I Spit on Your Grave – A Review

There is an interesting back story to the film I Spit on Your Grave.  In 1974, film editor Meir Zarchi witnessed the aftermath of a brutal rape in a park and tried to help the victim as best he could.  Like many writers, the way that he chose to process what he had seen and went through was to write.  In 1978, he released the movie Day Of The Woman, a film with some heady notions of being empowering to women.  It had a few scenes cut to get an R rating and went on to fade into cinematic obscurity.  However, in 1980, the film was picked up by a distributor and re-marketed as exploitation cinema. The deleted scenes added back, it garnered an X rating, was given a new title, I Spit On Your Grave—complete with a sensationalizing poster—and went on to become 1981’s top-selling video release in the US.

The plot involves a writer, Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), on a retreat from her New York apartment to a cabin in Connecticut, living out the writer’s fantasy of penning her Great American Novel.   Four local men harass, stalk, and rape her.  She returns as an angel of vengeance, doling out punishments fitting their crimes.  We’ve seen such a revenge plot hundreds of times.  However, it is the leering nature of the film which has earned it such infamy.  Of the movie’s 100 minute running time, the first 45 are spent lingering on the chase and rape, the last 30 on her revenge killings.  So basically the rape and killing are only separated by a scene of Jennifer in church to ask for forgiveness for the murders she plans to commit.

Like the briefly glimpsed witness who opted to not do anything to stop Jennifer’s assault, the viewing of this movie comes with certain moral responsibilities.  Horror too often prides itself on being the “lowest common denominator” genre, not built for rigorous idea exploration.  Rarely is there a true examination of the human condition. “I’m doing an analysis of man’s inhumanity to man” usually amounts to puerile masturbatory fantasies of rape and torture justified by someone getting their comeuppance in the end.

We all have to figure out what to do with our very real emotions of hurt, anger, and the need for justice.  We see the evil and injustice perpetrated around us, to people we love, and we cry out.  It brings to mind the idea of imprecatory prayers.  Imprecatory Psalms are those petitions for misfortune, or curses, on another; the righteous asking God to carry out His justice. They are heartfelt, often angry sounding pleas for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the wicked.

Imprecatory Psalms were recorded and preserved for use in public worship; a pattern for Israel as well as the cries of individual’s hearts.  For example:

“When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.” Psalms 109:7-13

God big enough for us to be real with? We are called to be authentic. I don’t know if there’s any such thing as being too authentic, because since we are broken vessels, the fact that we are a mess is sort of taken into account. We do have to wrestle with is whether or not it is the loving thing to do to pray for God to crush our enemies. Religion does not have a monopoly on morality, and the desire to see justice done unites the religious and non-religious alike.

Radical hatred is the right response to radical evil. We need to be angered by evil, by injustice, by the wrongs of the world. Evil needs to be resisted, opposed, even wept over. Rage is a perfectly natural, valid first response. It is human way to deal with our pent up fury. It is doubly an appropriate response if we do it before God, the God of Love and Justice. We have to expunge these “dark emotions” from ourselves. Part of forgiveness process is us venting our grief, frustration, and anger, only then can we continue with the healing/forgiveness process. Imprecatory prayers help put things in perspective. The words are, and should be, shocking to hear.

We continue to move in a Christian response by looking at circumstances in light of Christ’s mission. There is a tougher idea to reconcile: no one is beyond divine grace. We are commanded to love our enemies, returning a blessing for a curse. While often shocking, imprecatory prayers allow us to put things in God’s hands. Ultimately our prayer becomes “God forgive them and transform us.” A Christian response is moving toward reconciliation, a forgiving of our enemy. Grace doesn’t preclude justice being done. Call evil deeds what they are: evil. We must protect the innocent. However, our actions must move toward redemption.

Not that anyone expected I Spit on Your Grave to be anything more than what it is.  Not especially bright characters portrayed by terrible actors.  Trite dialogue recited to unclear direction.  This isn’t a misunderstood feminist film, it’s violence and sexually exploitive imagery reveled in for its own sake.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – A Review

Oliver Stone’s last two films, World Trade Center and W, continue his career theme of taking political and real world events and crafting compelling films out of them.  Obviously, the recent economic downturn would be not only his perfect muse, but also an opportunity to dust off one of his most iconic characters, Michael Douglas’ hugely charismatic (and Oscar-winning) villain, Gordon Gekko.

