The Freshman: Big Clown on Campus

In the world of silent movies, typically there are a few familiar names that come up and stick from that era of filmmaking. For most, they are apt to think of Charlie Chaplin. That is understandable, considering his impact as one of the earliest worldwide film stars and the inventive comedy he presented with his signature character, the Tramp. For others, they may think of Buster Keaton. This is also understandable, considering his own somewhat cynical sense of humor and masterful deadpan presence. However, there is one star from this era that I feel should not be forgotten: Harold Lloyd. During the 1920s, Harold Lloyd was one of the most successful comedic stars on the silver screen. His work was characterized by its elaborate stunts, lengthy chase sequences, and his “Glasses” character archetype: a young go-getter seeking a better life and the chance to get the girl. However, his name slipped into obscurity, as his great work became eclipsed by the genius of Chaplin and Keaton in the public eye. Nowadays, though, there has been a renewed interest in Lloyd’s work, with the Criterion Collection re-releasing his movies on DVD and Blu-Ray. Among these films is The Freshman, a top-notch comedy that may have sparked the trend of college comedies.

Harold Lamb is a young man who is excited for the opportunity to go to college. With his spot at Tate University secured, Harold dreams of the chance to become the Big Man on Campus, beloved by all. However, he is a bit of a nerd, drawing his inspiration on how the Big Man should act thanks to novel and a film called “The College Hero”. This gets the attention of a upper-year cad and his cruel classmates, who decide to take advantage of Harold’s naivete while mocking him behind his back. However, there is one girl who can see the truth of him: Peggy,  a young woman working in her mother’s boardinghouse and at the local Hotel Tate. She sees the sincerity and charm in his nerdy demeanor, even as others deride him. However, his quest to become popular finds a real challenge when he seeks to join the college football team, believing that to be the key to becoming the Big Man on Campus. Will he has his winning moment at the big game, or will he find that the path to popularity is more treacherous than it looks?

Even for a film that was made back in 1925, The Freshman is still a delight to watch. The story moves along at a brisk pace, but does not lose sight of the characters or heart. The performers do a good job of communicating their feelings or emotions in each moment, while the intertitles cover whatever dialogue is necessary and occasionally get in an additional joke. Along with that, the film finds plenty of ways to mix its major comedic scenes into advancing the plot. For instance, one sequence later in the film has Harold hosting the Fall Frolic as part of his plan to become the Big Man on Campus. Unfortunately, his meager finances mean that he is stuck with a suit has been barely basted. The result is that Harold desperately attempts to keep the suit together as he mingles and mixes with the other students, even as each dance threatens to pop every stitch and button clean off. The sequence is a fun one with plenty of good gags, but it also works as a major moment of Harold facing the real cruelty of his students. Of course, that also goes into part of what works with Harold Lloyd’s films: their optimism and heart.

Chaplin and Keaton, though they were both geniuses from the silent era, had characters who were outsiders. They were figures that could examine the weaknesses in society, get knocked around as they attempted to navigate its choppy waters, then drift off into the sunset when they were through. Harold Lloyd’s characters, however, were not the same outcasts. They were everymen, young go-getters who sought to improve their lives. Sure, they may stick out with some eccentricities, such as the nerdy Harold Lamb and his basing cool behavior on stuff from books and movies. However, the characters at their core wanted to be liked or to have their share of success, a feeling I am sure is shared by many. He crafted these figures and, even as they would be put through the wringer in his delightful comedic sequences, they would keep up the fight until they achieved their dreams. That drive, mixed with the heart and charm that Lloyd had put into his performances, created a more relatable figure for his audiences. In short, he gave them an underdog they could root for. In a way, it is thus understandable how he could become such a huge success.

Though Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are the names most think of with silent film comedy, Harold Lloyd should not be so easily forgotten. As seen with The Freshman, his well-crafted gags and charming characters helped to make movies that can still be appreciated even today.

