Star Wars: My review and opinion

So this is normally the day when I post some article on an old and crazy Golden Age comic book character but since it’s the Christmas season and since most of the pop culture consciousness has turned its massive head towards one particular franchise for the time being

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I thought it would be interesting to offer my two cents on the movie and the franchise as a whole.

Note: The following below does NOT include any spoilers for the new film.  Feel free to read away at your leisure.

I liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens, at least enough to want to buy tickets for the next one.  Let me be clear here, I didn’t think it was “Oh my God this film is the greatest thing ever in the history of movies J.J Abrams is a God among men” good but good enough to bring Star Wars back into the popular consciousness and is a feather in the cap of the movies director J.J Abrams.

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I thought it was a respectful homage to the old cast, I think the new cast did a phenomenal job, and I think the future of the franchise is in very good hands.

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Most importantly I thought the movie succeeded in its most important goal: capturing the spirit and feel of the original trilogy.

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But what exactly does that mean?  How did the Force Awakens succeed in making us remember the original films while going out of its way to say “hey those prequels that everyone hates?  Yeah, those don’t exist anymore”?  Well, let me explain what I think makes Star Wars a huge success.

For starters there’s something we have to come to grips with: the Star Wars movies just aren’t very good.

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Okay, pitchforks down everyone!  Let me explain.

If you take the original trilogy and put it up against another science fiction masterpiece like “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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Then you can start to see a lot of holes and uncomfortable gaps in the plot.

For example: Isn’t it kind of strange how the Death Star is a massive space station the size of a small moon but only needs one exhaust port to vent what must be a massive amount of waste energy into space.  And doesn’t it seem weird that all that exhaust wouldn’t send something as small as a fighter sized torpedo flying outward?

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Isn’t it strange that a farm boy from a backwater desert planet who just recently joined the Rebellion (bear in mind in the beginning Luke wanted to join the Empire as a pilot) was just given a highly advanced space fighter and expected to survive the dangers of combat in deep space?

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Granted, you can make the argument that the Rebellion needed all the pilots it could get and that Luke was familiar with the controls from flying his T-16 back home, but as any actual fighter pilot will tell you combat is incredibly stressful.

And that’s just the first film.  How about the elephant in the room that is the really uncomfortable kiss between Luke and Leia in the Empire Strikes back?

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Or how about how an entire legion of the Empire’s best stormtroopers

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were defeated by these guys?

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Here’s the thing though.  The Star Wars movies may not be very good but that’s okay.  In fact: it’s part of what makes them brilliant.

In the original trilogy George Lucas tells us an epic story filled with space ships, laser swords, and feats of daring that seem so impossible you could call them magic but the story he tells is only part of something that is so much bigger.  Probably his most brilliant scene in the entire trilogy is the Mos Eisley cantina scene from A New Hope.

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Sure the scene has a purpose within the film, the main characters are looking for a ship to take them off planet and it introduces another character in Han Solo

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but Lucas takes time in this scene to let the audience look at all the aliens and other crazy characters that are also in the bar.  You may know Luke and Obi Wan but aren’t you a bit curious about this guy?

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or this guy?

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or how about this guy?

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What’s the back story for these creatures?

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Why is this band playing the same song over and over?

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And how did Cornelius Evazan get the death penalty on twelve systems?

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(author’s note: I do know why because Wookiepedia is a thing.)

Most of these questions have been answered and that’s what makes this scene so brilliant.  The original Star Wars trilogy was wise enough to give us A story within its massive universe but it didn’t tell us THE story.  It granted its audience enough information to be entertained but left enough out there for us to fill in the blanks on our own.  And fill in the blanks we did.  The toy and merchandise empire Star Wars spawned?

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What better way to play out our own adventures than with a Star Wars action figure?  The library of books and video games?

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A chance for other people to put their own stories into the Star Wars Universe.

You want to know why I think the prequels failed to catch the original spirit of Star Wars and were viewed as awful movies?  They tried to explain too much and be more complete movies by talking about things like space politics and…

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And that is why I like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  We don’t know why the First Order exists or what it’s plan is.

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But we don’t need to because, much like the motivations of the original Empire, we are capable of filling in the gaps ourselves.  We barely know any of backstory or motivations for any of the main characters in the new movie

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but that’s okay we can do it ourselves, at least until the later movies reveal more about them.

