Advice for the Aspiring Evil Overlord

“Attention all Evil Overlord List Aspirants: Contrary to popular belief, taking over the universe is not as easy as it would first appear…. As soon [Peter] is able to respond in a timely manner — or until he becomes unquestioned lord and master of all things, whichever comes first — the list will not be updated and no new suggestions will be considered. He would sincerely apologize for this inconvenience, were it in character for an Evil Overlord to do so.” — nameless henchman (on behalf of Supreme Lord Peter Anspach)

Over twenty years ago, a fellow by the name of Peter Anspach compiled a list (with the help of fellow fans online) of “classic blunders” committed by villains in shows like “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, “Hercules”, “Xena”, “Conan”, James Bond movies, et al. (Go here for the full story.) You may have seen some of them around the inter-webs. I offer his official Top 100 list below for your enjoyment:

Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice. It pays well, there are all sorts of perks and you can set your own hours. However every Evil Overlord I’ve read about in books or seen in movies invariably gets overthrown and destroyed in the end. I’ve noticed that no matter whether they are barbarian lords, deranged wizards, mad scientists or alien invaders, they always seem to make the same basic mistakes every single time. With that in mind, allow me to present…

The Top 100 Things I’d Do
If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord

  1. My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.
  2. My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.
  3. My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.
  4. Shooting is not too good for my enemies.
  5. The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness.
  6. I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.
  7. When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”
  8. After I kidnap the beautiful princess, we will be married immediately in a quiet civil ceremony, not a lavish spectacle in three weeks’ time during which the final phase of my plan will be carried out.
  9. I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labelled “Danger: Do Not Push”. The big red button marked “Do Not Push” will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it. Similarly, the ON/OFF switch will not clearly be labelled as such.
  10. I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum — a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well.
  11. I will be secure in my superiority. Therefore, I will feel no need to prove it by leaving clues in the form of riddles or leaving my weaker enemies alive to show they pose no threat.
  12. One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.
  13. All slain enemies will be cremated, or at least have several rounds of ammunition emptied into them, not left for dead at the bottom of the cliff. The announcement of their deaths, as well as any accompanying celebration, will be deferred until after the aforementioned disposal.
  14. The hero is not entitled to a last kiss, a last cigarette, or any other form of last request.
  15. I will never employ any device with a digital countdown. If I find that such a device is absolutely unavoidable, I will set it to activate when the counter reaches 117 and the hero is just putting his plan into operation.
  16. I will never utter the sentence “But before I kill you, there’s just one thing I want to know.”
  17. When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice.
  18. I will not have a son. Although his laughably under-planned attempt to usurp power would easily fail, it would provide a fatal distraction at a crucial point in time.
  19. I will not have a daughter. She would be as beautiful as she was evil, but one look at the hero’s rugged countenance and she’d betray her own father.
  20. Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it’s too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.
  21. I will hire a talented fashion designer to create original uniforms for my Legions of Terror, as opposed to some cheap knock-offs that make them look like Nazi stormtroopers, Roman footsoldiers, or savage Mongol hordes. All were eventually defeated and I want my troops to have a more positive mind-set.
  22. No matter how tempted I am with the prospect of unlimited power, I will not consume any energy field bigger than my head.
  23. I will keep a special cache of low-tech weapons and train my troops in their use. That way — even if the heroes manage to neutralize my power generator and/or render the standard-issue energy weapons useless — my troops will not be overrun by a handful of savages armed with spears and rocks.
  24. I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line “No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!” (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)
  25. No matter how well it would perform, I will never construct any sort of machinery which is completely indestructible except for one small and virtually inaccessible vulnerable spot.
  26. No matter how attractive certain members of the rebellion are, there is probably someone just as attractive who is not desperate to kill me. Therefore, I will think twice before ordering a prisoner sent to my bedchamber.
  27. I will never build only one of anything important. All important systems will have redundant control panels and power supplies. For the same reason I will always carry at least two fully loaded weapons at all times.
  28. My pet monster will be kept in a secure cage from which it cannot escape and into which I could not accidentally stumble.
  29. I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.
  30. All bumbling conjurers, clumsy squires, no-talent bards, and cowardly thieves in the land will be preemptively put to death. My foes will surely give up and abandon their quest if they have no source of comic relief.
  31. All naive, busty tavern wenches in my realm will be replaced with surly, world-weary waitresses who will provide no unexpected reinforcement and/or romantic subplot for the hero or his sidekick.
  32. I will not fly into a rage and kill a messenger who brings me bad news just to illustrate how evil I really am. Good messengers are hard to come by.
  33. I won’t require high-ranking female members of my organization to wear a stainless-steel bustier. Morale is better with a more casual dress-code. Similarly, outfits made entirely from black leather will be reserved for formal occasions.
  34. I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.
  35. I will not grow a goatee. In the old days they made you look diabolic. Now they just make you look like a disaffected member of Generation X.
  36. I will not imprison members of the same party in the same cell block, let alone the same cell. If they are important prisoners, I will keep the only key to the cell door on my person instead of handing out copies to every bottom-rung guard in the prison.
  37. If my trusted lieutenant tells me my Legions of Terror are losing a battle, I will believe him. After all, he’s my trusted lieutenant.
  38. If an enemy I have just killed has a younger sibling or offspring anywhere, I will find them and have them killed immediately, instead of waiting for them to grow up harboring feelings of vengeance towards me in my old age.
  39. If I absolutely must ride into battle, I will certainly not ride at the forefront of my Legions of Terror, nor will I seek out my opposite number among his army.
  40. I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.
  41. Once my power is secure, I will destroy all those pesky time-travel devices.
  42. When I capture the hero, I will make sure I also get his dog, monkey, ferret, or whatever sickeningly cute little animal capable of untying ropes and filching keys happens to follow him around.
  43. I will maintain a healthy amount of skepticism when I capture the beautiful rebel and she claims she is attracted to my power and good looks and will gladly betray her companions if I just let her in on my plans.
  44. I will only employ bounty hunters who work for money. Those who work for the pleasure of the hunt tend to do dumb things like even the odds to give the other guy a sporting chance.
  45. I will make sure I have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in my organization. For example, if my general screws up I will not draw my weapon, point it at him, say “And here is the price for failure,” then suddenly turn and kill some random underling.
  46. If an advisor says to me “My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?”, I will reply “This.” and kill the advisor.
  47. If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I will slay him while he is still a callow youth instead of waiting for him to mature.
  48. I will treat any beast which I control through magic or technology with respect and kindness. Thus if the control is ever broken, it will not immediately come after me for revenge.
  49. If I learn the whereabouts of the one artifact which can destroy me, I will not send all my troops out to seize it. Instead I will send them out to seize something else and quietly put a Want-Ad in the local paper.
  50. My main computers will have their own special operating system that will be completely incompatible with standard IBM and Macintosh powerbooks.
  51. If one of my dungeon guards begins expressing concern over the conditions in the beautiful princess’ cell, I will immediately transfer him to a less people-oriented position.
  52. I will hire a team of board-certified architects and surveyors to examine my castle and inform me of any secret passages and abandoned tunnels that I might not know about.
  53. If the beautiful princess that I capture says “I’ll never marry you! Never, do you hear me, NEVER!!!”, I will say “Oh well” and kill her.
  54. I will not strike a bargain with a demonic being then attempt to double-cross it simply because I feel like being contrary.
  55. The deformed mutants and odd-ball psychotics will have their place in my Legions of Terror. However before I send them out on important covert missions that require tact and subtlety, I will first see if there is anyone else equally qualified who would attract less attention.
  56. My Legions of Terror will be trained in basic marksmanship. Any who cannot learn to hit a man-sized target at 10 meters will be used for target practice.
  57. Before employing any captured artifacts or machinery, I will carefully read the owner’s manual.
  58. If it becomes necessary to escape, I will never stop to pose dramatically and toss off a one-liner.
  59. I will never build a sentient computer smarter than I am.
  60. My five-year-old child advisor will also be asked to decipher any code I am thinking of using. If he breaks the code in under 30 seconds, it will not be used. Note: this also applies to passwords.
  61. If my advisors ask “Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?”, I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.
  62. I will design fortress hallways with no alcoves or protruding structural supports which intruders could use for cover in a firefight.
  63. Bulk trash will be disposed of in incinerators, not compactors. And they will be kept hot, with none of that nonsense about flames going through accessible tunnels at predictable intervals.
  64. I will see a competent psychiatrist and get cured of all extremely unusual phobias and bizarre compulsive habits which could prove to be a disadvantage.
  65. If I must have computer systems with publically available terminals, the maps they display of my complex will have a room clearly marked as the Main Control Room. That room will be the Execution Chamber. The actual main control room will be marked as Sewage Overflow Containment.
  66. My security keypad will actually be a fingerprint scanner. Anyone who watches someone press a sequence of buttons or dusts the pad for fingerprints then subsequently tries to enter by repeating that sequence will trigger the alarm system.
  67. No matter how many shorts we have in the system, my guards will be instructed to treat every surveillance camera malfunction as a full-scale emergency.
  68. I will spare someone who saved my life sometime in the past. This is only reasonable as it encourages others to do so. However, the offer is good one time only. If they want me to spare them again, they’d better save my life again.
  69. All midwives will be banned from the realm. All babies will be delivered at state-approved hospitals. Orphans will be placed in foster-homes, not abandoned in the woods to be raised by creatures of the wild.
  70. When my guards split up to search for intruders, they will always travel in groups of at least two. They will be trained so that if one of them disappears mysteriously while on patrol, the other will immediately initiate an alert and call for backup, instead of quizzically peering around a corner.
  71. If I decide to test a lieutenant’s loyalty and see if he/she should be made a trusted lieutenant, I will have a crack squad of marksmen standing by in case the answer is no.
  72. If all the heroes are standing together around a strange device and begin to taunt me, I will pull out a conventional weapon instead of using my unstoppable superweapon on them.
  73. I will not agree to let the heroes go free if they win a rigged contest, even though my advisors assure me it is impossible for them to win.
  74. When I create a multimedia presentation of my plan designed so that my five-year-old advisor can easily understand the details, I will not label the disk “Project Overlord” and leave it lying on top of my desk.
  75. I will instruct my Legions of Terror to attack the hero en masse, instead of standing around waiting while members break off and attack one or two at a time.
  76. If the hero runs up to my roof, I will not run up after him and struggle with him in an attempt to push him over the edge. I will also not engage him at the edge of a cliff. (In the middle of a rope-bridge over a river of molten lava is not even worth considering.)
  77. If I have a fit of temporary insanity and decide to give the hero the chance to reject a job as my trusted lieutentant, I will retain enough sanity to wait until my current trusted lieutenant is out of earshot before making the offer.
  78. I will not tell my Legions of Terror “And he must be taken alive!” The command will be “And try to take him alive if it is reasonably practical.”
  79. If my doomsday device happens to come with a reverse switch, as soon as it has been employed it will be melted down and made into limited-edition commemorative coins.
  80. If my weakest troops fail to eliminate a hero, I will send out my best troops instead of wasting time with progressively stronger ones as he gets closer and closer to my fortress.
  81. If I am fighting with the hero atop a moving platform, have disarmed him, and am about to finish him off and he glances behind me and drops flat, I too will drop flat instead of quizzically turning around to find out what he saw.
  82. I will not shoot at any of my enemies if they are standing in front of the crucial support beam to a heavy, dangerous, unbalanced structure.
  83. If I’m eating dinner with the hero, put poison in his goblet, then have to leave the table for any reason, I will order new drinks for both of us instead of trying to decide whether or not to switch with him.
  84. I will not have captives of one sex guarded by members of the opposite sex.
  85. I will not use any plan in which the final step is horribly complicated, e.g. “Align the 12 Stones of Power on the sacred altar then activate the medallion at the moment of total eclipse.” Instead it will be more along the lines of “Push the button.”
  86. I will make sure that my doomsday device is up to code and properly grounded.
  87. My vats of hazardous chemicals will be covered when not in use. Also, I will not construct walkways above them.
  88. If a group of henchmen fail miserably at a task, I will not berate them for incompetence then send the same group out to try the task again.
  89. After I captures the hero’s superweapon, I will not immediately disband my legions and relax my guard because I believe whoever holds the weapon is unstoppable. After all, the hero held the weapon and I took it from him.
  90. I will not design my Main Control Room so that every workstation is facing away from the door.
  91. I will not ignore the messenger that stumbles in exhausted and obviously agitated until my personal grooming or current entertainment is finished. It might actually be important.
  92. If I ever talk to the hero on the phone, I will not taunt him. Instead I will say this his dogged perseverance has given me new insight on the futility of my evil ways and that if he leaves me alone for a few months of quiet contemplation I will likely return to the path of righteousness. (Heroes are incredibly gullible in this regard.)
  93. If I decide to hold a double execution of the hero and an underling who failed or betrayed me, I will see to it that the hero is scheduled to go first.
  94. When arresting prisoners, my guards will not allow them to stop and grab a useless trinket of purely sentimental value.
  95. My dungeon will have its own qualified medical staff complete with bodyguards. That way if a prisoner becomes sick and his cellmate tells the guard it’s an emergency, the guard will fetch a trauma team instead of opening up the cell for a look.
  96. My door mechanisms will be designed so that blasting the control panel on the outside seals the door and blasting the control panel on the inside opens the door, not vice versa.
  97. My dungeon cells will not be furnished with objects that contain reflective surfaces or anything that can be unravelled.
  98. If an attractive young couple enters my realm, I will carefully monitor their activities. If I find they are happy and affectionate, I will ignore them. However if circumstance have forced them together against their will and they spend all their time bickering and criticizing each other except during the intermittent occasions when they are saving each others’ lives at which point there are hints of sexual tension, I will immediately order their execution.
  99. Any data file of crucial importance will be padded to 1.45Mb in size.
  100. Finally, to keep my subjects permanently locked in a mindless trance, I will provide each of them with free unlimited Internet access.

