Tag Archives: Batman

Why Breaking Bad May Be the Greatest Super-Hero TV Show of All Time

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by J.M. McNab

SPOILER ALERT: If haven’t watched Breaking Bad, then you probably shouldn’t read this article.

With the series finale of Breaking Bad airing tomorrow night, it seems like an appropriate time to question: why do people love this show so damn much? Sure it’s superbly crafted and acted, but for me personally, there’s always been some facet of Breaking Bad that is sympathetic and engaging, even when the characters are behaving in a way that, rationally, should elicit anything but.

The answer: It all boils down to Super-Heroes.

Breaking Bad essentially functions as an inverted Super-Hero story. Think of it as a dark reflection of your favourite hero’s origin story. While it broadly identifies with many comic book themes, for the sake of a more narrow comparison, let’s specifically contrast the story of Walter White with that of Batman.

First of all, the most resonant and apparent Super-Hero trope that is engrained in the Breaking Bad narrative is that of the Secret Identity.

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Also a good show.

Walter White doesn’t just start cooking meth, like Bruce Wayne he creates an alter-ego: Heisenberg. His alter-ego has a costume (black hat, sunglasses), and the same super-powers as Batman (the power of science!). Watch any scene from the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad where Walt is lying to Skyler– now watch any scene where Clark Kent lies to Lois Lane, or Bruce Wayne has to slip out of a party. It plays very similarly. As audience members, we know that he’s dashing off to a violent, life-threatening adventure. This creates tension, and a secret between the character of Walt and the audience.

Remember, no one got to see Batman enter the Batcave, or Clark Kent take off his clothes in a phone booth other than us, the readers.

Sure, Walt is a scumbag. That’s why it is an inversion of the Super-Hero narrative– nevertheless, we want him to trick Skyler, we want him to go off and be Heisenberg. While it may contradict our moral foundations as human beings, as consumers of stories, we’ve come to be complicit in, and ultimately embrace, the preservation of the secret identity. This goes all the way back to Zorro and before him, the Scarlet Pimpernel (or so Antonio Banderas and Wikipedia tell me, respectively).

Sadly, Zorro made the mistake of publicly stating that his girlfriend’s vagina gave him cancer.

Like Bruce Wayne, we get the sense that Walter is being most true to himself when he is the destructive Heisenberg. In later seasons, when he dons Walter White’s clothes, and acts befuddled and useless, it plays almost  exactly the same as when Bruce Wayne acts like a big douchebag. “Walter White” becomes the disguise.

While Bruce Wayne was transformed into Batman by the death of his parents, Breaking Bad gives a similar origin story born out of tragedy– but in this inversion of the story, Walt selfishly transforms himself after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It’s not about others, it’s about him. It’s not about sacrifice, it’s about indulgence. Despite the fact that Walt purports to be helping his family (and in that way, he sees himself as something of a hero) over the course of the show we realize that his dark side just needed an excuse to be coaxed out. Breaking Bad becomes kind of like that evil Mirror Universe from Star Trek.

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Walt even has the Evil Mirror Universe goatee.

Another Super-Hero trope that forms the very building blocks of Breaking Bad is that of the sidekick. Every Batman has his Robin, and Walt has Jesse Pinkman. Their relationship is so Batman and Robiny, it wouldn’t seem weird for Walt to call Jesse “old chum”.

Except Walt and Jesse have way worse posture.

Seeing Jesse’s happiness degrade as his morality becomes increasingly compromised, may even be a more realistic interpretation of the hero-sidekick relationship– how happy would you be if you were Robin and you eventually realized that you’d spent what should have been an innocent childhood assaulting criminals and living in a cave? You would probably freak out, blame Batman, and partner up with Harvey Bullock, or whoever the Batman equivelent of Hank is.

Also like Batman, Walt has his rogues gallery of villains, from the bell-ringing Hector, to crazy Tuco, to Gus Fring who literally becomes Two-Face at the end of season four.