Westerado – Double Barreled: A Fistful of Mystery

In the world of storytelling, points in history and time have frequently served as rich fodder for stories. One such point in time is that of the Old West, that period of time of western expansion in the United States. Of course, for a long time it’s moreso been the legends of the Wild West that have captured the storytelling eye. Cultivated with cheap pulp novels and Wild West shows helmed by showmen like Buffalo Bill Cody, the legends have painted a mythic version of this 1800s expansion. The fiction conjures images of duels held at high noon, gunslingers and outlaws waging war in the desert, and rough and tumble towns that were a hotbed of lawlessness. It is no wonder that the fictions painted would captivate more than the truth. Plenty of TV shows and movies have been set in this time, but surprisingly video games have not mined the realm of the Wild West as much. This is a shame, considering the setting and tropes of Wild West stories can offer interesting possibilities for the video game form. For instance, there is an independent video game called Westerado: Double Barreled which takes advantage of both the classic tropes and realistic details to create a fun little mystery.

One day, your mother wants you to help out your brother with some farm work on the homestead. Specifically, he needs your help in managing some of the buffalo. One of them manages to get loose and you are forced to get it back. When you return, however, disaster has struck: the homestead is burning to the ground, your mother and brother dead. Finding refuge with your uncle, he gives you a pistol and a clue as to the outlaw that had murdered your family. He sends you off to Clintville, a small town home to a shieriff that might offer more info. Of course, plenty of townspeople can help you out, offering clues as to the murderer’s identity and pointing you out to other places in the territory to go. Of course, be mindful of the people around you. Among the many townsfolk that you encounter and see in the game, one of them is the murderer.

The game is a fun little mystery that takes good advantage of its world. The game works through taking on the quests and missions that the townspeople can offer you. Sometimes it can involve a more benevolent job like protecting a stagecoach, while others might need you to hunt down a person. Either way, these missions help to offer you more information on the identity of the murderer. However, if you should beat the game, that does not mean that you already know the murderer the next time that you play. In fact, the identity of the murderer is randomly generated each time you start up a new game. As such, there is built-in replayability due to that variable. There are also additional characters that you can unlock, granting you different gameplay elements. For instance, normally your character uses hats as their health, losing a hat each time they are shot. One unlockable character is one who does not wear any hats, meaning the game become a one-hit instant KO challenge. Now, for me, one particularly striking bit of gameplay comes from the Western setting: namely, the use of guns.

Shoot-outs and gun battles are a classic element of Western stories, and this game certainly does not lack. However, it is interesting to see where it combines fictional components with a more realistic feel. For instance, the ammo for your guns is infinite. However, when it comes time to reload, you must reload one bullet at a time. In other words, it pays to be mindful of how quickly you work through your bullets. In addition, the player does not simply pull out their gun and start shooting. Instead, you must first pull out your gun, then cock it before you can shoot. This added bit of realism not only adds a bit more work to a gunfight, but it can also factor into whenever a dialogue scene is unfolding. For instance, a townsperson who seems to be keeping a secret might be more open when he stares down the barrel of your gun. That said, you also risk the other person shutting up on you if you read the moment incorrectly and go for your gun. Likewise, if you haphazardly pull out your gun in a crowded place, then everyone else will get their guns at the ready if need be. Thus, the classic thrill of a Western shoot-out is tempered with more realistic gunplay. Putting that choice in the player’s hand, of whether to watch the scene or attempt to go guns blazing, offers a more seasoned take on a familiar part of a Western adventure.

Though it has been thoroughly explored in plenty of genres, the Western has been a bit more neglected in video games. It is rather surprising, considering how a game like Westerado: Double Barreled demonstrates how the tropes of that genre can be enforced or tweaked when mixed with clever gameplay mechanics.

