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Friday, 31 March 2017

Comics Explained: Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year One (Part 3)

The Final Third of Year One
Last time on Injustice following the death of Lois Lane and the destruction of Metropolis by the Joker Superman unilaterally declared an enforced worldwide ceasefire. However, this has split the Justice League between Superman's supporters and, those who believe that the the ceasefire is unenforceable and that the ceasefire would lead to authoritarianism. After accidentally crippling a wannabe superhero in Australia the Flash has growing doubts over his place in the League, an attempt to move the inmates of Arkham somewhere more secure led to the death of Dick Grayson, and Batman's team has kidnapped Hawkgirl and replaced her with a spy. That is where we start today.

Infiltration and Invasion
The League are stunned about how Hawkgirl managed to escape from Batman. As we all know escaping from Batman's imprisonment is no easy task (unless for some reason you are in his Rouge's Gallery). Hawkgirl says that she didn't escape; Batman let her go with a message for the League. Stop working for the world and start working with the world. During the French Revolution Maximilien Robespierre said 'No one likes armed missionaries' which Batman sees a clear parallel in Superman's actions. Although Superman's and Wonder Woman's attempts to bring peace are noble by enforcing world peace you are just creating new problems, (and not addressing the reasons for the conflicts to begin with). Shazam and Flash agree with the statement stating that since the destruction of Metropolis they've been overreacting to events around the world. Wonder Woman counteracts saying that they're bringing peace and making the world safe. This isn't too different from the mainstream Wonder Woman. Diana leaves Themyscira to help bring peace to 'Man's World', and in the alternate future comic Kingdom Come she is expelled from Themyscira for failing to bring peace. However, in Injustice the destruction of Metropolis and death of Lois has radicalized her. The Flash questions Wonder Woman if the Atlanteans felt safer when the League moved Atlantis from the Mediterranean to put it in the Sahara. The Flash turns on Superman as well stating whether the crippling of the Australian hero Galaxor was bringing safety, which Superman responds by saying it was 'unpleasant' and that they are still, nevertheless, bringing peace. Barry questions at what price this peace comes at and Diana spits back that if he doesn't like it he should leave. Shazam enters the debate backing Barry and saying that the could have killed Black Adam when they depowered him; in response Diana reminds them that Black Adam had destroyed a city. Shazam refuses to bully the world into submission and that Superman is a poor leader for not listening to others.

Robin chips in that he can 'practically see the strings'. He tells the the League that they've fallen for his father's game, and that Hawkgirl isn't really Hawkgirl but an impostor. Lex Luthor sides with Robin as Hawkgirl tries to defend herself. To avoid another argument Lex states that they just need to communicate with people, although Shazam questions whether it would be Superman or the League who communicates. Superman replies that it would be the entire League, and Shazam apologizes and states that he simply doesn't want the League to become what they've been fighting for years. Meanwhile, something is happening on the planet Apokolips...
Deep in the bowels of the hellish planet the Lord of Apokolips, the tyrannical, formidable Darkseid is torturing someone. His son, Kalibak, comes to find Darkseid and says that Superman has become weak. He asks his tyrant of a father for him to allow a war party to attack Earth. However, he notices who Darkseid is torturing: Black Racer. Black Racer is a deity who is an avatar of Death. Darkseid grants Kalibak's request. Back on Earth the Justice League gives a speech in front of the Eiffel Tower in civilian clothing. Superman apologizes for his recent actions and for frightening the world. He explains that although he is an alien he was raised by humans who were compassionate people. He loves Earth and that he just wants the world to be safe. From the Batcave Batman, Catwoman, Alfred and Harley Quinn watch the address. Just then a Boom Tube opens in Paris with thousands of Parademons from Apokolips pouring through the portal to attack the crowd. Kalibak attacks Superman chastising him for going soft but when he sees Superman's face all he can mutter is 'Oh shit'.
Kalibak in Paris
Kalibak tries to negotiate with Superman but he uppercuts Kalibak thousands of meters into the air where he is smashed through the wing of a plane. Wonder Woman goes to prevent the crash of the plane as Superman continues his fight with Kalibak. Both the League and Batman's Insurgency finds that Boom Tubes open in Shanghai, Moscow, Istanbul and Mumbai. Batman realizes that the Parademons are attacking the most populated cities and that Gotham will be next. Black Canary tells Batman that he must work with Superman; of the Insurgency only Captain Atom would be able to properly fight the Parademons. In Paris Superman smashes Kalibak into the ground creating a massive crater. Superman demands that Kalibak call off the attack which the god refuses to do stating that despite Superman's immense power his moral code ensures that no one actually fears him. Using a Mother Box Kalibak summons Parademons to attack Superman. With the Man of Steel incapacitated Kalibak taunts him by saying that he will never win as he lets people live, and proceeds to torture Superman by making him listen to the thousands dyeing thanks to the Parademons. However, this shatters Superman's moral code. After Metropolis he has been toeing the line with him refusing to kill in the issues around Atlantis and Black Adam. With eyes burning red Superman states 'Not again' and incinerates the Parademons. 

Kalibak is a stereotypical bully: stupid and a coward. After seeing Superman cross his moral he tries to back away but Superman hoists him up by the neck demanding the god to fight him. Meanwhile, across the world the League and Insurgency are struggling against the Parademons while protecting civilians. In Paris Superman asks how Kalibak dares to invade Earth which Kalibak replies like any bully that Darkseid would never allow him to be harmed. Superman says that he can no longer hide behind his father. He declares that he is tired of letting 'creatures' like Kalibak have mercy and that he is tired of showing mercy to 'men posing as cancers'. Desperately Kalibak declares his godhood for Superman to say 'I. Don't. Care!' Superman kills Kalibak by smashing his skull.
Superman starts to kill Kalibak
In Mumbai the Flash tries to save a woman in Mumbai before Superman arrives to talk to him in superspeed. Superman is tortured by Kalibak's words but Flash tells him to ignore Kalibak's words. When Superman suggests that they kill the Parademons Barry is horrified. Barry realizes that Superman has made up his mind. Quickly Superman flies across the world incinerating the Parademons as Batman is horrified that Superman has dared to cross his moral line. In Paris Luthor declares Superman the planet's savior as the crowd happily cheers his name.

