Friday, September 21, 2012

Irony In Video Games: Super Mario Bros

I was pondering on what to write about today with little success. Should I speak of a pastime story, a story of a character I incepted in my youth, a review or analysis of a movie I just saw, or should I magically sprout something completely random from the giant wad of bubble gum in my skull?

That's exactly what I'll do.

I have been thinking a lot about video games lately (as always), but not the first person shooters or the games of tattooed fellows fighting mythological creatures. I have been thinking about the classics, the games that made the industry what it is today. You know the ones I am speaking of. Games like The Legend of Zelda and Sonic the Hedgehog come to mind, don't they? But we are not talking about those classics today, no sir! We are talking about a video game that changed the world of gaming for the rest of time. We are talking about a game with as much plot as an 80s action thriller and a Disney animated fantasy. We are talking about a game with legendary characters, iconic settings and environments. We are talking about the classic, the masterpiece, the video game piece of gold that is Super Mario Bros. What can be said about Super Mario Bros. that hasn't already been said at least a gazillion times already? The Italian plumbers, the Goombas, the Toads, the castles, the mushrooms, the fire flowers, the Hammer Bros, the list of characters and items that come to mind when you hear the title of the game goes on and on and on. Like Walt Disney before him, Shigeru Miyamoto has cemented himself as a world changing wonder, creating whimsical fantasies and creatures in a world far different from our very own. Mario is like Mickey, and when you hear the word Nintendo, this overweight mustached plumber jumps right into your head, for he has left an impact like no other character in history has been able to produce.

But what is the irony of Super Mario Bros. that sticks out to me the most? What really sets it in the pot as a game unlike any other game and what BOINGS every time I play the game on an NES or SNES? In other words, what do I like most about the great pixelated treasure and what really sets it apart from most titles of the same video game category? Lets put on our red shirts and blue suspenders and head to the Mushroom Kingdom to have a look!

First of all, lets have a look at our main protagonists, Mario and Luigi. When you play the game alone, you play as Mario. When you play with another person, you play as Mario and the other person plays as Luigi. In the world of early 8-bit titles, there is only a brief explanation of the characters and what they are after, but we can pretty much play out the characters' motivations in our heads without giving it much thought. Mario and Luigi are off to save Princess Peach from the dreaded King Koopa Bowser. It's plain, simple and easy for a gamer of any age to comprehend. And if you really ponder on the matter, you will realize that this harkens back to many tales from decades before. Jumping on the Disney wagon once more, it's very much how the Prince has to free Snow White from the curse of her evil stepmother, with the Seven Dwarves helping along the way. The prince in many ways is like both Mario and Luigi, Princess Peach is like Snow White, and I can't help but think up that the Dwarves are very much like the Toads. SMB also has a Wizard of Oz vibe to it, for Mario and Luigi have to rescue the Princess from King Bowser just like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion have to rescue Dorothy from the wrath of the Wicked Witch of the West. The Mushroom Kingdom has many wondrous creatures just like the Land of Oz has many wondrous creatures, for Toads are like Munchkins, killer trees are like Piranha Plants, and Flying Monkeys are like Koopa Paratroopas.

And I'd be a monkey's uncle if I didn't compare SMB to the cinema glory that is Star Wars. Don't you think that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are very much like Mario and Luigi. After all, they have to fight over the girl just like Luke and Han have to fight over Princess Leia. We may not see it, but we know that it's swelling up inside of them, and one of them is destine to get the hottie while the other gets diddly jack. One of the many inspirations for Mario's character was Popeye the Sailor. In fact, Miyamoto originally wanted to make a Popeye game, but he couldn't afford the rights to the character, so he proceeded to making a game of an entirely new idea, the first game to feature Mario, Donkey Kong. So yes, in many ways, you could compare Mario to the pipe smoking, spinach eating cartoon sailor man. Both Mario and Popeye are thrown into unexpected situations and journeys, most of them involving rescuing the girl from a villainous entity. Both characters eat a vegetable of some sort to get maximum strength. In Mario's case, it's a mushroom, in Popeye's case, it's spinach. And just like I mentioned earlier, Mario and Luigi fight over the girl, much like Luke and Han fight over Princess Leia and Popeye and Bluto fight over Olive Oyl. It's the traditional wrestling match to see who gets the pretty gal and it usually ends with someone falling on their rump while the other gets a big smooch on the lips. There are countless Popeye cartoons where that happens to poor Bluto, and of course, it's Luigi who is shoved aside while Mario and Peach share some puppy love.

The plot is straight forward as said earlier, but there are many elements of the plot that are shrouded in mystery. Why does Bowser capture the Princess? How do Mario and Luigi get involved in the mission to save her? Why is the Mushroom Kingdom overrun by Bowser's minions? Is it all part of a scheme so Bowser can take control of the Kingdom? It is all in the shadows, but to be honest, I think it's kinda neat that way. It leaves you with that feeling where you come up with your own fan scenarios and speculations and you develop plot points of your very own. Maybe Bowser captures the Princess so he can marry her and Mario and Luigi work as Peach's personal protectors. Maybe the Princess' capture was all set up by the Princess herself as a means to test Mario and Luigi's timing and reflexes. Who knows what the holes in the plot are all about, but I really enjoy coming up with my own sort of story to accompany the game. Although the game has a solid, run of the mill plot, it is always a pleasure to come up with your own plot twists and meanings to help expand the story of the game and in many ways, better it, from a certain point of view of course. After all, many movies, novels, comic books, and other video games follow the same formula. How is it that Batman could escape the Batwing before it explodes with the nuclear device in The Dark Knight Rises? You just don't know, but with a little thinking juice, you could come up with your own thing and you could stick to it like glue.

As for the villain, I have a lot to say about good old Bowser. He's kinda like the relentless dirtbag that keeps coming back for more, after all, he has captured Princess Peach in many of the Marion sequels to follow. And you would think after all those captures, Peach would train herself to defend herself against Bowser whenever he's at it again. But nope, she just keeps that pretty smile on her face and gets hurled away to Bowser's castle of doom so he can do God knows what with her! Anyway, Bowser is very much like the common, sinister villain of motion pictures and timeless stories. He's like a monstrous reptilian version of Darth Vader and the Koopas are like his stormtroopers, following his orders and fighting off anyone that stands in his way. Of course, it's the Mario Bros. that stand in his way, and like Luke and Han before them, they are able to wipe out the main enemies' soldiers so they can press forward and rescue the hottie from any harm, if you play the game right of course. Who doesn't love stomping down on those vicious turtle abominations! But what makes Bowser so unique in my eyes is that he has doppelgängers of himself scattered all throughout the Mushroom Kingdom to fool Mario and Luigi into thinking it's really him. Remember when you would get to one of Bowser's many palaces, make your way to the end, fight off the Bowser clone and have an obnoxious Toad tell you that the princess is in another castle? It creates an odd form of suspense and it keeps you playing until you eventually get to the real Bowser and Princess Peach. Like many movies and novels, it has you suckered in all the time. But believe it or not, Bowser is not the first to pull off this diabolical scheme.

In the Fantastic Four comic books, the villainous nemesis Dr. Doom has thousands of robotic replicas of himself to fool the Fantastic Four and trick them into thinking that it's actually him. In the Marvel Movie Universe, Loki is able to produce multiple replicas of himself to trick the heroes (particularly Thor) and knock them to the floor. And I can't tell you how many horror movies I've seen where the protagonist kills who they think is the villain, when it is really someone dressed up exactly like the villain. Remember that scene in Halloween 2 where they run the car into someone who is dressed up exactly like Michael Myers? It all ties in nicely with this thread from the original Super Mario Bros. and it makes Bowser not only a unique video game enemy, but a unique enemy in general. He also lives in a palace just like many classic villains of the era. Instead of using magical spells and lightsabers, he uses hammers, it doesn't get any better than that! I also should point out that Bowser is a lot like a cartoony kid friendly version of Ganon from The Legend of Zelda, but that's just how I look at him as they are two completely different monsters with completely different plans of terror. Bowser also reminds me of Godzilla and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans, for they are all ghastly and reptilian in appearance.

I could go on for an eternity about the irony of this game and what it all reminds me of, but I just wanted to sum this all up in one solid blogpost. I will point out that the early stages of SMB look like a pixelated version of the Shire from Lord of the Rings and that the underwater levels look like something straight out of Atlantis, but that pretty much sums it all up on the irony of Super Mario Bros. inarguable one of the best video games to hit the face of mother Earth. Whether it's the All Stars version or the version for the original NES, Super Mario Bros. is a game that will certainly delight generations of game goers who are looking for a game to please, satisfy and blow away. Mamma Mia!

