26 Aug 2009

My Invisible Luggage

In a supposed attempt to get kids playing board games again, Hollywood has set out to bring some old-school titles to the big screen.  The director of Alien and Gladiator, Ridley Scott, has expressed a desire to make a movie based on Monopoly.  How he will manage this, I'm not sure.  Perhaps some epic, Citizen Kane-esque tale of the corruption of power?  Maybe a reworking of Wall Street, with Rich Uncle Pennybags now a callous yuppie, clawing his way across computer screens and leggy models?    What makes it stranger is that Scarlett Johansson and Kirsten Dunst have been named in connection with the film.  So a love triangle then; Scarlett would be the rich girl whose father owned Boardwark (they'd use the American version of course) that he is destined to wed; while Kirsten would play her natural role of the nice girl from Baltic Avenue with the sad but sweet smile and no money.  In the end Moneybags would be forced to chose between wealth and love.  Hey, this thing writes itself.  Liam Neeson could play the Boot, Jessica Alba could be the Racecar, and they could bring Connery out of retirement to be the Scottie.

The board-game movie idea did work once, with the cult classic Clue.  But Hollywood, in recent years, has seemed far more keen on using comics for inspiration.  Apparently, we're experiencing a 'golden age' of comic book movies.  I figured it was more of a formica one, but what do I know.  In the next two years, the big houses of DC and Marvel will release no less than nine live-action films based on comics.  Another fifteen or so are still in development.

You'd think a comics lover like me would be excited about this, but no.  That's because when one looks at the track record, one feels quite queasy.  Reviewing the list, we see that in the past five years there have been nineteen movies released, featuring DC/Marvel characters.  And in this humble blogger's opinion, only three of those succeeded as superhero movies.  This rest ranged from being disappointingly dull to crimes against God.

The problem, as I've blogged before, is that the commercial realities of filmmaking beat out all other concerns.  If the millionaire producer wants their Superman to have pink hair and a squeaky voice, then that's the way it'll be - and to hell with the story.  After all, if history fails before the power of money, what chance does imagination have?

(At any rate, it's usually good news for the local Kiwi film industry; some of these films are being made here.)

You know what I'd really love to see?  A Kill Bill sequel.  It is no more than an idea at this stage, but it sounds like a bloody good one, so to speak.  Basically, Sofie Fatale becomes the new Bill, and recruits two young women - Nikki Bell (daughter of Copperhead) and Gogo's sister.  Elle would apparently be back too.  They are all brought together for one mission : Kill Kiddo!  But I guess we'll have to wait till Tarantino's finished this war movie of his.

There are ambitious plans underway to make a film about the Justice League of America (JLA), the ultimate comic book team.   The JLA is like an idealised family for the DC Universe.  Superman is the dad; a stern but sympathetic authority figure, kind of distant, but strong.  Wonder Woman is the mum; closely watching her children, quick with discipline, but also loving.  And Batman is the creepy uncle who takes you out back to shoot things.   These three characters are DC's trinity, and their complicated, triangular relationship has always been a significant plotline.  The other members, consisting of an all-star lineup of folks like the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Hawkgirl, are the children - ranging from old and responsible, to the younger hellions.

There are problems with any JLA movie, however, so the film is still in some kind of development hell.  Some positive early casting - they actually found a pretty good Wondy - is a start.  And Weta Workshops are making the costumes!  (According to the Dom, anyway).  But the controllers of the Batman and Superman franchises aren't happy about having their boys farmed out to nobodies; they feel it dilutes the individual impact of their films.   The overload of characters could be too much for audiences unused to such a spandex explosion.  The third Spiderman movie suffered because it had three villains; how would a movie with six or so heroes run?  Ironically, DC is pretty keen on trying to bring some cohesiveness to their on-screen world to match the comics, and sees a JLA pic as the perfect jumping board for spin-off films.


Like a Wonder Woman one, perhaps?   She continues to get a raw deal from the boys in Hollywood.  A successful JLA pic could launch a whole Wondy franchise, and believe me, that would be a great thing.  Among the many perfectly valid and not-at-all dodgy reasons I have for this, is the one that a Wondy film would have some great villains.  She has one of the most glutted rogue's galleries in comics history.  There's a long line of people who have wanted to take down the Amazon.  They include Greek gods, mythical creatures, and sometimes the U.S. government.  Despite this, they can usually be broken down into two categories - either men who hate her because she contradicts their patriarchal rule, or women who hate her because she's such an uppity bitch.

My two all-time favourite Wondy villains are Edgar "Doctor Psycho" Cisko, and the Cheetah.  They're both original creations of William Marston, and have bedevilled Wondy ever since the late 40's.  Doctor Psycho is remarkable among comic characters for having remained active and unchanged for that whole time; the Cheetah has gone through four incarnations.

