Black Panther Marvel throne tribute

Black Panther: The Game Changer We All Needed

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Even though most of the comic book characters who have lit up the big screen were first created in the 1960s (or earlier), there’s no doubt that their cinematic recreations are reflective of our time. While dozens upon dozens of superhero movies have paraded across the screen, the ones that stick out the most have been the ones that have something to say—about society, about the world we live in, about the challenges facing us now.

For example, the first Spider-Man film came less than a year after 9/11, and felt like a direct response: no other film so captured the zeitgeist of that moment, the rallying together, the desire for union, most notably depicted when the New Yorkers join together to save Spider-Man from the Green Goblin, chanting, “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, perfectly captured the sense of a “fall from grace” that happened within the U.S. almost directly afterward, as the “war on terror” began: the rise of patriotism was followed by a devastating fall, with a frail economy, polarization, and constant struggle. While 2002’s Spider-Man was bright and colorful, 2004’s Spider-Man 2 was murky, grey, bittersweet, and showed a Peter Parker nearly collapsing beneath the weight of bills, responsibilities, and unfulfilled dreams. Following this, the year 2008 brought us both The Dark Knight and Iron Man, two films that critically tackled the evolving views on the “war on terror.” The Avengers followed suit, re-approaching 9/11 about as directly as a superhero film possibly can (New York is devastated by an attack from the sky, people rally together against it). The Avengers put down the groundwork for the anti-corruption themes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  Last year brought us Wonder Woman, the feminist superhero movie that the world was waiting for, and also brought us Thor: Ragnarok, which mixed slapstick humor with a  biting satirical critique of colonialism. Then there’s the obvious political allegories of the X-Men films: these concepts were at their most potent in Logan, which portrays a Trumpian dystopia where mutant immigrants from Mexico flee to Canada for freedom, while the U.S. is mired in recession, automation, and corporate bureaucracy.

While most superhero movies are popular, the films listed above resonate because of how they tap into cultural fears, hopes, and dreams. As of February 16, 2018, a new film needs to be added to that list: Black Panther.

Black Panther mask Marvel

Black Panther is the sort of film that, for decades, Hollywood producers claimed would never work. It stars a black protagonist, shown as wise, commanding and noble, but also possessing human flaws like impatience, anger, and self-doubt. The director, Ryan Coogler, is black, and almost all of the supporting cast are also black. It’s set in Africa. Rather than showing the characters an an oppressed minority, it instead shows them as powerful figures, coming from a technologically advanced society that stands head and shoulders above “western” society in every way. There are no damsels in distress: most of the supporting characters are powerful women, such as Okoye and Shuri. As if that wasn’t enough, the movie is even titled “Black Panther.”

The film that Hollywood thought would “never work” is now on track to be one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, proving wrong everyone who ever doubted it. Contrary to all of its doubters, it seems like Black Panther is the movie people were waiting for.

Black Panther hasn’t even been out a month, but it’s already been the topic of numerous fascinating think pieces, analyzing T’Challa’s place in history. Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige believes it’s the best movie they’ve ever made. Issac Bailey, writing for CNN, proclaimed that “Black Panther is for film what Barack Obama was for the presidency.” It’s been said by many that Black Panther is becoming a movement, not just a movie.

 

Here’s another thing: Black Panther might turn out to be the superhero movie of this era.

In recent years, the efforts of groups like Black Lives Matter have helped bring the topic of racial inequality roaring back into the headlines, forcing everyone to stand up and take notice of the widespread structural racism that still exists in the United States today. The U.S. has a particularly strange duality at play, when it comes to this matter: we’re living in an era where a black man become president of the United States, but we’re also living in an era where he was immediately followed by a white person with a sordid history of racist actions and proclamations. “Jim Crow” is a thing of the past, but systemic racism and mass incarceration are so deeply embedded into the country’s institutions (with even former slave plantations converted into prisons) that the situation has been called “the new Jim Crow.”

Obviously, as a country, and as a world, we have a lot of work to do to further the cause of true equality. But that’s the easier part to accept and realize. What’s equally critical—and what Black Panther taps into—is that society also needs to also reexamine our history, to challenge all rose-tinted views of the past, if we hope to rise into a better future.