Debating Ideologies
On the Watchtower the League watch the planet where Superman has ascended to a god like status. Superman, however, believes that his actions were not enough with him focusing on all those who died during the Apokolips invasion. Diana says that there aren't enough people like Superman to tackle another crisis to which Luthor replies 'Not yet'. In the Batcave Catwoman and Batman are also watching the populace chant Superman's name. In a mirror image of Superman Batman is focusing on those who died. Unlike Superman he is focused on how many Superman killed. Huntress comments that Superman saved millions of lives through his actions and that he is a hero to everyone bar Batman. She cries 'Being sanctimonious and arrogant doesn't make you right, Bruce'. Huntress then realizes her mistake: most of the Insurgency didn't know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. She also gets mad that he hasn't told his own allies his identity. Batman tries to explain that Superman and Luthor are making a super-soldier army but Huntress questions how anyone can trust him. To build trust he makes the ultimate move: he removes his cowl. Green Arrow and Captain Atom are shocked that Wayne is Batman. However, on the Batcomputer they spot Superman cultists attacking people which the Insurgency goes to stop them. The cultists had first originated after Metropolis but after Apokolips they had grown astronomically in number. In Gotham they had been attacking people to oust them from the city. As they arrive to fight the cultists the League arrives where Diana orders the cultists to leave. It is the first time that Batman has seen Superman since Atlantis. However, Catwoman tells Batman that now is not the time and the two teams depart.

In the Fortress of Solitude Luthor has created a pill which grants those who ingest it superpowers. The Kents are there with it being the safest place in Superman's mind following their kidnapping by Mirror Master. Jonathan questions if Luthor is proud of what he has done which Lex replies that he is proud for using alien tech to improve humanity. Martha states that he doesn't need the pill but someone to talk to; Luthor argues Clark is beyond 'mere mortal compreshension'. The Kents angrily disagree saying that losing Lois, his unborn child and Metropolis Clark is spiraling out of control. Martha relates a story on how as a child Clark lost his favorite blanket, went into a tantrum and tipped over a tractor and that 'Aren't we all?' acting like children. Jonathan says 'You're supposed to be the smartest man on Earth. Are you honestly telling me that you can't see that Clark needs help?'. Luthor states that he only wants to avoid another Metropolis and when asked by the Kents he admits that he feels guilty for surviving. The Kents fear that one day Earth will need to be saved from Superman and asks for Lex to do the right thing. On the Watchtower the Flash states that Luthor's pill is straying into mad scientist territory so Superman asks if he wants a game of chess. During the game Superman states that he wants to get rid of guns. Flash states that it is unfeasible to collect every gun and that they will face resistance, but Superman says that they will be at least alive to resent them. Barry states that the people might resist and Clark replies that they would resist with sticks instead of guns. The Flash states that smoking and speeding kill lots of people, possibly more than guns, so Clark states they'll get rid of cigarettes and arrest those who speed. Barry starts to win more games of chess (played at superspeed) as he says that to maintain peace they'll have to imprison and possibly kill for increasingly petty crimes.

Luthor announces to the League his pills which increases the strength and durability of the user. Superman, however, states that they can only hand the pills out to a select few. Green Lantern doesn't like the plan and Hawkgirl isn't too sure if Earth's governments would be too happy for handing out pills to make their own version of the Green Lantern Corps. That night Hawkgirl spots Damien (Robin) stealing a pill and heading to the teleporter. Damien arrives in the Batcave looking at Nightwing's costume apologizing for his culpability in Dick's death. Suddenly Alfred arrives and is pleased to see Damien asking if he received his letter. Damien says that he did and a relieved Alfred says 'it was so hard to find a zip code for outer space'. Ashamed Damien said it was too hard for him to write a response. The Batmobile arrives and Batman gives Damien the cold shoulder, so Alfred explains that Damien is in grief over Dick and urges Bruce 'Not to be you'. However, the talk between father and son break down as each are still traumatized over Dick's death. Alfred times to calm them but Damien accidentally knocks Alfred into the Batcomputer, injuring him. He then knocks Bruce into the Batcave's giant penny but suddenly Hawkgirl prevents the coin from crushing him. Damien throws an incendiary grenade at Hawkgirl and his suspicions are confirmed: Hawkgirl was secretly Martian Manhunter. Damien escapes the Batcave...

The League are informed that Batman replaced Shiera with Martian Manhunter with the Flash being in disbelief that Batman would do such a thing. Cyborg sets up a message to Earth where Superman will give a massive revelation: Batman's identity. Batman initiates the 'Icarus Protocol' knocking off the broadcast. However, Superman merely goes on Twitter writing four words: Batman is Bruce Wayne.
Yes, Twitter beat Batman
Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern proceed through Gotham's underground with Clark assuring them that they'll just talk to Batman to secure Hawkgirl's release. Arriving at the Waterfall Entrance Batman steps out to meet them saying 'You took my life'. Diana spits back that he can buy a new one and demands to see Shiera. Over their communications Cyborg informs them that Hawkgirl's arrived and it is not Martian Manhunter this time. Batman begins to walk away as the League says this isn't something he can walk away from. However, this isn't Bruce. He flies into the air revealing himself to be Martian Manhunter. Superman questions J'onn why he sided with Batman and he replies 'because of what you could become'. Martian Manhunter is a Green Martian whose kind were oppressed by the White Martians, (J'onn was powerless to stop his daughter being taken away), and he saw Superman going down the same route. As Superman remembers the helplessness he felt holding Lois Wonder Woman grabs J'onn demanding him to leave Clark alone. J'onn quickly shapeshifts and enters Diana's body screaming that he's always been distrusted and how Clark chose to become close to the humans whom he resembled, rather than his fellow alien. J'onn threatens to the oxygen going to Diana's brain so she begs Clark to burn her despite the risk to her own life. He does incinerating J'onn as Batman watches knowing his friend has truly fallen. 
Superman burns Martian Manhunter out of Wonder Woman
The War Begins
The U.S. President is woken at night by Batman ringing his personal cell phone wanting a distraction. As this is happening Black Canary and Green Arrow are in a bathroom where Arrow is disgruntled that Batman gave Canary the entire address whereas he only got the number for the stall. Suddenly their retinas are scanned and they get access to Batman's new hideout. An argument between Black Lightning and Batman over his holding of Hawkgirl is cut short when Batman reveals that J'onn has been killed. He informs them of the super-soldier pill currently being held in the Fortress of Solitude which he wants to break into. If the Insurgency has hold of the pills it could tip the balance of power back into their favor. Batman receives then a text from the president informing him that U.S. warships are currently heading to the Korean peninsula, the perfect distraction. He, Captain Atom, Catwoman, Black Canary and Green Arrow are teleported to the North Pole where Atom immediately flies Catwoman to the Fortress to get them inside. However, unbeknownst to Batman Superman hasn't gone to Korea instead going straight to the White House...Catwoman got the Insurgents in but upon seeing the Kents inside Batman calls off the mission realizing that if Superman thought that his parents were endangered in his current state then he would respond with extreme violence. Suddenly Batman got a text from the president: Superman is coming. Just as they are about to leave Superman appears holding Atom by his throat.
Atom vs. Superman
Despite his parents trying to calm him Clark is furious. Desperate Atom unleashes a nuclear blast sending Superman flying as well as causing the front of the Fortress to cave in leaving Arrow trapped in the Fortress. Ollie manages to convince Canary to leave him and get to safety. In the battle Atom manages to bring Clark to his knees informing him that the Pentagon always believed that he could take him. As he prepares to take down Superman Wonder Woman arrives on the scene and cuts his neck with her sword causing nuclear radiation to pour out of him. Knowing it's his only shot Atom flies into the air to kill Superman with the nuclear blast. In space he detonated next to Superman sending Diana hurtling towards the Earth. Despite the blast being seven megatons Superman survived and flew back to Earth. Cyborg sends the Flash to get Diana some medical aid and to help Superman. Clark informs Barry that 'they' (Batman and the U.S. government) got Atom to try and kill him. The Flash is horrified not wanting to believe that Batman was willing to kill. As Flash takes Diana away Superman easily punches his way into the Fortress demanding that Ollie move away from his parents (who are concerned about his burns). Clark informs them that the president tried to have him killed demanding to know if Ollie had any knowledge about it. Arrow jokes that he didn't know while trying to secretly snatch a pill. Suddenly Clark spots this and with his heat vision cuts the table in two. With no other choice he decides to distract Superman by firing his arrow at the Man of Steel's chest. However, it ricocheted off of his chest and impales Jonathan Kent in the shoulder. Furious Superman backhands Ollie through a crystal. Knowing this is the end Ollie fired an arrow over Superman's shoulder and out of the Fortress. The rest of the Insurgency pick up Ollie's tracker only to be dismayed with it solely being his arrow with a pill attached to it. Ollie's last thoughts are of Black Canary as Superman punches him to death.
Superman kills Green Arrow
Martha took a pill in order to grab her son's arm to stop him from continuing to pulverize Ollie's corpse. He then realizes that two are missing: Ollie managed to smuggle out a pill. At the Insurgent base Batman informs them that the Superman they once knew has gone forever. Batman goes to the teleporter so he can scan the pill at the Batcave despite protests from Catwoman as the Cave would be the first place Superman would look for him. He argues it is easier if he went alone but she continues to argue until Batman unexpectedly kisses her. However, as he does so Selina is knocked out by an inhalant. Handing the unconscious Catwoman to Batwoman he tells the Insurgents to go into hiding. In the Fortress Jonathan chastises Clark for beating to death Ollie and the program of his biological father Jor-el materializes saying how disgusted he was that Clark murdered in the Fortress. When Clark says that he had no choice Jor-el replied that 'There is always a choice'. Speaking to Jonathan Clark agrees that it wasn't Ollie's fault. However, we now see Superman's fall into tyranny. Like any tyrant he doesn't blame himself but rather Batman. If Batman had ended the Joker's life years ago then Metropolis would still be standing and, Lois and his child would still be alive. Batman was the one trying to end his enforced peace. With revenge in mind he flies off to get Batman despite pleas from the Kents. Martha apologizes to Jor-el for not raising Clark properly as Jor-el apologizes for unleashing his son onto the world.

