Category Archives: Random Stuff
Do you want the general update first? Yes? All right.
I received my Master’s Degree in May. I am officially a master. I get a seat on the council without whining. So there’s that. I’ve been catching up on reading that I put off while reading for the graduate program. Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog and The Cartel…holy shit! These are good books. Stephen King rewarded me for the Master’s by publishing The Outsider in May and kicked my ass with it. Jeremy C. Shipp’s The Atrocities was a hallucination nightmare and recommended. There are other things, too, but we’ll worry about them another time, if at all.
I’ve been writing, too. I’m editing Echoes on the Pond and should be doing revisions next week. I should be able to begin submitting to agents/publishers by August. I also started a new novel, which is a middle readers novel. My youngest daughter loves novels as much as she loves picture books. At five years old, she’ll sit and listen as her Mom and I read a chapter or so a night. This has been going on for about a year. While I was still in grad school, she asked me to write something for her. Well, it just so happens that I had a story I came up with when I was between 10 and 12 years old, I even drew a picture of it. Funny enough, I found the drawing about four or five years ago in my parents’ attic and brought it home. It’s a slightly revised version of that original idea but I’m writing it now. I also wrote my first (good) short story in a few years and submitted that. It feels good to be back on the horse.
And that’s the thing, that’s the real topic of today’s post. It feels so good to be writing again for me and, by extension, you.
I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years writing academic papers with only a few small forays into my own writing that I feel like the world is mine for the taking. But it has also led me to think about (or rethink about) (or re-rethink about) some things. This blog is one of them. Now, before you get all sweaty and freak out, having waited oh so long for a new post from me and now you’re afraid I’m about to say I’m going to stop, calm down. If there is anyone out there reading these posts, I assure you, I intend to keep them coming. I’ve thought about several topics to write here on the blog in the last few months. They include:
- How the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Margot Kidder made me realize how their characters taught me about women when I was a child
- Writing about keeping the dream alive when everything seems to be working against it
- General observations about the world
- A remembrance of Harlan Ellison
The first and last things especially have hit hard. The thing is, though, as I look at the time that I have, it’s limited. I can either work on my novels, stories, general fiction that I hope to submit and get paid for, or I can write blog posts about things that I’d love to talk/write about but there’s no chance of getting paid for it. Money is very much in my mind right now. I owe over $100,000 in student loan debt. And even though on paper my wife and I make a pretty good income, the cost of living is rising ridiculously. This past month alone, I’ve found myself tight in the wallet, and I foresee next week is going to be really hard. Part of this is that changes will have to be made, and I dig that. But I also need to be able to earn some extra income. So while I’d love to be able to write more here, I think I’m going to look into turning these ideas into essays, columns, whathaveyou.
Now, I may look into Patreon at some point, once I’ve hit my writing groove again, and if I do, you will be the first to know. I may pitch some ideas for columns, too. Maybe bring back American Gauthic or something else entirely. I don’t know. But if going through grad school taught me anything, it taught me that I can juggle some of these things more than I ever thought I could. And if the last three weeks have done anything, they’ve lit a fire under my ass.
What happened in the last three weeks to do this? 1) The money thing. 2) The death of Harlan Ellison
If you’ve been a longtime reader of mine, you know how much Harlan Ellison meant to me. Since his death, I’ve been watching commentaries and listening to his lecture CDs put out by Deep Shag Records. It has reinvigorated me. I’d like to write more about Harlan but I think that should be its own post, and I also have another idea. You’ll know when and if I pull that other idea off.
So there we go. As the world burns around us, I am doing my thing. Writing, telling stories, and watching. I will report back, I promise. How and when is the real question.
Wow. I haven’t been here since April! What’s up with that? If you actually follow and read my blog, you’ll know that I’m a full-time teacher, father of an 18-year-old high school graduate and soon-to-be-college freshman, a 3-year-and-9-month-year-old, a husband, and going through my master’s degree program online. I’ve been busy this summer, too. It will end, someday. Truth be told, by the end of this school year, one which was one of the worst of my career, I was ready for a nervous breakdown. I’m really not exaggerating on that, either. But here I am now, and here you are now, and I thought I’d skip the homework I promised myself I’d do to say hi to my old friends, my blog readers.
I’ve had so many ideas that I wanted to write and post here. Whether I will or not remains to be seen. I’ve got just over a month of vacation left and my little one goes to day care two days of the week, but we’ll see. For today, I wanted to say hi, give a few updates, and maybe talk a little about writing. You with me? All right. As my little one says, “Let’s do yit!”
First the update. I’d sent a query off to one agent so far for Echoes on the Pond, and that was back before Christmas. Since then, classwork has kept me busy, as well as waiting for a few friends to read the most recent draft and give me their feedback. The feedback in question has me on track for One Final Draft. I’ll pause so you can join me in laughing at that. Done? All right, let’s carry on. This final draft shouldn’t take long, as I pretty much know where to go in with the knife, and also what needs rewriting. It’s not an overhaul by any means, though the ending will change a little to be stronger. Trust me. When the book comes out, you’re gonna love it!
I also started a new novel. I wrote a bit back in late winter, February through March, and only recently was able to return to it at all. More on that below. Besides those things, I also have an idea for a new short story that is so weird, I may just have to write it just to see what the fuck it’s about!
However, most of my writing these last few months has been for my master’s program. I have an 18-to-20-page paper due next week. Tonight I have a discussion board post to write and put up about the 1777 play The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It’s an enjoyable play, but it held me from seeing Ghostbusters yesterday, a movie I can’t wait to see.
All this leads me to….
The common advice you see from professional writers to beginning writers is Read every day, write every day. This is awesome advice and I agree with it wholeheartedly. I also know that it can be difficult when you’re working full-time, parenting, expected to be an active participant in your relationship, etc. Before my grad classes began, writing every day was a challenge but doable. Since it’s started, it’s damn near impossible. In the past it would’ve depressed me, angered me, and got me all ready to join the Dark Side, Dim Side, or just plain Hulk out. It still does sometimes. When the voices in my head, all characters from current and future projects (and the occasional past project) who want to be heard, want a chance to run in the sunshine, become too much, I can be nasty, depressed, unlikable. Well, more unlikable than normal, anyway. Still, I’ve come to understand something about myself: The stories are still there when I’m ready to return to them.
Look, I’d love to sit down every night after Pamela and G go to bed and work on the books and stories (and blog). I’d love to try writing articles to make some side money and get my name out there more. But I can’t. I have a discussion board to write. Or a journal about this play or that story or that novel that I didn’t get to read all of. I have a major paper to write. Vacation time with a toddler is hardly a vacation. My two days with her at day care are mostly catching up on school work. I did get to write a little bit in the new project a week or so ago, but only a little.
