Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Curious Case of Edward Nigma

The Riddler hates two things - idiots, and dust on his suit.
As I hinted, this week, I will be talking about my favorite Batman villain - the Riddler.  Why the Riddler, instead of more famous villains like the Joker or Two-Face?  Well, for starters, I have gotten sort of bored of the Joker recently, due to his overexposure in media and culture.  Yes, the Joker is the perfect Batman villain, and maybe even the perfect villain, but there are just so many times you can see him that you can get bored of perfection.  I still think the Joker is the best Batman villain, but my favorite continues to be the Riddler.  As with Two-Face, I must admit that Harvey Dent is indeed the most tragic of Batman villains, but he is rather one note to me.   Harvey's internal dilemmas are always handled well, but considering the half dozen times his face has been fixed and then scarred again, it seems to me like writers don't know what to do with him.

So, if not the two biggest Batman villains, why the Riddler as opposed to other secondary Batman villains?  Well, to me, all great Batman villains test something in Batman.  Joker tests Batman's morality and sanity.  Two-Face tests Batman's guilt and conscience.  Ra's al Ghul tests Batman's dedication to his mission.  Bane tested Batman physically.  Even the Scarecrow tests Batman's phobias and the control of his fears.  The Riddler, however, is one of the few villains that Batman faces that truly tests Batman's intellect, and puts one of Batman's many titles, "the World's Greatest Detective," to the test.  He really is a niche villain.  And the fact that the Riddler focuses on brains over brawn, and is one of the few villains who is willing to admit he is bested without resorting to a fist fight, and that difference to every other villain, makes the Riddler just such a distinct and charming villain.  Like the Penguin, he's a gentleman in a villain role.

Ladies, please contain your orgasms.
Another reason I like him is because of his almost lovable despicableness.  He may be a gentleman, but GOD DAMN does he love being a villain, and this is infinitely more enjoyable to me than a tragic villain (sorry, Harvey).  A villain who has fun while he's being horrible has a certain charm to him, and the Riddler has this in spades.  For example, in the recent blockbuster video game Batman: Arkham City, Batman must solve the Riddler's challenges unless the police officers that the Riddler captured would face fatal consequences.  And, completely true to character, the Riddler cheats and has no remorse if Batman fails.  In fact, he responds gleefully to it.  It means that he WON, dammit, and that's all that matters to him.

But the problem that the Riddler has is that, in most media and even in the comics, he is presented as a doofus or just plain annoying and childish.  It's not a problem that he is arrogant and obsessed with getting attention; that is the flaw of his character that makes him easily defeated by Batman.  Like all classic villains, the Riddler often underestimates his foe, and that leads to his downfall.  (Another villain with this problem is Dr. Doom, who I will reference later.)  But this arrogance and desire for attention is exaggerated in the Riddler to almost childish degrees, leading to him acting like a buffoon.  Take a look at his trophy from Arkham City.  Does this look like a person who has one of the greatest intellects in the DC Universe?

Like I described, there is no problem with the Riddler having a flaw with his arrogance.  But Dr. Doom has this and still manages to be threatening.  I see the Riddler almost like a mix of Jigsaw from Saw films and a college professor.  He is menacing and completely sociopathic in his pursuit to prove he is smarter than Batman, but he still contains a certain elegance and chivalry in him that he acts like he is  superior to Batman, as if Batman is a neanderthal in comparison to the Riddler's classy ways.  I would also prefer if the Riddler really did seem like the genius that he is.  He should be like the villain in a thriller: always one step in front of the hero until his character flaw (arrogance), creates the opening for the hero to succeed.  

In other words, I want the Riddler to get the respect he deserves and could possess.  I honestly think that the Riddler could be one of the most feared villains in Batman's rogues gallery instead of just a joke character.  Some comics, like Batman: Hush, have hinted at his brilliance, but I think there is a long road for the Riddler to take in order to be up with the Joker or Two-Face.  Of course, he might have to lose the lame Green and Purple suit...would this be better?

