THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC.

He is a MLB columnist for Bloguin's The Outside Corner and editor at The AP Party. Previously, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report, and has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, SB Nation and MLive.com. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

Someday, he'll get around to writing that novel.

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Entries in comic books (14)

Monday
Jul222013

Superman and Batman in a movie together? I don't like it

The big news from Comic-Con on Saturday was that Batman would be a part of the next Superman movie. The whole gang responsible for Man of Steel — notably director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer — will be back for this sequel. 

Tip the cap to DC Comics and Warner Bros., because that announcement completely overshadowed what Marvel Studios presented for the next Thor and Captain America flicks, Guardians of the Galaxy and even the Avengers sequel. 

Two of the biggest superheroes on the planet in the same movie? It's a geek wet dream. DC and WB had to come up with something bigger than The Avengers, and this might do it. Of course, Superman and Batman teaming up is a precursor to a Justice League movie, which could just blow everyone's mind.

Yet I don't necessarily have the feelings about this that you might expect.

I'm a Superman fan. I'm a Batman fan. I love comic books and superhero movies. However, I just don't think this is a very good idea. I won't go so far as to say I hate it, because that sounds like internet fanboy. But I really don't like this. 

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I get that DC and WB are way behind Marvel when it comes to making superhero blockbusters. It has to kill WB that they have the far more recognizable superhero properties. Everyone knows who Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are. Go check out a Target toy department these days with its Justice League displays. Yet The Avengers are now the worldwide box office superstars. 

So WB wants to get the ball rolling toward an eventual Justice League film. But at this point, it would probably take three to four years for a blockbuster project like that to get made.

What can WB do in the meantime? Build anticipation by putting its two biggest characters in one movie. (The film will also get plenty of play from film and geek sites over the months to come by speculating on who could play the new Batman.) And maybe introduce others like The Flash in the process. 

As a business strategy, this is probably the right thing to do. As an artistic choice, however, I'm not so sure. Man of Steel just began establishing Superman as a character and the world he inhabits. The idea was to lay the groundwork for introducing the other DC superheroes, but introducing Batman into this world so soon feels premature. And, as Anne Thompson writes for Indiewire, it seems a bit desperate.

What it comes down to for me is that I just want another Superman movie. Batman has enough movies already. He got the three Christopher Nolan films, the two Tim Burton ones and the Joel Schumacher flicks that everybody wishes didn't exist. He's had at least three animated series that I can think of — more if you include the Justice League cartoon. 

But I want to see Snyder and Goyer build from what Man of Steel established. I want to see Superman deal with the consequences of what happened in that movie and hopefully grow into the heroic figure we're familiar with (the one many felt he wasn't in the latest movie). I want to see the new Lex Luthor and perhaps other classic Superman villains. 

Of course, all of that stuff can happen in whatever this new movie will be. Maybe introducing Batman is a part of that. Considering that Snyder had actor Harry Lennix (who played General Swanwick in Man of Steel) read a famous line from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns comic book, there's surely an excellent chance of that happening. 

One of the best things DC did when they rebooted their comic book like in the mid-80s was put Superman and Batman at odds, rather than have them be the best of friends as they'd been in the past.

These two characters have two completely different worldviews (even with the attempt to make Superman darker and more alienated) and it's only natural that they'd clash because of it. 

But the battle between Superman and Batman in The Dark Knight Returns had years of history and continuity behind it. Superman was sort of the bad guy in that story, basically established as a government stooge vs. Batman's anarchist.

I doubt that's the way Snyder and Goyer will go, because that shared history just hasn't been established yet. I'd love to see that story on screen someday, but not now.

I'd also love to see Superman and Batman on screen together, and I know it's an inevitability. My inner comic book geek will love it. There's a great history — best represented by the "World's Finest" comics — of teaming these two heroes up.

I just don't want to see it right now. It's too soon. 

Thursday
Jun202013

Movie review: Man of Steel 

Typically, my biggest fear with a movie like Man of Steel is that I've anticipated it so much and for so long that I'm bound to set myself up for disappointment. 

But the newest Superman movie definitely lives up to expectations. All the cool visual spectacles weren't used in the trailers. (Although maybe most of the good emotional scenes were already shown.) There are certainly some surprises. If there's one thing director Zack Snyder can do, it's create some memorable, beautiful shots. 

Yet I don't think the story flowed as smoothly as it could have. It wasn't because of frequent flashbacks and bouncing from the present to the past. But it felt like Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer just wanted to bull through the origin story so we could get to Superman (Henry Cavill) flying and trading punches with equally superpowered villains. 

However, I liked the choice not to tell a straightforward story and cover familiar territory. 

We know Clark Kent left Smallville for Metropolis and eventually became Superman. But what happened in between the small town and the big city? Like Batman Begins, this is the story that largely hasn't been told.

