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“It doesn’t have to be good to be a classic.”

Let me tell you about the only comic book to ever make me cry in public.

From the first page of Amazing Spider-Man #121 something is off. There’s no title. Simply a sombre note from editorial telling the reader that they won’t actually learn what the name of the story is until the end. But it’s still very much a seventies Spider-Man story; bright primary colour palette, soap opera melodrama to burn and an exclamation point/period ratio of around 90 to 1. Norman Osbourne, who used to be the Green Goblin but has forgotten the whole thing because of amnesia, is undergoing a psychological breakdown because his son Harry went on a bad acid trip (did I mention that this came out in the seventies?). Suddenly, he relapses and remembers not only that he’s the Green Goblin, but that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Racing to Peter’s apartment to enact his revenge, he instead finds Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacey who he abducts. Peter desperately pursues the Goblin to a bridge (George Washington per the text, Brooklyn according to the art) and Spider-Man and Osbourne have a desperate, thrilling mid-air battle that comes to a horrific halt when Gwen Stacey is thrown of the bridge by the Goblin.

Frantically, Peter shoots his webs to catch her before she hits the ground…and he does! He’s saved her! He’s won! Good triumphs over…

No. This time it’s different. And, on the final page, we at last learn the name of the story we’ve been reading which is, of course The Night Gwen Stacey Died. This is the panel that always makes me well up. :

At this point in the comics, Peter Parker was no longer a teenager. He had graduated college, he was an adult. But he was still very much a children’s character. And I find something indescribably tragic about this child’s superhero cradling the body of the woman he loves, unable to comprehend that his world has changed and that the old rules don’t hold true anymore. Good does not always triumph over evil. The innocent are not always spared. The guilty are not always punished. The people you cannot live without will be taken nonetheless. It’s a story about the loss of innocence we all go through and it’s one of very few single issue comics that I would hold up as an absolute work of art. It’s a piece that’s moved me deeply and that I feel a real personal connection to. And I think one of the reasons why it is such a gut punch is because the brutal tragedy at the heart of story is contained in all this colourful, innocent Silver Age goofiness, like a hand grenade with a pink smiley face on it. It wouldn’t work a tenth as well if done in a moody, gritty “realistic” style.

The Night Gwen Stacey Died became an instant classic and to this day is usually considered the demarcation point between the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, a period marked by a more mature and literary style of comics that produced some of the greatest masterpieces in the genre. Unfortunately it also taught a generation of hacks that they could kill the hero’s girlfriend for some cheap drama and pathos. Nowadays, the phenomenon of female supporting characters being killed to provide motivation for the male lead is usually called “Women in Refrigerators”, a term coined by writer Gail Simone after a particularly notorious Green Lantern storyline, but before that it was called “Gwen Stacey Syndrome” because it was really this story that opened those floodgates. To be clear, this does not make The Night Gwen Stacey Died a bad story (or at least, I certainly don’t think it does). The problem is the raft of imitators who failed to realise that what made Gwen’s death so shocking and effective was that it was so rare. Hard as it might be to believe, prior to 1973 women almost never died in mainstream comics, and if they did (Batman’s mother for example) it was almost always off panel. So what does this have to do with The Killing Joke?

Well, The Killing Joke is a 1988 Batman story by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, and since its release its been frequently lauded as one of the best Batman stories, the definitive Joker story and one of the greatest comics of all time. (thanks to Clifford who pointed out that I actually put it on my list of greatest comics which I had completely forgotten). However, it has also increasingly been viewed as being somewhat…problematic…

Frau_Blucher

Why? Well, because in the course of this story the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralysing her, (possibly) sexually assaults her and then shows her father pictures of it in an attempt to break him psychologically. Like Gwen Stacey, Barbara Gordon is brutally assaulted in order to advance the story of a male character, in this case her father and Batman. So there’s quite a bit of backlash against this book, with even Alan Moore himself effectively disowning it. Although honestly, take that with a grain of salt. Despite being the most influential writer in the history of the medium not named Lee, Siegel or Finger, Alan Moore basically now regards the entire comic book industry the way Captain McAllister views the sea.

My feelings? Well…I basically feel about The Killing Joke the way I feel about 99 Problems.

Is it misogynistic? Yes.

Noticeably so for its time and compared to the rest of its genre? Not really.

To the point where it obscures its artistic merits? No.

Of course, reading it now you have the benefit of knowing how the story ends. That Barbara Gordon was able to overcome this tragedy, and became Oracle, a wheel-chair bound superhero who became an inspiration to many disabled comic book fans and one of the most valued heroes not simply in the Bat family but in the DC universe as a whole.

Barbara Gordon | Batman Wiki | Fandom

And then Bruce just had her fixed so she could become Batgirl again, which was inspiring to comic book fans with billionaire friends who magically solve all their problems for them.