The Wacky Adventures of Harold the Hound

I recall a story I wrote for a sixth grade project that featured a yellow anthropomorphic canine called Harold. This critter, unlike the winged Yam Yam, was a wonderer similar to Indiana Jones or Buck Rogers because he always stumbled onto a place that got him into some sort of trouble and danger. In the adventure I wrote, he buys a boat with some birthday money (a LOT of birthday money I might add) and he sets sail onto the sea. Suddenly, a storm comes and the boat crashes into an island inhabited by tribal hounds, hounds that remind me of the Skull Island tribal men from King Kong. The hounds try to attack Harold but he throws some candy at them as they eat it in fascination. Soon after, the tribal hounds get sick and turn pink. Luckily, Harold always keeps a handy bottle of Pepto Bismal with him wherever he goes. So he gives them some of the minty medicine and for some odd reason I can't explain, the tribal men turn into vicious mutant hounds who try to gobble up Harold for brunch. Thinking fast, Harold fixes up his boat, but the mutant hounds break it again anyway. Thinking again, Harold gives the tribal mutants an antidote and they revert back to their original selves. Realizing that Harold has helped them, the tribal hounds help Harold fix his boat and he leaves the island with a thankful wave goodbye.

There you have it friends. Unfortunately, I have misplaced my sixth grade project on Harold so I am unable to show you the pictures, but I do recall that I received an A+ on the assignment. Talk about a character that is not only exciting, but he helps you get through school as well!

Here is a photo of the little devil. He's so cute, he puts Scooby Doo and Snoopy to shame!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Teddy Bear With A Halo

There's no questioning that most of the stories I have conceived throughout my life were inspired by motion pictures, novels, and of course, video games. They are elements that have stuck with me like wall putty for eons, and I have been molded into the figure I am today because I was taken to the "impossible" and back through these motion pictures, novels, and video games. There is just something about them that fills my blood with a pleasant feeling, a feeling of overwhelming nostalgia and fantasy, and because of them, I have been pushed to tell stories of my very own, stories I hope will help me in the future when I take storytelling and creating into a career. But the more I ponder on the matter, and the more I observe what I have done in the past, I come to realize, in many ways, that this is what I was put upon the Earth to do. Some of us are put on the Earth to become politicians, mechanics, plumbers, and graphic designers, but I believe that my stronghold is through the art of storytelling and letting my brain spill out into the real world, making my thoughts touchable for the whole world to decipher. And no matter where the waves take me, I can have the stories I have incepted in the past to give me an extra kick when I need it. I can have the tales I have put together throughout my early life to guide me through the right tunnel and help me realize that anything is possible. The "impossible" is possible.

Why am I jibber jabbing about all this? Well, this past week, these last two weeks I should say, have left me in a state of bitterness. As I struggled to create the tale that kickstarts what I like to call the "Zurnverse" (a series of stories and fantasies taking part in the same continuity) and make it into something that can be enjoyed by the many, I dug into my memory lane and pulled out some old stories and illustrations I have done throughout the years. It's interesting looking upon all this old material, for it allows me to see what kind of person I was then and what kind of person I am now. Of course, as a kid (a kid in the 13-16 age frame), my imagination was just starting to reach it's tippity top, and I couldn't help but conjure up stories about jedi knights, man eating boys (I'll talk about that one some other time), old crones running soda factories, time traveling brothers, and even stories about young school boys traveling to India and fighting giant stone statues. It's uncanny how many stories I had stashed away in my bedroom, I surely couldn't believe it when I pulled them out and polished them off the other day. But of all the stories I have brought into this world, one of them sticks out like a monkey in a banana pudding factory. One of them has been the cream of the crop in my mind ever since I first came up with it one night before I went to bed in the early 2000s. It's been an intriguing tale that continues to intrigue me to this very day. And believe it or no, it's all about a teddy bear with a halo.

I guess I better explain a little bit more before I bite further into the pie. You see, way back in the early 2000s, way back before the first Harry Potter film and the first Lord of the Rings film, my uncle gave us a disc for Christmas, a disc featuring roms of famous arcade games and platformers (I also should note that the video game in my memories, Wonder Boy, was upon this disc). For hours and hours without stop, my brother and I would sit there at the computer and cramp our fingers playing the games upon the disc. We played titles like Konami's X-Men, Konami's Simpsons arcade game, Wonder Boy, the Three Stooges arcade game (the one with the creepy voices) and even classics like Dig Dug and Donkey Kong. But there was one game on the disc that was forever burned into my retinas, and it's a rather silly, but funny title with a lot of heart. Looking back on the game a decade later, it really sends me back to the computer desk at my old house, playing the game like it was the best thing since cinnamon pretzels. The game was called Yam! Yam? and even after a decade, it's still an interesting little overhead view game with challenging puzzle solving and brain teasing strategy. Some may say the game is tripe compared to today's mass shooters and sci-fi army fighting games, but it was the inspiration for me to create a tale of a teddy bear with a halo, and it was something that got me hooked on drawing cartoons and interesting little bear critters with beautiful castles and magical swords. All I can say is that my little creature, interestingly named Yam Yam Ambers, was about to reach the line paper sketchbooks (yeh, that's what I made a lot of my stories in back in the day).

I doodled the curious little fellow one evening before I hit the hay, turning him from a bland, generic bear into a bear with a halo and wings. You could just simply call him "Angel Bear". But Yam Yam's tales were just beginning, and along with the curious fellow, I drew up some friends of his. He had a brother who was a rabbit, a rabbit named Dil (obviously named after the little brother from Rugrats). He had a school teacher and mentor, a school teacher and mentor named Homer Funny who taught potions and chemistry (he's almost like a nice, pleasant version of Severus Snape). Last but not least, there was a dragon, a female dragon named Harriet, who just so happened to be Yam Yam's pet. I'm not quite sure where she came from, but I think she was inspired by the female dragon in Shrek. Over the next few months, Yam Yam's tale grew rapidly, and I slowly found myself deeply immersed in his wondrous sci-fi fantasy universe. After the release of the first Harry Potter film, I was motivated to give Yam Yam a magical wand or magical apparatus to fight with and more characters entered the universe I was diligently creating throughout the weeks and weekends. There was the king and queen, who ruled over the world Yam Yam lived in, which was oddly named the Kingdom of Death. As I recall, I created a backstory and explained why the kingdom was called the Kingdom of Death. It was named after a young wizard named Johno Death, who sacrificed his life to safe the kingdom from a deadly threat. In his honor, the kingdom was renamed the Kingdom of Death, although it's a rather odd name for a kingdom if you ask me. It almost sounds like the kingdom is full of dead people or something. Lord knows where I came up with the name for that one.

Getting back to the characters, there was a half man half cyborg dude called Darktongue Bings, who had spikes growing out of his head. If memory serves me right, he was Homer Funny's cousin and was a few years older than Yam Yam. There was the cute little brother to Yam Yam ingeniously named Yinky, who had a square halo instead of the round one Yam Yam had. There was also Yam Yam's arch rival from school, Clinton Bare. He's kind of like Draco Malfoy, only less sinister and lacking the combed down blonde hair. But you can't have a protagonist without an antagonist, and boy, did Yam Yam have a bunch of them. He had a villainous tyrant come after him by the name of Cornelius Evilus, who gathered up an army of mutants to help him in his hunt for Yam Yam. Later on in the story, he is revealed to be Yam Yam's biological father. There was an adversary entitled Melt Man. Can you guess what his ability was? HE COULD MELT. Bet you weren't expecting that! Then there was an intergalactic alien dude, an underwater fish head, a man with the ability to shoot spikes from his body, and Yam Yam's biggest foe of them all,  Uno. I'm going to come right out now and say that he was named after the card game of the same name. As a kid who was trying to come up with a name for his hero's villain, I curiously stumbled upon a Uno card one day and decided that's exactly what the villain should be aptly named. Little did I know at the time that Uno meant "one" in Spanish.

Uno, who's real name was James Richo, was the evil sorcerer trying to take over Yam Yam's school, Kingdom of Death Elementary. Yam Yam encounters Uno many times throughout his travels and at one point, even takes a shard of glass from a broken mirror and slashes Uno across the face several times, horribly scarring and disfiguring him. Uno is driven to the point of great insanity and at many times, comes close to finishing Yam Yam, even putting the ones he loves in danger. But Yam Yam, through his swift acts of will, always proves victorious and Uno is defeated, that is until he finds a way to rise to power again. At one point, if memory serves me right, he assassinates the king and queen of the Kingdom of Death, and he takes over the kingdom himself as emperor. Pretty hardcore stuff for a tale a child wrote. It makes me wonder at times what kind of twisted mind I had as a kid. Obviously, most of this was inspired by Harry Potter and X-Men, two of my favorite franchises at the time, but it's interesting to see how more original the story got as it progressed. I probably made 20 or more Yam Yam stories before moving onto other projects. I would even take some of my Pokemon figurines and act out the stories I cooked up, pretending Pikachu was Yam Yam, humming my own music like it was an actual movie and doing all the voices for the characters I was fancying.