I was asked by a friend last week, “How do you finish what you start?” Because of two little ones running around, I don’t think I actually answered, but the main answer is: Determination. I want to see it through to the end. There have been plenty of stories that have fizzled out on me before I got to THE END, but even those usually reserve a room in the back of my brain and wait for the right time to be written, like Under the Dome and 11/22/63 did for Stephen King. I sit down every day that I can and work on it. And work on it. And work on it. I may work on something else between drafts or because I need to at a certain time, but usually it’s just work on the project until you can’t anymore.
Which is why, unless an agent or editor asks for rewrites, this next draft I’ll do for Echoes on the Pond will be my last. I thought of a few things I can do to make the story stronger based on having it sit here so long as I attend to educational matters, and based on what friends have suggested that are good. See, not every suggestion that’s made gets followed, but when one comes in that gets you excited, you’re a fool not to follow it.
That’s how it’s done. I can’t write fiction every day right now, but when I can, I do. I know that once grad school is over, I’ll be back in the saddle every day. Once my little one is a little older, I may be able to easier, as well. But right now, I do what I can. And I’m all right with that.
I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.
First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….
But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.
Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.
But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!
First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.
Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.
Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.
It was about a week before the new school year was to begin, this past summer, almost two months back now. Pamela and G had just gone to bed so it was sometime between 8 and 8:30. I was in the kitchen, reaching for the sugar to make my tea and thinking about the following week, the big ol’ return to school and another year as The Best Teacher You Will Ever Have when I had an epiphany: I’m a really angry guy.
If you chuckled when you got to the end of that paragraph, shame on you. This thought chilled me. I mean, I know I’m angry in the same way I know I’m a man, that I have brown hair, too many moles, and ten fingers (one of them weirdly crooked). I know this like I know I have a wife, two daughters, living parents, and friends. But every now and then I still look around and think, Damn! I have a beautiful wife who is able to deal with my stupidity! or Damn! My teenager is pretty freakin’ awesome! or Damn! The toddler is really smart and beautiful and empathetic! It dawned on me that the years of therapy, the growing up, and the calming down that I have endured have simply really been sleight of hand. The anger is still there. And it scares me.
I have near my workspace a quote from Nikki Giovanni that goes, “Rage is to writers what water is to fish.” This seemed really cool when I first found it and taped it to my notebook computer (dead five years now) ten years ago. At 28, being an angry young man seemed like the thing to be, which was good for me because I was an angry young man. I saw all, knew all, and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. At 38, I don’t want to be angry.
I know the anger is a part of me, and it’s a large factor in why I write, why I create, why I insist on trying to succeed in my goals and dreams. I’m still working on grudges that began in elementary school. It’s such an ingrained part of who I am, that I forget just how angry I am, all the time. It’s exhausting.
There’s a scene in Marvel’s The Avengers that comes at the end. There’s been talk throughout the movie about how Bruce Banner is able to not be the Hulk all the time, and he said he had a secret. It all comes to a head at the end of the movie.
When Banner says that line, “I’m always angry,” the audience erupted in applause both times I saw the movie. It’s become a popular meme on the ‘Net. For some reason, anger, and the lack of control of anger, has become a sort of thing people are happy to have and will applaud.
It fuckin’ sucks, though. To have this fire burning in the pit of my stomach, day in, day out, never quite sure when it’ll flame up…it’s tough. People will say things like, “You need to learn to chill out,” or suggest meditation and all that, and I do it, man. I do deep breathing exercises, I write, I journal, I go to happy places, I look at all the good things in my life, all that stuff. But the anger is still there.
I’m angry right now. Something at work got me angry. A few somethings, actually. I’m angry about grad school. I’m angry for no real reason except…well…look at the world!
I’m only writing this because I want you to know that this is not fun. I don’t consider this a plus to anything in my life. I think my writing would be just as good without the anger in the same way that I do my best writing when I’m happy and not depressed, despite what the popular mythology surrounding writers is.
So, yeah…that’s my secret, I guess. I’m always angry.
Twice in the last 48 hours on my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts that start with “Kids these days…” or some equivalent. Whenever I hear that, especially coming from someone my age or within shooting distance of my age (I was born in 1977), my immediate response is, “Fuck you.” I can’t help it. I don’t actually say that, but I think it. Usually I just bite my tongue and let them have their say. There’s no use arguing with an old person.
I turned 38 just over a month ago. I could easily look at kids (which seem to be getting older and older every year–when did people in their early-20s start being “kids” to me?!) and think that they’re all self-involved, entitled, clueless little twerps who don’t remember anything because of their super-computer-phones. I could say that when I was a kid, things were better. We had only a few channels on TV (depending on which part of my childhood, either five or 57) and had to use our imagination to play. I could say all that and I’d be right about some of those things, but most of it would be bullshit painted pink by the rose colored glasses of being an adult.
I’m a teacher. I work with 14-15-year-olds, and occasionally the 16-18-year-olds, too, and I can tell you first hand: these kids rock. First off, they’re dealing with a world that’s completely different. Born at the tail-end of Generation X, we grew up with the remnants of the Cold War and the fear that Gorbachev (remember him?) and Reagan would push The Button at any minute, annihilating everything we knew and loved forever. No more Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Shirt Tails. Kids these days live in a world where there are school shootings at least once a month and in a world where no one cares if you’re a Communist because they’re too busy fearing you’re a terrorist. Even my oldest students, the seniors, have little-to-no memory of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. My teenage daughter was 3 when it happened. The freshmen were born the year it happened. These kids have been raised under the PTSD that the entire nation (world?) suffered as a result of that horrific event and its aftermath.
Next, when I was a kid I was bullied. From around 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, things were pretty rough. I was chased home, ostracized at school, jumped on at least three-to-five occasions, threatened innumerable times, belittled, and basically treated less-than-human by many. I was smart, the teachers loved me, and I was horrible at sports. Oh, and I was quirky, which was the worst. Naturally, being home was my favorite place to be. I could play with my action figures, or role-play, and let my imagination fly. Even after most kids my age had put away their toys, I continued to sneak my action figures. I had to. The stories in my head were too much. I was safe at home.
Kids these days have the internet. Shut off their computers, you say. They have their phones. Take away their phones. Sure. Go for it. Go ahead. While you’re at it, give me yours. Some of you can. Some of you can’t. When kids are bullied these days, it doesn’t stop when they go home, but continues online. Cyberbullying sounds like a bad idea in 1980s science fiction stories written by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, yet we’ve been hearing about it for almost a decade. Teenage suicides are on a rise and it ain’t satanic-themed heavy metal albums that are contributing, or Dungeons & Dragons, no matter what Tipper Gore says. It’s the ease in which the tormentors can go after their prey.
Where are the parents? you ask. Did your parents know everything you did? I don’t think so.