The sequel to his seminal work, Wall Street—a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of unchecked ambition and greed—Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps lacks the bite one might expect for a film seemingly positioned to critique the attitudes and mores of those responsible.  We get a peek inside the power corridors of global finance, but the depths of this is not really plumbed.

One almost gets the feeling Stone feels that Gekko became more of an inspiration to the very board room titans and Wall Street power players rather than a mirror to their amoral ways.  However, considering the real world context of financial ruin, too close an examination of complex economic concepts might not be palatable for audiences.

Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps deploys Douglas sparingly, which has the audience longing for more screen time from him.  He’s just as smart, crafty, though wiser. He at first seems to be a standard repentant sinner as he meets a young trader named Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) who wants to marry Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).  Jakes mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), kills himself after being squeezed out of his own firm.  From there the movie angles to put Gekko back in play.

Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps explores America’s value system when it comes to our pursuit of wealth and the costs of consumerism.  Too often we believe that if we can just get that dream, that castle, that we’ll have the time and the opportunity to make up the costs of what it took to get them. We have faith in the belief that once we attain the dream, everything will work out. A mirror is held up to the value system that sustains this dream:

Consumerism – From the cars we drive, to where we live, to the clothes we wear, we have bought into a lust of life.

Materialism – that quest for more stuff that shrivels people’s souls and empties their lives. We, like any good Americans, are discontent consumers, constantly on the move to satisfy our inner longings.

Entitlement – The bastard son of our lust of life is a perpetuation of a sense of the need for immediate gratification, perhaps even a sense of entitlement, as far too many of us are duped into pursuing these things.

(Hyper-)Individualism – this “me first” narcissism which fragments community.

This leads to an economy fueled by the misery and degradation of others. But Jesus didn’t die for lower taxes, smaller government, pro-business policies, and an individualistic worldview.  If your religion is to mean anything, then be about the poor, the “least of these”.  Life is not about being controlled by money, things, or greed; but about relationships.

Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps is smart and moves with a surety of someone who not only knows their craft, but also the hallways of brokerages (Stone’s father was a stockbroker). It teeters on pressing home the world it critiques, but doesn’t tear into it with relish.  Maybe that’s another function of a repentant Gekko.

The Color Purple – A Review

Nothing can capture the rich, lyrical prose of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which details the life of a rural black family on a Georgia farm starting in 1909.  The novel took home the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and proved difficult to craft a script from.  Eventually one was written by Menno Meyjes after Walker deemed her own draft unsatisfactory.  With its many layered themes—from racial identity to misogyny to sexuality to God—it is a deeply personal work that requires a deeply personal movie.

This isn’t quite that movie.  Obviously after many commercial hits, Spielberg had hit a point in his career where he wanted to be taken seriously as a master craftsman.  Steven Spielberg means well, but I think that’s part of what undercuts the film.  The other is that there’s a narrative/emotional distance between the film and the audience.  Like with the movie Amistad, the motions and production of the movie hit all the right notes, but there is a … connection to the subject matter that isn’t there.  When that personal connection is there, he can craft Schindler’s List.  When it’s not, he produces The Color Purple.

A gentle, well-intentioned whitewash—using generalities, character short cuts, and a whiff of paternal condescension—in addition to a “sexwash”, as many of the novels complex sexual themes are diluted down.  Alice Walker’s vivid characters still crackle with life despite the script.  At the center is Celie (Whoopi Goldberg).  At its heart, The Color Purple is a love story between Celie and her sister, Nettie, from whom she is separated at childhood, and, later in life, the blues singer Shug Avery.  In the novel, Celie’s story is told through a series of letters, some never sent, many never received, most addressed to God.  As a young girl, she gives birth to two children and is then married into a life of servitude to a cruel, distant man she can refer to only as Mr (Danny Glover).

Whoopi Goldberg, in her debut performance (if only she would keep picking such interesting and meaningful roles, as she never quite blossomed into the career she should have had), had a difficult job to do.  Despite the pathology porn aspect of Celia’s life, she has to gain our sympathy and propel what could be an utterly bleak story forward.

It’s stories like this that make me think that one of the greatest miracles in the history of the church (after Jesus’ resurrection) is the emergence of the black church. That somehow Christianity took root within the context of slavery and took off. At the time, Christianity was used as a weapon, pure and simple. While some people may have legitimately wanted to evangelize the “heathens,” for the most part, Christianity was used as a means of control – used to strip away any trace of the native religion–from animism to Islam–black folks were forced to unlearn this aspect of their culture.