While Yam Yam has had plenty of adventures throughout the years, his story was pretty much straight forward. Every year, when Yam Yam went to school, some ghastly force would arise and try and terrorize the ground he walked upon. Luckily, he and his friends worked together to stop the evil on several occasions, going everywhere from the outer depths of space, the dark dark forest, and the cold chilling waters where the fish headed dude ruled. And instead of taking a Hogwarts Express to school, Yam Yam and his brother Dil took a flying bus, a massive double decker with wings. In each section of the bus, there was a television set, a video game console, and all the snacks you could ever eat. I distinctly remember that Yam Yam's favorite was peppermint jelly beans. One year, while Yam Yam was at KofD Elementary, he was selected by politicians to perform in an intergalactic competition, fighting space aliens, flying in hover cars, and making his way through a deadly labyrinth with a gnarly trash compactor (one that would surely put the one on the Death Star to shame). He even fell in love with a sheep named Shelley, and the two eventually got married and had a son. At some point or another, Yam Yam injures his eye (possibly in a fight with Cornelius Evilus) and is forced to wear and eyepatch, but that doesn't stop him from training his son for the upcoming fight against the newly resurrected Uno, whom he eventually comes to defeat once and for all. Yam Yam also looses his mentor, Homer Funny and his brother Dil in Evilus' reign, but eventually forms a good relationship with Homer's cousin Darktongue. Just like many heroes throughout pop media, Yam Yam has evolved from a rambunctious, wild fellow to a dignified, optimistic warrior willing to stop all the retched who terrorize what he cherishes.

And isn't it fascinating to see how far I have come throughout the years. I have gone from making stories about teddy bears with halos to stories about vampire hunters, galactic dictators, green skinned mutants from the future, a planet inhabited by toons, and a ninja vigilante of the night. It's so satisfying to me knowing that I have created such an epic story like Yam Yam's and even if I haven't discussed all the elements surrounding his biography (I HAVEN'T EVEN SCRATCHED THE SURFACE), it is certainly a sweet treat to row my boat through the memory tunnel and have a look at a magnificent fairy tale I conceived nearly a decade ago. Hopefully, I can have a look at this greatness again in the near future, but for now, I'm going to move on to many other grand and glorious things, make the stories of my dreams. In many ways, I can think to myself and say that it was Yam Yam, the teddy bear with the halo that started it all.

Maybe the little fellow can make a cameo in my first book.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Spider -Man 4: What If?

As we all know, Spider-Man was revamped on the big screen almost a month ago, and the era of Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spidey films has come to an end. But it's always fun to think of what the fourth film in Sam Raimi's saga would have been like had it been made, so here is the way I always imagined Spider-Man 4 appearing on the big screen. Who would the villains be? What kind of ghastly plans do the villains have in store? Will Spider-Man don the black alien costume once more? There is only one way to find out. Set your eyes to reading mode! 

NOTE: Many times, after Spider-Man 3's release, I have had dreams of going to see Spider-Man 4 and then waking up and being disappointed that it wasn't real. Isn't it fascinating what we can brew in our skulls when we are fast asleep? 

I always fancied the film being called Spider-Man 4: The Wrath of Carnage. It's similar to the second Star Trek film being called Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. But now that I ponder on the matter, I think Spider-Man 4: The Maximum Carnage is a more appropriate title, and a perfect homage to one of my favorite comic book series and one of my favorite video games. And yes, straight from the title, you can assume that Carnage is the main villain, but carnage can also mean extreme murder and chaos. However, it wouldn't make sense to call the film The Maximum Carnage and not have Carnage be the main baddy. After all, with Venom appearing at the very end of Spider-Man 3 and Dr. Connors having a bit of the symbiote in his office, it could be possible that the symbiote evolves into the chaotic red and black alien we all know him as and the menace could take over the psychotic Ravencroft mass murderer, Cletus Cassidy. Movies change things all the time, so I could totally see this happening if Spider-Man 4 were an actual film. And for some reason, I always imagined Jim Carrey playing Cletus Kassidy, probably because of his excellent performance in the movie The Number 23. 

Now on with the tale

It's been 2 years since the events of Spider-Man 3. Peter Parker and Mary Jane are married and Aunt May is currently at a home for older citizens. Spider-Man is still a loved hero who always saves the day from mass criminals. But one day, Peter's old lab partner, Gwen Stacy is kidnapped by a mad man named Cletus Kassidy. As Spider-Man tries to rescue her, Kassidy throws her off the side of a building. Spider-Man tries to catch her with a web, but the whiplash effect snaps her neck, killing her as several people watch from below. Kassidy escapes and Spider-Man is made out to be a murderer by the citizens of New York, including Gwen's father, Captain George Stacey. As he is hunted by the police for several days, Peter comes to the decision to give up being Spider-Man once and for all. Mary Jane agrees with his decision and they store the Spider-Man costume away in the attic of their new house. 

6 years later, Cletus Kassidy is chased and caught by the police after robbing a small grocery store in Manhattan. As Kassidy is put away in Ravencroft Institute, it is revealed that the crime level of New York has risen since Spider-Man's retirement and several crime thugs are still walking about the streets causing havoc. J. Jonah Jameson is made out to be the new hero of New York after writing several pieces on the dreaded  Spider-Man and how he is a menace. Spider-Man has lost his key to the city honor and is made out to be the most wanted man in New York. But Peter Parker's life has gotten back to normal as he is able to spend more time with his loved ones and his wife. He has quit his job as a photographer and is working as a professor at Empire State University. As they go to visit Aunt May in the senior home, she speaks of her disgust of the home and her desire to come and live with Peter and MJ. The two decide to think about it, and over dinner that same night, they decide that it is okay for her to come and live with them. That evening as he sleeps, Peter has a horrible nightmare of the night Gwen Stacy died and the night his best friend Harry Osborn died. Believing that it's a sign that danger is coming, Peter talks with MJ about becoming Spider-Man again, MJ not allowing him too because of him being a fugitive. 

The next day, Peter and MJ help Aunt May move into their home, just as Peter is called in by Dr. Connors at his lab. As Peter arrives at the lab, Dr. Connors tells him that the symbiote Peter gave him 8 years ago has matured greatly, doubling in size and turning bright red. He also tells Peter that he is currently working with lizard DNA to regenerate his lost arm. Peter wishes him luck as he leaves, and that same night, Dr. Connors works up a formula, injects himself with it, and regrows his arm to his delight. He calls in Peter the next day to show him his success, and as he shows Peter how regrowing his arm was done, he begins twitching and growing scales all over his body. Before Peter's eyes, Dr. Connors turns into a giant lizard monster, reigning havoc on the university and destroying the lab. During the rampage, the Lizard inadvertently shatters the glass containing the symbiote, setting it free. As the Lizard spreads chaos throughout the city, Peter races home, secretly snatches his Spider-Man suit (much to MJ and Aunt May's suspicion) and returns to the public as Spider-Man. After fighting and defeating the Lizard, Spidey is chased by the police, but he swiftly escapes. Back at home, Aunt May takes a nap as MJ tends to Peter's wounds, scolding him and expressing her anger with him over donning the Spider-Man suit once more. She also tells him of the possibility of Aunt May finding out that Peter is Spider-Man, but Peter states that he will never let that happen. That same night, Peter has another nightmare, this time, of a red monster similar to Venom, causing mass murder throughout New York and killing Peter's loved ones.

Meanwhile, the Lizard is imprisoned in Ravencroft Institute in a cell right next to Cletus Kassidy's padded room. Surprisingly, the alien symbiote follows the Lizard to Ravencroft and mistakes his cell for Kassidy's. As the alien approaches Kassidy, Kassidy tells it to stay away, just as the alien engulfs Cletus, turning him into a horrifying monster. As the officers hear Kassidy's screams, they enter his cell and are instantly killed by the newly formed Carnage. After going on a rampage throughout the institute, Carnage sets free all the prisoners of Ravencroft, including the Lizard, as he forms an army to take over New York with a wrath of terror. Carnage tracks down and kills all the New York representatives, stating that he is the new ruler of the city and that everything will go under his ruling. The Lizard will serve as his second in command as they warn Spider-Man to never get involved in their affairs over a TV broadcast. If he does, they will kill him as well as his loved ones. After several weeks under Carnage's reign, several innocent lives are lost as Peter tries to convince MJ that he needs to become Spider-Man in order to stop Carnage. MJ is reluctant to allow Peter to don the Spider-Man suit again, for she still fears that Aunt May may find out and that Carnage may come after them. Peter states again that he will not let that happen and states that if he can defeat Venom, Carnage shouldn't be a problem. Neither should the Lizard, for Spider-Man has defeated him before. Getting angry at Peter, MJ storms off, stating that if he wants to go after Carnage, he can go right ahead. She then warns him that if he fails, her and Aunt May will go into hiding and never come back. 

