films. While one could argue the merit of that separation of class in Kurosawa’s films, I think most would agree that it works for Star Wars; the two droids may be the lowest class of beings in the universe, but they are among the movie’s most endearing characters.

Pirates

The Voice of Reason in a Fantasy Setting: Han Solo (and Chewbacca)

If there is one character from the original Star Wars film that exploded in popularity, it is the charming but selfish and questionable smuggler Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford. One cannot discredit what Ford brings to the role; the man is full of charisma and it is difficult to imagine anybody else in any role that he plays. But on a baser level, Han Solo is an edgier, morally grey character in what is otherwise a black and white morality tale. The Empire is evil and the Jedi Knights are good, and then there is Han Solo, who is just out for himself. He’s not a bad person by any means, but when we are introduced to him he owes a debt to a gangster named Jabba the Hutt and he needs money to pay off that debt; this is his character motivation and any heroic action he performs for most of the film is motivated by that need to survive.

This is an understandable viewpoint, so most of us don’t begrudge Han Solo for having it. It doesn’t hurt that he is witty and charming and just seems like a cool guy to hang out with, even if we don’t really trust him. He is quick to point out logical flaws in our heroes; he doesn’t believe in the Force and he doesn’t believe in foolish nobility when there are other, safer options. But as he and Luke work together to rescue Leia they start to grow close and Han does end up saving Luke at the end of the movie for no other reason than friendship. It’s satisfying to see that while Han may not be noble in the traditional sense, he has a sense of honor.

Chewbacca is an alien called a Wookiee and communicates only through growls and the body language of Peter Mayhew; again, he is a tribute to movie magic as the actor, costume design and sound effects make a fully realized character despite not being able to speak English. While he may seem inconsequential, his very presence shows that Han Solo can have friends and that they are important to him; Han is equal partners with the Wookiee and affectionately calls him Chewie. It softens him in a way that isn’t detrimental to the character and helps make it believable that he will later have a soft spot for Luke and Leia.

Heroes

While they are not the main characters of Star Wars, Han Solo, Chewbacca and the droids are spectacular supporting characters that add a lot to the film; the universe would feel incomplete and lesser without them.

Princesses, Knights and Wizards – Archetypes in Star Wars

I feel like my generation has a responsibility to their children to make sure that they see Star Wars at a young age when kids can still feel the magic and not be numb to the experience because of modern blockbusters (including the upcoming new Star Wars movies). I feel like George Lucas’ 1977 epic space opera film should be on any list, short or long, of “Films to See Before You Die”. And the two sequels, but those are different articles for another day. But the original movie is one of those very special movies that transcends the typical influence of even great films; the characters, stories and ideas have achieved an almost religious level of impact on fans of the universe.

After all, none of us would be getting goosebumps from watching The Force Awakens trailer if Star Wars wasn’t special. Star Wars is truly movie magic. And there is a lot to them that is worth discussing, so I will not treat them as I do regular movies. Because they aren’t, and pretending that they are is kind of ignorant. Star Wars has impacted so many people, introducing many of them to the very basics of storytelling in a brand new way without us even realizing it.

Today, I am going to talk about the archetypal storytelling devices introduced in the original Star Wars movie. Largely because I’ll be referencing the themes of this article a lot in this blog’s lifetime and it doesn’t make sense to sit around waiting to explore them.

The Death Star

Heroes Fighting Villains In Their Fortress

In terms of storytelling structure, Star Wars has more in common with stories about King Arthur and Merlin that traditional science fiction stories. While the story involves futuristic technology with spaceships traveling to different planets, it also has elements of medieval fantasy: there are knights and princesses, pirates and wizards, and evil overlords hiding in a big scary fortress. The elements are simply adapted for the genre. Instead of knights in shining armor we have Jedi Knights with laser swords. Christianity and a belief in magic is replaced with “The Force”, a mystic energy field that exists in all living things. And instead of a dark wizard with a dragon in a dark tower, we have a cyborg wizard with a space station that can destroy planets.

Star Wars is able to resonate with viewers on a level that other space-based books and television were unable to. While science fiction primarily focuses on discovery and looking towards the future. George Lucas’ story is about adventure and heroism, and it’s that combination of genres that gave Star Wars its unique identity.