Anspach had several suggestions that didn’t make it onto the final list, and he keeps those in a couple “dungeons” (linked to at the bottom of his web-page).

**This Evil Overlord List is Copyright 1996-1997 by Peter Anspach. If you enjoy it, feel free to pass it along or post it anywhere, provided that (1) it is not altered in any way, and (2) this copyright notice is attached.**

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Happy Hulkin’ Christmas!

I’m gonna turn over the final post of the year to my alter-ego. He’s a little late/”slow”, but it’s kinda hard to say ‘No’ to the big guy. So, here he is…

Hulk wanted to do Christmas blog and show some of Hulk’s favorite Christmas pictures. First, Hulk do selfie…

OK, now Hulk tell story. Hulk meets Santa…

Then, Santa goes on potty break and leaves Hulk to sit in chair and give presents. But, some kids dressed like Hulk’s friends come and tell Hulk Hulk is not Santa. Of course, not! Stup… um, Hulk means, silly kids! Hulk is always Hulk!

Later, Santa asks Hulk to visit little girl on roof. Santa says little girl wants to give something to Hulk. (Hulk wonders how little girl got up there, but Hulk forgot to ask…) Little girl is big fan of Hulk and got Hulk a present. <<sniff!>> Now, little girl is Hulk’s fave-rit!

Here is picture (by egobus) of Hulk with Avengers at party. Hulk looks like tree with star on top.

This gives Black Widow idea, so… SpiderWee made this picture after Black Widow “decorated” Hulk like Christmas tree… (Hulk pretended not to like it, but Hulk liked spending time with Widow.)

No Hulk in last picture. Hulk just likes Santa with baby Jesus…

OK, Hulk done now. Hulk hungry. Does Hulk smell beans…?

Whew! Have to admit, that could have gone much worse. Alright, folks, have a belated but…

Happy Hulkin’ Christmas!!!

 

DC’s New TV Series in 2019

A few members of Doom Patrol

DC Comics has managed to produce an impressive number of popular, live-action TV series based on their superhero properties in recent years. These include “Arrow”, “The Flash”, “Supergirl”, “Legends of Tomorrow”, “Gotham”, “iZombie”, “Black Lightning”, and the most recent hit, “Titans”. (I haven’t checked out that last one, yet, as of this writing.) The only one I know for sure that is planning to end in the near future is “Gotham”, which debuts its 5th and final season this January. Meanwhile, though, DC has a few more tentatively scheduled to debut in 2019, and those are what I wanted to briefly review this week.