Ultimately, despite the problematic…

Frau_Blucher

…elements of the story I still think it deserves to be considered one of the all time great Batman yarns. And I was really pumped for this animated adaptation. Look at this line up! Bruce Timm, creator of the legendary Batman the Animated Series was producing, well-regarded Batman scribe Brian Azzaerello was writing the script and the voice cast was shit shot: Conroy! Tara Strong! MARK HAMILL COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO DO ALAN MOORE’S JOKER YE GODS!

But then early word had it that the animated adaptation would be greatly expanding Barbara’s role in the story and I was leery. I mean, on the one hand, it’s certainly a laudable impulse to want to address criticisms of the original by giving Barbara Gordon more agency and putting her experience front and centre. On the other hand, that is a radical change to the story. Put bluntly, The Killing Joke is not a Barbara Gordon story. Hell, it’s not even really a Batman story. It’s a story about the conflict between Moral Nihilism as represented by the Joker versus Ethical Objectivism personified by Jim Gordon. So my feeling was that if the creators doubted their source material to the point that they would make such a radical change, they probably shouldn’t be adapting it in the first place.

My worry was that we would get a more progressive, more enlightened, less problematic version of The Killing Joke but probably not a better one.

Oh, oh, oh…

I wish that was what we got.

JESUS.

(more…)

Hello lovely Patrons!

Hi all,
Just a quick reminder that normal billing will resume at the start of the month so if you were planning on cancelling your pledge, now’s the time. Of course, if you want to continue supporting the blog just because you’re a font of awesome generosity and beneficence that is entirely your call.
Thanks as always,
 
Mouse

I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list…

Hi all,

As promised, here’s the list of upcoming reviews in alphabetical order. If you don’t see something you requested, or if you’ve already contributed via Patreon and didn’t get a chance to request, leave me a comment and I’ll stick it on. I…may be doing this a while.

A Monster In Paris
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Aladdin the Series
Alice in Wonderland (the Disney live action one)
Ang Lee’s Hulk
Balto
Batman 1989

Batman: The Killing Joke

Bats vers Bolts: I, Frankenstein versus Dracula Untold
Bats versus Bolts: Nosferatu versus Frankenstein
Bolts versus Bats: Andy Warhol
Cinderella
Darkwing Duck

Daria: Episode 1

Detective Pikachu
Devilman Crybaby
Episode 4 of Death Parade
Episode six of Flip Flappers.
Evangelion: You are (Not) Alone
Felix the Cat
Frankenweenie

Freddie as F.R.O.7

Heavy Metal
Hercules and Xena the Animated Movie
Hoodwinked
Inherit the Wind
Into the Woods
Jimmy Neutron
John Carter

Joseph: King of Dreams

Judgement at Nuremberg
Kung Fu Panda 2
Little Mermaid the Series
Lu Over the Wall
Megamind
Metropolis (Osamu Tezuka)
Moomins on the Riviera
My Hero Academia: First 4 Episodes
Night of the Hunter

Once Upon A Time: Episodes 1 and 3

Over the Garden Wall
Pan
Perfect Blue
Planes
Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure
Redline
Return to Oz
Rock and Rule
Romeo and Juliet Sealed with a Kiss

Sailor Moon R: The Movie

Shin Godzilla
Something Eastern European
Summer Wars
Superman Versus the Elite
Tangled the Series
The Animatrix
The Dark Crystal
The Fantastic Adventures of Unico
The Good Dinosaur
The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time 13
The Polar Express
The Quiet Man
The Swan Princess
The Third Man
Titan AE
Tomorrowland

TMNT:Turtles Forever

V for Vendetta

Your Name

An announcement I have been waiting to make since I was eight years old.

Hi everyone. When I made my big end of year humblebrag a while back there was actually another bit of news that I couldn’t tell you because negotiations were still ongoing. So here it is.

I’ve been signed by TOR for a two book deal.

One of the largest publishers of science fiction in the world offered to publish my novel When the Sparrow Falls (until recently called The Caspian Sea) for summer 2021 with a second book for publication in summer 2022 and I said “Yes. I find this agreeable.”

This deal will be for North America and most of the world. For the non-American Anglosphere, the book will be published by Rebellion, the UK publisher of Judge Dredd.

So…

How’s you’re day going?

So, obviously this means I’m going to be spending a lot of time on edits and writing book #2 over the next three years as well as my usual work commitments.

“Aren’t you forgetting someone else?”

“Hi Dad!”

“Hi son! Are you still pooping literally all the time?”

“I am!”

Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Guys I hate to say it but it looks like I might have to shutter the blog…

“Whoah whoah, are you actually just going to throw away your hardwon fanbase RIGHT before you begin your career in publishing?”

“Not good?”

“Bit not good, yeah.”

