So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #032: The Best of the Worst!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #032: The Best of the Worst!

If you need a gentle refresher as to my rules of these here listicles? Well then, partner… check out part one. Assuming you did and have come back? Welcome to my evil lair!

When it comes to the cream of the evil crop, I fretted feverishly over my particular placements. But after much deliberation, hung upside-down in an elaborate death trap? I feel like I’ve come to a sound conclusion. No further preamble needed; let’s get down to the best of the worst.

5. Danny DeVito/Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer/Catwoman — Batman Returns

Batman’s rogue gallery is hands down the best collection of wackos, nutbars, psychopaths, and ne’er-do-wells in comics. But how does one top Jack Nicholson’s turn as the clown prince of crime in 1989’s masterpiece, Batman? Well, you double the villainy!

To be clear: Batman Returns isn’t anywhere near as good as the original. It’s crammed from gills to gonads with odd set-pieces, unnecessary angst, and a third act more bloated than Danny DeVito’s Oswald Cobblepot by several orders of magnitude. But those gripes apart, I can say nary a bad word for either DeVito’s Penguin or Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.

With the aforementioned aviary-under-dweller, we are given a true freak turn on the classic Bat-villain. And rather than give us an elitist with a foul face, Tim Burton gifts us with a mutated face-biter— with a short temper and a predilection for biblical crimes by way of weaponized wildlife. It’s so far of left field from the original source material that I should dock points, but I’d be lying if I said that should matter given the sum of the parts. Oswald is tragic, black-hearted, and unforgettable.

Selina Kyle travels from sad-eyed secretary to a one-woman advertisement for BDSM across Returns. And with her rise from mouse to cat, she encapsulates the spirit of the character from the pages of Batman comics, with an original spin that hasn’t been bettered by any incarnation since. Catwoman vexes Bruce Wayne, and climbs across the scenery of the movie with the superhuman grace that could only be bestowed by super-powered mystical cat-resuscitation.

4. Michael B. Jordan / Killmonger — Black Panther

There’s so much to like in Black Panther. From the amazing visuals — like the sprawling vistas of Wakanda or the purple-tinted visits to the spirit world — straight through to the actual story of the movie… there’s no doubt in my mind why it was nominated for so many awards this past year.

But what should not be overlooked here is the performance and character of Killmonger, as presented by Michael B. Jordan. He is the fulcrum by which the movie rises above the rest of the comic movies to date. In Jordan’s portrayal, we are given a sympathetic villain whose methods and desires are rooted in an injustice we can almost side with. He’s a hardliner strategist looking for vindication and retribution for the sins of the past. That he not only bests T’Challa in wade-pool combat, but then immediately sets out to change Wakanda without monologuing his way into the throne is a boon of storytelling that Jordan presents coolly across the film. Simply put? He’s amazing, and makes each scene he’s in better.

3. Nick Stahl/Roark Jr. (Yellow Bastard) — Sin City

I recognized as I traveled up this list a need for a pure villain. Someone whose chaotic malice comes from the worst corners of humanity. And no one stepped up to the plate better to me then Nick Stahl as that Yellow Bastard. Underneath layers of perfectly comic-proportioned prosthetics, Stahl is still able to seethe, and make us cringe. With his false-bravado played against Frank Miller’s adapted noir dialogue… I dare say no villain on this list better represents a direct line from the paper he was printed on.

2. Michael Fassbender / Magneto — X-men First Class

Ian McKellen’s take on the mutant master of magnetism was a rare(ish) case of the actor being seen above the role as presented on screen. The gravitas played against Patrick Stewart’s Professor X made both leads in the the Singer-born X-men films feel more or less like brilliant stunt-casting. Two scene-stealers doing Summer Stock for shits and giggles.

I say this to contrast with Michael Fassbender’s take on the same villain in the First Class precursor to the aforementioned film. The portrayal in First Class feels worn-in, in the best way. Whereas McKellen’s Erik Lehnsherr floats above the crowds and looks down on the world through weary eyes… Fassbender presented a Magneto with the same elitism underneath a total disdain for human life. Look no further than his understated uttering of “…perfection” at the visage of an azure Mystique. Simply put, Fassbender made me feel Magneto’s pain, and understand his violent mission. While neither Magnetos would be given good sequels to further explore being the de facto nemesis to the X-men properly… I believe Michael Fassbender brought the powerful profligate of polarity to screen as close to perfect as one might want.

