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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


                                                                                         

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Musings & Ramblings:
ONE FILM WON'T CHANGE AN INDUSTRY (But ...)
pg.2

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LOUDER THAN WORDS: 
AUDIENCE VS. AND INDUSTRY “ACTIONS”
b) THE AUDIENCE SIDE OF THE COIN:



ANNIHILATION (2018)  


    
The general audience (both in the U.S. and abroad) has a notorious reputation, based in misinformation, for bemoaning the fact that they are constantly at the mercy of “that crap which the Hollywood Machine is constantly churning out”; and that it has little power in response to said crap other than to complain about it - these days the primary outlet for that frustration usually being social media. But as stated, this is based in misinformation, because, as mentioned earlier, that “Machine” is ultimately fueled via the almighty green which the audience uses to “vote in” or “vote out” the kinds of films it continually wishes to see, … or at the very least in how they choose to see them. Case in point …    





     At the time of this writing Paramount Pictures is taking a social media drubbing around the world for its decision to only release the sci fi thriller ANNIHILATION - from EX MACHINA director Alex Garland - theatrically in the U.S., Canada and China, while selling the film’s distribution rights for the rest of the world to the streaming giant Netflix. As detailed in an online piece for IndieWire by Zack Sharf (Feb. 26, 2018), those who’ve seen ANNIHILATION concur that part of the film’s power is its encompassing use of “large screen” to tell its story not just narratively but tonally and with a great deal of detailed visual information, … much of that impact which will be completely lost on even the most impressive of HD / 4K screens at home.




     Now, if you’ve been following ANNIHILATION on social media you realize that it, like other conceptually complex, non-“middle of the road” / non-easily assimilated sci fi of recent days, has deeply divided it's audience – with many claiming the story is great until it’s final act, and others swearing it’s a mess until that final act. And this potential audience reaction was known before the film was released. Budgeted at $40 million, ANNIHILATION executive producer David Ellison began to wonder about the film’s prospects after a few problematic test screenings indicated that many just weren't “getting it”, especially during that third act.



     With the film’s producer Scott Rudin and screenwriter / director Garland maintaining right to final cut – and refusing to make the changes for which Ellison had asked, Paramount and Ellison made the decision to “cut potential loses” by splitting the difference between theatrical release in some places and a Netflix streaming release in others. Now, is this the best decision artistically? The writer / film maker within us says "Hell no! Let it ride, baby; that kind of risk is what art is all about!". But does that necessarily make Paramount and Ellison's release decision the wrong one?





      Well, realistically, maybe not. Or at the very least (at the time of this writing) one has to say, “That remains to be seen”. After all, it’s easy for an audience to say that they want more challenging, non-cookie-cutter material to chew on at the movies. But to say this, then not show up to support those kinds of films sends another message to the "business" side of the two-headed carnival beast called "show biz".





Paramount's MOTHER! (2017), DOWNSIZING (2017), and SUBURBICON (2017)



    And (while we’re certainly not shilling for any studio here) we have to acknowledge that to its credit Paramount released a handful of other more challenging, artistic, non-cookie-cutter films – the kind of which many say “We want to see!” in the months prior to ANNIHILATION, and very few actually went to see them. Among these more auteur and less commercially driven films on which the studio took a bath were Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER!, Alexander Payne’s DOWNSIZING ,and George Clooney’s SUBURBICON, while other films such as the much social media maligned TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT and DADDY’S HOME 2 were among its most successful, … i.e. were among the films audiences voted “in” via their almighty greenbacks while for all intents and purposes voting the others "out". Sorry, but catching those others later on HBO or Netflix, then at that time saying "Damn, that was original; why doesn't Hollywood make more challenging films like this?" isn't quite the same thing. So, if one is in a position of (not the fan, but in that of) the film company, what becomes / what is the “best” decision?


     Do you attempt to take a challenging work of cinematic art like ANNIHILATION out of the film maker’s hands in order to re-edit it, only to face critical and popular backlash because of doing so, or do you release the film as per the director’s vision, and risk not being able to release other challenging films later down the line because of the possible lack of box office response to this most recent one?