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What may be most surprising is that Man of Steel is a science fiction tale more than a superhero fable. But how can it not be when you're telling a story about an alien? The beginning of the film that takes place on Superman's home planet of Krypton is not a prologue. It's a significant part of the story because it fuels so much of what comes afterwards.

Though a Superman movie obviously can't be realistic, he can be made to seem plausible. The Krypton part of the story is meant to explain why Superman wears his costume. The "S" on the suit's chest is supposed to be a symbol of hope. Superman's natural father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), envisions his son being an inspirational figure for the people of Earth.

But depicting an otherworldly culture doesn't just demonstrate that Superman is an alien. It informs the worldview of the movie's villain, General Zod (Michael Shannon), making him more than a mustache-twisting megalomaniac. This is a man who's lost his home, his way of life, and wants to recreate it on Earth. 

Zod doesn't just challenge Superman physically, resulting in the best superhero fights we've ever seen on screen. (No one is ever again going to complain, as with Superman Returns, that Superman doesn't throw a punch.) But he also challenges the hero's values, leading to a painful decision later in the movie.

The choice Superman makes is impossible to fully discuss without giving away a major spoiler in the story. But it's a shocking moment because it's so unlike what we believe this character — the big blue boy scout — would do.

Superman is always supposed to do the right thing. This violated his moral code, the pledge he presumably took when deciding to use his abilities for good and set an example for the world to follow. 

Was it out of character? The reflexive impulse is to say yes. Yet I enjoyed the willingness of Snyder and Goyer (along with producer Christopher Nolan) to try something daring. So many people say what Superman is supposed to stand for, yet also lament that the character is boring. He's too powerful. He's too good. There's nothing bold or edgy about him. 

My friend Joe Lunday believes that the challenge of superhero storytelling is telling new stories within the framework and mythology that already exists. Generally, I agree with that. But Snyder and Goyer are trying to create a new framework, a new mythology. What is out of character if that character hasn't been fully formed yet? 

Did the filmmakers go too far in trying to establish that this isn't the Superman you know? Maybe. At times, I thought this was a surprisingly cynical movie. 

Superman's adopted father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), doesn't believe that people will embrace an alien being with extraterrestrial abilities. They will fear what they don't understand. They won't trust something more powerful. And thus, people can't really be trusted.

For most of the movie, the people that Clark encounters prove Jonathan right. They pick on Clark for being different, for turning the other cheek rather than engage. Do we even deserve a hero like Superman? At times, it felt like that was the question the movie was asking. 

When Clark finally meets an apparition of Jor-El, and Superman's absentee father tells him why he was sent to Earth and what purpose he needs to serve, I almost expected our hero to say, "But Dad, these people are the worst."

This cynicism is pushed to extremes throughout the story. As shown in the first full trailer, Jonathan admonishes Clark for lifting a school bus out of the water and saving his classmates, putting himself at risk of revealing his secret. When Clark asks if he was supposed to let those people die, his father replies, "Maybe." 

It's a rather jolting stance for the character that has always influenced Superman's moral view.

While that seemed like a refreshing change to the Superman origin, this philosophy gets taken even further later in the film. One of the more important moments in the story occurs when Jonathan refuses to yield at a great personal cost. It felt like an attempt to burden Clark with a Spider-Man type of pathos. If you don't act, bad things will happen. 

It's difficult to imagine that Clark wouldn't have taken action in this scenario, and it's one of at least two crucial character choices that have outraged hardcore Superman fans — and apparently film critics as well. 

But I'm going to argue that if Snyder and Goyer walked down the same path that so many other comic book, novel and screen writers have already traveled, Man of Steel would've been heavily criticized for that too.

Haven't we already seen this story? Tell something new! This is why Superman is boring!

Well, we got something new and I admired the effort. Besides, who's to say that this version of Superman won't eventually become something closer to what we're accustomed to? Maybe the choices that he's faced with and the decisions that he makes in this story end up forming the morality that we associate with the character. 

What about the amount of carnage and destruction leveled on Smallville and Metropolis during the superpowered battles between Superman and his opponents?

I can't say that it didn't bother me at least a little bit. Nearly 20 years ago, I was troubled by the amount of destruction seen in Superman: The Animated Series, in which Superman would punch villains through buildings and demolish them, yet not seem terribly concerned about people getting hurt. 

But maybe this also helps build Superman's belief system. He sees the damage that occurs when his powers are fully unleashed. This is a story point that could be used in future movies. Imagine Lex Luthor using Metropolis' destruction to turn public favor against Superman and create the fear and paranoia that Jonathan Kent dreaded. 

However, we can only speculate about what might be. The movie at hand is what has to be judged. Man of Steel should stand on its own. Maybe it ultimately doesn't because it's clearly the beginning of Superman's story. This Clark Kent didn't know who he was, nor what he had to do. He was burdened with self-doubt. 

