Mmmm! That's good Ultra Nerd!


Has Superman lost his American Way?

Wow. Every once and a while something happens in comics that the big news (non-comic-related news) world picks up on. Superman probably holds the record for these small sensations with his wedding, his death, and his blue elctro-costume being just a few examples. But he's done it again! On Wednesday Action Comics #900 came out and it featured a 9-page story by David S Goyer. It has Superman stand in solidarity with Iranian protestors and in the end HE DECIDES TO RENOUNCE HIS U.S. CITIZENSHIP. The Man of Steel plans on appearing before the UN and telling them that he is a citizen of the world and that his actions are not the workings of US foreign policy.

"It's not enough anymore" ?!?!
This has caused a ton of conservative commentators to negatively liken both Superman and his writers to Barack Obama (He's their favorite anti-patriotic whipping boy, after all) and ask ad nauseum "What happened to the American Way?!"
Well, let's get a few things straight first of all.
The American Way wasn't originally part of the catch-phrase. The original Superman introduction was a lot more socialist/progressive-sounding. If I may:
Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman–defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.
That's the original from the 1940 Superman radio show introduction. See? No "American Way". Then of course there are the Fleischer cartoons. I cannot overstate how perfect and awesome these Superman cartoons are. (The intro starts at 0:56) Again, Superman fights for "Truth and Justice" with no mention of it being in an American way or an international way or a Kryptonian way. Whatever way he was doing it, he was doing it for truth and justice.

In the height of World War II Superman took a step towards patriotism (and who doesn't during wartime?) and "the American Way" was added. He also fought Nazis and Japanese a lot more in those issues. But after the war the "American Way" in his tagline went along with the Nazi spies and bucktoothed Japanese caricatures. It wasn't until the mid-fifties (with the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Red Scare in its zenith) that the catchphrase came back with the George Reeves Superman TV Series. It's stuck ever since.
So, as far as the essential nature of the line, I think it could be argued either way. I think that it's a good addition but not a necessary one. Superman, after all, fights to save the whole world. His powers aren't limited to helping Americans and certainly his view-point has always been one of helping all of humanity. However, the history of that particular line aside, Superman's story is undeniably American.

He's more American than Captain America
Superman is the quintessential American in my mind. He immigrated here at a young age. His parents sacrificed everything they had and braved the worst atrocity to make sure he got here safely. They knew that this was a land where he'd be safe and cared for. They knew that here he could achieve his potential in ways he never could in the land of his birth. His journey was perilous and his arrival chaotic but he endured it. He was taken in at once and raised in America's heartland. He worked hard, studied, and became an active member of his community. Like many undocumented immigrants he had people who believed in him forge papers and kept him safe from detection. Eventually he moved from the rural setting to the might and grandeur of the city. His style of dress was outlandish and foreign at first but people soon became accustomed to it. Like many Americans of note he decided to do right by his adopted home and he stood up for what he believed in. He was selfless and put others needs above his own. He helps when people need help and he will not stand for crime or dishonesty. Even when not within the strict rule of the law he follows his own moral compass and has faith in his actions because of his personal sense of right and wrong. He is at times contradictory but always self-assured. Sometimes his actions can be seen as reckless or heavy-handed but they always come from a motivation to do good. He embodies the immigrant. He embodies the city-dweller and the country-dweller. He embodies the cowboy. He embodies the boy scout. He is the voice of the people through journalism. He is the protector. He is the comforter. He is the rock in the storm. When all else fails, Superman does not. He is big enough and strong enough and brave enough to encompass all that we as Americans aspire to be.