Okay, this might be a stretch.

And it doesn’t get much more Batcavey than the Superlab, the subterranean dwelling filled with beakers and other super-sciencey things that you access via a secret passage. They may as well have included a giant penny and a dinosaur.

What makes Breaking Bad clever is they take a familiar story, a good person’s descent into evil, and tell it through the structure of the Super-Hero narrative. Breaking Bad evokes feelings and plotpoints from our modern adventure mythology then warps them into a darker, more morally ambiguous story.

Of course there’s a lot of pop-culture mythology stirred into the pot of this show; the show can emulate everything from a John Ford Western, to The Godfather, to Seinfeld. But think about this– the show’s creator Vince Gilligan, co-wrote the movie Hancock, a script that was conceived as a darker, morally ambiguous Super-Hero story. While that movie suffered from multiple re-writes and studio edits, never fully capitalizing on its intriguing premise, Breaking Bad, which came out the same year as Hancock, could be seen as a richer more realistic reworking of some of these same themes, albeit in a broader, less literal sense. Also, no Will Smith.

“I was thinking, for Hancock 2, maybe Hancock has a son around Jaden’s age…”

A quick Google search reveals that other bloggers have come to this same conclusion (here, here, and here, for example). Clearly this not a unique observation, this is something that a lot of people feel about this show. But what’s interesting is, with TV shows now beginning to directly emulate comic books and comic book movies (Arrow, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, the newly announced Gotham), will any of them manage to top or even match the intensity and quality of Breaking Bad? It manages to hit all the right buttons, in terms of building a Super-Hero mythology, but because it never needs to service any original source material, it’s free to tell a wholly original story.

Coupled with the fact that there haven’t been any truly great Super-Hero TV shows (sure, people like Smallville and Lois & Clark, but come on), will any show ever top Breaking Bad in its telling of a Super-Hero story, as repurposed as it may be? For a while, at least, it will be the best.

Actually, maybe it’s only second best.

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Casting of Ben Affleck “Offensive” Because Real-Life Batman was Latino

Batman

by J.M. McNab

The news that Ben Affleck would play Batman in a new Batman/Superman movie has elicited a multitude of responses, including many negative ones. While some feel that he is altogether not right for the part, others wonder if he can overcome the stigma of some of his earlier roles, such as the failed comic book adaptation Daredevil. What is most troubling about this decision, however, is that it is indicative of a disturbingly frequent trend in Hollywood films: Whitewashing.

The character Affleck is set to play, Batman, is the alter-ego of billionaire Bruce Wayne, a man of Hispanic descent, whose real family name was Vasquez. The Waynes changed their last name upon emigrating to Gotham City from Tampico, Mexico years before Bruce was born.

Ben Affleck had this to say:

“…you know you wouldn’t necessarily select him out of a line of ten people and go ‘This guy’s Latino.’ So I didn’t feel as though I was violating some thing, where, here’s this guy who’s clearly ethnic in some way and it’s sort of being whitewashed by Ben Affleck the actor.”

Some members of Gotham City’s Mexican-American community do find the move disconcerting. Police officer Renee Montoya calls the decision to cast Affleck “insulting” and “offensive.”

While the charge of whitewashing remains in dispute, another controversy plagues the production. It seems Affleck’s character, Batman, may not have been responsible for all of the accomplishments the film’s script purports him to have made. Even Police Commissioner James Gordon admits that many of the events depicted in the screenplay for Batman vs. Superman happened, not to Batman, but to Tom Evans, AKA Captain Canuck.

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Gordon calls Evans the “true hero”, and suggests that the re-appropriation of Captain Canuck’s life’s work into a Batman film was done in the service of crafting a story more palatable for American audiences, who mainly just like to see Americans doing American things, even when they didn’t actually happen that way.

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Batman vs. Superman to Film in Toronto: What Does That Mean for the City?