Star Wars is a brilliant franchise because it has the courage and wisdom to surrender itself to the fans.  Much like the Force itself the fandom is a an energy field created by each person making their own contribution to the story as a whole no matter how big or little.  It surrounds the fandom and binds the movies, books, games, tv shows, and countless fanfics and wiki articles together.  It is no longer just Lucas’ franchise or Disney’s franchise, it is a franchise that belongs to everyone who loves Star Wars.

So in conclusion, go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s a wonderful way to get back in touch with your imagination.

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Golden Age Showcase: Catwoman

It’s no small secret that the world of comic book superheroes has been something of a boy’s club and that statement rings especially true for the Golden Age villains.  Although it was previously mentioned that Superman’s first powered villain, the Ultra Humanite, did transfer his mind to a woman’s body the world of Golden Age comics just couldn’t conceive of female mad scientists, gangsters, or Nazi soldiers.

In that case I do think it’s kind of ironic that the Golden Age would wind up giving birth to one of the most iconic female villains of all time, one who would prove to be one of Batman’s most intriguing and beguiling rogues: Catwoman.

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Origin and career:

Selina Kyle was created by the original creators of the Caped Crusader: Bill Finger and Bob Kane.  She appeared in the very first issue of June 1940 in a short story entitled “The Cat”.

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In her story Dick Greyson, the first Robin, disguises himself as a steward aboard the yacht of a wealthy socialite named Mrs. Travers.  After a drawn out showdown where a group of gangsters attempt to rob the passengers on board it is eventually revealed that Mrs. Travers was actually a famed jewel thief named “The Cat”.

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While The Cat attempts to persuade Batman to join her in her life of crime Batman nobly refuses and vows to take her in.  However she manages to escape at Batman simply lets her go, thus starting one of the longest and most painfully drawn out love/hate relationship in comic book history.

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The Cat would go on to appear in the very next issue, this time dressed in a hood and cape.  She managed to escape being caught by the Batman again by offering him information on the whereabouts of the Joker.

In the next issue she appeared sporting a cat mask along with her cape.

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And Batman allowed her to escape on account of his feelings towards her.

Their cat and mouse game would continue and the two would develop even deeper romantic feelings towards each other as time went on and in Batman #10 Catwoman would adopt her more traditional black jumpsuit.

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And Catwoman would adopt several personas and disguises to flummox the Dark Knight.  However, things would come to a head in Batman #15 when Batman learned that Catwoman had been impersonating a woman he liked named Linda Page, leading to the Batman actually arresting Catwoman for the first time.

For a while the two would follow a familiar pattern of Catwoman attempting to reform, reverting back to crime, Batman stopping her and letting her escape, and the two of them sharing a romantic tension that was almost unbearable. However, Catwoman accidentally hit her head in The Brave and the Bold # 62 in 1950 and reveal that her actual name was Selina Kyle and she was actually a former stewardess with amnesia who simply thought she was Catwoman.

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Batman wanted to help her and Selina vowed to hang up her costume for good, even going as far as to help Batman apprehend one of her former criminal acquaintances.  Sadly it was revealed five years later that this had also been a ruse.

Catwoman’s final Golden Age appearance was in 1954.  After retiring as Catwoman Selina came roaring back after an unflattering article about her past life was published.  After making off with a shipment of diamonds she actually managed to catch Batman but eventually relented, let him go, and surrendered to the police.

So what happened?

The Comics Code happened.

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Andthe Comics Code juuuust couldn’t stand having a femme fatale who was capable of being a bad guy with any sort of emotional complexity.

However all was not lost.  When DC comics re introduced the old Golden Age heroes and villains in a parallel dimension known as Earth 2 in 1961 Selina and Bruce re started their romantic relationship and in 1987 the two were actually married and had a daughter named Helena Wayne.

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However, the two were heroes and it is verifiable comic book law that super heroes never get a happy ending.  Selina was found out by a former criminal acquaintance named Silky Cernak and black mailed her into helping him commit a robbery.  Batman managed to stop them but not before Selina caught a bullet and fell to her death.  She died in Batman’s arms.

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Their daughter Helena would go on to become the costumed hero Huntress.

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Catwoman would go on to become one of the most popular female figures in comic books.  She would undergo various re imaginings and various changes to her backstory as time went by that are far to numerous to talk about here but one thing still remains: she is and forever will be one of Batman’s greatest rogues and his first and greatest love.

Golden Age Showcase: The Ultra Humanite

In 1938 Superman became the world’s first modern super hero.