So Peter goes after Carnage, tracking him down at city hall. As he confronts Carnage, Carnage tells him that he should have never come after him and that he will have to pay for his treachery. The two then engage in a violent brawl in which Carnage gains the upper hand, brutally beating Spider-Man and  stabbing him with his sharp fingers. As he picks up Spidey by both arms, he slowly breaks them just as he does the same thing to his legs, continuously kicking him and breaking his ribs as well. He then cracks Peter's skull and drags him outside of city hall where he broadcasts the beaten Spider-Man in front of millions of people. He then climbs to the top of city hall with Spidey and drops him several stories to the hard ground below. Carnage then states that this will happen to all those who stand in his way and that he will find the ones affiliated with Spider-Man and kill them. Mary Jane and Aunt May watch the television in horror as MJ tries to figure out a way in which for them to go into hiding. They move into Aunt May's old apartment as MJ tells Aunt May that there was a water leakage in the house's basement. She also tells May that Peter is off on a trip with his college students and won't be back for a few weeks. 

Several weeks go by and Spider-Man is still held captive by Carnage, beaten and starved and kept in a dark prison cell under city hall. As he is confronted by Carnage, Carnage tells him that he knows he is Peter Parker and he demands to know the location of his loved ones. Peter then tells Carnage that he might as well kill him, for he will not get any information regarding his loved ones from him. Carnage laughs and says that he will not kill him, but instead keep him alive so he can witness Aunt May and Mary Jane's deaths right in front of him. Carnage vows to track down Peter's loved ones in one way or another, and when his aunt and wife are dead, then he will kill him. He then leaves Spidey's cell, letting the Lizard maul the frail Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Aunt May and Mary Jane are talking and Mary Jane decides to tell May the truth about Peter, however, as she does, Carnage and his soldiers storm into May's apartment, snatching May and Mary Jane and bringing them to city hall. As they bring May and Mary Jane before Spider-Man, Carnage calls him Peter right in front of May, deeply shocking May as Carnage smacks her. As Spider-Man yells for Carnage to leave her alone, Carnage torments Spidey right in front of his aunt and his wife, and Mary Jane even attempts to fight Carnage, only to be taken out in an instant.

As Carnage and Lizard prepare to murder Mary Jane and May, Spider-Man is able to build up enough strength to break free from his cuffs and engage the two in a fight, despite the horrible pain he feels from his broken bones. As he gallantly fights Carnage and Lizard, he yells for Mary Jane and May to leave, just as he is horribly beaten some more by Carnage's supreme power. Luckily, Mary Jane and May do not leave, and they are able to sweep the fallen Spider-Man away before Carnage eliminates him. Days go by, and Peter is treated for his terrible injuries under Carnage's imprisonment. As he returns home for a few weeks of recovery, May speaks of her disappointment of him not telling her that he was Spider-Man. Peter states that he couldn't endanger her life as May states that Uncle Ben would be disappointed in him. She then packs her bags and leaves the Parker home, going back to her older home where she and Ben raised Peter. That same day, Carnage broadcasts a message for Spider-Man, stating that he must come before him to reveal his secret identity to the public in 3 days, and everyday he doesn't, he will take the lives of many innocent people. If, at the end of the 3 days, that Spider-Man has not shown his secret identity to the public, he will rig explosives throughout the entire state of New York and blow it to ashes. 

As many people suffer, Peter tries to talk with Mary Jane about whether or not he should reveal himself or not. Mary Jane states that she doesn't want to get involved with this anymore and states that this is a battle he must fight on his own. She tells Peter that she wants a divorce and leaves the house, reducing Peter to tears. As Peter is heartbroken, he still tries to decide whether to reveal his identity or cost New York millions and millions of innocent deaths. 2 days go by and Peter decides not to reveal his identity, nor let Carnage blow New York to smithereens. He decides to build a resistance to stop Carnage, and after freeing himself from his casts, he gathers many people to take on Carnage and his forces, hoping to stop them once and for all. Peter sews his costume, and on the third day, he leads a revolution against Carnage's forces, fighting both Carnage and the Lizard as his men take on Carnage's men. During the fight, Spider-Man knocks the Lizard through the top of a building as he transforms back into Dr. Connors and he continues to gallantly fight Carnage, this time getting the upper hand and giving Carnage a taste of his own medicine. Still, Carnage ravages Spider-Man, ripping his costume and smashing him around. As they fight towards one of the detonating devices, Carnage ignites it and kicks Spider-Man into it, just as Spider-Man pulls Carnage in with him using his web. The device goes off, but Spider-Man and Carnage's proximity to the bomb doesn't allow it to cause that much damage, but Carnage is killed and Spider-Man is grievously injured. Mary Jane witnesses the event from a distant and runs for the mortally wounded Peter, who tells her that he is sorry for everything he has brought upon her and May. Mary Jane accepts his apology as the two share one last kiss before Peter's death. 

Spider-Man is given a state funeral as J. Jonah Jameson gives a heartfelt speech about how Spider-Man was a symbol of hope and a person who was always willing to help. It is then revealed that the crime level has gone down considerably after Spider-Man's death and that Dr. Connors is still being held at Ravencroft for his crimes. Mary Jane is revealed to be pregnant with Peter's child, and Aunt May is seen putting flowers on Peter's grave, which is right next to his Uncle Ben's. About 10 years later, Mary Jane has remarried and has given birth to a son, which she names Peter in honor of her fallen husband. As young Peter wonders into his father's study, he discovers his father's designs for mechanical web shooters (designed back when Peter was loosing his powers in Spider-Man 2) and discovers a chest with an unused Spider-Man suit within it. Just for fun, he puts the mask on. 

The Dark Knight Rises Again

We have reached the point where I must talk about Batman's resurrection to the streets of Gotham City, seen prominently in Christopher Nolan's final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. As we have explored in my Joker Rises, Batman Falls essay, Batman has taken the rap for Harvey Dent/Two-Face's  crimes at the end of The Dark Knight, therefore falling from what he once was and becoming a hated vigilante. Now, as a new threat marches into the now peaceful Gotham, Batman must come forward to stop the new threat and once again become the proclaimed hero. But it's not going to be an easy coming forward, for the gas breathing, painkiller addicted Bane may be Batman's biggest, most equal enemy yet, trained in similar combat and methods to Bruce Wayne himself. Luckily, Batman finds a slew of new, helpful allies to form a truce with, including the beat cop John Blake, his commissioner pal James Gordon, and the unexpected anti-herione, Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman.

It's been 8 long years since the Joker's downfall, Harvey Dent's rampage, and Batman's last sighting in the eyes of the public. Now, Gotham is a great metropolis of peace and prominency and no fears lie in the sight of the Gotham city folks. But Bruce Wayne and even Commissioner Gordon are still haunted by the haunting events of that terrible night 8 years ago, when Harvey Dent threatened to kill Gordon's family and Batman took up his atrocities. Gordon even considers coming forward with the truth, but it's all put on the pedestal with the arrival of the mighty Bane, a villain with more straight and sorted out ambitions than the Joker. Bane is the knife to Gotham's throat, the one that takes a man with good health and impales him with a long sword. He's the guy with big things in store, and like most of Batman's rogues gallery, he thinks of himself as some sort of savior, a visionary, a revolutionist. Unlike the Joker, Bane doesn't play games with anyone. If you toy with him only once, he could break your spinal column or even crack your skull in front of a large crowd of people. He's the perfect adversary for Batman, because he's a villain that could easily outmatch Batman, something he swiftly does in the beloved Knightfall series of comics, but we will get into that a bit more later. Villains like the Joker, the Scarecrow and even Ra's Al Ghul are villains Batman can put up quite a fight with, but Bane's the guy that could give him a run for his bat ears. As I stated before, he doesn't like to play games.