I already mentioned the “Batwoman” and “Stargirl” series in my “Girl Power!, part 1 of 2” post a couple months ago. The former will be spun off from the recent ‘Elseworlds’ crossover event in Flash/Arrow/Supergirl. It will star Ruby Rose as Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne’s (very lesbian) cousin who takes over Wayne Enterprises in Wayne’s absence, while also protecting Gotham in the guise of ‘Batwoman’. I thought she did OK in her ‘Elseworlds’ appearance, but I certainly hope the new series forces Rose to expand her acting range beyond the stoic-tough-chick bit.

From the way the “Stargirl” series is developing, I wonder if it should be called “Stargirl and the Justice Society”. In addition to Brec Bassinger in the title role, the JSA is going to include Joel McHale (Starman), Henry Thomas (Doctor Mid-Nite), Lou Ferrigno Jr. (Hourman), et al. I like the JSA but was never a huge fan. But, I’m curious to see what they do with these characters. (A few more details and links re the “Batwoman” and “Stargirl” series can be found in the above-linked post.)

Another re-imagining, “Doom Patrol” is set to spin off in February, after a few of the characters guest-starred in an episode of “Titans”. This is a quirky group of misfits with weird powers and a lot of psychological baggage. Or, as the DC press release put it:

“The Doom Patrol’s members each suffered horrible accidents that gave them superhuman abilities — but also left them scarred and disfigured. Traumatized and downtrodden, the team found purpose through The Chief, who brought them together to investigate the weirdest phenomena in existence — and to protect Earth from what they find. Part support group, part Super Hero team, the Doom Patrol is a band of super-powered freaks who fight for a world that wants nothing to do with them.”

Sounds like fun! There is the danger, of course, of it getting quite campy/silly. But, with smart writing and decent performances, it could be a great series!

Notables that have signed on include Timothy Dalton (The Chief), Brendan Fraser (Robotman), Matt Bomer (Negative Man), and Alan Tudyk (Mr. Nobody). No surprise, the show is being executive produced by Greg Berlanti and Geoff Johns.

Swamp Thing

Speaking of weird, “Swamp Thing” is coming to our screens, as well:

“Based on the DC Comics characters created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, the one-hour drama series would follow CDC researcher Abby Arcane, who returns to her childhood home of Houma, Louisiana, in order to investigate a deadly swamp-borne virus. She develops a surprising bond with scientist Alec Holland, only to have him tragically taken from her. But as powerful forces descend on Houma, intent on exploiting the swamp’s mysterious properties for their own purposes, Abby will discover that the swamp holds mystical secrets, and the potential love of her life may not be dead after all.”

The character first came to TV in a series (following two movies) starring Dick Durrock (1990-93). I never got into this character, either in print or on TV — just not my cup of bog water. But, it does look like it’s got some big names behind it. For example, Jennifer Beals, Ian Ziering, Virginia Madsen, and Will Patton will all have roles, with the monster himself being played by Derek Mears. Then there is Mark Verheiden as one of the writer / exec producers, and James Wan and his Atomic Monster Productions cohorts will also be producing. Len Wiseman will direct the pilot (and maybe more). Could be a decent series, so I’ll probably give it a look at some point.

Last but not least, we have CBS’s in-development “Secret Six” series. To be honest, I am unfamiliar with this team. But, from what I read, there have been a few incarnations in the comics, with members including second- and third-tier characters, as well as first-tier (e.g., Lex Luthor, Penguin, Bane). The one constant is that membership always consists of six diverse individuals, gathered and directed by the mysterious ‘Mockingbird’, who may or may not be one of the “field team”. As per the Variety article,

“The project, which has received a pilot production commitment at the network, follows six morally ambiguous strangers, each with their own unique specialties and secret pasts. They are brought together by an enigmatic figure who blackmails them into working as a team to expose the corruption of the corporate and political elite….

Rick Muirragui will write and executive produce, with Bill Lawrence and Jeff Ingold executive producing via Doozer Productions. Warner Bros. Television, where Doozer is under an overall deal, will produce.”

As far as I can tell, no actors have signed on, yet.

If I had to guess, I doubt they’ll have any of the first-tier characters in the line-up, but I could be wrong. Either way, I’m not sure how I feel about this project. The basic idea doesn’t thrill me, but I suppose it could be good if executed well. Muirragui has been writing/producing “Suits”, one of my favorite dramas, for years. If the writing is as sharp for “Secret Six” as it is for “Suits”, it could be a surprise hit!

And that brings us to the end… WAIT, no, there’s one more….

Metropolis by Kerem Gogus

“Metropolis” is being developed for a 2019 debut, too! Along with “Titans” and “Doom Patrol”, this makes three live-action series Warner Bros. is creating for the DC digital service. Not to be confused with SyFy’s “Krypton” series that already aired, this will be another Superman prequel.

“Metropolis will follow Lois Lane and Lex Luthor as they investigate the world of fringe science and expose the city’s dark and bizarre secrets…. [I]t promises to show us a wondrous and awe-inspiring City of Tomorrow, before the emergence of Superman, and establish much of the Man of Steel’s world leading up to his arrival.”

Still in the early stages, apparently, there are no actors attached, as yet. “Gotham”‘s John Stephens and Danny Cannon will also executive produce “Metropolis”, with Cannon directing the first episode from a teleplay by Stephens — story by both Cannon and Stephens.

“Metropolis will likely have a considerably different tone than Gotham. Superman’s villains are also more powerful, cosmic and rooted in science fiction than Batman’s, so one can only imagine there will be much less emphasis on street level gangsters and crime families in this forward-thinking city.”

Color me intrigued! This one, I’ll definitely be looking forward to….

Excelsior!

“The beauty of Stan Lee’s characters is that they were characters first and superheroes next.” — Jeff Kline, executive producer of the “Men in Black” animated television series

Earlier today, the world lost a legend, when Stan ‘the Man’ Lee died at 95. It’s hard to measure the contribution Lee made to comics and the pop culture entertainment industry. The super-prolific writer, editor, and one-time publisher of Marvel Comics created or co-created innumerable characters over his decades in the biz, including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Avengers, X-Men, etc. He was simply a creative powerhouse.

“He revived the industry in the 1960s by offering the costumes and action craved by younger readers while insisting on sophisticated plots, college-level dialogue, satire, science fiction, even philosophy.”

You didn’t have to like all of his creations in order to love Stan. His enthusiasm for the medium, the characters, and the fans was palpable. Indeed, he was still involved right until the end.

But, more than the cameos and executive producer credits for the MCU movies, what I and many long-time fans appreciate most is the comfort and enjoyment that Stan (and the industry he helped to mold) brought into our young lives. Indeed, his inimitable — and often alliterative — writing & speaking style, as well as his trademark shades and taglines, are recognized by “true believers” worldwide. There are and have been many great talents, but Stan the Man was in a class by himself.

You had a good, loooooong run, Stan, but we’ll miss you profoundly. Thanks for everything.

‘Nuff said.

Reacher’s Rules

“If in doubt, drink coffee.” — Jack Reacher

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that I’ve mentioned the ‘Jack Reacher’ character a couple times before — once when I recommended the novels and once when I attempted to fan-cast him. In the former, I mentioned Jack Reacher’s Rules, which Delacorte Press published a few years ago to capitalize on the character’s growing popularity. (There is a later edition without “Jack” in the title, too.) If you aren’t sure who Reacher is, here’s the short version [<<enter Tom Cruise joke here>>]:

“Jack Reacher, of no fixed address, is a former major in the U.S. Military Police. Since leaving the army, the authorities have not been able to locate his whereabouts, although his name mysteriously crops up from time to time in connection with investigations into murders, terrorist threats, and other breaches of the law.”

As I was trying to figure out what to write about this week, I remembered the ‘Rules’ book and thought I’d share a few. But, first, here is part of the book’s Introduction by Lee Child himself:

“Some rules are official. We form clubs and societies and associations and give them procedures and bylaws more complex than those of government bodies. [Well, I don’t know about that….]

Some rules are only semiofficial. Hit on your friend’s best girl? No way. Rat out an accomplice? Not going to happen. Break a strike? You’d rather die.

