Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spider-Man and Batman

I watched the new Spider-Man 3 trailer yesterday (three times). You can get to it by following this link: This trailer gives us our clearest look yet at Venom. Venom is one of my favoritie villains in the Spider-Man universe. He is the mirror image of Spider-Man if the mirror is of the twisted, fun-house variety. Venom has all of Spider-Man's powers, only magnified and fed by a never-ending lust for revenge against Peter Parker.

That's what makes this movie so interesting. It promises to be darker than the previous two installments. Spider-Man's mantra has always been "With great power comes great responsibility," but what happens when the one with great power chooses to use it irresponsibly -- in the service of vengeance.

This is why I am fascinated by both Spider-Man and Batman. On one level, Batman is sort of a superhero version of Venom. Dark, obsessed, driven by the need for vengeance. Spider-Man and Batman have always been like distant cousins. On one level they are very similar: both possessing great power of a sort, cloaking it behind a secret identity, and prowling the rooftops at night in order to bring criminals to justice. Both are driven by similar circumstances: Bruce Wayne by the violent murder of his parents and Peter Parker by the violent murder of his surrogate father (Uncle Ben). But that is where the cousins become distant. Batman has always been an infinitely darker character than Spider-Man because ultimately what drives him is the need for vengeance. He might call it "justice", but in fact he spends his nights seeking to avenge his parents death by taking out his repressed anger on the criminal underworld. By contrast, what drives Spider-Man is not a desire for vengeance, but a desire for penance. He blames himself for his uncle's death so his campaign against evil is an attempt to make amends for his own perceived past crime.

Batman seeks to punish others for his parents death; Spider-Man seeks to punish himself. What makes Spider-Man 3 so fascinating, at least as far as the trailers suggest, is that it appears to be asking the question: what would happen if Spider-Man chose a different path -- the path of vengeance rather than the path of penance. In Venom, we see the end result of what a Spider-Man would look like when consumed by the need for revenge. Check out the trailer and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Recently I saw 300 with a couple of fellow-professors, a historian and a theology professor. My interest in it was two-fold: as a person who teaches Greek and ancient culture as part of my discipline, I was intrigued by the historical story that lies behind the film. However, as a devotee of comic books, I was also intrigued by the fact that the movie is based on a graphic novel retelling of the event. That's appropriate, I think, because comic books have always been in the business of myth-making and 300 is as much myth as history.

Visually the film captures the essence of the graphic novel. The movie is stunning to watch. There are heavy doses of gratuitous sexuality and loads of violence (both of the gratuitous and non-gratuitous nature). In fact, one scene was so gratuitously violent that my friend David and I found it immensely laughable -- that of the decapitated head rotating through the air in slow motion.

From a historical viewpoint, I found the movie fascinating. It tells the true story of how 300 Spartans went to battle against virtually the entire Persian army and were nearly victorious in doing so. The event in question, The Battle of Thermopylae ("Hot Gates"), took place in 480 BC. Because of the sacrifice of these 300 men along with some other Greeks, the Spartan army eventually defeated the Persians the next year in the Battle of Plataea. The Persian army was led by Xerxes who, depending on how you structure your biblical chronology, may be the same Xerxes who married Esther.

The account of this battle occurs in the writings of the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus in book 7 of his History. You can read Herodotus's account on-line at For a movie based on a graphic novel, it is fairly faithful to the recorded events, even to the point of including some of the actual recorded dialogue. One of the great lines in the movie comes straight out of Herodotus who records that the Spartan warrior Dieneces responded to a report that the Persian army was so massive its arrows would blot out the sun by saying, "If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade." The film also captures the essence of Spartan culture. They were so militaristic and single-minded in their devotion to warfare that the other Greeks thought Spartans were strange.

However, 300 is also a graphic novel and graphic novels and comic books are in the business of myth. This movie tries to stay faithful to both of its sources: Greek history and contemporary mythology. To this end, the movie is very much a cross between an epic historical tale and Lord of the Rings. The mythological elements mainly serve to heighten the drama and visual sense of the film. For instance, the Immortals, the elite fighting unit of the Persian army, were real, but I'm pretty sure they didn't look like Ninja. Likewise, I have a hunch that the ancient Spartans did not customarily go into battle wearing little else besides a cape and a leather speedo. But I quibble.

But all in all, my historian and theologian friends and I had a rousing good time. I have to add that, if you can pull it off like I did, 300 is a very interesting movie to watch when you are sitting between a historian and a pacifist.


In my last post, I mentioned that the Gilmore Girls book, Coffee at Luke's, would be coming out in the Fall. I have since learned that in fact it is due to be released on May 28th. If you wish to see a look at the cover, pre-order the book, or read a brief description about it, you can click on the book link for it on the right side of this site.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Smart Pop

I recently had opportunity to work with BenBella books in their Smart Pop series. BenBella is a publisher that focuses on pop cultural works -- they have put out books on everything from The Matrix to CSI to Lost. These books enlist various professionals (novelists, philosophers, actors, scholars, etc.) to write educated essays on pop cultural phenomena that are creative and accesssible to a general audience. You can check out their website at

I recently contributed to their upcoming book on the Gilmore Girls television show. I believe it will be titled Coffee at Luke's, although I am not certain about that, and it should be out sometime in the Fall. The assignment turned out to be quite serendipitous for me. I was laid up on the couch most of last summer recovering from knee surgery. So I basically spent my summer watching six seasons of Gilmore Girls -- for research, you understand. I ended up contributing an essay titled "Dining With the Gilmores", which combines two of my favorite things: television and food. It was a good summer.