... Except Alaska and Hawaii
And there's the rub. These are trying times in which we live. I cannot think of one person who hasn't been at least a little bit torn over what we're watching overseas in North Africa and the Middle East. "Do we support our ally Mubarak or do we support the people and their outcry for democracy?" "Do we intervene in Libya or stand by and watch?" "What is the best way to deal with the newly minted democracies going forward?" These are questions on the minds of many Americans and most of us have no real say in the matter and can do almost nothing to effect the situation. Superman is asking himself these same questions knowing in his heart that he could fly over there in the blink of an eye, disarm every Libyan soldier and drag Qaddafi out of his spiderhole kicking and screaming for all the world to see. I don't like seeing Superman in doubt. I like the idea that Superman knows right from wrong but I get that in our "increasingly gray-shaded world" there are truly difficult questions. The answers to these questions are sometimes all wrong or none are 100% right. How does a Superman, a man who is a symbol of Truth and Justice (and the American Way), deal with these questions? In the opinion of David Goyer, he decides to renounce his citizenship for the sake of the United States.
Do I think that is something Superman should do? No.
Do I think that is something Superman would do? No.
Do I hate it and think it is ANTI-American... No.
I think that Superman's actions in Action Comics #900 are understandable. It's a very human reaction. But it's not super. Superman at his core is super. If you're strong, Superman will be stronger. If you're smart, Superman will be smarter. He is invincible because if he was truly defeated then he just wouldn't be Superman. Losing isn't a part of his story. If you beat him, even if you kill him he will come back victorious. Superman can win against anything: Even moral conundrums.

"Winning! Duh!"
Because he's super at everything. He is not only super-strong and super-fast and super-tough; He is also super-compassionate. He is super-brave. He is super-moral. This comes from his Kryptonian abilities in part, of course. But it also comes from being raised on a farm and learning how things grow and how to nurture them. It comes from living in a rural Kansas town where he learned how to be part of a community, how to be neighborly and a good citizen. It came from his good, honest, hard-working parents who always showed him the importance of respecting and believing in yourself as well as others. That's a part of Superman and whether you want to call it the "American Way" or not it's not something you can't separate from Superman.
In my opinion Action #900 had an interesting story but Mr. Goyer fails to be as super in his thinking about the world today as Superman is. The Superman I know would have thought of a better way than just quitting America. Superman would be proactive. He'd be inspirational. He'd do something more creative and more super than I can imagine. He wouldn't quit. He'd SHOW the world in an act of heroism that he is bigger than boundaries and lines on the map. Goyer did a nice job of telling a little human interest story with the protesters but utterly missed the point of the Superman story. And I think a story about Superman deciding to renounce his American citizenship deserves more than a nine-page story...
When I first sat down to write this I thought I would support Superman's decision. I also don't have a lot of faith in the current US Foreign policy and I wish we weren't so mired in Geo-Politics that we could stand up for what we believe in. I empathize with Superman (and David Goyer's) dilemma. But in writing this I realized that if Superman is no wiser or more confident or morally stronger than I am, then why am I reading about him? What's more, what does that say about our nation right now? At the end of the day, though Superman's actions may be good for the America of the fictional DC Universe are they good for the real America? If Superman doesn't have faith in us, then who will? I can only hope that, like he has countless times in the past, Superman will overcome this adversity before he is defeated by it and that he will save us all. To paraphrase the brilliant Grant Morrison, I hope that this is all "just Lex Luthor's Doubt-o ray and that next issue Superman will bust in on him and punch it and it explodes" and then Superman gets his faith back. I for one take comfort knowing that at least Superman is still standing for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.


This Week's Comics Rock #1: Planet of the Apes #1

I work in a comic shop and I must admit that every week when I unpack our order I get excited. Usually there are books that I am looking forward to specifically because I am reading the current story arc or it's a favorite writer or artist or character involved. Every issue of Grant Morrison's Batman is a treat for me, for example. But beyond this, there is also the joy of going through all the books that are new that week and seeing the plethora of comic awesomeness. There is always at least one book that makes me laugh out loud when I pull it out of the box. It's a guarantee that there will be a book I hold up, calling to my colleague "Hey James! Check this out," as I smile giddily.There's always a book I have to pause in my work for, thumbing through it because the cover was just too enticing to pass by. Every week I am left with only one conclusion:
This weekly ritual (business) is one of my favorite parts of working at JC Comics. And it's because I love comics so much. And so with that in mind I've decided to try doing a review every week of at least one new book. Some weeks they will be issues of titles that I regularly read and other weeks it will be books that catch my eye. It could be an issue I've heard about, something that's piqued my curiosity, or a book that just sounds appealing. This week it's all three of these.
Planet of the Apes #1
Vital Stats:
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Release Date: 4-27-11
Author: Daryl Gregory
Artist: Carlos Magno
Cover Artist: Karl Richardson
Cover Price: $3.99
Paul's Grade: A