There is a biblical story that can be used to illustrate this process. During the time of Exile, when the Israelites had been taken into captivity to Babylon, their best and brightest were re-educated. They had to adopt .the Babylonian culture, learn the Babylonian language, learn the Babylonian religion, and take on new (Babylonian) names. This is the context for the story of Daniel and the lion’s den, for example.

With American slavery, the African way of life and belief was over-ridden with a new doctrinal system, one twisted for the purpose of transformation and intended to be a spiritual opiate. Mixed in with the teachings about God–with the passages on the master-slave relationship emphasized–were fun facts like how black people were created less than a white man. How black people (via Ham) were cursed to be slaves. How black people ought to be thankful for them having been taken in by their benevolent masters.  Yet God can use the best intentions, failed methods, and even evil and unjust acts for the furtherance of His own ends. He did so with the crucifixion of Christ. He did so with slavery and the black church.

Hope is what sustains us during dark times.  There’s hope because Christ gave us a simple mission: to join Him in being a blessing to others. Reality says that not everyone will buy into that mission, even those who profess to believe in Christ, but I have hope that it’s a right and true mission. Our hope isn’t a “wait until we get to heaven and it will all work out” hope. It’s a “the kingdom begins now” hope. It’s the hope that says in light of Christ reconciling us to God, an act of supreme love, we are to love others. It’s the hope that says just as He reached out to the forgotten, those “outside” the establishment (religious or civil), we are to care for the “least of these”, widows, orphans, the poor.

Spielberg’s film is a carefully calibrated production, dodging the shame and crimes of racism in favor of a tale of the perverse trials black women faced.  It’s a testament to his consummate skill as a director that even with such a subtle failing, Spielberg can deliver The Color Purple.

A Few Back Dumped Comic Book Reviews

Rather than dump nearly a dozen new reviews into my blog stream, I’ve opted to back dump them.  When I’m on a tear of focusing on one topic, I get all self-conscious, especially with comic book reviews as I can only imagine that the tiniest fraction of my regular readership cares about comic book review.  So rather than give two weeks of blog space to reviews, I’ve backdated them so that it doesn’t necessarily look like I took nearly two months off from blogging regularly.  (This is me thinking too hard about this and being too clever by half.)

Anyway, click on whatever reviews you are interested in:

Ultimate Avengers 3 #4

Shadowland #1

Batman:  The Return/Batman Inc.

X-Factor #211

New Avengers #6

Avengers #7

Captain America #612

Batwoman #0

Flash #6

Brightest Day #15

Freedom Fighters #3

Superman for All Seasons

Superman for All Seasons – A Review

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artists: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC

Superman for All Seasons takes us back to a different age, the Smallville world of Midwest values and sensibilities.  The book is filled with a sense of nostalgia that’s both tender and poignant, carrying a real emotional punch.  This is the hallmark of Loeb and Sale, evoking the humanity of their characters in books like Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue, and Hulk: Gray.

“It’s not nearly as hard as learning you have limitations as it is learning how to work with  them.” –Pa Kent

Each character in their own way reflect the idea of what it must be like for Superman to come to terms with who he is and why he does what he does.  Inadvertently, they speak as much about their  own woundedness and expectations—how they see him, see themselves, measure themselves against him—as they do him.

“You may be able to do things nobody else can do but that doesn’t make it any less hard to be who you want to be.” –Lana Lang

And, “super” or not, Superman/Clark Kent struggles with the very essence of his humanity:

-he looks for a place to belong, to call home

-he struggles with loneliness

-he bears the unspoken weight of never being able to do enough and be an example for everyone

“Being the most powerful man in the world means nothing if you are all alone.” –Lex Luthor

To draw Biblical allusions, I’m reminded of the concept known as “the Messianic Consciousness.”  Not all scholars believe this theory, but the principle works like this: Jesus gradually grew into his knowledge and role as the Messiah. The same idea is at work here.  Not only do we see Clark Kent coming to terms with his body and powers, and the responsibility of being different/having special gifts; but we also see him wrestle with what he is to do with those gifts.  The burden of the fact that being multi-gifted means that we are that much more obligated to use those gifts.  To whom more is given, more is expected.

