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How producer Jon Peters and a giant spider nearly ruined Superman

June 12, 2013 4 comments

You may notice the name Jon Peters under the Executive Producer heading in this summer’s Man of Steel Superman movie.

Be glad you don’t see it anywhere else in those credits, because the man has a history of being one of the craziest comic book movie producers of all-time.
Read more…

4 superheroes who came back from the dead (in ridiculous ways)

January 4, 2013 1 comment

Avengers vs X-Men AvX Scott Summers Cyclops kills Professor X Xavier

2012 had two nasty surprises for Marvel comics fans: Cyclops killed X-Men founder Charles Xavier, and Doctor Octopus beat Spider-Man in a game of Trading Spaces, leaving Peter to die in Doc Ock’s withered body.

Bummer, huh? Professor X was old and part of a team, but Spidey was young and solo, making the loss that much more potent.

No more Amazing Spider-Man – except for that identically-titled film franchise they’re making a sequel for.

If Marvel expects to drive new readership to its comics by catching them at the cineplex, how long do you think they’ll keep their movie heroes out of the pages of their comics?

Plenty of other superheroes have come back from the dead: why not Peter Parker?

Death and rebirth narratives form some of the most lasting stories in any given mythology. Superheroes are the modern mythology, and they die and come back all the time. So chin up, Spidey fans: the following big names have all died and come back to life – sometimes more than once.

1. Superman

Superman vs Doomsday Death of Superman DC Comics

The Death

You already knew this one, right? Hell, Our Lady Peace wrote a song about it.

You know it because it was thought to be impossible: the invincible, supremely powerful, supremely good Superman never fails and never gets hurt. Sure, Kryptonite make him sweaty, but that’s because it makes him feel human when he is used to being so much more.

And that’s exactly why he had to die. He had become so strong that there was no way to keep his stories interesting.

But if DC Comics showed that the Man of Steel could die, anyone could die, and anything could happen.

That’s why they threw Doomsday at him in 1992. Doomsday defeated the entire Justice League, and Supes had to sacrifice himself to bring the big brute down.

Death of Superman with Lois Lane

Jimmy Olsen, your hero just died – why are you taking pictures?

DC killed Superman and instantly released the storyline in paperback. All four Superman titles then went on hiatus before reappearing three months later, with each title starring a different hero claiming (wrongly) to be Superman. One was a clone; one was a cyborg; one was a reformed villain; one was Steel.

Shaquielle O'Neal Steel superhero

A.K.A. Shaquille O’Neal.

The Return

Remember that old Monty Python sketch where the dead parrot’s not dead – he’s just resting?

That’s what DC did to bring Superman back.

Essentially, Superman was only badly beaten, not dead; after the fight with Doomsday, Superman was put in a regeneration machine and left at the Fortress of Solitude for a big long nap. When he awoke he was weakened, wearing a black costume, and in serious need of a haircut.

Superman with long hair and a black costume

His hair is long and he’s wearing black. He must mean business!

Superman joined his posers, saved the world with them and regained his powers. He got his old costume back, but he kept his hair long for years because he liked it.

So basically, the greatest long-term impact of Superman’s death was a change in hairstyle that was reversed when he married Lois Lane.

2. Captain America

Captain America Steve Rogers Marvel Comics Civil War

The Death

Marvel’s 2006-2007 Civil War storyline forced the entire Marvel Universe of superheroes to pick sides over a new federal law demanding that all masked heroes register their identities with the American government.

Iron Man Tony Stark became the face of superhuman registration, while his longtime Avenger ally Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, became the leader of a resistance movement.

After a long and bloody rebellion, Captain America surrendered to Iron Man and was taken into custody, where he was gunned down by sometime girlfriend Sharon Carter. Carter had been brainwashed by Cap’s archenemy, the Red Skull.

Marvel Civil War - the death of Captain America Steve Rogers

Note the bloody bullet holes – they’ll be unimportant later.