In the Batcave via the Batcomputer someone warns Bruce that Superman is coming and that he should get out. Batman refuses to do so until the analysis of the pill is finished. Superman then arrives saying that he's removed all of Gotham's madmen but 'left the original'. Clark says that just like Joker, Two-Face or Penguin he just wants to see the world burn. After exchanging harsh words Clark says that he is here to end this which Bruce replies that if he wanted to he would have already done it. He then asks if the blood on his hands is Ollie's and asks Clark to justify Ollie's death. He goes on to say why he thinks Superman is here: he thinks Batman is the only one able to stop him and that he wants him too. Enraged he throws Batman across the cave but unperturbed he continues to taunt Clark stating that it would be easy for Clark if he exposed him to kyrptonite or put on a metal suit to continuously beat him. He says 'And I'm not like you, I'm not a murderer' as he plays a video on the computer of Clark and Lois getting married. Superman claims that all he's doing is to honor Lois's memory while Bruce disagrees saying that he's lost his one attachment to humanity. Just as the pill is analyzed Batman has a sonic wave released causing bats to attack Clark. Just as he's about to grab the pill Clark vaporizes the bats, grabs Batman's arm, lifts him up and shatters his spine across his knee.
Just like how Bane broke Batman
Looking down on the broken Batman he states that he's too dangerous and will be locked away with the 'other monsters from Gotham'. Bruce simply reveals that this is a Pyrrhic victory for Clark; too late Clark realized that Batman has scanned the pill. Angry, Clark stands on Bruce's back to get him to reveal where the information has been sent to. Suddenly Clark feels a tap on his shoulder and he turned around to see Alfred there...and the pill missing. Alfred headbutts Clark breaking his nose.
Alfred vs. Superman
Alfred starts pulverizing Superman yelling in rage 'You Don't Get To Hurt My Family Any More!'. After dealing with Superman Alfred picks up his broken master and carried him to the teleporter. The next day standing before the United Nations Superman and the League announce that Batman is a terrorist who stole the pill to use against the planet. As his army marches into the U.N. he announces that the League will forever watch over the populace and keep them safe from Batman. Lois's last words to him was to save the world. Now he plans to do it with an iron fist.

Thus ends Injustice: Year One. In Year Two the war between the heroes continues as the Green Lantern Corps and Sinestro Corps come to Earth...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

World History: The Origins of Russia

Novgorod Marketplace
We briefly talked about Russia in the post about Vikings and the Mongols. In Western imagination and history Russia has always been seen as the 'other'. Not quite Europe, and not quite Asia. This has been the case throughout history: the Russian Empire was seen as 'Oriental', by the mid-nineteenth century the empire was seen as backward, the USSR was the ideological enemy which almost led to nuclear war, and even today Putin's Russia has been seen as the 'other'. This is a shame as Russia has had a vibrant, unique history as great as any place in Western Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. This post will summarize the origins of Russia from the first Russian state with the Kievan Rus up to the formation of the Tsardom of Russia in 1547. However, the period we are covering if we called the land Russia a contemporary would have no idea what we were talking about. For simplicity we'll refer to it as Russia.

Origins of the Kievan Rus
Kievan Rus at its height
You may be wondering why we are starting with the Kievan Rus considering that Kiev is Ukraine's capital. Over a thousand years ago there wasn't an idea of Ukraine and Russia, and without the Kievan Rus there would be no Russia. There is some historiographical debate around the origins of the Kievan Rus. There are two schools of historiography: the 'Normanist' and the Nationalist schools. The Nationalist school states that the Kievan Rus was founded by Slavs, whereas the Normanist school states that the Rus were Vikings who founded trading posts along the Dnieper. There is strong evidence to suggest both. Archaeological evidence and written sources indicate that Vikings, called Varangians, were in the area while if we look at Russian and Ukrainian they sound nothing like Swedish. Elizabeth Howe has suggested that the subjects were Slavic and the Grand Princes (not kings) of Kiev were originally Varangian but became Slavic. Using the Russian Primary Chronicle we go from Rurik, to Oleg, to Igor showing a clear shift from Scandinavian names to Slavic names. The Slavs entered written history during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian where they appear across the Danube from the direction of the Carpathians. In 626 with the Avars, either a Turkic or Mongol people, they even attacked the Empire, and the following two centuries they settled the Balkans. Others settled north along the upper Dnieper where they mingled with the Baltic and Finnish tribal peoples. There they encountered the Varangians. 

