Search This Blog

Friday, 26 August 2016

World History: Han China to Sui China

Han Chinese Bronze Horse
The last time we looked at China on World History, (see here), the Mandate of Heaven had been passed to Liu Bang who was made Emperor Gaozu and founded the Han Dynasty which would last until 220 CE. On this World History post we shall look at the Han Dynasty after Emperor Gaozou, through a period called the Six Dynasties until the rise of the short lived Sui Dynasty. Before we cover that we have to look at the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty was split into two main phases: early, (or Western), and later, (or Eastern), Han. Let's start with Liu Bang becoming Emperor Gaozou in 202 BCE.

Early/Western Han
Emperor Gaozou
Liu Bang had overthrown the very autocratic Qin, or Ch'in, Dynasty which has been viewed very negatively by Chinese historians. Largely this is because the Ch'in burnt books, and scholars, so present observers could not compare them to old dynasties. Liu Bang and the Han reversed this trend. This in turn made scholars right about Liu Bang very favorably. Some of the first eminent Chinese historians came about during the Han Dynasty using written sources which indicates that the Ch'in attempts to destroy documents was not as thorough as initially believed. Liu Bang also began a series of reforms which got the population on side, thus giving him a freer hand to deal with opposition. One of the major ones was abolishing agricultural slavery but domestic slavery was still allowed, (men who were castrated were also made into slaves). The Han Dynasty witnessed a period of central government which built on the effective bureaucracy of the Ch'in, just far less authoritarian, with a clear capital releasing laws centered around Chang'an. Despite the Han's condemnation of Ch'in authoritarianism the initial law code borrowed much from the Ch'in's law code. However, the Han were more lenient and the emperor ruled only the west directly from Chang'an with there being thirteen semi-autonomous kingdoms in the east, (Yan, Dai, Zhao, Qi, Liang, Chu, Huai, Wu, Nan and, Changsha). This helped the Han appear far less authoritarian than their predecessors.

The Han saw great expansion for China in government, technology and land. Pottery models have been found depicting a winnowing machine with a crank handle, seisometers have been found, bronze gears and, even water wheels. The Han Dynasty also saw central government directly controlling the economy. They continued to use the ban liang currency type from the Ch'in but it went through periods of privatization and nationalization. One of Liu Bang's reforms was making the coins privately minted instead of being minted by the government; something which his widow Emperess Dowager Lu Zhi reversed in 186 BCE. However, in 182 BCE she accidentally caused widespread inflation with her introduction of a lighter bronze coin. Emperor Wu in 120 BCE introduced the wuzhu coin which was eventually adopted by the Tang Dynasty centuries later as the main currency over the ban liang. During the Han Dynasty there was many wars of expansion, which as we saw with Rome was expensive, (please see here), but, unlike the Romans the Han managed to fund their wars. The Han nationalized the very profitable salt and iron industries so they could take a lot of profit from that. They also introduced heavy taxation, including the poll tax, which naturally upset many people so the Han had to introduce tax remissions or reduced taxes during poor harvests.

The Western Han period saw great military expansion. Starting with Emperor Wu-ti, ruling from 140-87 BCE, China started warring against the northern nomadic Hsuingnu, who would later attack the Romans as the Huns, and started conquering the north. Not only that but they conquered northern Korea, northern Vietnam, Hainan and, even as far east as Bactria. The Han did not skimp on defense either with the Great Wall of China seeing repairs and expansion during the Han Dynasty. Han expansion and elimination of the northern nomadic threat for some time allowed the creation of the Silk Road, (please see here), which saw the trade of Chinese silk with the Mediterranean. This proved to be such a profitable trade for the Han that they put in place the death penalty for anyone who gave out the secret of silk manufacture. There were even tentative relations opening with Rome when both empires were at their height. During the Western Han the population soared up to 57 million peoples with cities holding huge amounts of people which Europe wouldn't be able to match until the early modern period. Chang'an had a population of a quarter of a million people. 

Hsin Dynasty and later Han
After a series of unpopular centralization, dynastic feuds, poor harvests and princes even murdering each other over board games in 9 CE a member of the royal family, Wang Mang, declared that the Mandate of Heaven had moved away from the Han. He declared the rise of a new dynasty called the Xia, or Hsin. To win support he started many reforms including nationalizing land to give to the poor and abolished slavery. He could have succeeded if not for a series of devastating floods which undermined his rule. The Han regained power in 23 CE, just fourteen years after Wang Mang took power, with power located in the east, hence why the later Han is also referred to as the Eastern Han. However, the Han never truly recovered the power it once had. Renewed warfare against the Hsuingnu and the Chiang of the northwest severely drained the economy. Dynastic rivalries flared up as poor harvests and high taxation alienated the population from the ruling elite. In 184 this flared up into the Yellow Turban Rebellion as laborers in the poorer north became extremely angry that southern landowners were making huge fortunes. The government was also seen as weak and, the floods and famines made it seem that the Han Dynasty no longer had the Mandate of Heaven. It took until 205 to suppress the rebellion but it would stay in Chinese memory with it becoming the opening for the Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. By 220 central power had been virtually given over to regional generals and the last Han emperor, Xian, abdicated.
The Yellow Turban Rebellion from Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms and the Jin
With the collapse of the Han China was split into three kingdoms: the Wei in the north, the Wu in the south, and the Shu in the west. If anyone has watched or read Game of Thrones they would know that when new states emerge from a unified one during times of conflict they are instable. Just sixty years after the collapse of the Han the Three Kingdoms were gone. The three kingdoms would be beset by war, dynastic squabbles and internal discord which would be one of the bloodiest periods of Chinese history with the population dropping from 56,486,856 to 16,163,863 with the rise of the Jin. The first of the kingdoms, (a misnomer seen as an emperor ruled them), was the Shu who was conquered by the militarily powerful Wu in 263. Meanwhile, in Wei a powerful family called the Sima was trying to seize power and in 264 Sima Yan became emperor founding the Jin, or the Western Chin. He then began a series of wars against the Wu who was facing internal unrest. In 280 they succeeded and the Jin Dynasty began ruling a united China. 

