Search This Blog

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Top 5 Batman villains

Today is Batman Day where DC comics celebrates its most famous hero: The Dark Knight. Since his debut in 1939 Batman has amassed a sizable gallery of villains that can only be surpassed by possibly Superman (also DC comics) and Spider-Man (of Marvel). Today I will be going through my personal five favorite Batman villains. To be on the list they have to regularly appear as an adversary of Batman but no anti-heroes can be on the list (such as Catwoman). However villains forced to do good are eligible to appear on the list. Now let's look at the villains who have plagued the Caped Crusader over the years.

5- Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn is the only character on the list not to make their debut appearance in the comics. Instead she debuted on the animated TV show Batman: The Animated Series as a sidekick to the Joker. She made her first (official) comic appearance in Batman: Harley Quinn in 1999. Harley Quinn was originally a psychiatrist studying the Joker at Arkham Asylum but the Joker's personality and insanity drove her insane as well. She turned from a caring doctor to a homicidal girlfriend for the Joker helping him with his schemes. What gives Harley Quinn a spot on this list is her unique relationship with the Joker. Despite his constant mental and physical abuse to her she perversely loves him and has become devoted to him. Also she is one of the few sidekicks to leave the shadow of the main hero/villain with her becoming an integral part of the Suicide Squad being one of the de facto leaders alongside Deadshot. The fact that Harley Quinn is being advertised as one of the main characters in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie and that she was a main villain in Batman: Arkham Knight shows how much of an enduring character she is,

4- Two Face
Two Face (Harvey Dent) can be considered to be much like Bruce Wayne. Both were committed to the law and a tragic event shaped their lives; Bruce Wayne pushed forward and became the Batman while Harvey Dent lost his mind. First appearing in 1942 in Detective Comics #66 he is also one of Batman's oldest villains. Harvey Dent was a district attorney until crime boss Sal Maroni threw acid into his face. Half his face became scarred and Dent's mind broke. Now as Two Face he attempts to rule Gotham's underworld making decisions (normally if he should kill someone) with a flip of a coin. His fall from grace in Batman: The Long Halloween is a riveting story and his dependence on the coin is an enduring character trait making him one of Batman's iconic villains.

3- Bane
Bane has the distinction of not only physically breaking Batman but also mentally breaking him. Bane made his appearance in Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 where he was born in a prison. Fear and darkness ruled his life until he was tested on with the experimental steroid Venom. It briefly gave him increased strength and with his sharp mind he broke out from prison. He saw how Batman ruled Gotham with fear and recognized how similar it was to how fear ran his prison so he decided to take down Batman. He fathomed out Batman's identity and in the Knightfall story arc started to wear down Batman physically and mentally by freeing his entire rogue's gallery out of Arkham Asylum. As Batman is slowly worn down Bane faces him in the Batcave where he breaks Batman's back over his knee.
Not only is Bane made of brute force but he is also cunning, intelligent and a schemer which makes him a villain that could easily 'break the bat'.

2- The Joker
Without a doubt the Joker is one of Batman's most famous villain. Making his debut in Batman #1 in 1940 he has been with the Dark Knight from the start. The Joker's history is too long to repeat here (for more info look here : but his exploits have included killing the second Robin, paralyzing Batgirl, sending Dr Harleen Quinzel insane so she could become Harley Quinn and recently having his face surgically removed. The Joker also represents the darker side to Batman. Where trauma had forced Bruce Wayne to become a vigilante to help the people of Gotham the trauma that the Joker went through turned him into a homicidal maniac wanting to bring only death to Gotham. Of course he does all of this with a laugh and a smile making anyone scared of clowns scared of this signature Batman foe. 

1- Scarecrow
Scarecrow is my personal favorite Batman villain for one reason: he can exploit the one weakness that we all have. Fear. Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane) made his debut in 1941 in World's Finest Comics #3. Crane was obsessed with fear which led him to perform experiments on the patients at Arkham Asylum where he worked as a psychiatrist. There he developed a gas which could make anyone who inhaled it see their worst nightmares. Although often passed over by more notable villains such as the Joker and the Penguin the Scarecrow is easily one of the major Batman villains. Like Batman he uses fear to stalk his enemies and make them go mad. Imagine being sprayed with his gas or injected with his serum and seeing your worst nightmares come to life before your very eyes. That is why Scarecrow is number one on my list.

Do you agree with my list? Are there any villains that you think should be on there? Please leave your ideas in the comments!

Friday, 18 September 2015

What is the difference between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom?