So Bruce Wayne must come out of exile after 8 years of shrouding himself from the public, and as he is ambitious to return to the black cape and batarangs, his trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth is against the idea, stating that he can not survive as Batman (he barely did before). It is then when we learn of a stunning revelation, something that plays in mind later in Bruce Wayne's final chapter. While Bruce was exploring the world throughout the first act of Batman Begins, so was Alfred as he went looking for Bruce. As Alfred entered many restaurants during his travels, he always saw a man in the restaurants that looked exactly like Bruce from the behind. As he went to approach the man, he would always turn around, and it turns out that it wasn't Bruce. This clearly harkens back to the man and the myth concept Ra's Al Ghul taught young Bruce in Batman Begins, that some men are mysterious yet very eminent in many ways. If Bruce makes himself more than just a man, he can do stupendous things no ordinary man can do. He becomes Batman to make himself more than just a man, and eventually becomes a great Gotham myth. And this ties in perfectly with the man in the restaurant. Alfred wonders  if the man in the restaurant is really Bruce, just like many Gotham citizens wonder on the whereabouts of Bruce's alter ego.

If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely. Are you ready to begin ?

Bruce Wayne can be both the man and the myth. He can be an average ordinary man with average ordinary problems and yet still face the perils of the caped crusader. It all ties in with the concept that even the mythical can be crushed by even the slightest of occurrences. Even Batman can be periled by the problems of Bruce Wayne, although he doesn't show his feelings while he's within the Bat suit.

So Bruce returns to the skies as Batman, despite Alfred's resentment, and the butler is so upset that he leaves Wayne Manor after several years of service. But what appears to be Batman's ultimate reinssance is really a grotesque awakening. Batman gains the trust of Catwoman, a cat burglar who had recently stolen a necklace that belonged to Bruce's mother. As the two fight alongside one another, the two seem to get along fine, and Batman even takes Catwoman on a spin with his bat plane, aptly named "The Bat" (the Batwing of the Nolanverse). Batman even teams up alongside Officer John Blake while Commissioner Gordon recovers from an injury in the hospital. And John Blake helps Batman in a similar way to Robin in the comics and the previous movies, something that will be vital in the future after Bruce's story concludes. But Catwoman betrays Batman, leaving him to fight the mighty Bane, who will undeniable BREAK HIM.  Batman fights gallantly against Bane in his underground watery lair, but the macho wrestler like figure swiftly turns Batman in Bat chow. The Bane of the Nolanverse differs profoundly from the Bane of the comics, for the Bane of the Nolanverse doesn't sport the luchador mask or wield Venom filled tubes throughout his abdomen. But something similar the two Banes have is that they both BREAK Batman, and when I say break, I mean break his back like a toothpick. Just like in the comic Knightfall, Bane lifts Batman over his head and snaps his spine like a twig of a tree. Also, this almost happened in the Batman: TAS episode "Bane", in which Bane prepares to break Batman's back, just as Batman disarms Bane, overexposing him to the Venom drug throughout his tubes.

Batman is defeated terribly by Bane, and as punishment, Bane takes him to a far away prison, described  as an unescapable "hell on Earth" pit. He intends to make Batman stay there and suffer until he dies, as he returns to Gotham to overrun it as a great dictator. Although Batman has been torn to pieces by the all powerful Bane, he still has skyrocketing hopes and learns a few more things about life while dwelling in the underground prison. For example, he learns a little more about Ra's Al Ghul's backstory and his child, who escaped the awful prison with luck and will. Going back into the man and myth concept, Batman assumes the child was Bane, and that he is the lost son of Ra's Al Ghul, who taught Bruce Wayne everything he needed to know under the alias Henry Ducard (Bruce is also visited by the spirit of Ra's Al Ghul in the prison). It's a really interesting concept that has you wondering tremendously, just like it had you wondering tremendously about the asian grey haired Ra's Al Ghul decoy in the beginning of Batman Begins. We assume throughout the beginning that it's the real Ra's Al Ghul, but the tables turn later and it turns out it's really not. A similar thing would occur later in The Dark Knight Rises involving the true child of Ra's Al Ghul and the true plans of the enemy.

As Batman lies compromised, Bane cuts off Gotham from the rest of the world, destroying football fields and bridges so no one is able to escape. He also uses a failed Wayne Enterprises device as a threat, that if anyone tries to escape the city, he will set off the device and Gotham will be desecrated entirely. He also reveals the Harvey Dent coverup, putting Gordon's job at risk. Never before has Gotham City seen a mad man of this magnitude, and they realize that they need Batman now more than ever. It's a common story telling device, that in which the hero is temporarily defeated and the villain takes over as the new ruler. Comparing Batman again with Star Wars, it's very much how the jedi are defeated and the Emperor and his evil Empire sweeps over the galaxy. But there is a resistance, a fight back, a rebellion. Batman is the rebellion, and after several months at the horrible prison where he watched Gotham burn on a television screen, he retrains himself to go back and stop Bane. It's very much how Luke trains to become a jedi and defeat the Emperor as well as redeem his father. Many other heroes throughout film and literature also go through this complex. Remember in Superman 2 when Superman couldn't defeat Zod and his forces? He got his butt handed to him on a plate, but he eventually came back and tossed Zod and his men down the hatch. Or in the first Spider-Man film when Spider-Man got PWNED by the Green Goblin. He got beaten up and beaten up some more, but he finally worked up the strength to own the Goblin and crush him like a roach.

So like many heroes, Batman is taken down by the antagonist, but as we all come to suspect, he fights the battle and comes back to the antagonist for some more brawling. By this point, Gotham is a graveyard where several have died and several more will die. Bane is in charge and is not standing for any resistance, even a resistance from the Gotham Police Department. Gordon and Blake plan on taking things out on their own, not suspecting that Batman will return or even make a single comeback. The citizens of Gotham desperately need Batman and wonder if he will return to stop the evil within. But little do they know that Batman is on his way, and he will help lead the charge to finally take out Bane's forces. The good people never suspect the hero to come back after he is defeated by the villain, but as a grand surprise, and in an event that surely gets a lot of applause from the audience, Batman returns to the screen for the final confrontation. It's the moment where the hero finally gets off the crutches to stop the evil ones, and no matter what kind of shape he is in, he is ready to fight back with his biggest kick to the groan yet. Batman forms an alliance with Gordon, Blake, Catwoman, and the other members of the GPD to lead a battle against Bane's onsomble and Bruce's technological friend Lucius Fox helps out with his computer and tracking skills. An all out war occurs and Batman takes on Bane once again, this time, HE gets the upper hand. After damaging Bane's mask which causes him to feel extreme pain, Batman demands to know the location of the destructive device which he plans to use to annihilate the city. In a twist of events, Batman questions Bane of his relations to Ra's Al Ghul and it turns out that he is not the child of the mystical warrior and leader of the League of Shadows.

Just then, Bruce Wayne's associate Miranda Tate, who he has had a brief relationship with earlier in the film, reveals herself to be Talia Al Ghul, the true child of Ra's Al Ghul and the true child who escaped the prison years ago. It turns out that she was the true mastermind of Gotham's downfall all along, and that Bane was only following orders. It's a really clever twist and a perfect way to expand upon the origins and background of Ra's Al Ghul, making him much more like his comic book counterpart. It also plays into the "dramatic twist" element that is found perfectly in films like The Sixth Sense and Avatar, where something happens or someone realizes something or someone who was close to the protagonist turns out to be an all out enemy. That's what happens here, as Batman learns that a close friend, a person he trusted, a person he had feelings for, was the one true enemy. It's just like in Batman Begins, where we find out who the true Ra's Al Ghul is and what he wants to achieve. Eventually, as we all know, the hero works his rump off to stop the true enemy and the true enemy always falls in the end. Of course there is another confrontation with the true villain's servant, but in Batman's case, he's not the one to take out Bane as Catwoman gives him a good blast with the Batpod. Pretty interesting to think that the main hero doesn't defeat the prominent villain of the film, isn't it. But Batman and his crew and able to stop Talia, and it's then when he realizes he must do something drastic, something courageous. He's going to have to make the ultimate sacrifice he never had to make before.

The only way to stop the device from destroying Gotham is to take it out to the sea so it can detonate there. But how would it be done? Batman slowly realizes that he must use the Bat to drive the device out to sea. After kissing Catwoman and revealing his true identity to Gordon (and then seeing a heart wrenching flashback of him and young Bruce from Batman Begins), he takes the device miles and miles away to the ocean and the device goes off, making all of us think that Batman is dead and that we won't see Christian Bale's character for the rest of the film. But it's some powerful stuff when you "kill" off the main hero of a superhero flick, the hero we have got to know a bit throughout an entire trilogy spanning 7 years. Never before has Batman actually "died' in a Batman motion picture, and we are left wondering. HOW WILL THE FILM CONCLUDE? WHAT WILL GOTHAM CITY BE LIKE WITHOUT THE CAPED CRUSADER RUNNING ABOUT? WHO WILL TAKE ON THE BATSUIT?

