“What do you do with a BA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college, and plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.
I can’t pay the bills yet, ’cause I have no skills yet.
The world is a big scary place…” -Princeton, Avenue Q
There was a time, a while before I accidentally became the voice of Canadian letter carriers for a week or so, when I was a useful member of corporate society. With a desk and health benefits and everything. Perhaps I will be again someday. That is certainly the hope–well, it’s amongst the hopes. But before that? I was an English major with his own fledgling theatre company and a passion for storytelling, three things that in no way aided my pressing need to pay the rent and eat. And so came the time when, as one friend said, I began collecting marketable skills as I searched for a job that could pay for my theatre habit. And my comic books. And if there was anything left over, food and shelter.
I got certified as a bartender, and from there got a job bartending at a private club, only to be bait-and-switched into banquet service after three shifts. I speak of that employer with nothing but scorn, over a decade later.
I trained as a blackjack dealer. Didn’t work out. The casino had a new games manager who flunked the entire class, which left our tough-as-nails instructor so upset she was actually crying.
But then, in 2001, I hit what felt like the subsistence-level-employment jackpot… I became a projectionist.
I spent the next five years working in a series of dark bunkers, often 12 hours at a time. I had my first glimpse at a union struggling to stay alive against corporate cuts. I learned the toll running 16 screens at a time can have on a person. I learned how old you can feel when nearly all of your co-workers are teenagers. I saw chunks of every movie released between spring of 2001 and early to mid-summer of 2006. And I learned facts about Bollywood movies I will never un-know.
It wasn’t a bad job. Or it didn’t seem like a bad job while I was working it. Sure, later I would look back and wonder “How did I work back-to-back 12 hour shifts and not go insane? How did I not notice how poor I was? Why did I keep watching chunks of Goldmember?” and so on and so forth, but at the time it seemed okay. I was surrounded by movies, and as you may have gleaned I’m really quite fond of movies. I had plenty of time to write: several scripts were hammered out in projection booths. Once I settled at a regular theatre, I even made friends among the staff. So all in all, not terrible.
Well, it was spending 12 hours in a dimly-lit bunker for way too little money, but not terrible.
A lost art
This was, of course, entirely in the days before digital. In the twilight years of the projectionists’ union, when running movies required threading the film through the projector. Now it’s just downloading the movie from the server and pressing play, or so I’m led to believe. I don’t imagine there’s much left of the old-school projectionists. Even back in my day, big chain theatres were trying to push running the booth away from union technicians and onto their much cheaper floor staff. “Booth ushers” they call them, in order to duck around skilled labour laws. As digital projection spreads, and all you need to run the booth are some simple IT skills, the traditional projectionist is vanishing into history.
And yet I still have dreams of being back in the booth. Specifically, the booth of the Moviedome, the theatre I ran from 2002-2006, about 80% of my projection career. Despite the fact that I’ve been away from there longer than I was there, despite the fact that the Moviedome shut its doors for good earlier this year, I still dream I’m back in that booth, running projectors. And there’s usually something improbable going wrong. It’s never just nostalgic.
So, in this ongoing feature, I’m going to share my old war stories from the projection days. Squabbles with management, film fun facts, and my time among the ushers, box office girls, and concession staff… or as the man who trained me called them, the Corn Monkeys.
So sit back, bookmark this page, and enjoy these tales of my time with the Corn Monkeys in the Mist.
So. Let’s talk about the Hobbit movies. And yes, if you haven’t seen the movies or read the book, there will be some mild spoilers.
The big issue is, of course, the fact that while Lord of the Rings was three long books that required a whole trilogy to adapt, the Hobbit is one short book. One short children’s book. Turning it into a three-film follow-up to Lord of the Rings requires some… acrobatics. They need to add plotlines that were just hinted at in the appendices, add action beats where before there was just “and then the dwarves floated down the river in barrels,” and generally try to make the whole tale feel a bit more epic than it was.
And this riles some Tolkien purists. They don’t care for all these extra scenes of dwarf daring-do, all these added subplots, and would rather they had stuck to a more faithful adaptation of the book, even if it meant there would only be one Hobbit movie and not three. Actually especially if it meant that. Stretching the book into to three movies was the source of the complaints.
Now in a few paragraphs I expect there will be Tolkien fans prepping to lynch me. Or so I was led to believe from that time after an advance screening of Fellowship of the Rings when I was nearly assaulted for saying “Of course they cut out Tom Bombadil, why wouldn’t they.” But believe me when I say I get it. Remember V For Vendetta? People tell me that movie’s actually pretty good. And I guess I can see their point. But I used to read that graphic novel once per year, and there were some changes I just hated. V’s not out to kill the Leader, he’s out to bring down the Leader’s whole society! Crash the system! And he didn’t fall in love with Evey, he chose her as his successor! Because once the fascist order of Norsefire was reduced to rubble and anarchy there was no place in whatever world came next for him! Sorry. Got distracted. Anyway, I get it. Just as I’d rather have had a miniseries that didn’t have to cut out so much of the full V For Vendetta story, you think that instead of this trilogy that stretches out a simple story and fluffs it full of extra subplots and fight scenes, you’d rather have had one movie that was faithful to the book.
There are just a couple of problems there.