Jin rule started with reestablishing the Han model of agriculture helping the agricultural economy improve. With their laissez-faire and Taoism mix the economy improved but the Jin was not stable. Buddhism had become widespread and had started to challenge the traditional, semi-conservative Confucianism present in China, as well as Taoism. Making this even worse was political disruption among the ruling elite. This included a civil war from 291 until 301 called the War of the Eight Princes when a developmentally disabled emperor, Hui, inherited the throne and his mother, Empress Dowager Yang, tried to promote her Yang clan over the others. As eight princes went to war this allowed non-Chinese peoples to form their own kingdoms in China; either by invasion or rebellion. At one time there was at least sixteen kingdoms including ones ruled by the Hsiungnu, Hsienpei, Ti, Ch'iang and, Chieh. The Jin survived only in the east which was severely weakened by endemic tax evasion, constant invasions and a weak military. In the north the new non-Chinese kingdoms waged war against one another, like in 311 the Ch'ang-an was attacked by the Ti and in 316 the Hsiungnu sacked Lo-yang. Slowly the northern kingdoms were conquered by a new Wei kingdom who united the north in 386 while in the south in 420 the last Jin emperor was overthrown by the new Sung dynasty. It was followed by several weak dynasties, all overthrown by generals, which shall be covered now.

Northern and Southern Dynasties until the Tang
North and South
From 420 until 589 China was split into two: the Northern Hsienpei Wei dynasty and the southern Liu Song. None of the southern dynasties saw stability with each lasting between thirty to fifty years before being overthrown in a coup by a general. The Northern Wei was more secure but in 534 it split between the Northern Chi'i and Chou. The Chi'i failed to conquer the Chou but it remained far more weaker militarily, economically and smaller. In 577 the Chou finally conquered the Chi'i but the Chou dynasty was soon overthrown by a general called Yang Chien, who was partly-Chinese, who soon founded the Sui dynasty. Yang Chien wished to fully unify China and with the south weak from various coups, poor harvests and poor tax efficiency he managed to easily conquer the south. China was finally reunited. Yang's dynasty was short lived with his economy strained thanks to wars in Vietnam, expansion of the Great Wall and, war against the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. His dynasty ended in 618 when Emperor Yang-ti was assassinated. The Tang took over forming a new dynasty which would leave China unified for another three hundred years.

Looking at China between 202 BCE and 618 CE we see a clear case for history repeating itself. When the Han started repeating the actions of the Qin with harsh taxes, increased centralization, and with dynastic arguments it sealed its own fate. What followed was a period of time similar to the Warring States period where China collapsed in on itself and the successor states forged an empire based on the military rather than administration. Looking at China we can also see why there was no resurgence of the Roman Empire, and we can see why Justinian and Charlemagne both were unable to recreate Roman power. The Sui and later Tang managed to rebuild an empire with the same administration, currency, religion, culture, and language as their subjects whereas Justinian and Charlemagne had to contend with different cultures, languages, government types, and currencies. While it could be argued that after the fall of the Western Roman Empire Europe never became united as it once was it took China just under four hundred years to reunify, although it would later splinter again. Next time on World History we will go to the Middle East to see how a religion managed to unify a region and eventually become the second largest religion today. We shall look at the origins of Islam.

Thank you for reading and these are the sources that I have used:
-The Penguin History of the World by John Roberts
-The Times Complete History of the World edited by Richard Overy
-History of the World edited by John Whitney Hall

For a list of other World History posts please see here

Saturday, 20 August 2016

World History: The Decline and Fall of the (Western) Roman Empire

The Fall of Rome
On the last World History post we discussed Rome's evolution from a city-state kingdom to an empire ruling the Mediterranean and most of Europe, (please see here). In 27 BCE Augustus became the first official emperor of Rome; in 476 CE Romulus Augustulus became the last emperor of Rome when he was deposed. That is, he was the last emperor of the western Roman Empire. Meanwhile, in the east, the Eastern, or Byzantine Empire, lasted until 1453 CE with the inhabitants of Constantinople, (modern Istanbul), viewing themselves as Romans. Why did half of the Roman Empire collapse while the other half continue on for centuries? Often seen as the father of modern history Edward Gibbon tried to explain why Rome fell in his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Today we shall see for ourselves how the Western Roman Empire collapsed.