Like with most of the characters on this list, someone had to fill the A-lister hero’s shoes with him “dead,” so Iron Man convinced Bucky Barnes to become the new Captain America. Steve Rogers’ body was taken to the Arctic and refrozen in the spot where the Avengers originally found him.

The Return

For a storyline all about American freedoms, a dead Captain America presents a pretty compelling final image.

But in Marvel’s eyes, the emotional impact wasn’t worth the complete loss of Steve Rogers.

To bring him back, Marvel explained that all those bullet holes were from a special phasing gun that sent Steve Rogers’ consciousness hurtling through time and space, jumping between moments from the past and future. In the mean time, Red Skull found Cap’s body and transferred his own mind into it.

Lindsay Lohan Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday

This movie provides a lot of creative inspiration for the Marvel folks.

Cap eventually found his way back from his time travel vacation and had a mental mind battle with Red Skull for control of their shared body. Captain America won, bounced Red Skull’s consciousness out to a robot body, then helped the Avengers defeat the Red Skull robot.

Bucky continued on as Captain America for a while, and Steve Rogers received a presidential pardon for that whole Civil War thing. He eventually took the Captain America title back, and everything went back to normal.

3. Robin (Jason Todd)

Batman a Death in the Family Jason Todd Robin's death

The Death

Jason Todd, the second Robin, started out pretty good. He was an enthusiastic circus kid with blonde hair who took over as Batman’s sidekick when Dick Grayson became Nightwing.

Jason Todd with dyed hair as Robin, the Boy Wonder, with Batman

Unfortunately for Jason, Batman prefers his boys with black hair.

The first version of Jason was a Dick Grayson copy with a near-identical backstory, so when DC retconned their universe, Jason got a revamp.

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline in the ’80s, Jason Todd was recast as a troubled street urchin who gets taken in and trained as Batman’s new sidekick. The new version of Jason was angrier, more rebellious, and a dick in general. He soon became a lightning rod for fan hatred, so DC Comics laid his life on the line in a publicity stunt.

In 1988, the Joker captured Robin and beat the hell out of him with a crowbar, then left him to die in a warehouse filled with explosives.

In an unprecedented act of fan involvement, DC set up a hotline for fans to vote on whether Jason Todd should live or die. The final vote was 5,343 to 5,271 in favour of killing him. The longstanding rumour is that one guy with an auto-dialer cast about 200 swing votes for killing Jason. Still, it was enough.

Batman carried Jason’s limp body out of the demolished building, and h hase carried the emotional scars of that failure ever since. Batman had failed Robin; Bruce Wayne had allowed a young boy to die at the hands of a maniac.

It became a defining psychological event for the Dark Knight.

Batman's Batcave memorial to Jason Todd's Robin costume

Jason Todd’s memorial in the Batcave.

The Return

Jason Todd stayed dead for decades, but in 2003, an older version of him appeared in Batman as part of the Hush storyline. That older Jason turned out to be Clayface messing with Batman, but fans responded well to the idea. A few years later, Jason came back for real.

Now take a deep breath, because this one doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Remember in the Superman movie when he reversed the rotation of the earth and somehow rewound time? Well, this is an even bigger stretch.

Superboy-Prime – an alternate universe version of Superman – punched reality in the face, and the tremor brought Jason Todd back to life.

Superboy-Prime punches reality retcon

Take that, reality!

Jason woke up and was eventually taken in by Talia al Ghul. Talia trained him as an assassin out of her own devotion to Batman, and when Jason was ready, he returned to Gotham to take revenge on Batman for not ever killing the Joker.

Jason Todd took the Joker’s former alter ego, the Red Hood, for himself, and became a lethal, gun-toting vigilante. He and Batman eventually made up and Jason rejoined the Bat-family as an occasional helper, but he remained a black sheep compared to Batgirl and the other Robins.

Jason Todd as the Red Hood DC Comics New 52

Jason Todd as the Red Hood.

Jason became popular enough to headline his own comic, Red Hood and the Outlaws, with the New 52 relaunch. Apparently, readers hate a douchey kid in green tights, but they like a douchey adult with a mask and a bomber jacket.