The Varangians possibly came from Ruslagen in eastern Sweden and for years had been collecting tribute from the Baltic, Finnish, and Saami peoples. They also were big traders where a quarter of a million Islamic coins have been found in the Baltic. The Varangians started forming trade posts from Lake Ladoga, the Dnieper, and the Volga giving them access to the Black and Caspian Seas. Quite often they would go to Baghdad to access the very lucrative Islamic markets. Arabs even went north with Ibn Faldan in the 900s describing a Viking-style ship burial. The Russian Primary Chronicle, 'Tale of Bygone Years', (written by eleventh-twelfth century monks so they are not primary sources and must be taken with a pinch of salt) talk of the Varangian growing control over the locals:
859. The Varangians from beyond the sea imposed tribute upon the Chuds, the Slavs, the Merians, the Ves, the Krivichians. But the Khazars imposed it upon the Polianians, the Severians and the Viatichians, and collected a squirrel-skin and a beaver-skin from earth hearth.
860-2. The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea, and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves. There was no law among them... And they began to war one against one another. They said to themselves: 'Let us seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us according to law'. They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes: these particular Varangians were called Russes, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans, Angles and Goths, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs and the Krivichians then said to the people of Rus, 'Our whole land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us'. They thus selected three brothers [Rurik, Sineus and Truvor] with their kinsfolk, who took with them all the Russes, and migrated.
A Russian historiography places the founding of the Kievan Rus in 882 when Oleg of Novgorod became Grand Prince (although the settlement itself existed long this date). Oleg moved the capital from Novgorod to Kiev. We shall then continue the story of Russia from here.

The Kievan Rus
The Baptism of the Kievans by Klavdiy Lebedev
Like with their origins the Kievan Rus was built on trade. According to Arab traveler Ibn Rusta:
[The Rus] have no cultivated land. They eat only what they carry off from the land of the Saqlaba [the woodland Slavs, Balts and Finns]...They have no landed property nor villages nor cultivated land; their only occupation is trading in grey squirrel and other furs.
As shown in this quote trade was integral to the Rus. Coins and amber came from the extremely rich cities of the Islamic Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire, and slaves came from all over. Slavery was prolific in the Rus where even one of the possible origins for the English word 'slave' coming from 'Slav'. A 'Varangian Guard' was even made for the Byzantines indicating that the reputation of the Rus made them the best bodyguards for the Second Rome. The Kievan Rus lacked the class institutions and autonomous towns of traditional feudal societies although they had their unique structures. Merchants, laborers, and artisans in urban areas could exercise some political influence through a council called the veche. There was even an entire class of peasants who paid tribute directly to the princes so traditional serfdom was not present in the Rus. Despite the conception that women had no place in society during this time period there were several powerful regents who were women. In 945 Grand Prince Igor was killed fighting rebellious tributaries and his widow Olga (Helga) ruled until her son, Sviatoslav, came of age in 962. Olga was sent to Byzantium in 957 where she personally met with Emperor Constantine VII to organize trade. Rus relations with the Empire was marked by conflict and cooperation. War between the two broke out in 907, 941 and 971 leading to treaties giving the Rus trading rights in 911, 944 and 971 (notice how they did not seize land during these treaties). 

In 980 Vladimir became Grand Prince after conflict broke out among the sons of Sviatoslav with the aid of Novgorod. What I would argue is the most important event in Russian history occurred in Vladimir's reign. The Kievan Rus had various religions within its borders with most being polytheistic. Upon becoming Grand Prince Vladimir had erected idols to Norse, Slav, Finn and Iranian gods to bolster support for himself following the succession conflict. However, he would make a huge impact on religion in the area: he converted to Orthodox Christianity. In the 860s the Byzantines sent two missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, to convert the Slavic peoples. When Bulgaria converted they adopted a script similar to Greek, Cyrillic, which would spread to Russia. Orthodoxy was not the only Abrahamic religion to convert to. Trade had exposed the Rus to Islam through the Caliphate, Judaism from Khazaria, and Olga had invited a Catholic mission from Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. The Russian Primary Chronicle states that Vladimir had emissaries find out about Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Judaism and Islam to see which was best. It stated that Catholic ritual was without beauty, Judaism passed over in silence, Islam banned alcohol which was required in the primary bonding ceremonial of the druzhina (retinue in service of a chieftain) but Orthodoxy's divine service was described as being so beautiful that 'we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth'. Although closer ties with the Byzantines was likely the true cause for conversion to Orthodoxy. Thus Russia became Orthodox. In 1019 Yaroslav the Wise came to power who created the Russkaya Pravda. This was a major law reform which even made no reference to corporal or capital punishment in reference to the old Norse law code. This code was so successful that it would last for centuries. Finally, Yaroslav granted Novgorod more independence for helping place both him and his father on the throne thus forming the groundwork for the Novgorod Republic. After Yaroslav's death the Rus went into decline as principalities started fighting over power. In 1136 Novgorod dismissed the prince (which had been appointed by the Kievans) and formed the Novgorod Republic, Constantinople went into decline, and the Crusades sapped further power away from Constantinople. Novgorod even started to replace Kiev as a major economic center. Then in 1223 the Mongols invaded and the Kievan Rus was conquered by 1240.

Mongols and Novgorod
Alexander Nevsky
In 1240 Kiev fell although several major centers of power like Novgorod had submitted before being overrun by the Mongols. The Russian lands of the Mongol empire was organized into a khanate called Kipchak, or the Golden Horde in European and Russian sources, with a capital at Sarai on the lower Volga. Despite many fleeing to the relative safety of Tver and Moscow the structures of power remained the same in many cities. The Mongols were relatively tolerant in religious matters so the Orthodox church retained its power, and the princes still ruled. However, they ruled at the pleasure of the khan, such as Prince Yaroslav of Vladimir in 1243 being made Great Prince of Kiev and Vladimir for paying tribute. Mongol rule has often been described as 'the Tatar Yoke'. The princes actually gained more power through Mongol rule as the Mongols prevented fighting by appointing princes, and the veches were given less power in return. The seeds for the autocracy of the Russian Empire were sown here. Many resented the stripping of the veche's power, and enslaving/conscripting householders who failed to pay their dues. Electing princes, diplomacy over war and peace, taxation, and recruitment into the militia were now controlled by the Mongols where they had been controlled by the veche forging an alliance between the veche and people. There were several risings, such as in 1262, which the Mongols put down. As the years went on the Mongols started giving more autonomy to cities to collect taxes.