Instead of being a chronological post, like my previous World History posts, this post shall deal with topics instead. These topics are the contributing factors to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and all these factors are linked in some way. All of these factors helped the decline of the empire.

War and Expansion, (or lack of it)
War, both conventional and civil wars, helped place immense strain on the empire. Many emperors, such as Septimus Severus who reigned 193-211 CE, only became emperor by winning a civil war against their opponents. Naturally emperors ruling thanks to military might rather than Senate choice does not offer a stable government. Between 200 CE and 300 CE there were twenty-two emperors not including the generals who declared themselves emperor, like Postumus in Gaul, where the United States only had eighteen presidents in the same time-span. Of course changing emperors via murder, coup and civil war further degenerates the administration of the empire.

Foreign wars, successful and unsuccessful, all put strain on the empire. In 225 CE the Parthian Empire, (in modern Iran), was toppled and Ardashir was crowned emperor of the new Sassanid Empire who wished to reconquer lands in the Middle East. What followed was almost continuous warfare between Rome, (both west and east), and the Sassanids for centuries with the Sassanids even managing to capture the Emperor Valerian prisoner in 260, (who would later die as a Sassanid prisoner and was even reportedly used as a footstool by the Sassanid emperor Shapur). While war waged in the east to the north there were continuous wars against the 'barbarians' along the Rhine and Danube. We shall talk more about the involvement of barbarians later on but they did drain Roman power when war happened against the Sassanids after 230. The Alammani gained a tonne of concessions when the Romans wanted a free hand in fighting in Persia, later the Goths in 251 invaded a province just under the Danube when conflict broke out in Persia again which caused the death of the emperor by barbarians, and five years later the Franks and Alammani invaded with the latter reaching Milan. Fighting these wars, and wars to retake lost land, put a considerable strain upon the Roman economy as fighting continuous wars on two fronts requires a large army who needs to be paid, fed and armed. Not only that, but by not gaining more land they could not gain more slaves which was needed to act as craftsmen or farm hands.

Finally we also have overexpansion itself. At its height in 117 CE Rome stretched from Portugal to Palmyra to north Africa to Belgium to Scotland to Spain. The sheer size of the empire was just too big to handle. Upon becoming emperor in 117 Hadrian started to withdraw from his uncle Trajan's conquests in Armenia and Mesopotamia, and started to fortify the borders of the empire. In the south this war easy as the Sahara acted as a natural barrier and in the east when Hadrian had withdrew from former conquests the Euphrates acted as another barrier. However, in the north he had miles upon miles of fortifications along the Danube, Rhine, Elbe and northern Britain. These fortifications were made from local materials so on the continent they were mostly made of timber and turf; although they left no clear remains they can still be seen. However, in north-east Britain stone was used which has made this the most famous of the fortifications. Today it is known as Hadrian's Wall, (which one of my former lecturers, Professor Jim Crow of the University of Edinburgh, helped excavate).
Hadrian's Wall
Even before the many civil wars and foreign wars Rome was just too big to handle. Hadrian building these fortifications were done to stem the tide of expansion or otherwise it would damage Rome. As war brought instability Roman administration of such a vast area of land became diminished. Local generals and governors started becoming powerful which in turn weakened the empire, and allowed pretenders to Rome to rise. Not only that but communication was slow, despite the efficient Roman roads, which meant it took a long amount of time to warn the military of an invasion.

Division and Splintered Wealth
East vs. West
In 284 Diocletian managed to become emperor with the backing of the military. Diocletian became emperor after years of instability called the Crisis of the Third Century where the empire was beset by conflict, invasion and division, (a Gallic and Palmyrene empire had been declared and broke off from Rome) following the assassination of the emperor. Diocletian wished to avoid this occurring again and appointed a co-emperor in 285, Maximian, where one would rule the empire west of a line running from Dalmatia to the Danube in Rome, while the other would rule the east from Byzantium, (modern Istanbul). This was done to ensure that the empire could be ran far more easily. Doing this, however, created a rift between the Latin-speaking west and Greek-speaking east so by 395 the division had become permanent. Before the split the two halves had squabbles over military aid, resources, taxation, and later religion which left them to battle on their own. The east prospered. It had control of the western half of the Silk Road, (please see here), and could take from the prosperous cities in Persia which made the east richer, and in turn fortify her cities. Byzantium, later called Constantinople, became a heavily fortified city. Meanwhile, the west became overshadowed as they lost the eastern trade and could only loot from the so-called barbarians. When the barbarians chose to raid they avoided the militarily powerful east to invade the west. A weaker west relied on harsher taxation creating an even greater wealth diaspora between the poor and the rich creating further alienation between the state and the people.