Some rules are just slogans, consoling and emboldening. Maybe as a kid, your gang — part of your street in part of your city in your country in the big, bewildering world — was, like kids are, told by your parents and teachers to be scared of strangers. No, you said. Strangers should be told to be scared of us.

Jack Reacher has always followed his own rules. He grew up in a fractured way, six months here, three months there, always moving, never stable, never belonging. Then he was a soldier, but too wise to buy into all the nonsense. He obeyed only the rules that made sense to him. Then he was cut loose and became a true outsider, profoundly comfortable with solitude. Does he have a tribe? You bet. He’s human. But in his case he kept on slicing and dicing until he got all the way down to a tribe with just one member — himself. But that tribe still needs rules, to guide, and embolden, and simplify, and reassure.

What follows are some of them.”

[Note: At this point, I’m tempted to get into a discussion about the problems of moral relativism. But, this is neither the time nor place.]

To be fair, these aren’t all “rules to live by”, exactly. Some are more like observations, opinions, warnings, etc. But, you get the idea.

Be Prepared:

o Never count on anything except surprise and unpredictability and danger.

o Ring doorbells with your knuckles or elbows to avoid leaving fingerprints.

o Walk up the edge of stairs to minimize the chances of loud creaks. Stairs squeak at their centers where they’re weakest.

o Go to bed fully clothed so you are always ready for action.

o Climb through a hole feetfirst. If there’s an ax or a bullet waiting, better to take it in the legs than in the head.

Breaking and Entering:

o First thing to do before attacking a lock is to check that it’s not already open. Nothing will make you feel stupider than picking a lock that’s not locked.

o To kick a door down: take a run toward the door, making sure to stay upright, and with your dominant leg kick the area below the doorknob hard, using your sole or your heel.

o For a door with a glass panel, use the sole of your shoe to break a hold in the glass, then reach through to the handle.

Choose Your Weapons:

o Next to a shotgun, a pool cue is the best weapon in a fight.

o A handgun at two hundred feet is the same thing as crossing your fingers and making a wish.

o A chisel plunged into the back of your head is going to seriously ruin your day.

o Rolls of quarters in your fists — good old-fashioned technology.

o “Twelve-gauge lead shots settle most disputes at the first time of asking.”

The Rules of Coffee:

o Nothing’s too urgent for coffee.

o It’s all about the caffeine.

o A good coffee mug is cylindrical in shape, narrow in relation to its height and with a thin lip.

o Ignore the fancy brews and get a tall house blend, black, no cream.

Conquer Your Fear:

o “I’m not scared of anybody… But certainly I preferred it when he was dead.”

o Her: “Why are you going back?” Reacher: “Because they told me not to.”

o “You see something scary, you should stand up and step toward it, not away from it. Instinctively, reflexively, in a raging fury.”

o Turn your fear into aggression.

Fighting:

o Identify the ringleader…. The ringleader is the one who always moves first.

o “Then I cheated. Instead of counting three I headbutted him full in the face.”

o Make the first shot count.

o Never revive a guy who just pulled a gun on you.

o “Attacking me was like pushing open a forbidden door. What waited on the other side was his problem.”

o “You don’t throw my friends out of helicopters and live to tell the tale.”

Food:

o “He had no prejudice against fast food. Better than slow food, for a traveling man.”

o Eat when you can, because you never know when you will next get the chance.

o Always eat a perfect breakfast: pancakes. Egg on the top, bacon on the side, plenty of syrup. And plenty of coffee.

o Before a night of action and stress, go for empty calories, fats, and complex carbohydrates: pizza and soda.

First Aid:

o After a fistfight, the best cure for a sore hand is to wrap it around a cold beer.

o To set your own broken nose, smack yourself firmly in the face with the heel of your hand.

o “Duct tape: the finest field dressing in the world. The Marines once flew me from Lebanon to Germany with nothing but duct tape keeping my lower intestine in.”

Getting Mad:

o Know when to get mad, and know when to count to ten before you get mad.

o “I’ve counted way past ten on this one. Way past.”

o “They mess with me, they answer to me.”

o “I wasn’t angry. I was barely interested. If I had been angry, we’d be cleaning up with a fire hose. As it is, we’re going to need a forklift truck.”

Random and Assorted:

o “Now they broke my toothbrush, I don’t own anything.”

o “Be skeptical but not too skeptical. Too much skepticism leads to paranoia and paralysis.”

o “Dealing with morons… is like teaching Hindu to a beagle.”

o “Suicide bombers give out all kinds of telltale signs. Mostly because they’re nervous. By definition, they’re all first-timers.”

o Most people stick to underwear from their country of origin. It’s a big step putting on foreign underwear, like betrayal or emigration.

o “I don’t need to go hunting them. I already know I’m smarter than an armadillo.”

o “I’m sleeping well… but I think that’s mostly because of the tranquilizers.”

o Four o’clock in the morning is the best time to attack. In the Army they call it KGB time.

o “Carry a spare shirt and pretty soon you’re carrying spare pants. Then you need a suitcase. Next thing you know, you’ve got a house and a car and a savings plan and you’re filling out all kinds of forms.”

o “Reacher made no reply. It was a technique he had perfected half a lifetime ago. Just stand absolutely still, don’t blink, say nothing. Wait for them to run through the possibilities. Wait for them to start worrying.”

o If you’re surrounded, that simplifies your problems.

o Never hit a woman unless she’s trying to kill you.

o “I don’t want to put the world to rights. I just don’t like people who put the world to wrongs.”

That’s enough, but there are plenty more in the ‘Rules’ book — and, of course, scattered throughout the novels.

You know, come to think of it, I haven’t read a Reacher adventure in several months. Time to put one on the top of my reading (or listening) pile….

Girl Power!, part 2 of 2

“Another day, another alien to punch.” — Captain Marvel

Last week, I noted the historical dearth of female titular leads among superhero films and TV series, as well as the recent trend in a positive direction. In particular, we looked at several current such projects based on DC-based heroes (and villains). So, as promised, this week we will review those in development on the Marvel Comics side of the fence. But first…

Independent:

Red Sonja, the “She-Devil with a sword” (also created by Conan’s Robert E. Howard), is getting a new film adaptation. I almost included this under the Marvel listings, because Marvel held the comic license for so many years, but Dynamite Entertainment owns it now and has closer ties to the movie production. Technically, I’m not sure “sword and sorcery” should be lumped under “superheroes”, either.

This one has been in development (sort of) since Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan were attached to it in 2008/2009. The failed reboot of Conan the Barbarian (2011) was a setback and by 2015 it was truly in “development hell”. Last November, though, Millennium Media announced it was financing/producing a Red Sonja reboot and putting it on the fast-track. Millenium’s Avi Lerner (The Expendables) said,

“We have been waiting for the right time for this remake, and with the success of Wonder Woman, the audience has spoken. They want female heroes.”

Lerner is producing with Joe Gatta (the Conan reboot) with support from Mark Canton (300) and Courtney Solomon (Cake) of Cinelou, among others. No casting news, but Bryan Singer is directing and Christopher Cosmos and David N. White are writing the screenplay.

Marvel:

Captain Marvel

1) Ever since a Captain Marvel solo film was announced over two years ago, fans have been waiting with great anticipation. The character has become quite popular in the comics, so it makes sense that Marvel would want to capitalize on that by making her their Phase 3 “big gun”. In a sense, she is Marvel’s answer to Wonder Woman — an incredibly strong (in more ways than one) and complex female hero, who they hope can carry a film on her own. While I might not have thought to cast Brie Larson in the role, I am optimistic that she can pull it off.

Captain Marvel, which is due out next March, puts the character in the 1990s and sends her into space. So, audiences will see her “origins” and an explanation for why she hasn’t been on Earth for awhile. Those “origins”, by the way, are being altered a bit from the comics, in order to reduce the parallels with DC’s Green Lantern. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck — frequent professional collaborators and now married, as well — are co-directing the film. They are also credited with the screenplay, along with five other women. (I wonder how that worked! Fifteen minutes’ worth of screen-time apiece?)