All in all, a change for the better.

4. Jean Grey

X-Men's Jean Grey as the Phoenix - Marvel Comics

The Death

If you grew up in the ’90s, you know the deal from the TV show, and if you’re a longtime X-Men reader, you know that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Jean Grey’s death(s) have been the backdrop for every X-Men story for the last thirty years.

The deaths start with the Phoenix Saga. Jean crashed a shattered spaceship into a lake to save the other X-Men, but was saved from death when she was possessed by the all-powerful cosmic Phoenix Force. The Phoenix supercharged Jean’s telekinetic and psychic powers, and gave her a new costume to boot.

Jean Grey as the Phoenix Marvel Comics X-Men

Fun Fact: DeviantArt LOVES Jean Grey’s Phoenix.

The Phoenix blended itself with Jean’s personality, but it had never experienced human emotion before. When it got its first taste of evil, it went nuts and became the Dark Phoenix.

Dark Phoenix killed a whole lot of people, blew up an entire solar system and nearly destroyed the entire universe before Jean’s consciousness took control long enough to commit suicide.

The Return

Turns out that Dark Phoenix chick wasn’t Jean Grey at all.

That’s right: the old personality switcheroo again!

Later issues explained that when the Phoenix came to Jean’s aid on the crashing ship, it simply copied her body, convinced itself it was Jean, and put the real Jean Grey in a healing cocoon to sit at the bottom of the lake.

When the Dark Phoenix died, the Phoenix Force went back to the real Jean and tried to join with her, but she told it to get lost.

Like a jilted ex-boyfriend who tries to date your sister, the Phoenix Force bonded with a mindless Jean Grey clone and became Madelyne Pryor. Ms. Madelyne married Cyclops and had a kid with him, then went insane and became a villain when the real Jean Grey rejoined the X-Men.

Jean later fought her clone and absorbed the Phoenix Force out of Madelyne – including all the Dark Phoenix memories. She took on the Phoenix name and costume again, and married Cyclops herself.

Cyclops X-Men Scott Summers

“Crazy or not, I’ve got a thing for redheads.”

Jean died again in 2006 when she went all Phoenix on a traitorous mutant at the X-Men school. That Jean hasn’t come back yet, but writer Brian Michael Bendis time-traveled a teenage Jean Grey – along with four other young X-Men – to the present for Marvel NOW’s All-New X-Men. Young Jean got a crash course in her future history, and she wasn’t too impressed.

Jean Grey Marvel Girl All-New X-Men

“I die this many times?”

Given that returning to her time meant enduring multiple deaths and watching her boyfriend go evil, young Jean decided to stay in the present so she could set things right.

Here’s hoping she goes home before she gets killed again.

And There’s More…

There are too many resurrected superheroes to count.

Bucky Barnes, Hawkeye, Green Lantern, and even Batman have all been more or less “dead” at various times. Cloning, time travel, body doubles and mind transfers are just a few of the ways comic book writers work their way around it.

Half of DC’s characters died all at once when writer Geoff Johns killed them off in his Blackest Night Green Lantern event, only to bring them all back with the Brightest Day follow-up arc. Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl were among the many to get a second shot at life.

Yes, Peter Parker is dead.

No, he won’t be dead forever. That you can guarantee.

Multi-film novel adaptations becoming a disturbing Hollywood trend

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Peter Jackson The Hobbit Part 1 An Unexpected Journey Bilbo Thorin Dwarves Martin Freeman

It’s becoming an all-too-common trend: popular novels are being awkwardly hacked into chunks and transformed into overlong feature-length films to prolong franchise life and score extra ticket receipts. Fans love it, but for the uninitiated it’s resulting in poorly-constructed stories that fail to offer the closure expected out of a traditional movie experience.

So far, film producers have only had the cojones to do it with much-beloved book franchises with cult followings, and that’s unlikely to change. In a movie era where the cinemas are dominated by nostalgic reboots, novel adaptations and comic book superheroes, film companies clearly place an incredible amount of faith in pre-established audiences.