T'Challa Black Panther Marvel Killmonger villain B Jordan

In the film, this aspect is symbolized by the villain, Killmonger—a character whose relatable background evokes empathy from the audience, even if his means and end goal are destructive.  In his introductory scene, Killmonger speaks toward the history of black oppression… which is, in turn, the history of the contemporary world. As written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the journalist for the Atlantic who has also written Marvel’s Black Panther comic book:

“The early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office. The laments about “black pathology,” the criticism of black family structures by pundits and intellectuals, ring hollow in a country whose existence was predicated on the torture of black fathers, on the rape of black mothers, on the sale of black children. An honest assessment of America’s relationship to the black family reveals the country to be not its nurturer but its destroyer.”

The great lie of colonial history, whether it’s British colonialism or the birth of the United States, is the default presumption of virtue, the idea that everything was built fairly. Are there certain things to admire about the United States? Yes, absolutely: democracy, republicanism, the push for greater freedom, the dream of giving every person the opportunity for life and liberty. That’s what the U.S. got right (ideologically, if not in practice), and those dreams are what American citizens should feel patriotic about — but as a culture, we also have to recognize that even while the founders were pushing for these virtuous goals, the U.S. left behind women, minorities, anyone who wasn’t a European-descended male, with policies that particularly harmed both Africans and the native North American tribes, whom the very land was stolen from.

(For the record, I do think patriotism is valuable. However, jingoistic chants of “America is great,” or “get out of the country if you don’t like it” aren’t true patriotism. Just like honestly loving a person requires that you understand their flaws, I believe that true patriotism requires acknowledging the evil actions that U.S. culture and the U.S. government have perpetrated upon countless other cultures in the past, and accepting that if we truly believe in the ideals of the United States, we need to address, repair, and make reparations for the harsh reality of these past actions.)

Now, Black Panther isn’t introducing these concepts for the first time, but what’s significant is that the film is a multi-billion dollar studio tentpole, a major film that people all over the world will see, think about, and recommend. It’s tapping into a deep vein that many people out there might have never considered. Black Panther is huge, and it’s getting bigger. That’s what makes it a game changer.

 

Dora Milaje Black Panther Wakanda Warriors Marvel

Black Panther poses the notion of an African nation, Wakanda, which was never colonized. And then, contrary to every prejudiced assumption on the books, Marvel depicts this uncolonized nation as NOT being a “primitive,” culturally backward, starving country: instead, Wakanda’s separation from the colonial world has made it BETTER than every other place on the planet. It’s a nation that was able to hold onto its old traditions, while also embracing the most advanced technology on the planet, and even developing more equal social norms (particularly when it comes to women) than most “first world” nations today.

This cuts right to the heart of the “manifest destiny” myth, repudiating it. But Black Panther doesn’t stop there and rest on its laurels. Once the movie has shown how amazing Wakanda is, it then uses the character of Killmonger to challenge the nation’s isolationism, further widening the film’s scope. Killmonger believes that Wakanda is responsible for the suffering of people around the world, because of its closed borders.

And here’s the rub: the villain is right, on some level. Sure, Killmonger’s end goal is wrong, as proliferating high-tech weapons around the world is never good for anyone, but the essence of his beliefs—that the great nation’s isolationism makes it guilty for the wrongs that happen across the world—is accurate, and over the course of the film, T’challa comes around to this point of view.

 

Black-Panther-Wakanda

The final battle between T’Challa and Killmonger depicts both characters calling out one another’s hypocrisies. Killmonger tells T’Challa that by hiding in the shadows for centuries, Wakanda is complicit in the wrongdoings perpetrated over the course of history. T’Challa finally agrees with this, but argues—also correctly—that Killmonger’s desire for violent supremacy has made him into everything he hates.

As a film, and as a story, the depth of this conclusion is fantastic. T’Challa “wins” against Killmonger’s violence, but Killmonger also “wins” the battle of ideologies, convincing the hero of what he (or rather, his nation) has been doing wrong.

By the end, T’Challa learns from the mistakes of his father, and knows that Wakanda can no longer remain distant from the concerns of the world. Now, he must get involved. This is most explicitly stated by T’Challa himself in the film’s mid-credit sequence, set in the United Nations, which is easily one of the most political scenes in any Marvel movie to date:

 

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

Black Panther Marvel throne tribute

And so, T’Challa opens his nation to the world, brings Wakanda’s knowledge to those who need it, and offers help and guidance to everyone else who is struggling. He doesn’t do this naively. After Killmonger’s attack, he knows the risks. Opening Wakanda up to the world means the possibility of invasions, theft… you know, all the stuff that a Black Panther sequel will probably deal with.