  Oh yes...that would do quite nicely.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bane and "Eye on Design"

Before I begin, I would like to offer my condolences to all the families and victims of the Aurora shooting.  I know that probably means nothing, since no one from there will ever read this, but I still wanted to say something.  I will definitely talk more about this event and the media coverage of it, but not until all the facts come in and we have had time to grieve and completely analyze everything.

This is not only a special The Dark Knight Rises post, but also features a new type of post called "Eye on Design," where I analyze the character design of certain characters.  Today, we will be talking about the history and brilliance of the main villain from The Dark Knight Rises, Bane.

Bane is the epitome of a character that should have only been used once, but how that one appearance could have been remembered forever.

Bane had a hard life.  In the corrupt South American nation of Santa Prisca, a young Bane was forced to serve his father's life sentence in prison.  At this time, Bane was just a child.  Yep, the leaders of Santa Prisca made a six year old boy spend his life in prison.  Aren't comic book villains just great?  Yet, young Bane made the "best" of his prison life.  If by "best," you mean hiding a shank in your teddy bear and killing your first man before you even learned to shave.  He also read and worked out, though, if that's any consolation, becoming vastly intelligent and athletic in the process, and he soon became "king" of the inmates.

Seeing the boy's progress, the wardens of the prison began to fear Bane's potential and thus entered him into a scientific test of a new drug called Venom.  All previous applicants had died, and the wardens expected the same result.  But Bane wasn't going down that easily.  In a showing of almost godlike resolve, Bane hung on, and the Venom made him even stronger than before, creating the muscular abomination seen above.  With his newfound power, Bane escaped the prison and gave himself a new goal: to destroy Batman.  Throughout his life in prison, Bane heard countless stories and rumors of the almost mythical figure of the Caped Crusader.  Bane is convinced that Batman is the mythical bat creature that has haunted his dreams as a boy and is determined to destroy the Dark Knight at any cost.

But instead of simply charging at Batman like any other villain would do, Bane did something that I think is rather novel for a comic book villain: he waits, and he plans.  First, Bane destroys the walls of Arkham Asylum, where most of Batman's rogues gallery is held.  Then, Bane watches as, night after night, week after week, month after month, Batman struggles to recapture all of his foes and wears himself out in the struggle for order and peace.  It is during this time that Bane, through the simple tactic of observation, determines Batman's identity.  Finally, months later, Bane does the unthinkable.  He attacks an exhausted Bruce Wayne IN WAYNE MANOR, beats Batman to the brink of death, and then, in possibly the greatest splash page known to comic books, Bane "breaks the bat."
Dozens of Batman fans' minds were blown at this moment.
Batman's back was broken in half.  It was doubtful Bruce wold ever walk again, much less be Batman. And the comic world was shocked.

But that's not the end of the story.  Bane soon takes over Gotham city, but, as he would soon find out, he wasn't done with Batman just yet.  See, you could break the Bat, but you're still leaving him alive.  And just breaking him just makes Batman angry.  That's right: Bruce Wayne decided to recover from his injury and once again take the mantle of the Bat, showing again the amazing resolve the Dark Knight is known for.  But, in the time it takes to recover from a BROKEN BACK, Bruce recruits fellow vigilante Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, to take up the mantle of the Bat.  Azrael's backstory is kind of lame, including a secret order and him possibly being a clone or test tube baby, and if that interests you, you just read the Wikipedia.  Valley's Batman costume will be the subject of my "Eye on Design" section of this post, so we'll get to him in a bit.  For now, let's just finish up the story.

Bane is eventually defeated by Valley, who uses a knife to cut Bane's Venom steam.  See, while Venom gives Bane amazing strength, it also is incredibly addictive.  Imagine heroin times...say, A MILLION.  Immediate withdraw kind of stuff.  A weakened Bane is then severely beaten by Valley and sent packing.