     It’s not so cut and dry, is it? And in this instance it all falls upon the audience.

     As one makes the rounds pitching scripts, and sitting down to converse with producers, other filmmakers and the like, one discovers that, not unlike in Washington, D.C., Hollywood is not filled with Olympian God-like, slickly suited and booted execs smoking cartoon-sized stogies, with angels dropping grapes in their mouths between puffs. Well, okay, there are some of those. But most importantly after that long list of adjectives you have to add "... who are constantly afraid of losing their jobs". This is where the second guessing and rationalizing comes in. This is where the famous entertainment industry adage "It's always easier and safer to say 'no' to a new idea than it is to say 'yes'" comes in. And this is what we meant at the beginning of this discussion in regards to the “audience’s superhero like power”.








     Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben famously reminded him that  “With great power comes great responsibility”. And this very much puts the audience in the driver’s seat, even more so than the entrepreneurial Will Packers, Reese Witherspoons and Shonda Rhimes on the “Industry” side of the “supply and demand” coin. Do you remember our "Devil's Advocate"-like posit at the beginning? ...



     As earth-shatteringly / box-office-totals-blown-off-the-hinges impressive as were last year’s WONDER WOMAN and this year’s BLACK PANTHER, what happens if the next installments of either (or both) franchises aren’t as successful or well received as their predecessors? What then happens to all of the “See, we told all of you execs that films with female and ethnic leads can be just as popular” claims? 


     How do we then prove that WONDER WOMAN, BLACK PANTHER and other such “breakthrough” films are indeed breakthroughs and proof of an actual paradigm shift, and not just a fortunate and pleasant "flash in the pan" or “exception to the rule”? We're not talking to the execs or filmmakers right now. The topic of this section is "Louder Than Words: The Audience Side Of The Coin".  



     Curbing usage by studios and execs of the "exception to the rule" excuse (which we all agree was never much of a well thought out excuse to begin with) falls within the purview of the audience not putting all of our eggs (in the way of hope for a future of filmic diversity) into one or two baskets. By not putting all hope and proof of the pudding into one or two successful films, but rather in a regular, consistent, successful and very diverse chain of films and TV - small scale independents and larger tentpoles. From new and established film makers, and from both from original scripts as well as based upon various source materials, and not just comic books as every trend eventually runs out of popular steam.







 
     Audiences have to begin to defy the commonplace belief that they are at the mercy of "whatever crap Hollywood puts out", and that they'll then just either see it or not see it, and maybe complain about how bad it was after the fact.  But that mindset doesn't engender actual change. That's more a Vegas or Atlantic City crap shoot which sometimes you win but most times don't.



     On the contrary, audiences must begin (as did filmmakers like Will Packer and Melissa McCarthy) to take their destinies in their own hands and actually do a little (maybe not what most are reading online and hearing on the news these days) work in seeking out new source material in the way of books, short stories, plays, short films on YouTube and Vimeo, comic books, stand up comedians and others; then getting behind them and making them so popular to the point it becomes foolish for someone to not snatch up the idea / property to adapt as a film, series, etc. Such a recent example is the HBO series INSECURE (2016 - present). Selected in 2017 by the American Film Institute as "One of the Top Ten Television Series of The Year" it began life as / is partially based upon Issa Rae's acclaimed YouTube comedy series THE MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL.  


     Other instances include how over the years it was the huge ground level reaction from the public which took (so-called) "alternative" stand up comedians like D.L. Hughley, George Lopez, Bernie Mac and Whitney Cummings, and caused their unique (at times socially inflammatory) worldviews to be adapted into mainstream success via prime time sitcoms such as THE HUGHLEYS, THE GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW and 2 BROKE GIRLS. Hell, there are even cases of the public falling in love with, and getting behind, commercial-based characters  such as Jim Varney's Ernest P. Worrell (created by ad agency Carden & Cherry) and Celtics basketball star Kyrie Irving's senior citizen streetballer Uncle Drew (created by Pepsi Max in a series of spots - many written & directed by Irving) to the point that they eventually became big screen franchises.