First, and this one’s not a reason I expect you or anyone to see as valid, the studio didn’t want one Hobbit movie. They wanted a new Lord of the Rings trilogy. Studios spent years trying and failing to find the next Lord of the Rings before moving on and trying to find the new Twilight. Chronicles of Narnia was a qualified success at best, Golden Compass bombed, going back to Tolkien seemed the best strategy (other than realizing that people are drawn to stories, not genres, but the studio system is rigged against that sort of rational observation), and the Hobbit is the other famous book set in Middle Earth. Certainly the one that’s in any way filmable. So, yeah, feel free to complain about corporate greed stomping all over artistic validity if you like.
But second, and more problematic… A faithful adaptation with no extra stuff added? That movie would have had some flaws. Big, big flaws. Allow me to explain.
Gandalf was a lazy deus ex machina
Everyone loves Gandalf, right? And everyone super loves Ian McKellen as Gandalf. Balrog-fightin’, staff-swingin’, army-rallyin’, “You shall not pass” Gandalf. We love that guy. Excited to have him back.
But in an accurate adaptation of the book? Well. How to put this.
Imagine if in the first Avengers movie, Iron Man had shown up at the beginning, said to the other Avengers “We have to stop that Loki guy! But I gotta bounce. Iron Man stuff. I’ll catch up with you,” and then vanished. Maybe he shoots a few Chitauri somewhere around the middle, but otherwise you don’t see him until the last five minutes, when he turns up and says “Hey guys! Turns out Loki was working for this super-powerful alien named Thanos! Don’t worry, though, I took care of it.” People would have complained endlessly.
But that’s Gandalf in the Hobbit. He’s a deus ex machina. He gets the expedition to the lonely mountain going, then wanders off to do wizard stuff.Turns up when the dwarves are in enough trouble that Bilbo can’t luck their way out of it, then leaves again because he’s off dealing with the Necromancer.
The Necromancer, by the way, is freaking SAURON. The big flaming eye guy. Forger of the one ring. Biggest bad in all of Middle Earth. That is what Gandalf is doing while Bilbo and the dwarves are hanging out at Beorn’s house eating honey snacks. And if we stuck to the book, he’d be doing it off camera. That is the weakest of weak sauce.
So, yeah, we want to see that. Catch us up on what Gandalf and Radagast are doing. Go for it. Cutting away from Bilbo and the dwarves ain’t gonna hurt anything. Which brings me to my next point.
The dwarves suck. Seriously.
The whole story of the Hobbit hinges on this band of dwarves making it to the Lonely Mountain so that they can take back their homeland from Smaug the dragon. These 13 dwarves are our heroes, the people we’re here to root for.
But in the book, they suck. They suck so hard.
Here’s what the dwarves manage over the course of the book. They get captured by three trolls, until they’re saved by Gandalf, who employs a cunning tactic that’s one step away from throwing a bucket over their heads and telling them it’s night time. Not the most cunning foes. Then they get caught by goblins in the Misty Mountains, and have to be saved by Gandalf. They get to Mirkwood, walk down the road until they run out provisions (because Tolkien was convinced that being hungry or thirsty was riveting adventure narrative), wander into the woods, and get caught by spiders. Once Bilbo saves them, they immediately get captured by elves. Bilbo springs them again, they finally reach the mountain, only to wait outside while Bilbo checks things out and accidentally convinces Smaug to go torch Laketown. And while Bard the archer handles the dragon, Thorin saunters in and claims the throne and all the treasure.
Now, as a simple children’s story, that can work. You have to downplay the Battle of Five Armies a bit, but you can make a child-orientated adaptation of Bilbo and the dwarves constantly stumbling into danger then lucking their way out. But what you cannot make is a follow-up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Because you are following in the footsteps of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the greatest of them all, Samwise motherfuckin’ Gamgee, and that Rocky and Bullwinkle nonsense isn’t going to cut it.
Now, two films in, it’s all basically still happening. They got caught by the trolls, and the goblins, and the spiders, and the elves. But at least they put up a fight. They go down swinging half the time. They take a stab at killing Smaug, and they do some spectacular damage on their way out of the Misty Mountains. And good for them. I, for one, preferred the “fighting orcs from floating barrels” action beat more than I would have enjoyed “And then they float to Laketown, having done nothing of note since the Misty Mountains.”
And yes, Mirkwood is made quicker and creepier. Because the two things Lord of the Rings gets mocked for the most are the 20 minutes worth of endings in Return of the King and being nine hours of hobbits walking to Mordor, so the last thing the Hobbit movies needed was multiple days of walking down a path with nothing happening.
No girls allowed
I took a fantasy literature course in University. Twice, actually, because the first time the professor was lame and the reading list made other professors wince and apologize. The second time I took it, with the good prof, he would always note how early 20th century fantasy authors portrayed women. He was not impressed with C.S. Lewis, for one. But then one day he wrapped the lecture by saying “Next week we’ll look at J.R.R. Tolkien, who answered the question of women in fantasy by saying ‘Well, we just won’t have any.'”