Well Gotham, as it did before, gets back on it's feet and prospers as the city worships Batman as a great hero and dark avenger once more. Everyone is saddened by his sacrifice, but they know what he "died" for and they know that he "perished" doing what he felt was the best for his people. In Batsy's honor, the bat-signal is reconstructed, a huge Batman statue is crafted, and everyone is pleased as to how Gotham is regrowing due to Batman's contribution. It is assumed that Lucius Fox takes control of Wayne Enterprises and that Gordon is able to keep his job as commissioner of the GPD. Alfred is traveling the world again, and as he sits at a restaurant in Italy, he spots a man that looks exactly like Bruce, a man that could very well be Bruce, sitting across from a woman that looks just like Selina Kyle. This once again ties in with the man and the myth concept, for it could very well be the real Bruce Wayne and we are left wondering how he survived the destruction of the Bat and the "doomsday" device. In many ways, Batman has risen higher than he has ever risen before, leaving a legacy greater than the one he anticipated. Gotham is a better place because of him, and although he was immediately defeated by Bane when he returned to the public, he was able to dodge the hailstorm and come back in an extraordinarily epic way, kicking lots of baddy butts along the way. He rose at the end of Batman Begins, fell at the end of The Dark Knight, and rose again at the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises, elevating higher and higher even if he was thought to be dead.

I could easily talk about how The Dark Knight Rises alone follows the rise and fall and rise again concept I have incepted, but that would be a bit slim in my eyes. I really wanted to talk about the Batman trilogy as a whole, for like the Star Wars saga, it's one solid story that brings up rising and falling and rising again. It has heroes and villains that we can relate to and understand, and we can learn from the protagonist what it takes to make an ultimate difference. Batman has had many ups and downs, but in the end, he's still the dark and silent guardian we love him as, always bringing on new interpretations and reimaginings down the rocky road. All I can wonder is what Bob Kane and Bill Finger would think of how far their brainchild has come over the past 73 years. It's certainly interesting comparing their Batman with the Batman of today's generation. Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is unique in a way that all the films compliment one another, and that they all correspond with each other, making the story more wholesome and understandable to the audience. The Dark Knight trilogy is not just about Batman, it's about Batman and the people who are related to him, how he relates to them and how he wishes to be excepted in the world. Like Gordon says, he is the hero that Gotham deserves, the one that really saves the day from powerful danger and makes things exciting and compelling at the same time. No other hero is like Batman. He's a crime fighter, a detective, A DARK KNIGHT.

By the way, at the end of TDKR, John Blake's real name is revealed to be Robin and he stumbles across Bruce Wayne's abandoned Batcave. Could this mean that he becomes the Boy Wonder after all? Or maybe he wonders into Bludhaven to beat down criminals as Nightwing. Who knows, maybe he teams up with Cyborg and Beast to form the Teen Titans.

Wouldn't that be a scrumptious cake! Not only has Batman risen spiritually, he has risen in the form of a new crusader of the night!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Joker Rises, Batman Falls

When we last left Batman in the "Nolan-verse", he was praised as a noble guardian after defeating both the maniacal Scarecrow and the stealthy Ra's Al Ghul. He left behind a symbol for the GPD to use to summon him whenever trouble "treacherizes" the streets of Gotham once more. Everyone in Gotham came to respect Batman and accept him as a great hero and figure of hope. Batman has risen above all things and he is there to keep crime in maintenance . But all of that was about to be flushed down the hopper as a deadly tyrant emerges from a set of playing cards. Armed with a knife and a wrath of unparalleled terror, this goon has little backstory, little aptly name, little sanity behind the muffled white face paint and red lipstick. His history is so convoluted that he talks about his abusive father giving him a permanent smile one moment then talks about giving himself a permanent smile the next. He has little apathy, little wisdom of straightened life. All he knows is the erratics, the chaos, the madness. That's all the things that lie on his mind, and he wants to bring it all to the surface of Gotham like it's a fun circus.

He's the Joker. He's not very nice. He's the Ted Bundy Jack the Ripper kind of insane brain. But he's got a grand plan all set up and like many villains in modern literature, he has many gruesome things in store all leading up to the grand plan. He leaves a calling card, like the Zodiac, because even though he wants to be mysterious, he also wants to be well known.

Batman's popularity begins to plummet with the arrival of the Joker in Gotham. As he and Lt. Gordan's forces work together to try and thwart his devilish deeds, he proves to be an invincible antagonist not even Scooby Doo and the gang can track down. Once the clown prince of crime sets his green hairs in Gotham, strange and deleterious things begin to occur. Banks are robbed. Commissioners are killed. Bombs are set off. Service men are gagged. And District Attorneys go from beloved politicians to crazed TWO FACED mad maniacs. Not only does Batman fall in Nolan's second Batman installment, so does District Attorney Harvey Dent, who is known throughout Gotham as the white knight. Like Batman, he is a symbol of supreme hope and security and he even foiled his own assassination attempt in a courtroom. Batman and Dent are counted on for keeping Gotham at high levels, but the Joker tears them to smithereens with countless deaths and massacres. And when these terrible deeds unfold, the people wonder why Batman was not there to save the day. When Lt. Gordan "died", his wife screamed in agony at Batman for bringing this upon her and her family.

And Dent isn't much better. At every micro second, he struggles with his relationship with Rachel Dawes, his relationship with Gordan and the GPD, his relationship with Bruce Wayne, and his relationship with himself, something that plays in tremendously much later in The Dark Knight's story. So the Joker "plays many games" with the people of Gotham, lives are lost, and Batman and Dent are at the tippity top trying to make ends meet and restore order. But the Joker's relationship with Batman and Dent goes from plain sick to much more personal. As anyone who has seen The Dark Knight knows, the Joker kills on the streets of Gotham because he wants Batman to reveal his secret identity, feeling that Batman isn't making Gotham a better place. As Bruce Wayne tries to deal with the conundrum, his butler Alfred tells him to just endure the conundrum, for Batman may have to make the choice that no one else has to make. Bruce decides to reveal his secret identity to the public, just as Harvey Dent takes the rap for Batman's identity and is arrested. The gears shift as the Joker tries to kill Dent, and the real Batman arrives to aid in his arrest. Gordan, who faked his death to make the Joker's capture possible, helps Batman sweep the Joker away and he is put away in Arkam Asylum, the mad house to many of Batman's greatest foes.

Gordan's death is very symbolic to me, because it harkens back to old Christian tales of resurrection and sacrifice. It somewhat reminds me of Star Trek 3: The Search For Spock. In the film, the crew of the USS Enterprise embarks on a quest to resurrect their Vulcan friend, they run into a bunch of troubles, but in the end, Spock is alive and well to fight alongside of them once more. In The Dark Knight, Gordan is alive and well to fight alongside Batman once more, and to celebrate his victory and capture of the Joker, he is ranked to the big man's job of Commissioner.

But things are not quite fine and dandy yet....

Soon after, the Joker starts playing "games" again, this time, hard core heartless games. He implants bombs in people's stomachs and in some way or another, he captures Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes and imprisons them in two different buildings rigged to explode. He forces Batman to choose between his good friend or his life long love and I can't help but feel this scene is familiar to the scene in the first Spider-Man film where Spidey has to choose to save Mary Jane or save the small children from the Green Goblin. It's the classic way a villain internally tortures the main protagonist, and in many ways, it defines who the main character really is. Never before (at least in the Nolan-verse) has Batman ever had to make a choice like this, and if he goes to save someone, it will totally cost the life of another. Never before has the Joker ever done something like this in the Batman storyline, and just think, if he went on to torment Batman some more in the Nolan-verse, he probably would have done this many more times down the road. This is more than just an average run of the mill scheme, this is something that strikes the hero's very soul. It's the pivotal decision that all great ones must make and little does Batman know that things are going to get very ugly no matter what decision he makes.

Batman goes after Harvey while Gordan and his team go after Rachel. Unfortunately, Gordan and his team are too late and one of the buildings explodes, killing Rachel in the way of a great superhero tragedy. Everyone who is into comics knows of the tragic death of Gwen Stacy in the Spider-Man universe or the death of Jean Grey in the X-Men tales. This is somewhat similar to those deaths because it shows the downfall of a beloved heroine who was powerful in the story's folding out and development. She is Bruce Wayne's life long love and this all takes a stab to Batman as the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Jean Grey stabbed Spider-Man and the X-Men. And Batman soon realizes what must be done as Harvey Dent goes terribly disfigured after the building he was in explodes on his gasoline coded face. Harvey undergoes extreme drama and sadness after the death of Rachel just like Batman does, but as Batman comes through and continues his hunt to stop the Joker, Harvey, now under the name Two-Face, rises and becomes Gotham's next big criminal. The problem is that no one in Gotham would know that he is a criminal.