     All of this to say that original source material is everywhere. And nowadays not only is the purchasing of a hardcopy, Kindle or audiobook from Amazon ... , or the streaming, rental, purchase and / or download of a little known short film a way of "casting one's vote" for what you want to see more of, but even the number of clicks and / or downloads from YouTube, Vimeo or other outlet sends a loud and clear message.

     Ten, or even five, years ago there may have been an excuse for not being aware of the wealth of characters and source material in books, plays and more representing various races, genders and lifestyles. But not today. It's now become the part-responsibility of the audience itself to dictate what is to be made. And, just as in physics, where nature abhors a vacuum, if audiences fail to let Hollywood know what it wants, others will fill the void with what they think you'll pay to see. And as for the "long haul" in changing subconscious mindsets regarding race, gender and more ...





GET OUT (2017)


     ... Comedian Dave Chappelle in his 2017 stand-up special THE AGE OF SPIN reminded warriors in the ongoing Gender Rights and LGBTQ movements that despite recent victories, one must not be discouraged when realizing that there’s still a bit of a way to go. He encouraged everyone to pace themselves as, hey, “Brown V. Board of Education was 50 years ago, but somebody still called me a ‘nigger’ in traffic just last Tuesday”. So, if a single landmark Supreme Court decision which not only rocked the history of the United States, but sent shockwaves throughout the entire world, still hasn’t completely altered some of society’s deep set, sub-consciously tropist views in regards to race, gender and more, is it realistic to think that a single successful film will do so, ... or even two or three?





ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)



     We aren’t trolls or killjoys trying to "Bring our people down" or anything of the sort. And we can already hear some out there saying, "Damn, can't you just let us have this; can't we just enjoy these couple of successes and not have rain all over our freakin' parade?". Absolutely! There's huge cause to celebrate the long overdue glories of films like BLACK PANTHER, WONDER WOMAN and GET OUT ... along with other "glass ceiling breakers" such as LUCY (which pulled in $463 million on a $40 million budget), ATOMIC BLONDE (which took in $100 million on a $30 mill. budget), 2010’s THE KARATE KID remake ($360 million from $40), I AM LEGEND ($585 million from $150) and others. And we aren't trying to bring anyone down anymore than the parent is trying to bring their child down by telling them that "The world's an unfair place, and therefore you've got to be better and do better to attain the same level of success and respect".

  


LUCY (2014)



     Keep in mind that along with the success of LUCY there were those (the "It's easier and safer to say 'no' than to say 'yes'" folks) who considered it to be but another hit film from international action auteur Luc Besson - the same guy responsible for LE FEMME NIKITA, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL and THE TRANSPORTER series, rather than “a successful film with a female lead”.



 THE KARATE KID (2010)

      THE KARATE KID and I AM LEGEND, as they’re both remakes (and one them a “three-make” based on a classic novel), were by some partly “rationalized away” as coming from previously existing and very popular source material / brands. And to others they were considered more “Jackie Chan” or “Will Smith” vehicles - as people like to say Chan, Smith and Denzel are themselves “exceptions” to the “ethnic stars aren’t commercial overseas” rule. Even ATOMIC BLONDE, as laudatory as many of it's reviews were, was still often described as more-of-the-same / the latest film from the co-creator of JOHN WICK. Lame excuse after lame excuse, … wash, ... rinse, ... spin ad infinitum. We even saw a piece this week referencing GET OUT and BLACK PANTHER and asking When Will African-American Films No Longer Be Considered Unicorns?", which indicates that in some circles the rationalizing away has already begun.

     Now, in order for the audience to create the “demand”, as opposed to simply falling in line with and supporting the “supply” once it’s out there, it must, as we said, make itself aware of the plethora of material featuring heroes which don’t necessarily fall into the archetype or trope of the white heterosexual western male. And hey, no offense or slight intended towards our white heterosexual western brothers out there. We love 'ya. But we're pretty sure you understand where we're coming from. The onus now falls upon the shoulders of the audience. But this where audiences in general consistently fall short.






