In the first instance, this.
We watched the 2010 version of Green Lantern one Friday a few weeks ago when we had nothing much else to do. I think Emily and I may be among the few people who actually like it. Oh, it’s hokum. It’s poorly acted and thoroughly ridiculous and over-reliant on CGI. On the other hand you’re talking about a flying superhero who can summon up things purely by thinking about them: CGI kind of goes with the territory. Besides, Greeen Lantern has one of the best disguise-penetrating scenes in any superhero film ever. “I’ve known you my whole life!” splutters Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). “I’ve seen you naked! You don’t think I would recognise you because I can’t see your cheekbones?!?”
It’s fun, but we seem to be in a minority. That’s fine. From general consensus, I think we’re also among only a handful of people who loved the 2004 / 2007 Fantastic Four movies. with Ben Grimm and his “Stupid buttons” scene in the phone booth. Both films are ridiculous, but they’re also about superheroes who actually enjoy it, rather than superheroes who are burdened with all that responsibility. That sort of thing doesn’t happen too much these days, presumably out of fear that a less-than-melodramatic script will push you into Batman & Robin territory (more on them in a moment). I’m happy for the Richards family to be given a lighter touch. But I think that’s what happens when you’re not overly attached to the source material – nothing else, I suspect, could explain my love of the Lord of the Rings movies. I’m not a cheerleader for Tolkien: he writes about amazing worlds but his prose is often plodding. And I enjoy the films, as stupid as they are. Sometimes stupid is OK.
The thing with Green Lantern – as I’m sure I’ve written before – is that he’s actually a pretty dreadful superhero, and for this I hand over to my longtime friend, Jonathan Oliver, who was once quizzed about the galactic defender in a panel discussion at a festival I attended some years ago. “He’s basically rubbish,” he said. “You have this incredible ring that can do anything you want, and because they needed a flaw, it has no effect on the colour yellow.”
The panel’s moderator nodded in agreement. “It’s funny when you think that in a straight fight, Laa Laa could have him.”
Too much power is a dangerous thing: that’s why, over in the Whoniverse, they ditched both K-9 (or found ways of keeping him in the TARDIS) and the sonic screwdriver. Not that I lament its return. It is, like the psychic paper, that most convenient of plot devices when you’re trying to tell a story in 45 minutes instead of 96. It’s easy to complain about quick fixes but let’s be honest: having the Doctor and his companions accused of murder or espionage and constantly locked up really was tedious, at least in the 1970s when it happened every week – sometimes you don’t have enough story without a bit of enforced captivity, and the narrative was certainly padded, even if the cells weren’t.
Finding a workable Kryptonite is the sort of thing that doesn’t happen in Batman, because you’re dealing with a costumed character whose only superpower is a seemingly limitless piggy bank. It’s always quite fun to see Batman crack ribs, tear ligaments and generally get the crap beaten out of him. It makes it all the more satisfying when he inevitably triumphs and it serves as a reminder that any of us could theoretically put on the cape and fight crime, given the right investors and a couple of dead parents. I mentioned money as his superpower: perhaps, in all honesty, it’s actually an unquenchable thirst for justice.
Not that we had much brooding back in the sixties, when Batman was a happy-go-lucky caped crusader whose history of orphandom (that’s supposedly not a word, but I’m inventing it) was barely mentioned – if ever – when he was gallivanting round Gotham City in the company of Burt Ward. The Batman TV show was splendid until you got to its third series, when it swiftly jumped the shark (immediately before Adam West sprayed the rubber prop with his Bat Shark Repellant). But as a child I loved it: the cliffhangers were ridiculous and the whole thing was as gay as a daffodil but that’s all part of the charm. It’s why I was absolutely thrilled to find a set of TV show figures on sale in our local branch of TK Maxx some months ago – Batman and Robin and three of the Big Four (Catwoman, Joker, Penguin). Curiously the Riddler is absent; I assume he’s off planting clues in Arkham City.
It’s a far cry from the renaissance the character experienced back in the 80s when Frank Miller did The Dark Knight Returns and everything changed. It’s a horrible (if brilliant) story but even its most grotesque scenes have nothing on All Star Batman and Robin, which is an insult both to the character and the fans, for reasons I can’t be bothered to unpack here. Miller’s one of those writers whom you initially like before realising that not only has his quality of work gone down the tubes, he’s actually keen to live out his worldview: reading Sin City, for example, it swiftly becomes apparent that this is not a nightmarish dystopia, this is actually the way Frank Miller would like the world to be. Oh look, Vicki Vale’s got her tits out. Didn’t see that coming.
Far better, instead, that we should concentrate on the good stuff – and The Dark Knight Returns, whatever its flaws and uncomfortable legacy, is a masterpiece, answering empirically the question of who’d win in a fight between Batman and Superman years before Affleck and Cavill squared off in Dawn of Justice. More to the point, it’s actually interesting and fun, in a way that the much-anticipated Dalek / Cybermen face-off in ‘Doomsday’ – the Who equivalent of such a contest – really wasn’t. I’ve always contested that you should be wary of giving the fans what they want, but perhaps if you get Miller to write it, you can make it work.
In any event, here’s what I’ve always thought would happen if he wrote Doctor Who.
“I’m glad,” said someone in a group I frequent, “that you left out the word ‘retarded’.”
“I confess part of me didn’t want to,” I replied. “You know, the puritanical artist part. But that’s the sort of thing that gets you banned.”