1. Heath Ledger / The Joker — The Dark Knight

Is there really an argument to be made here? What more can I add the litany of words drowning on the internet regarding Heath Ledger’s immersion as the most recognized villain in all of comic bookery? From his weird ambiguous voice, to the specific presentation of his well-staged chaotic lessons to the Gothamites in his way, the Joker of The Dark Knight is the standard by which any actor should study under when trying to own the films they terrorize. His Joker was a threat that couldn’t be punched harder to defeat. His actions spoke louder than his words, and rather than chew the scenery, Ledger sunk into it. He was a product of this realistic world. Somehow, he made the audience laugh at the improbability of a man fighting crime as a bat… through a Glasgow smile and greasepaint. That it was The Dark Knight‘s Joker that made me forget I was watching a comic book movie and just a great crime drama tips the scales above any other actor’s turn to the dark side. Except for…

Supreme Mark Hamill / The Joker — Batman, the Animated Series

And since it’s my rules kiddos, we’re going to just jump the shark to offer the singular performance that eclipses Ledger’s Joker; that of Mark Hamill’s portrayal of the crown prince of crime. Close your eyes, and imagine the Joker speaking. It’s Mark Hamill. And if it’s not? You’re doing a disservice to your subconscious.

From the sing-songy laugh that can ooze down, and spike up chaotically with a flip of a vocal chord, to the graveling grousing from being foiled again… Mark Hamill owns the Joker. Everyone else truly is just renting it. And no other actor or actress holds a candle to the inferno that Hamill represents as the comic book villain.

 

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #031: The Best of the Worst!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #031: The Best of the Worst!

What’s good about writing these listicles is that I’m able to cover a ton of ground in a short(ish) amount of time. As such, I’ve covered the worst of the worst when it comes to comic book movie villainy. It stands then, that I should swing the pendulum the other way to detail my favorite ne’er-do-wells of cinematic comic bookery, right? Well, once again, you don’t have a say.

The Rules: Much like last time, when I formed this ranking, I took into account a few criteria. I’m covering only the main antagonist of comic book films starting from 1978’s Superman. I look to the actual performance/portrayal. Did I believe I was watching a character or just a good actor chewing the scenery?  I also like to compare the on-screen portrayal against the origins of the on-paper version of the character — where I like to see a positive convergence of the tentpoles of a given wrongdoer from their pulpy origins emboldened by the advantages offered by the silver screen. Beyond those basics, I always look towards the actual fights/schemes/plans that pair the main villain against his or her nemesis (those stupid super heroes everyone loves so much). I really like to see both the savagery and the sorcery, if you will, of the baddie being bad.

Here then, are my picks. Damn the innocent.

  1. Michael Keaton / The Vulture — Spider-Man: Homecoming

Straight out of the gate, I’ll admit I wanted to put Mr. Keaton higher on the list. Spider-Man: Homecoming was really mostly a vehicle for Tom Holland’s pitch-perfect friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. But it was because of this, Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is such a delight. Choosing to lean into his lower register (but not freaky Birdman range, thankfully) and sinister sneers, Vulture in Homecoming is an understated nemesis. What earns him a spot on my list, more than anything, is the intelligent plotting and drive of Toomes. Unburdened with the whole anti-aging pseudo-science of the original source material, we get a villain who truly had proper motivation. In the wake of The Avengers here was a man screwed out of his livelihood by super-situations beyond his control. Michael Keaton delivers an intelligent and calculating villain who (versus many on this list) see his nemesis as a nuisance — meant to be dealt with, not obsessed over — with the sound mind to take what he sees as rightfully his. Even if he’s in the wrong. And simply put? The driving-to-prom scene alone was worth putting Michael Keaton on this list.

  1. Tom Hiddleston / Loki — The Avengers

I can hear several fangirls already sharpening blades over the low placing of Tom Hiddleston on my list. But I’ll say my peace and accept my fate. Specifically in The Avengers, Loki is at his most evil (saving Thor, which while good, pales in comparison to him here) — setting the Avengers up to fail at every turn. What sells Loki most to me, and what earns his spot here on my list, are his scenes opposite any Avenger, save his brother. Hiddleston’s portrayal of an Asgardian is as it should be: noble, godly, and aloof. In the face of Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Iron Man… he sees himself a god. And while yes, he gets punched, repulsor-blasted, arrow-detonated, and Hulk-smashed… he never loses his edge. As means to the ends of Thanos, Loki more than holds his weight as the singular villain (plus an army of disposable CGI) in a film choked to the edges of the screen with heroic talent. Whereas Justice League gave us disposably-generic… Avengers gave us coldly-unforgettable.