Another thing I hear: Kids these days are spoiled and entitled. Oh? And you weren’t? Tell me again about how much you enjoyed your Atari 2600. Or your Nintendo. What? You had a Commodore 64? Wow! You must’ve been rich. And remind me about the joys of MTV, Nickelodeon, and HBO. I had some of these things, some I didn’t. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, we didn’t necessarily have all the toys and gadgets, but my kid sister and I were pretty spoiled just the same. Just because the toys are different now doesn’t mean that we were that different.
Yeah, well, kids these days have no respect for adults. I know a kid who was playing in his backyard and began climbing a post that was in a neighbor’s yard. When one of the people in the apartment house saw him on the post, he was told to get down. The person was a nice guy that the kid had known his entire life. For some reason that day, maybe it was because the kid’s friend was there, maybe it was because the kid was an asshole, the kid started saying the neighbor had halitosis. He even sang a song, “Haaaalitosis! Haaaaalitosis! Halitosis! Halitosis! Ha-AA-aa-lito-o-o-sissss!” (To be sung like “Halleluiah”). Yeah, you know who the kid was. This would’ve been around 1990. Kids haven’t had respect for adults since around the 1950s when teenagers began being an economic force. Please don’t tell me that things are worse now in the regard. They’re different, sure, but not that much worse.
How are they different?! Well, for one thing, parents aren’t on anyone’s side except their kids’. Do you know how difficult it is to give a student a failing grade? They have to have a progress report signed by a parent. A phone call home or a parent-teacher conference has to be set up. Everything has to be documented. Why? Because of you, you helicopter! Why don’t the kids respect adults? Because you don’t.
Look, man, I’m a fucked-up guy. I have anger issues, touches of depression, I’m a wise-ass, and I’m a bit egotistical. If my daughters skip any of these problems, I’ll be happy. If either of them grow up well-adjusted, I’m happy. Honestly, your kids see the best of me! Why can’t the same be said of you?
I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I’m tired, and I have to teach your kids in the morning, but I want to say one more thing before I go….
Working with teenagers has been a high-point of my life. Kids these days a sharp as knives, ask tons of important questions, understand things you and I would’ve run screaming from, have somehow managed to stay children in some ways while having to grow up real fast in others. Kids these days are seeing injustice and are pissed off. They’re seeing that the same ol’ same ol’ isn’t working, and while you’re sitting on your ass bitching about why they’re inferior, they’ve already processed what’s broken and what needs to be fixed. And they’ll fix it. Because kids these days, they’re growing up, and they’ll be able to look at the little old man and woman on the lawn, shaking their fist, and continue walking by, listening to music on their phones, and understanding that they’ll be the ones to do what none of us could: fix society.
I don’t remember when, but sometime last fall I mentioned on Facebook (and maybe Twitter) that I was becoming obsessive about wanting to try more tea. As a teenager, I began drinking tea. My gateway was the same as many others, simple ol’ Lipton tea. At some point I graduated to Bigelow or Twinings, usually English Breakfast, but sometimes Earl Grey. I drank these well into my twenties, adding Chai into the fold. And then in 2003/2004, my life sort of went haywire and I became a separated father of a precocious youngster, a full-time college student, and a full-time employee at a bookstore. A bookstore with a café. Suddenly, I was drinking coffee. The teas in my cabinet grew old and dusty as my new love became Queen.
I still love coffee, but about two years ago I started to think more and more about tea. Passing Teavana stores at malls didn’t help. Posts about tea by Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill didn’t help.
As a matter of fact, Joe Hill’s post got me to go try a new English Breakfast tea, Tazo’s Awake tea. Which I loved. And still do, it’s my favorite tea. So I began drinking that in the afternoons instead of my second (or third) cup of coffee. But I wanted more and didn’t know where to start.
That’s when Pamela came to my rescue. After seeing that post, she got me some tea for Christmas.
All right, so what you see there is Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend Tea, the official tea of the Royal Family since forever, available in the States exclusively through Williams-Sonoma. Also in the picture is Tea Forté’s World of Teas single steep set which had some amazing teas in it. I loved Moroccan Mint and Bombay Chai, and liked most of the others very much, too. Well, this has done it.
Tazo also makes a great Chai tea, too, but my problem has been finding a caffeine-free tea that I enjoy. On a recent trip to Western Massachusetts, I happened upon the Republic of Tea’s Cardomon Cinnamon herbal full-leaf tea and decided to try it. Let me tell you, it’s fucking great. It’s like Chai without caffeine. I mean, how good is that? I just finished drinking a cup in that cute mug my wife gave me for Christmas. I think my friend Jorj would like it since he’s a fan of Chai.
So those are some standout teas I’ve tried in my recent plunge into this whole new world. Feel free to recommend some teas you like. So far, I haven’t like Darjeeling much, but it may just have been the one I had from the World of Teas set.
When I was a kid, my father would say, “When I was a kid…” and I’d roll my eyes, sigh, and be the snot that I was. I often reminded him that it was The Eighties, which is just about how I thought of them, capital- and italicized. I blame bad sitcoms and teen movies of the day that were all over HBO. When I was a teenager, I was only slightly less obnoxious. After all, it was the nineties. Most of the time, when Dad spoke of his childhood, it was to complain. He’d be complaining about the costs of things (he’ll still go into that spiel if you bring up costs of anything). He’d be complaining about how I behaved. He’d generally be complaining. My father was born in 1941 and basically grew up in the country, in a lower-to-mid-middle class family. Life wasn’t perfect, but when he talks about when he was a kid, you’d think it was.
This has been on my mind a lot lately because of the snow. Since January, eastern Massachusetts has received a lot of snow. Boston says it’s about 8 feet, or maybe 10. Down my way, not much better. We haven’t had a full week of school since the week before Martin Luther King, Jr Day. The last week of January, we had two days of school, Monday and Friday. The following Monday and Tuesday were no good. The Monday that followed was no good. Now it’s February vacation and, depending on how the weather goes this weekend, we may not have school again at the start of next week. I’ve had a lot of time to think, to stew.
And you’re annoying me.
Not you, you’re fine. But you, back there. The one standing on his/her own memories and ego. Yeah…you. You posted this on Facebook and/or Twitter:
When I was a kid, they didn’t cancel school until snow actually started.
When I was a kid, it took more than cold weather to stop me from ______.
Those aren’t the only things you’re posting either. From religion to politics to pop culture, everything was better when you were a kid. My response:
This especially annoys me from people who are around my age (I was born in 1977). Look, I do think we played outside more, with less rules, than the kids of today have. We didn’t have play dates, we played. By ourselves. Meaning, no parental involvement. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I want to talk about the weather.
You’re right, you old fart. When you were a kid–when we were kids–school wasn’t canceled until the snow fell. There was a certain alarm to listen for at 5:30/6:00 AM, and a specific radio station to listen to. I spent many sleepless nights in elementary school gambling and losing on the chance that we would get walloped by snow and I’d have a snow day.
That’s gone because science.