“These are choices each of us makes, not only to do good, but to inspire good in others.” –Lana Lang

Superman for All Seasons is not filled with the typical action slam bam that fills many superhero comics.  Tim Sale’s art captures the essence of Superman, both his humanity and the icon.  The story is told in seasons, each season representing a character’s point of view:  Pa Kent (Spring), Lois Lane (Summer), Lex Luthor (Fall), and Lana Lang (Winter).  If Lori Lemaris had narrated spring, we’d have completed the L.L. initialed associates of Superman theme.  But Superman for All Seasons has always had the feel of a special book.   One that should be appreciated for its simple yet profound storytelling and its elegant art.

Freedom Fighters #3 – A Review

“American Nightmare Part Three”


Published by DC Comics

Price: $2.99

Previously:  The vice president has been kidnapped.  In exchange for her liberty, the Freedom Fighters have been dispatched to gather a number of artifacts said to be part of a doomsday weapon built by the Confederacy during the Civil War.  The first artifact was located in Devil’s Tower, which also happened to house four ancient elemental demons called the Renegades.  Having accidentally released the Renegades, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters fought to contain the demons.  Not only did they fail, but they also paid a terrible price.

I remember loving the All Star Squadron when I was a wee lad and that’s the book I couldn’t help thinking of as I read Freedom Fighters.  But I read All Star Squadron from the beginning and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to drop into the middle of the book, into a sprawling cast of characters I was unfamiliar with, and try to navigate through the story.

The big problem with the Freedom Fighters is that as characters, the reader can’t tell them apart.  They might as well all be wearing the same scanty wardrobe, because they have little to distinguish their personalities.  What’s worse, none of them seem especially likeable.  With all of the griping and jerkiness displayed, one could easily use words rhyming with “sassbowls” and “richy” to describe them.  Although, it’s easy to imagine that on teams of super powered individuals, most of the people might not be graduates of Miss Manner and may not know how to play well with others.  They tend to need a large personality/model to keep them in line (Superman, Captain America, and apparently Uncle Sam, who is absent in this issue).  It also could be that the writers haven’t found their stride with the characters.  The characters haven’t been fleshed out enough to have achieved their individual voices.

On the plus side, this issue was the opposite extreme of an in-between issue.  There was a lot going on:  the elemental rampage, the loss of Uncle Sam, the team regrouping, conspiracy theories abounding, and a new villain introduced.  With so many moving parts and new subplots, it’s easy to see how some things slipped through the cracks.  Like the Human Bomb being mentioned as missing then suddenly being there (someone needs to No-Prize that).  Also, some teamwork would have been nice, since this team is supposed to be established.  Also, one member dispatches the Renegades single-handed with her basic power that she somehow didn’t think to use.

“I’m starting to think we’re in over our heads.” –Human Bomb

The only thing that stuck out was the idea of conspiracy theories to explain away seemingly disconnected events.  We have made idols of safety and control in our lives.  We seek a context of understanding for that which makes no sense. A lot of what horror attempts to do is make sense of evil. Evil is irrational and uncontrollable; true acts of evil are so irrational that conspiracy theories make sense.   We don’t like the feeling of helplessness that life often leaves us.

Freedom Fighters has problems with its pacing at turns being scattershot in its action and direction, and like a Michael Bay movie, not allowing a scene to play out before cutting to the next. The team dynamics still need to be figured out and the people behind the masks need to be revealed (as we learn nothing about them from their lame quips and clichés.  It’s a book still in its design phase, probably given birth a little prematurely.

Flash #6 – A Review

Written by:  Geoff Johns

Art by:  Francis Manapul

Published by:  DC Comics

Price:  $2.99

Fact #1:  My introduction to the Flash came with the post-Crisis on Infinite Earth, Mike Baron and Jackson Guice’s Wally West variety.  I became an even a bigger fan of Mark Waid’s defining run.  So I was never much of a Barry Allen guy.

Fact #2:  Geoff Johns is the DC equivalent of Marvel’s Brian Michael Bendis.  The publisher’s defining voice, who seems to have his hand in everything, and like the aforementioned Mark Waid (or Kurt Busiek for that matter), can deliver the classic super hero tale, infusing them with the essence of what we love about super HEROES.