Ain’t no women in the Hobbit book. The movies correct that by bringing Galadriel back for Unexpected Journey, then introducing a new character in Tauriel, captain of the guard of the elves of Mirkwood. Here’s what Evangeline Lily, who plays Tauriel, had to say about her:
“And in his defense, Tolkien was writing in 1937. The world is a different place today, and I keep repeatedly telling people that in this day and age, to put nine hours of cinema entertainment in theaters for young girls to go and watch, and not have one female character for them to watch is subliminally telling them, ‘you don’t count.’ You’re not important, and you’re not pivotal to story. And I just think they were very brave and very bright in saying, ‘We won’t do that to the young female audience who come and watch our film.’ And not just the young female audience, but even a woman of my own age, I think it’s time we stop making stories that are only about men – especially only about heroic men. And I love that they made Tauriel a hero.”
Tauriel kicks ass. She’s clever, she’s as good a fighter as Legolas (also, I like that they weren’t afraid to have fan-favourite Legolas be a tool in his pre-Fellowship days), and for those complaining about the love triangle with Kili and Legolas… the only person who thinks there’s a triangle is Legolas. Tauriel herself doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that her king has forbade her from getting close with his son, she just kind of likes that dwarf kid, and makes her own decisions about what she’s going to do about it. She’s a great character, and Evangeline Lily does a great job with her, and I’m sorry if you don’t agree.
I’ll admit. There was a time when I thought that Tiny Toons Adventures having both Buster AND Babs Bunny was pandering to girls, but in my defense I was 14 and it didn’t take me long to realize that maybe girls getting to have their own Bugs Bunny didn’t ruin anything. By the time Animaniacs came around, I was okay with the Warner Brothers being joined by the Warner Sister Dot. So welcome to the franchise, Tauriel. Hope you don’t die in the Battle of Five Armies. Oh hey. That reminds me.
The Battle of Five Armies just kind of happens
So at the end, Thorin has the throne, thanks to all of that being-rescued-by-Bilbo he did, and is refusing to share the massive piles of treasure with any of the humans or elves outside demanding a cut. Other dwarves turn up to back Thorin, and then Gandalf drags himself back into the story to shout “Hey, idiots, goblins are attacking.”
I guess they were still sore about the Misty Mountain incident? Maybe? That could be it. Anyway, everyone fights the goblins, including Beorn the bear-dude and the eagles, and some of the dwarves don’t make it, but everyone learns the true meaning of friendship and calls it a day.
Not sure that would play well in a movie. “Hooray! We beat the dragon! And by we I mean that Bard guy we met about fifteen minutes ago, not any of the protagonists we’ve been following since the beginning. Oh no! The goblins are back!” It’d be like if at the end of Ghostbusters, once Gozer’s been defeated, the ghost from the library comes back and they have to take her down as well. A weird little bonus climax that would just seem extraneous. So, instead, they gave Thorin a nemesis in Azog the Defiler. He hunts Thorin throughout the trilogy, and ends up running Sauron’s orc army, which I assume is going to be who the other four armies need to team up and fight to learn that friendship is the real Arkenstone. Which is good. Make the Battle of Five Armies something the whole story has clearly been building to. Personify the enemy. Give us a nemesis that needs defeating instead of just yet another endless wave of orcs.
Because seriously, the Lord of the Rings movies are bad for Infinite Respawn. Individual orcs are easy to kill. Legolas, Tauriel, Fili, Kili, Dwalin, even Bombur, they can all tear through individual orcs like tissue paper and look awesome doing it. But they never run out. There are always more, and if you don’t give us one particular badass leader orc, it just gets old. The Chitauri needed Loki, and the orcs need Azog.
Plus he’s played by Arrow’s Manu Bennett, so that endears him to me a little.
I have seen two stage adaptations of the Hobbit, both of which kept the kid-friendly tone and didn’t add anything. They worked fine. But that’s not what I’m looking for from the team that brought me the Lord of the Rings movies. The Hobbit films haven’t been perfect (why spend all that time setting up the pieces for Smaug attacking Laketown if it isn’t happening this movie? You’ll just have to remind us next year. It makes no sense), but I’ve enjoyed them so far. Hope they end well. And maybe less than seven times.
Today’s post comes at a slight delay, as I lost faith in my ability to make a post about a TV show I enjoy entertaining for all. Short version: somebody start watching Person of Interest so I’ll have someone to talk about Person of Interest with, because it’s been brilliant this year.
That said, something else sunk into the back of my brain this week. Something that began stewing when I watched this video by Cracked.com’s Daniel O’Brien. You go ahead and watch it while I wait here and wonder why I thought referring you to a funnier, certainly not LESS handsome Dan was a good idea. Skip to the three-minute mark to catch the relevant questions.
And we’re back. Did you catch it? At the three–okay, I’m sure some of you are saying “I’m not watching the video, just tell us what your point is.” I’d do that. In your place. So the point Mr. O’Brien raises three minutes into this dissection of everything off-putting about Beauty and the Beast is how, precisely, is a 21-year-old who was turned into a beast at age 10 supposed to forge the complicated, messy, life-long challenge that is real love with the first girl his own age he ever meets? Daniel argues that most 21-year-olds aren’t emotionally mature enough to find real love under the best of circumstances, let alone orphans who went through puberty as giant hairy beast-monsters and have somehow forgotten how spoons work.