That’s why they’ve pushed the boundaries of solid filmmaking by creating incomplete movies: they know a die-hard (or Twi-Hard) fan is willing to accept an incomplete movie and pay for admission twice because they’re already committed to the product. Making two Twilight films prolongs the fantasy experience and adds double the ticket receipts, plus an extra boost for 3D and IMAX surcharges.

Given that most moviegoers wouldn’t stomach an original film that’s only partially written (unless it’s from Quentin Tarantino), it’s safe to say we won’t ever see Anchorman 2: Part 1.

Anchorman 2 Will Ferrell Ron Burgundy

“Great Odin’s raven! Why not?”

But these multi-film novel adaptations are a practice you simply won’t get away with in any other area of life.

Imagine you’re in high school English and your first term paper is due. 500 words on one of the major themes in The Hobbit. Due Friday.

You pick power as your topic. Easy one, right? Just slot your argument into the old five paragraph essay format and you’re golden: intro, body, conclusion. Boom.

Now imagine you write the essay in 1800 words. You chop it at exactly 600 words for each, and you shrink the font and expand the margins to squeeze it all into the typical page length. You turn in the first chunk and think: “That’s way more words than the teacher asked for, so she’ll be impressed that I’m so smart. And I’ve got enough to turn in for my next two essays, too. I’m covered for the year!”

You get an F. In the top corner, written in red, your teacher wrote: “This is a long intro with one paragraph and no conclusion. Next time, write an essay.”

English class teacher gives an F Fail

“Also, you’re over word count, dumbass.”

That’s exactly what Peter Jackson did with The Hobbit. He took a book with the subtitle “There and Back Again” and made a movie about getting partway There. His next two movies will be The Desolation of Smaug (i.e. There for a While) and There and Back Again (i.e. Eventually Going Back Again). And if you haven’t read the book, Bilbo’s journey home is a total victory lap; nothing gets in his way or slows him down to make it interesting.

Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Martin Freeman Bilbo smoking a pipe Tolkien

He just does a lot of this.

There’s a lot of narrative padding and extra story added to An Unexpected Journey to get it up to an unwieldy three hours. the film could have realistically been done in two. Now, consider how much Jackson is going to have to pad the next two movies to make each one three hours.

There’s also the near-inevitability that the Blu-ray release will see an extended cut for each film, the same way Lord of the Rings was released. Jackson added two and a half hours of footage to those films from the material he had to cut. So rest assured, Tolkien fans: you’ll eventually get to see the scenes Jackson left out of this Hobbit trilogy. You’ll finally see the origin of Radagast’s bird poop haircut, and Jackson will certainly add back in every single song from the novel, including the Rivendell elves’ song:

O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
O! tril-lil-lil-lolly
the valley is jolly,
ha! ha!

It’s really not the same story without a tril-lil-lil-lolly.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the first to try splitting one book into two movies. In fact, Warner Bros. toyed with the idea of making Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into two films back in 2004, but scrapped the idea and – much to the chagrin of Potter fans – made some aggressive story cuts instead. Not so with Deathly Hallows: according to producer David Heyman, the choice to split the movie up was left entirely in the hands of the filmmakers, and they opted to do it because there were too many plot points to hit in the final film for them to squeeze it all into a reasonable length. They were looking at a 4.5 hour single film unless they split it up, so they went ahead with the divison. They also had plenty of support from J.K. Rowling herself.

So, while critics were annoyed by the sudden halt midway through the plot, fans delighted to know that J.K. Rowling’s epic Potter conclusion would get all the screen time it needed to tie up every loose end for the franchise. Shooting both movies together meant a prolonged two-year break between Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, but the result was a fully-realized adaptation for fans, and a box office bonanza for Warner Bros. Together, the two Deathly Hallows films grossed nearly $2.3 billion in worldwide revenue.