But in an increasingly globalized world, isolationism is not only wrong, but also dated and ineffective. Just as our real world is now menaced by threats beyond our easy comprehension—I.E., climate change, nuclear weapons, overpopulation, et cetera—the Earth of the Marvel Universe is now menaced by alien invasions, Infinity Stones, and lots of cosmic craziness that could wipe it off the map. If the Earth wants to survive, all of its nations must come together.

To summarize, I have to acknowledge that as a white male, I can’t speak on behalf of other cultures, or what this movie might mean to other people from different backgrounds: I can only offer a series of assumptions, from my own privileged position. However, I don’t want to close this essay on my thoughts, because when it comes to Black Panther, there are other voices that are more important than mine. The film definitely moved me, but I’m not the audience whom it will have the biggest impact on.

That audience, the one that matters the most here, are the black youth of today, and they deserve to be heard.  Writing for the New York Times, Kevin Nobel Maillard invited a group of seventh graders to a Black Panther showing, and recorded their responses. Here are a few:

“The film makes me want to start my own tribe and make my own inventions to help the world. It also makes me want to make my own Panther outfit.” – Gabriela Myles

“To see a black person control a whole country and creating all this technology made me feel I can do more with my brain.” – Jaheim Hedge

Black Panther will show people of the world how much more people of color can do.” – Scottia Coy

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Spider-Man Homecoming Marvel Cinematic Universe

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Spins a Web, Any Size

Somehow I managed to make it all the way to November without sharing my thoughts on Spider-Man: Homecoming. Don’t ask me how. I talk about Spider-Man all the time, even when I’m just reviewing totally bizarre Spider-Man knockoff games. I thought I’d already blogged about Spidey’s newest cinematic outing, but I guess not, so here goes.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is fantastic. It’s the best big screen Spidey outing since Sam Raimi left the series, and while it doesn’t quite achieve the heights of Spider-Man 2, it does successfully rebuild this character for a new generation.

Spider-Man Homecoming boat Marvel Peter Parker Iron Man

There are three key factors that make the movie work as well as it does. The first, and most important, is that the film knows its message, and it gets that message across clearly. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a story about young adulthood, and the awkward growing pains of a teenager trying to find his way in the world, while coming to understand that his actions have a real impact on others.

Following in the footsteps of past creators like Lee, Raimi, and Bendis, this movie uses Peter’s Spider-Man adventures as a superheroic representation of the more relatable coming of age story that Peter must go through. What makes this particular Spider-Man stand out is that he really is a kid: he’s only a few years past puberty, inexperienced, impulsive, scared, barely knows what he’s doing. Peter has a big heart and a genuine enthusiasm for helping people, but he has a lot to learn.

Though Uncle Ben’s “great power, great responsibility” mantra isn’t recited, this classic concept is the unspoken theme of every scene in the film. Even when you’re laughing at Peter’s jokes or swinging between buildings with him, Spider-Man: Homecoming always reminds you that actions have consequences. There are multiple occasions where Peter swoops in to save the day, totally unprepared, causing catastrophic situations to occur that risk real lives. Even when he successfully stops a supervillain, saving innocent lives, it leads to the equally real lives getting shattered, as the villain’s loved ones must then grapple with what happened. Every glory is bittersweet, every failure followed by another one, but Peter keeps going, staying true to the very themes that have always made Spider-Man’s story so universal.

Perhaps due to this focus, Homecoming nails the feeling of being a teenager in a way  that prior movies didn’t quite capture. It’s often funny, but there’s a serious undercurrent of anxiety and social pressure lingering beneath the humor. Peter is at the age where he feels ready to prove himself, to be considered an adult, just like anyone his age does — but he’s still young at heart. He gets scared when he’s too high up. He doesn’t know if he’s going to survive when the Vulture drags him into the sky. He’s a hero the audience can’t help but love and relate to.

Spider-Man Homecoming Tom Holland Marvel

That’s why the second factor that knocks this movie out of the park is, of course, Tom Holland, the Spider-Man of a new generation. Holland portrays a young Peter Parker who feels ripped straight off the comic book page. The sequence where Holland really shines is in a scene adapted from the “Master Planner” story in the comics.