Constantine the Great
Around 33 CE a religious leader was crucified for stirring trouble in the Jewish community of Jerusalem. What started as a reformation of Judaism escalated into the worship of the crucified man, Jesus of Nazareth, and has now become the largest religion in the world, Christianity. Due to Christianity being monotheistic in contrast to Rome's polytheism this caused initial tensions as Christians refused to participate in the public religious ceremonies, or pay the Jewish tax. Edward Gibbon also stated that converts renouncing family, paganism and country, dislike of common pleasures and talk of an impending doom ostracized them from their pagan neighbors. Like the druids, Bacchanals and Jews before them Rome started to persecute Christians to keep public security, and direct blame away from the elite. In 64 CE Nero blamed the Christians for the Great Fire of Rome when the public initially blamed Nero and in 250 the first anti-Christian laws were passed. Despite Roman persecution and schisms in the early Church the religion started to grow in popularity so by the year 300 a tenth of the population was Christian. One emperor had even had Jesus Christ among the gods which he privately honored. Not even Diocletian's persecution of Christians managed to stem the popularity of the new religion. Everything would change under Emperor Constantine. On the 28 October 312 Constantine supposedly saw a cross in the sky just before a battle. He won the battle, was baptized and declared tolerance for all religions across the empire.

How did this help Rome fall? Edward Gibbon has exaggerated the role of Christianity, (I just want to say I am an atheist in case anyone was wondering if I had an overly pro-Christian bias), but it did have some role in helping the empire's decline. In 380 Christianity became the state religion. This severely damaged the power of the emperor as the emperor was seen as being descended from a god and being divine, so by shifting religion this shifted supreme power from the emperor. Meanwhile, the pope and other Christian leaders now had a say in the role of the state, in the west, thus adding another player into convoluted Roman politics. In contrast the Church in the east was more under the emperor's control with the city of Byzantium being renamed Constantinople to show the power of the new Christian emperor. However, as shown earlier, Christianity was less important compared to military and economic issues...and the barbarians.

Attila the Hun
Rome faced issues from two types of 'barbarians': invaders and soldiers. Weakening administration meant that Rome was finding itself increasingly difficult to recruit soldiers to fight the peoples of northern Europe, called barbarians by the Romans. Successive emperors made a bold decision to resolve the northern threat and solve their manpower issues: hire 'barbarians' as mercenaries. Instead of Roman citizens the legions were swelled with peoples from all around northern Europe. However, this would prove to hasten the decline. For one, many of these mercenaries were polytheistic so often they came into conflict with the now Christian Romans, (although this did help spread Christianity across Europe), and the mercenaries had no loyalty to Rome. Instead of fighting for the emperor, Rome and empire they instead fought for their local commanders. Increased localism as a result hastened the empire's decline.

Invasion, of course, sped up the fall of the west. As said earlier the wealthier east could afford defenses making the west prime raiding material. In 406 in what is called the Crossing of the Rhine thousands of people making up Germanic tribes destroyed the illusion of Roman power by crossing the Rhine and they migrated to the fertile southern provinces, sacking cities as they went. This destroyed the empire in Britain, Iberia and France but this migration would later play a crucial role in shaping the genetic makeup of Europe. Alaric, king of the Visigoths, in 410 even managed to sack Rome, the first time in centuries. Although Rome had no longer been the capital for several years it was a serious blow regardless as the city was so wealthy compared to the rest of the empire. An even greater threat to both east and west was Attila the Hun, ruler of the Hunnic Empire. Attila invaded first the east in 440 winning many battles which emboldened him to invade the west. In 451 the western empire had to ally itself with the Visigoths at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains to defeat Attila. It would be the last time that Rome could defend itself from invasion.

In 476 the final bell tolled for Rome. In 476 the west only consisted of Italy, the northern Balkans and parts of northern France. A man called Odoacer was a 'barbarian' officer in the remnants of the army when Emperior Julius Nepos was deposed by Orestes who declared his son, Romulus, emperor who then styled himself as Romulus Augustulus. When Constantinople refused to acknowledge this Odoacer deposed Romulus and declared himself King of Italy which Constantinople recognized. However, as Rome's power had diminished so much that most of the population outside of Rome went by regardless of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Often regarded as one of the greatest empires had died in a whimper.

The Western Roman Empire died a slow death with years of instability, economic decline, overextension, being overshadowed and religious discord slowly ebbing the strength of the empire. As the sun set on Rome it rose on Constantinople. The Roman Empire lived on with the eastern Byzantine Empire where the population truly saw itself as being Roman. It remained a major player in the world until it was finally conquered in 1453. Incidentally like the west it died a similar death: years of instability, economic decline, land being lost to others and being overshadowed by another empire. However, the Byzantine Empire will have to wait for another post. Next World History will take us to China following the Han Dynasty onwards. Before I give my sources though here are my favorite stupid reasons people have given for Rome's collapse: animal cruelty, the liberal arts, feminism, laziness, pacifism, stupidity and decadence.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
-The Times Complete History of the World edited by Richard Overy
-The Penguin History of the World by John Roberts

For a list of other World History posts please see here

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

Warning: Spoilers!
Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad is the newest edition to the DCEU and the second movie in this franchise to be released this year, the other being Batman v. Superman. It depicts a group of supervillains having to work for the government who wishes to take down a paranormal entity which has attacked a city. Throughout this review I will reference another film, Batman: Assault on Arkham, as that is another Suicide Squad movie, although, it is set in the Arkham universe rather than the DCEU. This review contains spoilers but please skip to the conclusion for my final verdict, and special for this review I have a but of a rant.

