Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Bergen's Burden

Happiness. So ephemeral, so illusory. Can we obtain it? If we seek it, will it remain beyond our grasp? What brings it about, and how can we keep what we've attained? We've pondered these questions for all of human history, and they've been addressed by something not nearly up to the task. Trolls.

No, not that one.



There we go.

In Trolls, there are two races of being. The eponymous Trolls, small annoying creatures who love to hug and dance and all that shit, and the Bergen, big hulking ugly humanoids that have one trait in common: They are all depressed. They remain listless, apathetic, and emotionally destitute for their entire lives, save for one possible treatment. Eating a Troll.

The Bergen hold an annual holiday where they harvest Trolls from the Troll Tree in the middle of town, each Bergen eats a Troll, and they temporarily quench the harrowing despair. They depend upon this to keep their community alive. Well, at least it seems like they would have to. In the events of the film, all the Trolls breach a dangerous escape from Bergentown, and for twenty years not one Bergen eats a Troll.

Miraculously, they've not all killed themselves. In fact, things seem to be going pretty well as far as a clinically depressed town goes. It looks like they all got jobs, and there's kids around, so something must be working out. I guess they haven't created alcohol yet. Hope surges through the town when their exiled cook finds the Troll village and brings some back. Trollstice begins anew!

There sets off the events of the film, where two Trolls have to get into Bergentown and save the rest, they meet some Bergen, and teach them all something surprising. See, in two occasions, Bergen feel happiness without ingesting a Troll. In one, the King Bergen goes on a date with the chambermaid, who is helped by the escaped Trolls. They have a fun time dancing around and rollerskating, not realizing until later that they even experienced joy. The second instance comes at the end of the film, where Poppy, the Troll Princess, explains that happiness isn't found in something outside, but inside each and everyone one of you. All you gotta do is dance. And that's it. They all start dancing and the ending of the film implies everyone will be happy forever now.

I found something odd, though. How is it that no Bergen ever tried to dance during the twenty year absence of the Trolls? They had a roller rink, how did that not do the trick? I mean, there's children, so obviously Bergen relationships still occurred, but nobody admitted to being happy. On the one hand, it's possible they were so misled by the notion that only Trolls could bring happiness that they discounted any positive feelings as something aside from True Happiness. But something else stands out.

During every single instance of a Bergen feeling joy, there is a Troll present. During the King's date, Trolls were on the head of his disguised chambermaid, and he had one in a pendant around his neck. The cook only felt happy once she had captured some Trolls and had them in her fannypack. At the end, their dance is only jubilant because the Trolls had escaped their pot and were frolicking about their banquet hall.

Not once does a Bergen display happiness without a Troll on their person or around them. We were taught one thing in the beginning of the film, and it remains true: A Bergen cannot be happy without a Troll. What the Bergen got wrong was that they would have to eat said Troll to experience the psychological effects, while the Trolls, being almost entirely unfamiliar with sadness of any kind, think it's all in their heads.

The Trolls mistake their general disposition to be universal, that what makes them happy must make all delighted. And perhaps, for that one night, the Bergen were happy. But all pleasures must have a cost. One can live in a state of subdued misery for years at a time and become accustomed to it, but the real trial is when happiness is thrust suddenly into one's life, and quickly taken away again. If the Trolls no longer live in Bergentown after the end of the film, the Bergen will go far lower than their previous state of depression, because they knew bliss, it seemed within their grasp, and they will have no idea why it has gone. As a species, suffering is their lot, and it seems they will always return to it. What the film lead you to believe was a happy ending was, in fact, the beginning of a long, desperate tragedy. As Mark Twain wrote:

Sometimes a man’s make and disposition are such that his misery-machine is able to do nearly all the business. Such a man goes through life almost ignorant of what happiness is. Everything he touches, everything he does, brings a misfortune upon him. You have seen such people? To that kind of a person life is not an advantage, is it? It is only a disaster. Sometimes for an hour’s happiness a man’s machinery makes him pay years of misery.

