|Monday, February 16, 2009 12:43 PM|
| by Fëanor|
Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.
This covers new releases from the week of 2/4, which I collected over multiple days from three different comic shops!
Adventure Comics #0
That's right, DC's bringing back Adventure Comics! It's pretty exciting. So exciting, in fact, that the first shop I went to to purchase the value-priced $1 zero issue was sold out. But I persevered and got my hands on it at the second shop. As it turns out, it's a cheap zero issue because in terms of new content, it contains only one very short backup feature. The bulk of the issue is taken up by a reprint of the first "Legion of Super-Heroes" adventure. But it's still pretty fun.
The first story featuring the Legion was a Superboy tale from Adventure Comics #247, written by Otto Binder with art by Al Plastino, and like all stories from that period it is insane, action-packed, ridiculously silly, and utterly contrived. As it opens, three random young people from around town seem to have discovered Superboy's secret identity! They casually greet Clark with the name "Superboy," and Superboy with the name "Clark Kent." What can it mean?! The explanation is of course simple: they're three young superheroes from the future who know Superman's life story from historical records, and who came back in time and got dressed up in 20th century clothes and greeted him that way just to have a bit of fun with him. Uh, yeah. Simple. Anyway, now they want him to come back to the 30th century with them to become a member of their super club. He agrees, and they take him on a tour of Smallville of the future, including the Kent house, still preserved as a shrine (although it's a bit overshadowed by the gigantic ROBOT FACTORY looming frighteningly close to it next door). Next they wow him by taking him to school to see a history lesson on himself! The teacher is using a Superboy robot to demonstrate Superboy's abilities - in this case melting steel with his X-ray vision (which doesn't make a lot of sense - why would X-ray vision melt steel? - but whatever) - when the robot craps out on him. Oddly no one has noticed that there's a kid who's dressed and looks exactly like Superboy in the classroom, but now his friends from the future bring him forward and explain to the teacher that they've got the real thing. The teacher says, oh good, so Superboy can finish the demonstration. That's it? The kids in your class brought a famous hero into the future from the past and you're just glad because he can finish melting a block of metal for you? Shouldn't you have a couple of thousand questions to ask him? Or maybe you might want to point out to the kids that removing someone from the past could seriously disrupt the timeline? No? Okay, buddy! I guess he's already got tenure, so he just doesn't give a crap anymore.
At first Superboy's new friends made it sound like his membership in the Legion was already assured, but now all of the sudden they reveal he'll have to compete against the three of them in turn, racing to complete three random super-tasks. He assumes this will be easy, as the three of them each have only one power, while he has many. But as he and his competitor start off to perform each task, Superboy always notices some other, more important emergency that he has to run off and fix first, so his competitor always beats him. Certain if he explains what happened, it will just be seen as a lame excuse, he doesn't mention any of the other emergencies to the group. The first time, when Superboy is pitted against the telepathic Saturn Girl, the Superboy robot suddenly goes berserk, a problem Superboy fixes by digging a tunnel in the robot's path that leads straight to the science professor's classroom; the professor disables the robot, but Superboy's already too late to perform the real task. Next he's pitted against Cosmic Boy, who has my favorite power: magnetic eyes!!! Seriously, who thought of that? Were they just throwing darts at two boards, one with random adjectives and one with random body parts? I also love the way Cosmic Boy explains his powers: "Special serums gave me magnetic eyes of super-power!" I bet they did, Cosmic Boy. I bet they did.
Anyway, Cosmic Boy beats Superboy, too, thanks to the fact that Superboy is distracted by a satellite hurtling to Earth. But the final distraction is the most ridiculous. As he and Lightning Boy are racing to warn a spaceship that its fuel tank is leaking, he overhears that the invisible eagle of Neptune has escaped through a very large hole in the Interplanetary Zoo, which is worrisome because: "Rocket-liners may bump into it without seeing it!" Superboy's solution is also quite ridiculous: he goes to sea and grabs an iceberg which he then flies back and forth through the air until it's nice and chilly. He chucks the iceberg and then looks around and is able to see the invisible eagle now, thanks to the fact that frost has formed on it. Uh, couldn't you have seen it anyway if you'd just looked for it on a different wavelength or something? Maybe he didn't have so many different vision abilities yet at this point in DC continuity. Anyway, Superboy has lost the Legion's challenges, and consequently they mock him as a pretty pathetic "super-hero" and send him off crying. But then they immediately call him back and reveal that it was all a test and they caused all the other emergencies that distracted him from the real tasks. They induct him as a member after all. Then suddenly a real emergency occurs - the spire holding the giant cosmic lamp above South Pole City starts to topple - and not only does he take care of it, he does so using the three powers of his new friends: magnetism (a magnetic meteor he grabs on the way), lightning (which he creates by seeding the clouds with salt), and... telepathy?? Okay, he cheats on the telepathy; when he gets back to Legion HQ, he says to Saturn Girl, "I'll bet you're wondering why I simply didn't shove the tower straight with my super-strength?" and she responds, "You read my mind!" D'oh.