Have you noticed that in the past…oh…ten years that weather reporting has been pretty goddamn accurate. Maybe not 7 or 10 days in advance, completely, but it’s gotten pretty good. Chances are, if the 7-Day says that snow is coming at the end of the week, by the fourth day in, they know for sure and it’s only the matter of how many inches we’re getting, which they’ve gotten pretty good at predicting, too. It simply makes more sense now to close school the night before than to chance it at 5:30 AM. It allows parents to make accommodations in advance.
Science isn’t the answer for everything, of course. Your insistence that kids were better when you were that age is just plain bullshit, because I was a kid at the same time, or know human nature better than you, and it’s simply not true.
Look, there are always things we long for and changes to culture and the world around us that take us away from the good. I’m not denying that. Republicans have systematically shot down regulations that gave us better things and replaced them with cheaper, crappier stuff. Democrats have been too nice to do what’s necessary to get those regulations back. And all sides have been bought off a little too much in the places that count.
For the most part, though, things aren’t any worse now than they were. They’re just bad in different ways. And there’s still a lot of good, if not great, out in the world.
So stop it.
Four years after Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27, Batman and Robin hit the big screen for the first time in a Columbia Pictures movie serial. The story is told in 15 chapters and is amusing to watch with 70 years distance. The plot concerns Batman (Lewis Wilson) and Robin (Douglas Croft) trying to foil a scheme by the evil Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish).
This movie serial came out at the height of World War II and there is quite a bit of propaganda and outright racism. Dr. Daka is a Japanese spy whose goal is to use a radium-powered ray gun to help overthrow the United States. Batman is employed by the U.S. government to stop Daka’s plan. This involves Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Linda Paige (Shirley Patterson), her uncle, and zombies. Not risen-from-the-dead zombies but mind-controlled people controlled by Dr. Daka. Batman triumphs with the help of Robin and his butler Alfred Pennyworth (William Austin).
(Did I spoil that for you? I’m sorry. But in my defense, this is a 1943 movie serial aimed at kids and featuring a comic book superhero. This is 43 years before Frank Miller’s game-changing Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One stories where anything could–and does–happen).
Until I decided to do these essays, I’d never seen this version of Batman. I knew of it, of course, but hadn’t seen it. (Nor had I ever seen a movie serial). So my first viewing of this serial was as a 34-year-old adult.1 It must have been pretty cool, though, to be kid in 1943 and seeing these chapters. Yes, there are some changes from the comic book (Batman as government agent is but one) but it must have still be pretty nifty (or whatever the slang was back then) to see Batman and Robin fighting bad guys on the big screen. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft seem to work well together as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin. You get the sense that they’ve been working together a while. Wilson is pretty good as Bruce Wayne, giving him an arrogance that is almost mind-blowing at times. Croft gives Dick Grayson/Robin just enough boyish charm to appeal to the boys in the audience but is tough enough to hold his own. As a matter of fact, Robin tends to save Batman more often than the other way around in this serial.
William Austin as Alfred Pennyworth is also quite enjoyable, though not in a serious manner. Alfred is the comic relief of this story which is essentially about the Japanese taking over the United States, turning Americans into zombies.
Shirley Patterson as Linda Paige, Bruce Wayne’s oft-suffering girlfriend. Yes, she has moments of eye-rolling “I’m a woman and am therefore helpless” but she doesn’t hold back from putting Bruce Wayne in his place. Her uncle had just been released from prison and is kidnapped and she wants to look for him. When she asks Bruce for his help, he essentially tells her he can’t because he has some sort of inconsequential thing to do. She gets angry, tells him to buzz off, and then leaves. More on this later.
The action. Ranging from 26 minutes to 13-and-a-half, every chapter has at least one fist-fight, some have two. And because they comprise a serial and they wanted the kids to spend their dime next week, too, each chapter has a cliffhanger that puts Batman in some sort of jeopardy.
For modern audiences, this serial is an interesting look back on an artform that helped inspire what television series would become. It is also an interesting look at that time period and what entertainment was like. One of the charms of the serial is the low-budget feel. In one fight scene, Batman’s cape falls off in one shot and reappears on him in the next. In another chapter, Batman is climbing off a fire escape and some stuff falls out of his cape. After rewatching it multiple times I still don’t know what it is. This is low-budget, let’s get it done filmmaking.
Lewis Wilson may have been pretty good at getting Bruce Wayne’s “devil-may-care” attitude down, but he also plays Wayne/Batman as a jerk. This is not his fault, though, rather the writers Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, as well as the director’s (Lambert Hillyer). By the end of the first chapter (“The Electric Brain”), Batman and Robin have gotten their hands on Dr. Daka’s ray gun. In the second chapter (“The Bat’s Cave”), Bruce Wayne decides to scare Alfred, winks and nods at Dick Grayson, and then blasts something right near Alfred. The older man looks like he may have a heart attack while Bruce and Dick yuk it up. This kind of behavior happens throughout. Alfred is often the butt of the joke, or Linda is basically told she’s second fiddle to whatever plans Bruce has that day. Her uncle is missing and she keeps getting in trouble, but Bruce shrugs it all off so he can run off and be Batman. And as Batman, he’s kind of weak.
More than weak, Batman sort of sucks. While it must have been great to see the comic book character on the big screen for the first time, I wonder how the boys (and girls?) in the audience took to their hero being so ineffective. Batman is picked up by the bad guys and either thrown over the edge of something or nearly thrown over the edge of something in almost every chapter. In chapter 14 (“The Executioner Strikes”), Batman is trying to save Linda in an obvious trap (he knows it’s a trap) and the thugs walk in. One thug immediately walks up to Batman and hits him with the butt of his revolver, knocking Batman out, quicker than it took you to read this sentence. I understand this is a movie serial and putting the hero’s life in danger at the end of each chapter is supposed to get kids involved enough to want to come to next week’s show, but making your hero look no better than the average man goes against why you’d do a Batman story anyway.
The racism in this serial is mind-blowing, especially in the ultra-politically correct 21st century where one is offended by anything. The first chapter begins in a desolate part of Gotham City known as Little Tokyo. The narrator assures the audience that it’s safe because the “shifty-eye Japs” have all been “rounded up.” The narrator is referring to the Japanese-American determent camps that the U.S. government forced its own citizens to live in during WWII in case they decided to align with their former homeland. Of course, there were no German-American determent camps because it was harder to tell those of German ancestry than those of Japanese. Dr. Daka is played by a Caucasian man á la Warner Oland’s portrayal of Charlie Chan. His headquarters is hidden within a cave-of-horror funhouse-type ride that depicts wax Japanese people performing atrocities to White people. In chapter 8 (“Lured By Radium”), going out to the country, the thugs stop by a Native American on the side of the road selling “Indian Artifacts”. One thug says, “Hey, Sittin’ Bull,” before asking whatever question he needs to. Chalk that up to the thug being a bad guy and all. But when Bruce, Dick, Alfred, and Linda stop, the old Native American speaks in that Hollywood Indian dialect, “Me don’t know…Me this and Me that.”