The perfect Ape cover
This first issue from Boom! Studios came with two covers but in my opinion the other one (a sort of montage a la Drew Struzan) was no match from this Ape-tastic cover. The ferocious gorilla's expression embodies not only savagery but also malevolence. Toss in the shattering human skull and Karl Richardson captures both the physical power of the ape as well as his hatred for humanity and asserts the cultural ape dominance. It's a powerful image and hits all the right PotA buttons.

A Chimpanzee Official orders Gorillas to search the human part of the city "Skintown"
Monkeys have a long-standing history in comics and this one embraces that subgenre and adds its own indelible mark to it. One of the big challenges faced by Daryl Gregory is to not feel like a regurgitation of any of the plethora of other Planet of the Apes iterations (4 sequels, a live action and an animated TV series, a Tim Burton remake, and several comic series if I know my Ape canon). But Gregory rises to the challenge and at no point does it feel tired or retreaded.
Taking place mid-way between now and the arrival of Taylor the comic explores an era previously unseen in PotA history (2680 AD). Some elements of Ape culture are already in place like the lawgiver and other elements of the Ape-verse are evolving (Darwinian double-entendre intended). We see a human priest worshiping a small nuclear rocket golden idol in one scene, for example. Humans are second-class citizens (working menial jobs, not having the same standing as Apes, living in their own bad part of town) and Gregory does a good job of touching on easily identifiable issues of class/race struggle but between Apes and men.

Opening Splash Page
So, it opens with a bang and the murder of the Lawgiver by a radical human. This sets off events for the series. This immediately and viscerally establishes what seems to be the coming conflict in the book and introduces that human insurgents have recreated the ancient craft of making automatic weapons (promising an ape vs machine gun-wielding human battle in the future). I will also note that this opening is very reminiscent of where Battle for Planet of the Apes left off (the Lawgiver addressing both ape and human children and the year it takes place in) so I give kudos to Gregory for that little nod. I also want to draw another parallel between this and the original in the faces of the apes. One of the most compelling things about the original film was how emotive and familiar and real the prosthetic faces of the apes were and now Carlos Magnus does the same with his art. His pen captures the range of expressions of the apes beautifully. Rage, grief, contempt, and all other emotions play across their faces and is as believable and evocative as the emotions of the human characters which is essential to Planet of the Apes. I love this panel which shows the viewpoint of the council apes about violent and destructive humans. The horror on the ape's face is deliciously counterpointed by the vicious joy on the human's. Plus, yanking out teeth is pretty brutal.

They have the good sense to go no further, only implying the bloody results
Another great contribution by Magno is the culture of the Ape world. The costumes especially are all beautiful. They have all the trademarks of the pre-established Ape garb but are updated and expanded to encompass the height of Ape society. The beautiful, ornate gowns of the female council apes stand out in particular.

And I love the look of Bardan the Ape Doctor
The two main characters are adoptive sisters, one human and one ape both of who were raised by the murdered lawgiver. The human sister Sully is the unofficial "mayor" of the human part of the city and Alaya the ape sister is on the council. Their similarities and differences seem to be interesting and I look forward to seeing how these two play on their respective sides and how they personally evolve their relationship.

I like the image of the two of them being divided by the flame and smoke
PotA also observes an interesting turning point in Ape/Human history as the younger humans are being born speechless. This is only lightly touched on in the first issue but I can only assume as Sully is pregnant that this issue will come closer to the forefront of the story. Again, we have to thank Carlos Magno for his very expressive faces because even silent and only briefly seen I am intrigued by Chaika the speechless girl.