The third factor that makes the movie so terrific is Michael Keaton, the Vulture. Adrian Toomes has been a favorite villain of mine in the comics since “Funeral Arrangements,” a lesser-known Spectacular Spider-Man by J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema. Vulture’s come within striking distance of the big screen on many occasions, but the wait was worth it. Keaton’s Vulture is one of the most interesting MCU villains to date.

Vulture Michael Keaton Spider-Man Toomes Marvel

To explain why the Vulture works so well, I’ll just quote my own answer to a question that was posted on Quora, regarding which Spider-Man movie villain was the best. To read my full answer, check out this link, but here’s the part regarding the Vulture:

Having just seen Spider-Man: Homecoming last night, I’m honestly willing to say that Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture gets a firm second place. As a villainous presence, Vulture is like a horrifying creature of the night, both unstoppable and deadly… but at the same time, the man behind the wings is revealed to be very human, very realistic, with beliefs that are understandable and relate deeply to contemporary times, even if his actions themselves are pretty horrendous and immoral. He’s a hardworking guy just trying to support his family, but he won’t flinch about killing anyone who gets in his way.

What makes both of these villains work so well is how they play off of Peter Parker himself. The key to what makes Spider-Man such a great character is that he’s the everyman, the working class superhero, the awkward regular guy who gets super powers. Both Molina’s Otto Octavius and Keaton’s Adrian Toomes also seem like regular people, with real lives and real goals they care about, both of whom just happen to fall on the wrong side of the tracks.

Homecoming doesn’t top Spider-Man 2, if only because the new film doesn’t grapple with the themes of despair, guilt, and bittersweet failure that Raimi did so beautifully. However, that’s to be expected: while Spider-Man 2 showed an older Peter who’d been wearing the webs for a few years, this new Peter is just getting his footing. He’s only fought one supervillain, and hasn’t even been tortured by the Daily Bugle yet.

So, needless to say, Holland’s Spidey certainly has some tough challenges ahead of him. But as seen in this movie, he also has a heart of gold — just like the comic book character — and it’s going to be an absolute thrill to see him return when Avengers: Infinity War rolls around.

In Comics, Reboots Aren’t Always a Bad Thing

Here’s a controversial idea to throw out there, which many may totally disagree with: what if the two major comic book universes rebooted every five to ten years? Planned reboots. Total reboots.

Let me explain.

Walter White Breaking Bad

Remember  Breaking Bad? Great show, right? And what made it great was that when it started, you knew it was going somewhere—and then, when it got there, the finale was everything we ever could have hoped for. All of the seeds that were planted in the first season paid off in a huge way, so that fans felt rewarded for having embarked on Walter White’s journey.  Throughout Breaking Bad, we saw one man become something entirely different than what he was at the start, and it was believable. Unlike so many popular TV shows, which run too long and thus lose the very things that made them great in the first place—I’m looking at you, House MD—Breaking Bad had a five season plan, stuck to it, and was thus the perfect picture of how to tell a great serialized story.

You know why Breaking Bad was such a great story?  Because it was planned. Because it had an ending.

What if American comic books could tell stories the same way?

swampmanthing

What I’m proposing is simple. First, let’s clean the slate. Start all of the various superheroes fresh, right from the beginning—totally fresh, with no carryovers, no “some parts of continuity are still valid but not others,” none of that.

And then, once the clean slate is established, we start with a brand new comic book universe — let’s call it “World One” — and we set an END DATE.  For the sake of argument, let’s say five years, six years, whatever. So this means that World One has five years to play out.

And then, once writers are assigned to their various characters, let’s allow those storylines to play out with total freedom. This allows characters to grow, change, die, be reinvented, or what have you. Also, when the universe does reset, we don’t need to do some cataclysmic end of the universe crossover: we just need to say that we’re moving onto the next universe.

Consider the advantages of this.

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Let’s say that when World One starts, the writer assigned to Wolverine begins by depicting the Weapon X storyline. That writer then has the freedom to, during their five year reign over the character, bring Wolverine from that point all the way to being an old man, ala Logan. Alternatively, they might decide that they want to have this version of Wolverine take the place of Xavier, leading a new team of X-Men. Or, they may want to have this Wolverine sacrifice himself to save the world from Apocalypse. In a planned universe with an end date, all of these things are possible.