With this in the back of my head, I began taking a closer look at the messages cartoons are feeding to children, and which ones are good and which are messed up.
Bad lesson: “love is instant and easy”
Man, this one is ingrained deep into fairy tales, and I have begun to suspect it is damaging.
So we have the above example of Beauty and the Beast. Let’s throw in The Little Mermaid. Ariel sees Prince Eric, and swiftly falls in love with him. Eric, too, is instantly infatuated with the sound of Ariel’s singing. This is the sum total of their relationship before Ariel saves him from drowning, and a fairly accurate description of their relationship afterwards, as they have still not had what anyone would call a conversation. But it’s still enough for Ariel to decide she’s in love, and that this love is worth defying her father and making a Faustian deal with Ursula in order to abandon the only world she’s ever known to be with Eric. And for this, she sacrifices her voice so that she can trade her tail for legs. The catch? She has but three days to make Eric fall in love with her, and seal that love with a kiss, or she’ll lose her voice and soul to Ursula forever.
As Mr. O’Brien asked about the curse from Beauty and the Beast… what the fuck?
First off. I think, Little Mermaid, we’re putting a little too much emphasis on this kiss. I’m not trying to dump on the first kiss, I’m sure it’s usually great, but despite what Little Mermaid and Back to the Future are telling us, I’m not certain the first kiss is really the magic door to true love. If Eric was about to kiss Ariel because he may well love her, I don’t see how Ursula’s eels blocking that kiss attempt is going to magically undo those feelings. Couldn’t he have tried a second time? At the eel-proof castle? You could argue the moment has passed, but I’m pretty sure a young prince who’s been told he has to get married this week or else could get past one moment being ruined. Second, I’m pretty sure I could get a kiss at this year’s New Year’s Eve party, and I promise you nobody there is in love with me, or would be post-kiss.
And that thing about the prince needing to get married? That’s important. Because that’s the world fairy tales grew out of, where marriage wasn’t always (possibly even not often) about love and courtship. No, this is the world of traditional marriage: an exchange of property between parents of strangers. That’s the world that comes up with the narrative convention of true love at first sight, a world where marriage is a necessity to continue the family line and get dowries for all these maidens you have lying around, and love is just an optional extra. Like seat warmers in a car. Nice to have, but not essential.
Moving past that issue… Who the hell can fall in love, real love, in three damned days? Building that sort of a complex connection with another person is hard enough without some half-octopus sea witch playing beat the clock! But do you know who thinks that is possible? People who’ve never been in love. Like the kids watching Disney movies. Like me at age 15. When I was 15, and decided it might be time to stop liking girls in the abstract and start trying to like one directly, all I had at my disposal was a pop-culture upbringing that said 1) love at first sight is a real thing and; 2) wacky schemes are a great way to win a girl’s heart. What I needed was to be told the difference between infatuation and love, and that wacky schemes are goddamn stupid just talk to girls like they’re people you moron. But that doesn’t make for a good episode of Perfect Strangers, so it did not occur to me.
Sure, yes, a few years later “love at first sight,” which I now consider to be a particularly aggressive form of rapid-onset infatuation, did blossom into a real relationship, but it also turned into a painful life lesson about how what a person wants from the rest of their life can change drastically between the ages of 18 and 25, so maybe those aren’t the ages to decide who you want to spend the rest of your life with. Hey, maybe you’re right, and the person you love at 19 will be the person you love the rest of your life. That kind of love runs strong in my family. But there’s no harm in waiting a few years to see if what you thought was love turns out to be infatuation mixed with a cocktail of teenage hormones, which is a recipe for all kinds of stupid.
Sadly, “infatuation is great, but love is incredibly complicated” doesn’t make for a satisfying third act to a romantic comedy.
Better lesson: “Work hard, try your best, and you can accomplish… some things”
And since “Love and infatuation are about as similar as playing a real guitar and playing Rock Band on medium difficulty” makes for a shit romantic comedy, I don’t really have a kids’ movie with that lesson in mind, so here’s how Monsters University, the less-great prequel to Monsters Inc., taught something incredibly valuable.
Monsters University is about how the best-friend duo we met in Monsters Inc. came to be friends in the first place. Both Mike Wazowski and James “Sully” Sullivan are each studying to be scarers (I’m not explaining what that is. Monsters Inc. came out 12 years ago, if you haven’t seen it I have no sympathy). For Sully, it’s just following the family legacy, and leaning on the fact that he’s a giant beast-monster with a naturally terrifying roar. For Mike, on the other hand, working the scare floor is a lifelong dream, one people keep saying is impossible because, as he is small, round, and 80% eyeball, he isn’t scary. But Mike works and studies hard, learns every technique, every scrap of scare theory, everything there is to know about scaring, and in the end…
None of it works. Because he isn’t scary.
But what he does manage to do is combine his knowledge with Sully’s natural ability and coach his scarier friend into pulling off a scare the likes of which no one had seen before. And so they became the record-setting scare team we met in the first movie.
And that’s the lesson. There are some things in life that you can’t achieve, no matter how hard you work or how badly you want them… but it doesn’t mean you can’t still do great things. Just… maybe have a backup in mind. That’s an incredibly valuable thing to teach a child. Maybe you can’t be an astronaut because you get motion sickness super easily, but the other people who work at NASA are pretty cool too.