2) Probably the other most-anticipated, female-led Marvel movie is Black Widow. Finally! She has guested in a few of the other Avengers’ solo movies, but hasn’t got her own. But, as of January of this year, it was finally confirmed that Scarlett Johansson would be reprising the ‘Natasha Romanoff’ / ‘Black Widow’ character in a solo film of her own. The character has been around in the comics for quite awhile and is much older than she looks, so there is plenty of fodder for source-faithful stories.

There is no release date as yet beyond the tentative year 2020. No known plot, either, though it will probably be a prequel to her previous appearances. (I’m hoping for a cool, Cold War spy flick!) Nicole Perlman (treatment) and Jac Schaeffer (screenplay) have writing credits, according to IMDB. Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome) is directing, while Victoria Alonso shares exec producing credit with her usual Marvel partners (Stan Lee, Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito).

3&4) Not long after Sony confirmed (early 2017) that Tom Hardy would be starring in their Venom movie, the studio announced it had hired Gina Prince-Bythewood (Marvel’s “Cloak and Dagger”) to direct and do some script rewrites on Silver & Black, which would unite the Black Cat and Silver Sable characters. Black Cat, of course, is Felicia Hardy, a cat burglar who alternately flirts and fights with Spider-Man. (Yes, it’s an obvious “rip-off” of the Catwoman/Batman relationship, though that’s about where the similarities ended.) Silver Sable is Silver Sablinova, who led the Symkarian mercenary group “The Wild Pack” (whom she “inherited” from her father) and founded Silver Sable International. No surprise, Spidey has been known to both clash and team up with Sable (with or without the Wild Pack).

Black Cat and Silver Sable

An early report described the plot as having Sable hired to track down Black Cat, and several other costumed characters would make appearances. The movie would end with Sable assembling an Avengers-like, all-female team. There were other reports but, long story short, that project stalled out. Then, early this past August, Sony announced that they were replacing the team-up with solo Silver Sable and Black Cat films, with the latter being first in the queue. According to Sanford Panitch, president of Columbia Pictures and overseer of Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters (SUMC),

“We believe Black Cat is enough of her own character with a great backstory and a canon of material to draw from to justify her own film.”

No release dates or much else to report. Last I read, Prince-Bythewood’s involvement with either film is uncertain, but if she doesn’t direct, Sony still plans to hire a female for the job. I will note that I don’t see a Black Cat entry on IMDB, yet, but I do see one for Silver Sable. It lists Prince-Bythewood as a producer and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Captain Marvel, Tomb Raider reboot) as writer.

5) I recently discovered several lesser-known Marvel characters from the Spidey books that Sony has plans to make solo films about, thereby attempting to further expand their Spider-Man-related universe without Spider-Man (‘cuz they don’t have the rights to him). One of those characters is ‘Jackpot’, a young costumed crimefighter who got her powers from a mix of Mutant Growth Hormone (MGH), anabolic steroids, and other drugs. She appeared in a handful of issues back in 2008. That’s it. So, while they could make a workable story about her without the Spider-Man connection, ya gotta ask, “Why?”

6) Now, for the small-screen we have a new series in development for ABC by Allan Heinberg. You may recognize Heinberg’s name from his many years as a TV writer and producer or maybe from the fact that he wrote the screenplay for Wonder Woman (2017). The series will follow an all-female team of Marvel heroes. Who? Dunno. At this point, we don’t even know if they will be big names or “lesser known characters.” What we do know is that Heinberg will executive produce (with Jeph Loeb, of course) for the Marvel TV / ABC Studios joint project.

To be honest, I’m not big on sword-and-sorcery these days (exceptions being GoT and anything by Tolkien), so I’ll probably skip any Red Sonja flick. I’m definitely interested in the Captain Marvel and Black Widow movies, though. Those ladies are bad@$$! I’m hopeful that the Black Cat and Silver Sable productions get done and done well, ‘cuz those are fun characters that might be able to carry their own films outside of a strong connection to Spider-Man. I’d love to see a heist/caper movie and a manhunt, respectively. Jackpot I couldn’t care less about and, if Sony gets a clue, they will hopefully realize that the odds are stacked against it being a success and just kill the project. As for the ABC TV series, it sort of depends on what characters and direction they decide to go, but for now, color me intrigued.

Just so you know, I am not a feminist, so that’s not where I’m coming from on this subject. Naturally, then, I don’t want to see strong “feminist” themes pushed in these projects. But, I do appreciate that this is one genre where women tend to get the short shrift. That’s a real shame, because there are some great female characters and talent. So, despite some reservations, I am pleased to see efforts being made to correct this situation. As long as there are good stories told with quality talent and production values, I look forward to seeing them. And, of course, the more faithful to the source material the characters are, the better.

Girl Power!, part 1 of 2

“I’m havin a bad day! I’m sick of people tryin’ ta shoot me, run me over, or blow me up!” — Harley Quinn

While it’s true that we have had strong, kick-butt women on both small- and large-screens for some time, they have been noticeably rare as leads — especially in the superhero subgenre. The notable exception is the “Wonder Woman” series from the 1970s. (I think I still have a crush on Lynda Carter!) There have been some strong female characters in more recent DC-based TV shows (e.g., “Arrow”, “The Flash”). But, it wasn’t until Oct. 2015 that they debuted their first female headliner in decades: “Supergirl”. Roughly a month later, Marvel/Netflix gave us their own female star: “Jessica Jones”. Then, of course, there was the spectacular success of the Wonder Woman solo movie in 2017.

With the popularity of these characters and others in the superhero films of the past decade or so, the studios appear to be more willing to invest money and talent on female-led productions. (That includes not just the stars but writers and directors, too.) In fact, I’ve seen several announced in the news of late, so I figured we’d review what is on the roster.

DC:

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

1) Following Margot Robbie’s fan-fave portrayal of ‘Harley Quinn’ in Suicide Squad, she lined up several spinoffs in which she would reprise the role. One of them was Gotham City Sirens, which would ostensibly team her up with versions of Catwoman and Poison Ivy. There hasn’t been much news on this for awhile, and there is no targeted release date; but, as of last December, director David Ayer said the project was still “in development” and he was still on board to helm it. The same report says that Christina Hodson was doing the writing.

2) Robbie is also trying to get a ‘Harley Quinn’ solo movie off the ground, though I haven’t heard or seen anything since the initial announcement. Good luck!

3) The one HQ project that seems to have the most momentum, though, is Birds of Prey. Produced by Robbie (and based on her idea), written by Hodson, and directed by Cathy Yan, this one will team her up with Huntress, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, and possibly Cassandra Cain (aka ‘Batgirl’).

“I pitched the idea of an R-rated girl gang film including Harley, because I was like, ‘Harley needs friends.’ Harley loves interacting with people, so don’t ever make her do a standalone film. She’s got to be with other people, it should be a girl gang. I wasn’t seeing enough girl gangs on screen, especially in the action space. So that was always a big part of it.”

That comment about never putting HQ in a standalone film seems odd, given her own intent to make such a film. From the context, though, I’m guessing that by “standalone” Robbie actually meant a story where she worked alone, with no allies. I suppose a “solo” film might have her working with and/or on behalf of non-costumed persons.

Currently slated to begin production on Birds of Prey in Jan. 2019, recent reports have the following actresses among those testing for the main roles: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Justina Machado, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Roberta Colindrez, Margaret Qualley, Cristin Milioti, Sofia Boutella. Interesting…

4) On the small-screen, “Supergirl” is set to introduce Kate Kane, aka ‘Batwoman’, and spin her off into her own series next year. Although there have been plenty of LGBTQ characters in the DC shows, this will be the first to star in her own series, and she’ll also be portrayed by an LGBTQ actor — Ruby Rose. Caroline Dries will write and exec produce. Other executive producers include Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, and Geoff Johns.

To be honest, neither the LGBTQ angle nor the purported “social justice” emphasis appeal to me. But, Rose is gorgeous, intense, and has some fighting skills, so I may check it out, anyway.

5) This was a surprise to me, ‘cuz I didn’t think the character had sufficient name recognition to center a project on, but “Stargirl” is getting her own live-action series. Not to be confused with the upcoming TV movie of the same name (but different subject), this one will also not be the 1940s-era version as played by Sarah Grey in “Legends of Tomorrow”. However, the eponymous central character will indeed be a teenage ‘Courtney Whitmore’, who “inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to stop the villains of the past.” Apparently, this will be a reimagined version of both her and the Justice Society of America.