The stakes would be heightened. Individual events would matter. Characters would be free to change, grow, evolve.

If comic universes operated on a five-six-or-however-many-years year plan, all of these options would be open, and comic book deaths would have meaning again. If the World One version of Wolverine died, he would stay dead. The World Two version of Wolverine, whenever he appeared, would be an entirely new writer’s vision of the character.

Batman Begins

Because the end of World One was planned from the beginning, there’d be no feeling of betrayal when it ended. This is the problem with most reboots. When The Amazing Spider-Man rebooted Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, it caused an uproar of negativity that the new series never quite recovered from, and this was because the old trilogy still had a lot of fans who were expecting a Spider-Man 4, never thinking that Spider-Man 3 was the ending. In contrast, a planned reboot wouldn’t stab the old fans in the back, because everyone would already know it was coming. The third part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was, from the outset, promoted as the end of the series. This left the door open for a new film interpretation of Batman to enter the door in a few years, without trampling on Nolan’s legacy.

Look, I love comic books, especially Marvel. As I’ve written before, I credit superheroes—especially Spider-Man—with helping me come out of my shy shell as a kid, and I’ve retained my love of them into adulthood.  The characters that Marvel and DC comics have brought to the world are iconic, and that’s why they’re now lighting up the silver screen and bringing in billions of dollars.

But let’s face it, comic continuity is a mess. Storylines can’t be shocking or exciting when they always, always revert to the status quo. Planned reboots would be different, because each reboot would herald the beginning of a new story. If a fan loves one version, they get to have that version. If they hate it, well, they can just wait for the next time around.

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Planned reboots would allow characters to have endings. Consider the impact of this year’s Logan: the reason that movie was so heartbreaking was because we knew it was the end of Hugh Jackman’s character. There might be a new Wolverine someday, sure, but at least we got a chance to say goodbye to the old one. Endings matter.

Endings are important, because endings are what gives a story deeper meaning. Without an ending, a story is forever unresolved.

We all know that the biggest American comic books out there aren’t ever going to end permanently: there’s too much money to be lost if Superman is suddenly gone forever, no more issues, done. But with planned reboots, an individual version of Superman could end, could be a complete, satisfying story. In a few years, the comic would still get to continue, without trampling on the work of the previous writer.

Would it work? Who knows. I’d imagine this might not be the most popular solution for the comic book continuity quagmire. But personally, I think it’d be worth trying out.

 

 

 

 

Dark Tower Trailer is Here!

Afters years upon years of waiting, the first trailer for the upcoming cinematic adaptation of The Dark Tower is real, it’s breathing, and it’s live:

As readers know, the Dark Tower series was hugely influential on me — as a writer, a reader, and as a person — so this is easily my most anticipated movie of the year. It’s a hard one to get right, but so far, I’m impressed.

As the filmmakers have said, they are pulling from multiple books in the series for this first film, which I think makes sense; the original book, The Gunslinger, is fairly slow paced compared to the subsequent books, with much of it consisting of Roland and Jake following the Man in Black through the desert. It looks like this one uses the general plot structure of The Gunslinger, combines it with the house/portal from The Waste Lands, and then uses some of the New York elements of the last two books. Having everything somewhat different from the books actually works with this storyline, in a way it wouldn’t with other adaptations, since the notion of alternate realities, timelines, and dimensions is sewn right into the fabric of the Dark Tower mythos. As Jake famously said in the first novel, “there are other worlds than these.”

Either way, I definitely got chills hearing that last line. Idris Elba seems like an absolutely amazing Roland, with all of the gravitas that the character demands. Jake and the Man in Black look to perfectly capture the characters in the books. Can’t wait to see this in theaters.

Doctor Doom Victor Von Doom fan film Marvel Fantastic Four Ivan Kander

The “Von Doom” Fan Film Reveals the Doctor Doom We’ve All Been Waiting for

Superhero films may have taken over the multiplex, and characters both A-list and B-list may have become household names, but there’s arguably one major Marvel Comics character whose legacy on film has been mistreated more than any other: Victor Von Doom, better known by the title Doctor Doom.