This week is the anniversary of the Battle of Britain where the RAF fought the Luftwaffe during the Second World War over dominance for Britain's skies. If the RAF had lost the battle then a German invasion of Britain may have occurred. Why is it not called the Battle of the United Kingdom? After all the nation at the time was called the United Kingdom. This week I'll explain the difference between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

England is highlighted as red on the above map. It was founded sometime in the tenth century as the Kingdom of England and quickly became a leading military power not only in the British Isles but also Europe. In 1284 Wales was added to the Kingdom of England by Edward I. We commonly refer to Great Britain and the United Kingdom as 'England' for a few reasons. One is because Great Britain and the United Kingdom were united under England. Throughout England's history London has been its capital so as the strongest country it is clear to see why we still call the modern day nation England. It also happens to be the most populated and the geographically largest of the states which comprise Great Britain and the United Kingdom. It is similar to how we sometimes call the Netherlands Holland or the USSR (when it was around) Russia. In 1707 England ceased to be a nation with the Act of Union which formed Great Britain.

Great Britain
To understand Great Britain we first must discuss the Act of Union and the events which led up to it. In 1603 Elizabeth I of England died without an heir which ended the Tudor dynasty. Multiple English politicians had organized the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII's elder sister) James VI of Scotland to ascend the throne of England. In 1603 he became James I and VI uniting the crowns of Scotland and England. His heraldic badge blended the English rose and Scottish thistle together. 
Since 1603 there had been several attempts to permanently unite Scotland and England under one government (such as a failed attempt by the son of James, Charles I). Eventually in 1707 with English funds drying up thanks to the Spanish War of Succession and Scotland's economy destroyed thanks to a failed attempt to create a colony in Panama the Act of Union was passed. This united Scotland and England under one government in London called the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Britain having its origins in the Latin name for the island, Britannia. Even the flags of England and Scotland were blended together.
We often refer to the United Kingdom still as Great Britain and use such phrases as British people, British empire and British trade. This could likely be because under the title of Great Britain the first global power emerged from the British Isles. By the time of the formation of the United Kingdom Britain had territories in every continent. Another reason could be thanks to a need to unify the English and the Scottish. By adopting British as a nationality instead of English or Scottish this could allow previously opposing peoples to find common ground.

United Kingdom
Everything in color on the above map is the modern day United Kingdom. What we now recognize as the United Kingdom came into being in 1800. Since 1542 Ireland had been a client state of England (and later Great Britain) after Henry VIII had been imposed as the King of Ireland. Since then Irish/English relations had not been great with the English often invading to expel Catholics or deprive them of rights (especially during the years of the English republic under Oliver Cromwell).In 1798 influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions and supported by French revolutionaries a group known as the United Irishmen rose up against British rule to have a truly independent Ireland. It was quickly and brutally crushed by the British but it influenced the 1800 Act of Union. This united the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland under one government and like with the previous Act of Union the flags were merged.
The above flag is still in use today. On January 1st 1801 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was declared. During this time the British Empire became its most powerful which easily eclipsed the French, Portuguese and Spanish empires. Under the United Kingdom we also saw the Victorian era with Queen Victoria ruling for most of the century and became the longest ruling monarch (now only beaten by Elizabeth II just last week) as well as industrialization. However Irish nationalism did not end. By the 20th century call for Home Rule (a self rule) was demanded by Irish nationalists and several militant organizations such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood came into existence. When the First World War broke out there was even a violent uprising in 1916 called the Easter Rebellion which was crushed by the British army. From 1919 to 1921 there was an Irish War of Independence (sometimes referred to as the Irish Civil War) where the British fought a guerrilla war against Irish republicans who wanted a fully independent Ireland, including Ulster which wanted to remain apart of Great Britain. In 1922 the Irish Free State was created and the United Kingdom turned into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. To this day this is what the country had been referred to as.

The Battle of Britain
So why is the Battle of Britain called this even though the fighting took place in England? Likely nationalism. People were more nationalistic towards Britain than the United Kingdom as most of the things to get nationalistic about, (a national identity, a democratic Parliament, an Empire), became huge when called Great Britain. During World War Two nationalism was required to keep the public wanting to win the war so that could be the reason why we call it the Battle of Britain and not the Battle of England or the Battle of the United Kingdom.

On a side note the blog will not be on every Friday now. It will remain a weekly blog but the days on which it is published may vary.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Who was Che Guevara?

