Cynicism Vs Idealism in Heroism

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We live in a pretty cynical world at the moment. The cynicism in our world is reflected in a lot of shows that are currently popular: The Walking Dead, How to Get Away With Murder, Game of Thrones, etc. This love for cynicism especially applies to movies like Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises, and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. While Batman vs Superman currently has a 28% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the audience rated the movie 72%, which means that there is a good number of people out there who are willing to defend this movie. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Agents of SHIELD are garnering great praise even though they’re all set in a darker, grittier side of the verse.

Superheroes weren’t always dark and gritty, though. It’s just a trend that has been occurring in the various film and television adaptations of popular comic books. People mistakenly think that if a show is dark and gritty, people will take things more seriously. However, choosing to go with a dark tone comes at the cost of the audience possibly losing interest.  That’s not to say that all tragedy sucks. According to TVTropes: “A good tragedy works because the characters involved are given a chance to escape their downer ending but, for whatever reason, fail to do so; take away this chance, and usually what will happen is that the story just ends up being a lengthy description of unremittingly unpleasant things happening to someone.” But even so, there is evidence of adaptations that keep a more realistic or idealistic tone while still being well-written.

The shows that go under the DC Animated Universe shows that came out in the 90s and early 2000s mostly vary in tone. Batman:The Animated Series and Batman: Beyond had a dark and gritty tone, but the major characters shine a light of hope in the corrupt city of Gotham. That shining hope is something that the current lineup of DC movies lack. Ask any fan of the DC Animated Universe and you’ll learn that most of them compare the current adaptations of the DC shows to the animated series that came before. Yes, the writing was that good.

That sense of hope was there in Daredevil season 1 and was sort of promised towards the end of Jessica Jones. It’s also a driving point of Arrow, but one major problem all three of these shows suffer with is that the sense of hope gets clouded by the characters’ various issues. Daredevil suffers from a martyr complex, Jessica Jones has issues with connecting to people, and Oliver Queen would rather keep secrets from everyone.

The current lineup of films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more balanced tones in terms of idealism and cynicism. On the more cynical end, we have Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. However, the dark, angsty tone of the movies make sense because it builds up from real consequences to the actions established from the previous films. The Avengers went out of their way to make sure that they create as little collateral damage as possible, but as the trailers have shown, all the collateral damage from the past several movies have added up to a lot. I’m seriously looking forward to seeing Civil War, even though I know that there may be characters who will probably be killed off by the end of the movie, because I know that eventually, these heroes will put aside their differences to defend the world again when Thanos tries taking over the world.

A good example of a group of anti-heroes that still maintains an optimistic tone is Guardians of the Galaxy. The titular Guardians aren’t heroes in the conventional sense. They’re not good in essentials, but they are willing to do the right thing when the situation calls for it. The movie maintains a humorous tone in spite of the fact that the team consisted of “a thief, two thugs, an assassin, and a maniac.” The reason the movie is enjoyable is because the movie has tons of humor and characters that everyone can relate to. Legends of Tomorrow has a similar premise in that the members of the team aren’t all straight-laced heroes and the lighthearted, humorous tone throughout most of the episode.

On the more idealistic ends of the scale are The Avengers, The Flash, and Supergirl. The Avengers has the most idealistic tone out of all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even with Coulson’s death, because the show’s conflict was simple:  All of the Avengers want to stop Loki from taking over the world, but they had conflicting ideas on how to stop him. Coulson’s death became the reason that the Avengers came together to take down Loki. Tie it all together with Joss Whedon’s humor and the fact that Coulson wasn’t actually dead, and you have the basics of a perfect superhero movie.

The Flash has moments of cynicism, especially with the new multi-verse story arc, but overall, the show maintains an idealistic tone. Flash, up to this point, has never killed anyone in the series. Instead, the various villains are either kept in the Pipeline or in Iron Heights. Since Barry Allen is a scientist, he and his friends work together to find smart solutions to the various problems.

This method of problem-solving carried over to Supergirl. I’m not gonna lie. Last night’s crossover episode “World’s Finest” was a huge sigh of relief after the disappointment of Batman vs Superman. I love Supergirl. A lot. But I also know that in spite of the fact that Supergirl has all these awesome powers, she’s not perfect. She tends to jump into situations without thinking and her emotions often blind her better judgment. I also love how realistic the show is, even with the idealistic tone. Supergirl is held accountable for her actions and when she finally shows how far she is willing to go to protect National City, the city is more than willing to protect and forgive her.