Plot consistency. I know, this happens all the time (and will pop up throughout these essays) but they’re pretty bad here. At one point, one of Daka’s thugs say, “Hey, what if this Bruce Wayne is Batman!” Daka replies that Bruce Wayne couldn’t possibly be Batman because he’s too stupid and this and that. But by the 14th chapter, Daka says something about the possibility that Bruce Wayne may be Batman. Now, if this kept coming up, it wouldn’t have been a surprise, but it just came out of nowhere. Oh! And there’s the Radium ray guns plotline. After the small ray gun is confiscated by Batman, most of the serial is about Daka scoring more Radium to build a bigger, better ray gun to overthrow the United States. He eventually gets his Radium and has a ray rifle/cannon/thing. And then…. I couldn’t tell you what happens because it seems to be forgotten, either by me or by the filmmakers.
The fights. Oh, man, the fights. They are refreshingly not as slick as we’ve come to expect from Batman, but they are almost too realistic. If Batman is supposed to be one of America’s great secret agents, we’re in trouble. The fights are sloppy and usually end with Batman having his ass kicked so he can be saved by Robin in the next chapter.
Guns! Robin, the Boy Wonder, is given a gun at least twice in this serial. He usually fires into the air to scare the thugs working for Daka but in at least one chapter he holds the gun on them to keep them at bay. Now, it’s well-documented that Batman sometimes used guns in his early days, but by 1943 he hadn’t used a gun for 3 years, and Robin definitely wouldn’t have.
Speaking of guns, this is another thing I noted that can be placed in this section, the thugs only seem to have one pistol between them, and they use it to shoot only when Batman and Robin can find cover. There are several times in this serial when they have knocked out Batman (see above) and just leave him for whatever the cliffhanger will be. I know, I know, this happens all the time in movies and on TV, but considering their orders are to kill Batman, you’d think they might, well, kill Batman when they had the chance.
I found Batman to be rather enjoyable, though not for the reasons the filmmakers meant. It’s a slice of history and made me think about what going to the movies must have been like for my father’s generation. It’s apparent that Columbia made the serial to cash in on the comic book craze that was in its infancy but didn’t really care about the source material. There is no Commissioner Gordon, instead there’s a Captain Arnold. There are no villains from the comic books and Batman and Robin are government agents, not just crime fighters. There’s no Batmobile. Batman and Robin are actually chauffeured by Alfred most of the time (or drive around as Bruce and Dick and then change in the back seat). However, this serial introduced the Bat’s Cave, which we all know now as the Batcave. It may have even had Alfred in its planning stages before he appeared in comics and may be the reason Alfred was in the comics. If you’re a modern viewer who is easily offended by the mistakes of our forefathers in terms of race and ethnic portrayals, then this serial isn’t for you. But as a way to view Batman in a way you probably haven’t yet, check it out. The serial is available on DVD, though I watched it here. Just don’t expect to do so in one sitting. The entire serial is about 4 hours 15 minutes.
1 I originally wrote this essay a year before I did the Superman series of essays, so while the two Superman serials appeared on this blog over a year ago, it was two years ago that I watched this first Batman serial.
I’ve been working on these essays for two years. I began watching and writing about Batman on the silver screen back in 2012, around the time The Dark Knight Rises was to hit theaters. At that point, I’d only done this sort of thing once, for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. The plan stalled as life got in the way. I re-posted revised versions of the Nightmare essays (which I cleverly titled A Nightmare in Gautham) and then did a series of essays about Superman on the silver screen (From Krypton to Gautham) for the release of 2013’s Man of Steel. That fall, we experienced a Friday in Gautham when I took on Jason Vorhees and the Friday the 13th movies. By now, there were two Batman essays.
This being the 75th anniversary of Bob Kane’s (and Bill Finger’s) creation, I decided to finally finish the series.
It was a daunting task. Batman, like Superman, has been in a lot of movies and TV shows. Luckily, even his most famous TV incarnations eventually made it to the movies.
That’s nearly 30 hours of Batman, which somehow still doesn’t feel like enough Batman. It’s been quite an experience.
So sit back and let’s go to Gotham City….
Sorry about the silence of the last…oh…shit. I just looked it up and my last post was in February! Bad blogger! My apologies, my adoring public. I could give you the grocery list of reasons—being a teacher with grades due, stress, parenting a teenager, stress, parenting a toddler, stress, being a husband, stress, and stress—but I don’t want to bore you. What I want to do is:
1. Assure you that I’m alive and well and will return here with a real post sooner than later.
2. Let you know that this Saturday, April 12th—which happens to be the great David Letterman’s birthday—I will be making my first appearance on The Tim Weisberg Show! I first met Tim back in 2011 when I was invited to so his other radio show, Spooky Southcoast, which he co-hosts with Matt Costa. Tim has been very kind since then. I don’t know what we’ll talk about but probably pop culture stuff. Since we’re around the same age, we’ll probably fall into mutual fondness for bad 1980s cartoons, horror movies, and other such stuff. Either way, I’m pretty excited because I’ve enjoyed being on the radio in the past and Tim and I seem to get on pretty well.
I’ll be appearing on the 8 o’clock hour of the show. You can listen on the WBSM website or on the RadioPup app. Of course, if you live in the Greater New Bedford area on the Southcoast of Massachusetts, you can hear it on your actual terrestrial radio, on 1420 AM.
I’ll try to be entertaining. I promise.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
There, now that that’s out of my system, let’s get to it.
Except…there’s really no it right now. 2013 is over and it was a good year, overall, with lots of bad weaved throughout, but isn’t any year? And, lucky for me, most of the bad was societal bad, not personal. Though I am all-too-aware of my failures from the past year, but aren’t we all?
I’m not really going to post about what my goals for 2014 are because if they don’t happen, then I look stupid in a public arena, as opposed to the personal list I make every year, which only makes me look bad to me. I do want to make changes this year, but who doesn’t?
There’ll be a move this year, and I’m going to have to finally get ready to get Master’s (and actually begin the process). And there’ll be writing. Lots of that. I’d still like to try vlogging but there’s an amount of time for that I just don’t seem to have, though I’m not giving up yet. You get the idea.
So have a great New Year. I’ll be back soon.
The title may be a bit misleading. I’m not actually planning on writing about Genevieve’s entire first year. But it does weigh heavily on me. Last week was her birthday and yesterday was her birthday party. Not everyone I would’ve liked to be there was because of space and situations. It was mostly Pamela’s family and friends. My 15-year-old was there, representin’ the Gauthiers because my sister lives in Florida and my mother is unable to leave her apartment. Still, fun was had by all. The baby made out like a bandit (sorry for the cliché, I’m tired), everyone loved the cake (thanks to Cravings Café & Cakery), and the baby had a great time.