Many people recognize this picture as being a portrait of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. For around forty years his image has been distributed throughout the media on clothes, in music and film and on advertisement (it is somewhat ironic how capitalism has adopted a Marxist in the pop culture). In my hometown there is even a bar named after him. David Segal of the Washington Post described his legacy:
The guy's face is shorthand for 'I'm against the status quo.' He's politics' answer to James Dean, a rebel with a very specific cause.
Who was he exactly and why has he been adopted as a symbol of revolution and shaking the status quo?

Early life
Che aged 22
 Che was born in 1928 in Argentina where he grew up in a left wing family. His father was a staunch supporter of the left wing Republican Spanish government and following the Spanish Civil War his father often invited veterans to his home. At school Guevara excelled at sports despite his asthma but he was an even greater intellectual. He could recite the entirety of Rudyard Kipling's If  and could quote almost all the works of Sigmund Freud. Among the subjects that he did best at included political science, history, engineering, sociology, maths, archaeology and philosophy. In 1948 he entered the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine. In 1950 he started the first of his motorcycle trips through South and Central America which by 1953 had allowed him to travel over 8,000 km, some of it with his friend Alberto Grenado. He wrote down these travels in his memoir The Motorcycle Diaries. These travels helped influence his Marxist views as he saw widespread poverty in rural areas, especially around Machu Picchu during his time in Peru. He decided that capitalism had oppressed these people and that he had to 'help these people'. In 1953 he returned to Argentina where he finished his degree becoming Dr Ernesto Guevara.

Becoming a Revolutionary
After he left university he spent some more time travelling until he briefly settled in Guatemala. Guatemala at the time was ran by the democratically elected left wing President Jacobo Arbenz who had started appropriating land from the US company United Fruit Company to give to poor farmers. This proved to be the perfect place for Ernesto with the Arbenz government being his ideal government for its land reforms. Here he met up with Peruvian economist Hilda Gadea Acosta who had leads to the revolutionary group Alianza Popular Revolutionaria Americana. In 1955 he would marry Gadea and they would have a daughter together. He made contacts with exiled Cuban revolutionaries, dedicated a poem called Invitacion al camino to feminist left-winger Helena Leiva de Holst and earned his nickname Che. He often used the Argentine slang 'che' (similar to calling someone 'bro') which earned him the nickname. In 1954 the CIA helped overthrow the Arbenz government to replace it with a military junta. Che fled to Mexico with Gaeda. In Mexico City he worked in the local allergy ward, as a photographer and a lectured occasionally. Gaeda reported that he wished to go to Africa to work as a doctor with the high level of poverty there striking a cord with him. However he chose a revolutionary path with him being introduced to Raoul Castro who introduced him in turn to his older brother Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement. They wished to overthrow the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and install a government which would benefit the people. He started to become trained in guerrilla warfare which would influence the rest of his life.  

Che took part in the Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro where he quickly became Castro's second in command. There is some juxtaposition during this time. On the one hand he was seen as a hero with him hiding with poor peasants whose high level of illiteracy (40% of peasants in Cuba were illiterate) and no electricity increased his urge to help them. In contrast however he proved to be ruthless and autocratic in response to spies, deserters and informers such as sending battalions out to execute people gone AWOL as well as summary executing many people. To those who stayed loyal he did prove to be an equally loyal leader, evident from this quote by Joel Iglesias who had been wounded in battle:
Che ran out to me, defying the bullets, threw me over his shoulder, and got me out of there. The guards didn't dare fire at him ... later they told me he made a great impression on them when they saw him run out with his pistol stuck in his belt, ignoring the danger, they didn't dare shoot.
This could easily be hero worship though so may not be accurate evidence. Che helped found the anti-Batista radio Rebel Radio. He even led his forces to capture Santa Clara which turned out to be the first significant victory in the revolution. However he had started to see another woman, Aleida March, at this time despite being married. When Batista fled Cuba Che arrived in the capital of Havana with Castro following six days later who had been rallying several large cities. Although he was granted Cuban citizenship he confessed to his wife that he had been having an affair and the marriage quickly ended in divorce. Soon after he married Aleida March and they would go on to have four children together.

Following the revolution Castro placed Che in charge of a tribunal for informers, war criminals and traitors for five months. It is difficult to tell Che's attitude to the 55 to 105 (sources are not reliable) people he had executed. Some exiled Cubans claim that he did this with relish while others claimed that he pardoned as many people as he could. What can be conclusively claimed though was how he became hardened by it and agreed that it was necessary to defend what the revolution had achieved.