  1. Jason Lee / Syndrome — The Incredibles

I dare anyone reading this to tell me I’m not allowed to include a non-comic-canon character who is animated to boot on this list. Because they’d lose their argument when considering Jason Lee’s Incrediboy-turned-Big-Bad. From his calculated efforts to capture Mr. Incredible, to his sadistic decree to destroy a plane that had just announced it had children aboard it… Syndrome is the arcitype of villainy personified. Lee’s vocal talents perfectly paint the picture of a broken-hearted would-be sidekick who chooses a dark-path due to disappointment. And as the grown-up nemesis to the Parr family, his invention-driven path-of-destruction comes both as no surprise, and nearly flawless in execution. If he’d only chosen not to don a cape…

  1. Josh Brolin / Thanos — Avengers: Infinity War

While many will continue to meme the purple rock-collector until Endgame… few could argue that the portrayal of the Mad Titan built up over ten-plus films could have been handled much better. Brolin’s calm, weighty performance— perfectly rotoscoped into his hulking CGI frame — quickly establishes his villain we should all fear from the cold open. Without aid of even a single Infinity Stone, Thanos dispatches the Incredible Hulk with the meticulous devastation of a seasoned MMA fighter. We watch in awe and agony as Banner’s never-over-powered angry-half is pummeled into submission. And this is all before Thanos marches slowly across the cosmos to collect his shiny rocks, and snaps away half the beings of the universe. That he joins nearly no other villains in the “actually succeeded in my evil plan” club, and retires to his weird space farm to live in peace afterwards is the dusty icing on a bitter cake. As close to the source as we were ever going to get… all completed with a performance I couldn’t recast to save Peter Parker’s desperate life.

  1. Alfred Molina / Doctor Octopus — Spider-Man 2

“The power of the sun, in the palm of my hand.” So sayeth Otto Octavious. On page, Doc Oc is often a morty lame duck of a villain — save perhaps his superior run as the Spider-Man himself. But in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, he is as he should be: mild-mannered, with an undercurrent of resentment and determination. Alfred Molina disappears into the role; becoming a would-be father figure to Peter Parker, a loving husband to his wife Rosalie, and a frustrated scientist under the knuckle of a rich brat. That his over-zealous excitement to complete his project eventually causes him to abandon reason to see his work be finalized cements him as a villain whose motivations we can accept (if not agree with, obviously). The only misstep to the portrayal (and not Molina’s fault by any means) we get a bit of a worthless subplot revolving around his additional appendages perhaps being sentient. Beyond that though, Spider-Man 2 remains one of the best superhero movies of all time… because in this case our villain cements the journey our hero must make by the end of the film. And that’s far more powerful than a CGI super-nova being cradled by Larry, Harry, Flo, and Moe.

Brainiac On Banjo #029: Comic Books? Still?

Brainiac On Banjo #029: Comic Books? Still?

Captain Marvel, the movie, sold nearly one-half billion dollars’ worth of tickets in its first few days worldwide – maybe a week in a few countries – so I’d like to take this opportunity to shout “Screw you, incels!” but that’s not my point this week.

My point is that with billions of dollars being spent making comic book based movies each year and with more comic book based teevee shows than you can count on all available appendages, if you want to enjoy the comic book experience you no longer need to buy a single comic book. Even if you’re selective about the movies and shows you see, even if you have a job, a relationship, kids, take time out to eat and go to the bathroom you do not have time to experience everything you’d like. As you might be aware, comic book publishing is a capitalist enterprise and without enough profitability the money people will start thinking “buggywhips.”

But you might say, without comic books there would be no fodder for comic book-based movies and teevee. If you do, I would say “Yeah? Prove it!” Very, very few such media shows were borne of recent comic book debut, and the rights to most of the established comic book properties – except GrimJack (hi, Ken!) – are well-secured. Disney and AT&T spent about a zillion dollars buying Marvel and DC Comics outright, and they didn’t do a reverse mortgage deal based upon publishing projections. There hasn’t been a real relationship between comic book sales and their media spin-offs for over a half-century.

So why pulp trees and waste oil to print, distribute and digitize comic books? Where’s the money? Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #029: Comic Books? Still?”