Harry Potter Gringott's Goblin Bank Money Counting

“$2,284,510,930 to be exact.”

If J.K. Rowling was supportive of a proposed split for her final book, then Stephanie Meyer was downright adamant: she insisted that there was too much content to Breaking Dawn for it to be anything but a two-film finale. The announcement that Breaking Dawn would be a two-parter came just five months before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 hit theatres, and Twilight fans were stoked. Meyer’s rabid fanbase devoured both parts of the final sparkling vampire story, and the two films grossed a combined $1.5 billion worldwide. Critics panned it, but the only complaint you heard out of Twi-Hards was that they had to wait in line twice – and subject their ear drums to prepubescent girl screams twice – to see Bella marry Edward and pop out a vamp kid.

Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Bella Edward Vampires Wedding Kristen Stewart Robert Pattinson

“OMG we’re so happy to be vampire married!”

Fast-forward again to Peter Jackson, who is creating a nine-hour trilogy from a 150-page book originally written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children, with all the bits that weren’t coherent enough for The Lord of the Rings shoved in around the edges to fill in run time. There are added subplots and artificial end points to get each movie out the door in a more or less self-contained form, but it’s clear this is a trilogy that never should have been.

Unlike with Harry Potter and The Twilight Saga, Hobbit fans need not fear that the book will be shortchanged. Instead, the danger is it’s getting lost in the noise of all the added material.

The audacious part about the Hobbit trilogy is that it was initially planned as a two-film project. A third film was added just five months before the first movie debuted, meaning Jackson had to scramble to re-edit his movies and re-shoot footage to make everything coherent.

There is plenty to like about An Unexpected Journey. It’s well-acted, the special effects are grand and Middle-Earth is as beautiful, dangerous and exhilarating as ever. But this series is too much of a good thing.

The Hobbit is about a band of dwarves in pursuit of a pile of riches.

The story of its film adaptation is about that same pursuit.

Dracula: Lord of the copyright undead

November 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Bram Stoker Dracula Vampire

Dracula is the granddaddy-baddy of vampires: just about every long-running vampire story in film, TV, comics and fiction has eventually thrown him into the mix. He is the template for every modern variation (even the sparkly Twilight ones), and there’s a reason he keeps coming up: Bram Stoker’s legal mistakes made it impossible to keep a copyright lid on Drac’s coffin.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Dracula

Even Buffy couldn’t keep him down.

The major reason Dracula never truly dies is that there are no legal chains to keep him in his coffin. While Stoker wrote a bulletproof publishing contract in England for the book’s 1897 release, something went wrong in the process of debuting it in the United States, and as a result, it was in the public domain from the start.

Monsters Inc. Disney Roz

“You didn’t file your paperwork!”

That basically opened the door for anyone to swoop in and use the property, and the door’s been open ever since. You can get a copy of Dracula absolutely anywhere, legally, for free. Paperback printings are pure profit; the only expenses are printing costs and a fee to whichever English professor they pick to write the foreword. Go to the iTunes store and look up free eBooks. Dracula is about as common as the Bible or anything by those Bronte chicks.

The US copyright bungle hurt Stoker’s estate in the long run, but he still made a healthy profit off it during his life. It was loose in the US, but in 1900 the planet was a long way away from becoming a global village.

Stoker went on to write a few other things that weren’t nearly as successful as Dracula before taking the final dirt nap himself in 1912.

One year later, his widow Florence needed some cash, so she put ol’ Bram back to work again. She sold off his working notes for Dracula that year, then in 1914 she published Dracula’s Guest, a collection of short stories from her husband’s unfinished writings. The title story was a chunk from Dracula’s first section that Stoker had cut from the final draft.

Children of Hurin JRR Tolkien

Sound familiar?

That kept Florence going for a little while, but she long outlived her husband and had to keep milking his achievements. Women’s rights, voting and skinny jeans were still years away, meaning Florence couldn’t go out and get a job. with Bram dead, she was married to Dracula‘s earnings.