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by J.M. McNab

A lot of movies are filmed here in Toronto– from this year’s Pacific Rim, to the Oscar-Winning documentary about Richard Gere’s inability to sing, Chicago. Still, I can think of no movie I am more excited to welcome here than the new Batman/Superman movie. The only super-hero movies shot in Toronto in recent years have been the disappointing non-Ang Lee Hulk movie, and the admittedly fun Kick-Ass. But to have my childhood heroes Batman and Superman come to town is a pretty big deal, although is does raise one important question: where does the movie take place? Metropolis or Gotham City?

The Dark Knight took a more realistic approach to Gotham City, shooting in Chicago, and eventually Pittsburgh for The Dark Knight Rises, the Adam West Batman series was shot in Los Angeles, and I believe Batman Returns was filmed in a snow-globe inside of Tim Burton’s brain. Conversely, Metropolis has been less distinctively identified on screen– in the Christopher Reeve movies, they make no effort to distinguish Metropolis from New York, even featuring the World Trade towers on the poster for Superman II. Superman Returns made an attempt to portray Metropolis, specifically the Daily Planet offices, as a stylized art deco location, calling back to Superman’s 1930s roots. The TV series Lois and Clark tried the same thing, albeit with a lot more neon because, you know, it was the early ’90s. More recently, in Man of Steel, Metropolis is envisioned as a smoldering pile of corpses and rubble… *cough*

Metropolis and Gotham City have always been twisted reflections of each other, and of their respective characters– Metropolis a bright, gleaming testament to the successes of Western modernity, and Gotham a monument to urban decay. One is mostly seen in the day, the other, at night.

So which city will Toronto be? If the movie takes place in Metropolis, that would be fitting– Superman co-creator and artist Joe Shuster based his vision of Metropolis on Toronto, his home town. According to Shuster: “Cleveland was not nearly as metropolitan as Toronto was, and it was not as big or as beautiful. Whatever buildings I saw in Toronto remained in my mind and came out in the form of Metropolis… As I realized later on, Toronto is a much more beautiful city than Cleveland ever was…” Even The Daily Planet was originally called “The Daily Star” named after The Toronto Star, where Shuster worked as a paperboy.

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Shuster even modeled the Daily Planet building off of the Toronto Star’s (Then known as the “Toronto Daily Star”) old headquarters.

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On the other hand, Toronto’s changed a lot since the ’30s, and today it may more closely resemble Gotham City. Recently, the Toronto Police fatally shot an eighteen-year-old offender armed only with a knife nine times. Nine times! That sounds like something Commissioner Gordon would take issue with, and then one of the cops would be all like, “Lighten up Gordon!” and then they’d all laugh at him. Or take Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, who allegedly was videotaped smoking crack. He would be a great Gotham mayor! Someone to make The Penguin look like more of a viable Mayoral candidate.

Of course, Toronto’s seedy underbelly or its history with Superman are probably not on the filmmakers’ radar, they’re making this movie in Toronto for the same reason everyone does: it’s cheap! It’ll probably all be green-screened anyway…

UPDATE: Despite numerous reports (like here, here or here) it now appears Batman vs. Superman will be shot in Detroit. The move was made after the casting of Batman, presumably because Detroit will be standing-in for Boston where Batman will live in the new movie.

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BONUS EPISODE- The Dark Knight Rises

We Batarang a dead horse with yet another analysis of the most talked about movie of the summer. We watched 12 hours of vintage Batman gearing up for it, so how did The Dark Knight Rises strike us? Better or worse than Ghost Dad? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out. Download the link below to find out, or better yet, subscribe on iTunes! And be sure to follow us on Twitter! And if you haven’t seen TDKR yet, skip this episode as it is full of SPOILERS.

Check back tomorrow, we’ll have our regularly scheduled episode available, our 50th episode will be about the summer movie classic Ernest Goes to Camp!