We now need to talk about Novgorod. Like Kiev it had been founded as a major trading city and had been the capital before Kiev was. It became so powerful that it managed to choose the princes of Kiev. As their overlord Kiev had appointed the Novgorod prince until 1136 when they ousted the Kievan prince, appointed their own, and formed the Novgorod republic. Often overlooked Novgorod was a fairly democratic society compared to the other societies of contemporary Europe. A traditional narrative states that the Novgorod government ran through the veches, posadniks (mayors),  tysyatskys ('thousandmen' who originally were militia heads but later were judicial and commercial officials), archbishops and boyars (aristocrats). A Soviet (and a Marxist) historiography has described Novgorod as a 'feudal republic' although it has been contested whether Russia was ever feudal in the same sense as the West which the historiography implies. The most famous Novgorodian prince is Alexander Nevsky who has become a cultural icon in Russia. The same year that the Mongols sacked Kiev (1240) he won the Battle of Neva against a Swedish army, (although this battle is not mentioned in non-Russian sources). Nevsky opted to subordinate Novgorod to the Golden Horde. The Roman Curia had hoped that Novgorod would go to war against the Mongols, which would forestall an invasion of the rest of Europe. Historians have debated why. Some have argued that Nevsky saw Catholicism as a greater threat to Russia while the more tolerant Tatars could aid Russia. Others have argued that it was more self-serving pragmatism; aiding the Mongols would preserve his power while a war would certainly end it. Either way it further placed Russia in the Orthodox camp.

Rise of Moscow
Dormition Cathedral, Moscow
As we all know Moscow is the capital of Russia today. Until the creation of St Petersburg, and after the Russian Revolution Moscow was Russia's capital. How did Moscow usurp Novgorod and Kiev as the most powerful city? Founded in 1147 Moscow remained largely insignificant until the thirteenth century. Thanks to the Mongols many had fled to Moscow boosting the city's population. It was well situated being on the Movska River, (good for trade), and has a relatively high elevation (making it easy to defend). Quite fortuitously the princes of Moscow produced male heirs (like many societies it was patriarchal) and curried the favor of the Mongols. Ivan I of Muscovy was granted the responsibility for collecting the tribute from the Rus and he became very wealthy as a result. In fact he earned the nickname 'Kalita' which literally translates to 'Moneybags'. Ivan used his wealth to buy land from other principalities and to fund the construction of churches. Princely power in Muscovy became heavily linked to the church. Meanwhile, Mongol power was slipping. Collapse of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China separated the Golden Horde from the rest of the empire and the various khanates warred against one another. In Europe growing powers like Lithuania started to chip away at the horde. Also Russia loathed the Mongols. The Mongols were seen as punishment from God and were begrudged for the raids/tributes. Moscow had gotten powerful and in 1380 Dmitrii Ivanovich led a coalition handing the Mongols a major defeat at the Battle of Kulikovo Field. Although the Mongols regrouped and sacked Moscow in 1382 the idea of Mongol invincibility was shattered. They besieged Moscow again in 1408 but it could not save the Horde. It became split between the Crimean Khanate (1430), the Kazan Khanate (1436), the Astrakhan and the Great Horde. 

Moscow's predominance almost ended in 1431 in what Roger Bartlett described as a Muscovite equivalent of the Wars of the Roses. In 1431 Vasily II's reign was challenged by his uncle, Yuri, and a civil war erupted. During the war Vasily captured his cousin, Vasily the Cross-Eyed, and blinded his cross-eyed cousin only for later on to be blinded by his other cousin. In the end Vasily II won the war. His son, Ivan III, became Grand Prince and continued to expand the realm. Under Vasily and Ivan Moscow's control expanded by 1,000,000 kilometers squared. In 1478 Ivan III captured Novgorod destroyed the veche, massacred the population and, destroyed the library and archives. Ivan died in 1505 after a successful war with Lithuania. In 1533 Ivan's grandson, Ivan IV, would not be crowned Grand Prince as his father was. Instead he was crowned Tsar or 'Caesar'. After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Moscow became the main seat of Orthodoxy. As a result Moscow claimed to be the Third Rome (Rome being the first and Byzantium being the second). With Ivan crowned Tsar the Tsardom of Russia was formed. Ivan would be known as 'the Great', 'the Awesome', 'the Awe-inspiring', and most famously 'the Terrible'. However, that is for a future post.

Russia has often been described as one of the 'in-between lands'. Kiev was founded through the actions of Slavs and Scandinavians of the West while Russia was founded thanks to Slavs and Mongols in the East. However, this description is often used negatively. For centuries Russia has been portrayed as being 'backward' or 'archaic' in Western culture. By looking at the origins of Russia we see a rich culture born through trade and diplomacy. We see a state born through clever political maneuverings. This is something often overlooked in world history. Next time we will look go to West Africa to look at Mali and Songhai, and a man reported to be the richest man in history.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-A History of Russia by Roger Bartlett
-Russia and the Russians: From Earliest Times to 2001 by Geoffrey Hosking
-'The Volga Vikings', BBC In Our Time podcast
-The Mongols by David Morgan
-Crash Course World History: Russia, the Kievan Rus and the Mongols

For a full list of the World History posts please see here

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Review: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Warning: Contains Some Spoilers
Kong: Skull Island
I went to see two movies this week and my love of kaiju movies made me want to review Kong: Skull Island. I am a huge fan of King Kong. The original 1933 classic is in my top ten movie list, I was blown away by Peter Jackson's epic movie, and I endlessly watched Toho's King Kong vs. Godzilla when I was younger. I even enjoyed Dino De Laurentiis' 1976 remake. However, going into Skull Island you have to go in expecting a kaiju movie, not a Kong movie. Most of the harshest reviews of this movie which I have seen expected a Kong movie, (which is expected considering Kong is the titular character), and hence were disappointed. I went in knowing that this was more like a kaiju movie so my expectations were much lower compared to other people. Skull Island is a fun but flawed movie.

As the United States is withdrawing from Vietnam Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) of Monarch (from the 2014 Godzilla) organize an expedition to the newly discovered Skull Island. They recruit former SAS captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to act as a tracker, antiwar photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to escort the expedition. Under the guise of a geological survey they arrive on Skull Island and start launching explosive which are supposedly used to map out the island's topography. However, this draws out Kong (motion captured by Terry Notary) who attacks the group. The expedition is split in two with one half wanting to escape the deadly island, meeting a stranded World War Two pilot (John C. Reilly), while the other half under Packard tries to kill Kong in revenge for killing some of the soldiers.