Bad lesson: CONFORM, YOU SON OF A BITCH
Breaking away from theatrical releases now. Every now and then, you say something you wish you hadn’t. Something like “Yes, Chris Munroe, I will watch the Smurfs with you so that we can live-tweet our disgust.” Or even “Hey, did you know that they did two Smurf holiday specials on DVD?”
And so did we come to watch The Legend of Smurfy Hollow and Smurfs: a Christmas Carol. And while we liked the fact that they abandoned the awkward CG animation and made specials that actually looked like old Smurfs episodes, there was something… unsettling about the latter special.
Grouchy Smurf wants to bail on Christmas this year. Every year, he asks for a hang glider, but every year Papa Smurf (the only person handing out gifts, apparently) just gives everyone a hat. Grouchy’s had enough, and refuses to light the star at the top of the tree like he usually does. So, Papa Smurf does the only thing he can…
He drugs Grouchy.
Specifically, he gives him a potion that makes him see visions of Christmas past, present and future: his former love for Christmas; the fact that Papa Smurf spends all year custom-making Smurf hats for the specific needs of each Smurf (just not well enough that they last more than a year), which is a little insane but there’s no time to go into it; and a vision of the next day, in which Grouchy Smurf skipping Christmas gets literally every Smurf killed by Gargamel.
Which frankly has more to do with getting Clumsy to light the star instead, which they should have known was the worst idea in recorded Smurf history, but the point, the point is that Grouchy Smurf just wanted to be left alone, and in response the other Smurfs roofied him and brainwashed him into loving Christmas again. That, frankly, is fucked up.
Also, come on. He asked for a hang glider and you gave him a hat that can function as a crude para-sail. You have a problem, Papa Smurf. Stop making hats and get help.
Better lesson: everyone leaves, nothing can stop this.
I think we can all agree that Toy Story 3 was pretty awesome, right? It provided a fitting end for Andy’s toys, gave Michael Keaton the best character he’s played in years (Ken), and only raised a few questions about why, if the toys must stay inanimate around humans, they think they actively contribute to their owners’ games.
And at the center of it all? The simple lesson, that no matter how much you love someone, eventually you will lose them. And that’s okay, even if it doesn’t feel that way for a while. Losing people hurts, it hurts a great deal, but it is inevitable, and all you can do is give yourself permission to move on.
Maybe if that had been clearer in my earliest 20s I wouldn’t have kept taking it so personally.
Join us next time when our topic will be… something where I don’t require Daniel O’Brien to make it entertaining.
Well that sentence didn’t help with anything. Off to a brilliant start here. I’ll elaborate. Warner Brothers has announced that yes, indeed, at long last, Diana of Themyscria, better known as Wonder Woman, First Lady of DC Comics, will be making her big-screen debut… as the second female lead in a movie about Superman and Batman.
I kid, Warner Brothers. I kid because until she has her own movie you’re not trying hard enough.
Furthermore, she’ll be played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress I know almost nothing about.
She’s mostly known for the Fast and the Furious franchise, but since I’ve only seen approximately 0.6 Fasts and Furiouses I can’t comment on her resume. Some people out there are already complaining based on her physicality. Some wonder if she’s tall enough. Apparently she’s 1.75 metres, or 5’9″ tall, which makes her three inches taller than this guy:
Some complain she’s too slender, that Wonder Woman should be more muscular. Well. There’s nothing to be done about that. It’s not like actors have ever had to bulk up for a role ever. It’s not like anyone who had just finished playing an emaciated stick figure immediately went on to play the goddamn Batman.
So no, I am not going to dump on Ms. Gadot. Frankly, I like the fact that she’s not American: Wonder Woman should seem a little foreign. Mediterranean would have been the preference, but Israeli is fine. I’m going to offer her the same courtesy I gave Ben Affleck and wait to actually see the movie before I judge.
Instead, let me explain why I care. Why I want to see a great Wonder Woman in the movies. Aside from the obvious answer suggested by the fact that I started this article while wearing my Green Lantern robe and watching the Flash make his debut on Arrow while statues of Wonder Woman and Zatanna gaze down from my nerd reliquary.
Wonder Woman is a warrior princess on a quest for peace. Her love for humanity is stronger than death itself, but she maintains a fierce opposition to the cruel and the merciless. She doesn’t start the fight, but always finishes it. And now, here’s some of my favourite stories about Wonder Woman.
The Greg Rucka years
Before Greg Rucka took over Wonder Woman, I hadn’t been reading her book for years. John Byrne had written and drawn it for a few years, and when he left, there was such a sudden drop in quality I had to leave. Then Greg Rucka took over, and it became a whole new thing.
Rucka brought a new spin to the idea of Diana being her people’s ambassador to Man’s World, by emphasizing the “ambassador” part. She got an embassy, and a staff. Rucka’s Wonder Woman spent as much time attending state dinners and promoting charities she believed in as she did battling villains: at one point her publicist, Mr. Garibaldi, explained to the new guy (and our POV character for life at the embassy) that “This charity is important to her. She’s not taking calls from the Justice League tonight, she’s certainly not taking calls from the media.”