We cannot blame the Bergen. They are cursed with this emotional defect that befouls their species. Trolls will never understand it, they simply haven't any notion of what could cause it. We should reserve our pity for them. They are God's playthings, left destitute and barren only for the schadenfreude of the heavens. In the end, nobody can truly lift the burden of the Bergen.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse First Trailer

It's that time again! And by that time, I mean a new trailer for a Spider-Man movie has come out, so I know you're all looking to me to tell you what to think about it. Well, here it is:

First of all, it looks great, just visually. It's got a sort of stop-motion feel to the CG, like the Lego Movie, which worked really well there and might just as well for this considering it's more comic-oriented art style. I like the colors and the motion blur on stuff like the subway train. So no complaints there.

Storywise, it's pretty obviously got Miles Morales as Spider-Man this time, and his story might be a direct adaptation of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, seeing as how he walks up to a grave that's probably Peter Parker's.

He can't have been Spider-Man for too long, because his suit looks like he just made it, what with the kinda slipshod spray paint spiders on it.

He's chasing someone who appears to be the Prowler in one shot, so it being a mostly unchanged Ultimate Miles Morales makes sense.

But now the baseless speculation. At the end, he's talking to someone in the subway, and says, "Wait, how many of us are there?" I'm gonna make a guess here and say that's Peter Parker from an alternate universe, like Spider-Men. Given that the title is the same as the universe-crossing Spider-Man story, it's possible they're combining Spider-Men and Spider-Verse into one movie, where first Miles meets the regular alternate Peter Parker, but eventually it leads into some universe hopping adventure.

When it shows the title, you see flashes of different spider symbols, like one where it's a heart with legs coming out of it, or the traditional logo, before getting to Miles' spray paint spider.

If it turns out the film's going that route, I would honestly be surprised. In a comic this would make sense, because comics always have that alternate universe shit, but in a film it's a lot less prevalent, and probably a little risky. That might be because Sony Pictures is making this one, instead of Marvel like Homecoming. At any rate, I'd love to see more standalone films like this, like say, perhaps a Spider-Man 2099 film? I can dream.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Tiger & Bunny

Pop culture right now is rife with superheroes. You can't take a trip to the theaters without seeing at least 3 posters for upcoming films and a couple playing every timeslot. It seems like they've finally risen from the underground and entered our collective consciousness, and oddly enough this seems to be the same case somewhere apart from America, namely Japan. Though in film they haven't matched our numbers in the current superhero boom, they've made up for it with a rise in American-style superhero anime, like One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, and one that I think deserves special attention:

Spotlight: Tiger and Bunny

I know what you're thinking, "Tiger and Bunny? Is this Aesop's Fables?" Well look, Japanese naming conventions are just one of those things. Traditionally, Japanese superheroes are more along the lines of Super Sentai type groups, like the Power Rangers, and Magical Girls, being teenage girls given more or less superpowers to fight demons and whatnot, like Sailor Moon. Though that genre is receiving its own kind of special attention, I'm too masculine to be interested in anything like that. American superheroes are the kind we're most familiar with, where they fight crime, wear spandex, have superpowers, and deal with interpersonal drama.

In one season and two films, Tiger and Bunny makes the most of the American-style superhero concept by being set in what's a close analogue to the US. All the text is in English, which they proofed with the localization team, and the city, Stern Bild, was loosely modeled after New York City, the most American city on earth. Oddly enough, all the heroes are corporate sponsored, (by real companies) which may or may not be a jab at the way America does business. I dunno, I'm not an economist. All the heroes star in what amounts to a reality show called HeroTV. They compete for points, gained by capturing criminals and saving civilians, which determine the winner for each season, named King of Heroes. They work for publicity, star in commercials, and one's a pop star. People who have superpowers are called NEXT, and they're pretty much mutants from Marvel, complete with revulsion from the general public when somebody's discovered to have powers. It's actually a rather cynical take for a superhero world, as compared with your usual idealistic teams of independent heroes.

