Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

The Incredible Nerd

Posted: March 20, 2012 by Bill Gauthier in Childhood, Comics, Movies, TV
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The television series The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was woven into the fabric of my childhood. Yet, I realized recently that I had never seen the entirety of the very first episode, the pilot movie. So I called it up on Netflix Instant Streaming and watched it last night. Watching it made me realize what has been wrong with the more recent film versions of the Hulk.

I enjoyed 2003’s Hulk, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, and directed by Ang Lee quite a bit. I want to get that out of the way because I know many people consider this movie a failure. I don’t. I liked the story, I liked the acting, and I liked the Hulk. He was massive, he emoted, and he was fun to watch. Still, though I liked it a lot, there was still something about that didn’t quite feel right to me.

2008’s The Incredible Hulk is notable only because it’s tying in with this summer’s The Avengers. Tony Stark makes an appearance, there may clues to other Marvel movies, the nerds align and cheer with glee. Except it’s dumb.

The 2003 film is an intelligently crafted movie with a real concept behind it. The 2008 movie is an excuse for a brawl in the streets of a major American city (I’ve forgotten which one, mainly because it doesn’t matter) and to tie into The Avengers. Both are missing something that made the 1977-1981 television series the classic it remains to this day: pathos.

The older I got as I watched the TV show’s reruns, the more David Banner’s plight seemed more important–and more interesting. This is a man who wants to do good, who wants to love, yet keeps losing the people closest to him, first by happenstance, then because of his self-inflicted curse. Bill Bixby’s portrayal of Banner is great. Caring, careful, and empathetic, you can’t not watch him onscreen. He portrays Banner as an intelligent, caring, yet flawed man who must reconcile his sins every time the monster comes and disappears. He Dr. Jekyll. He is Dr. Frankenstein. He is Dr. Richard Kimball. But you care about him. And if Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk now seems quaint and silly (and he does, oh man, he does!), then it’s forgivable because of Bill Bixby’s performance.

Eric Bana’s situation in Hulk also provides pathos, yet not in the same way as Bill Bixby’s. Because Bixby’s Banner radiated himself trying to solve a problem brought on by his wife’s death in a car accident, you already care about and understand why he blasts himself with the gamma rays even while you’re hoping he won’t do it. The audience is seeing a tragedy in the making, brought on by raw emotion. Bana’s gamma blast is more like the comic book’s version, where Banner is helping someone else who is in danger of being blasted. The added empathy that helps the story immensely is that Banner’s father, played by Nick Nolte, has already been messing around with his DNA. The creature is essentially already there, just in need of a little push out. But, by my money, it’s just not the same. Yes, Bana’s Banner is more a victim and should be in need of more empathy, yet it doesn’t work out that way. I still feel more for Bixby’s Banner than Bana’s Banner.

In The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton also plays Bruce Banner. This isn’t a sequel to Hulk, yet in many ways feels like it is. It also feels a little like a sequel to the TV series, including the musical cue Bixby gets at the end of each episode. I’ll be honest here, I had to look at Wikipedia to even know how this Banner becomes the Hulk. I still don’t remember. It doesn’t matter, because this is the least sympathetic Hulk by far. Norton’s Banner tries to get into our hearts but never quite gets there. What time is there with all the running away from, being chased he’s doing? At least the comic book feel of Bana’s Banner left the viewer feeling something, Norton’s Banner is just sort of there. Yes, Norton is a physically perfect Banner, and yes, he can be a good actor, but in this…eh.

Overall, I think that the 2003 and 2008 movie suffers from their closeness to the comic books. They’re not adapted enough. Kenneth Johnson’s adaptation of the Hulk is akin to Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Batman: it’s set in our world. Yes, there’s a fantastic element to it, yes, there are unbelievable–even silly–things that happen, yet, for the time it takes to watch (the the very least) the pilot movie, I was left rooting for Bixby’s Banner and feeling sad when he loses his second chance at love. And while the visual representations of Bana’s Banner and Norton’s Banner might be more spectacular (yes, I am one the people who actually prefer CGI Hulk to Lou Ferrigno Hulk) the pathos just isn’t there, and we the audience inevitably don’t care.

 

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In between essays/topics, I’ll post a MediaBio Quickie, which may or may not have to do with the previous post. This one does.

Those photos at the end of the last post weren’t the only ones Mom sent along to me. Here are three more that have to do with that topic.

Who is that meek man who walks into town, trying to be friendly and mind his own business?

Oh, no! He's become angry!

Luckily, our friendly neighborhood webhead has come to rescue us!

700, or Superheroes & Me

Posted: July 22, 2010 by mediabio in Comics
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So I went to Newsbreak the other day to get the current issue of Mojo, which has a kick-ass interview with Bruce Springsteen, and saw they had issue #700 of both Superman and Batman. Being the nerd I am, I grabbed them. When I got home, I was astounded by the way the covers of these special issues captured the essences of these iconic characters. Superman‘s cover is bright, whimsical, and super. Batman‘s is dark, mean, and scary.


I couldn’t find the covers with the titles and credits on them, but here’s the cover art.

When I was a kid, my father used to bring comic books home from the local convenience store when he’d stop for milk and/or bread. The comics ranged from Superman and Batman to Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. And there were others, so many others, but those were the mainstays. I remember my father bringing home the 400th issue of Superman. I later got the Batman‘s 400th as a back-issue when I was a teenager. Both of those had paintings for the covers that were symbolic of the characters. Both had different stories by different writers and artists. Both had introductions by well-known writers (Superman had Ray Bradbury, Batman had Stephen King).