The Legion is very impressed and give him their highest award. He gets back home and shows off to his pop. The end.
It's funny how often people are just casually assholes to each other in old comics, and it's treated like it's not a big deal at all. The Legion messes with Superboy so bad in this story, but he just kind of takes it with a smile (even if in one case he cries a little bit when they're not looking). And the plot itself is just such a random collection of odd events, all treated as if they're normal. A trip to the future, a robot replica of Superboy going haywire, an invisible eagle escaping the zoo, the statue of the unknown spaceman being dredged up from the bottom of the ocean by a telepathically controlled dinosaur (whose presence is never explained). It's like a fever dream, or a bad trip. But I guess that's old comics for you!
The new story in the back of the book is one of many "Origins & Omens" stories that will be appearing in the backs of DC comic books in the near future - or at least, that's my understanding. This little story actually reveals some pretty big plot points, which is kind of surprising. First of all, the Guardian of Oa who was burned during the Sinestro Corps War is now referred to as Scar, and we learn - just in the prologue! - that she's reading the Book of the Black, and clearly working for the Black Lanterns now. The particular passage she's looking at at the moment reveals what Lex Luthor is up to at the moment. Why Lex Luthor? Because he will influence the Black Lanterns a great deal somehow in the near future. As it turns out, Lex is currently escaping General Lane's confinement with the help of Brainiac! But it turns out Brainiac, although he does want to work with Lex, doesn't want to escape just yet. Hmmm... Anyways, Scar points out that while Lex might not really be in control of Brainiac, he will be in control of... Superman?? Sort of. There's a panel showing some version of Superman. I'm not really sure which version it's supposed to be - it could be Superboy Prime, or some other Superboy from some other universe. The point is this Superman will be dead, and it's reiterated that the Black Lanterns will control the dead.
There are some intriguing things in here, definitely. It feels like big things are happening, but not much is really explicitly revealed. It's pretty effective as a little backup story. I enjoyed it, and the comic as a whole.
The Age of the Sentry #5
It was pretty funny reading this comic right after reading the first adventure of the Legion in Adventure Comics #0, as the first story in this issue is clearly a parody of old Superman/Legion stories, right down to the classic art style. Marvel's version of the Legion - an intergalactic superhero team from the future - is the Guardians of the Galaxy, and of course the Sentry takes the place of Superman (as he usually does). I didn't recognize any of the members of the Guardians of the Galaxy who appear in this issue, but Wikipedia reveals that a good number of them are actually from the real lineup of the original team. But knowing anything about them is really unnecessary because, like I said, they're being used here merely as analogs for characters in the Legion. And just as in a Legion story, the plot is ridiculous: a living planet is about to give birth, and the gang needs to find a planet midwifery book to help out. They are briefly interrupted in their quest by an attack from some evil lizard men, but end up saving the day anyway, of course.
Some amusing moments include Laser Lass' crush on the Sentry ("Oooh, Sentry! Though you come from Earth's past, I wish you were the man of my future!"), followed quickly by Sun Girl's crush on the Sentry (her true name has those double letter initials again...), a quick cameo from a Guardian named Immortal One who is clearly Wolverine (we don't see his claws, but as he's walking off-panel, the classic SNIKT sound effect shows up in the corner), Teen Beat and Boy Blob (who are just funny character ideas), and of course the goofy, corny ending. In the middle of this story comes one of those intriguing, creepy moments where the art style changes and the Sentry spaces out and gets a weird glimpse of some horrifically large scale destruction. What can it mean? I'm sure we'll find out soon. The point is, another great Sentry story, full of clever, wry humor, at once a parody and an appreciation of classic comics, plus that extra suggestion of something sinister going on in the background.