Famous Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee, who co-created almost all of the Marvel Universe, has long said that Doctor Doom is his favorite villain. While the Joker has catapulted to the #1 spot on most supervillain lists thanks to a long line of fantastic film and animated adaptations, Doctor Doom is a character who has long been held by many comic book enthusiasts as the greatest comic book supervillain of all time. Doom is a complex figure whose mythology combines science fiction and sorcery; he’s a vain man pained by a dark past, a tortured soul who believes himself to be the hero, believes that he could save the world if only everyone accepted him as their leader. His story is epic, tragic, one of the most developed in all of comics.

What Doom is not, and never has been, is the obnoxious, greedy businessman that he was portrayed as in the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, or whatever weird stuff they were trying to do with him in the 2015 reboot. While villains like Magneto and Loki have risen to prominence due to excellent film adaptations, there has never been a proper, faithful cinematic depiction of Doctor Doom.

Doctor Doom Victor Von Doom fan film Marvel Fantastic Four Ivan Kander

Well, until now. Thanks to filmmaker Ivan Kander, there is now a fan film named Von Doom available online, that does for Doom what 20th Century Fox has failed to do. Gritty, epic, and faithful to the comics, Von Doom may be only 14 minutes, but it’s the best 14 minutes that Doom has ever had on film. Using time travel as a plot device, it tells the story of Doom’s tragic origins, as a young boy in the small Eastern European country of Latveria, and his young adult self’s attempt to combine magic and science in an effort to change the past. Don’t be wary of the fact that it’s a fan film, either: like Truth in Journalism, the Venom fan-film that I reviewed back in 2013, this is quality stuff. But don’t just take my word for it: check it out below.

(And after you do, continue reading my thoughts, right below the video!)

Now, this film isn’t perfect. It’s too short to get as deep as I’d love for it to,  and the budget is lower than a studio production would be. But what really shines here is that Ivan Kander really understands Doom’s personality, really gets what makes the character iconic, and even came up with a clever way to frame Doom’s story in a way that could fit three periods of his life within such a short runtime.

I’d love to see what Ivan Kander could come up with for a full length studio production, but even in the absence of that, Von Doom contains a lot of lessons that 20th Century Fox should pay attention to, if they ever want to utilize one of their biggest properties in a way that will not only befit the character’s legacy, but also get fans into theaters. To me, these are the biggest takeaways from Von Doom, and how it could influence future films:

1. The Origin Really, Really Matters

Doctor Doom Victor Von Doom fan film Marvel Fantastic Four Ivan Kander origin story

Both Fantastic Four franchises to date have completely ignored Victor Von Doom’s comic book back story, and both have also totally destroyed the character as a result.  That’s because Doom’s origins aren’t some throwaway reference, and tying them to the Fantastic Four’s origins is a mistake. Victor Von Doom’s childhood tragedies are as important to his character development as Magneto’s Holocaust origins are to him, and if you tamper with the story, you lose the character.

Doom’s back story is epic in scope. You can’t just pay lip service to Latveria and expect fans to be happy, because the character is Latveria. Victor Von Doom began as a poor boy in a poverty-stricken country, fled to the United States, became a brilliant scientist, and then came home as a revolutionary, ready to overthrow the authoritarian government that had enslaved and brutalized his people. Now, this doesn’t change the fact that Von Doom is also an authoritarian himself — the people of Latveria might be safe beneath his rule, but they certainly aren’t free — however, the complexity here is what makes the character interesting.

You Need Science AND Magic to Make a Proper Doctor Doom

Victor Von Doom Doctor Doom fan film origin story latveria Ivan Kander Marvel Fantastic Four

Doctor Doom, the armored figure that Victor Von Doom is destined to become, might seem at first like a purely science fiction character. He’s a brilliant scientist, he attacks his opponents with armies of robots, he uses life model decoys. But what Von Doom really gets right, from the very beginning, is that Doctor Doom’s interest and skills in the mystical arts are also a huge component of the character.

Some of Doctor Doom’s best stories involve him relying purely on magic, and he’s listed as one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Marvel Universe. Sure, the whole magic thing doesn’t fit into the wacky sci-fi high jinks that define the Fantastic Four, but there’s a solution for that…

Make Doom the Protagonist of His Own Film

Victor Von Doom Doctor Doom fan film origin story latveria Ivan Kander Marvel Fantastic Four experiment

Seriously, if there’s anything that the Von Doom short film proves, it’s this: Doctor Doom works better as a protagonist, instead of being squeezed into a Fantastic Four movie. That doesn’t mean he’s a hero, but he thinks he’s a hero, and a character as complex as Doom deserves center stage.

