In defense of Batman v. Superman...I know, no more afterwards. Promise.

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

-Vincent Van Gogh

Image taken from The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Image taken from The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Let me begin by laying a few things out there that color my perspective on BvS as well as superhero and comic cinema:

1) I'm black, I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, I'm an educator in New York City, I have a Masters Degree in English Literature, and I have studied and written my thesis on comics as a literacy teaching medium as well as researched at length race in comics. Also I LOVE Comics. I say all this so that; 1 you don't think I'm saying things I have no basis for and 2 you understand who I am and where this comes from. Furthermore I'm not one to do the soapbox thing.

2) I have seen almost every modern era comic book movie made and have either read the source material or read about it deeply and thoroughly.

3) My favorite superhero is Batman, followed by Nightwing, with John Stewart, Steel and War Machine and Batwoman (The current Kate Kane) not far behind and not in any particular order at all.

I think those are all my disclaimers. I promise this is short.

I saw BVS not long after it came out and after watching the movie and reading reviews before and after the movie and talking to every comic nerd I know almost about the movie I came to a few conclusions.

To begin, to completely kill a joke thats being told a thousand times, This IS the Batman we deserve. I do not remember enjoying watching Batman on screen this much since I was a kid watching Batman Returns with Michael Keaton (still my favorite Batman movie ever). The Dark Knight Trilogy was a work of fine art that proved that the superhero popcorn flick, comic book genre and true film making could work in harmony. I love those movies, saw each one multiple times in the theater. Superb acting and cinematography, well developed characters and spectacular set pieces. However Christian Bale is not my pick for most entertaining Batman and that is not a slight but it does serve to explain beyond the movie studio powers that be that govern all things a la share universes, why he could not be in BVS. It wouldn't work. Henry Cavill's Superman is not neutered or lack the imposing presence of the Man of Steel. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is an elegant powerhouse to be reckoned with. Therefore Batfleck was the only Batman that could exist here and seeing this trio on screen was a dream come true. Let me say that one more time: A DREAM COME TRUE. Many times we want something that we know is not possible or just wouldn't quite work in the real world. In many ways that is what BVS is, every fanboy and fangirls dream of having these larger than life characters come together and move and talk and fight and cry and dance and EVERYTHING! Yet, it is a dream that is perfect in the internal sanctuaries of our psyches and a little rough around the edges after being pulled out of our brains by Zak Snyder. The movie is far from perfect but it gives us exactly what we asked for: DC superheroes, on screen at the same time kickin' ass and blowin' shit up.

So does this mean we have to like it? God, no. I could pick this movie apart for days, talking about the convoluted story at times, lack of real reinforcement of the main antagonists motives, etc but I won't and you want to know why? Because Marvel as been getting away with it for 8 years now. Anthony and Joe Russo recently stated that in many ways Captain America Civil War was (is) the answer to BVS. "But Trevor, Why would they need an answer?" Well Kevin Feige explained that Marvel movies have become formulaic and even though they draw crowds they will not continue to do so if they keep following the same tropes, they needed to do something different. I agree but I also have an issue with the Marvel formula, see exhibit A below:

Two words: Holy F*ck. Found at the blog.

Two words: Holy F*ck. Found at the blog.

As you can see, I don't have enough degrees to fully grasp this as an outsider. I love that Marvel committed to this plan and idea and I really, REALLY enjoy these movies (most of them) but I find it troublesome that I need to take a perquisite course on Thor: Dark World, Captain America, the Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3 and an elective in Guardians of the Galaxy to then understand what the hell I'm watching in Avengers: Age of Ultron (which I believe wholeheartedly, was not a very good movie) and all that's assuming I already took Avengers 101 back in 2012. That is so much movie watching to do in order to understand one movie and this broad overarching storyline. It's great but it's exhausting and sometimes asking a lot. BVS took all of that and put it into a summer pre session, a 2 week course that moves real fast and sometimes you will feel like you didn't learn a damn thing but its over and your ready for the next thing which is a class you actually want to take and you will be able to at a reasonable pace (Justice League).

Now earlier I mentioned if you didn't skip it, that I'm a black guy and I was raised by immigrant parents who both were here and one pretty heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. For me this causes conflict because I want to see characters that look like me but I also want them to look like how I know they were created originally sometimes. It also means that I wish there were more important heroes of color being brought to the big screen as well as more women. BVS earned partial credit for Wonder Woman's inclusion and the glimpses of her new movie give me great hope. Part of me hopes it will be a toned down Game of Thrones with women playing all the central roles except for Steve Trevor (great name). The Superhero genre is a boys club and a pretty divisive in terms of race as well considering most superheroes are white. Does this mean I need the Justice League to be black? No. But don't put Cyborg in the new line up when he was a Teen Titan FOR DECADES and tell me it's "just cuz he's kool." No, that's calling an audible on inclusion if I ever saw it. It does mean however that Perry White being black as opposed to white is both fine and appropriately modern (I know this was a Man of Steel thing but some people still aren't over it) also the same goes for Mechad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen on Supergirl. For once Jimmy doesn't look like a punk. Now does that mean I need them to recast certain characters as female? No, but develop female characters on the big screen in a way that makes them 3 dimensional and serving a purpose other than sexual tension or a love story. In my own work I have fallen prey to this and have found that I too fail the Bechdel Test. For those of you who do not know, the Bechdel Test was created by Fun Home Writer & Illustrator Allison Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace a movie or work of fiction must meet the following requirements:

  1. The movie/work has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

No, joke this is a pretty easy test to fail. Believe me when I say I won't fail it again. But to get back on track, my point about race and gender is to point out that while BVS is imperfect, it tries to do a lot of good and because it has such lofty goals it falls short and has been crucified for it. I think that BVS shows that more risks will be taken and that's good, a little more incubation wouldn't hurt but the great cinema machine knows not what patience is. I also think that BVS serves as a mirror to what we have been calling excellent or near perfect superhero movies (i'm looking at you Iron Man 3, never watching it again) from the Marvel/Disney mountain and I say this not because of any bias I say it because I honestly think that we have given Marvel a great deal of slack and not truly challenged their movie making the way that BVS was.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice did a lot of things, some of them were right, some of them were wrong and some of them are lost in the shuffle. However I think that this movie deserves some reconsideration for everything it does try and does get right when choosing not to follow the time tested Marvel model and Warner Brothers attempting to trim some of the fat. Lastly as I want to be clear, I would never say that we should not be critical of BVS, we should but I wonder what else should we be examining? Should we be conducting a critique of Henry Cavill's portrayal of  Clark Kent as stiff and lacking the boyish smallville charm we know? or Should we be questioning the use of maimed soldiers as human IED's and terrorism as a fodder for laughs? (if you don't get the reference watch Iron Man 3...but only if you have to) 

I don't know about you but each give me pause and for far different reasons and thusly I look at BVS and all other superhero films with a particular lens no, both for criticism and caution. So Like I said, not that bad of a movie.


My Top 10


(my reading preference is fluid sometime,s what can I say...)

Disclaimer: This is, admittedly a very modern list. I came late to the comics party and I was already a freshman in college by the time I was blessed with some of the books on this list that reinvigorated my interest in comics and ultimately pushed me to create my own. I put this list together as the debut post for this blog almost as a way to tell my story and history of my creative inspiration at least from the realm of comics. Much of my inspiration comes from film and television as I truly believe I grew up during the Animation Renaissance of the 90's and early 2000's then informed and still informs much of my creative output. Nevertheless some of these choices I know will illicit very polarizing reactions and I suppose thats a good thing one way or the other. Some of these will have you drawing lines in the sand but others will probably garner more of a meh moment. So with that out of the way, here is my list of my favorite graphic novels or collected runs in comics...ever...for now.


1. Fun Home A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I read Fun Home in grad school. IT IS INCREDIBLE. In short it tells the story in very Daria-esque illustration a tale of family and self discovery and reflection. Alison Bechdel for those of you who do not know is a widely celebrated writer/illustrator in the comics world and a definite voice on Feminist & LGBT issues as well as the portrayal of women in general in literature, comics and popular culture and media. Her writing has given birth to a test called the “Bechdel Test” to determine a woman purported importance in a story and whether or not that importance revolves around a man. Deep stuff. Great book. Fantastic story and illustration.


2. Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

In my opinion, Jeph Loeb has done his best work with Tim Sale. In fact I wish they had done more team ups other than the 4 collections they did at what seems like almost the same time. Dark Victory is the last in a collected run the duo did on Batman that includes Batman Haunted Knight, Batman The Long Halloween and Catwoman When in Rome. All of them are great and visual masterpieces. Dark Victory reintroduces Robin for the first time and gives us a new foe for Batman to fight called "The Hangman Killer." Loeb and Sale make great use of almost all of Batman’s major villains in this one book. Loeb writing is tight and cerebral and doesn't over tell and Sale's artwork is striking and stands out as some of the most unique comic work I've ever seen.


3. Black Beetle by Francesco Francavilla

I have a secret love affair with pulp heroes. I still remember to this day being pulled out of the theater with my best friend by his babysitter after she heard the word “damn” during The Phantom. Francesco Francavilla is not only a talented artist but he is a great story teller. He crafts the world of Black Beetle as though it has a rich 80 year history like Doc Savage or The Spider. Francavilla is also expert when choosing his color pallets which make for rich pages that pop while still maintaining the dark shadowy underbelly of the crime and corruption the Black Beetle fights.


4. Planetary (pick any volume) by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

So if someone told me that fictional secret world archiving and archaeology was cool, I would beg to differ. That is, until I read Planetary. Warren Ellis is guy who in my opinion, almost never misses. I don’t know what it is about his stories but they always are well rooted in real world science or folklore but then he turns in on its ear and makes it way more interesting then you could imagine. For example he not only creates his own villainous version of the Fantastic Four within the pages of Planetary he also creates strange and interesting reinterpretations of people like Captain Marvel (DC, not Marvel who I guess I should call Shazam now?) and Tarzan. I still think thats kind of stupid. Either way, the tales of Elijah Snow and his team are some of the best graphic literature you will come across.