Before the second story begins, there is a brilliant, one-page Hostess Fruit Pie advertisement parody in which Cranio's evil plan to hypnotize some hippies into doing his bidding is foiled by the Sentry distributing Marvel Brand Fruit Pies to the crowd. So hilarious.
Next up is "Fan Club!" in which three young people who are huge fans of the Sentry start trying to manipulate the hero's life and public image via a high tech control panel. One of their big problems is with Lindy Lee; they feel the Sentress would be a better match for the Sentry, so they have a Sentry robot rather hilariously break up with Lindy Lee while they set up a team-up between the Sentry and the Sentress. But the Sentry figures out something weird is going on and asks for Dr. Strange's advice, setting up some very, very funny sequences involving the Sorcerer Supreme. Strange is introduced laying full out on a huge pile of pillows with a hot lady next to him, and at first he lazily blows off the Sentry, but then gives him an idea for a clever plan to discover his manipulators, which involves the help of Mr. Fantastic. It works, and the kids apologize, but protest that they had the best intentions. The Sentry scolds them, "The road to Dormammu's dimension is paved with those, kids." Ha! When Robert Reynolds shows up back at the office, he's surprised when Lindy Lee suddenly makes out with him; she's decided to give up on the Sentry and try for Reynolds. Reynolds asks Dr. Strange telepathically, "Is it okay if Rob Reynolds dates Lindy Lee while Sentry dates the Sentress?" and Strange's astral projection says, with a wink, "I see no problem." Awesome. Another truly wonderful, truly funny Sentry story, this time taking a cockeyed look at comic fandom.
The next page of the comic is a return to the frame story set in the Baxter Building. Franklin still wants more stories, but Reed is totally exhausted. Susan, explaining Reed's tiredness: "He's spent the past week trying to reverse global warming—" The Thing: "Wuzzat?" Susan: "—I mean, working on a cure for your Uncle Ben." Franklin says he's so into the Sentry stories because "he has all these weird cool adventures, but they don't line up, I guess. Some of it sounds real, and other parts sound fake." Indeed, Franklin. Indeed. Suddenly Reed gets all creepy and threatening and says he's got a story for Franklin, all right: the final Sentry story!!! And we can expect that next issue. Exciting!
I love, love, love this book. I'm going to be sad when it's over. I hope it leads into another miniseries or something.
Agents of Atlas #1
Although this is not a very good book, the opening page, entitled "Gorilla Man's Continuity Catch-Up," is pretty fantastic, as it features Gorilla Man recapping years of Marvel Universe story arcs with just a handful of words each. The comic itself is rather clumsily written, but it has its moments. I like when Osborn realizes his facility's being infiltrated by Venus, so he just shouts for the Sentry. The Sentry is halfway across the world saving some people from a crashing helicopter, but he hears Osborn, sets the helicopter down and zooms back - only to be instantly put under the control of Venus. But it turns out Osborn has the goods on Venus, as well as on every other member of the Agents of Atlas; he gives us a handy little summary of their recent history. Then Atlas and Osborn come to an understanding. We get a look inside the Atlas Foundation's hidden city and get a better idea of why the Agents are acting like supervillains instead of the superheroes they actually are.
The backup story is set in Cuba, 1958, where Wolverine is on a mission (probably for S.H.I.E.L.D.?) and runs into the Agents of Atlas. As usual with this kind of thing, there's a misunderstanding at first and they get into a bit of a fight, but then they team up to kill evil mind-controlling alien parasites.
Neither of these stories really did anything for me. They're both kind of dull and clumsily written (we have to blame author Jeff Parker for that - he's pretty good as far as light humor tales are concerned, but apparently not so much on the serious drama), and I just don't care about the characters. The art (provided by Carlo Pagulayan in the first story and Benton Jew in the second) is quite good, and is especially interesting in the second story, but that's not enough to save the comic. I don't think I'll be picking up another issue of this series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #22
Although this issue fits into the current over-arching story and continues it in an interesting way, it's poorly paced, a bit dull, and disappointing. You'd think it'd be better, as it features a team-up by the two lesbian slayers, Kennedy and Satsu. Kennedy is on Satsu's turf to give her a performance review, seeing as how she just got promoted to cell leader. The two of them, while fighting a giant monster, stumble upon an example of the latest variation on a cute plush toy - Vampy Cat. It's an expression of the new popularity of vampires in popular culture, but it turns out it's also an evil mind-controlling parasite (lots of those in my comics this week...). It jumps down Satsu's throat and turns her into a slayer-hating conservative geisha. Luckily they get it out of her quickly, but the fun's not over: Vampy Cats are being shipped all over, with the bulk going to Scotland, because of course that's where Buffy and the slayer HQ is located. So Kennedy, Satsu, and her whole cell intercept the shipment and there's a huge fight against a horde of cute little plush monsters. Which is pretty fun and all, but the pacing of the issue is off - it just all seems to happen too fast. It is pretty funny the way Harmony goes on Larry King and spins the Vampy Cat fiasco to make the slayers look even worse. And it's nice that Satsu's moving on from her doomed-from-the-beginning romance with Buffy. But this definitely could have been a better issue.