In the collection Eyes of the Gorgon, Garibaldi’s children were turned to stone by Medusa. Diana took her on, blinding herself with snake venom to avoid Medusa’s gaze. She stayed blind for several issues, and showed why, in the right hands, her compassion is every bit as strong as her sword arm: granted a favour for winning a victory for Olympus, she rejects the offer to restore her vision and asks that the Garibaldi children be restored instead (Athena threw in the restored vision for free, she was cool like that).
He also gave Diana her own Lex Luthor in genius industrialist Veronica Cale, who explained herself with “I built myself up from nothing to corporate titan. If there is a Wonder Woman in the world, it’s ME.” Cale later went on to be the president of Oolong Island, a former Chinese facility turned independent nation populated exclusively with mad scientists.
Rucka courted controversy in the Infinite Crisis tie-in Sacrifice, which would take a whole second article to explain. He made it clear: Wonder Woman doesn’t want to kill anyone…
Doesn’t mean she won’t.
Lasting from issue 195-226 (of Vol. 2) it’s a sadly short run that I wish were easier to find in trade paperback.
Wonder Woman and Batman… good idea?
In Joe Kelley’s run on JLA, Wonder Woman and Batman ended up sharing an unexpected and passionate kiss right before launching a suicide mission (they died, but got better) that led to an awkward flirtation. After a few months of ducking around the cape-wearing elephant in the room, Wonder Woman uses a VR machine at their headquarters to try and figure out what might happen if she and Batman started a relationship. The machine provided many alternatives: in one possibility, Diana helped Bruce let go of his anger and broodishness, and together they made Gotham a utopia. In another, they dragged each other down the opposite path, and became thrill-killing vigilantes. And in one possible future, she arrived too late to save Batman from being horribly killed by the Joker. At which point this happened.
At the issue’s end, they decided they probably shouldn’t be together. Now, as to contemporary Batman’s thoughts on Wonder Woman and Superman being a couple…
Batman is scared of Wonder Woman
Batman was not happy to learn Superman and Wonder Woman had been getting romantic recently, but not out of jealousy (Bruce Wayne’s dance card has been as full as he can manage lately, thanks).
A recurring story point is the idea that Batman has built contingency plans to take down each member of the Justice League if they go bad. It was first introduced in the Tower of Babel arc, in which Ra’s al Ghul steals his plans, which was adapted into the animated DVD “Doom.”
New 52 Batman also has contingency plans for the Justice League, which came to light when his Kryptonite was stolen from the Batcave.
In explaining why he had Kryptonite in the first place, Batman shows Superman his collection of secret plans/weapons, including the contingency plan he developed to bring himself down if necessary. But the twist, and the reason why Batman was nervous about a Clark/Diana relationship? It’s in the box he made for Wonder Woman.
Batman always wins because Batman always has a plan. People just assume Batman can take Superman in a fight because Batman knows how to exploit every weakness Superman has. But Wonder Woman has no weakness. And thus even Batman’s a little afraid of her.
And now a word on recent Wonder Woman stories. The word is “great.”
Current writer Brian Azzarello has been focusing on Wonder Woman’s screwed up family, otherwise known as the Greek gods. When a pregnant woman named Zola turns to Diana for help, Diana learns that she’s being targeted by a jealous Hera, queen of the gods, for unbeknownst to Zola her baby’s father is Zeus. Zeus himself has gone missing, and a power struggle breaks out amongst the gods, but a prophecy states that a child of Zeus will kill the king and conquer Olympus, meaning that everyone out to steal the throne is also out to kill Zola’s baby, just in case.
This run has been filled with great visual reinterpretations of the gods, the kind of soap opera theatrics that the Greek myths basically invented, and a great view of the differing aspects that make Wonder Woman a great character. Azzarello shows her compassion, her love for all mankind, her dedication to protect the innocent, her disdain for war. But he also reminds us to never, ever mistake that compassion for weakness. Because if you make her, she will drop you like third period French.
And that’s what I hope to see in the movies. A woman of strength, both physically and strength of character; a woman of peace who is unafraid of combat. A champion of the powerless capable of inspiring awe in the powerful.
Okay. It’s come to this. A week and change later, I find I still have some opinions regarding the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who and some of the discussion that’s come out of it. Now, I had thought I could limit those opinions to “Day of the Doctor is so good, I want to watch it many more times,” but certain criticisms have popped up here and there and, well, here we are. With a blog post about Day of the Doctor.
Which will be filled with spoilers. Seriously. Filled. This is not a conversation I can have without spoiling the episode, so if you haven’t seen it, come back Wednesday when I’m talking about something else.
No, really. Stop now. Spoilers coming soon. For the 50th anniversary and a handful of things that lead up to it.
Okay. Those of you who have seen Day of the Doctor… allons-y.
The Moffat question
Let me begin by saying that I understand that there are people in the world, some of whom I like and respect, who aren’t crazy about Stephen Moffat. It’s a more controversial issue than I would have expected four years ago when I heard he was taking over. There are those who think he’s better at individual episodes than season arcs.