Still, the passage of time is felt. One year becomes fifteen real fast. All I needed to do was look at Courtney and Genevieve together.
One year becomes fifteen in a heartbeat, it seems. I know that’s not true. A lot has happened in fifteen years. My life changed, and changed again, and changed at least three more times. The lives of those around me also changed. The world has changed. Fifteen years ago as I write this, I would’ve been using my first computer, a gift from my parents. It wasn’t connected to the Internet just yet, and wouldn’t be for another month or two. And when it was finally connected, it was with America Online, dial-up. Now I sit at my fourth computer, a notebook computer, typing on a blog via wireless broadband. That’s but one change.
So to see that the baby is already one is a little disconcerting. There will be lots of adventures in her future. Lots of firsts. I look forward to them, and I fear them. But I mostly look forward to them. Just as I look forward to the firsts that my teenager still has to encounter, as my wife will encounter, as I will encounter.
Whoa-ho-ho! What a day, friends! But I’ll get to that in a minute or so.
I’ve decided to attempt to schedule my creative time. I actually decided this months ago, and began really thinking about it a couple of weeks back. Tonight I put pen to calendar and I thought I’d share.
I read this article more than a year ago and thought, I should try something like that. I decided instantly that using an Excel spreadsheet wasn’t an option because I can’t figure out how to use that program (Excel’s templates are what I use, if I use it at all). It took me awhile to figure out what to do. For now, I’m using my desk calendar. I’d already decided that Thursday would be a Must Blog Day, which is when I was putting the Nightmare on Elm Street and Superman essays up. But since July, I’ve been bad about that. So now that I’m back at work/school and have been doing real well working on the novel, I’ve decided to really try out a schedule. I know it will change as I get used to it, but that’s fine. Two weeks are mapped out. We’ll see how this works. If you’re interested, I can give you updates.
This is a nice feeling of accomplishment and, dare I say?, maturity on my part since I had a bit of a meltdown today. I won’t go into it because I know They‘re watching and I don’t want to say the wrong thing or for that thing (right or wrong) to be taken the wrong way (which, in my experience, tends to be how things work), but suffice it to say, ineptitude turned me into my arrogant, prima donna self.
Which makes me think of Dunkin Donuts. I have basically stopped going to Dunkin Donuts in favor of their competitor Honey Dew Donuts. I was sick of the window people (and the counter people) getting things wrong every time I went there. My order is simple: Large hot coffee, extra light, four sugars. Many times, I emphasize extra light. Dunkin Donuts gave it to me light, at best, dark most often. Or without sugar. Or they’d fuck up my sandwich, or my wife’s sandwich (she doesn’t want cheese on her breakfast sandwiches–or any sandwiches for that matter…I know, it’s a major personality flaw but I still love her even though she eats breakfast sandwiches wrong), or her drink.
The final straw was when I went to get a toasted bagel with cream cheese for the teenager. I’d already gotten my coffee elsewhere before I picked her up for school and she asked if I’d get her a bagel. So there was a Dunkin Donuts and I went through the drive-thru.
“Hi. I’ll have a toasted bagel with cream cheese, please.”
I drive up, pay, get the bag, and am pulling around to leave when Courtney says, “Look.”
She pulls out a small package of butter. And there’s no knife to spread it.
So I park, and bring the butter in. The girl at the counter ignores me for a few moments before, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I say, putting on a smile and faking a pleasant disposition. “I just ordered a bagel and cream cheese at the window and was given butter.” I held up the butter. “I wondered if I could have cream cheese.”
The girl sighs and walks away. A few moments pass. I wait. And wait. And wait. Finally she returns and thrusts the cream cheese at me and turns around to walk away.
She turns and rolls her eyes. “Yes?”
“Could I have a knife to spread this?”
She sucks her teeth and procures a plastic knife that would have a hard time spreading air. She walks away before I can thank her. I’m left with cream cheese and a knife in one hand, butter in the other. I placed the butter in the rack of gift cards.
It’s been months since I’ve gone to a Dunkin Donuts. I’ve been happy.
Except, recently, Honey Dew has been giving me light coffee. I order it extra light.
I’m not asking for much, just aptitude at your job.
Speaking of which, I made these cheeseburgers (hamburgers for Pamela) tonight. Her’s was medium, mine well-done. Cheee-rist! I made a mean burger! Well-done but juicy, two slices of cheese (one on top, one on the bottom), lightly toasted buns.
Yeah. Tonight helped today.
Friday. Friday. Friday. F.R.I.D.A.Y. Friday.
This has been a long, emotional week. My 15-year-old was here most of the week because her mother was on vacation and that was great. She was mostly on her computer, which is normal for teens, yes? But she also played with the baby and played along with us. It was great. Yesterday, she went back to her Mom’s until next weekend. My heart broke as she walked across the street to the house, her bags in her hands. I get to see her every day now, but it’s still difficult leaving her.
This week also saw my return to work-school for the 2013-2014 year. I was happy to see my students from previous years, and some co-workers. The week leading up to the new school year is always stressful for me, but this year was particularly bad. I’m in a new classroom and not everything is ready. And because I deal with a different set of freshmen every four-and-a-half days until January, and four days have already gone by, and I’m still not unpacked in my new room, and I have no time to do that or much of anything…stress. Oh, and I have more students than I ever had before. That’s fun, too. I won’t get into that. The older students are great, but I even messed up with them this week.
Oh, and I miss the baby during the day. I’ve jokingly called her the hostage-taker all summer, but this week I missed her bad.
I’m tired. Tired. T.I.R.E.D.
But there’s some good.
After a very enthusiastic recommendation by the teenager, and seeing how many people loved it, and finding the Vlogbrothers YouTube videos, I finally decided to read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Ho-ho-holy shit, it’s good! I’m about 80 pages from the end and am dreading it, but can’t stop. Green is a major talent and he’s made a fan of me. Which is weird because we’re the same age. I mean, the same exact age. I mean, we were born on the same day.
Which means our birthday was last Saturday. We turned 36. Yay, us. My birthday was laid back, nice.
Another great thing: The Harlan Ellison Channel on YouTube. I’ve written about discovering Ellison on Sci-Fi Buzz and now, thanks to his friend, Academy Award-nominee Josh Olson, the commentaries he did, as well as some new videos, are available online. Or are becoming available. Goddamn, I’m happy. The fact that it went up in time for my birthday was a great present. It has helped get me through this week.
So that’s that. I should go to bed. Later.
I never did get to post my thoughts on the Superman/Batman movie that was announced at the San Diego Comic Con. I wanted to but it just sort of slipped away.