We need to have shows with idealistic tones to balance out the cynicism we have in this world. I really hope Supergirl doesn’t get cancelled because we need shows like Supergirl to give this cynical world an example of how idealism can change the world for the better.

The Importance of Superheroes

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It’s easy to write off superhero movies as being all the same. It’s easy to get cynical about comic book movies, especially ones that are dark and angsty (*sideglances at Batfleck and Man of Steel*). But the genre of adaptations based on comic books has come a long way from how they started in the early 2000s and despite what some people may think, it’s not a rinse-and-repeat formula. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if there’s one thing that the current lineup of superheros has shown us, it’s that there are many ways to be a hero, just as there are many ways to be a saint.

WARNING: I’ll be making references to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe AND the DC shows currently on TV, so if you’re one of those people who wants me to pick a side between Marvel and DC, this post is not for you. Also, I’m more familiar with the current lineup of movies and TV shows and not with the comics themselves, so apologies to you diehard comic book fans.

I’m gonna start out with what is being called the “Arrowverse,” AKA the current lineup of shows created by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. Arrow is the series most similar to the dark and gritty DC movies we’ve been seeing in recent years. It’s not a perfect show, especially with its soap-opera worthy levels of poor communications and misunderstandings, but my brother, who is a huge fan of the show, loves Arrow because of the characters. He says that the Green Arrow represents “the idea of a ray of light to combat a dark town. I think that things may always get worse before they get better, but you shouldn’t stop when it gets either way.”

Similarly, the protagonists in Daredevil and Jessica Jones are more like anti-heroes because these heroes don’t try to do the right thing for the sake of being good, but for other reasons. Matt Murdock wants to reform Hell’s Kitchen and Jessica Jones wants to believe that she can be a hero, even though she doesn’t think that she’s good. Neither of them realize it, but they are being heroes just by being selfless and putting other people before their own personal happiness. Maybe it’s my Catholic bias, but I liked that (so far) Matt incorporated the advice that Fr. Lantom gives him. And while I still have problems with Jessica Jones, I love that Jessica’s motivations throughout the show are for Hope’s safety as well as protecting humanity from Kilgrave.

In contrast, The Flash and Supergirl both have a more optimistic and idealistic view on heroism. Neither of the titular heroes resort to killing their adversaries. Instead, Flash gets help from his friends and mentors and come up with a smarter plan of action. The best example of this was during the Christmas special “Running to Stand Still.” Facing off against two of his deadliest opponents, Flash works together with his friends at S.T.A.R. labs to prevent a mass bombing. He also helps out a police officer who had a grudge against one of the bad guys. Another example can be seen in the crossover episode with Arrow “The Brave and The Bold” (Arrow Season 3) in which Flash’s team worked together with Green Arrow’s team to stop five bombs in the city from going off all at once.

Supergirl relies on her empathy and willingness to believe in the best in people in order to save the day and her optimism and compassion compel most people to imitate her. A recent example was shown in “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” in which Supergirl helped changed the mind of an anti-alien senator simply by saving her from the Monster (or rather White Martian) of the Week. She also helped her mentor take another step in dealing with his personal grief. (I’m applying this to both Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant.)

One other thing I also like about the latest crop of heroes is that they allow for original conflicts and concepts. Movies with superhero teams such as Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, and Big Hero 6 show that while heroes may not always get along or agree, they will come together and be heroes when the situation calls for it.

What’s even better is that there are even shows out there that center on people who don’t have any superpowers, but are still considered heroes because their actions go beyond the ordinary. Agent Carter is an awesome show for many reasons, but one thing I love is that none of the protagonists (Peggy, Jarvis, or Howard) have any standard comic book superpowers. Instead, Peggy relies on her intuition and quick thinking in order to save the day. Jarvis trains in martial arts and is always willing to lend a hand. And the only superpowers Howard has are his genius mind and his charm.

The most interesting thing I’ve been seeing in the superhero genre, however, is that every character is given the opportunity to be good. Most of the time, villains are too selfish or sociopathic to want to be good. However, there are more complex villains that have a moral. Legends of Tomorrow and Suicide Squad show that even bad guys have the potential to be heroic under the right circumstances.