The plot is very simplistic. This is no Cooper or Jackson Kong. With this in mind it is a good standard kaiju movie and reminded quite a bit of the classic B-movie monster flicks like Creature from the Black Lagoon or some of the Showa Godzilla movies. However, it is lacking something which could make it even greater. Pacific Rim showed us that you can have a simplistic plot which is really engaging. I watched Pacific Rim and thought 'I want to see the characters and the monsters' whereas with Skull Island I just thought 'I want to see Kong'. There is only a handful of character development scenes which seem quite shoehorned in. Marvel movies have shown that you can have action oriented, light-hearted plots but still have good character development. With Skull Island this felt like it was a last minute decision due to the high profile cast. 

Acting and Characters
Some of the Cast
Skull Island has a dichotomy towards the characters/actors. It has good acting but appallingly written characters. A friend of mine described it well: good acting but in the wrong roles. It is a shame as well considering that Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and John Goodman, (normally fantastic actors), are given quite forgettable characters whose entire character is based around one trope. Of those three actors I only learnt one of their characters' name. I actually forgot at one part that Tian Jing was in the movie. On top of that there are several scenes where they try and develop these characters but they are so short that they leave much to be desired. My two particular favorites both involve Brie Larson and Kong which were very well done. However, I would hazard a guess that they add up to a total of ten minutes. However, there are some really well done characters in this movie. Particularly those of Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly. They were surprisingly well written and the charisma of their actors helped pull off the character. Jackson in particular was great. He struck as someone like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Near the start of the movie as the Vietnam War is ending for the USA he acts disheveled but when he gets a call for the Skull Island mission he perks up. This was a character who had become devoted to war. It was interesting watching him become more and more consumed by his vendetta towards Kong. Also, I found it quite amusing seeing him say 'bitch please'. For some reason I found it quite funny. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed Shea Whigham as well. It was a small thing but really well done.

Skull Island has a strange tone to it. At times it is deathly serious while at other times it is extremely goofy. When Kong first attacks it is a brutal scene but just as he was going to bite one soldier it cuts to someone eating a sandwich. It is okay to have a goofy movie which has serious parts to it, Marvel has done extremely well with this format, but I felt at times it went too serious and too goofy. I felt that a tone similar to Pacific Rim could have worked to Skull Island's benefit. The serious moments really did work well, and conversely the more light-hearted moments did so as well. The movie takes much influence to movies about the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War the US army fought the Vietcong who were guerrillas, and here the US army fought King Kong who was a gorilla...I saw homages to Platoon, Apocalypse Now, and Full Metal Jacket which were creatively put into the movie. However, like with the character development scenes it feels lacking. One character mentions how they went to Vietnam and created an enemy which ties in the idea that Kong was only their enemy as they made him their enemy. When they did that connection it was really good but it could have had more to it. Also, I was grateful that they toned down the stereotypes for the tribal people in this movie compared to the others. Surprisingly it was the only thing which I preferred in this one to the others.

As everyone who has read my blog before knows that I much prefer practical effects to CGI. Skull Island falls into a recent slew of movies, including Godzilla and Jurassic World, which could have benefited from the usage of more practical effects. As The Force Awakens, Mad Max: Fury Road and Rogue One have shown you can mix practical effects with CGI to make a visually stunning movie. The scene where Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Kong interact could have worked well with some practical effects. However, the CGI for Kong and the other monsters was fantastic. Kong was created via motion capture like in Jackson's King Kong and the recent Planet of the Apes films. It made the action scenes extremely good and this shows in the last third of the movie. The monster fights are spectacular in this movie. It is also a surprisingly gory and brutal movie which I did not expect. Characters are impaled by a giant spider, arms ripped off by a bird/bat/pterosaur creature, and the 'skullcrawlers' are torn apart by Kong. This is by far the most gory Kong movie. Although the monster and fighting CGI was done well some ambient CGI was not done as well. There is one scene where Hiddleston and Larson are watching an aurora which looks really fake, and there are two scenes with explosions surrounding Kong with the human characters which looked too fake. It resembled something from a early 2010s video game rather than a big budget movie. Overall the CGI was a mixed bag.

World/References (Contains spoilers!)
A possible reference
Skull Island is full of references to previous Kong movies, future movies and non-kaiju movies (excluding the prior mentioned Vietnam movies). My particular favorite is when the expedition is approaching Skull Island Samuel L. Jackson says 'Hold on to your butts'. One of my all time favorite movies is Jurassic Park and Jackson's character says this line in that movie. The movie is primarily filmed in two areas: Vietnam and Hawaii. One of the Hawaii locations was Kualoa Ranch where both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World were filmed, and of course dinosaurs live on Skull Island (although the only dinosaur we see is a Triceratops skull). There is also a reference to Them! (a movie about giant killer ants) when Reilly mentions that birds in the trees could be giant ants; in Them! the ants sound like birds. At one point Kong fights a giant octopus which he also fights in King Kong vs. Godzilla but in this movie he eats the octopus. This could be a reference to Eiji Tsuburaya, who did the effects for King Kong vs. Godzilla, as he ate one an octopus which was shown in that movie. Speaking of Godzilla this movie is set in the same universe as the 2014 Godzilla, now called the MonsterVerse. Both Monarch and MUTOs from Godzilla are mentioned in this movie as well as the 1954 nuclear tests (in this cinematic universe the tests were actually trying to kill Godzilla). It seems that everyone is trying to copy the Marvel success; we have the MonsterVerse, the DC Extended Universe, and Universal is trying to do the same with their monsters starting with The Mummy. In 2020 Legendary is planning to release King Kong vs. Godzilla and. the Kong in this movie is far taller and more bipedal compared to past Kong's. There is even an after credit scene showing cave paintings of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah (as well as Godzilla's roar), foreshadowing Godzilla: King of Monsters. It is strange how a cinematic universe which I was not expecting to exist has been thought out more compared to the DCEU...

Kong: Skull Island is a flawed movie but I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you go in expecting King Kong you will be disappointed but if you just want to see a giant ape fight giant monsters you will enjoy the movie. Although I am overall against creating cinematic universes as I feel they easily fall into the trap of being rushed, a big marketing tool for the next big marketing tool, and stifling creativity I am more forgiving towards Skull Island. It feels like it is its own movie and not trying to advertise the next movie like Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad were. However, for the clash in 2020 I hope they chose a tone similar to that of Godzilla or Pacific Rim over the tone of this movie. Overall, I give Kong: Skull Island a 6.8/10.  

Saturday, 11 March 2017

History in Focus: The February Revolution

February Revolution
This year we will see the centenary of possibly one of the most important revolutions in modern history: the communist October Revolution in Russia. However, there was another revolution which preceded the famous communist revolution. This revolution, the February Revolution, took place between March 8 and March 16 1917 (Russia still used the Julian calendar then), and caused the end of the Russian Empire. To understand the later October Revolution we first have to understand the February Revolution.