I admit: his season arcs tend to rely on the same gimmick. Open with something big an inexplicable (the crack, the impossible astronaut, souffle girl), spend the middle of the season wondering how this could be, then end by revealing the puzzle piece that makes it all make sense, and reveals all the bread crumbs along the way. Some people don’t dig this. And to those people, all I can say is that I accept this, I just don’t agree. I mean, his predecessor, Russell T. Davies, also had basically one trick: say “bad wolf” or “Torchwood” or somesuch once per episode then explain why in the two-part finale, more often than not while drowning people in Daleks.
That’s going to be an important point later.
In the end, Stephen Moffat has written nearly all of my favourite episodes, before and after taking over the series. And now that he’s in charge that happens way more often. For me, each season since 2005 has improved on the one before it, and if you don’t agree… I’m sorry you’re not enjoying the show as much as me. There’s really nothing else I can say. Our opinions vary and I’m not going to try to bludgeon you into changing yours. What I’m doing later in this blog is, instead, addressing some of the flaws in specific arguments I’ve been seeing. But first, a bit more background.
The companion issue
Another frequent criticism that turns up about Doctor Who nowadays is how it handles women. An internet comedienne whose work I enjoy used a clever term for it when she called current companion Clara Oswald “a hottie with a body but no plottie.” She’s certainly easy to look at…
…but doesn’t really have her own story. And yes, in season seven, that’s hard to argue. The nature of Clara’s introductory plotline means that, unfortunately, she doesn’t really get to participate in her own story. That’s a fair cop. Hopefully she’ll have something more extensive next year. But she does fit into a larger companion archetype I’ll be getting to in a minute.
First, though, I’d like to remind everyone of two women Stephen Moffat introduced to the Doctor Who universe: Amy Pond and River Song. Amy Pond’s story is of a woman caught between two lives, two lives that are actively poisonous to each other: a life of running from world to world, experiencing unbelievable wonders and life-threatening terrors with the Doctor; or a simple, human life, home, family, career, and Rory. Yes, fine, these two worlds can be boiled down to the two men in her life if that’s how you’re going to try to spin it, but she is not defined by her men. Rory ultimately becomes part of both worlds, and in any life, Amy is nobody’s accessory. There’s a reason she and Rory are called the Ponds and not the Williamses. And River Song… well. River Song is a key part of a star-crossed love story crossing centuries and galaxies.
The point is, I would argue that Amy and River are just as developed, just as strong, and possess just as much agency as any companion from the Russell Davies era, and probably way more than most companions from the old school.
Because, well, Doctor Who hasn’t always been rigorous about writing its women. You think Clara lacks her own story? Go back to the 80s. Colin Baker years. Check out Peri Brown.
The role of the companion in the old times was phrased best in the episode Terror of the Autons: “someone to pass you your test tubes, and to tell you how brilliant you are.” But that’s the 60s, 70s and 80s for you. These days we’re aware that women are real human people in their own right, and more to the point potential viewers, and we’d like the companions to be more than eye candy running around asking “What’s that, Doctor?” And they are. I put it to you that since the 2005 relaunch, companions have served one important recurring purpose.
The Doctor saves the day. The companions save the Doctor.
And not just from Daleks, Sontarans, or the Silence, although they do that as well from time to time. The companions save the Doctor from himself. From what he might become when left to his own devices. Look at this bonus scene, in which Amy learns about past companions. “I can’t see it anymore,” he says. On his own, the universe is just stuff with bits in. With someone, it’s once again a place of wonder. And there are other moments, from Russell Davies onwards:
Rose Tyler, Dalek: “[The Dalek]’s not the one pointing a gun at me… And what are you turning into?”
Donna Noble, Runaway Bride: “I think sometimes you need somebody to stop you.”
Amy Pond, A Town Called Mercy: “This is what happens when you travel alone for too long!”
Rose Tyler saved the Doctor from his guilt and fury over the Time War, helped him grow from the cynical, irritable, traumatized survivor played by Christopher Eccleston to the charming, best-friend-to-all galactic hero that was David Tennant. Martha Jones helped get him past the trauma of losing Rose (Martha was just 10’s rebound girl, and you’re going to say Amy is less dynamic? Get off my lawn). Donna Noble reminded him that even if he can’t save everybody, there is still value in saving somebody. Amy kept him going when the weight of years and his many failures threatened to pull him down (and kept him from killing a star whale). And Clara… Clara pulled him out of a self-imposed exile brought on by one heartbreak too many, and then did the impossible to save him from a thousand thousand deaths at the hands of the Great Intelligence. And she still had a trick left to pull, which I’ll discuss as I finally, 1200 words later, get around to the 50th anniversary.
The Time War
So aside from the general discontent some fans have with Moffat and the “women in Who” issue, the point of contention I’ve seen most often is that Day of the Doctor undoes something that’s been a central part of the series since the relaunch (do remember that phrasing, I’m coming back to it), the idea that the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. That in order to save all of time and space from becoming collateral damage in the war between the Daleks and the Time Lords, the Doctor killed both sides, wiping out his own race. In The Day of the Doctor, 13 Doctors join forces to alter that moment, to save the Time Lords from destruction by freezing all of Gallifrey in a single moment, frozen in a 3D oil painting, waiting for the Doctor to find a way to restore it.
People then complained that this “erased” a key portion of the series. This article claims that an important element of Doctor Who is grief, and that under Stephen Moffat that has been lost.