I think a foundation had to be built, a modern take on the character had to be established. Though a phrase like this tends to make my eyes roll, this really is a redefining of an icon for a new audience. This Superman is more fallible, he's more human. He's not the embodiment of an ideal. At least not yet. 

Now that Snyder and Goyer are freed from that responsibility, the next Superman movie these guys make will be the best one we've ever seen.

Friday
Jun142013

Who else would inspire a kid to wear a red cape?

I haven't seen Man of Steel yet, though I certainly hope to be on my way to the cineplex shortly after publishing this. 

The negative reviews have been somewhat surprising, especially because some critics really seem to dislike the movie. But until I see it, I don't have a response. (Some of those negative reviews have spoilers too, which I'm trying to avoid.) 

For now, however, I'd like to ponder one of the images previously released. It's seen in the first teaser trailer as well. A boy who's presumably a pre-adolescent Clark Kent runs around with a red cloth fastened to his shoulders — like a cape.

It's a poignant image, certainly one meant to invoke thoughts of Superman.

But here's my question: What would've inspired this kid to wear a red cape if there wasn't a Superman in the world yet?

Anyone who drapes a red cape around his or her shoulders is inspired by Superman, right? Who else in myth or pop culture was wearing a red cape when Clark Kent was a kid? Flash Gordon, maybe? Am I not thinking of some other hero?

Maybe the idea is that young Clark already had such grand ambitions in mind, knowing that he was different. Or perhaps a latent memory of people wearing such capes on Krypton is somewhere in his consciousness.

Maybe that's not Clark Kent, but a kid inspired by Superman once he makes his appearance in the world. 

Or maybe I'm just overthinking this, which could absolutely be the case.  

Wednesday
Jun122013

Rerun post: What I love about Superman

[Editor's Note: With Man of Steel hitting theaters this weekend, I do want to write something about Superman and hope I'll get a chance to do so.

In the meantime, I thought I'd re-publish this essay I wrote in 2006, before Superman Returns was released. The fansite BlueTights.net was running a contest for a limited edition WETA Collectibles statue of Superman and Lois Lane flying above the Daily Planet. To enter, you had to write 500 characters or less on what you love about Superman.

I didn't enter, mostly because I didn't think I could be limited to 500 characters. Also, I have no idea where I would've put that statue. Had I won it, I surely would've tried to sell it before moving from Michigan to North Carolina.

But this is the essay that I probably would've written. Looking back now, I think I got a little mushy and I'm embarrassed by that. However, from what I've read about Man of Steel, I believe the story touches on some of the aspects I celebrated. So I think this still applies seven years later.

If you take the time to read this, I thank you.

His famous chest insignia has been on my keychain for at least 10 years (if not more). If I had to make a Top 5 Desert Island DVDs list, Superman: The Movie would be on it. John Williams' theme song still causes a tingle inside my chest.

Yet Superman isn't my favorite super-hero. And with the exception of only a few stories, I have no use for most of his comic book adventures.

So what is it about this guy that turns me into a little kid whenever I see a Superman action figure, book, poster, or DVD?

Is it that famous symbol, which didn't even look like a "S" to me until I was a teenager? (I always focused on the negative space, which looked like a weird jumble of alien shapes to me.)

Is it the eye-catching combination of red, yellow, and blue, colors which will probably always signify Superman to me? Do I secretly have a thing for spit curls, square jaws, and capes? (I'm not even going to address wearing underwear on the outside.)

I'm sure I can answer "yes" to all of those questions. But what also deeply appeals to me about Superman is what he stands for.

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He represents the best in us. No, we can't fly, deflect bullets, or lift up cars. And, of course, we're not fictional, fantastical characters.

But if we could, would we choose to help people, as he does? Or would we peer through womens' clothing, smash cars, rob banks, and crush the skulls of anyone who pissed us off in our daily lives? Not that I would. Those are just — ahem — examples. But Superman holds himself to the values we all might like to think we follow.

As a kid, Superman was kind of boring to me. A goody-goody, with virtually no flaws. And as a writer, I'm sure I'd hate dealing with Superman stories because what kinds of conflicts and challenges can you create for a guy who can lift Manhattan into outer space?

Give me someone with some tragedy to him, like Batman or Spider-Man, guys whose parents (or parental figures) were killed, who spend the rest of their lives fighting their guilt and anger, and making sure no one has to suffer that same sort of loss.

But over the past few years, I've realized some tragic aspects in Superman, as well. I'm not sure if it's from modern interpretations (such as Smallville) or not, but he's become much more compelling to me. He's the last of his kind, trying to find his place in his adopted homeland. What makes him special also sets him far apart from those he wants to get close to.

And no matter how much he tries to get the woman he loves to appreciate him for who he really is, his human side, it's the fantastic part of him, the super side that appeals to her most. Superman wants to be normal and spend time with someone who's not expecting him to save the world.