Our main character is Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, alias Wild Tiger, an old guy who's been a hero for a while, though he's well past his prime and public opinion has turned against him. His sponsor goes under and a bigger corporation agrees to sponsor him, provided he teams up with a new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr. They have clashing hero styles, Tiger preferring to listen to his gut and disregarding property damage to save people, while Barnaby (given the nickname "Bunny" by Tiger) is concerned with gaining points and maintaining a good image. This Odd Couple-ish setup is where we begin, as different story threads develop and resolve. The rest of the heroes include Blue Rose, apathetic teenage girl and burgeoning pop star, Origami Cyclone, a hero who considers his job done if his sponsors end up in the shot, and Sky High, the charming and oblivious King of Heroes.

Before, I mentioned that the world this takes place in is cynical, which doesn't mean the show itself is. My favorite part of the show is how it presents idealism in a world that doesn't seem to allow it. Most of the heroes are concerned more with points or their image than they are about helping people. In the first half of the season, Kotetsu and Barnaby can hardly stand each other, much less act as an effective team. Kotetsu's a single parent; his daughter Kaede lives with her grandmother, and hates her dad for always breaking his promises. Barnaby's parents were killed when he was young and he became a hero to get revenge.

Despite all this, there's a core of hope that pervades the show. Wild Tiger's a holdover from a bygone age, like an ineffectual Superman stuck in a morally ambiguous Silver Age comic. The thing is, they start to understand what he means. Tiger became a hero to save people and despite how incompetent he can be, the other heroes change as a result of his ideals. Not only do Kotetsu and Barnaby form a better team, the other heroes learn to trust one another. Sure, it's schmaltzy, but I love that shit.

It's similar to why I love Spider-Man, or at least in concept. They're both pretty bad at their jobs, they mess up a lot, the people they're close to can't count on them for much, but they never stop trying. When the show begins, you'd be forgiven for seeing Tiger as a bumbling old idiot, but as things go on you understand his worldview, you see the sacrifices he's made to continue being a hero.

The first half of the show is mostly about Kotetsu and Barnaby learning to work together, along with little spotlight episodes about other heroes. The second half has a more Kotetsu-focused story, dealing more centrally on the problems of being an older hero. It even briefly looks at the problems of idols, where inevitably you find out their very human flaws.

There's two films put out from the series, the first being a recap of the first half of the show with a slightly different ending. It's not really worth watching as long as you've seen the show, though the animation is nice and you find out some things they left out of the show. The second movie, however, entitled Tiger and Bunny: The Rising, is phenomenal. It's a direct sequel to the show, taking place not long after the end, where we see what's happened with our main characters, introducing a few more, and seeing how they deal with a new conflict. I love it. It expands on themes discussed through the show proper, like what justice means, how to be a hero, and how to abide by your identity when everything's against you. I can't think of anything more I would want to cap off this series.

With gushing accomplished, I think it's important to know it's not perfect. If the buddy cop story seems cliche to you, it'll get old before its resolved. The one black hero is also the only gay one, and in the beginning seems pretty stereotypical, without a spotlight segment until the second movie. There's a lot left out if you don't speak Japanese, since there's a lot of supplementary material in audio dramas, specials and the like that will probably never be localized.

What I'm trying to say is, if you like superheroes, Tiger and Bunny is for you. It's not super long, so you won't have to invest the rest of your life in it, like some anime. It's on Hulu currently, and probably Crunchyroll, but who has that? Anyway, if you get a chance, I highly recommend you check it out!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Justice League (2017)

Finally! The culmination of all those films DC's been putting out, now they finally meet in the event everyone's been waiting for! For the first time since each one of their solo films, these titans will-- wait, how many set-up movies were before this? Two? And they were Man of Steel and Batman v Superman? Oh. Guys I don't think they copied Avengers correctly.

So yeah, Justice League is WB/DC's counterpoint to The Avengers, a movie that came out 5 years ago. Where Marvel seemed to meticulously plan out what characters got movies and how they would come to be in Avengers, DC said, "Aw fuck it, just shove 'em all in the last one!" Now technically Avengers is better film, it has a consistent tone and mostly everything makes sense. But honestly, I think I kind of enjoy Justice League more.

