Sunday, 4 October 2015

Casting a Female Doctor Who

Confession time: I was dead against seeing a woman get the lead role in my all time favourite TV series ever, Doctor Who. I figured that, no matter how good an actor they got to play the part, a female Doctor would be missing that essential paternal/fraternal aspect to the character. They just wouldn't be the Doctor. Recently however I've realised how completely wrong I was, mainly because of Michelle Gomez. Her performance as Missy, a female incarnation of the Master, has been absolutely superb. She's managed to completely reinvent the role whilst simultaneously remaining, unmistakably, the Master. If it can be done with the Master then it can be done with the Doctor, so I'm on board. I want current Doctor Peter Capaldi to stay for years and years and years, but when he finally leaves I'm ready for a woman to play the Thirteenth Doctor!

Here's who I'd like to see play a female Doctor Who:

Suranne Jones

The most obvious choice on the list, mainly because she's already played the TARDIS in human form, in the Neil Gaiman penned The Doctor's Wife. Even if we put aside the fact that she's a talented actor with a wealth of experience in television, this episode alone should be enough to convince you of her suitability to play the Doctor. Despite only being on screen for one episode she's become one the most memorable Who characters ever. As good as the episode was it wouldn't have worked without a convincing and likeable performance from the human TARDIS around which the plot was centred. Jones delivered. She was charismatic, funny, alien and tragic. In short, the perfect Doctor.

Siwan Morris

For a start she's Welsh. Come on, Doctor Who has been filmed in Wales for ten years and we've never had a Welsh Doctor? We've had two Scousers, three Scots, and a whole bunch of Londeners. Let's get a Welsh person in the role! Welshness aside, she's a great actor. I first saw her being brilliant in former Who showrunner Russell T. Davies 's underrated comedy drama Mine All Mine. As well as being extremely talented she has magnificent eyes, that give her an otherworldly quality that would be perfect for the Doctor. She appeared recently in what might possibly be the worst episode of Doctor Who ever, In the Forest of the Night. She deserves to be the Doctor just because of how criminally underused she was in that episode.

Lesley Sharp

Sharp has played a huge variety of roles over the years and she would bring the kind of experience and acting chops that Eccleston and Capaldi brought to the role. One of her finest roles was actually alongside Eccleston, in Russell T. Davies' brilliant The Second Coming. She's also starred in Who before, in possibly one of the greatest ever episodes, Midnight. Based on her powerful performances in Midnight and The Second Coming I imagine Sharp could do well playing a Doctor who's a little bit scary but also quite grounded and human.

Kathy Burke

Burke is probably my top choice to play a female Doctor. While she is mainly known for her comedy roles she is extremely versatile and has won and been nominated for awards for her roles in dramas such as Nil By Mouth and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Like the best Doctors you could see her bringing a bit of her own personality and charisma to the role. I imagine her as a Troughtonesque Doctor, underestimated by her foes due to her unimposing appearance and genial nature, but with a sharp mind always working away beneath the surface. While she seems to have distanced herself from acting a bit over the past ten years or so and taken on more directing work, she still acts and is still brilliant at it. If the Doctor is going to be a woman I couldn't imagine anyone better. Can you imagine her opposite Michelle Gomez?

I'm not saying that these four are the only women who could play The Doctor, but if I was in charge, they're who I would be contacting first. What do you think? Who would make a great female Doctor?

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Superman: American Alien & an Apology to Max Landis

A couple of years ago I wrote a bit of a rant (find it here) about screenwriter Max Landis' fan film about the Death and Return of Superman.  I stand by my more general points about internet snark & how tedious it is, but on reflection I think I took the film a little too seriously and was unfair to Landis.

I've been following Landis on Twitter and as a Superman fan it's difficult not to admire his genuine passion for the character. It all seems to come from a sincere and uncynical place.  He regularly offers fasciniating insights into Superman, and while I don't agree with all of his thoughts on the character they always make me think.  If you're Superman fan he's definitely worth a follow.

Landis has so far written two Superman stories, an Atomic Skull origin in Action Comics Annual #1 (2012) and a two part Superman/Joker story in Adventures of Superman #40-41. The former was intriguing, if brief,  but I didn't enjoy the latter quite so much. I felt it was more of an essay of Landis' own thoughts on the character than a proper story. But to be fair Landis himself admits in an interview publicising the story that his story is "more of a portrait than an actual issue."
"This was my first time ever officially writing a character that's very important to me, so I didn't want to just insert myself as an authority.  I wanted to play a little bit and see how it felt to put words in his mouth, to put him into action."
 In November this year Landis' new Superman mini series, American Alien will begin. It's described in the solicitation as "a 7-issue miniseries chronicling the life of Clark Kent and his development into the archetypal hero he will eventually become."