With those two facts in mind, the dialogue and action sequences flow nicely together in this issue.  We get a real sense of fluid movement without rows of talking heads filling us in on the plot.  Every time I randomly pick up an issue of the Flash, he seems to be up against a variation of his rogues gallery.  They always felt kind of like it takes six lame villains to create a legitimate threat.  On the whole, Johns handles the time travel elements adeptly (Fact #3:  I’m always leery of time travel stories because we’re usually left with plot holes one could park motor homes in by the end) and almost succeeds in making us believe the Tops convoluted motivations and plan.  Almost.  Cause there do seem to be a few less convoluted ways the Top could have handled things.  Also less than successful was John’s handling of the falsely imprisoned kid.  Everything was wrapped up with a tidy boy and comes off a little too intentional about tugging at heartstrings.  Yet, all things considered, these are nits we can live with.

“You remember what you always tell me about the past?  It’s just that … the past.  And you’re always focused what’s ahead.” –Iris

I was struck by the laudable idea behind the time police and their mission to eliminate crime by going back in time and stopping it.  Yet, I also couldn’t help but think about how much we learn and our formed by our regrets and tragedies.  How this life is hard and waving a magic wand, as much as we may want to sometimes to erase our adversity and pain, ultimately wouldn’t teach us how to navigate that part of the human experience.

It brings to mind a quote from Danny DeVito’s character in the movie The Big Kahuna who put it this way: “I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”

Rather than erase events so that they never happened, it seems more “human” to learn from them, repair where we can, and continue to join in God’s mission to bring restoration and reconciliation.  Everything else feels like a shortcut wherein we learn nothing.

“You gave him his future back.  And to him, that future is rife with potential.” –Iris

This issue also seems like it will be one of those issues where collectors come back and scour for clues as hints about the Road to Flashpoint, 2011’s big event, are doled out.  We know that something bad is on the horizon, and something about time travel has been planted in Barry Allen’s head.  Did I mention that Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato art kicks major butt and every page explodes?

Brightest Day #15 – A Review

“Whatever happened to the Manhunter from Mars?”

Writers: Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi

Artists: Patrick Gleason and Scott Clark

Publisher: DC

Price:  $2.99

Once dead, twelve heroes and villains were resurrected by a white light expelled from deep within the center of the earth.  The reason behind their rebirth remains a mystery.  But it will not be a mystery for long.  This is the Brightest day.

This issue focuses on the Martian Manhunter who is completely under the control of D’Kay D’Razz and finds himself in that story perennial, living out his dream alternate life.  Twenty-five years in the future, J’onn is surrounded by his fellow Justice League members as he is being honored by the entire Martian population for finally bringing peace.  This peace is shattered as his friends are brutally murdered one by one.  Employing his detective skills, he saves Superman even as his subconscious fights against the delusion.

“There is always someone who celebrates the victory of fear.  There is always someone who wants to shut off the light by destroying the good within us. The good among us.” –Martian Manhunter

The whole theme of the issue revolves around the idea of resurrection to new life.  For the longest time, the Martian Manhunter lived with the memory of having buried his race and being the last of his people (giving him a bit of a bond with Kal-El, Superman, in terms of being the last of his people).  So for most of his life, he saw things and operated from his old wound.  His identity was that of the last son of Mars and he struggles with the shift of being the first son of Mars.

Letting go of the past and accepting our new identity in Christ may be one of the toughest things we do in our spiritual journeys.  We tend to continue to see ourselves in terms of our sin and failures rather than in the grace and forgiveness that has been bestowed upon us.  We so often hear about God’s divine love and acceptance, how nothing can separate us from His love, but do we believe that?  Most times, we really don’t.  To think that God knows me in the deepest possible way, loves me unconditionally, celebrates who I am, and wants me to grow into who I am, that’s the kind of love we can hardly fathom.

It’s a matter of getting our identity straight.  We are known by God.  We are loved by God.  Yet we don’t always believe that and don’t always see how it plays out in our lives.  When our faith can’t get traction in our lives, we become stuck.  We misplace our identity, things get shifted, then our priorities change.  We want comfort, personal happiness, and the right relationship with that special someone rather than being a living billboard for God’s glory and love.  We end up not living up to our potential like we should, thus we need to keep being reminded of our true identity:  we’re children of God, known for exactly who we are, and loved anyway!