After the tribunal he oversaw the land reforms which gave more land to poorer peasants, his travels in South America was still very much with him. He also started the Cuban literacy project. Before the revolution between 60-76% of the population was literate, around 40% for peasants, and like all of his other economic projects it was a success. By 1961 national literacy was at 96%. In 1959 Castro also sent Che to make diplomatic calls to countries neutral in the Cold War including Yugoslavia, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan as well as pro-US nations (in Japan he criticized Imperial Japan but also went to Hiroshima to commemorate those who had died there) and communist countries including East Germany and China. He even called for the UN to put pressure on South Africa to end Apartheid. This could have influenced his policy of affirmative action when he returned to Cuba to help ethnic minorities get into university. Che at this time also started the 'New Man' project where he wanted to create a Cuba that was hard working, selfless, gender-blind and anti-imperialist. He founded a series community centers, women's groups, labor groups and youth groups to do this. Che also visited the USA where he appeared on Face the Nation where he won the admiration from Malcolm X. When the USA sent over a thousand Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs invasion he was injured when his pistol went off as it fell out of his holster. 

Congo and Bolivia
In 1965 Che left Cuba. There are various conflicting sources about why he did this. Some argue that is was because he was angry about being kept in the dark by Castro, others about his disagreement about foreign policy (Che favoring aiding the third world while Castro wanted closer ties to the USSR following the Cuban Missile Crisis), others saying that Che was angry at the corruption of the Castro regime and others simply that he wanted to continue spreading the ideas of the revolution. Regardless of the true reason he went to the Congo. Ever since his days in Mexico he had wanted to help the poor of Africa. The Congo was the most idealistic place for Che to start his revolution. It had gained independence in 1960 and its anti-imperialist prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, had been overthrown and executed in a coup led by Colonel Mobutu. Che with 100 Afro-Cubans and 12 Cuban expeditionaries (along with his second in command Victor Dreke) joined up with guerrilla leader Laurent-Desire Kabila, a pro-Lumumba leader. Che hired a younger interpreter as well to help teach him Swahili. Che tried to teach the guerrillas a Marxist-Leninist ideology to reconstruct the country and to teach Kabila's forces to fight. He quickly left Kabila though due to the low discipline. Soon after he left the Congo thanks to bad asthma, dysentery and the people not being interested. He said 'we can't liberate a country that doesn't want to fight'. He left some of his force behind and left for Bolivia. With Castro publishing Che's farewell letter he decided that he couldn't return to Cuba so decided to fight in Bolivia, again going back to his days on his motorcycle.

His whereabouts in Bolivia was largely unknown but like in Congo his force of 50 working as the ELN was not successful. In 1967 the Bolivian army managed to successfully wipe out two guerrilla groups, reportedly killing one of the leaders. Like in the Congo Che was unable to get widespread support but there were other reasons why he failed. Castro had supplied him with radios which were faulty which caused communication issues, Bolivia's Communist Party was corrupt and instead of facing the weak Bolivian army he also had to face CIA trained commandos who had been training the army. Felix Rodriguez, a Cuban exile who was a CIA agent, told the Bolivian army where in the forest to look for Che. On October 8th 1967 Che was captured and the following day he was executed.

Why has his legacy become so potent?
A monument to him in Bolivia
There are many reasons why Che Guevara has developed such a legacy in the pop culture. His journeys among the poor and work with them during his time in Cuba made him very sympathetic. Him leaving Cuba, apparent betrayal by Castro and staunch anti-corruption set him apart from the totalitarianism from Castro's Cuba. Whereas other revolutionaries such as Lenin, Mao and even Castro himself abandoned their ideals Che apparently never did that, he always stuck to his ideals. Che was also a revolutionary during the 1960s when liberal ideas became more popular so his anti-authority, pro-civil rights and pro-women's rights stuck with that generation and as these ideas became even more popular during the 1970s and 1980s this further increased his popularity. Finally he died a martyr. Being betrayed and executed his legacy became preserved. He became someone who died for his belief. Often that can be very potent. In a world striving for equality, no corruption and helping the oppressed it is easy to see why Che is still a popular icon.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Top 5 Wes Craven films

Earlier this week film director Wes Craven unfortunately passed away. For over forty years Wes Craven had been making films and his horror films have changed the genre completely. As a horror fan it would be disrespectful of his memory not to commemorate his work. Here are my personal top 5 films by Wes Craven.