A Beginner’s Guide to Anime: My Personal Picks

In the early 1960s, Japanese animation (more commonly known as anime) would finally hit the television screen. It began with shows like Astro BoyGigantor, and Speed Racer. However, these shows were not just limited to Japanese televisions. American broadcasters began to pick up a few of these shows. It was not much, though the few shows picked up would be the first taste of anime for American audiences. They were small drops, though, compared to the floodgates that would open. In 1988, an animated feature-length adaptation of the manga Akira hit the big screen. Though it had failed in Japan, it caught like wildfire worldwide. It helped to open the gateway to anime for American audiences, with more anime programs hitting TV screens in the states. In fact, Cartoon Network had a block of programming devoted to anime which they called Toonami. Now, what had once been a niche market has grown to a more mainstream appeal. Of course, with so many shows and options out there to see, where should one start? Which shows could serve as a potential gateway for someone that has not seen anime before? Well, that is the purpose of today’s post. I have selected a variety of shows or franchises which I feel would make for a good starting point for someone dipping their toes into anime. Now, before I list my choices, let me be clear that this listing is in no particular order or ranking. Now, with that out of the way, time to list my recommendations of anime shows for first-timers.

1. Dragon Ball Z

Ever since the Dragon Ball franchise first started with a manga series back in 1984, the adventures of good-hearted and devoted martial artist Son Goku have been a landmark series and major influencer in the realm of shonen (young male demographic) entertainment. In terms of checking out this franchise, though, I recommend Dragon Ball Z. This portion of the series shifted gears away from the goofier antics of the series’ beginnings and more towards the high-energy battles that have become a main stay in the franchise, along with introducing classic characters like the hot-headed Saiyan prince Vegeta. Also, there are two options for it: you can check out Dragon Ball Z as it had first aired, or check out Dragon Ball Z Kai, an edited and redubbed version which trims some of the filler from the original.

2. Cowboy Bebop

In the year 2071, former hitman Spike Spiegel spends his days hunting down wanted criminals alongside a crew that includes former cop Jet Black, con artist Faye Valentine, eccentric hacker Ed Wong, and a corgi named Ein. Even as they hunt down that next bounty, Spike’s past begins to catch up with him and threatens to drag him under.  This series is a great entry point, and not just because the overall quality is fantastic. It draws together a fine mixture of styles, such as cowboy Westerns, film noir, and Chinese action thrillers. The result is a mix that offers plenty of accessibility for a Western audience.

3. My Hero Academia

In a world where 80% of the world’s population has superpowers (here known as “Quirks”) and superheroes are a real profession, Izuku Midoriya is a Quirkless boy who idolizes superheroes. When an act of bravery on his part catches the attention of legendary superhero All Might, he finds himself granted with this hero’s Quirk: One for All, which gives incredible super strength. With this new gift, Izuki earns a spot at U.A. High School to train and become part of the next generation of superheroes. This series works as a good entry series thanks to its heavy influence from American superhero comics, while mixing it together with familiar tropes from Japanese shonen action stories.

4. Sailor Moon

Just as Dragon Ball was a major influencer in the realm of shonen entertainment, Sailor Moon made a big impact in the field of shoujo (young female demographic) entertainment. Its tale of Usagi Tsukino, a teenage girl who gains a mystical brooch and discovers that she is the reincarnation of a princess from the Moon, brought together the mystic fun and teenage tribulations of “magical girl” anime while mixing in the action of superhero-like Sentai television shows. As for checking out this series, there are two options. One could revisit the original ’90s anime, or check out the current series Sailor Moon Crystal, which provides a closer plot and visual style to the original manga source.

5. Death Note

When high school student Light Yagami ends up in possession of a mystic notebook known as the Death Note, he decides to become a God of Justice under the alias of Kira by using the book’s ability to kill others to murder criminals. This brings him to the attention of L, a young and eccentric but brilliant detective who will do anything to stop Light. Those looking for darker stories will find this as a good starter, with its gripping chess match of deceit and death between the fiery passion of Light and the cold calculations of L.