Comic Book Comics #3
Yay! A new issue of Comic Book Comics! I had no idea this was coming out, as sadly the publisher (Evil Twin Comics) is one of the few not included on ComicList.com, but luckily I spotted it on the shelf at the second shop I visited this past week and snatched it up. It covers the comic book violence controversy, created in large part by Dr. Fredric Wertham; the creation of the Comics Magazine Association of America, and the Comics Code; the rise of pop art and how it brought comics back into the public consciousness; the popularity of the '60s Batman TV show; the arrival of R. Crumb on the scene; the explosion in popularity of science fiction, and how it took over many comics; gorillas (I love the story that DC started featuring gorillas on tons of covers in the '50s because comics with gorillas on the cover sold better than those without); the resurgence of superheroes and the birth of the Silver Age; and finally the return of Kirby to Marvel Comics. As usual, it's a highly entertaining, completely fascinating chunk of history. It'd be interesting to me even if it was told in a completely dry fashion, but the clever, comic tone and silly illustrations makes it truly excellent. My favorite page is titled "The Evolution of the Superhero" and summarizes in little allegorical panels how the superhero changed from the Golden Age to the Silver Age to the Modern Age. They really nail down all the themes and stereotypes of each age. Plus, "Holy Christ Rape!" is a pretty unforgettable phrase.
Dead Irons #1
I read about this new horror Western series from Dynamite in Comic Shop News and thought it looked and sounded kind of cool. Unfortunately, it's not so much. The surreal, painterly art from Jason Shawn Alexander is eerie and impressive, but the writing is painfully cheesy, melodramatic, and emo. It's about an undead family, some of whom are evil bounty hunters, and one of whom has a conscience and is hunting them, I think. There's a werewolf, a vampire, Satanists, and lots of shooting and blood. It's kind of fun in some ways, but not fun enough.
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3
Man, this miniseries is taking forever to finish. I think it might be the last Final Crisis tie-in left, still chugging along. I guess I can understand why; it seems like every couple pages there's another giant two-page spread with about a million characters on it. The story's not exactly simple, either. It opens with Mon-El convincing Sodam Yat to come back and fight Superboy Prime, and he even decides he's going to revive the Corps, too. I'm fascinated that the Green Lantern Corps' oath has changed into something that seems to hint at how the Corps War that will precede Blackest Night has affected things ("...no other Corps shall spread its light! Let those who try to stop what's right burn like my power, Green Lantern's light!"). A few Legionnaires are killed, including Karate Kid (that guy's getting killed all the time! Although I can understand why writers would want to kill him. I mean... Karate Kid?). Then the two other Legions show up and the giant fight gets really giant. This is a pretty funny sequence, as the three different versions of each of the characters get to meet each other. Meanwhile, one small group of Legionnaires has headed back in time to Smallville of the 20th century, where they're going to follow some trail having to do with a young Lex Luthor. Interesting... In yet another meanwhile, another group of Legionnaires talk over some very complex continuity issues that I didn't particularly follow, and then do some very complicated hand-wavy, science fiction stuff which somehow brings back Kid Flash, whom Superboy Prime is afraid of for some reason. Yeah, this miniseries is definitely all about the continuity porn, so a lot of it is lost on me. (Some quick research on Wikipedia did at least explain Prime's fear of Kid Flash.) Still, pretty exciting and epic, so I'm hanging in there.