Brec Bassinger

Creator/showrunner Geoff Johns gushed about his new star:

“There is no other character in comic books more special to me than Stargirl. [Note: He created her in the 1990s and named her after his deceased sister.] And after searching far and wide, I can say there is no other actor on the planet that embodies her more than Brec Bassinger. Brec’s warmth, strength, humor and positive energy are core to who Courtney Whitmore is. I’m so grateful she’s signed on for the role.”

I’ll take your word for it, dude, since I’m not familiar with Bassinger. But, of course, he’s right about Courtney Whitmore’s personality, and I’m glad he retained that aspect in this reimagination. The series, which will air on the new DC Universe subscription service, will debut sometime in 2019. Not surprisingly, Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter join Johns as executive producers.

6) Back on the big screen, we have Supergirl. That’s right, the Girl of Steel is getting another film adaptation. (Hopefully better than the 1984 version, starring Helen Slater.) Not much is known about it, as it is still in the very early stages of development. However, it looks like Oren Uziel is working on a script, and Reed Morano is being courted to direct, though I haven’t heard that she’s signed on, yet. Reports are that this will be a “a new iteration”, so no Melissa Benoist or any ties to TV’s “Arrowverse”. Whether or not it will tie into the existing DCEU filmverse is still uncertain.

I’m not a huge fan of Robbie’s oversexualized ‘Harley Quinn’ (based on the comics’ Prime Earth version, of course), being more a fan of the original (New Earth) version in the jester outfit from the animated TV series & movies. I’m also of two minds about making murderous psychos into “heroes”. But, the Gotham City Sirens and Birds of Prey intrigue me enough to check ’em out. “Stargirl” could be fun. Not sure how I feel about a Supergirl movie concurrent with the TV series, but if done well, I might even like it better.

That’s a pretty good crop of new projects, wouldn’t ya say? And, we’re only half-way through, since I have yet to cover the Marvel-based stuff. ‘Til next week…

The Measure of a Man

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat.” — Navy SEALs

Somethin’ a little different for ya, this week.

I don’t usually go for “macho” stuff, but I recently bought The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide by Frank Miniter, ‘cuz I thought there might be some helpful — or at least interesting — tips in there. He writes about survival skills, first-aid, firearms, hunting, fishing, athletic advice, hand-to-hand combat, cigars, alcohol, romance, some philosophy, et al. I’ve only read the Introduction, so far, but I found a passage I thought I’d share. Following an anecdote about when he actually ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, Miniter asks the question, “So how do we become men when there’s no test to pass?”. Of course, he answers his own question, which I reproduce for you here….

Despite the lack of a rite of passage, being a man is something we try to achieve, at least the best of us. And there’s more to being a man than climbing the Matterhorn, shooting 100 on the sporting clays range, or dropping a bully with a right hook. There’s being a father, a husband, a good brother, and citizen. Being a man is being a mensch. Being a man means doing the right thing regardless of who’s looking; it means biting the bullet and taking the hit (in life) even when you’re not going to profit — especially when you’re not going to profit.

Being a man means suffering in silence, knowing how to keep your mouth shut, but still not being afraid to speak up. It means being the white knight, Robin Hood, George Washington, and Roland all rolled into one. It means speaking softly, yet carrying a big stick. It means knowing how to say you’re sorry, and mean it. It means keeping your own counsel and knowing when to seek advice — very tricky life stuff. It means understanding the words “Duty. Honor. Country.” It means having the know-how to solve a crisis. It means not panicking in an emergency. It means being a hero when no one is looking. It means knowing how to survive, lead, and show others the way.

Being a man means standing your ground when you must, but not seeking glory by harming or dominating others — a man is never a bully. The underlying reason Ahab in Moby Dick is a monster, not a man, is because he holds his wrath higher than the lives of his crew.

Being a man means finding the correct path even if you don’t have a guide. Hamlet doesn’t become a man until he dies, because, left fatherless, he is forced to take the steps to manhood alone and so attempts immature machinations before standing up boldly for justice and then dying as a man of courage and honor. Characters such as Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye are tragic because they’re rudderless in adolescence and so, like Hamlet, tread a dark path to manhood. Others, such as Harvey in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, become men because a man takes the time to show them the way.

Being a man means having the moxie to choose your own destiny. Gus in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is a man because he controls his emotions and makes the decision to go up against a group of outlaws alone in order to free the damsel-in-distress. Then he affirms his manhood by not wallowing in his heroism or making the event about himself. In fact, Westerns have retained their popularity because cowboys are our white knights, men who stoically follow a masculine code of honor. Many of John Wayne’s characters were men who lived by a tough, manly code, a set of rules often not taught to youth these days. Today, the American male has no code. We have laws, but legalism is a poor substitute for a code of honor, because legality doesn’t always parallel morality.

The ultimate man, as reconstructed in this book, is that “one thing” Curly referred to as the meaning of life in City Slickers. He is virtue and action forged into something we can comprehend without advanced degrees in a dozen fields. He is an evolving concept characterizing right and wrong in a heroic, comprehensible figure; he is someone to look to and question as we encounter worldly problems.

He is fundamental because, despite the absence of clear rites of passage, every male must learn how to be a man as best he can; after all, such knowledge isn’t written in our genetic codes. Training shapes a soldier, a poet, and a boxer, not just courage, intellect, and brawn. Indeed, the American who wouldn’t be a man and run with the bulls failed himself because of his ignorance. Knowledge instills confidence. Through understanding comes self-reliance. That American’s fate in Pamplona could have been mine, but because I understood what was happening, I steadied myself with the knowledge of what had to be done to survive. That’s what this book is about….”

I might quibble a bit here and there or want to add qualifiers, but all in all, great advice.

Superpowers and the Second Amendment

Once again, this week I’d like to look at some material from the book The Law of Superheroes by lawyers James Daily and Ryan Davidson. We have already examined some Fifth Amendment issues and some Eighth Amendment issues in the world(s) of comics. Next up, it only makes sense to address where the Second Amendment might have something to say about the use of superpowers….

Although some superheroes and villains have powers that are harmless or at least not directly harmful to others (e.g., invulnerability, superintelligence), many have abilities that have no or only limited uses apart from harm (e.g., Superman’s heat vision, Havok’s plasma blasts). Although the government may be limited in its ability to discriminate on the basis of mutant status or innate superpowers, could the federal government or the states regulate superpowers as weapons without running afoul of the Second Amendment?

The Supreme Court has relatively recently addressed the Second Amendment in two cases: DC v. Heller*1* and McDonald v. City of Chicago.*2* The first case dealt with the District of Columbia’s ability to regulate firearms, and (broadly speaking) the second case applied the same limits to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. In particular, Heller held that the District of Columbia’s ban on possession of usable handguns in the home violated the Second Amendment. From those decisions we can get a sense of how a comic book universe court might address the issue of superpowers as arms.

The Scope of the Second Amendment

First, let us begin with the text of the amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”*3* This is a notoriously difficult sentence to interpret, but here is how the Court defined the individual terms.

“[T]he people” refers to people individually, not collectively, and not only to the subset of the people that could be a part of the militia.*4* “Arms” refers broadly to “weapons of offence, or armour of defence” and “any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands, or useth in wrath to cast at or strike another,” and it is not limited to weapons in existence in the eighteenth century.*5* Interestingly, this suggests that defensive powers may also be protected by the Second Amendment, but for the sake of brevity we will only consider offensive powers as those are the kind most likely to be regulated.

“To keep and bear arms” means “to have weapons” and to “wear, bear, or carry… upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose… of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.”*6* Taken together, the Second Amendment guarantees “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” but the right does not extend to any and all confrontations — there are limits.*7*

The Court first addressed limitations established by past precedents: “the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms (though only arms that ‘have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulate militia’).”*8* Further, “the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns.”*9*

Beyond that, there are lawful limits on concealed weapons as well as “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”*10* Perhaps most importantly for our purposes, there is a valid, historical limitation on “dangerous and unusual weapons.”*11*

With the scope of the right established, let us now turn to whether the government could regulate superpowers under the Second Amendment.