And you know what?  That should have been then end of it.  Bane had his glorious moment, and his defeat should have ended his campaign.  He did what he set out to do, and we should have seen him decide to move on after his defeat.  It would have shown how different he was from other villains.  He succeeded in his task, but only failed in the aftermath.  He should have just moved on with his life.  But, of course, Bane was too much of a money-maker to just let go.  Ever since his premier story arc, Bane has been featured in multiple story lines.  Some good, some great (such as his time on Gail Simone's Secret Six), and some just plain stupid (such as when he thinks he is Bruce Wayne's half-brother and fights crime with Batman for a while).  He's been on and off the Venom wagon dozens of times.  It really just seems like nobody knows what to do with Bane after his shining moment.  Simone's run on Sinister Six was definitely the best, and I would highly suggest taking a look.  Not only do we see a sympathetic side to him as he tries to act as a father figure to his fellow teammate, but he's also hilarious at times, if in a sad, kind of pathetic sort of way.

Prison life doesn't teach you how to romance ladies,  apparently.
Not only does he respect Batman, he has no idea how to handle children.  A man after my heart.
I know The Dark Knight Rises' Bane is similar to Bane in name only, but he's still an amazing character, and I find it hard to understand why anybody would hate him, as I've seen with other comic readers.  Is he misused?  Sure.  Has he gone on longer than he should have?  Of course.  But, in that one moment, Bane made every Batman reader hold their breath.

But now, for an "Eye for Design."  As I said, Jean-Paul Valley took over for Bruce Wayne when Bruce was recovering from his...incident.  And Valley adopted a more sleek, more technologically advanced suit.  As seen here.

What is it with comic book characters and the "Come at me, Bro!" pose?
So, what works here?  Well, for me, I like the following
  • The mask: For me, when it comes to masks, I think the simpler and less detail, the better.  With full masks like this and on Marvel's Deadpool, the mask mainly covers the mouth, and leaves more room for showing emotion through other means, especially the eyes.  Instead of gritted teeth, a frown, or a smile, full mask characters have to have more expressive brows and shading to properly express their emotions.  It creates some interesting art and some interesting expressions.
  • The Gloves: These just have a great, visceral look to them.  These things are not only full of tech, but they can climb walls due to the sharp fingers and can most likely punch through fucking concrete if they can.  They look like they have POWER in them, which I like.
  • The Cape: I can't really pinpoint what I like about it.  I like arching points to them, and the jagged edges, I guess.  It just really looks great in art and gives him a very jagged and angular look, which really makes him look...well, like a bat.
But what doesn't work?  Well...everything else.  I mean, GODDAMN, this suit is a fucking mess.  First of all, the color scheme is completely ridiculous.  Gold, Red, and Blue?  This isn't what the "terror of the night" is supposed to look like.  He looks like he should be at a Soccer Game rooting FC Barcelona, not striking fear into the hearts of men.  Also, we appear to be taking a page from the Rob Liefeld school of character design with huge shoulder pads and random leg belts that have no practical meaning.  Also, what's with the belt with no buckle?  And the Megaman collar he's sporting here?  Why does he have armor all over his shoulders and chest, but his legs only have spandex?  It looks like he is half dressed or just forgot the rest of his costume somewhere.  What are those prongs sticking out of his legs?  Do they have any point?  Did the designer just look at Batman, see the prongs on his wrist (where, you know, they would actually have some functionality) and say "Oh shit, I should probably put those on Jean-Paul somewhere."  I mean, this whole thing just doesn't work and screams "90's."  It's opulent and impractical.

Check back next week as I go into the plight of my favorite Batman villain.  Who?  I won't tell until then.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Daniel Tosh, the "Limits" of Humor, and the Concept of Rape

Before I begin, I would like you to read this Facebook post from internet phenomenon and musical genius Brent "brentalfloss" Black, as it will provide the structure of my post.  Also linked is the blog post, which has created the controversy surrounding Daniel Tosh.

In response to the recently viral Tosh controversy...A lot of people have been circulating a blog post about Daniel Tosh being a big jerk and making jokes about rape. A lot of people will share the post with the phrase "Rape is NEVER funny."