THE HANDMAID'S TALE (clockwise from left): Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel; 1990 film
by Volker Schlöndorff; 2017 series prod. by Bruce Miller, Margaret Atwood and Elisabeth Moss




     Let’s be honest, while there are always those on the fringe looking for that which upsets the apple cart, the average consumer (regardless of race, gender or whatever) generally waits for something to come along and be popular, then they’ll jump aboard and support it. We were flummoxed when Hulu’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE mini-series debuted, and millions around the world came to realize there was actually a book of it which they had to then read. And Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel - which covers the thematic gamut from politics to theocracy, to gender roles, class, race and more was never “obscure”. It was a New York Times bestseller, a multi literary award winner, and it saw earlier incarnations as a 1990 feature film (featuring Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall for God’s sake!), and even as an opera. Yet many were still unfamiliar with it and the power and prescience of its thematics until “the Hollywood Machine” adapted it into the most recent mini-series. Then an entire new audience jumped aboard.





     There was a similar generational neuvo realization / awakening regarding playwright August Wilson after the release of the 2016 film version of FENCES, a flurry of sales and first time interest in the works of James Baldwin after 2016’s documentary I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO. And how many outside the comic book world would have given a damn about a film called PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (2017), understood the reference, or even realized it was a biographical drama had it not opened in the months after the release of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN film? Once again, none of those are “obscure” titles / source material / authors. In fact each and every one is a definitive staple in American literary history. Yes, even William Moulton Marston - who, in a addition to being an author (and creator of WONDER WOMAN, by the way) is known in popular history  as the psychologist who helped invent the prototype version of our modern day lie detector. Fascinating fellow that Marston. Google him one day. 





 
     If we truly want the diversity and change we say we do, then it is incumbent upon us (as part of an ethnic, gender or other social minority) to not wait for an invite to the dinner party. As Taraji would say, "F**k that!". And as Elizabeth Banks would say "We're calling your ass out", audience. It is rather on us to help lay our own foundation, and begin to build our own house with it's kitchen, utensils, dining room and more.  

     Films like BLACK PANTHER and WONDER WOMAN are certainly door openers which cannot be ignored. We mean, good Lord! - when we began this piece a week ago BLACK PANTHER had just reached the $700 million global box office mark. And as we finish it's cracked the $1 billion threshold and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. And don't even think about what's going to happen with it's yet-to-come multi-million dollar reincarnation a few months from now when it hits Blu-ray, OnDemand and more. So, yes, that's a helluva door opening. Now the responsibility to walk through the door and make something of lasting impression happen on the other side falls to a combination of film makers and paying audiences no longer content with the status quo cycle which has been going on since BLADE, TOMB RAIDER and other "game changers".

     The (super) power is in our hands.




                                                                                                                        CEJ










A “LEAGUE” OF THEIR OWN
(A Few Other Comic Book Heroes You Need To Get To Know)





     While AUDIENCE SELF DETERMINATION: ONE FILM WON’T CHANGE AN INDUSTRY ultimately concerns itself outside the comic-books-to-film world in particular and into the "diversity in film" conundrum in general, hits like BLACK PANTHER and WONDER WOMAN were the gateway into the discussion - the "elephants in the room" as it were. And as such to bring things full circle, as well as because it’s just damned fun to do so, we here provide a primer of sorts to familiarize non comic book fans with a “tip of the iceberg” listing of some of the lesser-known-to-the-general-public, larger than life heroes who don’t necessarily fall into the category of “white male heterosexual comic book bad asses”.


  
Yeah, you know Marvel's JESSICA JONES & LUKE CAGE

     We’re pretty sure you’ve become familiar with characters like BLADE, LUKE CAGE, STORM, THE FALCON, BLACK WIDOW, JESSICA JONES and others from their numerous appearances over the last decade and more within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so we’ll not bother re-mentioning them, but will rather stick with those whom the average audience member can’t just name off their top of their heads. Oh, and by the way, all of the characters below are not sidekicks. They’re the headline hero stars of their own books.