I'm really looking forward to this series, it sounds like a Superman story that we've genuinely never seen before. There's some amazing artists working on it (Jock, Francis Manapul, Jae Lee, Tommy Lee Edwards) and if the love for Superman that Landis' displays online is anything to go by, I think this series could be something pretty special.

So, I'm sorry Max Landis, I misjudged you.  Anyone who loves Superman, and thinks about Superman as much as you clearly do can't be that bad.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Desperate Dredd

I drew this ages ago and was quite pleased with it, but I don't think I ever shared it on this particular blog.

It's The Dandy's Desperate Dan as 2000AD's Judge Dredd.

There's some more of my artwork here and here.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Why I love Superman: The Movie

Some good friends and I occasionally meet up for a film club. We take it in turns to host a screening of a film that's important to us, and beforehand we'll do a little talk about the film and what it means to us. Afterwards we'll discuss it in depth. It's really nerdy and lots fun. Recently it was my turn, and I of course chose Richard Donner's Superman (1978). Here's the talk I did. 

Superman (1978)

Directed by Richard Donner
Starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando

The first thing I’d like to make clear is that the fact that Superman is my favourite film is not a nostalgia thing. As a child I much preferred Batman to Superman, and it’s only as I’ve grown older I’ve come to think of Superman as my favourite superhero. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) is the superhero film that evokes warm, nostalgic, childhood memories in me. Superman is simply a fantastic, well made film in its own right that I love because it’s so perfect in every way. I can watch it over and over again and it makes me ridiculously happy every time I do so. 

Richard Donner treats this film as if he’s telling a 20th Century myth that will sit alongside the legends of the Greek or Norse Gods, the Bible, the Mabinogion. John Williams’ iconic music plays a huge part in this, conveying the majesty of the film beautifully and letting you know right from the start that this isn’t some cartoon romp, but an epic adventure!

Superman, the character, is so many different things to so many people and this film manages to encapsulate and convey all of that in a way that’s coherent and entertaining. Within the framework of an epic this film manages to move between so many different genres and tones, and it does so effortlessly.

We begin on planet Krypton, as Jor-El (Brando) exiles General Zod (Terrence Stamp) and his cronies to the Phantom Zone. Not only does this scene set up the sequel (filmed back to back with this film) but it serves to establish the shape and tone of Kryptonian culture and Jor-El’s prominent role in it. It also demonstrates that Krypton is a rich, fascinating world with conflicts and dramas and stories of its own, separate from its impending destruction. Everything is taken completely seriously, which helps the audience buy into this world of ice, crystal and glowing tin-foil suits, and helps convey the mythic status of this story right from the start.

Next comes Jor-El’s unsuccessful attempt to convince the Kryptonian council of Krypton’s impending doom. Look out for Doctor Who’s William Russell as a member of the council. The destruction of Krypton feels huge, which is pretty impressive considering all this was pre-CGI. The shot of all those tiny figures tumbling into redness still looks amazing and really conveys the scale and horror of this catastrophe. During all this Brando is clearly on autopilot, but even Brando on autopilot is still Brando, and his nobility and dignity once again help sell the mythic status of the story.

As we see Kal-El grow up on Earth the story transforms into a different kind of myth. It becomes a piece of Americana, complete with a farm, a dog, cornfields, trains, high school football, rock and roll, and even a star from the Golden Era of Hollywood, Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent. People like to bang on about how Superman “isn’t relatable” but this is the part of the film where he becomes one of us, at least in the eyes of the audience. Not only is he surrounded by recognisable pieces of American folklore (that strike a chord even with non-American audiences raised on such folklore) but he’s a lost, young underdog, looking for his place in the world. A tale as old as time, who wouldn’t feel a connection with him? Once again everything’s taken very seriously, as if we’re seeing a legend unfold before us.

Young Clark eventually finds, or rather creates, the Fortress of Solitude and we see the wonder of Krypton once again, except this time through Clark’s eyes. Clark spends 12 years in the Fortress, studying with Jor-El. This is something unique to the movie, but I’ve always wondered why it hasn’t been used in other adaptations. I love the idea that Superman went through this period of isolation and study to prepare him for his mission. Once again, it emphasises the mythic qualities of the story, and it tells us that perhaps the awkwardness and naivety that will later be displayed by Clark are not completely part of his act.