As a smalltime comedian and a bigtime fan of comedy, that phrase irks me a little. See, people deal with things in different ways. Comedy is sometimes ironic and always subjective. Sometimes comedy is about subversion, e.g. "I'm going to do this thing that no one is ever supposed to do in public!"

I have multiple friends who are rape victims. I myself was sexually abused when I was younger (yes really). So you don't have to tell me that rape is horrible and should never happen. Duhhhhh.

But at the same time, an attitude of "____ IS NEVER FUNNY" is kind of like wanting to rid the world of all guns: once you do that, the one dude with a gun has tremendous, disproportionate power. Same deal with rape jokes... or racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes for that matter. If your kindergarten teacher says "We don't talk about potty activities at lunch," there's gonna be a kid who really wants to yell out "POOOOOOOOP!"

You can't just decree that something isn't funny.
It doesn't work that way. However, here's what you can do if a comedian has a joke that really offends you:
*Don't laugh.
*Groan loudly.
*Yell "boo."
*Leave the venue.
*Don't see or support that comedian again.

Yes, comedy is subjective, but it's also democratic. If a comic always gets booed when she says a certain joke, she probably won't keep it in her act unless she actually WANTS to get booed there. If people stop coming to her shows because of her humor, she will likely change her act.

Some people will say that you have to squash certain kinds of humor because they contribute to a "rape culture." That is a noble, well-intentioned idea, but if you want to change our humor culture, you can't do it from the top down. You have to just BE the change you want to see in society.

Ultimately, when you decide that any and all humorous insight on a certain subject is off-limits, you're just feeding the trolls.

Just my two cents. Please don't rape me.

Link to the infamous blog post:

Now, I must admit, I am indeed a fan of Mr. Tosh's stand up act.  His humor is cruel and pitch black and full of deadpan and ironic racism and misogyny.  And you know what?  That's funny to me.  As a person who feels that modern society and the ever crushing weight of political correctness is creating an even greater social barrier between different people (maybe a post for another time; depending on how this post goes), Mr. Tosh's willingness to just say whatever the hell he goddamn pleases makes me laugh.  I must admit I'm not a fan of his show Tosh.0, but I do applaud his success.  He found a niche audience and rakes in the benefits.  He should not be hated for just finding a formula that works.  

But, I must also admit that Mr. Tosh's humor can of course rub people the wrong way.  Some people (including the blogger who made the post) who are unfamiliar with Mr. Tosh's act, might not be ready for his deadpan and will most likely take his antics seriously or not find the same humor as others might.  Sometimes, what's funny for some people is not funny for others.  And that becomes the crux of this post and the main point of Mr. Black's quote above.  Humor is SUBJECTIVE.  What one finds funny can be horrifying for another.

And, when one thinks about it, even tragedy and a proper response to a tragedy can be subjective.  Let me explain.  My grandfather was working in a hospital on the day of the September 11th attacks.  When asked about this day, he cannot reminisce about it without coming to tears.  This is a moment that has forever imprinted itself in his mind, and he will always treat it as a somber occasion.  And that will be his reaction to it, and that is perfectly natural and acceptable.  But if someone made a joke about those attacks, or made a .gif of Aladdin riding his flying carpet into the Twin Towers, would I freak out and throw a fit, chastising them and reminding them of the countless people who died that day?  Of course not.  Some people deal with tragedy through humor.  Sometimes, just being able to laugh at something can take the overwhelming burden of sadness off.  Maybe seeing Aladdin take a magic carpet jihad just takes their mind off of the true horror of that day, and I think it's wrong to say that it is wrong to let them deal with tragedy as they wish.

So, the question I guess I am asking here is: why should we put off anything to humor or discussion?  Why can't some of us crack a joke about the September 11th attacks, or even the Holocaust?  Yes, these were tragic, horrific events, but if we all just moped in sadness over them, we would never move on from them.  I think we should let people treat tragedy as they wish.  If some would like to keep a moment somber and respectful, then I respect that.  If they snicker about how Hitler's gas bill was simply reich-diculous...well, I'll probably snicker at it too.  Sometimes, comedy just eases the pain of the tragedies and atrocities that surround us.  