“WHAT ABOUT US?!”

“Angry mob!?”

“WE’RE YOUR PATRONS! AND YOU OWE US REVIEWS!”

Okay. EVERYBODY CHILL! HERE is what I’m going to do:

Patreon

So I’ve put a pause on the Patreon and any patrons are not getting charged for June. Starting now I won’t be taking any more review requests because I already have a massive backlog. If you’re waiting for a review it WILL be done, but it’ll take time and with one book to be edited and a second one to be written over the next two years I will be shifting to a new schedule which means I simply can’t take any more reviews on.

SO. If you’re a $5 or a $10 Patron now would probably be a good time to cancel your pledge as I’m afraid I won’t be able to fulfill any new review requests.

New Schedule

After the conclusion of the Endgame review the blog will be shifting to an alternating monthly/bi-monthly schedule. As in, one month there’ll be one review, the next there will be two and then one again. I’m hoping this will just be temporary. I’m planning on taking a leave of absence from work later in the year to focus on being a full time writer and…wow I just wrote that. Really happening. Sorry, back on track. As I say, I will hopefully be shifting back to a twice monthly schedule in the Autumn but that will obviously depend on deadlines, workloads etc. etc.

Pending Reviews

Over the next few days I’ll be posting the complete list of scheduled, requested reviews. If you’ve requested a review that you don’t see listed leave me a comment and I’ll add it in. The reviews WILL be done, I promise.

Thank you all

Guys, some of you have been with this blog since the days when I didn’t even know how to properly crop an image. I would not be the writer I eventually became without your support. It’s been a crazy, wonderful eight years. Thank you all so much. Virtual group hug. Bring it in.

New Patron!

A belated (isn’t it always?) thanks and welcome to new patron Calvin van den Elzen, a Dutch grand master famous for his hyper-realistic landscapes. Unfortunately, he devoted his talents almost exclusively to portraits of ducks, at which he was competent.

Heathers (1988)

“Okay everyone, are we ready to review Don Hertzfeld’s “It’s Such a Beautiful Day?”

“Uh Mouse, we got a problem.”

“Oh, what’s up?”

“Well, it turns out “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” isn’t available on any of the main streaming sites.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to order the DVD instead.”

“Well, darn.”

“And the DVD’s not going to arrive until after the review is due to go up.”

“Well, darn.”

“Because the world’s in the grip of a global pandemic the likes of which has never been seen in living memory, the whole country is in lockdown and western civilization has been brought to its knees.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to review something else.”

“Okay, Heathers is next in the queue, let’s just do that.”

“Wait…what was the last one you said?”

Heeeeeeeeeey so things have been a little more immediately apocalyptic around here than usual, huh?

Hope you all are staying safe and indoors. For obvious reasons, this review is going to be on the short side.

“What reasons? You’ve been at home for the last week, if anything you should have MORE written than usual.”

“Yeah, but I was working from home and you’d be amazed how much work you have to do when you’re not being distracted by office politics.”

Anyway, this is going to be less of a plot point by plot point recap and more…a sort of…movie review if you can imagine such a thing.

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Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Whereas other film-makers are driven to explore certain themes or character archetypes or genres, what seems to get Robert Zemeckis out of bed every morning artistically is the tech: How can this or that new special effects technique be used to tell a story that’s never been told? And while I personally don’t think that’s necessarily the greatest starting point for telling a story, fair is fair, it’s lead Zemeckis to create some truly fantastic films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy and also movies that people insist on thinking are fantastic, like Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

Robert Zemeckis is a true film-making pioneer. And by “pioneer” I mean “person who goes to strange new places that it might have been better for all involved if he’d stayed at home”. Specifically, with his 2004 film The Polar Express he discovered the Uncanny Valley and liked it so much he decided to build a cabin and the spend the rest of his career there. Today’s movie is part of a sequence of Zemeckis directed and/or produced movies that used the gimmick of taking famous actors and slathering them in digital paint to create something that eschews the believability of live action while also avoiding the tedious charm and inventiveness of animation (I know, right? Isn’t that the dream?). Seriously though, I am genuinely agog at the amount of time and money Zemeckis has spent on something that could never be anything other than the worst of both worlds. Motion capture can be a wonderful tool, sure, and many films make excellent use of it. But Zemeckis seems to want this one tool to be the whole movie. It’s like he’s trying to build a house entirely out of spanners. It would be pointless, as there are far better materials to build a house out of and a spanner house would be ugly, cold and utterly unsuited for actual human beings so I think this metaphor is doing trojan work.

In case I’m being a little too subtle up in here, Mars Needs Moms is a bad, bad, bad film. It’s the kind of movie that legendary film critic Pauline Kael would have referred to as “a stinking pile of the devil’s ass biscuits”.

She was a treasure.

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