5- The Hills have Eyes
 The Hills have Eyes was the second film that Wes Craven made and has been one of his most enduring. The plot revolves around a family travelling through a deserted part of the Nevada desert whose car breaks down. In the night they are set upon by a clan of cannibals led by the patriarch Papa Jupiter, played by James Whitworth. Hills is not a film for the faint of heart for its unapologetic violence and intense themes. which earned it a criticism from Roger Ebert for being 'decadent'. The low budget and gritty atmosphere of Hills intensifies the violence. Despite the actual lack of gore this adds to the atmosphere of Hills with it leaving more up to the imagination of the audience. Unlike his two more famous horror movies Hills never managed to get a mainstream following but a major cult following did occur which allowed a sequel and a remake. Hills will definitely divide any movie audience but for those who can stomach intense scenes this can be a cult classic.

4- Red Eye
The second film on our list by Wes Craven is not actually a horror but instead a thriller (and a very thrilling film at that). Red Eye centers around a hotel owner played by Rachel McAdams who happens to sit next to a man that she had been chatting to at the airport bar played by Cillian Murphy. It quickly transpires that Cillian Murphy's character is a terrorist who wishes to assassinate the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security and his family who is staying in McAdams's hotel. Craven managed to create a fast paced and claustrophobic setting for Red Eye with the danger towards McAdams being ever present. Murphy played a good villain and seemed genuinely threatening which added to the atmosphere. The over-the-top ending may ruin the film for some but acclaimed movie reviewer Roger Ebert had this praise for the film regardless: 
“After a summer of crashes, bangs, endless chase scenes and special effects that belittle the actors standing in front of them, what a pleasure to see characters in a thriller doing what people like themselves possibly could do.”
Often overlooked by films such as Non-Stop Craven's Red Eye is a good hidden gem.

3- New Nightmare
New Nightmare is the seventh installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and is easily the most inventive. The plot revolves around Heather Langenkamp who played Nancy in the first Nightmare film being stalked by someone playing Freddy Krueger (the villain in the franchise) and she soon finds out that Wes Craven, playing himself, and Robert Englund (who played Freddy Krueger in every Nightmare film bar the remake) are also being stalked. All this is happening while the new Nightmare film is being made. They quickly learn that Freddy Krueger has started to come into the real world. New Nightmare is a good edition to the Nightmare franchise not only for being creative but also because of the idea that it perpetuates that no one is safe. It is quite novel to see Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and John Saxon (who was also in the first film) play themselves and face their own creation thirsty for their blood. It helps perfectly show how enduring the franchise is, how much it has influenced the horror movie industry and pop culture as well as ending the franchise. It proved to be the last film until nine years later when Freddy Krueger went up against another horror movie icon in Freddy vs Jason.

2- Scream
Not only is Scream a horror movie which gave new life to the genre but it also out the flaws/cliches found in the genre to its advantage. A series of murders revolving around horror movie cliches is occurring in a small town. A voice is talking to teenagers, quizzing them on their horror movie knowledge before murdering them, and a local TV reporter played by Courtney Cox is take advantage of the story. Utilizing all the tropes of a who-dunnit movie and the horror movie Scream manages to create a creepy and heart-pounding atmosphere. With the killer wearing the ghost mask that can be found in any shop and talking down a phone before the days of widespread caller ID the list of suspects could be endless which greatly benefits the movie. Satirizing horror movie tropes Craven managed to create a self-aware film which will actually have you on the edge of your seat, such as one scene where a character is watching Halloween shouting at the movie character that the killer is behind them when in fact the ghost mask villain is actually behind him. The many subtle references to other films is also nice to see like Drew Barrymore's early death referencing Janet Leigh's in Psycho and Wes Craven himself wearing a red and green striped jumper as 'Fred the janitor'.

1- Nightmare on Elm Street
Nightmare is possibly one of the greatest horror movies of the 1980s. The plot centers around Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp, and her friends who are being stalked in their dreams by a burned man wearing a green and red striped jumper and a gloved right hand which has knives on the fingers. Whatever happens to them in the dreams however happens to them in real life. They have to find a way to stop the burned man, called Freddy Kreuger and is played by Robert Englund, as he kills them one by one. Nightmare put the slasher genre on its head by adding a supernatural element to the film. You can easily escape Jason Voorhees by simply running away but how can you run away from someone coming into your dreams? The creative visuals and fantastic prosthetics used to create Freddy Krueger makes Nightmare a truly scary horror movie. Johnny Depp actually made his acting debut in Nightmare as well. Spawning seven sequels, a crossover, a TV series, a cameo in the video game Mortal Kombat, countless comic appearances and a film remake Nightmare is easily one of horror's most enduring series. With Craven putting so much effort into his film it is easy to see why the film transcended cult status and immediately became a mainstream hit. 
R.I.P Wes Craven.