In 1922, A German adaptation of Dracula called Nosferatu was produced, and Florence went right after it with a lawsuit. She liked the idea, though, and sold the rights to Dracula for a theatre production that Bram had put on once. After the play’s success, Florence cashed in her chips for good: she sold the play to Universal Studios, and unloaded the novel rights, too. Universal kept the actor from the Broadway production as its Dracula for the film.

Bram Stoker Bela Lugosi Vampire Dracula

Some guy named Lugosi.

After hocking his notes, his deleted work and the rights to the greatest thing he’d ever written (in all of its forms), Florence wasn’t done. No one knows when, but at some point she pawned off one of Stoker’s manuscripts for Dracula. That manuscript contained author notes, revisions and an alternate ending. And where did they find it?

Bram Stoker Vampire Dracula Pennsylvania Manuscript Barn

Hint: not a dark scary crypt.

That’s right: it was dug up in a barn in the 1980s, unearthed by a tax lawyer. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen bought it at auction and has locked it away. Few have seen it, and Allen makes anyone who looks at it sign a non-disclosure agreement.

And who can blame him? Paul Allen is the first man in over a century to actually control a copy of Dracula that you can’t get off Project Gutenberg.

Paul Allen Teeth Microsoft

You think he’s jealous of Drac’s nice teeth?

Mike Milbury, hockey’s shoe-wielding bandit

October 18, 2012 1 comment

Brandon Prust vs Milan Lucic

Hockey and fighting – big deal, right? Put a bunch of angry Canadians on skates and a fight is bound to break out. Above you’ll see New York’s Brandon Prust about to get filled in by one of the meanest NHLers around these days, Milan Lucic. That happened last season, and there will be more of that when the NHL resumes. It happens all the time. But it’s never happened like this.

The spark:

On December 23, 1979, the Boston Bruins were at Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers. The Bruins beat the Rangers 4-3, but because they’d had so much fun doing it, they decided they wanted to continue after the buzzer. The Boston players started a typical post-game melee that soon became anything but typical when a fan decided to get involved.

Rangers fan John Kaptain rolled up his program, leaned over the low glass and swatted at Bruins tough guy Stan Jonathan, cutting him under the eye. Then, in Jonathan’s words, “I put my stick up to protect myself, and he just took it, and I can’t be hitting no fan with a stick, really, eh, so I just let him take it.”

Yes, the man is Canadian.

The madness:

That was enough for Boston’s Terry O’Reilly. He climbed into the stands and the rest of the Bruins followed him, because they couldn’t leave their teammate at the mercy of a scared-shitless spectator with a hockey stick. O’Reilly grabbed Kaptain but others in the crowd hauled him off. Soon the whole Bruins team was beating up the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Amid the chaos, the fan with the deadly program ran like hell, but he didn’t get away.

Boston defenceman Mike Milbury was among the Bruins climbing the glass, and he managed to chase down Kaptain. Milbury knocked Kaptain down, ripped off Kaptain’s shoe and started beating him with it while I security guard tried to stop him.

Bush shoe throw

He may have inspired this.

Security swarmed Milbury, but not before he got in a few good whacks.

Mike Milbury beats a fan with his own shoe

He’s under there. Somewhere.

The aftermath:

The Bruins were separated from the fans and put on their team bus. They needed a mounted police escort to get away from the arena because fans were trying to tip the bus.

Mr. Burns

“Are you saying ‘Booo’ or ‘Bruuu-ins’?”

Milbury’s post-playing career has been as highlight-filled as his shoe-beating heyday. As a general manager in the early 2000s, he led the New York Islanders to their second-worst regular season winning percentage in the franchise’s 30-year history, then salted the earth by trading away future stars Roberto Luongo and Zdeno Chara, among others, before getting canned twelve years too late. He is now (surprise) a broadcaster for ESPN and CBC. But he hasn’t gone soft; he’ll still drop the gloves on any punk ass twelve-year old dumb enough to mess with him.

Mike Milbury laughing

Class act, all the way.