6. My Love Story!!

Takeo Goda is a high school students with a massive size and somewhat goofy face who has always been ignored by girls in favor of his best friend, the more conventionally attractive Makoto Sunakawa. When he saves a girl named Rinko Yamato from being harassed on a train, the two fall in love and begin to navigate the hurdles of romantic relationships. For those looking for something a bit more sweet with some romance, this series is a sure treat. Watching the inexperienced Takeo and easily flustered Rinko handled their feelings is adorable entertainment, while the plot nimbly avoids a lot of the usual stumbling blocks in romantic comedies.

7. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ever since it first began in 1989 as a manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell has grown to become one of the classic sci-fi franchises in anime. Its themes of identity and the line between man and machine are rich substance to take in, explored through the police work of Motoko Kusanagi and Section 9. Though the 1995 anime film may be regarded as a classic, it might move a bit too slowly for some. That is why I would recommend Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex as a good entryway to this classic franchise. It still has its exploration on the nature of identity, but delivers it with a quicker pace and thrilling action as Kusanagi takes on threats like the Laughing Man and the Individual Eleven.

8. One Punch Man

Saitama is a hero for fun with a rather unique problem: he is just too powerful. He is able to utterly destroy any foe with one punch, meaning that he has no challenge in his life. The result is a boring day-to-day that is occasionally punctuated with punching out a monster. Of course, the arrival of a cyborg named Genos wanting to become his disciple might offer just the change he needs. Much like My Hero Academia, this series mixes together elements and tropes from American superhero comics and Japanese shonen action manga. However, this series serves more as an affectionate parody of its sources, playfully poking fun at the ridiculous elements of both.

So, there are my recommendations on anime shows that might serve as a good gateway for first-timers. Hopefully, you might try one of these shows and find yourself with a new media outlet to enjoy.

Your Name.: Love in the Time of Body Swaps

Over the ages, as many different stories have been written, certain tropes for whole plots have begun to emerge. For instance, there is the “Deal with the Devil” plot, which always centers around an individual making a corrupt bargain with a malevolent force, often with a terrible price paid. Another is the “Going Native” plot, which follows an individual finding themselves among a different culture, then siding with that culture and fighting against that which they once were. The focus for this review, though, is a trope I will call the “Body Swappers” plot. This trope is centered around two or more people finding themselves in each other’s bodies, usually through some mystical force or advanced science. Generally, these sorts of stories involve the participants gaining a greater understanding and respect for each other. Now, while these sorts of plots may be familiar, what gives them their spark is in how they are used and executed. For instance, the “Body Swappers” plot is the basic idea at play in the novel Your Name., which has now been adapted into an anime film by director Makoto Shinkai. Under his direction, the film is a lovely romance that uses the “Body Swappers” plot to develop its characters and cast a light on the changes on Japan.

Taki is a teenage boy living in Tokyo who deals with the constant hustle and bustle as he juggles school and work. Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in a small rural town, bored with her country life and frustrated with her politician father. One morning, a surprise greets them both: they awaken in the other’s body. It seems be to random as to whenever they wake up in the other’s body, and once they return to their own, the memories of their experiences begin to fade away like a dream. Stuck in this rather odd situation, the two try to maneuver through it the best that they can. They leave notes for the other to communicate and advise them on how to act. They try to help the other out as they navigate the hurdles and challenges. The more that they learn of each other, though, the more that they begin to fall in love with each other. Eventually, they seek a way to get past these barriers and finally meet each other face to face…before they potentially forget each other and lose this tender connection.

This new project by Makoto Shinkai is a delightful little movie. The animation is gorgeous, capturing a realistic aesthetic that is balanced by the magical components of the story. Whether it is the modern buildings of Tokyo or the lush forest near Mitsuha’s small town, the quality of detail in the animation is great. The quality of that animation also extends to the actions of the characters. It is not just the strong voice acting that goes to show whenever one person is in the other’s body. The swap is also demonstrated through the little gestures and movements of Taki and Mitsuha. For instance, Mitsuha tends to carry herself with a more careful and submissive air, while Taki can be more proactive and prone to reacting to any slights against him. The body language they sport, even as they try to maintain the other’s normal life, help to reveal just who is in possession of a body at any time. Of course, it is not just the quality of the animation that makes this such a good film. It is also in the story and writing, which offers a fresh feel to a familiar plot trope.