In a world full of a un-PC characters, Doc Psycho is one of the worst.  Bluntly put, he's a grotesque midget, a misogynist madman who can control minds.  He's something of a poison dwarf, created at a time when little people were treated as freaks by society.   Marston was a psychologist first, and his creations all reflect this.  He identified Doc Psycho with the archetypal "little man" syndrome; rejected by women and turning his frustrations into violence against them.  The fact he could control minds obviously helped him a lot.

In the Golden Age stories he could use that popular substance, ectoplasm, to change his identity and masquerade as others.   Like the time he tried to pass himself off as the manly Tyrone Gayblade, and crash a wedding of Wondy's friends.


(The young woman in the yellow outfit is Etta Candy (eat-ta-candy, gettit?), Wondy's Golden Age BFF - the nottie to her hottie.  In the reworking of Wondy's backstory in the 80's, Etta was married off to Steve Trevor and they lived happily ever after.  She would have to be in the movie somewhere).

Anyway, Doc Psycho got busted (as usual) on this occasion.  Behold his original Golden Age incarnation!


He has remained as a leading baddie in DC Comics for a long time afterwards.  He's considered one of the elite super villains, working with the likes of Lex Luthor and spreading his midget-sized misery everywhere.  He's still obsessed with Wondy, and would have to play a role in any film of her.  Here he is today; after sixty years of villainy have taken their toll.


Wondy's other great foe is the Cheetah.  Originally, this was a nasty young socialite called Priscilla Rich (silly rich/bitch, gettit?  Yeah, that's a stretch, but Marston was not subtle at all in his naming, eh?)  She was the kinda glammy girl who used words like "ridic" and said "reahly?".  She appears to be wearing one of those awesomely surreal 40's outfits that define the decade.



Anyway, Marston stuck Priscilla Rich with a massive inferiority complex.  Wondy made her feel like a loser, so she wanted to punish the Amazon for her arrogance.  She was the first in a group of Marston's female villains - known as Villainy Incorporated - who were united in their hatred of Wondy.


After failing to kill Wondy with a lethal bondage routine (of course), she, like, totally freaked out and retreated.  And then, the original Cheetah was born.  Ever the dodgy psychologist, Marston decided to stick poor Priscilla with a dissociative personality on top of her confidence issues.



The passage of time didn't serve Priscilla too well.  In the 80's, a newer and nastier Cheetah was needed.  Poor Miss Rich got largely written out of the stories, and lost in the confusing morass that is Wondy's continuity.  She grew old and died, passing the mantle to her niece, before it was usurped by the psychotically violent Barbara Minerva.  The modern Cheetah doesn't need the cheesy outfit; she's a pure werebeast.  But once, when Wondy destroyed Barbara's hideout, she found a whole collection of the original Cheetah's memorabilia.  That was a nice touch.

At any rate, the Cheetah is a vital part of Wondy's story, and a reinvented Priscilla Rich would make a great villain; also as a foil to Doc Psycho (similar to Catwoman and the Penguin in the excellent Batman Returns).  There is a precedent; in one of the many revisions of Wondy's universe, a modern Priscilla Rich was a high-profile and memorable character:


…and she looked great.

Wondy's home island of Themyscira was traditionally based in the Bermuda Triangle.  You remember that place?  In the 70's and early 80's, there was a real craze for that subject, and the related concepts of alien visitations and Atlantis.  Then people quietly pointed out there were no more unexplained disappearances in that area, than in any other comparable one.  The pulp fad of "Trianglism" weirdness transmuted, in the 80's, into the more alien-specific mythology.

But yeah, those 'unexplained disappearances' - are the kind of stories that haunt the mind.  Sometimes, people vanish in the strangest of circumstances, and no decent explanation is ever given.  There are some great stories here.  More than a few can be resolved, perhaps; but many others are just too damn weird.  As a kid, I learned about Amelia Earhart, and speculated on whatever happened to her.  (I like this idea these days).

I read about weird old Fawcett, who charged off into the darkest Amazon rainforest and was never seen again.  Today, I believe he pulled a Kurtz, and went native, establishing himself as some kind of insane god.  I loved the strange stories of Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared without trace himself.  But he was probably killed by bandits.  History changes along with the time, and we learn more about what was once secret.   Fortunately, some mystery still remains.

Miller puts it better.  We know where those South American people went; but his point is still relevant.


I want to finish this blog with a thank you to the man who helped inspire my imagination.  Gary Gygax was a legend to a whole shitload of nerds whose lives were positively affected by fantasy roleplaying games.  That sounds weird, but this guy really was a huge impact on the modern creative imagination.  His books certainly taught me everything I ever knew about herbalism, feudalism, and how to take down a troll (the answer is fire) among many other things.  We'll go out with the original dungeon master in full flight.


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