Plot, Acting and Pacing
Amanda Waller, (Viola Davis), has set up a team of supervillains to fight a possible metahuman, (superpowered), threat under the command of Rick Flag, (Joel Kinnaman). These villains include June Moone, (Cara Delevingne) who is possessed by an entity causing her to become the Enchantress, expert marksman Deadshot, (Will Smith), the insane Harley Quinn, (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang, (Jai Courtney), the pyromancer El Diablo, (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc, (Adewale Akinnuoye-Abbaje), and Rick Flag's friend Katana, (Karen Fukuhara), who wields a katana which absorbs the souls of those it kills. It goes wrong when the entity possesses June Moone again causing her to take over Midway City, and is preparing to destroy the world. As the Suicide Squad is sent in to stop her, with another mission to rescue an important person, the Joker, (Jared Leto), goes to find his lover, Harley Quinn, and take her from the Squad. I will give the movie credit for embracing the source material. So far the DCEU has tried too hard to ground itself in reality, but Suicide Squad has done a good job in doing this. I have to give David Ayer much credit for doing this, 

The premise of the plot is very good. In fact it bears some similarities to Assault on Arkham with the Squad having to go to a dangerous place and retrieve someone only to find a twist, as well as being confronted by the Joker. Although I did prefer the plot to Assault on Arkham I did enjoy the plot to Suicide Squad. I was worried about pacing, something which really let Batman v. Superman down, but the film was well paced making it more enjoyable. However, I do have some gripes. Before the final act the reason why the Squad chooses to join Rick Flag seems very forced which really hindered the movie. Not only this, but I felt that Killer Croc, Katana, and to an extent Captain Boomerang were often sidelined which is a shame seen as Killer Croc is one of my favorite Batman villains. Katana only had a few lines in the film. It was a shame seeing these characters sidelined. Even the Joker was sidelined with around 90% of what was filmed being cut from the movie. Similarly, much of the scenes depicting Killer Croc's backstory was cut which again was a disappointment. It is especially disappointing considering that Akinnuoye-Abbaje spent so much time watching the DCAU, reading about cannibalism, and watched crocodiles to prepare for the role. The cuts even created a distorted view of Harley's and the Joker's relationship: the cuts caused their relationship to seem really loving whereas originally it was true to the comics, (and the DC Animated Universe where Harley first appeared), where they were in an abusive relationship. Already I've seen internet posts where people who have yet to read the comics or watch the DCAU state that Harley and the Joker were in a perfect, albeit homicidal relationship, which is far from the truth. 

Now to the acting. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was really good; she perfectly captures the character's ruthlessness and authoritarianism which made the performance really good. With the rest of the cast I would say that the acting was good. I feared that the movie would neglect all the Squad bar Will Smith and Margot Robbie, but it didn't which gave the cast more time with their performances. Each actor worked well with one another which created a good team dynamic between the cast. Even the marginalized characters, like Croc, were given good performances so I feel the film could have been even better if they had not cut so many scenes. Now to Jared Leto. It had the makings of a good performance but I could not tell if that was due to Leto himself or due to him not being in the movie for very long, preventing him from giving a better performance. Again, if they release an unedited version of the movie we may be able to see how good a performance it was. Overall, Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger were the better Jokers, whether Leto can top Jack Nicholson and Caesar Romero that has yet to be seen. Clara Delevingne gave a mixed performance, but it was a relatively good one considering she is a relatively new actor compared to the other main cast. As June Moone, and at times the Enchantress, she was really good, but when she goes into the Central American deity mode with the voice over her performance is not as good, and the strange dance she had to do was very offputting. It looked more comical than intimidating. I must say though that Margot Robbie nailed Harley Quinn on the head; definitely one of the best live-action comic book performances that I have seen.

I would say the effects are a mixed bag. At times the CGI was good, such as the close up fighting scenes, while at other times it was not as good. Specifically, when it's showing Enchantress and her brother around the vortex. It seemed to resemble graphics from a video game five years ago rather than a big budget movie. I did not notice it but my friend said he saw the Enchantress' body being pixelated in the corner of the screen at one point. However, I did like the use of practical effects, especially Killer Croc's makeup. It looked very realistic and made the movie better as a result.

Easter Eggs and Trivia
David Ayer has truly honored the source material and has had fun with it. Throughout Suicide Squad there are many easter eggs and trivia to be found. Most of the movie takes place in Midway City where Hawkgirl and Hawkman sometimes protect, and the prison for metahumans, Belle Reve, appears in it's traditional place in Louisiana. Killer Croc speaks in a Cajun accent just like in the comics, and he mentions how he's beautiful. Originally there was going to be a scene showing his backstory which is directly from the comics. Slipknot's inclusion to be killed off immediately is reminiscent to KGBeast's inclusion just to be immediately killed off in Assault on Arkham. Batman appears three times and he is more like he is in the comics as he doesn't go out of his way to kill. The Flash also appears and takes down Captain Boomerang, and I have heard there was going to be a scene where Slipknot gets taken down by Wonder Woman but it wasn't in the final edit. I have a feeling this is due to the fact that Slipknot was only included to be killed off so this was not as needed as much as Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Boomerang. Harley Quinn at one point has a mallet which she used in the DCAU, but throughout the movie she uses a baseball bat which she uses in the Arkham games. Briefly her classic costume from the DCAU is seen and there is even a shot with the Joker replicating a image made by Alex Ross.
The image
Harley also has puddin' tattooed on her as well as a piece of jewelry saying the same thing. She is also seen doing gymnastics several times in reference to her formerly being a gymnast before becoming a psychiatrist. The Joker also has several tattoos with meanings. For one, David Ayer has said that Batman knocked out the Joker's teeth after he killed Robin leading to him getting gold braces and tattooing 'Damaged' on his head. Although, very briefly Harley's file hints that she may have actually killed Robin. The club scene is reminiscent to a scene in Joker by Brian Azzarello where the Joker murders a club owner for making Harley be a stripper. In the comic it is more violent with him skinning the owner while in the film he is just shot. However, Jonny Frost who appears in that graphic novel appears in the movie. There is so much more but I shall leave it at that.