But Lois Lane doesn't have time for Clark Kent. She's too infatuated with Superman. How sad is that? (The comic books have moved far beyond this aspect of the character, which is probably why they don't do much for me these days.)

He is so much more than us, yet he wants to be one of us. Yet if he tried to live as one of us all the time, he wouldn't be happy, either. Because he'd know he could be doing so much more with what he's been given. That's what I love about Superman.

Saturday
May042013

Iron Man, Iron Man does whatever an iron can

Yes, I do believe this is how I'll be spending my Saturday afternoon.

If only The Ramones could have recorded that tune, as they did with the original Spider-Man cartoon theme song. This could've been even cooler. 

At the very least, it's better than the theme from the 1990s Iron Man cartoon.

I wonder if Robert Downey Jr. saw that and worried that he would have to grow a ridiculous mullet to play Tony Stark?

OK, let's end this with a classic.

Wednesday
Apr172013

Three minutes of awesome: 'Man of Steel' trailer

Go figure that I'd go crazy over a new trailer for Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie.

With Christopher Nolan and David Goyer involved, this figured to be a good one. I know many people have questions about Zack Snyder as director, but Watchmen and Sucker Punch look incredible, regardless of what you think about their stories. 

But it's probably the perfect mix. Nolan had the clout to get this movie made, based on the success of his Batman films. Yet Superman can't be bogged down in attempts at realism as the Dark Knight movies were, simply because we're talking about a man from another planet who can fly and lift cars in the air.

That's where Goyer and Snyder come in. Goyer gets the whole superhero thing, wholly immersed in the DC and Marvel characters as he's written several scripts for movies (Ghost Rider, Flash, Green Arrow, Magneto) that were never produced. And Snyder can create the spectacle on screen. 

Based on this trailer, all of those talents came together nicely. 

This looks like the Superman movie that fans — comic book, fantasy, science fiction, summer blockbuster, etc. — have always wanted to see.

There's big, superheroic action. Superman is actually an active character, one that engages his opponents in battle. But there's also human drama, following the modern interpretation that Clark Kent is an alienated soul, someone who knew he didn't quite fit in but didn't know why. 

Perhaps most importantly, we get the two sides of Superman, based on his two different fathers. His birth father sends him to a world where he'll be a god-like figure, one that inspires people. His adopted father reminds him of the humanity instilled in his upbringing, regardless of where he came from. 

And thanks to Michael Shannon, Superman finally faces a menacing villain on screen. General Zod can actually inflict violence on Superman, rather than try to outwit him and rely on Kryptonite to even the playing field. 

 Man, this looks good. I hope the movie is as good as the trailer. 

Tuesday
Feb052013

Finishing off 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

Despite an obvious love for comic books and superhero movies, it's been quite a while since I've actually read an extended run of a comic-book series.

But with the Marvel and DC apps on the iPad, I've dipped a toe back into comic books. This past weekend, I finished off the 25-issue run of Marvel Comics' Guardians of the Galaxy

It wasn't a marathon reading session. I've been chipping away at the series — once again spending more money on comics than I should — since Labor Day, shortly after Marvel announced it would be making Guardians of the Galaxy movie

I enjoyed the series at first, but it lost its way after eight or 10 issues. I knew the series was cancelled after 25 issues, so decided to see it through.

In doing so, I got back into two of the worst tendencies of my comic-book collecting days. (I think most collectors fall into these traps.) I stuck with a series even when it became clear that it wasn't very good and I wasn't enjoying it anymore. But I kept reading just to have, I don't know, a complete set.

(A complete set of what? Again, I don't know. I don't save the issues on my iPad, though they could be downloaded again if I wanted. But at least the comics don't fill boxes in my basement or garage anymore.) 

The biggest problem with Guardians of the Galaxy is that it constantly shuffled the most interesting characters (such as the lead, Peter Quill, who Chris Pratt will be playing) to the background, focusing on far less compelling — and annoying — ones, probably in the interests of pushing the larger story arcs ahead. 

I doubt the movie will make the same mistake. This is probably why I should save my disposable income for superhero movies, instead of comic books. 

Friday
Jan112013

The Justice League of Money

I’ll admit that I’ve drawn Batman masks on magazine pictures and other drawings in my lifetime. (As I’m sure I’ve written before—and probably will again—I wanted to be a comic book artist when I was a kid.) 

But it never occurred to me to draw on money. Maybe because I didn’t think any U.S. presidents would make good superheroes. Obviously, that was before I knew that Abraham Lincoln was once a vampire hunter or Barack Obama would one day be elected.

I wonder if this artist, Aslan Malik, drew on actual currency? If so, this project cost him $185, if my math is correct.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. It's his choice as an artist. But if things ever get tight, this Justice League could end up in some cash registers. 

(via Mashable