On Canon II

the flash jay garrick teddy sears henry allen john wesley shipp season 2 zoom hunter zolomon mark waid canon pissing on a legacy greg berlanti

So, we’ll consider this to be something of a sequel to my previous post On Canon, because I’ve been having some more thoughts about it. This time, though, rather than Arrow and Marc Guggenheim, it’s Mark Waid and The Flash.

There’s spoilers, incidentally, for The Flash past… episode 18, I think it is? There’s discussion of the identity of Zoom, in any case, so if you’re not caught up and you’d like to preserve the surprise, this is your opportunity to jump ship.

Mark Waid, if you’ve not heard of him, is a comics writer. Predominantly, he’s known for having written for the Flash, and also Superman; certainly that’s where I know him from, anyway. A quick glance at his Wikipedia page reveals that he’s also spent some time doing Captain America for Marvel, and also apparently did Kingdom Come, which is quite a well respected comic story.

I haven’t ever actually read any of his work; that is worth stating upfront, I think. As will become apparent, as much as I like comic characters and their stories, I’ve read very few comics. But, even so, Mark Waid is a big enough “name”, as it were, that I’ve still heard of him and know good things about him.

But he recently tweeted these, and I have had some thoughts.

mark waid twitter the flash jay garrick man in the iron mask pissing on a legacy greg berlanti

Probably there is a lot to be said about why a creative individual considers things like this to be “pissing on legacy”; surely he knows that stories grow and develop and as part of this change over time? Similarly, I take issue with the idea that someone is “actively punished for being a fan” if a comic story isn’t adapted to the letter.

But I don’t want this post to be a criticism of Mark Waid; frankly, that’s unfair. He apologised to Greg Berlanti about an hour afterwards, so that’s that, and I think more important is the fact that he likes just doesn’t want or need some random blogger on the internet harassing him and trying to provide some psychological profile.

I do want to talk about the idea he’s put forward, though, which is somewhat linked to the idea of the spirit of the source material that I mentioned in the previous On Canon post.

This is, I think, actually quite a complicated issue, largely because different characters mean different things to different people – all interpretations are valid, right? It’s difficult to put a pin in something as nebulous as the “spirit” of a character, because you’re not really going to get one single cohesive vision of this. Sure, the author will have one idea, and sure, there might be a majority view… but that doesn’t mean it’s the view that everyone shares.

For example! Man of Steel, as well as Batman vs Superman, and indeed the DCEU as a whole, is presenting their timeless and well loved characters through a “gritty” and “dark” veneer, one which is proving to be quite controversial. Personally, I hate it; I hate the fact that Zack Snyder has rejected the idea that Superman can be a symbol of hope, or a character motivated by compassion. I wrote about it at length here, actually, in what I think is one of my better pieces of writing. There are plenty of other people who have spoken out against it – the aforementioned Mr Mark Waid wasn’t a fan of Man of Steel at the time, and there are plenty of people who are decrying the fact that Batman killed people in Dawn of Justice when he really, really (probably maybe) shouldn’t actually ever do that.

But, of course, as soon as the detractors spring up, the counter detractors (attractors?) rise up in full force as well. And that’s where it gets difficult, really. Because these characters are nearly 70 years old, and they’ve been through so many different iterations, that it is actually not very difficult for people to pull out a variety of different comic panels wherein Batman has, in fact, shot someone.

Don’t get me wrong, I do this too, though somewhat in reverse. Whenever I’m arguing about the possibility of a gay Spider-Man or whatever, and someone tells me that’s not “in the spirit of the stories”, my favourite thing to do is pull out a list of things Spider-Man has done that don’t fit the spirit of the character.

You’ve got Spider-Man eating someone’s face. You’ve got Peter Parker revealed to actually have been a clone, except maybe not. You’ve got Peter Parker fighting mystical omnipotent travellers, rather than petty crooks and mad scientists. There’s Peter Parker backhanding MJ.

And, you know, those are just the weird ones; I pull those out because of how absurd they are, and how well they highlight what I’m getting at. Even the sort of thing that people now accept to be a fairly standard part of the Spider-Man mythos, like Venom, would at one point have been unthinkable. It wasn’t even Uncle Ben who said “with great power comes great responsibility” in the first place, you know?