The humans live in lower class settings as opposed to the grandeur of the ape part of the city
They also take some time to tease a coming Ape villain in the form of General Nix the white gorilla. He only gets one or two panels (flashbacks) but they are beautifully done and Magno manages to convey all the brutality and evil of Nix in a single shot of him gleefully gutting a human.

I am also excited to see next issue teased as the White Troop which implies more Nix
All in all this was a great Planet of the Apes comic and I think it is a worthy successor to the franchise. It is creative and original while it hearkens back to older Ape stories but never overbearingly. Overall I would give Planet of the Apes a solid "A", missing the "A+" simply because it didn't have a moment that really blew me away (which is ok because there is a lot of exposition to get through in a first issue).
Planet of the Apes #1 was engaging, skillfully made, and FULL of monkeys. At $3.99 it is a little pricey but well worth it!


Beware My Prediction: Green Lantern Won't Be Good

We got the trailer a while back but two weeks ago Green Lantern released four minutes of Green Lantern footage at Wonder Con.

Let me say this off the bat: I don't have a good feeling about it. That four minutes looks great but my gut tells me it's going to be bad. I just get a Fantastic Four the Movie-vibe from it. A good budget doesn't equal a good movie. I don't like a lot of the visuals and I have not been crazy about a lot of the Ryan Reynolds performance I've seen. I am not adverse to him, (I think there were better choices like Chris Pine or Nathan Fillion) in fact I think he has the potential to be GREAT however the little bit we've been shown is a let-down. I just have not been at all impressed with what I've seen of him from the trailers or their take on Hal Jordan - like making him way funnier and sillier than he is in order to fit Reynolds rather than making Reynolds ACT to be more of the way Hal Jordan is. Sure, Hal has that bit of test pilot roguishness but is he goofy? No. He has bravado and an ego. That's not the same thing as being a wise-cracking fratboy.
Ryan seems fine but was he the BEST choice? No. No, I don't think so.
I also don't like the look of the costume. I understand that it's not going to look exactly like the comics but I think the decision to make it all computer-generated is a mistake. I think it will make him look cartoony and unbelievable and I think the footage we've seen so far bears that out. I think making it all glowing and look like skin is a bad choice. I think it should have been a normal costume and then he glows when he flies or is in space (like in the comic). That would have avoided it being CG all the time. I don't think it looked good in the trailers but maybe it wasn't the polished final product or it will look better on the big screen. I will wait to see the actual movie before I pass judgment.

Still, this wouldn't be so hard to pull off, would it? Or even do the costume they have but not CG...
Now, I decided to do this post after the four minutes of Wonder Con footage was released because when I first watched it I thought it looked AWESOME! The Corps looked great. The Oath was awesome (I think Reynolds pulled it off and I like the eye-change). Tomar Re was awesome and so was Sinestro. However, my gut feeling is still not good because as many trailers have proven (Van Helsing, Episode I, the Matrix Reloaded) it is easy to find four minutes of awesomeness in even the most hideous of cinematic abortions.
Admit it folks, this one looks like it could go either way...
But this is not a review of Green Lantern (it's still over a month-and-a-half away, for goodness sakes). This is just a prediction on my part based on my knowledge of Green Lantern, Hollywood Comic Adaptations, and the footage that I have been thus far shown.

Projected Plot Summary with Visual Aids:
The Black Text I feel is backed up by footage/dialogue from the trailers. The Green is pure Malchovian speculation. PS- All of these are screen captures I took and you can click on them to get bigger versions for closer examination!
Abin Sur is investigating Parallax and perhaps even a traitor in the Green Lantern Corps. He follows a lead to a space station and is attacked by Parallax.
Roar! (Also, I think that's Sinestro's face within the Parallax cloud)
He is mortally wounded.