And He identifies with our humanity.  Christ’s example on the cross left him exposed for everyone to see.  Naked for people to mock, spit upon, and pour their own self-contempt on Him.  Yet Jesus willingly embraced it and came through the other side.  His wounded place exposes shame for what it is.  Exposed, trusting and with boldness, we’re free and ready to love others in our weakness.  To live out of that reality of His example.  We put our faith where it’s supposed to be and take on our true identity.

“But no matter what you are, there’s only one simple question you have to ask yourself that really means anything and that is:  Did I do more good than bad?” –Batman

In the end, though, nothing happens.  We have a story that might entertain for an issue, as much as any It’s a Wonderful Life riffs might, if you’re happy with “it was all a dream” type stories.  And then there’s the art.  With eight inkers, there is a lot of incongruity, to put it generously, to the artwork.  Some characters were drawn poorly, though if we were to continue the generosity, this may have been a hint that something was up.  Otherwise, it feels like a filler issue for the actual Brightest Day storyline and when we’re in the throes of a major crossover event, for what comics cost, filler is frowned upon.

Batwoman #0 – A Review

“Beyond Shadow”

Written by:  J.H. Williams III, W. Hayden Blackman

Art by:  J.H. Williams III, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend

Published by:  DC Comics

Cover Price:  $2.99

Continuing their attempts to diversify their cast of characters, DC gave us Batwoman, a prominent, female, lesbian superhero.  But in the hands of Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III during her run in Detective Comics, this was more than tokenism or identity grandstanding or a publicity stunt.  Now J.H. Williams III takes her to her own series, co-written  with W. Haden Blackman, and with artists Amy Reeder and Richard Friend.

In this issue, we are presented with beautiful and elegant artwork, as anyone who ever picked up an issue of Promethea might have expected.  Moreso, we’re given an overview of the complex nature of this character, as well as insight into Bruce Wayne as Batwoman in many ways reflects him.

Employing the device of having Bruce Wayne/Batman investigate the latest addition to the Batman family adopted during his absence, new readers learn about her as he does.  He investigates the methods and fighting techniques of the new Batwoman while at the same time tailing Kate Kane, her suspected alter ego.  The book uses Williams art to follow Batwoman stacked above Reeder’s art who follows the Kate sequences.  Such a juxtaposition is both dramatic and effective.

What also comes through is the strong grasp of the character William’s has.  She comes off as both memorable and unique, completely different from the rest of the Bat-familyl, and someone a reader wants to get to know better.

“More importantly, she has that one thing I can’t teach.  That hole inside her that can’t ever be filled…it gives her the drive to do this.” –Batman

The thing about both Batman and Batwoman is that they are fully human. That is, not being super-powered, it seems almost believable that any of us could be them with enough training and dedication. They are more relatable, their struggles mirror our struggles.  Many of us are haunted by our pasts, feeling like we can’t get past mistakes we’ve made and people we’ve hurt.  We have that hole.

All of the things that make them so dysfunctional, their woundedness is part of what makes them tick.    That hole, that woundedness, can take many forms and often people try to self-medicate that hole in a variety of ways, from addictions to, apparently, throwing on spandex and running across a city’s skyscapes.

There is also the core belief that we can’t live without the self-medication. Life shifts. Gaining and losing people, places, and things leaving feelings of resentment, anger, self-protection, and abandonment in its wake, losses remind us that all isn’t as it should be. They remind us that life is painful. How do we experience and react to that pain? Sometimes we numb ourselves, medicate, act out sexually. Old wounds, be they lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves or quietly trying to please a distant father (because his opinion of you has shaped who you are and how you are) need to be confronted. Expecting something from certain relationships that never materialized, disillusioned with losses. Each loss presents a choice: passage to anger, blame, depression, resentment or passage to a greater life and freedom. For them, their unspoken belief is that their woundedness becomes redeemed in their mission.

The thing is, brokenness can be redeemed. Real love risks and offers redemption and when loved well, we’re taught about God. In all of our brokenness and (self-) deception, in all of our brokenness and desperation, we can come before the Lord and be fully accepted.

The only problem with Batwoman #0 is that there is not enough of it.  Coming in at 16 pages, it’s not much of a book, with almost half of its content being previews for upcoming issues of the title and other Batman books.  Other than paying so much for so little, we do have a treat of a book and a promising journey with a fascinating character.