But then, does it break the spirit of the thing? If we stick with Spider-Man for a moment, consider the implications of “with great power comes great responsibility”: Spidey has always been a pretty normal guy, who ended up with superpowers through a freak accident, and because of that he has a responsibility to do the right thing. To be a hero.

Does that not then mean the Andrew Garfield movies, which have a pretty substantial role for Peter’s parents, and posit that he was genetically modified as a young child to allow him to gain powers, breaks the spirit of Spider-Man? That’s not a normal guy rising to meet his responsibilities, but someone confronting their destiny. It’s a fundamentally different story.

Likely you can make similar arguments about the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi movies to some extent, though; with their slavish devotion to the early Lee/Ditko stories, there’s plenty that they don’t pay heed to. They are, after all, just one interpretation of a character.

This is true of any character that has existed for this long. It’s not just a matter of creator (with Stan Lee’s Daredevil and Frank Miller’s Daredevil being pretty different), of course, but also of time; the Adam West Batman is rather distinct from Alan Moore’s iteration, after all.

So what is consistent? What can you consider your throughline here? What is the spirit of these characters?

I have literally no idea, to be honest. That’s quite a copout answer, isn’t it? But yeah, I have literally no idea. There is likely an idea literary study to be done here; what remains consistent about these characters across time, and what doesn’t? Does it even matter?

How can you respect the spirit when there isn’t really any one, single, coherent spirit to respect? We’ll go back to Jay Garrick, since that’s where this all started. He’s a decent example, really. Does the existence of Barry Allen piss on the legacy of Jay Garrick? Barry was a replacement Flash, after all.

Does the existence of the speedforce, and the idea it comes from Barry, piss on the legacy of Jay Garrick? Some depictions of Jay Garrick posit he’s from Earth-2. Others suggest he’s from Earth-1, but in the 40s, so he’s a true golden age hero. Who’s pissing on who here? The one that came first? The one that was commonly accepted for longer? Where’s the piss, guys?

(Lex Luthor probably knows. But only the Eisenberg version, Spacey and Hackman and Rosenbaum have nothing to do with that.)

At this point, it’s easy to just say you have to ignore all of that, and just tell good stories.

That’s the conclusion I reached with the former Arrow post, after all. Fridging Black Canary, regardless of the comics, was an utterly terrible choice; it was banal writing in the truest sense of the word, and continues a worrying trend of Arrow doing a disservice to its female characters. To decry that because of the comics is to miss the point – this isn’t bad because it doesn’t follow the letter of the source material, it’s bad because it’s lazy and even offensive writing.

But that’s an easy conclusion to make. It’s ignoring the subtleties and nuances of all this. I mean, I thought Batman vs Superman was awful, and although it wasn’t my sole problem, the fact that it wasn’t true to the spirit of the characters was indeed part of my complaint. So clearly on some level I think this is a valid criticism.

Similarly, it’d be easy to dismiss it as good stories/bad stories, but even then, that’s not quite right. I mean, the current Jay Garrick/Hunter Zolomon arc on The Flash isn’t really doing anything for me – not because I think it disrespects the legacy of the comics, but because I just think it’s kinda crap. There are a large number of people who disagree with me, and love it!

By the same measure, one of my… more unique opinions, I guess, is the fact that I actually quite liked the most recent Fantastic Four movie. I thought the body horror angle was an awesome idea… but I’ll freely acknowledge that it isn’t really in the “spirit” of the original characters. (Or isn’t it? Certainly it’s not the traditional view, but equally, I don’t know that much was ever made of the experience of getting their powers in the originals, so is there room for the body horror, as well as the fun and the humour of the originals? Perhaps.)

So again, we’re getting back to a place where I don’t really have any useful concluding points to make, and this whole post has gotten far too long for anyone to actually read it.

Let us say this, then.

When telling a story, the utmost aim is to tell a good story. When telling a story based on an archetype, it is worth considering what has made the original so enduring – be it a nebulously defined “spirit”, or a truly innovative concept, you should at least attempt to understand what makes something so good in the first place.

From there, feel free to remix or invert that which is in front of you; add to it, take things away, or shift focus. But be certain that your vision is one worth presenting; be certain you’re telling a good story. Consider whether you need this archetype to tell your story – are you better off approaching this from a different angle entirely, with your own original creations?

After that…

… well, after that, there’s no accounting for taste.