I’m excited about the Superman/Batman movie, though not as excited as I was 10 years ago. I liked Man of Steel well enough and am interested in what they could do in the future. There seems to be a sort of apathy about the movie in some circles, while other non-comic book readers can’t figure out how the two heroes could possibly be put together. It’s not like the comic books have been doing it for nearly 75 years or anything. I guess the biggest thing is to remain faithful to the concept of the heroes, which in itself is controversial.
Many have been very much against the way Superman was portrayed in Man of Steel, and the idea that it was his first outing and he was new to the superhero game doesn’t seem to be answer enough to those concerns. When all is said and done, I had mixed feelings about the details of Man of Steel but liked the feel of the character well enough to want to see him again. It will be interesting to see how this works with a new Batman.
Which leads me to the news that may break Twitter and Facebook and the interwebz: Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne for the movie.
I like this casting. I’ve always liked Ben Affleck. Yes, he’d made some bad movies, but every actor has. He got a bad rap for awhile that I feel has been undeserved. I always thought he could be his generation’s Harrison Ford, given the right opportunities. I suspect that he will bring pathos and ethos to the role.
As far as speculation on story, who knows? I’d love it if Lex Luthor employed the help of billionaire philanthropist (and rival) Bruce Wayne to help rebuild Metropolis after the events of Man of Steel, and perhaps even try to coerce Wayne to help build an army to keep Superman in line. As the Dark Knight gets to know the Man of Steel, and as Wayne gets to know Luthor, he realizes it’s not the Kryptonian who’s a danger, but the Human.
That’s my pitch. I’ve been wrong in every way whenever I’ve speculated about these movies. We’ll go in 2015 and find something better, I’m sure.
But those are my thoughts. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be a fun ride.
Last week Pamela and I were sitting on the floor watching Genevieve play. In case you’re slow on the uptake, Genevieve is the baby, not the teenager (who is named Courtney). The teenager was at her mom’s house. As I sat there, I’d stack some blocks up and Pamela would put the Fisher-Price rings on the stand. The baby would roll (she seems to be bypassing crawling, like her sister did) to one of our nice new stacks and knock it over. Take the rings from their stand and then roll away, destruction in her wake. It was then that we realized that she’d silently decreed that There Will Be No Stacking.
Now we run into trouble. Because what’s stacking? To you and I, rational adults, stacking is placing one thing on top of the other:
But we’re not dealing with a rational adult, oh no. This is a very smart, but very rascally, baby. So to her, not only is this a stack:
And this, and this:
But so is this:
And even this:
Now, granted, that last is kind of a stack. I mean, the bottles, stupidphone, remote controls, and glass bowl are all on the coffee table which makes it kind of stacking. I think it would be admissible in court should we ever have to sue her for damages. What really worries me is what happens when she starts walking next week?
But, Bill, I hear you say to your smartphone, tablet, or (ha!) computer screen. How, pray tell, can you know that she’ll be walking next week?
Because she’s just like that. Last Friday (July 12th), she couldn’t sit up without help. By Monday she was sitting up like a pro. And pulling herself up on the side of her playpen. I also know that she’ll be walking next week because her mother and I aren’t ready for it. Look at that last picture. Besides the stupidphone, bottles, remote controls, glass coasters, and expensive glass bowl, you can see: a couch with lots of cushions; an end table with another glass bowl, the baby monitor, a picture of Courtney, and a lamp; and a plant on (out of frame) a stone pedestal that could easily cause damage to anyone it falls on. Never mind the TV, the drawers, everything on the floor (technically, stacked on the Earth)(and she’s strong), the building we live in…. Where will it end?
It’s blurry because she’s quick. Gone! Just like that.
Not happy with just knocking the blocks down, she decided to eat/make-out with a plastic frog. Will she know any bounds?!
Well…I guess that stack isn’t so bad to knock down.
The decree has been issued, the law laid. There will be no stacking. Of anything. For a long, long time.
I don’t remember when I first heard/read about the fiasco between Richard Donner and the producers of the Superman movies. It may have been in issues of Entertainment Weekly or Starlog or even online. Either way, I was in my teens or early twenties. Maybe my mother read or heard it somewhere and informed me. Either way, there was a Eureka! moment for me, when it made sense that the feel of Superman II is different than Superman: The Movie and Lois Lane is hardly in Superman III. I know that the documentaries that came on the 2000 release of the Superman movies on DVD, along with the special extended edition of the first movie, went into it a little. And like Superman fans around the world, I wondered what could have been. By the time I really knew about Donner’s firing, Christopher Reeve was already paralyzed from the neck down and the idea that there was, apparently, a load of unused footage of him in his most famous acting role was heartbreaking. If only Warner Bros. or the Salkinds would release the footage. If only someone would go by Donner’s notes and try to piece together what was filmed for his version of Superman II (surely Donner, who’d moved onto The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon series, and other successful films, wouldn’t want to come back) it would be such a great thing to honor Reeve, the late-Marlon Brando, and the hard work put in by everyone involved in those movies.
In 2004, Christopher Reeve died. It wasn’t a surprise. Still, it broke my heart.
I don’t remember when I first heard/read about the release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, but I was excited. As a matter of fact, it was one of the first DVDs I got from Netflix when I joined.
Due to demands made by fans worldwide (and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns being on its way toward theaters at the time was a big influence) Warner Bros., who now owned the sole film rights for all the Superman movies, went to Richard Donner and asked if he wanted to do a special edition. He agreed, bringing his friend and collaborator Tom Mankiewicz back into the fray. Using remastered footage from the original shoot of both Superman and Superman II, along with some Richard Lester footage, two screen tests, and even a few brand new shots, Donner told the second chapter of the Superman story as it was originally written. Or at least as close as he could manage under the circumstances.
The DVD came during a particularly dark period for me. I was living with my parents again, not long after the divorce from my first wife. I was depressed. This movie made me very happy, while it also hurt a great deal.
It’s essentially the same story as the theatrical Superman II. General Zod, Ursa, and Non are freed from the Phantom Zone and come to Earth. Superman and Lois Lane consummate their relationship and he gives up his powers for her. He gets his ass kicked and finds out about Zod, goes back to get his powers back, fights Zod and crew in Metropolis, and finally leads them back to the Fortress of Solitude where he defeats them. Lex Luthor even escapes jail the same way, finds out info about Superman the same way, and sits in the background the same way. By the end, Lois has forgotten that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same and everything is status quo again.
Yet, it’s very different.
I intend to keep this one short. I don’t wish to get as carried away by this movie as I did with the original version. Let’s see what happens….