I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #1
Like Iron Nails, this is another series that I decided to try based on an article in Comic Shop News (I guess that's what it's for, after all), but in this case I'm pretty impressed. It helps tremendously that the art is by John Cassaday, whose work always blows me away. The story is by Fabien Nury, and it opens in 1942 London, where a dude switches bodies! Which is cool. Then some underground resistance guys in Romania get made by the Nazis and have to run. Only one of them makes it, after coldly eliminating one of his friends so he's not caught alive. Back in London, a secret team is assembled and ordered to investigate the "death" of the guy who switched bodies earlier. Meanwhile, there's a creepy little girl with magic powers in Romania, and the Nazis are trying to maybe... make more people like her? I'm not clear on that. Oh, and the resistance guy who got away cuts his finger off for some reason.
This series was apparently already released years ago, but it was never finished, and now the whole thing is being reprinted from the beginning again thanks to a joint effort by Humanoids and Devil's Due Publishing. I'm very intrigued so far. The writing is smart, there are some cool concepts, and of course the WWII setting is always interesting. I'll definitely tune in for the next episode.
Jersey Gods #1
Yet another book I was sold on thanks to an article in Comic Shop News, this one's about a Kirby-style, God-like alien super-being who's lured to Earth (the Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey, to be exact) by his enemy and drawn into a dangerous fight. Meanwhile, a Jersey girl who's unlucky in love (thanks in large part to her tendency to try to mold her boyfriends into something they're not) sees he's in trouble and tries to do what she can to help him.
The local connection is of course a large part of what drew me to the comic (and I'm guessing that drew in a lot of other people around here, too; the first two shops I went to were sold out of this book), but so did the rest of the concept - a Kirby hero trying to juggle intergalactic peacekeeping and a relationship with a high maintenance Jersey girl (because inevitably the two of them end up together). I really love Dan McDaid's art here, and Glen Brunswick's writing is pretty fun so far. It's funny that even though there are giant super-fights going on, the comic is really more a relationship story than anything else; even the God-like super beings, while clobbering giant asteroids and each other, are constantly talking about relationships and personal issues.
The series already seems to be pretty popular among comic creators, judging by the pull-quotes on the back, and the fact that upcoming issues are going to feature covers by Darwyn Cooke and Paul Pope, and a backup story by Mark Waid. So I'm definitely sticking around to check out that stuff, if nothing else. And the characters and story are kind of interesting, too!
After a sobering night that turns Brule and Kull from ancestral enemies to fast friends and allies, Kull finds that the serpents have declared war against them, so they declare war right back. There's plenty of brutal slaughter, and Kull proves himself a true stone-cold bad-ass.
I've been enjoying this comic, but the last couple issues didn't excite me all that much. I think I was waiting for this issue, which is practically wall-to-wall fighting and bad-assery. It's good stuff.
Secret Warriors #1
Another Dark Reign tie-in, this one focuses on Nick Fury and the team of previously unknown super-powered young people that he put together to fight the Skrull menace. He's now keeping them together to try to fight evil in a world that's become even more complex. I like very much the phrase "Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing" which appears on the cover. The shattered S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on the inside is a nice touch, too. But as far as the story's concerned: the gang's latest mission, which was supposed to just be recon at an old S.H.I.E.L.D. base, turns into a giant fight where they're caught between Hydra and H.A.M.M.E.R. Fury is pissed, because he didn't want his team exposed so early. He drops a real bomb at the end of the issue - something on par with the revelation that the Skrulls were among us: S.H.I.E.L.D. is and has been compromised by Hydra for a long, long time.
This is disturbing and intriguing, but it's also one of those retcon type things that annoy me so much. Also, the comic is wordy, with too much narration. And the words aren't even that good! It's very tell-don't-show, corny, melodramatic. Brian Michael Bendis has a story credit, but so does Jonathan Hickman, and Hickman is the sole person given a script credit, so I suppose he's to blame. It doesn't help that the art is by Stefano Caselli. There's something about Caselli's rather cartoony style that just turns me off. Or it might be that I just associate his style with bad comics, because he seems to illustrate so many of them.
So yeah, even though I like the concept behind this comic, and I'm vaguely curious to see where it goes... I don't think I'll be getting another issue.
X-Men: First Class - Finals #1
I gave up reading X-Men: First Class a while back, but not because I disliked it, per se. It was more because it just wasn't that good. I was always at least mildly entertained by it. So when I saw that a new miniseries was coming out that would put a point on the early X-Men's adventures, I knew I had to pick it up. The premise is that Xavier has decided his first class is ready to graduate, so he sets up a very special final examination for them. But before that, the whole class shares a strange dream, thanks to Jean's telepathic powers. It gives us an interesting glimpse of what's on and in her mind, and a look at how these characters and their relationships with each other have grown and developed.