Most of the time, whenever a “Body Swappers” plot is used, it is generally to show two characters coming to learn more about the other and having a greater respect for them. In this case, the film takes this familiar plot and uses it as an inspired approach for a romance. As both Taki and Mitsuha live through days in each other’s lives, they see the worlds they live in and fall for each other in the process. Along with that, they also grow more as individuals thanks to the experiences that they share. Taki begins to see more value in having a cooler head and not just instinctively reacting, while Mitsuha begins to develop more of a spine and stand up for herself. This body swap does not just take advantage of examining the differences between these two characters, though. It also casts a light on the changes in Japan. While Taki spends his days in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Mitsuha’s small town lacks a lot of those modern features while holding on to older traditions. In fact, Mitsuha and her sister perform rituals at a local shrine, led by her grandmother who seeks to preserve these parts of the past. These two perspectives serve as a nice way to showcase these two sides of Japan: the ancient cultures and traditions that have been a part of the nation throughout the ages, and the technological landscape that has grown in recent years.

Through the years, many familiar forms of plots have grown and developed. By using the familiar “Body Swappers” plot and applying it to a love story, Your Name. breathes new life by using it to explore self-growth through a shared experience.

The Evolution of Harley Quinn: From Abuse Victim to Vivacious Anti-Hero

If one were to examine the numerous rogues galleries and collections of villains throughout comic books, it would be easy to say that Batman has one of the greatest rogues galleries in the realm of superhero stories. Over the years, plenty of memorable villains would arrive in the comics and capture the attention of readers. One of these villains, however, was a foe who had first appeared in the cartoon Batman: the Animated Series. That villain’s name is Harley Quinn. First appearing in the episode “Joker’s Favor” as a mere henchman, Quinn would grow in prominence with future appearances, becoming the right-hand woman of the Joker. However, something interesting began to happen when she began to appear in comics. She would not simply be limited to a villain that served the needs of another. Though she has not gone full-on hero, Harley Quinn has gone on to develop into more of an anti-hero. Not only that, she’s even grown to be able to stand on her own and not simply lean on the Joker. How did this happen? What was the path of evolution for her? Well, let us first begin with a graphic novel called Mad Love and the origin it presents for Quinn.

Once, Harley Quinn was better known by her real name of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. An aspiring psychologist, Harleen leapt at the opportunity to try to understand the criminal mind. Her subject: the Joker. Thus began their sessions at Arkham, with her trying to understand him. However, something began to happen. Harleen began to fall in love with him. She was twisted by his words, growing more and more attached to him while unaware of his manipulation. Eventually, she busted him out of Arkham Asylum. Not only that, she took his word about her name sounding like “harlequin” to heart. She got herself a harlequin costume and began calling herself Harley Quinn, becoming a major accomplice to the Joker. With that laid out, part of the appeal of the character does come through. Though she possesses a bubbly and fun personality, she is also a victim of abuse. Their relationship has no true tenderness to it, with the Joker treating her as nothing more than a tool for his schemes. The result is a tragic character lurking beneath the vim and vigor. However, Harley Quinn would not simply spend her time as a suffering pawn of the Joker. She would make a change that would expand her. She would get a friend, and that friend was Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy is a character who serves as an excellent foil to Harley Quinn. Ivy is a character with a serious edge who hates men and their abuses, while Harley is a more easygoing character who was utterly obedient to the Joker. They were a comic match to be made, though certainly an odd couple pair. However, this pair helped Harley to grow as a character. Though she would have moments where she reverted when around the Joker, she began to take more stock in her self-worth. Her confidence grew as she hung around with Poison Ivy. This confidence and self-reliance would grow as she began to have her own adventures, even forming a team with Poison Ivy and Catwoman as the Gotham City Sirens. Throughout this time, Harley herself showed more initiative in turning over a new leaf, improving herself and even making parole. However, the next big step and current phase of Harley would not arise until a major event known as the New 52.