So the Joker blows up a hospital, threatens to take out two boats and Batman totally comes to take him out once and for all. As a small tribute to the 1989 film, the Joker falls feet below but instead of dying, Batman spares him with a small rope, leaving him for the GPD to pick up. Around the same time, Harvey Dent falls from what he once was as he goes on a rampage, taking out people who were involved in Rachel's death. This is a crucial moment in his character development as he looses his ability to make his own decisions, relying on his father's lucky coin to do all the decision making. Remember how I said that he had a terrible relationship with himself, well, I think this fits in perfectly with this concept. Harvey can't accept himself, so he instead opts to making something entirely knew of himself, a terrifying TWO-FACED psychopath with a loaded gun by his side. Harvey Dent has fallen tremendously since the beginning of the film. Like Batman, he rose to the throne as a great king but now, after the death of the woman he loved, he has made a great smash in the ground and intends to keep making more. Dent doesn't care about people anymore, he only cares about himself. He wants revenge, and as Rachel Dawes once put it....

Justice is about making the world a better place, revenge is only about making yourself feel better

So the wily Dent tracks down Gordan's family and threatens to kill them. Batman shows up and it's at this moment that Batman is about to fall from what he once was. After being a well respected vigilante for some time, he's about to become the most hated fugitive in all of Gotham. Similar to Greek heroes and masked crusaders of old time, Batman makes the ultimate decision, the life changing decision, the decision no one else will have to make. As Dent threatens to kill Gordan's youngest son, Batman hurls at Dent, saving Gordan's son and causing Dent to plummet to his demise below. It's also interesting to point out that Dent indeed shoots Batman before his death, showing that he know longer trusts him, just like Anakin never again trusted Obi-Wan in the Star Wars universe. But one thing Obi-Wan never had to do is take the blame for Anakin's atrocities. Batman, to cover up Dent's madness and keep his legacy smooth, takes the wrap for his deaths and tells Gordan to hunt him. It's a sad, yet bittersweet moment that goes to show what kind of guts Batman has, and it shows that corruption can lead to the demise of such beloved figures.

A perfect example of this is the recent Penn State child abuse sex scandal. As in The Dark Knight, cover ups were made, and men who were originally thought to be grand heroes turn out to be flawed beings who are punished for what they did. It also connects to the Harry Potter series in which Sirius Black must take the blame for what another flawed being did. The point I'm trying to establish here is that many of these tales, whether they be Batman, or Spider-Man, or Star Wars, or Harry Potter, are all related and similar in many fashions and they can relate to real life situations (like the Penn State scandal) and show how corruption can eat it's way up. Like I always say, look from a certain point of view and you can see many new glorious things.

Batman, The Dark Knight, The Dark Savior, The One Who Was Loved By All Gotham, FALLS far from what he started as. His symbol is destroyed (just like Joe Paterno's statue was taken down), for people now fear and hate him, and the GPD hunts for him like a wild beast. The Batman is now a wanted "murderer" and it will take them years until they see Batman RISE AGAIN to become Gotham's savior once more. For now, he must live in exile, awaiting the moment when he is needed and wanted again and it would take him 8 years before he could don the bat mask once more, for a new threat, the gas breather Bane, is planning on turning Gotham into a pile of ashes. It is inevitable that Batman will fly from what he is now, but at the moment, he is not a superhero, he is a mad man, and the people are out to get this mad man and lock him up just as they did with the Joker. In a turning point, in an instant, the superhero is made out to be the villain. In a classic comic book tale, the villain himself would directly frame the hero of being the ultimate villain, but it's not the case here. Batman, out of his own decision, decided to frame himself for Harvey Dent's crimes and that, in the Gotham people's eyes, is just as equal as any of the Joker's crimes.

Batman is the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now. Batman has FALLEN, but like our Lord and Savior, he will RISE to make things much much better.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Batman Rises and Falls and Rises Again

I am currently conjuring up ideas which I plan to incept into a novel at the moment, so I will be adding to my log whenever I can, whenever I get the chance, whenever I get thirsty for more online mind spewing. But for the moment, let's dip ourselves into a little "bat goo" in honor of the recently released bat flick, The Dark Knight Rises.

And like before, the rise and fall and rise again concept comes to mind.

Like the Star Wars saga, Christopher Nolan's Batman films are all part of one solid shell, one solid story arc that takes the main character and his comrades on many escapades and adventurous debacles. There are catchy themes and values, quotes and morals, and who could forget those classy, yet eminent villains? Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and the newest offspring, The Dark Knight Rises tell the tale of a man who takes tragedy and turns it into an ultimate victory, becoming a black caped vigilante of the night and helping people so they don't face the same horrors he faced as a child. The Batman saga embodies a story of many grand elements. There is tragedy, revenge, justice, courage, corruption, deception, and most importantly, avenging nature. Like many films of today's movie going generation, the Christopher Nolan Batman films take an already existing creation and turn it into something entirely contemporary, realistic, and relatable. In other words, the films take real world situations and realities and mix it in with the Batman we have all come to love and adore.

He's my favorite DC character, not because he does what's right for himself, because he does what he can to dignify and purify his character, touching lives and striking fear into the hearts of the retched in the process. He proves that you don't need to be Kryptonian to make a phenomenal difference and change the world, a world full of insanity and crime causers. He's just a regular, ordinary businessman, still trying to find who he is and what he was put on the Earth to accomplish.

It's not who he is underneath, but what he does that defines him. 

Now, you probably question yourself as to how Batman fits on the pegs of the rise and fall and rise again concept I developed in my Phantom to Jedi essay. Well, I suggest pondering on the matter, and you may understand and see things never before seen. Look from a different perspective and you can set eyes on different things just as I do.

It's all how you look at it. It's all on the hands of your point of view.

And when I looked at it from a certain point of view, it came quite clear to my brain. Batman is just like the heroes of the Star Wars saga. He carries a bit of the tragic greek hero, the Shakespearean outcast, the common folk hero who seems haunting, but ultimately proves beneficially in the story's grand scheme of things. And like Anakin Skywalker, he withstands horrifying events throughout his life. However, unlike Anakin Skywalker, he uses what happens to him as a sword, a sword to bring the retched to their knees so they don't inflict pain on others. He basically uses tragedy to motivate himself to save the day, as all superheroes do at some point. He doesn't believe in revenge and won't kill, because that will make him the same as the guy who murdered his parents. It's like in Return of the Jedi, when Luke is tempted to strike down Darth Vader, only realizing that it will make him as equal as Vader himself.

Batman is the great Greek hero, like Hercules, but in order to take on the "retched pinheads of Gotham" as the Penguin calls them, he must transform himself into his lifelong fear. By taking on the form of a bat, Bruce Wayne becomes that great intimidating hero he wants to be, the great intimidating hero that will send the crooks back to their holes. Like Anakin Skywalker, Batman uses the darkness to not only conceal himself, but to strike terror on his enemies. However, unlike Anakin Skywalker, Batman uses the darkness to drive the wretchedness away, not to promote it. Batman uses the darkness to do good, while Anakin, who has been consumed by the Vader persona, uses the darkness to spread his hatred and disgust for the galaxy all over...well..the galaxy. In a documentary I fluently observed one day, it stated that Bruce Wayne is a lot like Theodore Roosevelt. Like Batman, Roosevelt lost his cherished loved ones and was on the verge of doing evil deeds, however, like Bruce Wayne in the first act of Batman Begins, he pulls himself out of the thick mud and ultimately goes down as a glorified legend, a legend who made a substantial difference in the lives of the many.

In Batman Begins, young Bruce Wayne witnesses something ghastly, something a child should never have to witness. After the death of his parents, Bruce embarks on a revenge mission, a mission to get back at Joe Chill, his parent's murderer. It works very differently than the origin told in Tim Burton's first Batman film from 1989 in which Jack Napier, who eventually becomes the Joker, kills Wayne's parents. In that film, Batman inadvertently drops Napier into a pool of green chemicals which transforms him into the Joker, but Bruce later realizes that it's the same man that murdered his parents. The Joker creates Batman and Batman creates the Joker and they both embark on a quest to get back at one another for what they did to each other. In the end, Batman realizes that revenge is not the answer and although he would go on to stop other villains in the Burton/Schumacher universe (THE ICEMAN COMETH!), he doesn't want to kill anyone, just bring them to their knees so they leave Gotham alone. It's similar to what Chris O'Donnell's Dick Grayson aka Robin suffers from in Batman Forever. But let's get back to Begins, because the Burton and Schumacher Batmans are very diverse from the Nolan Batman.