      Their adventures are easy to find at your local Barnes & Noble, comic book shop, or outlets such as Amazon. And hell, if you know where to Google you can find some of their acts of derring do online for free. But whichever way you may enter their “MethaHuman” worlds, we invite you to get to know them, share them with friends, family and children (where thematically appropriate, of course), and help make them all popular enough to warrant series and / or films of their own. In fact some of them have at one time or another been slated for cinematic treatment, but have since ended up in that celluloid purgatory known as “development hell”. Here's hoping we can help grant a few of them some kind of cinematic reprieve and reincarnation. 


     Super Power to the People!


 

                                                                                                                         CEJ

______________________________



 * FRENEMY OF THE STATE – created by Rashida Jones, Christina Weir & Nunzio DeFilippis





    
Few things are as iconoclastically enjoyable as taking a concept (be it from news, literature or history) so integral to its era that it goes beyond well-known to become pop culture, … then giving it a slight tilt sideways with a clever “What if?” Y’know, as in how “What if Holmes and Watson had met as children?” becomes YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, “What if Roswell (and more) was real, and the government really has been covering it up since?” turns into THE X-FILES, and “What do you think would happen if Rambo ever fought Alien?” mashes up into everyone’s favorite muscle-flexing sci fi safari - PREDATOR. Well, what if the (heh, heh! no offense) “not-the-sharpest-pencil-in-the-box” persona of Paris Hilton was actually an act, … a very clever cover ruse with which to mask her activities as a highly successful international CIA operative? That’s the charmingly clever key to the Pandora’s Box of adventures which is FRENEMY OF THE STATE.


     Co-created by actress / screenwriter / musician Rashida Jones (PARKS AND RECREATION, ANGIE TRIBECA) with the husband & wife writing team of Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir – responsible for the graphic novels SKINWALKER and THE TOMB, tv series such as HBO’s ARLI$$, and comics series the likes of Marvel’s NEW MUTANTS; and illustrated by Jeff Wamester of DARKNESS: FOUR HORSEMEN, FRENEMY OF THE STATE to date consists of five issues released between May 2010 and December 2011. And while certainly not autobiographical, as the “in the limelight since birth” daughter of legendary musician Quincy Jones and MOD SQUAD / 60s era “It Girl” Peggy Lipton, Jones does manage to bring enough real life experience to the deck to wittily (while good naturedly) make fun of the life and times of modern day “pop culture royalty”.




     A tongue-in-cheek confection mixing equal parts 60s era spy show (e.g. THE AVENGERS and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) with 80s mystery / romance (think  MOONLIGHTING and REMINGTON STEELE) FRENEMY takes place in a giddily slightly surreal world where the daily moral quandary of an early twenty-something can include decisions such as “Do I  defuse the nuclear or make it to the party of the year on time?”.


     Before the publication of the first issue producer Brian Grazer acquired the film rights to FRENEMY with Jones and screenwriting partner Will McCormack attached to script. But no word on further developments have been heard since.





______________________________



  * EL GATO NEGRO (THE BLACK CAT) – created by Richard Dominguez




      Part DEATH WISH and part BATMAN, … with a helluva lot of pulpster influence (those who love THE SHADOW, THE PHANTOM and ZORRO will pick up on it), EL GATO NEGRO is the tale of dedicated social worker Francisco Guerrero – who lives and attempts to make a difference along the drug trade border region of South Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley. But after the brutal murder of his best friend by members of the local cartel, Guerrero takes up the vengeful mantle of the legendary border country avenger bequeathed to him by his grandfather.