Vader

Darth Vader, Face of Evil

Star Wars is somewhat unusual in that the villain is the first major character introduced to the audience and the primary protagonist isn’t introduced until about twenty minutes in. The opening scene of Star Wars is so brilliant that it deserves its own article examining it, but for now let’s simply talk about Darth Vader’s entrance. After a posse of Stormtroopers lay waste to rebel fighters, this imposing figure clothed in black walks through smoke and observes the destruction silently. All we hear is an unnerving breathing noise. The next time we see him is holding a man up in the air by his throat. His presence is undeniable and we get the sense that while this army of Stormtroopers is bad news, Darth Vader is more powerful than any of them.

One of the smartest decisions about the narrative of Star Wars is that the villains are always winning and feel like an insurmountable obstacle. This creates tension and makes us want to root for the good guys. This is what great villains do to a story; help us invest in the heroes’ struggles and victories. And while there are more than a handful of Imperial Officers in this movie who outrank Vader, make no mistake: Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers are the face of evil in this movie and they are extremely effective in that role.

Leia

Saving The Princess

If the knights and wizards aren’t enough to convince someone that Star Wars isn’t based in medieval fantasy, then let me put it this way. The driving narrative force of this movie is that the heroes go into the bad guy’s castle to rescue a princess. This isn’t even changed to something more “space age”; Carrie Fisher’s character is called “Princess Leia” and the first scene of the movie sees the bad guys kidnap her and the rest of the movie is about rescuing her. This is a base reduction of the plot of course, but that’s the point I’m making; Star Wars makes use of common tropes but they work because the characters are well established and memorable, and the story is engaging.

While Leia is something of a damsel in distress in the first movie, it’s more because of the forces she’s up against that any fault of her own. She’s not helpless; she’s shown to be an excellent shot and a resourceful strategist. But against the might of Darth Vader and the army he has at his disposal, there’s not a lot she can do when she’s thrown in prison. Despite that, she still manages to come across as an intelligent and commanding presence who is not intimidated by anyone. Leia is perhaps the perfect example of using a trope that’s usually considered negative and still writing a character is interesting and likable in their own right.

So we have our villain, who is awesome, and our damsel in distress. All we need now is a knight! And Leia knows just the man for the job…

Kenobi

The Wise Old Man

…or not. When Princess Leia uses the droid R2-D2 to send a message to Obi-Wan Kenobi and says that he’s “her only hope”, she probably doesn’t realize that the Jedi Knight is an old man. When we are introduced to Obi-Wan it’s clear that he was once a great warrior; he has this wickedly awesome weapon called a lightsaber, after all. But now he is old and a bit frail, but still has a keen intellect and the Force as his ally. But one look at this guy and we know he isn’t going to be the hero of the story. The knight needs a squire, which leads us to the real main character and true hero of the story.

Luke

Luke Skywalker – The Hero

Luke Skywalker is one of my favorite heroes of all time. He starts out as an “everyman”, a poor farm boy who wants to do something more exciting with his life but doesn’t have an opportunity to do so. But when his Aunt and Uncle buy two droids who are being hunted down by the Empire, Luke’s family is taken from him and he chooses to do something special with his life. By the end of Star Wars he becomes a hero, and it feels earned. He’s struggled and suffered but he refuses to give up even when it looks like there’s no way to win. He’s an archetypal protagonist that generates empathy with most audiences because we see ourselves in him.

Luke and Obi-Wan are a classic example of student and mentor. Obi-Wan is a Jedi, a great hero with strange weapons and stranger powers that Luke doesn’t really understand. Luke asks questions and learns about the Force and the Jedi, and we learn the same information because of this. It’s a dynamic that makes expository dialogue seem less awkward and I feel is kind of a lost art in many movies. Obi-Wan also helps to establish the character of Darth Vader by explaining that he was once his student before turning to evil. Through this we understand that Vader has the same kind of powers that Obi-Wan does and that makes him more terrifying, and we understand that Luke must learn the ways of The Force in order to fight against that threat. The start of a character arch is established and Luke has a clear goal to work towards.

These characters and storytelling elements are the foundation that Star Wars is built on, but the world is much more than just these main characters. The next time I take a look at the adventures in a galaxy far, far away, I will look at the supporting characters that help bring a unique identity to the world and story of this epic movie.