Rant Time
I try to avoid ranting on my blog. I wanted to rant about the British EU referendum result, I wanted to rant about copyright on YouTube, I wanted to rant about how you were misandrist if you said positive things about the new Ghostbusters or if you said anything negative you were a misogynist, I wanted to rant about whitewashing with Dr Strange, Ghost in the Shell and Gods of Egypt. I avoid ranting because I do not wish to upset people. A debate or a calm review I feel is much less polarizing than a rant and I do not want to polarize the people who read this blog. However, I cannot keep this rant off anymore. This rant will cover three topics: harsh critics and Marvel comparisons, studio interference, and 'it was made for the fans'/fan wars.

First off, critics were way too harsh on both this film and Batman v. Superman. This film did not deserve 26% on Rotten Tomatoes or 40 on Metacritic. Of course movie critics occasionally are overly harsh or overly praiseworthy on certain movies; it is understandable because they have to virtually watch every movie released. Through this they will see recurring things in movies, (just think how many times 'I should have killed you when I had the chance' appears in movies), which they eventually get tired of and when a movie does something new it may seem like a breath of fresh air. This mindset is perfectly fine in my opinion. The DCEU is unfortunate to come about after the MCU grew big. The MCU is not perfect by any means, just look at the Thor movies and Iron Man 2 and 3, but when it gets it right it does it phenomenally. Both Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy are on the IMDb Top 250 Movies list. As a result the MCU has set an expectation which critics are looking for, unfairly, which they expect Sony, Fox, and now Warner Bros. to match in quality and tone. Of course Sony's and, to an extent, Fox's attempts have been disastrous. X-Men: Apocalypse, Batman v. Superman and now Suicide Squad were not up to the quality of some MCU movies, and as they are different in tone to the MCU this has been two strikes against them. As a result they've been unfairly degraded. Was Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse good? Squad I believe is a yes, BvS was mediocre and I have yet to see X-Men so I cannot comment. Are they the worst comic book movies ever? Not by any means. There's all three of the awful Fantastic Four movies, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever and X-Men: The Last Stand were all worse, in my opinion, to BvS and Squad. I even feel Iron Man 3 was worse than BvS. I feel critics have to realize that if a comic book movie is less than stellar the reason for that has nothing to do with comparisons to the style of the MCU but rather other factors, and as a result shouldn't been overly harsh for that reason. An example I want to give is Dredd. Dredd is one of my favorite comic book movies based on the Judge Dredd comics; published by Rebellion Developments. It was well acted, honored the source materials, had good set-design and effects, and had fantastic fight scenes. Critics gave it positive reviews but not many. There were not any negative reviews that I'm aware of but the reason why it got so little reviews was because it was overlooked. The MCU had just gotten big and The Dark Knight Rises had shown DC was awesome again. Critics and audiences forgot this little gem to focus instead on Marvel and DC instead. Hellboy as well has been criminally overlooked in my opinion. Before we rush to DC's defense we have to remember that other comic book companies have been neglected.

My second rant is about the studio. BvS was much better unedited and most of my issues with Squad could have been rectified by keeping the deleted scenes in. Of course it is natural for a studio to have some interference; they have to make money and need to protect their interest. The studio interfered with Tim Burton's Batman by keeping Burton on a leash which produced one of the greatest comic book movies of all times. When they let him off the leash, and later Joel Schumacher, the next Batman movies were not good at all. Warner Bros. should have looked at what Fox did when they intervened in Fantastic Four and produced not only one of the worst comic book movies, but one of the worst movies of all time. Studios parade round the phrase 'it was made for the fans' but they should know fans will sit and watch a four hour comic book movie if they want this to be true. Comic book fans dress as their favorite characters, nitpick individual scenes in movies and debate trivial matters; if we do all that we will happily watch a film for three and a half hours. With the mainstream audiences they too will watch a nerdy film if it's hours long. The Lord of the Rings is one of the most critically acclaimed series of all time and not-geek audiences were more than happy to watch it. Of course BvS or Squad didn't have to sweep the Oscars but if they had made it good then the public would watch it. To be honest the studio didn't need to interfere with BvS at all: a movie with Batman and Superman in the title practically sells itself. If the studio was going to interfere it should have been to not give so much creative control to Zack Snyder. Snyder makes very good looking movies; one thing Watchmen, 300, BvS and Sucker Punch all had were they were good looking. However, it is like a fancy meal in a 5-star restaurant: nice to look at but not filling. If David S. Goyer was given more control then this could improve the DCEU.