I’m pretty sure I’ve lost Supes’s book over time. Batman’s is with my Batman collection.

Batman #500 came out when I was still collecting the Batman comics in the 1990s, though it’s probably towards the end of my collection (the whole Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend storyline). I collected Batman books from about 1990 through 1996/1997. But with more and more monthly issues and one-shots coming out every month, and my novel reading pile grew and grew, I stopped my collecting. I totally missed Superman #500 (though I have it as part of a collection in The Return of Superman).

When my father brought home Superman issue #400 (which is dated Oct. 1984), I was seven. I didn’t understand the issue. It was a sort of buffet of Superman tales told by different artists. Now at the time, I hardly actually read the comics, but rather followed the pictures, and (this will freak some of you comic geeks out) I would add my own art to the pages. That’s right, I drew in my comic books (I always gave Batman eyes). I didn’t understand why the art looked so different from page to page. Even when I did read the issue, I still didn’t get it. Of course, I didn’t realize that Superman had been around nearly fifty years. It wasn’t until 1988 that the hoopla over his fiftieth birthday made the news (and that I was old enough to get it).

Comic books and superheroes were a big part of my early childhood. As I said, the heroes that regularly made the trip from the rack of Store 24 to my hands were usually Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk. A big part of that was because of TV.

As a small child (we’re talking from my earliest memories–which begin around the age of 18 months, I think, but may be earlier), there were superheroes on TV. Superfriends played on Saturday mornings and on weekday afternoons. There was the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno The Incredible Hulk on both network TV and syndication. Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man in some made-for-tv movies. Reruns of Adam West and Burt Ward on the 1960s Batman. George Reeves played Superman in reruns, not to mention the annual tradition of one of the networks showing 1978’s Superman: The Movie with Christopher Reeve. This last was super special (see how I did that?) because it meant staying up late! The movie would begin at 8 PM and, because of commercials, would go all the way to 11.


One has a padded suit, the other a padded crotch.

I would watch the adventures of these heroes on television, look at their adventures in the comic books, and would give them new adventures with their action figures or by role-playing. I was born in 1977, folks. There were Underoos!

These characters laid the ground for what would be a lifetime of imagination and adventure (if only in the mind). Without those shows, those comic books, and those action figures, I probably wouldn’t have cared about Star Wars (a topic I’ll cover someday), which led me to a bunch of other things. The seeds were sprinkled here, with these characters.

I liked Spider-Man, he was cool. I was fascinated (and a little scared) of the Hulk (though he would lead me to a fascination with Jeckyll-Hyde/shapeshifters/werewolves). However, I loved Superman and Batman. Those were the characters I always gravitated to. What kid doesn’t wish he could fly or be invulnerable? What kid doesn’t want to have all the toys at his disposal right in a pouch on his belt?

When I was eleven, the media frenzy that surrounded Tim Burton’s Batman swirled in and caught me up in it. This same frenzy came at a time in the late 1980s when comic books were changing. In April 1989, I knew nothing about Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One. I knew of Robin’s death because of the news stories (I actually saw an issue in a rack at the grocery store, too. I’ve kicked myself since that I didn’t ask Mom to get it for me), but Store 24 had stopped selling comic books and I hadn’t received one in a loonng time. By June 1989, I knew about Frank Miller and his take on Batman. And as time passed, I knew more and more about comic books.


This is actually one of the first images I remember from 1989’s Batman.

It was hard to avoid. Comics were everywhere. And it was pretty obvious who I was gravitating toward: Batman.

The early-to-mid-1990s were a crazy time to become a comic book fan. The groundbreaking storytelling by Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the blurring of comic book art and Art art, and the sense that the time had come for comic books to take its rightful spot as an American Artform were all over. Oh, and someone said they were collectible.

See, I was never into baseball cards. Hell, I was never into baseball–or football, or basketball, or whateverball–so I was often the odd one. Now I was cool for a moment. I knew people who’d never read a comic in their life who suddenly wanted all the variant covers for X-Men #1. Yeah, I played a little. I had a few of those variants (I have no idea where they are), but for me, comics weren’t about the someday money, they were about the story. The art. Good versus evil. This personality versus that personality. For me, the DC comics were the ones I enjoyed. Marvel, for all its flash and coolness, didn’t do much for me.

Superman and Batman. Batman and Superman. World’s Finest. These two guys were the first to teach me right from wrong. They showed me it was okay to dream. They both gave me something to strive for. I know I’ll never be able to fly, and I am all-too vulnerable, but I can understand Superman’s desire to feel like one of us, to feel as though he belongs. I know I’ll never have a Batmobile or a utility belt with all those cool gadgets, I’ll never be a world-class fighter/gymnast/detective, but I can strive to become the best person I am capable of being. And if I lose myself in another persona for a bit…well, aren’t we all more than one person sometimes?

The covers of Superman #700 and Batman #700 are pitch-perfect for their characters. The stories behind the covers? Well, I loved Superman’s (I may even follow J. Michael Straczynski‘s run on the book), I wasn’t a fan of Batman’s. Who knows? Maybe as I’m getting older I’m feeling the need for the more idealistic superhero. The best thing to come out of those two books, though, was the seven-year-old Billy’s joy in reading them.

That, folks, is what it’s all about.


The author as superheroes, circa 1981/82. I’m still not sure how those yellow/green tights worked in my head for Batman,but you work with whatcha got. The real question, in my mind, is, “Whatever became of that horse lamp?”