Batman: The Return #1/Batman Incorporated #1

“Planet Gotham”

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  David Finch

Publisher:  DC Comics

Price:  $4.99

Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylum, JLA, X-Men) makes a major shift in the status quo of the Batman mythos  after he has Bruce Wayne publicly announce that he has been funding the Batman’s war on crime.  While this may seem reminiscent of Tony Stark’s revelation of being Iron Man, this actually seems to be the plan of Batman hinted at in Mark Waid’s classic mini-series, Kingdom Come.  A world of multiple Batmans and increased tech to keep the streets of Gotham safe (also the plan Batman would return to in the sequel to Dark Knight).  In other words, it’s still Batman working his same plan only thinking bigger.

Like with Batman/Bruce Wayne, Batman:  The Return pretty much declares this new vision and direction while at the same time hinting that there will be a shift in tone to the dark, brooding Batman we have come to know over the last few decades.  We see the obligatory check in with the Bat Family, starting with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, entrusting them with protecting the streets of Gotham.

“Starting today we fight ideas with better ideas.  The idea of crime with the idea of Batman.” –Batman

In a lot of ways, Batman/Bruce Wayne has shifted into visionary mode, a person with so many ideas that it is difficult to keep up with them.  This in and of itself is a shift from the ultra-focused Batman we’ve come to know.  This Batman is … enthusiastic.  Before, folks were swept up in his mania; now they are carried along by his passion.  And it’s too early to see if this is a brilliant or fatally flawed plan, but Morrison displays a confidence in his handling of the characters as well as the story.  Like Batman/Bruce Wayne, Morrison brings a lot of ideas to the table, not all of them are carried off perfectly, such as his extended metaphor of the wounded bat that opens the book.

David Finch’s art, interpreted by Batt, Winn and Steigerwald, was dark and moody.  His art direction is both eye catching and engaging, creating a motion to the story.

“Mr. Unknown is Dead”

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  Yanick Paquette

Publisher:  DC Comics

Price:  $3.99

At first blush, my instinct, based on experience with tie-ins to mega events, screamed that if you bought one book, you wouldn’t need the other.  That is far from the case here.  If Batman:  The Return laid out the mission statement, Batman Incorporated is the test run.  And from early on, it’s apparent that there’s a new story telling sheriff in town.

We begin with a journey to Japan and a world of Japanese crime fighters.  A global vision has to have global stories.  However, the new direction wasn’t in the setting, but in the jovial atmosphere of the book.  There is a buoyant humor, not to mention the innuendo laced, Nick & Nora-esque dialogue between Batman and Catwoman.  It seems like Batman isn’t operating from the wounded little boy who lost his parents and whose heart was set on vengeance, but that of a man who had found a measure of healing from that pain.

I was not a fan of the art.  While Yanick Pacquette and Michel Lacombe ably handle both Selina Kyle and Japan, something about it didn’t quite appeal to me that I still can’t quite put my finger on.

“No one can run from death forever.” –Mighty Lord Death Man

We know (and I use the word “we” to refer to those of the comic book intelligentsia familiar with the origins of Batman) that it is the tragic loss of his parents at the hand of a street criminal, and his subsequent thirst for Justice, that drives him into his new life.

Batman has always been a dangerously focused character. The death of his parents at the hands of a criminal gave him a mission in life, but how he went about his mission has led writers to depict him as either a revenge-driven psychopath (continuing to punish the man who killed his parents) or an ardent pursuer of justice (pursuing a higher calling and mission). So this hero’s journey has always been as much internal as it was external.

Similarly, the church already has its mission, the missio Dei, joining in God’s mission to be a blessing to the world. We are called to a mission of reconciliation: one to another and one another to God. God’s reconciling act is centered on the cross, a gift of freedom. The resurrection is a sign that the powers have been defeated, though still active. The cross transforms our condition while also providing an example of hope. A faith with present-future components: the present reality lived in light of a future one. Being united in mission is a sanctifying process. To fight injustice and oppression; ministering to neighbors; not putting up fences or moving away develops disciplines needed for growth. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we practice Pentecost and live out the Gospel. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.  One that we need to think locally as well as globally in terms of how we carry it out.

The change in direction heralded by Batman:  the Return and Batman Incorporated is a welcome one, a great start to this series.  Face paced, funny, and filled with a vibrant energy (words I wouldn’t have expected to describe any Batman work these last few years), I hope this direction continues this strong for a long time.