As part of the New 52’s new roll-out of comics, Harley Quinn received a new title of her own, one written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. In this new series, Harley finds that an old patient of hers had a surprise set aside in their will: that Harley would gain ownership of an apartment building at Coney Island. Now serving as a landlord in Coney Island and as a member of a roller derby team, Harley seeks to improve her neighborhood and fight crime. No more is Harley Quinn just the abused pawn of the Joker. Now, she stands tall as an anti-hero, certainly just as quirky and rough as before but now saving lives from threats like a zombie outbreak or a super-strong sailor addicted to weird seaweed. Free from the shadows of Gotham, she blossoms as her own character, becoming an irreverent but good-hearted anti-hero. In a way, it is understandable how Harley Quinn could develop like she has. In the dark and shadowy world of Batman, she was a foe with a lighter personality than most that was twinged with tragic corruption and a good heart beneath. Now, written as more of an anti-hero, she stands out as a more irreverent face in the crowd among the many more serious-minded heroes of the DC Universe. In short, her quirky antics and gray yet benevolent morality stand out against the more black and white nature of the classic DC heroes and villains.

Ever since her first appearance on Batman: the Animated Series, Harley Quinn has grown fast in her popularity. Along with that growth has been a growth of character, evolving her from the abused pawn of the Joker into the quirky anti-hero that calls Coney Island her home.

Power Rangers: Solid Might and a Little Morphin’

In 1993, a new superhero series hit television that would strike like lightning in a bottle: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Taking action footage from the Japanese Super Sentai series and mixing it with American footage and dubbing, the series captured the attention of viewers with its tale of five teenagers with attitude using martial arts and super powers to battle the forces of evil. The show’s mixture of martial arts action, giant monster battles, and somewhat cheesy teen stories landed it with a fanbase fast. In fact, the Power Rangers franchise has grown and the show persists to this day, with new variations and iterations to each new season. In fact, there have even been films of the Power Rangers. Most of those films, however, were specifically tied in with the television shows. Now, a new film has arrived to hit theaters. Though it draws its inspiration from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers television series, this new film serves as the start of potentially a new line in the Power Rangers franchise. Simply titled as Power Rangers, it proves to be a solidly entertaining new entry in the prolific franchise, avoiding certain pitfalls even as it does not rise to greatness.

In the town of Angel Grove, five teenagers come together in a moment of pure chance. Their names are Jason, Billy, Kimberly, Zack, and Trini, and they all have their frustrations and problems that plague their lives. One night, they all end up converging at the same location at a local gold mine. It is there that they discover something in the rocks: power coins. These coins grant them super strength, and inspires them to investigate further. What they find is even more amazing: an alien spaceship, buried deep in the ground. This ship is the home of an alien named Zordon, once a powerful warrior and member of the Power Rangers. He had set out the power coins long ago to find those who would be worthy to continue the mission of the Power Rangers and protect the Zeo crystals. Now, the Zeo crystals on Earth are threatened when Rita Repulsa returns, a former Power Ranger now seeking to collect the Zeo crystals for nefarious ends. These five teenagers must learn to work together and grow as a team, if they are to become the newest team of Power Rangers and stop Rita’s plans to summon a gigantic monster known as Goldar and bring destruction to the Earth.