And I’m calling bullshit on all of that. All of it.
To explain, I’ll divide the history of Doctor Who into four periods: The Old School or the original series (I’m not versed enough in its history to be able to divide it by showrunner, and that’s not important to my argument); The Wastelands, where Doctor Who was reduced to Big Finish audio dramas and one unfortunate American TV movie; the Davies Era; and the Moffat era. The article claims that Moffat doesn’t really kill as many people as Davies did, and that even when he does, the death gets undone a few episodes later at most. Amy’s parents, Rory, Strax, Jenny, Clara, none of them stay dead.
But I contest the assertion that because none of the main characters die for very long there’s no grief in the Moffat episodes. Losing Amy still rips the Doctor in half. Madame de Pompadour dies young, and dies waiting for her Doctor to return. Losing Rory hurts Amy enough that erasing him from history can’t heal the wound. Vincent Van Gogh still takes his own life. Guest stars still die by the dozen. And the Doctor spends his entire relationship with River knowing and dreading how it ends.
But beyond that is the idea that grief is central to Doctor Who. I disagree. I disagree completely and wholeheartedly. It’s been a big part of his character for the past eight years, sure, but remind me… what anniversary did we just hit? Was it eight? Or was it FIFTY.
Being the last of the Time Lords, having had to kill his own people, is a recent invention. It’s something Russell Davies added. It’s not present in the Old School. There’s no trace of it in the Wastelands. There are eight Doctors and 42 years of stories in which Gallifrey and the Time Lords not only aren’t dead, but are a huge part of the mythos. And yet people like the author of that article say that in opening the door to their return, Stephen Moffat has ruined something vital to the series, and I simply cannot agree with that. But for now, let’s look at it narratively.
What makes this such a major story point is the tragic necessity of the Doctor’s choice. The Doctor was forced to kill his own people because it was the only way to end the Time War and the horrors it unleashed, like the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres, and all of the forbidden weapons the Time Lords unleashed in a vain attempt to stop the Daleks. It had to end.
The Time War had to end. Not the Time Lords. Yes, many of the Time Lords had been twisted into something terrible by the horrors of the war, but not all of them. Not the over two billion children. And what makes it worse? At least, in that moment, he thought he was also putting an end to the Daleks. But he didn’t. He really, really didn’t.
See, people also complain about how easily they broke the “time lock” that kept anyone from travelling in or out of the final years of the war. But Moffat wasn’t exactly the first to do that, was he? The time lock has been broken over and over and over again, mostly by the Daleks. One Dalek escaped the Time War in Dalek, only to self-destruct. But the Dalek emperor also escaped the war and rebuilt an entire army of Daleks, only to be wiped out by Bad Wolf Rose. But the Cult of Skaro had also escaped, with an army of Daleks. Their army was sucked into the void between universes and most of the cult was wiped out in a slave revolt, but Dalek Caan escaped, punched through the time lock, and then escaped again with Davros and another Dalek emperor who built yet another Dalek army. Yes, the Doctor clone and Donna wiped them out as well, but one ship survived, found the last progenitor device, and rebuilt the Dalek empire for realsies. And that’s not even mentioning the Master and Rassilon in Out of Time.
So you’re telling me that the Daleks can do all of that, escape their own genocide no less than four times, but the Doctor finding a way to save his own people is ruining something?
Doctor Who is not about grief. Doctor Who is about wonder. It’s about intellect, romance, and hope, children, hope triumphing over brute force and cynicism. On the worst day of his life, the Doctor burned his own world to end a war and wipe out the Daleks, and the Daleks lived. If there was a way, any way, to end the Time War without killing his own people, why shouldn’t he take it?
And that’s what The Moment, the doomsday machine so powerful it became sentient and grew a conscience, tried to offer him. Another way. It has the power to burn a galaxy, but doesn’t want to, so instead it used its power to break the rules of time and open a hole out of the time lock, allowing three incarnations of the Doctor to come together, allowing the War Doctor to see what he would become in the wake of his horrible choice.
And allowing Clara Oswald to remind all of them of who the Doctor is. Of the promise he made in naming himself the Doctor: neither cruel nor cowardly, never give up, never give in.
Clara saves the Doctor, so that the Doctor can save Gallifrey, by doing what the Doctor does: something impossible. And something wonderful.
That doesn’t ruin the series. That embraces it. And nothing was changed or erased: the older incarnations forget, and the weight of the horrible decision is left in place, because, as they ask, how many worlds did he save out of that guilt? They simply give him a chance to save his own people. They undo something from the Davies era, an era I remind you represents 10% of Who history, and in the process, they open up the door for the return of a huge portion of the mythos that the Davies era cut out. Romana, his Time Lord companion from the 70s; Time Lord enemies the Master, the Rani, and Rassilon; and dare I hope? Dare I hope against all hope? He may yet fulfill that ancient promise he made to his granddaughter.
I can watch Sons of Anarchy if I want to watch a series of bad things happen to people because of their mistakes. This is Doctor Who. This is a series where anything can happen if you’re clever enough, if you dare to hope enough. Where every impossible choice has a better option if you’re willing to find it.
And if that ruins the show for you? I’m sorry, but we have not been watching the same show. And I think I prefer mine.