5. Umbrella Academy (Volumes 1 & 2) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bà

Ok, let me begin by saying if Gerard Way reads this: GIVE ME HOTEL OBLIVION NOW! Ok I got that out of my system. Umbrella Academy came out of nowhere and for lack of a better phrase it is super f#$king cool on so many levels. The story tells the tale of a group of children born at the same time across the world with special abilities raised by an monocle wearing alien disguised as a human who fight zombified frenchman and mechanized Eiffel Towers. If that sentence did not convince you to read it then I can’t help you. Also, if you have ever seen Gabriel Bà’s artwork before you are sorely missing out. The cartoon-esque, Bruce Timm-like flair he has is perfect for the zany violence and beauty sprawled across each page.


6. Watchmen By Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Literary classic. If you are a comic or literature lover, you need to read this book. Many say that the way Lord of the Rings is written it makes you smarter because of the mental workout you put yourself through to read it. That is exactly what Watchmen is. It’s one part comic, one part novel, one part epic poem and all masterpiece. Legend has it that Moore and Gibbons originally were going to use DC characters for this story of a superhero who is murdered and the subsequent investigation reveals and plot to kill more but DC felt it was too edgy of story for their actual characters such as Captain Atom and the Question (don’t quote me on this) so Moore and Gibbons made up their own. Good thing they did because it’s amazing. Also, I don’t care what anyone says The Watchmen film, setting aside Moore’s very public and understandable feelings about his work being adapted, was what I consider to be the best possible way it could have been done. Kudos to Zak Snyder.


7. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volumes 1 & 2) By Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

Ok round two of how great Alan Moore is! This movie adaptation was so bad it was good for a laugh so I don’t endorse that at all. The books however are fantastic with a slight caveat here and there. I specifically list volumes 1 & 2 because I feel they are the best in the series. Black Dossier would be in the 3rd place followed by the Nemo spin offs. I can't really say that I am a huge fan of Volume 3 : Century only because its a bit too abstract and far out for me. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tells the tale of Victorian literary characters existing in the same world, coming together to save it. Yes, it’s Victorian Justice League. The Invisible Man, Mina Harker, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Hulk style) are all here and are all totally f@#ked up. It makes for great stories and conflict and the etching style lines of Kevin O’neill makes the book almost read as though you can FEEL it all. Wanna see who much you really know about classic literary characters? Read this and tell if you paid enough attention in English class.


8. Doc Unknown Volume 1: The Secret of Gate City By Fabian Rangel Jr. and Ryan Cody

Over the course of the last 4 years I developed an obsession with Kickstarter Comics. There is something intoxicating about supporting something you believe in and seeing it come to fruition, especially when it is a great concept you can believe isn't a mainstream hit. That's what Doc Unknown is. He is a pulp hero much more in the vein of Doc Savage mixed with the Phantom. He fights ghosts, Nazi's, Vampires and boxing-snake mob boss. The art work of Ryan Cody perfectly compliments Rangels world building and punchy dialogue. Yea, it's awesome and I can't wait to see more of it. (Technically there are 3 volumes and one-shot right now, go read up).


9. We3/JLA Earth 2 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Earlier I lamented briefly about the zany absurdity of Alan Moore's writing, well Grant Morrison is right up there with him. Some of his stories are incredibly crafted and while very far reaching and outlandish still make sense and aren't too much to follow. Some of his other stories, not so much. We3 is a story about weaponized animals, a dog, a cat and a rabbit trying to escape a government facility and protect each other. JLA Earth 2 is the story of the Justice League being approached by the greatest hero of Earth Two; Lex Luthor, for help against their criminal counterparts the Crime Syndicate. These two are listed with each other because I found them at the same time and each resonated for one reason or another but its really the team of Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely that you need to pay attention to. They are the real Dynamic Duo.

10. Black Panther Volume 4 By Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr.

This run revitalized Black Panther as a character and his origins. It also presents a powerful depiction of the greatest and most powerful people on the planet: Africans or more specifically, Wakandans. I think I find this collection so important because one John Romita Jr's artwork is phenomenal and he draw like Leonardo DiCaprio does movies; selectively. Reginald Hudlins' take on the character of T'challa and his people is also fantastic, showing a powerful and collaborative nation whose people are full of pride and push forward to create a better world. Lastly the first six issues show a harsh but truthful satirical critique of the Westerns worlds view on Africa and the rest of the world when they don't play the game we want them to. Belongs on your shelf, trust me.

Honorable Mentions:

Bat woman: Elegy By Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III (Really this should be #11 because this is one of the best origin stories ever told, written or illustrated)

TRUTH: Red, White and Black (Captain America) By Robert Morales and Kyle Baker

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted By Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Batman Death in the Family By Jim Starlin

Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison and Yannick Paquette

reMIND by Jason Brusker (big reason for and influence on what little success I have found in making your own comics)