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Spider-Man Movie Pitch

spider man tom holland captain america civil war airport movie pitch marvel cinematic universe fanfiction concept mcu

Alright then, Spiderman. I have had some thoughts on this new movie!

On Spider-Man

Mostly I have few requirements for Spider-Man (I’ve been meticulously hyphenating his name, because it makes me feel like a proper nerd and everything). I’d say the most important thing, character wise, is that he should be funny. It’s kinda difficult to get it right, maybe because you don’t want it to be facetious, and you don’t want it to be quippy in a gimmicky way but I feel like, with the general track record of the MCU, the humorous aspect is probably dead set to to be done right. There’s also some directorial stuff – Spider-Man, when he’s swinging around, should really look genuinely quite amazing. I don’t really know much about the director (nor does anyone else, really) but I think it’s a reasonable assumption to make that that kind of quality will be assured.

On Peter Parker

I have recently realised that pretty much any permeation (iteration? interpretation? depiction?) of Peter Parker wherein he isn’t a straight white guy adds a new and more compellingly layer to the story. (For example, linked here, this version of Peter Parker wherein he’s African-American) The ship has sailed on that one, given the casting of Tom Holland (who I am sure will do excellently), but I still think it’d be interesting to depict Peter Parker as gay or bisexual, because it reflects a lot of the original themes which played a crucial role in the character, back when he was first envisaged – the idea of someone who was a bit of an outcast, who represented the underdog. That basic idea is what comes into play, if depicting Peter Parker as gay.

The way I’m thinking they’d depict it is relatively subtle, in a nice kind of way. Throughout the film, you’d have references to MJ, this person Peter has a crush on. Everyone who’s reasonably familiar with Spider-Man has some idea of MJ, so they know who we’re referring to, even though you don’t actually see MJ. So, anyway, you have Peter’s friends, giving him a bit of a good natured ribbing about the crush, scenes like that. And then towards the end of the film, Peter can pass this guy in the corridor, and feeling a little more confident – perhaps because he’s been out being Spidey – says to this dude:

“Hey MJ”
“Hey Peter”

MJ, of course, stands for Mark John Watson.
It might be nice if we’ve seen this guy around a few times, in different scenes across the school. Perhaps a roll call scene, where the teacher calls him ‘Mark’, setting up the eventual “twist” at the end. I quite like that idea.

On the Supporting Characters

Okay, so if Peter Parker is going to be in school, then that means that we’re going to spend a not inconsiderable amount of time with his friends – I’m sort of imagining this taking place with maybe 50% or so of the scenes in school, and with Peter out of costume, to really explore the angle a teenager, gifted with powers most kids could only dream of, but ultimately dealing with his life becoming far more complicated than ever. None of the characters in the MCU at the minute really have secret identities; Peter, on the other hand, does.

Let’s say, then, Peter can have two to three friends, as well as a school based antagonist. The antagonist is of course Flash Thompson, who’s a bully, and quite a bother for Peter and his friends. Something which I’ve seen proposed online would be for Flash to be bullying people because he’s closeted; it’s Spider-Man who inspires him to come out, and be less cruel to others. That could, if handled well, be a pretty interesting subplot to include, because it’s showing the way in which heroism can impact on and inspire others – as well as forming an interesting counterpart to Peter, if he were depicted as gay.

One of the friends could be Harry Osborn – but since he’s been done twice before, it might make sense if this film decides to eschew the use of him. (Then again: How about Peter in love with MJ, whilst Harry has an unrequited crush on Peter? Could be an interesting angle for future Green Goblin appearances)

Bringing us onto Peter’s two other friends, we’ve got Felicia Hardy, being set up potentially as the Black Cat for sequels, and providing another LGBT character (As nice as it would be, it seems unlikely that Flash or Peter would be depicted as LGBT; at least with Felicia, there’s a comics precedent. Still, I’m trying pretty hard to make the lineup for this film as diverse as possible.)

The next friend, who would form a pretty important part of the narrative, is Kamala Khan. She knows Peter’s secret, and she encourages him to do a lot of what he does. Essentially she’d fill a role not too dissimilar from Cisco on The Flash; really enthusiastic, and really enjoying the world of superheroics, You’d have references to and maybe briefly see her family, but they wouldn’t really take focus. There’s going to be quite a few scenes between the two of them, where they confide in each other and joke around and all that. It’s a little bit of a departure from the Canon, but it seems like a good way to introduce Kamala.