A Bigger Marvel Universe – Black Panther & Captain Marvel

We are inching closer and closer to the climactic chapter of “Phase Two” of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the most anticipated cinematic event since the first Avengers film, and it should be a fitting closing chapter to Phase Two and an advertisement for what we can expect in Phase Three. Marvel has recently hit their creative stride, delivering box office smashes with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy which were perhaps their two best films to date. They’ve also been delivering quality on the smaller screen with the excellent Agent Carter show and the Netflix original series Daredevil that may be the best thing they’ve ever done.

Marvel Studios seems to be on top of the world. And while that would make some grow complacent, the defining aspect of the studio has been to always look forward, to always expand, and to take calculated risks. Iron Man and Thor were not cultural icons when Marvel made the decision to use them to kickstart their Cinematic Universe, and Captain America was not exactly cool either before the movies showcased what a likable character he can be. The Avengers was nothing short of a miracle, an incredibly ambitious project that worked despite the odds.

Avengers

Marvel has continued to take risks, taking the extremely obscure Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and making them househould names with one of the most flat-out fun offerings Hollywood has ever given us. A talking tree and raccoon are beloved characters because Marvel is willing to take risks and put effort into it. And Daredevil is another example of this, with Marvel Studios choosing to embrace their adult fans by making a decidedly non-kid friendly show that has stellar character development and created something special. Marvel has also shown the flexibility to work with Sony Entertainment to come to an agreement to introduce Spider-Man into their universe, giving the MCU perhaps Marvel’s most iconic hero.

My point in recapping all of this is to explain that Marvel is not a company that sits on its laurels. It is a company that constantly pushes forward and feels its audience, testing us to see what we want and then delivering. We wanted more complex plots and they gave us The Winter Soldier. We wanted something fresh and we got Guardians. We wanted stronger villains they gave us Wilson Fisk and Ultron. It’s clear they are listening.

Because of this continued growth, it’s no surprise to see Marvel announce several new characters in Phase Three. We are getting Ant-Man (technically the last film in Phase Two but who really cares?) and Doctor Strange, who are certainly more bizarre than most of the heroes we’ve been introduced to so far. But we are also getting Black Panther and Captain Marvel films, and those are the two I want to focus on today.

Black Panther

Black Panther is the masked alter ego of King T’Challa, the ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, one of the major players in the Marvel universe’s economy because of their access to vibranium. The rare metal is most famous for being the material that Captain America’s shield is made of, and is known for it’s ability to absorb almost any impact without breaking. This makes Wakanda a target for many who look to exploit this resource, and Black Panther is the man who has to protect his nation and the world from those threats. He doesn’t have superpowers, but he is one of the best hand-to-hand fighters in Marvel, an expert hunter and brilliant scientist, as well as a charismatic leader.

In a more real world sense, Black Panther was the first high-profile African superhero in comic books, being introduced to readers in the chaotic political climate of the 1960’s when African Americans were fighting for equal rights more vocally than ever before. Similarly, T’Challa is the first black man to headline a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a huge step in Marvel’s goal of becoming a brand that represents all people. While the MCU has had no shortage of strong African American characters (Nick Fury, Colonel James Rhodes and The Falcon chief among them) and have even given white comic characters like Ben Urich and Heimdall a makeover with black actors, this shows that Marvel is willing to put a person of color in the leading role of a movie that’s designed to appeal to Marvel’s wide audience.

They have the right man for the job, as Chadwick Boseman is a hot young talent who has already proven his ability to play characters of historic importance. He played Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up and did so admirably, but he is also a relatively unproven talent who is likely to become a huge star do to this role. I know that my interest in T’Challa on the big screen increased exponentially with the announcement of Boseman in the role.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is the current alias of Carol Danvers, an officer in the United States Airforce who is given superpowers due to alien technology. While she has spent the bulk of her career as Ms. Marvel and is a seasoned veteran of the Avengers in the comic book universe, Carol’s star has never shine brighter than it has in recent years with the name change to Captain Marvel. Marvel’s decision to create a big blockbuster movie starring the character fulfills another need for the universe; a woman in a leading role. With the growing audience including more and more women with every movie, the need for a woman who is given equal treatment and starring on her own merit is a crucial one.