Before I get ahead of myself, let's just talk about the plot real quick. It's about Steppenwolf, an alien CGI Man, who has to get some MacGuffins to conquer Earth or something. Batman catches wind of it and has to assemble a bunch of superheroes you're sort of familiar with to stop him. If we go bare-bones, the plot is nothing special. In fact, it's about as boilerplate as it gets. If someone had told me there'd be a more boring villain than Ronan the Accuser, I would've called the police. But here it is, Steppenwolf wins the prize. I'm not even sure there was a person under there, I think they just stuck him in there and had a guy phone in some cliche evil talk.

But that's not why I enjoyed it. I think I probably enjoyed it for the wrong reasons. It has a sort of Spider-Man 3 feel to it, where if you want to take it completely seriously, the jarring shifts in tone will quickly alienate you, but if you just get a little drunk first and stop caring if it's good or not, you can have some fun. And when I say jarring tonal shifts, I mean it. See, nearing the end of production for the film director Zach Snyder left, due to family reasons, so he brought in Joss Whedon to helm reshoots and edit the film. And if there's any two directors whose work wouldn't mesh well together in one movie, it's Snyder and Whedon.

Let me give you an example. In one scene, we have a flashback to a climactic showdown with Steppenwolf far in Earth's past. Giant armies of Amazons, Atlanteans, and humans attack. It's shot like 300, it's got slowdown and shadow-heavy lighting. In another, The Flash and Cyborg dig up Clark Kent's grave and crack jokes about it.

So basically what I'm saying is, if the development of this film was simple and easy, it probably would've just turned out another boring broodfest like Batman v Superman, but with all the internal turmoil, it ended up something just a little off from the now standard superhero fare. I don't think they wanted to make it this way, but I think that almost makes it better. I think I like how weird this turned out more than I like most movies Marvel's been cranking out. Aquaman alone is odd enough to justify watching this thing.

If you're looking for a generally competent superhero flick, this probably won't appease you. But if you can take a step back and realize this whole DC Universe thing is probably going to crash and burn no matter what they do, you can probably enjoy seeing it start to go up in flames.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites Pizza

There are days where the world seems distant. Where events seem disconnected and discrete. You seem like a passenger in your own life, observing, but never in charge of the course of events. Like a dream when you're in the back seat of a car, careening aimlessly down a crowded highway, and find it impossible to take control. Days where you've watched this one too many times.

In short, there are times where reality seems to fray at the edges. I was in one of these liminal spaces of the mind when I found myself purchasing a pizza from my old acquaintance, Pizza Hut. My friends, it's time again, where I don't know how I arrived, yet here I am.

Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites Pizza

This pizza is confounding. I honestly don't know what I was looking at. Can any of our observations be objective? Can what goes through a creator's mind prolong itself into a finished project? This pizza is a Rorschach test. Tell me, when you look at this pizza, what do you see?

What is the purpose of this? Was there someone, at any time, who wished there was some way they could share pizza with their friends? What twisted mind combined the two concepts of breadsticks and a stuffed crust pizza?

There is no correct way to eat this. In adverts one is presented with happy young adults, pulling bites jubilantly from the crust, strings of decadent cheese following them, faces alight with adulation. Nowhere does one see someone attempting to eat the barren, crustless slab of pizza left after the bites are depleted. It's a fool's errand. One's hands become so instantly covered in grease that keeping a hold on the neutered slice is all but impossible. The slice itself is so thin that its very existence seems nebulous.

But, you say, the pizza isn't the point. It's the bites, goddammit, get to the bites! Have it your way. The bites, though vibrantly presented in ads, fell tremendously short of expectations. On screen, they seem almost alive, spewing cheese from every orifice, stretching strands off every bite, gooey bits dripping from slavering mouths. In my experience, the bites have long since bitten the dust.

Neither a breadstick nor a true crust, the cheesy bite feels the pain of isolation, trapped between worlds. It has no true home. It doesn't belong on a pizza, and even less so in your stomach. The bites were spongy, rigid, already undergoing caseus rigor mortis. The marinara provides a brief distraction, but upon a flawed foundation.