The bad writing that Doctor Doom has suffered from in the Fantastic Four movies is at least partially because both films have unsuccessfully tried to tie Doom into the Four’s origin story, and it’s a bad fit. While Doom is linked to Reed Richards, and despises him, much of his actual character arc is largely independent of those four blue-costumed heroes. Doom has gotten into blows with most of Marvel’s heroes, but those battles aren’t really his focus. In the grander scheme of the Marvel Universe, he’s a well known dictator who has diplomatic immunity when he visits other countries, and thus can’t be arrested. He’s not just a foil for the heroes.

No, Doctor Doom deserves his own movie. A Doctor Doom film could tell the story of Victor Von Doom’s rise, fall, and subsequent rise. It could tell the story of his exile from Latveria, his mastery of science and magic, and then his return as a man in a metal mask. Again, Doom can be the protagonist without being a hero. A film that focused on Doom, and only on Doom, could have an epic narrative similar to Batman Begins.

If the film needs a villain, then Ivan Kander’s Von Doom proposes a terrific solution, through the use of time travel: use Victor as both the hero and the villain. Pit the younger Victor against the older Doctor Doom. There are lots of ways to make this work, and the Fantastic Four aren’t necessary for it. They can have their own new reboot — preferably one which has them battle against, say, the Mole Man —  and Doom can meet up with them in a sequel, if need be. But not yet.

 Get the Personality Right

Doctor Doom Marvel Victor Von Doom Fantastic Four Stan Lee

And finally, here’s another big one. Doom’s personality has to be right. He’s not a psychopath, not a cocky businessman who tells dumb jokes, none of that. The character as depicted in Von Doom is Doom as he should be.

Again, Doom doesn’t see himself as a villain. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the hero of the story, and he’s in a constant struggle to do the right thing, to take the path that he believes will make the world a better place. Doom has flaws, but insanity isn’t one of them. He’s arrogant, vain, and haughty. But he’s also a character that viewers should, at least on some level, want to root for — a character whom we should be saddened by when he starts making decisions that we know to be immoral, even if he is too stubborn to see it.

A solo Doctor Doom movie is a blockbuster success waiting to happen, and if the studios ever decide to pursue it, then Von Doom should be their primary inspiration.

Some Thoughts on the End of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine

 

Quick note, I’ll be getting back to my Southeast Asia stories next week! But in the meantime, a pause: 

It’s crazy to look back and realize that it has been 17 years since the first X-Men movie came out. I still remember sitting in that theater, so nervous that they were going to get it wrong. Like any kid of my generation, I was obsessed with superheroes, and the X-Men were always near the top of my favorites list. And in particular, I loved Wolverine; the gruff loner of the team, the outsider who never quite fit in.

These days, there are multiple superhero films released every year, and characters as out there as Groot and Doctor Strange are featured on T-shirts, posters, and billboards all around the world. But back in 2000, superhero movies were a rare oddity, and when they did come out, it rarely turned out well.

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So yes, I remember sitting in that movie theater back in 2000, totally nervous, feeling certain that this was going to be the only X-Men movie that ever got made, and just as certain that they were going to ruin Wolverine. The commercials had marketed the movie as more of a horror-like suspense than a sci-fi film, the costumes were all black leather, and the actor that they’d cast as Logan was some unknown Australian guy who was way too tall, too friendly, not angry enough.

And then the movie started… and there he was. This beaten, tired, reckless guy in a cage fight, wandering from place to place, not knowing who he was or where he came from. The impossible had happened, and somehow, a four-colored comic book character with six razor sharp claws had just been brought to life.

Wolverine Hugh Jackman

From that first moment, that first scene in the bar, it was clear that Hugh Jackman owned this role. And he never stopped owning it. Jackman made Wolverine into a household name, redefining the character for an entire generation of fans. And then, instead of stopping after a couple movies, he continued playing the character for almost 20 years, a legacy almost unheard of in any major franchise. Even more amazingly, his passion for the character only became stronger over time. From then and until now, Jackman was Wolverine. He’s made that role his own, arguably more than any other superhero actor to date.