In Legends of Tomorrow, there are three characters who are morally ambiguous: Captain Cold, Heatwave, and White Canary. In my honest opinion, these guys have been the most interesting characters to watch. I love their snark, but I also like that they’re trying to figure out their own purpose in a team where most of the characters tend towards following rules or morals. While they don’t consider themselves to be good, Captain Cold is more than willing to help out a “crewmember” in need. Back in The Flash, he establishes his own code of honor with the main hero and goes out of his way to protect his sister. And while I’m on the fence about White Canary partaking in cannabis, she’s efficient in battle and wants to be more than just an assassin. Even the characters with typical morals, such as Martin Stein, are becoming more aware of their flaws as people and are making efforts to change in order to become better heroes.

In short, we need comic book superheroes. Why? Because we all have the potential to be heroes, even without the ability to gain superpowers. Superheroes, in the end, are people who have “an increased capacity to act and exert power and to demonstrate agency.” And as David Bowie said: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”

So go be heroes, people!

LEVV Lights a Strange Fire With Debut Album

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You wanna know why I wonder Audrey Assad gets any sleep? Because she’s always doing something. LEVV is a departure from Audrey Assad’s usual stuff, in the sense that it isn’t Praise and Worship/Gospel/Christian music. But there’s an ethereal quality that still feels like God is a part of this album as much as Audrey’s other stuff.

For those who don’t know LEVV is a band consisting of Audrey Assad and Seth Jones and the music is pop, but there’s so much more depth in these five songs (plus the song “Dream” from the Arrow single) than I’ve heard from anything on the air right now. Audrey goes more into the name of the band on LEVV’s Tumblr page. Without further ado, let the album review begin!

1. Darkness

Darkness sounds like a ballad collaboration between Calvin Harris and Sia. It starts out slow with a piano and lyrics that tell the story of a dark love. The person in the song was fighting against her feelings for someone and yet the lover broke through. It’s a haunting song and you could almost see it as something coming out of a Gothic novel.

2. Heartbreaker

This song is the most “Top 40” sounding song with a catchy beat and easy rhymes. But as I said, most top 40 acts wish they could sound this good. The song speaks of still loving a person even after being rejected. It’s a bit sad underneath the upbeat melody. There’s a wonderful electric guitar bridge and a techno beat that would feel totally in place in the club. Of course, this song isn’t exactly the kind you would dance to at a typical raging nightclub. The song’s more suited to a VIP kind of nightclub on ladies night, more singing and less grinding. Like Bridesmaids.

3. I Feel Good

Once again, lyrical dissonance is at play in this song. The melody is like a sunrise, like the feeling you get when you wake up on a weekend. The lyrics, however, feel like the story of someone struggling with depression. I mean the chorus goes “But I feel good/I feel okay/I’ve got a pill waiting for me at home at the end of the day.” There’s a beautiful piano bridge in this song that transitions into a bridge that speaks of the post-breakup blues. Way to make a misleading title, Audrey!

4. Arrow

“Arrow” was the first single from this album. There isn’t much to this song lyrically and yet I can’t help but think of Eros and Psyche when I listen to this song. The song tells the story of falling in love unexpectedly. There’s a piano melody that plays after the chorus, followed by a cool techno/drum beat as the chorus echoes again and again until the end of the song.

5. Learning to Let Go

The story in this song of two lovers in war with each other for no real reason. The lover in the song is jumping at shadows and the way he’s treating the beloved in this song is making her act like she’s at fault and giving her major relationship issues in the process. The chorus is just one line, but it repeats and overlaps with beautiful vocalizations. The song is a tragically beautiful track and I can definitely relate to.

Bonus: Dream

Dream is a track from the Arrow EP and I’ll be honest when I say that I wish that this song was on the actual “Strange Fire” album because this is the LEVV song I relate to the most. The lyrics tell the story of a broken woman finding love, finding home with someone. The song has a beautiful piano melody that honestly doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of Audrey’s usual music. My favorite lyrics from the song are the chorus:

I would love you with my whole heart if my heart was whole—

as it is I’m all in pieces, and you can have them all.

Strange Fire is available on LEVV’s Bandcamp page for $4.99, but you can get a discount by tweeting about the album on Thunderclap. You can download Dream for free from the Arrow single off of LEVV’s Noisetrade page.

I can’t wait to see what this band will create next. I hope for an album that has at least 10 tracks. And seriously Audrey Assad, GET SOME SLEEP! You’re making the rest of us look unproductive!

Album cover courtesy of Audrey Assad and Seth Jones and is used for editorial purposes only.