WARNING: the podcast contains strong language and immature subject matter, please be advised.

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Episode 48- Batman in Film part 2

With The Dark Knight Rises opening tomorrow, we’re back to talk more about Batman’s cinematic career, starting with Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm, the 1993 adaptation of the animated series. From there we let Joel Schumacher be our guide through the (now suddenly) brightly neon-infused streets of Gotham City in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Yes, we actually re-watched Batman & Robin. You owe us audience!!! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell… it’s just, I just never thought I’d watch that movie again… We also briefly chat about our expectations for TDKR, and our impressions of the two previous Nolan films.

No Spoilers for TDKR, none of us have seen it or read any reviews, though we do discuss some vague rumours about cameos that surfaced about a year ago. We do spoil the ending for Mask of the Phantasm, but to be fair, so did this toy.

Download the link below, or better yet subscribe on iTunes! And be sure to follow us on Twitter!

Episode 48- Batman in Film part 2

This week we’re joined by fellow Bat-fan Tom McGee, and once again the hilarious Johnnie Walker!

WARNING: the podcast contains strong language and immature subject matter, please be advised.

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Episode 47- Batman in Film part 1

In anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises, we ventured to watch Batman’s entire filmography between the years of 1943 and 1997, and then record our thoughts in podcast form, you know, for future generations. In part 1 of a 2-part podcast we discuss Batman’s inauspicious 1943 cinematic debut, Adam West and Burt Ward’s campy/homoerotic/campy/very homoerotic take in 1966’s adaptation of the Batman TV show, then we talk Burton. Tim Burton. Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) were epic in our youth, but how do they hold up now?

This week’s special guest villain is the delightful Johnnie Walker!

Episode 47- Batman in Film part 1

Apologies for the audio clipping in the episode. It does get a bit better about halfway through. I’m going to blame… The Joker! Or  maybe I made a mistake… Or maybe Thurston Moore produced this week’s episode… we’ll never know.

Next week we’ll be back with more Bat-goodness, tackling Batman: Mask of the PhantasmBatman Forever, and (gasp) Batman & Robin.

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Episode 18- Top 5 Christmas Episodes

TaleWe count down our top 5 Christmas-themed TV episodes! If you’ve been nice and not naughty, reward yourself with this extra long, extra long-winded episode! Our full lists are below, with links whenever available. Don’t forget to check back on Christmas Day, for a very special Christmas episode.

Episode 18- Top 5 Christmas Episodes

WARNING: the podcast contains strong language and immature subject matter, please be advised.

J.M.

5- Batman: The Animated Series- “Christmas with the Joker”

4- Fraiser- “Perspectives on Christmas”

3- Tiny Toon Adventures- “It’s a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special”/Beverly Hills 90210- “It’s a Totally Happening Life”

2- Who’s the Boss- “Christmas Card”

1- The Twilight Zone- “Night of the Meek”

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5. Night Court- “Santa Goes Downtown”

4- Space Above and Beyond- “The River of Stars”

3- The X-Files- “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas”

2- Pushing Daisies- “Corpsicle”

1- Six Feet Under- “Pilot”

Rob

5- The Real Ghostbusters- “X-Mas Marks the Spot”

4- Xena: Warrior Princess- “A Solstice Carol”

3- The X-Files- “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas”

2- Beavis and Butthead- “Beavis and Butthead do Christmas”

1-Arrested Development- “In God We Trust”

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5- The Office- “Classy Christmas”

4- Tales from the Crypt- “All Through the House”

3- The Simpsons- “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”

2- Six feet under- “Pilot”

1 West Wing- “In Excelsis Deo”

Honorable Mentions

South Park- “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics”

Community- “Regional Holiday Music”

Lost- “The Constant”

Quantum Leap- “A Little Miracle”

Veronica Mars- “An Echolls Family Christmas”

Malcolm in the Middle- “Christmas Trees”

Seinfeld- “The Strike”

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