Regulating Superpowers as Weapons

We may start with the presumption that a superpower may be possessed and used for lawful purposes such as self-defense. The question is whether a given power fits into any of the exceptions that limit the Second Amendment right.

The Human Torch

“Concealed Weapons”
First, many superpowers could be considered “concealed weapons.” Before the Human Torch shouts “flame on!” and activates his power, he appears to be an ordinary person. Could the government require a kind of Scarlet Letter to identify those with concealed superpowers? The answer is a qualified yes. The Constitution would not tolerate requiring innately superpowered individuals to identify themselves continuously. That would seem to violate the constitutional right to privacy and the limited right to anonymity. Furthermore, simply keeping concealed weapons is allowed (e.g., a hidden gun safe in a home). The real objection is to concealed weapons borne on the person in public.

Thus, the calculus changes when a superhero sets out to bear his or her powers against others in public (e.g., goes out to fight crime). Luckily, many superheroes already identify themselves with costumes or visible displays of power (e.g., Superman, the Human Torch). Beyond that, most states offer concealed carry permits to the public, usually after a thorough background check and safety & marksmanship training. It may well be that the Constitution requires that if a state will grant a concealed carry permit for a firearm then it must do the same for an otherwise lawful superpower.

“Typically Possessed by Law-Abiding Citizens for Lawful Purposes”
Whether this limitation encompasses a given superpower may depend on the number of superpowered individuals in a given universe and the balance of lawful superheroes to unlawful supervillains. If superpowered individuals are relatively common, which seems to be the case in the Marvel Universe, for example, and superpowered individuals are generally law-abiding and use their powers for lawful purposes, then superpowers would seem to be protected by the Second Amendment. If, on the other hand, superpowers are very unusual or if they are typically used unlawfully, then the government may be able to regulate such powers more extensively.

In most comic book universes powers are both relatively common and normally used for good, suggesting that they do not fall under this exception. However, if certain kinds of powers are more commonly associated with law breaking, then perhaps those powers in particular may be regulated, though in our experience powers of all kinds seem evenly distributed between heroes and villains.

“Dangerous and Unusual Weapons”
Here we come to the catchall. Superpowers are certainly unusual in an historical sense,*12* and they are unusual in the sense that in most comic book universes superpowered individuals are a minority. But perhaps it is the nature of the power that counts. If a superpowered individual is approximately as powerful as a normal individual with a handgun (though perhaps one with unlimited ammunition), is that really so unusual?

Wherever the line is drawn, it seems clear that at least some superpowers would qualify as dangerous or unusual weapons (e.g., Cyclops’s optic blasts, Havok’s plasma blasts). These are well beyond the power of weapons allowed even by permit, and their nature is unlike any weapon typically owned by individuals or even the police and military.

Havok vs. Cyclops

The Nature and Scope of Regulation

Given that some powers are likely to fall outside the protection of the Second Amendment, how could the government regulate them? We’ve already discussed the issue of concealed powers, but what about powers that fall into the other two exceptions?

The government would take a page from the way it regulates mundane firearms. First, all possessors of potentially harmful powers could be subject to a background check if they did not have the powers from birth. If they failed the background check, they could be forbidden to use the power (although use in self-defense might still be allowed by the Constitution). A registration scheme would be likely, subject to the limits discussed in reference to the Keene Act.

Second, exceptional powers could be subject to a permitting system including more thorough background checks and training requirements. Some powers could be expressly prohibited outside police or military use.

Third, superpowered individuals who have committed crimes — with or without using their powers — may be forbidden from using them or even be required to have their powers deactivated, if possible, in keeping with the Eighth Amendment issues discussed earlier. Following the decision in United States v. Comstock*13* it may even be permissible to indefinitely detain a superpowered criminal after his or her prison sentence was completed if it was not otherwise possible to prevent future criminal acts.

What about uncontrolled powers, for which merely forbidding the use isn’t enough? This probably falls outside the scope of the Second Amendment and is closer to the law of involuntary commitment. If a superpowered individual is a danger to himself or others, then he could be required to undergo de-powering treatment or be incarcerated for the individual’s protection and the protection of society.

There may be an alternative to incarceration or de-powering. In the real world, specialized drug courts offer treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment for nonviolent offenders. “Super courts” could work with institutions like the Xavier Institute, which aims to teach mutants to control their powers and use them safely.

Thus, the Supreme Court’s current view of the Second Amendment, though politically contentious, would give superpowered individuals significant protection to keep and use their powers largely free from government regulation or interference, with some important limitations.


*1* 554 U.S. 570 (2008)

*2* 561 U.S. 3025, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010).

*3* U.S. Const., amend. II.

*4* Heller, 554 U.S. at 581.

*5* Id. at 582.

*6* Id. at 584 (quoting Muscarello v. United States, 524 U.S. 125 (1998) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting)).

*7* Id. at 591-96.

*8* Id. at 595 (quoting United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 178 (1939).

*9* Id. at 625.

*10* Id. at 627.

*11* Id.

*12* Not counting the Marvel Earth-311 continuity, in which superpowers appeared in the Elizabethan era. Neal Gaiman, Marvel: 1602 (2006).

*13* 560 U.S. (2010), 130 S. Ct. 1949.

There ya go! I feel a little better about using my superpowers in public, now. 🙂

P.S. As much as I’d love to discuss Second Amendment rights in general, I strive to keep real-world, political controversy out of this blog for the most part. So, if you comment below, please keep this in mind. Thanks!

Supervillain Sentencing and the Eighth Amendment

A couple weeks ago, I cited some material from the book The Law of Superheroes by lawyers James Daily and Ryan Davidson. This week, I have reproduced another section on a subject I’ve been thinking a bit about lately, especially the part about supervillain prisons.

On the “Supergirl” TV show, the DEO keeps various alien criminals — escapees from the crashed Kryptonian prison — that they have recaptured. As a government agency, presumably they have some legal basis for this. But, the heroes on “The Flash” have no governmental authority (as far as I can tell), yet they imprison captured supervillains — and keep them in very small cells. On “Arrow”, Oliver Queen doesn’t take many prisoners, but he has been known to keep one or two (e.g., Deathstroke) in a secret, underground cell on the island of Lian Yu. (Though, that may have been in association with A.R.G.U.S.) It makes me wonder if any of the villains/criminals’ right have been violated. (Not that I have much sympathy for them.)

What if the state attempted to imprison an immortal supervillain for life? Or tried to execute a nigh-invulnerable supervillain? And what about special supervillain prisons? Finally, could a supervillain’s powers be forcibly removed? Besides the practical problems involved with imprisoning an immortal, all-powerful villain like, say, Galactus, there are also constitutional issues to consider. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” In the examples above, how would the courts rule?

Immortal Supervillains and Life Imprisonment

Life imprisonment appears to have emerged in the nineteenth century as an alternative to the death penalty. The Supreme Court formally recognized it as constitutional in 1974.*1* For most people, a sentence of life without parole is really just a sentence of a few decades. The issue is not limited simply to life without parole, either; courts can and do hand down consecutive life sentences. A defendant convicted of multiple serious crimes that do not reach the level in which life without parole is permitted may still be sentenced to enough prison time to guarantee that he’ll never be released, e.g., six twenty-year terms to be served consecutively. He’d have to come up for and be paroled for each one in turn, which amounts to a life sentence.

But what about an immortal (or at least very long-lived) supervillain like Apocalypse? Even a very young man who gets life without parole will rarely see more than five decades in prison. Which is bad, but it’s an entirely different kettle of fish from seeing fifty decades or five hundred decades. Is this cruel and unusual punishment?

It may very well be, especially given the ongoing debate about the practice of incarceration in general. There have been cases in which judges have ordered the release of large numbers of convicts due to prison conditions, especially overcrowding.*2* But that aside, it seems plausible that the Supreme Court might well rule that imprisoning someone for centuries, in addition to being completely impractical and phenomenally expensive, is crueler than simply killing him or her. Thus, if capital punishment is unavailable as an alternative to an eternity in prison, whether because no capital crime was committed or because the jurisdiction does not allow capital punishment, then a very long but finite sentence — or at least the possibility of parole — may be constitutionally required.