This film makes for an entertaining new entry in to the Power Rangers franchise. Elizabeth Banks looks like she is having fun as she plays Rita Repulsa, delivering some menace along with a playful demeanor to show off the sadistic nature in this take on Rita. Likewise, Bryan Cranston delivers a solid, serious take as Zordon. He captures Zordon’s devotion to the mission of the Power Rangers, while tempering it with concern and frustration over having a group of teenagers become the newest members of this team. Along with that, the movie also delivers on some of the fun action that most people remember with the show. From battles with henchmen monsters known as Putties to a giant monster battle between Goldar and the Power Rangers’ giant robot the Megazord, the action fare which most people think of with Power Rangers is on display. Some viewers might be a little disappointed that the Power Rangers do not fully morph into their armor until around the last twenty minutes of the film. That said, the movie delivers more on an aspect of Power Rangers that some might not think about as much: the teenagers.

In the series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the teens are a solid group of friends and general do-gooders. Though the characters are nice, the writing for that series tended to present them in the sort of shallow presentation from which a lot of teen-centered programming at the time suffered. They were heroes and had a few traits that helped them stand up, but they could come across as dull to some viewers. For the film Power Rangers, however, more time and development is given to the teens themselves. For instance, here they are portrayed as somewhat flawed but with heart beneath the cracks. For instance, the film’s version of Jason is a star football player who’s punished with weekly detention sessions after a failed attempt to prank a rival team, but he also stands up for Billy and protects him from bullies. Along with that, the teens are not presented as friends right away. Instead, their friendship develops over the course of the film as they share in the experience of becoming Power Rangers, growing past their labels and their issues along the way. In a way, the approach is essentially to take these teenagers and make them a sort of super-powered Breakfast Club. The result is a take on the team that can offer more substance beyond the original do-gooders from the television series. The writing for these characters might still potentially seem a little shallow, but it at least offers more meat to the characters and a bigger development to them as they rise up and take on the mantle of the Power Rangers.

Though the film might not be anything stellar, Power Rangers offers a take on the superhero franchise that is solidly entertaining. Good performances and a more developed take on the five teenagers with attitude help to give a concrete foundation for its entertainment. Besides, in the wake of bad movies based on similar nostalgic properties, isn’t there something to be said for competency?

Renovating a Rogues Gallery: What Makes a Lasting Villain?

When it comes to superhero comic books, it is not only the hero that hooks the reader. No, there is more to it than that. There are also the villains, those figures who exemplify wickedness and the darker impulses of mankind that stand in opposition to our champions of justice. They can grip a reader’s attention in a multitude of ways, from colorful personalities to fascinating concepts to even serving as a dark reflection of our hero. After all, what is the selfless might of Superman without the selfish brain of Lex Luthor? What is Batman’s battle for order without the Joker’s war for chaos? These heroes shine when brought to battle against the villains who threaten their world, with some even amassing a collection of villains who they regularly fight. These hordes, these rogues galleries, are just as much a part of these comics as the heroes. However, how do they form? What makes one villain stick when ten others will fall into obscurity? In truth, there are a multitude of factors that can make a villain pop and connect as part of a rogues gallery. To examine this subject, I will use some newer villains that have become threats for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

In Superman’s rogues gallery, one new addition has been the supervillain Livewire. First introduced in Superman: the Animated Series, Leslie Willis was a Metropolis shock jock who delighted in mocking anyone. In particular, she loved to tear into Superman and mock his do-good attitude. During a live concert to hype up her show, a lightning storm broke out and threatened to harm the crowd. Before one such bolt could strike Willis, Superman had arrived to save her. However, as he was saving her, a bolt struck Superman and the shock transferred through to Willis. Waking up in the hospital, she had found that she had become ghostly pale, her hair turned a bright shade of blue, and she could even control electricity. With her new powers, she set out to knock Superman down a few pegs. Now, she has quickly become a steady member of Superman’s more prominent foes, and for good reason. Not only do her powers allow a writer to come up with some visually interesting battles against Superman, she also offers a good personality counterpoint. Superman is a figure known for his dedication to goodness, to helping out others however he can. It is fitting, then, for there to be a villain who would start out already possessing a cynical attitude towards that. With this combination, Livewire has earned a spot fast among Superman’s villains. She was eventually brought into the comics, has appeared in numerous video games, and has even been a recurring threat in the Supergirl television series. Of course, Superman is not the only one with new threats.