The X-Men's final test involves a long, tough fight versus a sort of "greatest hits" of the big villains they've faced over the series, and it eventually breaks out of the danger room and onto the grounds, and then seems to turn into something more than just a test when they run into a real villain.
It's a pretty exciting story that handles the characters well, and there's plenty of that usual Jeff Parker humor (one of my favorite bits being the weird running gag, apparently left over from a previous issue, wherein the team is constantly using the word "deuce").
There's a backup story called "Scott and Jean Are on a Date!" wherein Scott tries to take Jean to a fancy restaurant, but doesn't make reservations first, so they end up having to fall back on their normal hang-out after all, to his shame. But then some story about the Avengers pops up on the TV which will apparently be important to future installments of this story. Not much here yet, but it's kind of cute, and I always like Colleen Coover's art.
In the very back of the book is a preview for War of Kings. It's got some action and some soap opera melodrama. I'm not interested.
Overall a decent book, and since the miniseries is only four issues, I can't think of a reason to not collect the whole thing.
X-Men: Magneto - Testament
The final issue of this powerful miniseries picks up the speed and the action. The war is winding down and the prisoners know a final run of executions are on the way, so plans for an escape gain momentum, and Max in particular knows he has to get Magda out. The way he saves her is horrific and scarring, but he does save her. The two of them escape during a mostly failed uprising. Years later, Max returns to the camp to retrieve the letter he wrote and buried - the letter he thought would be his final testament. The final sentiment - "Please. Don't let this ever happen again." - is of course the central idea of this story, and the thought that drives Max and underlies all his future actions as Magneto. I was kind of hoping for some kind of quick jump forward to him as Magneto, so the connection between his past and future self would be made more clear, but I understand why it's not here; we can make it ourselves just fine.
I have to say this final issue was not as moving or as powerful as some previous issues in the series have been, but it is good. In a short Afterword, author Greg Pak talks briefly about what went into making the story, gives thanks, and provides a limited bibliography, promising a more detailed list of his sources and books for further reading in the collected edition. Finally, in the back is a short comic by Rafael Medoff, penciled by Neal Adams, and inked by Adams and Joe Kubert, telling the true story of the artist Dina Babbitt, who was forced to paint a series of portraits of concentration camp prisoners for Dr. Josef Mengele. In the years after the war, she has tried to get those paintings back from the Aushcwitz State Museum, but the museum refuses to return them. Many people, including a group of comic book artists, authors, and editors, have taken up her cause - thus this short comic, and the message afterwards by Stan Lee, also in support of Babbitt.
I'm impressed that a comic that could have been merely another supervillain origin story was turned into such a powerful retelling of such an important piece of history, and that this final book includes a message in support of a survivor. The series as a whole is a beautiful and moving piece that not only captures the essence of the character, but also makes a meaningful statement about humanity. Bravo.
Young Guns '09 Sketchbook
This is not a comic, just a freebie highlighting the artwork of some of the latest and greatest artists Marvel has acquired for its stable of exclusives: Daniel Acuña, Steffano Caselli, Mike Choi, Marko Djurdjevic, Khoi Pham, and Rafa Sandoval. I've already made my feelings on Caselli clear further up this post, but I do enjoy the work of Daniel Acuña. Choi's stuff I don't love, but it's all right. Djurdjevic is cool, as is Pham, and I'm particularly impressed by Sandoval's work. Regardless, it's kind of neat to see the artists get their due.
|Tagged (?): Blackest Night (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Buffy (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Dr. Strange (Not), Fantastic Four (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Jack Kirby (Not), John Cassaday (Not), Legion of Super-Heroes (Not), Superman (Not), The Sentry (Not), The Take (Not), Wolverine (Not), WWII (Not), X-Men (Not)|
|Monday, January 12, 2009 08:59 PM|
|On the Viewer - Downfall|
| by Fëanor|
I just recently finished watching Downfall, a film based on two books about the downfall of Nazi Germany, one of which was written by someone who was actually there when it all went down: Traudl Junge, Hitler's last private secretary. Although there are many characters in the film, and we follow events from various different points of view, I would say that Traudl is the primary main character of the film. Downfall is set in and around Hitler's bunker in Berlin during the last few days of Germany's participation in WWII, and attempts to be a very accurate, if dramatized, account of those times.