But then we come to the issue of rape, which is much more complicated.  Some, including the Reviews Editor of, Jim Sterling, have claimed that rape can be considered worse than murder, since rape always has an unwilling victim that is forced to face lifelong psychological damage, while murder can be justified and even morally correct.  (Think every action movie you've ever seen.)  And I agree with this 100%.  But, as horrible and horrific as rape is, I do not think we can truly advance as a society if we refuse to talk about it and every mention of it in any medium is met with immediate revulsion and scorn.  Yes, rape is a horrific event, but does that mean I can't laugh at a line from Bo Burnham's "Ironic" song, where he sings "I always used to cry when I laughed, but then I was raped by a clown"? Yes, I realize that rape is wrong, but doesn't the absurdity of this statement just seem too funny to pass a laugh at, simply because of one word?  Granted, one word with a large weight behind it, but it's still a word.

I think Mr. Black makes the point very clear.  You can't just limit what a person wants to talk about, or crack jokes about.  You can simply walk away, or boo a comedian so he changes his act, or just simply not support the comedian and his behavior.  But to jump down his throat and declare that all jokes relating to a certain subject matter are "not funny" is just creating another pointless social taboo and creating an even bigger wall of political correctness, and that just makes everything even more complicated, especially when a new comedian comes around and wants to tear up those taboos.  God help the next comedian who makes a rape joke.

All in all, I would say life is tragic.  Horrible things happen to good people and a lot of times, bad people get away with their evil ways.  But if we simply mulled and brooded over everything bad that happens to us, we probably wouldn't last long as a species.  We need to laugh.  We need to laugh at things that are taboo.  We need to allow people to crack jokes about the most horrific of things.  And if you get offended, open up a dialogue with friends about why it offended you, and maybe you can create a better understanding.  Don't just fly into a rage.  That just makes people defensive and radical, and that solves nothing.  That's just how we get this proclamations of "X is never funny."  And, really, how someone can think Holocaust jokes are not Hitlerious is beyond me!

FINAL NOTE: As much as I think Tosh was an idiot for the way he responded to the heckler's shout, I find it kind of silly of how people who don't like Tosh's comedy are using this opportunity to try and bring him down and get him fired and sabotage his career.  I mean, Jesus Christ, I get it: you don't find him funny.  But to try and get a guy fired and to go on a personal vendetta against a person you've never met before because YOU don't like his material strikes me as a bit absurd.  It's like people who claim to want Justin Bieber dead.  For Heaven's sake, the kid is an 18 year old pop singer, not a pedophile who clubs baby seals in his free time.  You don't like his music, don't listen to it.  To be honest, it's most likely not for you.  He has a specific audience and it doesn't include you.  And if Mr. Tosh and Mr. Bieber reap the benefits of a specific audience, all the power to them.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Doing It Right: Homosexual Characters

After an one week delay (mostly due to my own laziness and procrastination), we will take one last look at the idea of homosexuality in the artistic medium (or, in the case of this post, video games) with a post called "Doing It Right."  This, of course, will be a series of posts of when a concept or a character correctly uses a trope or perfectly defines all that is involved in the proper characterization of a character with a certain trope.

Let me explain: when creating a character, there are many things you have to worry about.  When concerning the personality of a character, there are three fronts you must face.
  1. What are the traits the character possesses?  Is he/she kind or mean?  Angry or happy?  Gay or straight?  Does he/she put on his or her shirts or pants on first?
  2. How does the world that you have created and that the character lives in respond to the traits the character possesses?  Are the people in your world generally OK with your character and his or her traits?
  3. How does the character react to the world's reaction?
We'll see how all three fronts work in the examples I provide.  But, for now, let's look at some of the times when the video game industry has perfectly written homosexual characters.  (NOTE: I focused on the video game industry because while TV and Movies have numerous well-written homosexual characters, and comic books have several, the video game industry has had a serious problem with writing more varied characters, containing itself to a number of "trope" characters.  Thus, I felt it necessary to highlight the video game's few victories when writing gay characters.)