"Crap in a hat; This is gonna hurt..."
In order to conserve his power he steals a space ship and goes "to the nearest inhabited planet for the selection process."
Which nicely explains why he's in a ship instead of flying via ring-power
We cut to the nearest inhabited planet and are introduced to the protagonist Hal Jordan. He's a slacker.
Clearly anyone having one-night-stands with hot chicks needs to get his life in order...
He is a womanizer and he shows up to the big test flight late despite the fact that "it's important."
"I'm enforcing to the audience that you're a screw up and this is a big deal!"
Hal and Carol are both flying.
Because this will make her an empowered woman - She's a CEO who flies! *rolls eyes*
Anyone Else notice the Star Sapphire logo on Carol's helmet? Also, the craft following her looks weird
While flying something goes wrong and the plane crashes. He bails out but is either fired or just chewed out by Carol Ferris.
"You just crashed the Super Jet I told you not to crash ass-hat!"
He goes to a beach to pout and think about how tough his life is. Abin Sur crashes by him. Now, the ring probably guided Sur's ship to crash by Hal but I will note the change towards Kyle Rayner's origin (originally the ring brought Hal to Abin Sur, not vice-versa). Hal is given the ring and the lantern and perhaps even a warning about Parallax.
"Take the ring"
The ring looks fine. I wish it were all green, but whatever.
Hal takes his new stuff to his apartment and tries to figure it out.
"I pledge allegiance... to a Lantern..."
After clowning around the lantern zaps him and teaches him the oath. He goes out to try to find some trouble and gets wailed on by some dudes. This beat down gets him to summon up enough willpower to activate the ring.
Classic giant fist from Hal. A+
Once the ring goes live it kicks into auto-pilot and brings him to Oa. Here he meets Tomar Re who gives him some much needed exposition.
Two thumbs up to Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re
Hal will also train with Kilowog.
I bet this image (which is now everywhere) is from training with Kilowog
Hal then meets the Guardians and they learn through him (or his ring) what happened to Abin Sur.
I bet there's a Guardian seated atop each one of those pillars
Sinestro, whom everyone loves, rallies the corps and gives them a pep-talk about Parallax. Hal gets sent back to earth.
"Again, I assure you that I am not now nor will I ever be evil..."
Meanwhile, back on earth Amanda Waller turns the body of Abin Sur over to Hector Hammond.
Amanda Waller is not nearly fat enough
During the alien autopsy Hammond gets infected with Parallax (who presumably left a piece of himself within the dead Green Lantern).
Yellow zap as he reaches around inside Abin Sur
Hammond gets a swollen head and evil powers.
And yellow eyes to show everyone how clearly evil he is
Hal comes back and confides in his buddy Tom (more silly Hal Jordan).
Again, I'm "eh" on the costume...
He arrives just in time for the big Ferris bash which gets attacked by Hector Hammond. Hal saves people but the event goes down as a total $#!^-storm.
Hal loses faith in himself and takes off the ring. Parallax comes to earth in dramatic and visually stunning Galactus-cloud style...
Why do movies make cosmic villains into clouds all the time?
So, Parallax reclaims the part of itself currently within Hector Hammond
Hal then needs to regain his self-esteem to fight this monster. Hal is given a pep-talk by Carol Ferris and he decides to overcome his fear.
"You have the ability to overcome great fear"
He then confronts Parallax and *GASP* the traitor within the corps: Sinestro (who'd have thought a guy named SINESTR-o could be anything but good and noble?).
I bet that yellow thing is Sinestro shooting out of Parallax at him
Hal defeats them (possibly with help from the corps).
And I'll bet if anyone helps him it will be Kilowog
But Sinestro gets away and forges a yellow ring for use in the sequel. Then we are left with a happy ending for Hal and Carol starting a stable relationship and Hal stepping up to his role as Green Lantern of sector 2814!

As I said all of this is speculative (with some wild guesses and hypothesis thrown in there) and I hope that I am wrong about thinking it's not going to live up to expectations. I love Green Lantern. It's a great concept and a classic Super Hero and I want the big screen adaptation to do it justice. I hope I am just being an overly critical and pessimistic fanboy and that this movie will knock my socks off and be all that a Green Lantern movie could be... I just don't think it will.
But we'll all know as of...