Any film retelling any part of the story of the Nazis and WWII is bound to be disturbing, but Downfall is disturbing in a particularly interesting way: it tells the story entirely from the perspective of the Nazis. Every major character in the film is a Nazi. You are therefore left with the dilemma that if you sympathize with anyone in the movie (and it's constructed to force you to do just that), you are necessarily sympathizing with a Nazi. And not a half-hearted, Schindler-like, "good" Nazi, either; we're talking about people like Hitler, Goebbels, Albert Speer, Himmler, SS officers, and all the top generals - the kind of people who choose to kill themselves and all their little children because they can't bear to think of themselves or their families living on in a world without National Socialism. Admittedly, the most central characters - Traudl and Dr. Schenck - seem to be decent human beings, from what we see of their actions. They do not kill themselves for the Reich, and Schenck looks on the very idea as insane and barbaric. Traudl is a tender young woman, and Schenck is a humanitarian, risking his life to collect medical supplies, to try to stop executions, to save the sick and wounded.
Still, it's very unsettling, finding yourself being tricked by the conventions of film into feeling for these characters and their plight. I'm used to movies like the Indiana Jones movies, where all the Nazis are just plain evil and you can settle back and happily hate them unconditionally. This film doesn't give you that easy out.
Of course, that's not to say it supports the Nazis, either. Hitler is not a hero here; he's a madman, living in a fantasy world, convinced almost until the very end that somehow Germany will have its victory. It's painful to watch him spin out his wild ideas for the future when everyone else in the room knows they are not based in any kind of reality. He asks the impossible, gives insane orders, and no one has the courage to tell him the truth. When his officials plead with him to surrender, and spare the citizens of Germany the agony and the death that will come with drawing the conflict out further, he refuses. If they are weak and have failed, then they deserve destruction, and he has no pity for them.
There is debauchery amongst the wreckage, as the officials and civilians inside the bunker try to take what comfort they can while the world is falling apart around them. It's an endless, Mad Hatter's dinner party, an insane celebration amidst the disaster, led in large part by Eva Braun.
The latter half of the film is an orgy of killing and suicide as even the top Nazis give up on the idea of winning and embrace what they feel is the only other option: death. Again, the movie forces you into an uncomfortable but almost unavoidable position. As you watch the German war effort fall to pieces, and see all these men and women killing themselves, it is impossible not to feel depressed. But are you depressed because the Nazis are losing? How can that be? It reminds me of Hitchcock's disturbing ability to turn things around and force you to sympathize with the murderer, as he does in Psycho.
One of the film's most brutal moments, which I've already alluded to, is when Magda Goebbels executes all six of her young children by giving each of them a sedative and then coming into the room and forcing each sleeping child to bite down on a cyanide capsule. Again you are not given an easy out. The camera doesn't wait outside with Joseph Goebbels. You must watch as each and every one of the six children is forced to drink the drug, and then as Magda places the capsule in each and every one of their mouths and forces their jaws closed. It's agonizing and absolutely horrific, but you cannot turn away.
Little is said in the film about the Holocaust. A couple of times Hitler mentions how much he hates the Jews, and at the end he's certainly not repentant (in fact, in the final statement he has his secretary record, he lists killing so many Jews as one of the accomplishments he's most proud of!), but there is no footage of the Ghettos or of the Concentration Camps. Of course, this film is not about that; it's specifically a history of the final days in and around Hitler's bunker in Berlin. But it still feels like a rather large omission.
It's hard to know how to feel about the movie. We're so used to hating the Nazis and seeing them as the most hideous Other that it's hard to accept a film that turns us around and forces us to see through their eyes. It seems almost immoral. But it's clear that Downfall does not do this to condone anything the Nazis did. It does so instead so that we will look at these people and see them as people. It is a chronicle of human beings amidst the madness of war - a reminder of that horror. And it forces you to realize that, yes, the Nazis - even Hitler himself - were human beings, and not just faceless monsters. Some insist it's dangerous to think of Hitler as anything but absolute evil personified, but I disagree; I think it's important to remember that he was just a person. It doesn't take a demon or a monster to perform acts of unspeakable horror; regular people are quite capable of it. We can't ever forget that. And if Downfall helps us to remember, than its value is difficult to calculate.