On reheat the slices fare no better. One has long since discarded the marinara, and any stability the slices may have once had is lost. Your only hope is to grope hopelessly at the flaccid slice and, before your grip slackens, desperately shove the pizza in your mouth, like an animal. It makes you question your humanity. It makes you question who you are.

The Cheesy Bites Pizza is a food for a directionless people. A dinner for those who don't know what they want. A questionable solution to a problem that does not exist. Some flawed person gazed into the void of their mind, and beheld this. What is there left to say? Sometimes a picture can convey more than words ever could. The most apt image inexplicably adorns the pizza box itself, a greasy Spider-Man peering out into the world, silently judging each and every one of us.

We have been found wanting.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lovecraft Country

As you might know, I'm a pretty big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and that Cthulhu Mythos brand of supernatural horror in general. But if I ever bring Lovecraft up in a conversation, there's usually two things people know about him. One of them being, of course, a cursory knowledge of Cthulhu, and the other being his overt racism.

There's really no way around it, even if one can enjoy his writing style or ideas of horror, a lot of his stories have racist undertones, and he even wrote a poem called On the Creation of N*****rs. All in all it's pretty damning for his character, so most of the time you need to specify that though you may be a fan of Lovecraft's ideas, you're not so much for the man. In short, it's difficult. And if it's difficult for me, and I'm a bland white guy, how hard must it be for someone that likes supernatural fiction who's black? This is the starting point of Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

Lovecraft Country is essentially a Lovecraft-era weird tale starring the very people H.P. Lovecraft would analogize as scary fish monsters, i.e. black people. Set during the heyday of Jim Crow, our protagonists have to face not only the obscure and arcane realm of semi-scientific magical monsters, but the much more mundane but just as terrifying world of everyday racism. One where a cop could pull you over and you could only count on luck to get by without a mishap. One where, pulling into a restaurant, there was a fair chance you wouldn't even be welcomed in. Hell, at least the nameless terrors don't distinguish by skin color.

So it's here we meet our cast of characters, including, but not limited to: Atticus Turner, recently released from the Army, an avid fan of science fiction books and possessor of a dark destiny; George Berry, Atticus' uncle and publisher of the Safe Negro Travel Guide; Letitia Dandridge, daughter of a shoddy psychic and Atticus' old friend; and so on. Each chapter is told with a different character's perspective, and Ruff has forgone typical chapter numberings in lieu of chapter titles like: Abdullah's Book, The Narrow House, and The Mark of Cain. This serves to give the book a feeling of a short story collection, the way you'd read most Ray Bradbury or Lovecraft stories. The twist is though each of these chapters works as a self-contained story, they all build to the final chapter, which wraps the whole thing up.

The plots contain a nice mix of supernatural horror elements, from science-fiction oriented like a dimensional gate, to more gothic horror, like a familial curse. They all meld pretty well, most of it explained by some magic-but-not-quite system that they introduce. It eschews the usual Lovecraft formula by featuring a regular villain, who, as it turns out, is just a dude. He's a little supernaturally oriented, but he's no cosmic horror from beyond our comprehension. It works better for the setting, since mind-shattering alien beings aren't so much the problem here as the small-mindedness of men.

Lovecraft Country is a great read, with much of the same threats written of by Lovecraft and company, but with very different sensibilities. It's much more human-oriented than the supernatural horror genre usually tends towards. Humanity is the focus, and humans, in the end, are the threat. It does what books of this type seldom do, which is provide a new perspective into someone else's experiences, which remains tangible despite the fantastical elements. If you're a fan of cosmic or supernatural horror, or if you're looking to get into those genres, Lovecraft Country is an excellent addition to your library, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Let's Watch Barbie Video Game Hero

We all carry with us the weight of our sins. Each of us has the secret knowledge of our regrets and misdeeds, and we all have different ways of serving penance for our mistakes. Some people deny themselves the comforts of life, like the simple extravagances we take for granted. Others subdue their needs in service of a greater cause.

I watch Barbie movies.

