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“Ian MacArthur is a wonderful sweet fellow who wears glasses and peers out of them with delight.”

 That was the first sentence. The problem was that I just couldn’t think of the next one. After cleaning my room three times, I decided to leave Ian alone for a while because I was starting to get mad at him.

The Perks of Being a Wallfower, Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out my sophomore year of high school. If I’d read it then I probably would have loved it just as much as everyone else seems to. I felt like a watcher then, especially that year. But as is my custom I didn’t get around to it, and then everyone else loved it so I avoided it. I do that sometimes, because I’m afraid that if I don’t love something as much as the other people I love and respect, that their love and respect for me will diminish. Better to be able to plead ignorance and nod along to the lecture you get about the thing. At least it’s still pulling you together that way.

I was perfectly content to live out my years in that ignorance, even though I had easy access to the book. There was a copy on my To Read shelf that had been given to me by a friend at some point along the way. It looked like it was going to be destined to sit there between Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy forever. And then the movie came out.

The movie–surprisingly well-written and well-directed by the author, two things almost unheard of in the Making Movies Out of Books business–is a thing of pain and beauty.  The three leads do a wonderful job of portraying the tumult of teenage life and offering lines that might seem a bit silly in any other context with a large amount of unabashed sincerity that reminds me very much of what it was like to be a teenager. Everything felt so big then. The whole of my life was in front of me, yet every feeling I had and every slight I suffered felt like the last time. I held on to everything, worried that without any of it the rest of my life would unravel empty. In the movie, it’s Patrick (the amazing Ezra Miller, whom I’ve developed quite the crush on) who plays these things out the best, trying to maintain his air of ease and amusement while dealing with an unhealthy relationship that is eating away at him.

The movie broke open my heart and then sewed it up again. I laughed. I cried. I sobbed like a child. The book, which I finished on a plane on my way to Boston this past weekend, is something else entirely.

It’s unusual that a movie affects me more than a book, but I did not leave the book with the same sense of catharsis and hope that clung to me after the movie. In this case I’m tempted to say that the movie got there first, but I don’t think that’s it. I tried to leave the movie out of my reading of the book entirely, knowing that they’re two very different things. The format of the book left me stilted for a large part of it. It’s composed of first person, epistolary, observations from a young man just trying to figure out himself and the world around him. He seems to be a pretty reliable narrator when it comes to everyone but himself, because he’s not trying to persuade us to think things about these people, simply documenting the ways he interacts with them and the how that makes him feel. And maybe that’s it. Because he feels so removed from even the things he’s directly involved in it sometimes reads like a case study of modern youth. I didn’t quite feel the love he said he had for them for most of it.

That’s also one of it’s strengths, though, and the reason I wish I’d read it in ‘99. Because Charlie is viewing everyone through a window you get to see a lot of things that you probably wouldn’t see at all were the book written in another format. The people around him are in messy relationships that leave them vulnerable in different ways and are, for the large part, unable or unwilling to let go of them, even though they might hurt less in the long run.

I wish I’d known in high school that sometimes girls would have boyfriends that hit them and that sometimes girls would make hard decisions about their mistakes and their bodies. I wish I’d known, in a more than academic sense, that sometimes boys fell in love with other boys and that sometimes girls want to ‘explore’ lesbian relationships and that it’s okay. Normal even. I wish that I’d known that it wasn’t a weakness to cling to the small amount of love you think you have, because that’s what everyone does, even well into their adult years. And I wish I’d learned earlier that sometimes you have to laugh, because there’s nothing else you can do. The thing that the book does in an amazing, resonant way, that the movie doesn’t quite do for me, is normalize a whole host of different relationships that would have saved me time and agony had I just known that I wasn’t alone.

And that’s the whole point of it, really. None of us are alone, even when we think we are or want to be. Someone has lived this life before us. Someone has left behind instructions. We just don’t always know how to find them, and even if we do, we’re sometimes too proud and stubborn to believe that we’re not different and special and that the things that happened before aren’t going to help us.

Not only do we accept the love we think we deserve, but we accept the lives we think we’re owed, and we’re not always fair to ourselves. That’s a lesson I really could have used at sixteen, if only I hadn’t been too busy being afraid of the things I wanted to take them.

 

My friend Matthew Bowers and I discuss the film version in more depth over at Wrong Opinions About Movies, so give that a listen if you’re interested in all the ways that film broke me and put me back together, because that would be another 5,000 words if I tried to nail them down here.

.022 – He’s here. The Bat…man.

With two short hours until the official east coast release of The Dark Knight Rises, my entire twitter feed is bursting with excitement.  But this isn’t a fresh flurry of twitterpated fans, this has been ramping up for months now as marketing people and DC employees have worked tirelessly to not let us forget that the most important Bat-event of our lives is about to rain down on us like glass from an art museum ceiling.  Everything everywhere has been all Batman all the time.

I’d be remiss in pretending like I haven’t been a part of that deluge.  The Wrong Opinions About Movies podcast crew worked with a whole host of guests over the last two months on a project we’ve affectionately dubbed Batcon.  We watched almost every Batman movie and then unpacked each one in a mini-episode along with some stellar friends.  My personal favorite of the bunch is the Batman Forever episode, which we recorded with comedian Andrew Sanford.  Nothing says the universe loves me quite like Val Kilmer in the cowl.

