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New Escapist Column! On “The Batman” as an Argument for Superheroes…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. With the release of The Batman this weekend, it seemed a good opportunity to take a look at the film, and what it says about the state of the superhero genre.

The superhero genre is arguably the dominant mode of American blockbuster cinema, the prism through which the populist form must be viewed in its present incarnation. Perhaps the superhero is best understood as a descendent of the classic pop archetypes like the cowboy or the gangster. However, very few superhero films actively engage with what that transition actually means, what makes the superhero a more modern American archetype than the cowboy or the gangster. The Batman is the rare superhero movie engaged with this question.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“Someone Who Hides Behind a Mask.” “Joker”, Superheroes, Vigilantes, and Pulp Friction…

A lot of digital ink has been spilled about Joker.

This makes sense. After all, it entered the discussion as a source of moral panic. It then emerged as a box office smash. It is a potential awards contender. And it provides an interesting intersection of genre. It is a hybrid of the dominant genre at the contemporary blockbuster with more ambitious and abstract awards fare. As such, it is not a surprise that Joker has dominated public attention in the way that it has. It seems almost tailor-made to generate discussion and debate, even if that can occasionally feel deafening.

That said, one of the most interesting and frustrating aspects of Joker is the way in which the film deliberately and consciously avoids crossing any particularly provocative lines. The film sidesteps a lot of potentially thorny issues of race and gender, perhaps wary of the potential internet blow back. If the film is making a point about anything, it seems to be a self-aware acknowledgement of the desire to imbue objects with symbolic weight and meaning even when they have not been designed to bear the weight. “I’m not political,” Arthur Fleck asserts, as political meaning is imposed upon him.

That said, there is something very interesting at the heart of Joker, something that likely emerged almost entirely by accident. Joker provides an interesting genre hybrid of the seventies and eighties vigilante thriller with the contemporary superhero blockbuster. And, in doing so, suggests an interesting throughline. Joker suggests that the superhero blockbuster isn’t as far removed from these urban power fantasies as the audience might like to believe.

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Could Kick-Ass Be a Cinematic Watchmen?

Okay, I think we were all a little disappointed with Watchmen. Although the use of that word seems unfair. The book defined the comic book superhero genre in a way that bled into film long before the movie was made. Zach Snyder’s work seemed… redundant. Watchmen had influenced the comic books that came after and they had influenced the movies. If anything, the movie adaptation seemed much less mature and developed than the previous year’s Batman blockbuster – The Dark Knight. Publicity and reviews for this year’s Kick-Ass are beginning to emerge and it seems like it’s all good, so far. The film, along with Shutter Island, was the runaway hit of Butt-Numb-A-Thon this year, a sort of geeky Sundance. It’s an interest look at what “real” superheroes would look like, and part of me wonders if this is movie will end up being what Watchmen should have been?

Nicolas Cage's moustache could kick your ass...

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