It was a cold, dark day when I saw it. Coat slick with freezing rain, hair matted to my forehead, I stumbled unknowingly into my bleak, impassive destiny. From the corner of my eye, burning like the ruins of Gomorrah, lay a neon pink display, housing what I wish I had never seen.

Barbie, Video Game Hero.

Get ready to power up! When Barbie™ magically gets pulled into her favorite video game, she is excited to see she's transformed into a fun roller-skating character. In the game, she meets Cutie, the lovable cloud-shaped friend, and Bella, the roller-skating princess. Together, they soon discover a mischievous emoji is trying to take control of the game. As they travel from level to level, Barbie™ must rely on her amazing gaming skills and out-of-the-box thinking to save her team and beat the game!

My hands, operating beyond my control, brought the DVD case to the counter. Face rigid with shame, I noted the cashier's befuddlement wordlessly. Driving home I felt the film's presence, like a baleful revenant, sitting beside me. Carrying it inside, the case seemed to grow heavier with each step, but I found myself unable to lessen my hold on it. I placed it on my desk, a watchful eye that refused to break its gaze. Now, the time has come, and I can avert my fate no longer. May God help us all.

Let's Watch: Barbie Video Game Hero

Monday, February 20, 2017

Spider-Man Reign

Spider-Man: Reign is one of those things I always thought I wanted to read. The idea of a hero who had given up finding new resolve and purpose appealed to me. That was the Dark Knight Returns' entire conceit, and it revitalized Batman in the public eye. The other factor that reeled me in was seeing an ultimately good character pushed to their limits, suffering such trauma that their ideals were tested and sometimes broken. Again, Dark Knight Returns featured that in spades, but my interest was solidified with Spider-Man: Back in Black, where he hunts down the gunman who shot Aunt May.

What I mean to say is, Spider-Man: Reign looked like it had all the right pieces in place to be a classic story you could point to whenever someone commented that Spider-Man was too childish. Unfortunately, in their zeal to create an "adult" Spider-Man story, their result was childishly grim, somber for the sake of it, and seemingly written by someone who had no idea what Spider-Man was about.

Comic Review: Spider-Man Reign

The basic story is that it's the far future, New York is ruled by some techno-facist regime, called, unironically, the Reign. Peter Parker is an old widower who works at flower shop, for some reason. One day J. Jonah Jameson, now the oldest man in the world, comes back to find Peter and convinces him to be Spider-Man again, while the Mayor of New York sets in motion a protective barrier around the city, called The Web. It all ends up with a bunch of old supervillains fighting Spider-Man again, the corpse of Doc Ock digs up the corpse of Mary Jane, and it was all a plan for Venom to eat everyone in the city.

So it's virtually a play-by-play ripoff of the Dark Knight Returns, but with none of the substance. It's easy to say that DKR was needlessly grim, or had stereotypes of the antagonists, but at least it had a point. One of those points, admittedly, was that liberals are bad. Granted! But the big theme that story centered around was that people don't change. Bruce Wayne could never escape being Batman, The Joker would always be a psychopath, Two-Face would forever feel his scars, and Jim Gordon would always be a good man. Despite what those GODDAMN PINKO COMMIES believe, there's something at the core of someone that doesn't go away. Neither time, nor therapy, nor healing can get rid of it.

Spider-Man Reign, however, does not have this kind of theming. Peter Parker isn't just old, he's crazy. He hallucinates the whole time and when he puts on the Spider-Man suit he acts like a man possessed. Is he at any point lucid during the entire story? There's no character development with him, it just reveals that Mary Jane actually died from cancer from Peter's radioactive "body fluids." It wouldn't have been difficult to cobble together something about "Responsibility" or "Power." Instead this was just empty.

In DKR, you had a lot of characters return to show how the progress of time had affected them. Harvey Dent was crazier than ever, Green Arrow became an underground dissident missing an arm, and Superman was a government crony. You could see the steps between the present day and these versions of the characters. Events in the past still affected them greatly, with the superhero ban causing Bruce Wayne to retire and Superman to end up an employee of Ronald Reagan. There was more under the surface of that book, where events you weren't around to witness had altered these people, all you could see was the echo of things that took place.