Obviously, in terms of Peter’s home life, he’s living with Aunt May. There’d be references to Uncle Ben, but very few to his parents; presumably at this stage in Peter’s life, he’s essentially as content with the death of his parents as he could ever be, and what’s bothering him more is the death of his Uncle. The idea of “With great power comes great responsibility” is still a motivating factor, obviously.

On the villains

This is actually quite a difficult one, thinking about it. A lot of the more iconic villains, like Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, have been done, and done quite memorably. My own favourite Spider-Man villain is the Lizard, and of course he’s been done… I think it’s important to keep this story small scale, because Spider-Man, I think, works best when he’s just protecting his own city, or even his own neighbourhood.

So…

I mean, Wilson Fisk is worth considering, because he’s quite heavily associated with Spider-Man, given his appearances in the cartoons and whatnot, and Vincent D’Onfrio does play the role amazingly well. But I think that it might be difficult to portray Fisk in an all ages Spider-Man movie in the same way he was in Daredevil. Perhaps the majority of the violence could be implicit? If done correctly, it could still be suitably horrific, yet suitable for younger kids – but that’s a very fine line to walk. If this were an origin story, I’d be tempted to try and involve Uncle Ben’s killer in some capacity. That could still be possible – if the origin is told in the opening credits, a la The Incredible Hulk, then perhaps a thread of Spider-Man investigating Uncle Ben’s killer, and then being lead to a weakened Fisk, who’s trying to rebuild somewhat… That could potentially be quite a strong plot to use. If Fisk is still in prison, and he’s pulling strings from there, that’s an easy way to limit the violence, and keep it a little bit more PG. (Or, you know, 12A.)

Alternatively, if it’s being kept school based, the idea of the Jackal (Miles Teller, who’s a teacher at Peter’s school) could be a route worth exploring… though it’d probably be advisable to avoid all the complicated clone stuff. Potentially Mysterio could be worth dealing with, however the angle from which I’d approach him (the illusions he uses providing a more psychological threat with less punching) might not be the most interesting for all age groups. Still, I reckon there’s probably a pretty strong Mysterio movie, somewhere, and it’s likely that might be the direction they go in.

On the tone

Something I’ve been wondering about, as I’ve been writing this, is the possibility of voiceovers. With the exception of Iron Man 3, it’s not really prominent in superhero movies – although they are pretty common in comics themselves. It might help to establish the tone, to use the voiceovers, and let Spider-Man… Not quite break the fourth wall, but make jokes and comments in a way that are sort of outside the narrative. Again, it’s a tricky thing to get right, particularly if you do use Fisk, but I imagine if handled carefully, it could be quite successful.

Music is also important in establishing the tone – not to step on the toes of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it could be nice to see, say, some scenes of Peter swinging around set to some upbeat music. As in, not a film score, but an actual song, which the audience will know? That could be worth considering; at this point I’m just kicking ideas around. Essentially though, I’d approach this not as “The Amazing Spider-Man”, or “The Spectacular Spider-Man”, but “The Friendly-Neighbourhood Spider-Man”. If they could actually get away with this as a title, that’d be nice.

Essentially, the most important part of this movie is to be really fun, and enjoyable to watch.

The post-credits scene

Oh, well, this one is obvious. Kamala Khan gets her powers here. A Ms Marvel movie can follow a few years later, after the Captain Marvel movie, with Peter as a supporting character in her movie. Kamala has inhuman genes… so potentially they could follow up on that fish oil plot from Agents of SHIELD. Maybe have her drinking the stuff (do you drink fish oil? Or, like, fry things in it? And is it halal?) throughout the movie, and then the end credits sequence shows her… say, stretching for a pen, and then her arm actually stretches. The final line of the movie is her saying “What.”

Alternatively, if this isn’t placed so well, timeline wise, in terms of when they do Captain Marvel and when they do Inhumans, maybe a short meeting between Spidey and Daredevil could work. That’d make sense if you did use the Fisk plot – presumably in Daredevil Series 2, most of Matt’s attention is going to be divided between Punisher and The Hand/The Chaste, so a sort of “Thanks for dealing with Fisk while I was busy” scene might make sense.

So, any thoughts?

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