Sure, Christian Bale was amazing as Batman. Robert Downey Jr. has brought Iron Man from a B-list favorite into the poster boy of Marvel Comics. Tobey Maguire was perfect for Peter Parker. But honestly, I don’t think there’s ever been another actor who has been this dedicated to a superhero role, starring in so many different films, and even playing such a key role in the writing of the character as the series went on.

Hugh Jackman Wolverine Logan

 

What Hugh Jackman — and the director, Bryan Singer — understood about Wolverine, that could have been so easily screwed up, was that the fundamental appeal of the character is his humanity, and the constantly wavering contrast between the good man buried within him and the rabid animal that he was brainwashed to be.

Another creative team may have simply painted Logan as the X-Men’s cranky outsider with a bad temperament, or maybe the supporting character who is simply the badass of the team with all the best one-liners. Jackman’s take, instead, is to always show the vulnerability in those eyes — the eyes of a man who lost his memory, his past, and everyone he’s ever loved — while also not shying away from the brutality; this is a guy who has spent his time beating people in cages, who can fly into a rage and skewer soldiers on his blades, but who at the same time can fall in love, protect children from harm, and even learn to believe in some idealistic dream preached to him by an old bald guy in a wheelchair.

Wolverine may be a killer, but he’s not supposed to be cold. Jackman understood the character’s inherent warmth, and that’s how he was able to embody Wolverine so successfully.

Hugh Jackman Logan Wolverine

It’s surreal to think that when Logan comes out, in just a few days, we’ll never see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine again. From a creative perspective, I admire his decision to end the story now, while he’s ahead. Too often, these giant sci-fi vehicles just roll on and on without any closure; while there’s no doubt that the X-Men franchise will continue for years to come, this movie will at least allow fans to say a true goodbye to the character who first made the X-Men movies so popular to begin with.

When we look back on classic adventure characters in film, we always associate them with the actors who defined those characters as well. Harrison Ford was Indiana Jones. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Terminator. Carrie Fisher was Leia. Bruce Willis was John McClane. And I think, in the future, when we look back on Wolverine, we’ll always remember the way that Hugh Jackman held out those claws, forever etching his place in cinematic history.

Next time: The journey through Laos, I promise! 

Clay Tongue novelette Nicholas Conley fantasy golem

Clay Tongue Reviews

Happy New Year! Hope you all had an amazing switchover from 2016 to 2017. To ring in the New Year on this end, I’d like to get started by showing my excitement at some of the reviews for my new release, Clay Tongue: A Novelette. Getting the opportunity to read a review of one’s work is truly one of the most thrilling parts of being a writer, and here’s a bit of what Clay Tongue‘s reviewers have to say so far.

Clay Tongue Nicholas Conley fantasy

First off, we have Steve Johnson of Book to the Future:

“The feeling of childish and adult fears mixed together in a child’s mind is a very delicate theme to navigate, as well as ideas of existence, the cost of it and of how we value life.  It is a powerful cross-section of themes, a mix which is always done well by Conley.”

Over on Goodreads, C. S. Wilde had this to say:

“This story is as gentle as a snowflake and yet, so very powerful. Nicholas Conley has the ability to touch even the darkest hearts with his stories.”

Clay Tongue fantasy novelette Nicholas Conley

Marian Thorpe took the time to add her thoughts:

“A lovely story of hope and the power of love and belief in what is right, rather than easy. It would be a good story to read out loud to the assembled family over the holiday season.

Then we have J.L. Gribble:

The gorgeous cover to this novelette is a perfect match for the beautiful language and sweet story contained within. This short tale is well worth checking out for a quick escape.

And finally, we have Misti Pyles of My Trending Stories, who says:

“Clay Tongue isn’t very long, but has plenty of room to draw the reader into Katie’s tale. Katie’s just a kid, but her view of the world is bigger—and far more clear—than the adults in her life. Her love for her grandfather is fierce, as is his for her. There is magic in the pages of this story; magic both large and small, as well as love, hope, and vision.”

Clay Tongue novelette Nicholas Conley fantasy

Off to a great start, I’d say! Clay Tongue is available on Amazon, as both a paperback and an ebook. Hope you all continue having a terrific New Year.