      Created, written and primarily illustrated by freelance / storyboard artist Richard Dominguez, EL GATO NEGRO debuted in October 1993, and originally ran (independently self published under Dominguez’s “Azteca Productions” studio label) for four issues through 1996 until the comic book industry crash (which nearly bankrupted publishers such as Marvel) forced the entrepreneur to put his character on hiatus. Notwithstanding Dominguez created the government sanctioned mutant vigilante group – TEAM TEJAS in 1997. And in ’95, along with Carlos Saldaña, Jose Martinez, and Fernando Rodriguez, he co-found P.A.C.A.S. (The Professional Amigos of Comic Art Society) – a networking coalition which has since grown internationally. In 2005 Dominguez resurrected his most popular creation with EL GATO: NOCTURNAL WARRIOR which runs to this day.

  







______________________________



  * CONCRETE PARK – created by Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander, Robert Alexander





     In the mid 1990s screenwriter Tony Puryear (ERASER) his wife - actress Erika Alexander (best known to audiences as Maxine on tv’s LIVING SINGLE, and as Det. Latoya in GET OUT), and her brother Robert Alexander pitched a dystopian sci fi adventure - which they intended to feature a predominately black cast - to a major Hollywood studio. As recalled by Puryear during a 2012 panel discussion at San Diego’s Comic-Con, the executive told the trio they could save everyone time by changing the race of the characters as “… black people don’t like science fiction; they don’t see themselves in the future”. This in spite of the fact, as Puryear pointed out, that he and his wife had been involved with sci fi themed projects with Denzel Washington and Will Smith. Undeterred they sought another medium to realize their vision. And the award-winning comic book mini-series CONCRETE PARK was born.


     In the future, young urban poor, many of them gang members, are snatched from the streets of L.A., Rio, Johannesburg, Mumbai and other cities and dispatched to the ironically named distant desert planet Oasis to mine for resources desperately needed on an Earth which has nearly depleted its own. Never allowed to return to their home world, after two-years of labor the youths are set free, and most migrate to Scare City - where nothing grows, resources are close to non-existent, and the harsh environment renders most everyone infertile. Here most repeat the pattern which landed them on Oasis in the first place – that of falling under the protective umbrella of violent “Crips” / “Bloods”-like gang fiefdoms in order to survive for the rest of their (usually short) lives.








     Within this land of hopelessness however, a small light emerges when gang leader Luca and her lesbian lover Lena form a bond which in time draws others beyond gangland ties to a cause greater than that of one’s own personal survival – the cause of hope and a better world for everyone: something they’ve never been given, but for which now they are willing to pay any price in order to forge it for themselves.






     The publishing history of CONCRETE PARK can be a little confusing, but this is how it breaks down. The series debuted in early 2012 as a part of the prestigious DARK HORSE PRESENTS anthology series from Dark Horse Comics (making its bow in DARK HOUSE PRESENTS #7) - this series in its various incarnations over the years featuring later day HELLBOY stories by Mike Mignola as well as new material from legendary creator Frank Miller of 300 and SIN CITY fame. 



     In 2013 CONCRETE PARK was chosen as one of Haughton Mifflin Harcourt’s “Best American Comics of 2013”, and Dark Horse celebrated by combining all of the CONCRETE PARK stories up to that time into one 2014 hardcover “graphic novel” style volume entitled CONCRETE PARK – VOL 1: “YOU SEND ME”. In late 2014 the next series of CONCRETE PARK stories appeared within the pages of DARK HOUSE PRESENTS (beginning with #14). Then those  were later collected and published together in 2015 as a single hardcover volume under the title CONCRETE PARK – VOL 2: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.


     Kindle versions of CONCRETE PARK have been available, but the hardcover graphic novels have been out of print for some time, and as such have been fetching $100 + per copy on eBay and other outlets. A new printing of each volume is set for publication in March 2018 at a more reasonably priced $10.00. Keep an eye out!