In the world of Batman, one of the more recent foes to gain traction is Professor Pyg. First introduced in comics back in 2007, Professor Pyg’s back story is sparse. What little is known is that his real name is Lazlo Valentin and that he was part of a secret spy organization, before he was exposed to his own personality-eroding drug. These days, he has taken on the name of Professor Pyg and he seeks to make people perfect. He does this by subjecting them to a horrible surgical procedure that turns them into his loyal Dollotrons, lobotomized pawns with masks seared into their skin. Now, there are two factors that have made him stand out fast in the crowd. Firstly, there is the chilling nature of Professor Pyg. Though he is insane like many Batman villains, he is not portrayed the same as them. Many of Batman’s villains have their insanity showcased like many villains in media: eccentric and out there, but still largely in control of their faculties. Professor Pyg, on the other hand, seems genuinely disturbed.  His lilting, almost world-salad-like speech patterns give his dialogue a stilted, off-center quality, along with the horrific nature of his actions. However, it is not merely the horror that makes him stand out. After all, there are plenty of failed Batman villains who simply operate as murderers or torturers. It is his goal that helps offer him a chance to shine on. Like many of Batman’s rogues, Professor Pyg has a particular gimmick and endgoal that helps to offer personality to his actions. He does not commit his crimes merely to be sadistic. In this case, it is to serve his pursuit of making people perfect, even through horrific means. The end result of these two factors, of the horror and the gimmick, is a villain that feels like a more realistic variation of the classic Batman villain mold. His presence has been growing, as he has been making regular appearances in the comics, served as a major antagonist in the one-season long Beware the Batman cartoon, and was the subject of a side quest in the Batman: Arkham Knight video game. Now, I have discussed Superman and Batman foes. It is time for me to bring up a newer Wonder Woman villain.

Among the many foes of Wonder Woman, a newer threat that has emerged is Veronica Cale. Once a poor white trash girl, Veronica Cale worked hard and rose up in the world to become a scientific genius. She would even go on to co-found Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals, becoming a real success story thanks to her hard work and dedication. However, it is not enough for Cale. She wants to take Wonder Woman down. She sees Wonder Woman as someone who got by with incredible gifts, instead of having to struggle and work hard to earn her place. She sees Wonder Woman’s message of peace as pathetic, considering it so easy to preach such a message when you possess the might to force it. For Cale, she believes that if anyone should be the “Wonder Woman”, it should be her. Now, she makes for an interesting addition to Wonder Woman’s villains. Plenty of them possess great power, such as Cheetah’s animal-inspired abilities or Circe’s mystic spells. Some serve as good ideological counterpoints, such as Ares and his obsession with war or Dr. Psycho and his insane misogynistic streak. Very few specifically oppose her place as a feminist icon. More than that, she challenges Wonder Woman using nothing more than her genius, a skillful manipulation of media, and just the right partnership with powerful criminals. This offers her an interesting facet to explore as an opponent of Wonder Woman, as it allows for examining the nature of what makes an inspiring figure. Wonder Woman may possess powers and gifts that have aided her quest of justice, but it is her actions that make her such a beloved female hero and feminist icon. In comparison, Veronica Cale may have made her success with her own two hands and determination, but her desire to be a feminist icon comes from a selfish place and feeling that she deserves such recognition. Thus, she has earned herself a spot among prominent Wonder Woman villains, ever since her introduction in comics in 2003.

Within the world of superhero comics, plenty of supervillains have risen to prominence and become eternal thorns to these great heroes. Whether it is through compelling powers mixed with interesting personality, an inspired variation on a familiar archetype, or a way to explore a different facet of a hero, these villains grab the reader’s attention and ensure that they will stick around.