Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Joker

The Joker: the playing card that is thrown out of most decks and seldom used in games. When it is used it is usually “wild.” It is the most distinctive in design; attractive, strange and intricate to the eye. Bob Kane choose wisely when he developed a villain based on the playing card and the love hate relationship we have with clowns. The silent film “The Man Who laughs” was with no doubt a major influence as Kane molded his “Joker.” The film’s star; Conrad Veidt seemed to go deeply into Kane’s psyche as his “Joker” is a near duplicate of the film’s character; Gwynplaine.  
 A hero is only as intense and compelling as his antagonists. The Joker as imagined by Bob Kane became an instant hit and a star in his own right, unique in the world’s greatest comic book rogues gallery.  The Joker even won his own comic book title and was a best seller. He was always a real threat to Batman and anyone that crossed his insane path. Like Batman he has evolved and gone through changes and flowed with the changes in society and the core readership of the comic book fan.
In the lengthy history of the character the Joker has created his own utility belt, a joker-mobile and a lethal laughing gas that causes his victims to laugh themselves to death while leaving the unmistakable distorted grin of “The Joker” on their faces. Within his time The Joker has caused the death of Robin, crippled Batgirl and had many bloody hand to hand (though very much one sided) confrontations  with Batman himself. The joker is unquestionably insane but there has always been a true sense of the comic and the ridiculous as part of the character.

Along with Batman The Joker has moved to other mediums. He was a special part of “The Sixties” TV version. Caesar Romero was television’s “Clown Prince of Crime” as he had become known to that generation. He remained in the role throughout the duration of the series and he played the part with much delight. The next screen “Joker” would be Jack Nicholson in the Tim Burton darker, psychologically charged film version. Batman was darker but The Joker kept his sense of humor intact. “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” The Joker ponders as Batman attacks in his “Bat-Wing” stealth flier. This has become one of the funniest and most memorable lines in modern film.


The Men Who Laughed
It is with the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films that The Joker has seen his most demented and disturbing incarnation. As envisioned by Nolan and portrayed by the late Heath Ledger “The Joker” is sadistic and vile; a remorseless, soulless beast. His face has the look of the victim of a serious accident or beating. It is disfigured, difficult to look at and devoid of any humor. Nolan’s “Joker” commits an unusual number of mindless, inhuman acts. He kills without discrimination or pause. His sick mind rationalizing everything he does as he explains many times in his dialogue. Sadly a deranged gunman chooses to immulate this “Joker” in real life at the opening of the Nolan film “The Dark Knight Rises.” We continue at this date to mourn the death of twelve individuals and we pray the remaining injured will recover. “Why so serious?” is the question The Joker asks in Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” It is the gravity of the times…perhaps it is the times.

In the comic book world of Gotham City The Joker is Batman’s foil supreme. He is the clown of macabre laughter, mayhem and mirth who contrasts Batman, the man of dedication brilliantly. We go to the realm of imagination to escape a sometimes torturous and senseless world. I hope we can return there again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight

The character was born into a time of heroes and villains; of adventure and deeds. Virtue, nobility and honor were central to this man/character who would attempt to give meaning to the senseless death of his parents to somehow make a world better by the protection of the innocent and bringing a form of justice to the predators. His plan; to strike fear into the hearts and psyche of those who would commit crimes as he stopped their individual acts of violence. His methods could be questioned as they certainly would be in a real life situation but he is a character of fiction. He is created to be and became a symbol of the best that we can be. He was created in the spirit of the greatest fiction and entertainment. He is the creation of writer illustrator Bob Kane…he is Batman.

“Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.”                     Bruce Wayne speaks from “The Legend of the Batman”

Bob Kane drew on many sources when developing his “Bat-Man.” His influences range from the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci to Chester Gould’s newspaper strip “Dick Tracy.” The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro were wealthy socialites that hid their identities as they used their resources to “right wrongs.” They were among the source influences. Pulp fiction and movies all went into his work and perhaps that is a reason for the characters longevity. Batman has been Interpreted and reinterpreted over the years in every medium; novels, radio, animation, comic strips and film.

It is in film today that Batman has reached his greatest audiences and his most recent brilliant incarnation. The award winning films of Christopher Nolan have given us a timely and reflective view of Batman’s Gotham City. Like all great works of art it speaks to us and our times. Sadly life imitates art in a twisted demented way when cycled through the mind and heartless soul of a socio-path. This past Friday night at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” the final installment of Nolan’s trilogy innocents were visited by a dealer in death and mayhem. It was the greatest cowardice; a cowardice that is all too often repeated in the world, the society of today.