As soon as we get to Metropolis the tone of the film shifts once more. The legend has been firmly established on a solid foundation of serious space-opera and Americana, so now it’s time to have some fun. Ironically the modern day city of Metropolis is the most “comic-booky” part of the film. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is so much fun to watch. Funny, camp, charismatic, witty, and yet when he needs to be, genuinely nasty and cruel. Look at the way he delivers the line “This old diseased maniac would be your banker”. There’s real, cold malice in his delivery. He’s the perfect comic-book villain, complete with a weaponised, secret lair and bumbling henchmen.

In Metropolis the story also becomes an epic love story and Lois Lane becomes the character through which the audience views Superman. Margot Kidder’s Lois is one of the most important characters in the film. Her Lois is so human. She smokes, she’s mean to Clark, she misspells words, she changes clothes in the bog before her meeting with the President. Despite, or rather because of her humanity Superman, a godlike figure, falls in love with her, and she with him. It’s an iconic, legendary love story! Lois, whose job as a reporter is to question everything, throws all the cynicism of the audience at Superman and he answers it with a straight face – “I’m sure you don’t really mean that Lois.” Lois is such a real, authentic character, but she believes in this man and so we believe in him too. 

Towards the end of the film Lois plays an integral part in helping Superman to step out of the shadow of Jor-El – “The son becomes the father and the father the son.” Jor-El has emphasised to Superman the necessity of remaining separate from humanity, of not interfering in human destiny. This touches on one of the main contradictions of Superman’s existence. He wants to help but he doesn’t want to hold back humanity, or worse, dominate or control them. This is why Superman wears the costume, and also why he doesn’t fly around overthrowing dictators. He’s not an alien invader; he wants to inspire the best in humanity. Help us to help ourselves. As Jor-El puts it “They can be a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.” But at the end of the film Superman deliberately disobeys his father; he turns back time to save Lois. This could be seen as a selfish act, but Superman is as much human as he is Kryptonian, he was raised as one of us after all. His actions at the end of the film are the actions of a human. A human man turning Heaven and Earth to save the woman he loves.

None of this would work at all if it wasn’t for Christopher Reeve. His amazing performance sells this myth more than anything else. He takes everything completely seriously and conveys the earnestness of the character beautifully. At the same time he’s not completely po-faced either and his performance is warm and full of charisma and humour. His transformation between Superman and Clark Kent is amazing. When he takes off his glasses he seems to grow a foot taller. Never mind “You will believe a man can fly”. Thanks to Reeve, you will believe a man can fool the world with a pair of glasses. 

Superman is often painted as an immature character, particularly when compared to grimmer characters like Batman. But for me Donner’s Superman demonstrates why this is complete twaddle. Batman is a fantasy about punching and frightening the world into being a better place. Superman is a fantasy about showing the world a better way. It’s the belief that when given absolute power a man won’t be corrupted by it, but rather he’ll do everything he can to make the world a better place. It’s the belief that maybe we human beings aren’t such a bunch of scumbags after all. That is what Superman is about, and that’s why it’s my favourite film of all time.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Fantastic Four in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Currently the movie rights to The Fantastic Four belong to Fox. They have so far made three films based on this property, but have yet to have a success on the level of certain other superhero movies, namely Marvel's Cinematic Universe, Warner's Dark Knight Trilogy and Man of Steel, and their own X-Men franchise. Many have argued that the only way for us to get a truly great Fantastic Four movie would be to give the rights back to Marvel and make the characters part of their cinematic Universe. I don't think this is likely to happen, but what if it did? How would these characters fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and who would play them?

The last Fantastic Four film was a massive flop, there's no denying it. I don't actually think it's as bad as people say it is (as I argue here) but it certainly fell short of my expectations. Rather than being disappointed (as I was), it seems many fans are actually pleased it flopped. Indeed, I think many fans were willing it to be a flop before it had even come out, mainly because they believed that if it flopped then Fox would wash their hands of the property and return it to Marvel. I think this is a foolish attitude. Why wish for a film to be bad because of the slim hope that you may get a better film somewhere down the line? It's crazy. And let's face it, are Fox really going to relinquish movie rights that allow them to use not only Mr Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing, but also, Dr Doom, Silver Surfer, Galactus, Mole Man, and presumably Annihilus, Diablo, Dragon man, the Mad Thinker, the Wizard, Psycho Man, Red Ghost and his Super Apes, Franklin Richards, Valeria Richards, Nathaniel Richards, Kristoff Vernard, the Future Foundation, etc etc? It's not going to happen.