Now to my final rant: the Fanboy Wars and 'it was made for the fans'. I hate all this Marvel v. DC. BvS and now Squad has caused DC fanboys to claim that they are hard done by, the MCU is for little kids and has brainwashed critics into thinking that all comic book movies should be like the MCU. Marvel fanboys meanwhile have been saying that DC is a shambles, it's properties are terrible and they cannot do anything right. In response DC fanboys say that Marvel cannot create good characters, Marvel fanboys say Superman and other characters are boring, and the fights continue. I will admit I am a bigger fan of Marvel than DC but that is only because it was Marvel which got me into comics. I still love DC, Image, Dark Horse etc. The Fanboy Wars are absurd. The MCU has produced both good films, (Iron Man, Avengers, Guardians), and bad films, (Thor, Iron Man 2 and 3, Incredible Hulk) while DC has produced one of the greatest films of all times, The Dark Knight. Very rarely though has any of these recent Fanboy Wars mentioned the comics. Nor has they defended the overlooked comic books:it was fans of all comics which got a Dredd sequel to be put into the works, none have commented on the possibility of a new Crow or Spawn movie, Kingsmen went overlooked by both until it was released, and none went to defend the appalling Cowboys and Aliens. Now to my other major point: 'it's made for the fans' is not an excuse to making a less than good movie. The Killing Joke, Dredd, Under the Red Hood and Dark Knight Returns were all made for fans and were good. BvS and Squad were clearly made for a wider audience, as well as for fans, and because critics didn't like it studios tried to pit fans against studios so their movie had some defense. It worked as well. I am tired though of being expected to rush to defend a not very good movie, Squad was somewhat good though, just because I'm a comic book fan. I hate it when people say 'it's just a kid's film' to defend a bad kid's movie or 'it's just a goofy movie' to defend films like Nine Lives and 'it's for the fans' is no exception. I am sick of this being a defense and I am sick of being expected to become a white knight for a poor comic book movie. 

Well that's my rant.

For good acting, some good effects, honoring the source material and a relatively good story, but thanks to cuts and poor CGI at times I will give Suicide Squad a 6.8/10. I would consider it an alright movie, could have been better but could have been worse. Regardless if you liked Suicide Squad or not I would strongly advise watching Assault on Arkham: it's better than Suicide Squad and a good comic book movie overall.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

10,000 Views Special: Why I read Comics

Two weeks ago this blog received 10,000 views. First off I would like to thank everyone for taking their time to read this blog and push it up to 10,000 views. I was debating what to do to celebrate this milestone until I thought that I should do something personal. As you can all tell I am a huge comic book fan and I read any comic: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image etc. My favorite superheros range from Batman to Black Panther to Ms Marvel to Hellboy to Spawn. For over half my life I have been reading comics and around half of this blog is devoted to comics. This post may seem a bit rambling but it needs to be a bit of a ramble to properly explain why I read comics and why I'm optimistic about the future of the comic book industry.

Why I read them
This may seem an obvious point; comics are made to entertain people and we read them to be entertained. I do read comic books for that reason. I read books, play video games, write stories and watch films for this reason also. However, to me comic books are much more than just illustrated monthly stories. Mark Hamill, who played both Luke Skywalker and the Joker, stated that comics were 'the greatest form of escapism'. In my opinion this is a fairly accurate statement. Comic books throw you into a world where people who should not exist exist, the most fantastical events take place, and things that would be regarded as the greatest of feats in our world are treated as normal. Comics throw you into the lives of fantastical people with no build up; you become part of this world at the same rate as the character you are reading about. Comic books have been published for far longer than any person reading this blog has been alive: Doctor Occult, DC's first character, first appeared in 1935, Superman in 1938, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Marvel's first hero, in 1939 and Batman in 1939. Issues published by companies continue from their origins so many years ago, and readers get thrown right into it. It is like meeting someone for the first time: you enter their lives at some point and you find out the rest as you progress your relationship. In 1991 the Mutant Registration Act last appeared in the Marvel Universe, but it would later be mentioned in the Civil War story arc fifteen years later in passing. That is the glory of comic books; it can briefly allude to events happening years ago without taking you out of the present. 

Comic books are all about escapism. Although I do like realistic heroes, stories and events, (after all Batman is one of my favorite all time characters), comic books manage to blend realism with fantasy. Batman is one of the most realistic heroes using his fortune to build advanced equipment to fight crime, but he fights alongside an alien he gets a whole host of powers from the sun's rays and the daughter of the Amazonian queen who brought her to life from clay, (or was the biological daughter of Zeus). Y: The Last Man has the very unrealistic scenario of every mammal with a Y chromosome, bar am escape artist and his Capuchin monkey, dying alongside the realism of a world societies recovering from the initial collapse. Comic books blend realism and fantasy to draw us into a world so different from our own to help us forget about our own world. Even comics which have virtually no fantastical elements do this well. From Hell, for the most part, deals with a realistic mystery set in Victorian London trying to solve the Jack the Ripper case. Alan Moore managed to get a realistic setting for most of the story but did it in a way which drew people away from their own world and into one with Abberline hunting the Ripper. The staying power of comics is evidence of this escapism and the characters created really bonded with the readers.