Nigh-Invulnerable Characters and the Death Penalty

While many superpowered characters are tough, most can be killed through conventional means when it comes right down to it. However, others may either be unkillable (e.g., Doomsday, Dr. Manhattan) or extremely difficult to kill (e.g., Wolverine). In the case of a character with a healing factor like Wolverine’s, none of the most common modern methods of execution would work: shooting, hanging, lethal injection, electrocution, or the gas chamber. Decapitation might work (Xavier Protocol Code 0-2-1 mentions this as a possibility for Wolverine), but no one’s tried it.

This uncertainty is problematic, because while the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty and has never specifically invalidated a method of punishment on the grounds that it was cruel and unusual,*3* it has stated “[p]unishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death.”*4* Decapitation has been specifically cited as a form of execution that is likely unconstitutional for being too painful.*5* Another hypothetical example is “a series of abortive attempts at electrocution,” which would present an “objectively intolerable risk of harm.”*6* Since we don’t know if a given method of execution would actually work for a regenerating or nigh-invulnerable supervillain, trial and error would be the only way to determine an effective method. Since regenerating characters are often unaffected by drugs, it may not be possible to mitigate pain. It seems likely, then, that the courts would rule that trying to carry out the death penalty would be unconstitutional for those who are unkillable or almost unkillable.

Interior shot of Negative Zone prison

Supervillain Prisons

Many supervillains could easily break out of a normal prison, so many comic books have developed special methods of incarceration to handle people who can fly or walk through walls. One example is the Marvel Universe’s Negative Zone, which housed a prison during the Marvel Civil War. Although conditions at the Negative Zone prison were similar to a normal prison, the Zone itself seemed to negatively affect some people’s emotions and mental health. Is it cruel and unusual to imprison people in such a place?

In short, probably not. Even regular prisons are seriously depressing, so it’s already going to be difficult to prove that a prison in the Negative Zone is worse enough to be considered cruel or unusual punishment. As the Supreme Court has said:

“The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain… constitutes cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. We have said that among unnecessary and wanton inflictions of pain are those that are totally without penological justification. In making this determination in the context of prison conditions, we must ascertain whether the officials involved acted with deliberate indifference to the inmates’ health or safety.”*7*

Furthermore, to be “sufficiently serious” to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, “a prison official’s act or omission must result in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”*8* Minimal is the right word; prison officials “must provide humane conditions of confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.”*9* This is a very low bar.

The emotional effects of the Negative Zone are not really part of the punishment but rather a side effect of the place. Because the Negative Zone is the only suitable prison for many supervillains, the side effect is arguably necessary. Further, the side effects are not controlled or intentionally inflicted by anyone. Thus, the effects are not inflicted wantonly (i.e., deliberately and unprovoked). Offering the inmates adequate living conditions and mental health care to offset the effects of the Negative Zone could probably eliminate a charge of deliberate indifference. Finally, it would be difficult to argue that imprisonment in the Negative Zone denies the minimum civilized measure of life’s necessities. “The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons,” as the Farmer court noted,*10* only humane ones, and the Negative Zone is probably not bad enough to run afoul of the Eighth Amendment under the circumstances.

Forcible Removal of Superpowers

The DC supervillain Timothy Karnes had the power to transform into a demonic superbeing (Sabbac) by uttering a word of power. After being caught by Captain Marvel and transformed back into his human form, Karnes’s larynx was surgically removed in order to prevent him from turning back into Sabbac. Is this cruel and unusual?

A real-world parallel is chemical castration, where convicted sex offenders, usually pedophiles, are treated with a hormonal drug routinely used as a contraceptive in women. While it has four side effects in women, in men the drug results in a massively reduced sex drive.

Sabbac (Timothy Karnes version)

About a dozen states use chemical castration in at least some cases, and there does not appear to have been a successful challenge on constitutional grounds. This may in part be due to the fact that a significant percentage of the offenders who are given the treatment volunteer for it, as it offers a way of controlling their urges. If the person being sentenced does not object, it’s hard for anyone else to come up with standing for a lawsuit.*11* Either way, despite health and civil rights concerns, this appears to be a viable sentence in the United States legal system.

But is should not be hard to see that physically and permanently removing someone’s ability to speak is not exactly the same as putting a reversible (or even permanent) chemical damper on their sex drive. It’s entirely possible to live an otherwise normal life with a low sex drive, but being mute interferes with essential daily activities in a far more intrusive way. So while the idea of physical modification to the human body is not unconstitutional on its face, it remains to be seen whether this degree of modification would be permitted. For example, while chemical castration appears to be constitutional, it’s pretty likely that physical castration would not be. We can only say “pretty likely” because Buck v. Bell, a 1927 Supreme Court case that upheld (eight to one!) a Virginia statute instituting compulsory sterilization of “mental defectives,” has never been expressly overturned, and tens of thousands of compulsory sterilizations occurred in the United States after Buck, most recently in 1981.*12*

On the other hand, Karnes isn’t your run-of-the-mill offender. He’s possessed by six demonic entities and capable of wreaking an immense amount of destruction. Part of the analysis in determining whether or not a punishment is cruel and unusual is whether or not the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime.*13* This is, in part, why the Supreme Court has outlawed the death penalty for rape cases. If the crime as such doesn’t leave anyone dead, execution seems to be a disproportionate response.*14*

The Eighth Amendment also prohibits “the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,” including those “totally without penological justification.”*15* Here, though, there is a clear penological justification, namely the prevention of future crimes, and the laryngectomy, a routine medical procedure frequently used in those suffering from throat cancer, could be carried out in a humane manner without the infliction of unnecessary pain.

There are other criteria by which a punishment is judged, including whether it accords with human dignity and whether it is shocking or contrary to fundamental fairness. But in a case like this, necessity goes a long way, especially because the purpose of the operation is not retributive punishment but rather incapacitation. If the only way to prevent Karnes from assuming his demonic form is to render him mute, then it’s possible that the courts would go along with that, particularly if it proved impossible to contain him otherwise and the operation was carried out in a humane manner.

However, what if taking away someone’s powers could be done with no other side effects? In X-Men: The Last Stand and various stories in the comic books, someone develops a “cure” for mutation, which removes or mitigates a mutant’s powers without really affecting them in any other way. This is far more like the chemical castration situation, but unlike that, a “cure” wouldn’t even remove any functions a normal human has. It’s very unlikely that a court would recognize this as being unconstitutionally inhumane, provided their offense was serious enough to justify this rather harsh sentence.


*1* Schick v. Reed, 419 U.S. 256 (1974) (holding that reversing the Presidential pardon which reduced a death sentence to life without parole would be unconstitutional).

*2* See, e.g., Brown v. Plata, 131 S. Ct. 19190 (2011).

*3* See Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 48 (2008) (“This Court has never invalidated a State’s chosen procedure for carrying out a sentence of death as the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.”)

*4* Id. at 46.

*5* Id.

*6* Id.

*7* Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 737-38 (2002) (holding that handcuffing an inmate to a hitching post outdoors for several hours with inadequate water and restroom breaks violated the Eighth Amendment) (quotations and citations omitted).

*8* Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).

*9* Id. at 833.

*10* Id.

*11* “Standing” is essentially having the right status to bring a lawsuit. Under Article III of the Constitution, courts only have jurisdiction over “cases and controversies,” and the Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that the plaintiff has to have suffered some kind of actual injury. So a person can bring a lawsuit on the basis of injury to himself, but generally lacks “standing” to bring a lawsuit on the basis of injuries to someone else. The injured person has to do it. In this case, the mutant being sentenced would have to bring the lawsuit on his own behalf, so if he consents to the procedure, no one else is going to be sufficiently injured to have “standing.”

*12* Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927); Paul A. Lombardo, Three Generation, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell (2008) (documenting the history of compulsory sterilization in the United States); Eugenics Victims to Get Apology, Eugene Register-Guard, Nov. 16, 2002, at 2B (noting that sterilizations occurred in Oregon through 1981).

*13* Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11, 21 (2003).

*14* Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008) (“As it relates to crimes against individuals… the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.”).

*15* Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 737-38 (2002).

Wow, that’s a lot to digest. But, I feel like a learned something — or, at least, got a better feel for how some of that legal stuff works and how it might work in a world with superpowered beings. I hope some of you are getting something out of these posts, too, ‘cuz I’ve got one more scheduled for a couple weeks from now. TTFN…