______________________________



  * ZATANNA – created by Gardner Fox & Murphey Anderson




     While in the mainstream other metaphysically enhanced female heroes such as X-MEN’s Storm and later Avengers team member Wanda Maximoff (aka “Scarlet Witch”) are perhaps more well known, among true comics aficionados there are few benders of time, space and the mind as beloved as Zatanna Zatara. A fixture in the superhero world since 1964 (she made her first appearance in D.C.’s HAWKMAN #4), she’s a true practitioner of bonafied magic whose alter ego cover to the rest of the world is ironically that of a renowned Vegas-like performance magician / illusionist along the lines of David Copperfield, Doug Henning or Harry Blackstone, Jr.


     Her more pulp novel / pulp radio inspiration however is evident in her fictional genealogy which explains her innate abilities as handed down genetically from her mother – a member of the “Homo Magi” (D.C.’s race of ancient magicians based in part on characters from R. Rider Haggard’s classic novel SHE), and her father – the super magician Giovanni Zatanna, who made his first appearance in ACTION COMICS #1 (June 1938 – the same issue which introduced the world to a new character named “Superman”), and who himself, just like Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE, took his tonal inspiration from the 1930s era Earnshaw / Morgan radio character CHANDU THE MAGICIAN.





HAWKMAN #4 (April / May 1964) by Gardner Fox & Murphey Anderson




     Genuinely one of the most multi-layered characters in the DC canon, younger and older versions of Zatanna over the last half century have been team members of the Justice League, the Sentinels of Magic and Justice League Dark (featuring characters such as Swamp Thing, Constantine and Deadman). She’s become emotionally involved to greater or lesser degree with everyone from Robin to Batman to John Constantine.


     The effectiveness of her powers is often inexplicably linked to her level of emotional stability and / or confidence as well as to her physical condition. And she’s been depicted in comics, animation, on TV (by BALLERS / MARVEL’S INHUMANS actress Serinda Swann) in two episodes of SMALLVILLE, in video games and more. And she’s arguably, perhaps only after D.C.’s Harley Quinn and STAR WARS’ Princess Leia, the most popular female cosplay character in the contemporary convention world.


     In a 2014 interview writer / director Guillermo del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY, THE SHAPE OF WATER) mentioned that he had handed in a script to Warner / D.C. for a JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK live action film. But there has since been no official word on the state of the project.








______________________________



 
* MIDNIGHTER
– created by Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Garth Ennis




     Let’s admit that while gay characters and same-sex relationships should be depicted in media with the same matter-of-factness as with any other cop, lawyer, soldier or superhero character, they most often are not, even when portrayed in the most positive of ways. Part of the reason is because, even when done so with the most noble of intentions, a gay character (just as a black, female, Asian, Latino or other character) can far too often feel as though they were inserted into the proceedings, not out of an organic, mathematically accurate, simple everyday life reality - y'know, where out of every so many people in a given contemporary populace such and such a percentage of them will be female, or of varying ethnic backgrounds, or gay, straight, bi etc., but more out of what seems to be a mandate to create a “role model”, “empowerment figure” or other such socio-filmic icon.


     And before you get pissed and say, “So, what’s wrong with that?”, hey, we agree, there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact it’s a damned good thing. But sometimes maybe just a little too good.Tthink about it, isn’t there a much bigger and better difference between the “designed to teach a lesson about race” aspect of a more “locked into its era ‘message film’” such as IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT as opposed to the more timeless and less forced quality of something like Walter Hill’s 48HRS. - which covers some (though certainly not all) of the same ground?







     A similar example can be seen in the comic book world with the now classic, if extremely finger-wagging, anti-drug AMAZING SPIDER-MAN story arc (#96 – 98 / May – July ‘71) - which was written at the behest of the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare. That's the one you've probably heard about in numerous documentaries where Peter rescues his pal Harry Osborne from addiction to an unnamed opiod. Now, consider that as it were in contrast to the more dramatically naturalistic IRON MAN “Demon In A Bottle” storyline (#120 – 128 / March – Nov. ’79) where Tony Stark’s main villain becomes his own habitual tilting of the shot glass. And as far as gay characters on TV, to this day the vast majority of audiences (gay, bi or straight) find the entire series history of WILL & GRACE infinitely more socio-politically timeless than the post “coming out” episodes of ELLEN – which, while undeniably ground-breaking, now feel very much like a product of the era.