Long Term Origins
Tsar Nicholas II
Since the mid-nineteenth century Russia had been slowly industrializing and liberalizing. The industrialization effort went slowly but the liberalization efforts were more rocky. Tsar Alexander II has been seen as the one who started this process but after his assassination by members of a socialist organization called Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) the liberal reforms were setback. By the time that Nicholas II became Tsar (1894) Russian society was rapidly changing. Industrialization had brought people from the countryside to cities like Moscow; university educated intelligentsia started agitating for more democratic institutions like in France and Britain; and socialists and anarchists started agitating for more radical changes to Russian society. Russia was caught between a growing industrial power, and the old feudal, aristocratic order. The intelligentsia, anarchists and socialists began educating the lower classes about new politics and societal orders which could change their lives. Then in 1904 war with Japan broke out. Russia had regarded the growing Japanese Empire as a 'backward Asian island' so had not taken Japan seriously over the claims to the Liaodong peninsula in China. Russia had been using a port there, Port Arthur, as a warm-water port and had the Trans-Siberian Railway ending in the region. Meanwhile, Japan wanted to expand into China and did not want Russian influence in the area. The Russo-Japanese War was an utter failure for Russia. In 1904 at the Battle of Liaoyung 125,000 Japanese troops with 485 guns defeated 160,000 Russians with 592 guns, and at the Battle of Tsushima in April 1905 the Japanese navy decimated the Russian navy which had been making its way from the Baltic.

Thanks to military setbacks during the war grievances over poverty, nationality, and various other reasons flared up into revolution in January 1905. Orthodox priest Gregory Gapon had led a march to the Winter Palace to deliver a petition to Tsar Nicholas II. The Imperial Guard opened fire where the government claimed 96 died while the anti-government media claimed 4000 died. Socialists and nationalists organized strikes as a result. In Warsaw the Polish Socialist Party and Social Democratic Party triggered a strike which ended violently while there were major strikes and demonstrations in Riga. On October 30 1907 the October Manifesto was created which set out a constitution and Duma (parliament) which Nicholas II only accepted when Grand Duke Nicholas threatened to shoot himself. In July 1906 P.A. Stolypin became prime minister thanks to his suppression of rebellion in Saratov Province. Unlike Congress in the United States or Britain's Parliament the tsar still held huge amounts of power. Only Nicholas could change the Fundamental Laws; the Duma's budget did not include court, naval and military expenditures; the Duma could be dissolved by the tsar; and Article 87 allowed the tsar to issue emergency decrees when the legislature was not in session. Meanwhile, the press boomed with the Gazeta kopeika (The Kpock Newspaper) reached a circulation of 250,000 in only the second year of publication. These papers told the literate the many affairs and criticisms of the ruling elite, who would then inform the masses. One such example are the rumors and innuendos about Grigori Rasputin's religious and sexual activities. Among these rumors was that Rasputin was sleeping with the tsarina and helping influence Russian politics through this. Before 1914 the Dumas were constantly being dissolved and Stolypin himself was assassinated in 1911 by a leftist called Dmitry Bogrov, although Nicholas' canceling the judicial investigation made many believe that the conservative monarchists were truly behind the assassination. As domestically the tsar was losing control in Sarajevo heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated sparking the First World War.

World War One
Russia in the War
On July 28 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, an ally of Russia, causing Nicholas II to order Russia's mobilization. Germany declared war on Russia and thus Russia entered the First World War. Just like with the war with Japan the First World War went disastrously for Russia. Initially the war had caused a surge of nationalism and loyalty towards the Tsar with the only group opposing the war being the Bolshevik Party and Vladimir Lenin. Lenin (who would lead the October Revolution) opposed the war seeing it as an imperialist war. This unity soon dissipated as the Russian army faced defeat after defeat. Despite several victories, such as under the Brusilov Offensive in 1916, the military saw many catastrophic defeats, like at Tannenburg. Germany quickly pushed into Poland and horrific tragedies occurred. People in Poland and the Baltics first had to endure shelling from the German forces, and then had to face forced removals by the Russian military as they were seen as 'enemy aliens'. This 'Great Retreat' of 1915 by the Russian military led to burning of buildings and farms, mass raping women, and mass deportations. It is estimated that a million were driven out of their homes, and a further 5-10 million 'voluntarily' left their homes. One Russian said:
Polish peasants who had fled from their villages sat or lay on the ground near their covered wagons. Babies howled, turned blue in the arms of their exhausted and disheveled mothers.
Thousands of Jews, Polish, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians faced the cold, hunger, disease, and mistreatment. In Kazakhstan Russian homesteaders clashed with Kazakhs and Kirgiz causing thousands of deaths. The Tsarist army had relied on the Allies to supply arms but the German fleet blockaded the Baltic, and the Turkish blockaded the Black Sea straits cutting off this supply. It took until 1916 for Russian industry to produce enough shells. As major grain producing regions of Poland and Ukraine were lost grain prices skyrocketed so people printed more money to counteract this which in turn caused mass inflation. The Tsar still mistrusted the Duma seeing it as trying to usurp his power. Angry over Rasputin's influence over government appointments several nobles assassinated the monk in 1916. By 1917 the situation was at breaking point.

The Revolution
Students firing at police
On March 8 (February 23 in Russia) Petrograd Social Democrats on International Women's Day issued leaflets. Food production problems, rising inflation rates, and war setbacks had caused mass dissatisfaction with the regime, and the Social Democrats handed leaflets to women waiting in food lines. Their leaflets read:
The government is guilty; it started the war and cannot end it. It is destroying the country and your starving is their fault. The capitalists are guilty; for their profit the war goes on. It's about time to tell them loud: Enough! Down with the criminal government and all its gang of thieves and murderers. Long live peace!
Women started bread protests which inspired factory workers in the Vyborg District and the Putilov Factory. Activists joined the protests and protesters crossed the frozen Neva River where they clashed with the police beginning the revolution. Two days later Tsar Nicholas II ordered the garrison to put down the revolt but many units joined the crowd with a few killing their officers. Ships anchored in Helsinki and Kronstadt had sailors throwing their officers overboard, or into furnaces. The Duma urged Nicholas to implement immediate political measures but in response he dismissed the Duma. On March 12 the tsar's crack units, the Volynian Regiment, mutinied and joined the revolt. The same day two shadow governments were formed: the Provisional Government made of senior Duma members at the Tauride Palace, and the Petrograd soviet in another wing of the palace. The Provisional Government soon arrested some of the tsar's ministers although this was done to protect them from revolutionaries. With the monarchy losing all control on March 15 Nicholas II made this statement:
In agreement with the State Duna, we have thought it best to abdicate the throne of the Russian state and to lay down the supreme power. Not wishing to part with our beloved son, we hand down our inheritance to our brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich.
Michael reigned for just a day ending Russian monarchy which had ruled for a thousand years, four hundred years of Tsardom, and three hundred years of Romanov rule. Incidentally this decade saw the end of many monarchies across the world: in 1910 Japan annexed Korea ending the monarchy there, 1910 the Portuguese monarchy was overthrown, 1911 Qing emperor Puyi abdicated ending monarchy in China (although in 1916 Yuan Shikai declared himself emperor briefly before becoming president again), 1914 Portugal ended the Kongolese monarchy, defeat in the war ended monarchies in Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, newly independent Finland and Lithuania became republics when Germany surrendered, and Montenegro lost its monarchy when it merged into Yugoslavia. 