Should I even waste the space mentioning Christopher Reeve as Superman? I think I do. I think his performance is even more impressive in The Donner Cut than in Lester’s version. While a lot of Donner’s footage was used in Lester’s movie, a lot wasn’t. Most of the Daily Planet scenes in Superman II were rewritten and reshot, which led to the continuity errors mentioned in the last essay. That said, the idea that Reeve, Kidder, and the rest would shoot a scene in Perry White’s office for Superman, then go change, come back, and shoot a scene for Superman II where there seems to be a higher comfort level for Clark and the rest is pretty amazing. Reeve brings a certain intensity and seriousness to the role that seems even more on display with Donner behind the camera than with Lester. Maybe it’s comfort. I don’t know, but while he’s great in the 1980 Superman II, he positively shines in the 2006 Donner Cut. The scene when he returns to the Fortress of Solitude after getting his ass kicked is so much more powerful in this version, with Reeve playing it not only as desperate but terrified, because–
Brando returns. By the time Warner Bros. approached Donner to do his cut, Brando was dead and his family had given consent to use footage of him as Jor-El. This meant that the story of Jor-El and Kal-El continued to its logical, and heartbreaking, conclusion. I don’t want to give anything away in case you’ve skipped this version of Superman II, but suffice it to say that the scene is great. To know that greed triumphed over this scene back in the original is a sin.
The movie is less silly. Even the scenes that needed to be kept that Richard Lester shot have been re-edited to excise superfluous silliness. If you’re from Krypton, you’re taken seriously. If you work for the Daily Planet, you’re taken seriously. The humor in this movie comes from the same place as the first film: Lex Luthor and company, as well as the simple things that come out of life, best personified by Clark Kent. The rednecks, the silly army stunts, Non’s silliness, Lois Lane’s screechy stupidity, and the people of Metropolis’s odd comments and sight-gags are all gone. That’s not to say that everything is dead serious. Lois and Clark still have witty banter, Otis still almost brings the balloon down, and other funny moments pepper the film, but they’re from character, not set-ups.
The story makes more sense because the continuity is kept in better check. From first-to-second movie, to the scenes within this movie itself, it just flows better. Let’s look at an example.
In Richard Lester’s Superman II (1980), Superman takes Lois Lane to the Fortress of Solitude. They have dinner, falling deeper in love as they do. Finally, he decides he wants to be with her, so he calls on Lara (Susannah York) and is given a speech. A chamber comes up and he steps inside. Red light shines and there’s a pretty cool special effects shot of the breakdown of Superman. The audience sort of goes into Superman and watches him become (gasp!) normal. In a strange turn of events, Superman’s costume and hair fade to street clothes and simpler hair, and he leaves the chamber as Clark Kent. Then he and Lois sleep together.
As a kid, I wondered: How the heck did his clothes change? Why did his hair suddenly change? It made no sense.
Now, Donner’s cut (2006): Superman still takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude. They still have dinner, falling deeper in love as they do. Finally, he decides he wants to be with her, so…they sleep together. Now, let’s ignore the science of interplanetary coitus for a moment, and how someone who is called the Man of Steel might accidentally kill his lover when he…well…you know. It’s a beautiful scene, done the same way as in the theatrical version. Now, though, he awakens and leaves Lois in the shiny silver bed. We next see him dressed in a white shirt and dark pants. He is talking to Jor-El, the same basic conversation he has with Lara. And this time, not only is Lois watching, but she’s watching him wearing Superman’s shirt! It’s a subtle touch, but so effective. Even more effective, the holographic head of Jor-El looking at Lois in an accusatory way as Kal-El becomes Clark Kent. Again, the drama in the situation is heightened and makes more sense. When Clark Kent steps out of the chamber, sans special effects of him coming apart on the inside, he is wearing the street clothes he went in wearing. His hair is the same. He’s just…different. Another superb moment by Christopher Reeve.
The biggest problem with this movie is, of course, that it isn’t really the sequel to Superman. Because it wasn’t finally put together until nearly 30 years after it should’ve been, it looks like a rough cut of the movie in some places. I got the sense that this is a good outline, in some cases, of the way the final film would’ve looked. That it was mostly the best thing they could come up with based on what they had. Which is exactly what it is. The joy of watching this movie isn’t getting Richard Donner’s definitive vision, but rather as close to it as we’ll ever get, which is pretty damn close. In that way, this movie works wonderfully.
The ending. I could’ve this in the 1980 Superman II essay but chose not to because I was already very long. The deaths of Zod, Ursa, and Non. Superman tricks them out of their powers and then beats the hell out of them. Well, out of Zod and Non. Lois takes care of Ursa. They fall into the nothingness of the Fortress of Solitude and, we presume, their deaths. In the Donner Cut, the same thing happens. They up it, though, by showing only Superman and Lois Lane leaving the Fortress. They lands miles away and Superman turns around and uses his heat vision to destroy the place. Unlike Lester’s Superman II, Lex Luthor is not shown leaving with Superman and Lois, so one must assume that he’s still in the Fortress. A cut scene in the Special Features section of the Blu Ray shows the three Kryptonian villains and Luthor being taken away by the U.S. Arctic Patrol, presumably to jail. I’d understand why this was cut. If the Fortress of Solitude was supposed to be a secret, how would they get there? Of course, it also helps understand why Superman would destroy his little piece of Krypton. In the theatrical version of the movie, Superman leaves with Lois and Luthor and the Fortress of Solitude remains.
The ending, part 2. As I mentioned in the my essay on Superman: The Movie, the scene of Superman changing Earth’s spin, and thereby changing time, was supposed to end Superman II. In The Richard Donner Cut, the movie begins with what Donner wanted for the original ending of the first movie (and a much better scene of the Phantom Zone Prisoners’ escape) and ends with the Earth-spin-time-changing sequence. I feel like this is even more confusing than it was in the first movie. Did this whole second movie not happen? Isn’t that akin to saying it was all a dream? I don’t know. I really just don’t like this ending, either way. If this is only to make Lois forget about their romance, it’s kind of douchey. Speaking of which–
The ending, part 3. This is the ending of both versions of Superman II, shot by Donner. Superman saves the world and goes back to the diner where he got his ass kicked in the few days he went without power. There’s Mr. Wonderful himself, the truck driver who kicked his sorry ass. And, being the hero we all aspire to be, Clark Kent/Superman shows just how human he has become by humiliating and, essentially, kicking the bully’s ass. Now, I’m torn on this part. As a kid who was bullied, and who has some great stories about me getting my ass kicked, I still cheer that Superman/Clark Kent teaches the bully a lesson. Still, it is unbecoming for a hero who should be teaching by example. In essence, by teaching that lesson, he sorta kinda becomes the bully himself. Do you disagree?
After the Battle
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a beautifully executed case of What Might Have Been. This is not the movie that Donner would’ve released, but is as close as we’ll ever get, and it’s fine. It is a labor of love and the love seeps through. It’s also a fascinating thing to watch for those wanting to be filmmakers. To compare and contrast the two versions of Superman II shows how you can get two very good movies with the same basic story, but how the minor details can make or break aspects of it. Which do I prefer? I don’t know. Both have things I love, both have things I’m not fond of. Either way, it’s worth seeing whether you’ve seen the original Superman II a million times or only once.