MIDNIGHTER's creative papas: (L to R) Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Garth Ennis



     Now, granted a large degree of the difference between the first mentioned and second mentions are in how the second ones had the advantage of coming along ("coming out" if you will) years later during a time more amenable to such subject matter. But an even greater degree of the “second ones”’ success must be attributed to the fact that the characters and situations were less “message-y” and more organic to the narrative scenarios. They felt less like Social Studies classes where you're  taught that everyone’s equal, and more like recess where, while playing dodgeball or soccer, you just came to realize it all b yourself by getting to know the other person first hand as a friend or team mate, etc. All of this which us brings us to MIDNIGHTER – to this day the most acclaimed openly gay male character in mainstream comic books. Oh, and acclaimed with good reason as Midnighter is just a damned well written bad-ass! The "too good" thing? Hell no! Not with this guy!




     
It’s not accurate or fair to say Midnighter’s a bad-ass “who just happens to be gay” any more accurate or fair than it is to say James Bond is a suave moe foe “who just happens to like women”. Uh, uh! Bond’s relationship (at least in the novels) to the female species is to keep them at bay and to be an iceman because every time he allows himself to get emotionally involved someone dies and he gets his heart broken. Yet every now and then he does forget his vow to himself (such as when he falls in love with Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE and Teresa diVincenzo in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE), and it ends tragically for all involved.


     The Daniel Craig Bond films continue with this tragic GROUNDHOG DAY-like cycle in the surrogate mother / son relationship which develops between Craig's Bond and Judi Dench's "M". He once again let's a woman get close to his heart, though in a non-romantic manner, but it too ends tragically. So, Bond's hetero-ness in his character's sensibilities with and towards women (be it romantically or familial), while it doesn't necessarily define his character, it is a necessary cog in his psychology - and as such it does have  influence on the course of the stories and the character's growth in those stories over the years. Anyway, ...






     The same exact thing concerning the homosexuality of Midnighter which, according to Garth Ennis, writer of the now classic six issue MIDNIGHTER: THE KILLING MACHINE (Nov. 2006 – March 2007) storyline “… is not a complex issue: he likes fucking men. He likes fucking one man in particular — but that doesn’t mean he wants to be around the guy 24/7, hence the solo book (series)."


     So, ... who the hell is this Midnighter?



     A biogenetically enhanced BATMAN-like vigilante with the Jedi-like ability to foresee and counter any move a fraction of a second before any opponent, Midnighter (as created by Ellis & Hitch) began as a member of THE AUTHORITY – a team of heroes with the ability to move through time and space – which first appeared as part of the WildStorm label in May ’99 around the same time the independent publisher was absorbed into D.C. Finding the character too interesting to be locked into a team, Ennis leapt at the opportunity to fully flesh out whom he always felt was a much more brutally lethal, and less emotionally conflicted, BATMAN-esque being.


    
In the six issue THE KILLING MACHINE, Midnighter’s cold psychological detachment from anyone and everyone is attribute when he is captured, and an explosive device is placed near his heart, and he his threatened with death lest he agree to travel back to WWI era Germany and assassinate a young Adolf Hitler before he has the opportunity to rise to power. In the next adventure, FLOWERS FOR THE SUN, Midnighter finds himself awakened in armor in 17th century Japan with no memory of how he got there, and eventually in service as a ronin to a powerful Shogun. He meets this parallel era’s version of Apollo - a superhero from The Authority with whom Midnighter fell in love – and, not unlike Bond, he allows himself to become emotionally involved: a love affair which in tragedy, … along with Midnighter killing 200 ninjas.





     The first series of MIDNIGHTER stories ran 20 issues from Nov. 2006 – June, 2008. The character was relaunched in a new series of 12 issues (written by Steve Orlando) under D.C. from June, 2015 – May, 2016. Then again as a limited six issue mini-series under the title MIDNIGHTER AND APOLLO (also by Orlando) from. Oct., 2016 – March, 2017.





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