In Reign, there's none of that. Why are there no other superheros in New York? Why did a fascist regime take hold? Is it just New York? None of these questions are answered, or even really alluded to. Hell, this regime hardly affects Peter Parker at all, the only reason he had to retire was Mary Jane's death, from his... "love"

Nobody else from modern Marvel is around. No Iron Man, no Fantastic 4, and there's not even an excuse to explain their absence. They just stopped existing. Jameson returns, but instead of the brash newspaperman he used to be, he's a raving crackpot who brings kids to an old church and yells at them. Why did he go crazy? I dunno. The Sinister Six returns, only now they're the Sinner Six, and they aren't different at all. They don't even look like they've aged. Why put a story in the future if you're going to ignore the passage of time?!

No bland facsimile for DKR would be complete without the young girl viewpoint character. Dark Knight had Carrie Kelly, who became Robin, that... spunky chick? To be honest, she didn't really have that much agency, she just seemed to be there to show how STUPID her LIBTARD PARENTS are, and provide some hero worship for Batman. I'll give Reign some points here, because the female protagonist here, who's name is... Wait, what's her name?

Okay, so she's never given a name. She's mostly a viewpoint character so you can see what Jameson's doing, but near the end she leads resistence against the symbiotes. Then it's revealed she's Sandman's daughter, and then she's shot and dies. Okay, maybe I'm just cutting her some slack because she's not ruining an old character, they just made a new one that's mediocre.

So yeah, it's derivative of Dark Knight Returns, we all know that, they even marketed it as such. But how does it compare to a similar Spider-Man story, Back In Black?

Back in Black takes place after the first Marvel Civil War, when Spider-Man revealed his identity, but betrayed Iron Man once he found out Tony became a monster. Peter, now a criminal for breaking the Superhero Registration Act, is targeted by a hitman, who ends up missing Peter and shooting Aunt May instead. Spider-Man goes on a rampage, finding out who's responsible while trying to save May's life despite being a wanted man. I love it.

Back In Black is an example of a Spider-Man story that trends towards a darker tone, but doesn't feel childish or stupid. Reign ain't that. In BIB, Peter doesn't joke at anyone. He's pushed to his emotional limit and is willing to do things he's never done before to get revenge. In Reign, he jokes, but not what you're thinking. It's as if Kaare Andrews heard that Spider-Man tells jokes while he's fighting villains, but didn't quite understand what that meant. We all know Spider-Man does little quips and makes fun of his villains, but in Reign he just... tells jokes.

The big difference is, BIB Peter still feels like Peter Parker, in Reign we not only missed the character development in the past, we don't get any during the book itself. It's as if they tried to make it cosmetically similar to Spider-Man, without the heart. At one point, he quotes the old Spider-Man cartoon theme.

It mixes things like a graffiti artist being beaten half to death with somebody quoting the Beverly Hillbillies theme. It's not making some kind of statement about finding light in times of darkness, it's just slapdash writing. It doesn't quite reach the level of puerile cynicism as Millar's stuff, like Kick-Ass, but it's certainly close. There's no subtlety about the drama, it more or less just runs down the laundry list of Peter's dead loved ones, multiple times. They literally shove a dead Mary Jane in your face.

Back in Black took itself very seriously, presenting the things Spider-Man did as skirting the line of morality and absolutely crossing that line legally. Reign doesn't know if it wants to play it seriously or not, trying to show serious drama but breaking the tone a scene later. At least if it were more campy, like the 90's clone stuff, it could be enjoyable in some way.

That's really the sum of it, Spider-Man Reign was never sure about what it wanted to be. It didn't harken back to the old days of Spider-Man, nor did it try to develop the character in a different direction. It's a shame, really. I'm sure they could've done something with this story, instead of this paint-by-numbers ripoff. Was there a vision for this? Did anybody in the process for creating this have an actual inspired moment? Creating a Dark Knight Returns for Spider-Man could be a cool jumping-off point, but you have to do something different! Give it a core of optimism, make the characters seem like real people! As it is, this comic is just aimless, and it seems to me, a huge waste of potential.