But what if it did?

Many fans have argued that if Marvel Studios do gain the rights to the FF, then they should place the characters in the 1960s and make the movie a period film. I've always been against this in principle. Fantastic Four should be about looking forward, looking to the future, pushing the boundaries of science and the imagination. But recently I've started thinking, yes all this is true, a 1960s FF film would fly in the face of what the characters stand for, but what I have to take into account is the fact that a 1960s FF film would also be pretty bloody cool.

Just imagine, the year is 1961 and Reed Richards and his family are due to be the first people on the moon. But suddenly SHEILD announce that a different team are heading up instead, one led by a certain Victor Von Doom perhaps. The involvement of SHEILD allows for a cameo appearance by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper/John Slattery). Reed and his girlfriend Sue, her brother Johnny, and Reed's best friend Ben, steal the rocket but of course, everything goes wrong. Maybe Reed's rocket could have been made by technology derived from the Tesseract (see Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers). This alien technology could react badly with the cosmic rays it encounters in space and result in our heroes gaining their powers. Over the course of a trilogy that takes us up to the '70s our heroes could battle Dr Doom, Annihilus (leading an invasion from the Negative Zone), and of course Galactus. Along the way they could even take on an intern, a young genius named Hank Pym (see Ant Man).

The trilogy could end with the FF getting trapped in the Negative Zone, which would explain why they're not in the present day Marvel Universe. Of course, they could always escape the Zone and join the Avengers in the present day, giving us the potential for cool stuff like a Hulk/Thing battle. Or we could see Reed and Sue's kids, Franklin and Valeria, appear in the present day to form the Future Foundation.

Here's who I would cast in Fantastic Four: Dawn of the Marvels (or you know, a less crap title):

Reed Richards: Colin Salmon

Not only is Colin Salmon the best James Bond we never had, but I believe he has that sharp yet warm patriarchal vibe required to make a good Reed Richards. One of Arrow's few flaws is the way it's underused Salmon and his character.

Susan Storm: Jada Pinkett-Smith

Her gloriously OTT performance as Fish Mooney in Gotham has made Smith one of my favourite Hollywood actresses. I think she's adept at action, drama and comedy, and so I can't help but want her to play my favourite Marvel super-heroine.

Johnny Storm: Donald Glover

We need a good looking actor who's young, likeable and funny. Who better than Donald Glover? He famously campaigned to play Spider-Man. That ship has sailed, at least for the moment, so why not have him play the Human Torch instead?

Ben GrimmVing Rhames

Rhames would be perfect as Ben Grimm, a rough diamond who carries anger and warmth in equal measure. Ben is the rock that holds the team together, and I believe Rhames has the charisma to play that.

On a side note, a Fantastic Four played by black actors would give SHEILD's secret Hydra agents (see Captain America: Winter Soldier), a reason to try and stop them getting to the Moon. Hydra are, after all, based on Nazis.

The most important thing about any new FF film made by either Fox or Marvel is that it MUST NOT, under any circumstances be based on The Incredibles. I've written about this before, but I feel so strongly about it I'm going to say it again.

A lot of fans like to describe The Incredibles as "the Fantastic Four done right." Let's get something straight. The Incredibles is not "Fantastic Four done right". In fact, beyond a few superficial similarities, the Incredibles are nothing like the Fantastic Four.

They're both a family. They both have members who are strong, who can turn invisible, and who can stretch. THAT'S IT!!!

The Fantastic Four is a comic about an occasionally dysfunctional family of sci-fi explorers and adventurers who do what they do because of their love of adventure, their thirst for discovery, and their loyalty to each other. The Incredibles is an animated film about a family of superheroes who go into hiding because of the public's fear and distrust of them and find themselves struggling to deal with anonymity and a "normal" life. It is entertaining enough but, as my pal Madeley has observed many times, it is also a staggeringly right wing, Randian wank-fantasy where superior beings triumph over us ordinary slobs and our attempts to drag them down to our puny level. "If everybody's special, nobody is" etc. And, hey, if that's your politics, more power to ya, but it's not, in any way "the Fantastic Four done right."

I honestly don't think a MCU Fantastic Four film is going to happen any time soon. But on the other hand, stranger things have happened. Who would have though twenty years ago we'd even be in a position to talk about the FF joining a successful and growing Marvel Cinematic Universe? Here's hoping that the next FF film will be a success, whether it's made by Fox, Marvel, or whoever!

What do you think? And who would you have as Dr Doom?


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