Since we started this immersion course in a universe I already have a lot of love for, I’ve been doing some thinking about Batman and the movies they make about him.  Watching anything back to back to back will throw the things that you dislike into sharp relief with the things you do, and I’ve been turning over in my head a list of things I’d like to never see in a Batman movie again.  (The Waynes dying in an alley, Barbara as Not A Gordon, ice puns, etc.)  But along with that I’ve also been thinking about the things that I’m pining for.  The comics universe that has been built around Bruce Wayne and his made family is massive.  Why do we make the same movies over and over again?  It seems that no matter who writes the movies we get Bruce’s manpain, several villains picked out of a hat, and an added dash of origin.  According to the Wiki article there are 16 current members of the more or less immediate Bat-family.  (I would argue whether some of them are appropriate, but that’s a whole other post entirely.)

So, with this information, what other movies could we write that would engage the lay-audiences while not boring those of us who spend way too much time thinking about Gotham anyway?  I’ve come up with five I’d like to see.

1. Under the Red Hood
This is an easy starting place, because Warner Brothers already released a nicely done animated version of the story line straight to home video in 2010.  The average film going audience isn’t going to be familiar with Jason Todd (or any Robin that isn’t Dick Grayson), but it wouldn’t be hard to compress his meeting with Bruce–trying to steal the rims from the Batmobile–and his capture and subsequent ‘murder’ at the hands of the Joker.  The fact that Jason comes back to Gotham as a hard hitting, life taking, smarm monster does more to dent Bruce’s self-worth than Poison Ivy, Bane, and Mr. Freeze can together.  And Jason’s lack of redemption in Bruce’s eyes would be an excellent driving force for a sequel.

2. Batman Beyond
Even the curlicue of storytelling that comic books call continuity has to admit that Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman forever.  Eventually he’ll grow old and resign himself to a desk.  Enter Terry McGinnis, the Batman of the future.  I’ll leave you to search for the main plot points in the wikipedia article if you’re curious, but Batman Beyond could have all of the elements that we as a society fear the most these days: corporate conglomerates, chemical weapons, a whole gang devoted to the memory of The Joker.  Batman Beyond as a movie would be the most radical change you could make at this point, since it would leave us with very few remembered characters.  It would be a drastic pull away from the Batman movies we’ve grown comfortable with.

3. Nightwing
Eventually, Dick Grayson grew up, and much more gracefully than Chris O’Donnell ever let on.  At the age of eighteen he was dismissed from his Robin duties and took on the mantle of Nightwing (along with some truly tragic costumes).  This is a movie that could happen in Gotham, but it could also introduce his part time home of Bludhaven, where Dick went to get away from Gotham and be out from under Batman’s teflon wing.  He worked on the police force during the day, so the investment in keeping his alter ego and his true ego separate would have even more at stake than Bruce, whose eccentricities can often be played off as just what money does.  The great thing about a Nightwing movie would be the shift in tone.  Dick is very much not Bruce Wayne, even when they’re together.  Given room to breathe his character is inspiring and responsible while also being a bit silly and game for a laugh.  Even for the short time that Dick wore the Batman mantle himself he let hope and his heart rule out over his head.

4. Oracle
Ladies!  There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not a female superhero can carry a film franchise.  I like to think that one could, given the right writer.  (If the universe could arrange for Joss Whedon to write the Black Widow movie, I’d be eternally in its debt.)  And even without the ‘right’ writer, Barbara Gordon is so much more than a cape or a character confined to a wheelchair.  As Oracle Babs is a fighter, a librarian, and the world’s greatest communications/research gal a detective, Suicide Squad, or group of female vigilantes could have.  Our daily lives are increasingly falling prey to the technology we let in, and Barbara’s ability to manipulate that, as well as her physical prowess, could make for a compelling and modern story.  The studio could even include the events of The Killing Joke if it had to, but I’d rather her story be more about strength and intellect and less about depression and fear.

5.  Batwoman  
Ladies on ladies!  This addition is even more personally indulgent than the one about Nightwing.  Kate Kane is my current favorite member of the Bat-family.  She’s relatively new, having been introduced as the current incarnation of Batwoman in 2006, but her story is timely.  She was a student at the United States Military Academy when she was outed as having a relationship with a woman.  When confronted by the higher ups and asked to just deny the claims so she could stay, she leaves her class ring on his desk and quits.  This happens several months before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed for us in the real world.  From there she goes on to fight the ills of the world the best way she knows how.  Batwoman’s stories tend to have a more supernatural element than a lot of the other tales told about the Bat-family, so they would probably appease the paranormal romance crowd.  She’s contrary while holding strong convictions and she refuses to cowtow to Batman, even though she’s working within his city.  She’s honestly, and I have been holding off on saying this for a little over a thousand words now, the hero we need and deserve.  In my eyes, anyway.

Above all, I think the key to introducing new Bat-family characters to the movie going audiences is to not doubt the movie going audiences.  For the most part, we’re not stupid.  We are introduced to new characters and new stories every year and have no problems taking in their hopes and fears and journeys of discovery.  Why should it be any different with properties that might be familiar?  What do you think?  Do you disagree vehemently with the stories I’d like to see?  Would you hate or love these movies?  Which stories would you like to see them tell about Batman and his caped cohorts?  I can, as you might have noticed, talk about Batman until the Bat-cows come home.  So sound off!  But if you post spoilers for the movie, please give us a heads up so we can all avoid them until we’ve seen it.

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