After the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne is continuously haunted by his horrid past days and when his parents' murderer is finally put on trial, Bruce debates on killing him and getting back at Chill for what he put him through. As Bruce goes to shoot Chill, someone else pulls the trigger and kills him instead. Angered by his failure to stop the man who terrorized his childhood, Bruce embarks on another revenge mission, to hunt down the man who hired the woman to kill Joe Chill. Bruce eventually finds the man, Carmine Falcone, and while talking with him, Falcone taunts him on his parents' murder, saying his father "begged for mercy like a dog". Bruce is beaten by Falcone's men, thrown into the streets, and it's at that moment that he realizes the treachery and chaos he could ensure if he embarks on a revenge mission. If he embarks on a revenge mission against society, then he could become equal to Chill and Falcone instead of defending the innocent against people like them. He realizes what evil he could do and throws his gun into the water, like he's throwing away his inner demon. He later struggles to find his way into society's importance and at one point, he is arrested and thrown into jail. And when he is in jail, he realizes that he could spend the rest of his life behind bars if he follows in the steps of revenge, in the steps of Joe Chill's murderous ways.

He is soon after summoned by Henry Ducard, a warrior under allegiance to Ra's Al Ghul, and Ducard trains him, taunting him and tormenting him just like the criminals he would later face would. Bruce learns many things, learns many arts and defense strategies, but also learns to never take a life for his own satisfaction. As Rachel Dawes once told him, justice is about making society a better place, revenge is only about making yourself feel better. It once again harkens back to the Star Wars saga, as Luke is given the choice to defeat Vader (what Obi-Wan and Yoda want) or join Vader. In Batman Begins, Bruce is given the choice to kill Ra's Al Ghul's prisoner (what Ducard and Al Ghul want) or leave the criminal be, for he has learned his lesson already and death will not make matters better. So Bruce creates another alternative, just as Luke does, to go back to Gotham and fight criminals like Al Ghul's prisoner, and he defies all the things Ducard and Al Ghul want, making a swift escape and burning Al Ghul's home to the ground. As Bruce leaves the unconscious Ducard with a local villager, he sets his coordinates back to Gotham City, establishing the Batcave, building a vast array of weaponry and gadgets, and starting his journeys as Batman, the Caped Crusader.

Batman's early days as Batman don't start out so pleasant. As he is constantly torn to bits by Gotham's adversaries such as the Scarecrow and his reign of "fear gas, Batman once again faces great haunts and perils he wished he'd never have to endure again. In my eyes, Batman Begins has a recurring theme of fear and how to take on that fear, even when that fear is molded into a person who uses it for his or her advantage. The Scarecrow is a villain who feeds on fear, and in the beginning of Batman's story, he uses Batman's fear to push him to his downfall, but Batman uses his experience to guide him in the right directions, just as he did when he decided to become Batman in the first place.

Striking terror in good people like Sergeant Jim Gordon to gain their allegiance, he teams up with them on several occasions to hunt down the twisted mad men who wish to make Gotham City an unpleasant place. In the end, the people of Gotham come to admire Batman as a great "night savior" as he goes onto defeat Ducard, who is revealed to be the real Ra's Al Ghul. Ghul plans to destroy Gotham and poison it's water supply, but Batman, being as cunning and wise as he is, spoils his plans and makes sure all the grotesque things he has in mind go to the waste bin. As he and Ra's fight in the train, Batman, vowing never to kill or take revenge, says that he will not kill Ra's, but he doesn't have to save him. As Batman glides away from the upcoming wreckage, Ra's is killed when the train falls from the broken tracks. Gotham is saved, the baddies are locked up in prison, Gordon is promoted to Lieutenant, and the people of Gotham's feeling towards Batman suddenly shift from suspicions to trust.

Batman becomes a well respected vigilante who is summoned when even the most deadly of clowns rises to spread havoc. And he leaves behind a symbol, a symbol once thought to be terrifying in the eyes of another. He leaves behind the symbol of a bat, and when it is lit up in the night sky, it gives the citizens of Gotham a feeling of hope, a feeling of relief, a feeling of safety. Batman is guaranteed to be there when evil seeps through the cracks once more, and along with Gordon and the other Gotham police officers, he will do everything in his ability to lock up the gnarly enemies that stand in his way. To put it sweet and simple, Batman RISES for the first time, but little does he know that he will fall, fall far from the respect and glory the Gotham people hold for him. The Joker is coming to town, and terrible, monstrous things are about to hit the fan.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Video Game In My Memories

When I don't feel like indulging myself in stories told through literature, a surge of graphics across the television usually does the trick

Because in my opinion, video games are as great of storytellers as paperbacks and parchment

But there was one game, an oddball game that loomed in obscurity for eons and eons following

I remembered the game vaguely, and struggled to find it for a time and time again 

I vaguely remembered the graphics and the characters, the atmospheres and the surroundings

The defenses and mechanisms, the meanings and morals

It was all fuzzy, all blurry

All I could interpret was the music, the high pitched, jingly tune of happy go lucky serendipity 

The music stuck in my convoluted brain like a shard of nostalgia or fascination 

And I tried to use the music to guide me to the mysterious game 

It was like a flashlight, pulling me through dark, cloudy areas I couldn't see through 

It was a heck of a journey, it took my months and years, decades perhaps

And I grew jittery, I grew hungry to know what the game was, what it stood for

I felt like ripping my clothes off and turning green, pulling every ounce of hair out of my scalp

There was something about the game that brought on merry memories of past time

There was something about the game that brought on merry memories of childhood ambitions, hobbies, and explorations

There was something about the game that brought on merry memories of what I once was

I was a bouncy child, a child who got into everything and was blown to the ceiling by even the simplest of occurrences

I was a child obsessed with purple dinosaurs, mystery solving Great Danes, mice with red shorts, annoying rabbits and flabbergasted ducks, clowns who ate too many hamburgers, and yellow cartoon people who drooled over donuts 

I was a child who loved stories and pixelated stories only you could maneuver 

I loved every ounce of that matter, I still do

I love it as much as a Dr. Pepper rainstorm 

But I was destine, destine in one form or another to come across this game, the glory game of fond past days

Then, I discovered it, like an archaeologist  finding an ancient relic of an ancient tribe

You see, I was a big fanatic of the Adventure Island series of games. Just the title alone made me feel like I was stranded on a desert island, fighting snails with a hammer and decapitated island demons and I attempted to rescue my girlfriend

I was first introduced to the game series through Super Adventure Island for the SNES, but that game was in the possession of my relatives

And as I sat playing the pixelated adventure, I said to my erratic noggin

There is something familiar about this game series, something, something remarkable reminiscent 

I had to figure it out somehow, you wouldn't believe that that was a heck of a journey as well

I researched the Adventure Island games on the web and I was stunted to learn that the first game, the game that kicked things off, was a mock of another game, an arcade game to be exact

The game was Wonder Boy, the brain bells starting ringing! 

I rushed to another location of the web and saw footage of the game....but

Darnit! It was the WRONG version. It wasn't the version I recalled in my memory strands. It wasn't the one that made me think of how much childhood meant in my spirit. The music wasn't even the same cheerful harmony I whistled as I slept at evening 

 It was a console version of the game. What a sundae with poop topping on top! 

Talk about a devilish disappointment

But even that devilish disappointment didn't stop me from continuing my research


 I typed in WONDER BOY ARCADE VERSION, pressed ENTER, let the screen load, and without a single drop of hesitation, I set my fingers to a small video clip

I pushed the ENTER button, like I was opening a portal to the past

Could this be the game I fancied for thousands of days and nights? 

Could this be the game that plays that legendary theme as the protagonist rides skateboards to victory? 

The music still played in my memory strands, the brain bells were about the ring off the hook 

It all was about to climb back to the surface

It did, at last! 

The arcade version was the game, the game I doodled with as a curious todd, the game I admired as one of the first I ever set eye sockets too 

It was the game of all games, the game that played that joyful, jolly tune like an ice cream truck

I finally found that idol from the ancient tribe 

And the ancient tribe was my childhood, waving it's hands and saying a quick hello

It all returned for a brief reunion, and I savored it like sweet honey

I finally found the electronic piece of gold, Wonder Boy

How wondrous it was when I found the wondrous Wonder Boy

The journey was over, and I can go to the grass knowing I found the game

The eminent, the exciting video game in my memories 

What a treat