Why was it the Batman film debut? We may never know with any certainty. Probably just in the unfortunate timing of the release; a terrible misfortune. A movie is released; a psychotic plots mass murder weeks or month before. He chooses the venue of the highest visibility.  He dyes his hair and calls himself “The Joker” (the previous film’s antagonist) and gargs himself like the villain “Bane” from this latest movie. Nolan’s version of Batman is the darkest to date. Remember the sixties version starring Adam West. Video/ role playing games, movies and the comic books of the day are all increasing and disturbingly violent. Who’s at fault? The makers, marketers or are we all unwitting accomplices in our own demise. When will the trends reverse?  When will the pendulum swing back? Where do we go from here?

In this time of mourning our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We will attempt to give them as much understand and comfort as we can. Our nation has experienced the loss of too many magnificent, loving souls. We search and pray for answers.   
A character of fiction…a terrible tragedy…the nation mourns.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What the…Hellboy???

“The World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator”

I’m sure this won’t be a huge surprise but; he’s the son of a demon and a witch. Fire red, shaved horns, cloven hooves, and tail are his signature look. His right hand (of doom) is a sort of sledge hammer and a key to opening  the Hadean Gates. Hellboy carries a very large gun “The Samaritan” that shoots his own patented fifty caliber “Demon Destroyer” bullets. His attitude; Bad...Capitol “B” Bad. There’s a small bit of a chip on his shoulder; he loves a good fight. Given this he’s actually a hero that fights the forces of evil. He has a soft spot for cats. No; he doesn’t eat them he adores them as pets and will do anything to protect them. Hellboy’s one of the good guys.

Writer/Artist Mike Mignola created Hellboy in 1993 and his creation became a hit as a comic book character almost immediately. Hellboy has been adapted to film, animation, novels and video games. His fan base continues to grow as one of the great incarnations of the imagination. Mignola’s man/creature started with the “look” from a single drawing he did for fun. The editors at Dark Horse Comics loved Mignola’s  work and talents; they urged him to create an original project for publication. Mignola choose to work from his “Hellboy” drawing and he created the themes and supporting cast around the character’s commanding presence. The Hellboy project was something that Mignola could put all of his favorite literary and entertainment influences into and use as devices. Monster films like “The Mummy” and “The Bride of Frankenstein,” gothic horror and ghost stories, pulp fiction, ancient myths legends and lore. It is even hinted at within the context of Hellboy's narrative that his mother was the descendant of Morgana Le Fey and Arthur Pendragon. Could Hellboy be the rightful heir to the British throne?

In the beginning…Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and a group of American soldiers rescued a tiny creature released from an inter-dimensional portal to a mysterious astral region opened by Grigori Rasputin and a group of Nazi’s during the Second World War. Hitler; in reality was very much interested in the occult and believed he could use it powers. The G.I.’s name the small creature with the oversized hand “Hellboy” on the spot and adopted and raised him as a human. Trevor Bruttenholm became Hellboy’s father and “The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense” (B.P.R.D.) was formed around Hellboy. He fights evil under the organizations banner.

“When things go bump in the night; we’re the ones who “bump” back.”
Trevor Bruttenholm

There have many writers and artist to imagine and contribute to the development of Mignola’s Hellboy; John Byrne, Bruce Timm, Christorpher Golden, Guy Davis and Rich Corben are a few but none are more immersed in the legend than film maker Guillermo Del Toro. The Hellboy films are rich tapestries and very faithful to the spirit of the characters and situations.

As with Mignola’s beginning the look of the movies are perfect. When Del Toro makes changes they only embellish and clarify what was previously published. The films are perfectly cast with Ron Pearlman in the lead. Pearlman is magnificent and born for the role of Hellboy. He is no stranger to heavy make up and prosthetics.  He makes it all look effortless and real as no other actor could. Most of Pearlman’s great roles have featured the actor totally immersed and hidden by masks and modifications. Vincent from television’s “Beauty and the Beast” was his first success. He was mesmerizing in that role. Pearlman is the Lon Chaney of our times; Del Toro the James Whale.

“Pan Cakes”
In conjunction with the release of the first Hellboy Movie DVD Mignola wrote a short story about the two year old Hellboy. The folks at the B.P.R.D. try to get a reluctant Hellboy to try a new treat for breakfast. He finally gives in and tastes pan cakes for the first time. He loves them. At the precise moment pandemonium breaks out in the city of Pandemonium (The Capitol City of Hell.) “It is the boy. He has eaten the pan cakes. He will never come back to us now.” A demon laments this to another minion of Hell. Hellboy has discovered what every small child knows. There is nothing so close to heaven as the pancake prepared with and given in love.

 Mignola have been honored with the top awards in the field of graphic novels and story-telling. In 2002 “Hellboy: Conqueror Worm” won the Eisner for “Best Limited series” and “The Art of Hellboy” won the 2004 Eisner for “Best Comics Related book.” The Eisner is the field’s chief award. Mignola holds his own with the all-time best.

There seem to be limitless avenues for Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. to travel. It is our pleasure to tag along for this infinite, immaculate ride.