Lenin in the October Revolution
The Provisional Government was set up to replace the tsar under Prince Georgy Lvov. This government was made of the moderate conservative Octobrists, the liberal Kadets, the Marxist Social Democrats (SDs), with two branches (the moderate Mensheviks and radical Bolsheviks), and the peasant-oriented Socialist Revolutionaries. However, the Provisional Government was extremely weak thanks to the economic woes from tsarist rule, and it chose to continue fighting the war. Many viewed the war negatively and saw no need to continue an imperialist war. Vladimir Lenin arrived in April from his exile in Switzerland and started criticizing the Provisional Government. By November with the war still waging, mass mutinies, and rising unpopularity a second revolution took place. A hundred years ago the tsardom fell, and later this year a hundred years would have passed since the first successful communist revolution.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-A History of Russia since 1800 by Catherine Evtuhov and Richard Stites
-Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917 by Geoffrey Hosking

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Review: Logan (2017)

Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Logan is the newest entry into Fox's X-Men franchise with it being the third Wolverine movie. By far this has to be the best entry in the X-Men franchise, and definitely in my top ten comic movie adaptations. When I first heard that they were adapting the Old Man Logan I was initially hesitant as Fox, (who has made the movie), only had access to the X-Men characters while Old Man Logan featured characters from across the Marvel Universe. For example, the other protagonist is Hawkeye who is owned by Marvel Entertainment/Disney. However, they managed to make a great adaptation. 

Logan and Laura
Logan is set in 2029 where mutants are on the verge of extinction. Logan (Hugh Jackman) has given up on being a superhero and is now working as a chauffeur. His regenerative ability is failing, one of his claws occasionally gets jammed, and he is suffering through adamantium poisoning (the metal which covers his skeleton). He is also taking underhand drugs for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is suffering from a neurodegenerative disease and keeps losing control of his telepathy. Logan and the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) have to act as carers for Xavier. One day Logan is contacted by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who is looking for a young girl. Xavier has been in contact with the young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), and they have to get her from one side of the country to the other before Pierce can get her. Then we find out that Laura isn't human but instead a mutant...

The plot is extremely good. I was initially hesitant as James Mangold was one of the screenwriters, as well as being director, as he made The Wolverine whose third act went badly, and in my opinion ruined the movie. However, this did not happen. The first and third acts were high paced thrilling action, (very brutal action as well), while the second was a slower paced character building act. This worked very well making it an enjoyable film throughout, although the second act could have done with more character development. It felt very much like a Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie, in fact the Western Shane is shown and quoted, which was Mangold's intention. He did a very good with this and captured the feel of Old Man Logan. Logan manages to blend brutal action with quite dramatic emotional parts making viewing more enjoyable. The violence was intense and the emotional scenes really wrenched at your heart. Throughout the movie you get an idea that hope has been lost, perfectly matching the tone of the comic, but there is always a glimmer of hope in the horizon. I really like the tone that they took with Logan. Mangold and the other writers did a fantastic job.

Characters and Acting
The recurring characters were done well as well as being acted well. Hugh Jackman as Logan managed to balance his character's berserker rage and the broken old man aspect. It fits very well with the movie's tone of hope being lost. Patrick Stewart as always was very good. He effectively portrayed a character who is trying to stay positive in a world that is falling around them. Contrasting with Jackman as Logan it made the two aspects of the movie come together. Surprisingly for a child actor Dafne Keen did a fantastic job. Through the writing and the acting I really felt that X-23 came to life on the screen. Outside the three protagonists the acting and characters were less memorable although that is largely because of how much screen time is given to the protagonists. Even the antagonists were done well with Richard E. Grant giving a good performance which is a change from the antagonists from the last few years in comic book movies. They weren't memorable as Magneto, for example, but I definitely felt that they weren't given the same treatment as the Marvel villains. 

Action and Effects
Logan at the end of a fight
The effects were good although at times the CGI was a bit off. When the CGI was less good it happened to occur during the action scenes but as the action was so fast paced you had to specifically look for it. These included things like arms, heads and legs being sliced off by Logan. With one exception the poorer CGI only lasted for a split second so for the most part you would be unable to spot it, but if you did it would be off-putting. However, surprisingly most of the rest of the CGI was quite well done. Although I would have preferred more practical effects (with a lower budget compared to most other comic book movies using CGI was more cost effective) at times the CGI honestly tricked me. At one point in the second act there are remote controlled HGVs which are made by CGI. I could be mistaken though as they at times could be made through practical effects. When first seeing them I originally believed that they were made of practical effects.

The action is fantastic throughout the movie and extremely brutal. It is so brutal. Deapool's violence was intense but that was nothing compared to Logan. Limbs and heads fly off, people are impaled, people are brutally stabbed with lots of blood, and bodies practically explode when Logan slashes them. Especially in the final fight scene this violence is brutal and done extremely well. I am an anime fan and my biggest criticisms of Elfen Lied and Hellsing Ultimate is that the violence and gore in those anime was too over-the-top. However, in Logan the violence was excessive but not excessive enough to detract from the movie. I hope future comic book adaptations copy this style of violence if they go down the 'R-rated' route.

X-Men Comic
Shown throughout the movie are X-Men comics. I really liked this addition as it shows that the X-Men managed to achieve some veneration among the public. As Fox doesn't have the rights to show actual Marvel comics these comics were specifically created for the movie, and they got the excellent Joe Quesada, the Chief Creative Officer at Marvel, to make them. In the mainstream Marvel universe Marvel comics exists as an actual company (where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tried to gatecrash the Invisible Woman's and Mr Fantastic's marriage). This was a nice touch. I also liked how they sneakily referenced the Legacy virus and other subtle hints to the X-Men universe. Although I thought that X-24 could have been Daken (Wolverine's son) instead of what we got even though I did like what they did with X-24. We also see a samurai sword in reference to Logan's time in Japan in The Wolverine. Finally, the way that they explained what happened to the X-Men having a similar fate to their counterparts in Old Man Logan. However, by the trailer I assumed this was done by Wolverine like in the comic itself. Nevertheless I did like how they inferred the X-Men's fate. Also, tigers are extinct by 2029 in this world.

Logan is easily one of the best comic book movies that I have seen. It is emotional, action packed and homages Westerns. If comic book movies do go down the serious route I hope they go down this route instead of the Batman v. Superman route. If they ever plan to make a Spawn, Preacher, Nemesis or Authority movie I hope they make it like Logan. Through all the reasons mentioned above I give Logan a score of 8/10. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this review.