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Taking it upon himself to stand for truth, justice, and the American way the Man of Steel spent most of his early career fighting against corruption, crime, and anything that threatened the American people.  That being said, when you have the ability to leap over skyscrapers and bullets don’t do anything to you fighting gangsters and corrupt politicians gets a bit boring after a while.  You need someone who can be your hero’s match, someone who is just as capable in terms of power but decides to use that power for evil.  You need a super villain.

With that said, let’s talk about one of the first super villains published in modern comics, one of Superman’s most capable enemies who was first seen in Action Comics #13 published in June of 1939: the Ultra Humanite.

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Although you would probably recognize him if he looked more like this

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So how did Superman’s first great foe go from a wheelchair bound balding mad scientist to a ray gun wielding albino gorilla with an over sized brain?  Hold on to your hats because this is going to get weird.

Origin and Career:

Ultra Humanite’s first appearance starts off with a pretty modest beginnings.  Superman, under the guise of Clark Kent, learns that a corrupt union called the Cab Protection League is shaking down independent taxi cab companies and forcing them to join or else.

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Clark vows to bring the racketeers to justice and when members of the corrupt union led by their boss Mr. Reynolds come to threaten one of the independent cab companies Superman defeats them and hands Mr. Reynolds to the police.  However, Reynolds manages to escape using a cigarette containing knock out gas.

Superman tracks Reynolds to a cabin in the woods and when he bursts in he is introduced to Mr. Reynold’s boss, the Ultra Humanite.

The Ultra Humanite introduces himself as a criminal genius who gained great intelligence from a lab accident and he resolved to use his great mind to take over the world.

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This sets up a rather interesting dichotomy.  While Superman is incredibly strong and has abilities that surpass any human the Ultra Humanite possesses a superior mind.  It’s brain vs. brawn and although the Ultra Humanite managed to shock Superman and render him unconscious he was unable to get past Superman’s skin and kill him.  Superman does manage to save the day and attempts to capture the mad genius but unfortunately the villain escaped.

Superman and the Ultra Humanite would have several more battles following a similar format.  Superman would investigate a company that was somehow defrauding the city of Metropolis and it would be revealed that the Ultra Humanite was behind it all.  However, things came to a head in Action Comics #19 when the Ultra Humanite seemingly hypnotized Superman and made him assist in spreading a cargo of a specially designed disease called the Purple Plague over Metropolis.  It turned out that Superman was simply faking and in the ensuing fight his nemesis was apparently killed.

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However, death did not come to such a mad genius so easily and the Ultra Humanite was revived and managed to escape.  Realizing that his wheel chair bound body can’t hold on much longer Ultra kidnaps an actress named Dolores Winters and transfers his mind into her body (told you this would get weird)

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After a failed attempt to kidnap a group of fellow actors and hold them for ransom Ultra discovers a scientist named Terry Curtis who has developed an atomic weapon.  After seducing and kidnapping Terry, Ultra forces him to build her a nuclear arsenal and threatens Metropolis for a ransom of $2 million.  Superman tracks Ultra to a volcano fortress (because of course) and manages to defeat his/her robot guards, because every good super villain needs robot guards.

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Ultra manages to keep Superman at bay by threatening to end the life of Terry Curtis and to destroy Metropolis unless Superman steals some crown jewels for her.  Superman reluctantly agrees and when he returns intact with the jewels Ultra goes crazy and attacks Superman.  Superman easily defeats his old nemesis and the Ultra Humanite dives into the crater of the volcano, apparently falling to her death.

So what happened?

Although the Ultra Humanite did survive the plunge she would die one issue later.  She would be replaced by another super intelligent mad genius with grand plans to take over the world and act as the arch enemy of Superman, a little known man by the name of Lex Luthor.

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The Ultra Humanite would disappear for the rest of the Golden Age until the Silver Age of Comics came around in the 1950’s.  DC used this new era of science fiction heavy comic books to reveal the existence of multiple universes where anything could happen and any story could be told.  The Ultra Humanite would make a come back in DC’s Earth-2 continuity where he would transfer his consciousness into the albino gorilla form he is known for today.

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Most of his later appearances would follow the same theme of a brilliant but physically crippled scientist learning how to transfer his mind into the body of an ape.  That being said, his most modern appearance changed him into a alien monster who feeds off of fear.

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Although the Ultra Humanite has changed over the past sixty years he will always be remembered as one of Superman’s first continuous villains and as one of the most dangerous minds in the entire DC universe.