Again, Marvel has done a good job of highlighting female characters and giving them depth and talent. Pepper Potts is a CEO that runs Stark Industries better than Tony Stark ever did, Peggy Carter was a capable military fighter in World War II and Black Widow has been a star player in both The Avengers and The Winter Soldier. Marvel has also given women starring roles in television series; Peggy Carter became the unlikely star of a Marvel mini-series called Agent Carter, and the next Netflix original series will be A.K.A. Jessica Jones. But Captain Marvel will be proof that female characters and actors can be the leads in big budget action films that bring men and women to the theater.

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continues to grow, and thankfully it is growing in positive directions, with a more diverse cast of heroes given more of a spotlight. If the success of other films are any indication, both Black Panther and Captain Marvel will be huge hits at the box office, breaking new barriers for the superhero genre. And that is a truly Marvelous thing.

Anyone Else Excited For Star Wars?

Yes, the question is rhetorical. I can’t imagine any except for the most stubborn of Star Wars fans not being swayed by the most recent trailer. It’s perfect. It managed to do something that very few trailers manage to do these days; get us excited without spoiling any details about the characters or the plot. Unless you’re someone who voraciously searches the web for every bit of Star Wars news and are just watching the trailers, you don’t know these new characters names. All we know is that Johnny Boyega is a stormtrooper who clearly needs some help from some woman, there’s an awesome real life droid that moves on a spinning ball, some new Sith-inspired baddie with an army of newer, sleeker Stormtroopers, and there’s all the iconic ships we grew up with…

…and oh yeah. Han Solo, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker showed up. We have new footage of Han Solo and I don’t care this his hair is white. This is Star Wars. This is the universe I know and love and want to spend more time in. It’s just bigger and shinier. But not too shiny. It still has a lot of the grit and reality that made us believe in the original trilogy.

In short, it’s pretty much everything I can realistically ask for.

A New Hope

While this blog is dedicated to wrestling and comic books as well as movies in general, I have to admit that my very first “geeky” love was Star Wars. I mean, I liked wrestling. I liked X-Men and other comic books. But I loved Star Wars. I obsessed over it, I watched the movies over and over again (even the prequels), I played Knights of the Old Republic several times over to get every piece of content I possibly could, and even did rough drafts of my own Star Wars movies.

Man, I was really never very cool was I? How did I survive my high school years?

Anyway, the main point is, I loved Star Wars and I didn’t think anything was ever going to change that. But then I grew up a bit and watched a lot of movies that were better than Star Wars and started to really pick apart what made a movie good or bad. This growth had a supremely negative effect on my view of the prequel trilogy. I always knew that Episode I, II and III weren’t as good as the original movies, but I wasn’t able to quantify why at the time.

The realization that the Star Wars prequels were ultimately failures because of George Lucas’ total control on the movies without someone to reign him in or point out the flaws were was a tough pill to swallow. My distaste for George Lucas grew more and more as he continued to make terrible edits to the original masterpieces. I finally just accepted that Lucas had no appreciation for what he had created and the impact that it had on so many people.

I fell out of love with Star Wars. I still liked the original films, but I just didn’t care the way I used to. My first crush had grown up into this rebellious, idiotic thing that didn’t understand why it was beautiful.

Vader

When Disney announced that new Star Wars films were going to be made and that J.J. Abrams would be directing them, I didn’t quite know how to feel about it. My passion for Star Wars had faded by then, but I was a fan of Abrams and his work on the new Star Trek films was certainly a good thing to have on his resume. He was clearly a fan in the same way we were and was determined to make something great. So the potential for greatness was there. It was just hard to get overly optimistic about it when the franchise had done so much to burn me in the last few years.

Ultimately, my initial reaction to this announcement can best be summed up with the following sentence.

“Well, it can’t be any worse than the last three Star Wars movies.”

But now that we are only a matter of months away from the release and I’ve seen pictures of the sets and seen how much practical effects there are going to be and how much nostalgia is going to mix with the new, I’m on board. I’m convinced. I’m sold out and I want it to be Christmas so badly.

My crush has grown up and found somebody knew that reminded them why they were beautiful. I watched that trailer and I cried because I was so happy.

I love Star Wars again. And that is a great feeling to have.

Force Awakens

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