The first example, from Red Dead Redemption is Vincente De Santa.
Not his best side, I know.
Now, De Santa never openly admits that he is gay, and the character is only left to assume from his actions (a point I emphasized in my last post).  For example, there are many times when he longingly eyes a waiter at his superior's mansion.  There are even times when De Santa is seen with his arm around the young waiter.  HOWEVER, he never admits it, because he knows he would be persecuted and maybe even shot if he did.  (This is Mexico in 1911, people.  Tolerance wasn't exactly a premium.)

However, the people who surround him, both his friends and critics, seem to know of his hidden behavior.  His superior calls him Mariconcito, which roughly translates to "queer."  His critics make jibes about his "secret" behavior.  And De Santa, besides maintaining his silence, always seems slightly perturbed by these comments.

THIS is a character that fulfills all three qualifications I presented.  The trait, of course, is his homosexuality.  In the world presented in the game, the general population is against homosexuality for numerous reasons.  And, in response, De Santa tries to control his urges and maintains his silence about his personality in fear of persecution.  He properly responds his environment in a way that a normal person would.  Especially a person who has another one of his personality traits, cowardice.  

But the best thing about De Santa is that his homosexuality is not the crux of his character.  He is vastly intelligent and even passionate about the affairs in his country.  The fact that he is gay does not affect your interactions with him.  And this is the exact way to handle a homosexual character.  A homosexual, like a straight person, is not solely defined by his sexuality.  There may be a varying degree a lust in the character, but the fact is there obviously other factors going on in that man's mind.  And the fact that his sexuality is just a secondary force in De Santa shows how he properly mimics the behavior in a real human.

Let's look at second example, Bioshock's Sander Cohen.
Sir, you have a bit of blood on...well, everywhere, actually.
Cohen is clearly a...flamboyant individual.  But it's hard to tell if his flamboyant behavior is due his homosexuality or he is just a flamboyant individual like his real life influence, Dadaist painter Salvador Dali.  In fact, it's hard to tell if Cohen is homosexual at all.  He never discusses his homosexuality, and we only have his actions (imagine that!) and his world's reaction to him that can lead a player to make the supposition of his homosexuality.  But even these hints don't make it certain that Cohen is gay.  Once again, he could just be flamboyant or nutty.  For example, Cohen has some audio diaries that hint he has an attraction to Rapture's founder, Andrew Ryan.  But, these diaries could just hint that Cohen merely had a great respect for Ryan rather than a homosexual attraction.  Another example would be the audio diaries of Cohen's disgruntled artistic "disciples," who, in their drunken, angry rants, constantly refer to Cohen as a fruit.  However, one could just say that these "disciples" are merely responding to Cohen's flamboyant behavior and it is their mental associations to homosexuality.  Yet, like De Santa, the fact of Cohen's homosexuality is secondary to his overall character.  What's more important to his overall character is his overall wackiness and disturbing nature, which is due to his insanity.  Like De Santa, Cohen is an overall great character who happens to be homosexual, rather than a homosexual character who just happened to be good.

But, that's not to say the latter case is a bad thing.  In fact, probably the best (possibly?) homosexual character, Kanji Tatsumi from Atlas's Persona 4
"You saying' I like dudes?!"
It's very questionable of whether Kanji is even homosexual.  And, unlike the previous two examples, who hid their sexuality due to their homophobic nature of their surroundings, Kanji is himself the barrier between admitting his homosexuality.  But, one could say that Kanji isn't exactly homosexual, but he just happens to have more "feminine" interests, and he is struggling with the idea of gender roles.  His overly macho behavior is compensation for his secret passions.  And his struggles with these gender roles and his potential homosexuality becomes the central focus of his character arc.  But it also shows the struggle many teens, homosexual or otherwise, face every day.  We see that our gender roles can cause many psychological problems for teens.  

So yes, video games have made well-written homosexual characters.  And these are characters that are planned and are based on evidence from their actions and the world that surrounds them.  And this, my friends, is homosexual characters "done right."