I wish to talk more about the characters as it gets quite personal. Comic books have been published over so many years, with many characters over the decades, which means that as comic book readers we can see the evolution of these characters. We saw them at their highs and we saw them at their lows. We understand what they are going through and care so much about them. I was one of the many people who were outraged with the U-turn of Spider-Man's personality in One More Day and how Batman revoked his 'no killing rule' in Batman v. Superman. When Batman v. Superman was released I saw several internet comments questioning comic book fans why they were so outraged that Batman and Superman killed people. The simple answer is that we have bonded so much with these characters that we hate to see everything what they stand for thrown aside. Commonly referred to as the worst fanfiction of all time, My Immortal depicts all the Harry Potter characters in the incorrect ways, (such as having Dumbledore being uncaring), which was one reason why it got so badly slammed, (although that was just one of many things wrong with that fanfiction). This is the same case. We know so well these characters so we don't want to see them portrayed badly. I love Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, but I was disappointed in the way they treated by favorite Batman villain: Scarecrow. He is a complex and dark villain who utilizes the one weakness we all have, our fears, and in Batman Begins he is soon overshadowed by the final act while in the others he is sidelined. Now I shall get into my final point about why I read comics, (partially to do with the characters).

I suffer from chronic depression and social anxiety disorder. For many years I found it hard to cope with these issues; often I felt alone and felt like a pariah. When I was first diagnosed it was a time when I had started to truly get into comic books. Years prior I had a small interest in comics: I would read a few comics, (largely Dark Horse's Star Wars publications), I loved the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, (Spider-Man 3 less than the rest), when I was younger I watched The Batman by the creators of Jackie Chan Adventures and I thought The Dark Knight was a cinematic masterpiece, (I still do). Around the time I was diagnosed I properly got into comic books. I had started my own collection in earnest, I got Batman: Arkham Asylum, I started looking online for older comics, I bought on Amazon one of my favorite comic book video games, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and I read about the characters which didn't appear in the comics which I did own. When I got immersed into the world of comic books I started to sympathize with characters. The X-Men and the mutants were outcasts of society, Hellboy found it hard to initially fit in with his human colleagues and was plagued by the knowledge that he was summoned to Earth to be the catalyst of the apocalypse, Batman was tormented by the memories of his parents, Barbara Gordon's paralysis and the Joker killing Jason Todd, and Daredevil himself had depression. To me this made the escapism of comic books even more poignant and at times it helped me cope. Explaining these feelings to people who do not have depression or social anxiety is difficult but seeing characters having their own problems helped me cope with my own.

When this was happening comic books were not yet in the mainstream. I received a bit of criticism for enjoying comics, not very much though, and for a while I was the only one that I knew who read comic books. This soon changed. Batman: Arkham Asylum was well received by both comic book fans and non-fans alike, and the sequel Arkham City gained even more attention. Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe suddenly hit everyone, not just comic book fans, with The Avengers. People who I knew who had scoffed at comic books in the past were talking excitedly about this new films, and to this day it is one the IMDb Top 250 films list. That same year we also had The Dark Knight Rises, although not as good as the previous one, showed that comic book movies were good and profitable. Now we are at a stage where the Justice League is getting its own film, the previously obscure Guardians of the Galaxy could have a film regarded as one of the best comic book movies of all time, Deadpool could have a much loved movie and comic books could be in the mainstream without being ridiculed. 

Why I'm hopeful
Comic books moving to the mainstream, and the changes happening in the industry has inspired some hope. Although Marvel Now! is a bit all over the place at the moment, (Captain America 'Hail Hydra' springs to mind), it is doing somethings right. I really am liking the fact that one of my favorite Marvel heroes, Carol Ann Danvers, is now Captain Marvel, and is enjoying some much needed attention. She is a really good character who's been often overlooked in the past. Equally, I like how Marvel is having Rira Williams become the new Iron Man. It's a bold move which adds some diversity to the Marvel roster. Although DC's New 52 was hit and miss it did some really good things. Harley Quinn's and Batgirl's own publications were really well done and developed two very loved characters. DC Rebirth released this year has done several good things, like bringing back Wally West, and it genuinely had me stunned. The revelation that Superman has cancer and that the Watchmen are entering the DC Universe was a big shock to the system. 

Comic books in recent years have been introducing so many more diverse characters: we have Muslim heroes, deaf heroes, homosexual and bisexual heroes, heroes with mental illnesses and more ethnic minority heroes. I have to say Simon Baz is now one of my favorite Green Lanterns and I hope he appears in the live-action DC films. Miles Morales as Spider-Man for years has been the saving grace for the the Ultimate comics and I really hope he appears in the MCU. As comics become more diverse more people can become interested in them; we can have future comic book writers picking up a Dark Horse, IDW Publishing, DC or Marvel comic now and becoming inspired by it. Hopefully with comics now in the mainstream people can read comics and seek the same solace which I did. May comics continue to do as well as they have been doing for another eighty years.

DC Rebirth

Marvel Now!

Thanks for reading, thank you for the 10,000 views and next time I'll be reviewing the Suicide Squad movie.