Fictionside 104: Heroes & Villains

Fictionside Heroes and villains

This half-birthday we pick out 10 of our favourite heroes and villains …

IT’S JOKERSIDE’S FOURTH AND A HALF BIRTHDAY, AND SO HERE’S ANOTHER OF OUR BI-ANNUAL FICTIONSIDES AS WE CAREER TO THE CLOSE OF JOKERSIDE’S FIVE YEAR MISSION! This time round, we’re picking out some of our favourite fictional heroes and villains. And wouldn’t you know, some of them are a bit misunderstood…

Actually, wouldn’t you know that with a Fictionside, things are a little more complicated than that. We’re going to pick out four and a half heroes and four and a half villains. There’s lots of Brits, and lots of hoods, a surprising amount who first appeared in comics, but bear with us…  Because it’s a Hell of a dinner party!

Heroes & Villains

Hero: Captain Britain

First appearance: Captain Britain Weekly #1, 1976

001 Captain BritainA champion in the great and noble line of great British heroes, and of course, measured against the quality of his foes…

Brian Braddock. Bloody brilliant. Originated created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe in 1976, it’s when Alan Davis and Alan Moore stepped aboard to ‘learn their craft’ that the Marvel universe’s premier British hero earned his finest hour. And by Merlin, did he earn it.

The story that kicked off with a trip to A Crooked World didn’t simply define the British equivalent of Captain America, who’d been sauntering around for the best part of half a decade. It played a huge role in unfurling the Marvel multiverse, naming the main super-powered universe as Earth-616 under Moore’s predecessor David Thorpe, and introducing two barely stoppable Marvel supervillains. In the dapper form of Terry Thomas came Mad Jim Jaspers. And at the hand of Sir James’ megalomania, The Fury. Unsettling and unnerving.

In his first stab at a mainstream Marvel book, Moore took on Thorpe’s storyline mid-way through and proceeded to hone a champion in the great and noble line of great British heroes, and of course, one measured against the quality of his foes left at the writers disposal. Jaspers’ is one of the Marvel universe’s great mutants, and by achieving the position of British Prime Minister yet another warning to George Osborne about taking on too much work. Jasper’s reality altering mutant skills were vast, and once used on a large scale triggered inevitable madness. His creation, the Fury, was a cyborg killing machine so perfect it could survive the collapse of reality and traverse the multiverse in pursuit of its single-minded aim. Within issues Moore had killed off the hero on the failing, warning Earth-238 before resurrecting him on 616, ready for the same, unstoppable events to threaten that reality.

Braddock’s powers were the parallel of Captain America’s, reflecting Albion. Instead of the truth, justice and American Way, Braddock was invested by the ancient, mystical powers of the British Isles by Merlin, destined to uphold the laws of Britain and by implication, become a chief guardian of the multiverse. Who knew that the role thrust upon this Brit would prove so influential. Starting with the wonderful Silver Age conceit of rubbing his sacred amulet, Britain’s comfort in his role changed as his abilities and weapons were refined and his distinctive, patriotic suit pared down just before he first encountered mad Jim.

Excalibur and Arthurian legend continues to wind around Captain Britain’s story, in storyline and pun. He’s inextricably linked to the wider Marvel-verse as the twin of mutant Psylocke. While she was last seen on the big screen in X-Men: Apocalypse, resolutely not with an Essex accent, Brian fans are still questioning whether Marvel’s simply forgotten to announce their Captain Britain film… Like any great British hero, he’s hardly a one trick wonder, mystic or otherwise. Informed by Holmes, Bond and the best of Blighty, the Braddock story has not only dragged in childhood trauma, the secret service, and huge wad of British society, but also granted him a Ph.D. in physics. Bloody brilliant. Read more…

Penny Dreadful: The Last Rites

Penny Dreadful Trilogy

That gnawingly immaculate show, clinical, gothic… surely it was intended as a joke for Lit grads? It shouldn’t have gone anywhere but it did until in its third year it was prematurely staked. Jokerside’s final look at Penny Dreadful this Halloween dwells on where the those otherwise immortal characters ended up.

*Spoilers for the complete run guaranteed.*

World Without a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

And so it ended with Wordsworth, the romantic poet so extricably linked to the Frankenstein myth that was just one of Penny Dreadful’s beating hearts. In 2014,the show provided one of the best Frankenstein adaptations during a first season that Jokerside couldn’t help but include in a review of the state of Mary Shelley’s legacy that year. The fall of the witches, a surprising turn that powered the show’s second season, its strongest, was also irresistible. Jokerside mashed it together with Hannibal’s final season in our 2015 update (the best things come in threes), as that show veered from the indulgence of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal to his early perfect thriller Red Dragon.

So, how could Jokerside resist a glimpse at the bitter-sweet end of Penny Dreadful, now the soil has landed on the coffin lid? Happy Halloween.

Certainties

Despite an emphatic if premature conclusion, it’s difficult to say anything about Penny Dreadful with absolute with certainty. After three seasons of curiously differing lengths the story was noticeably dramatically shortened. Some characters retreated from their potential in the rush while some premises faded away. Hastiness didn’t work well in the Penny Dreadful universe, and that was more apparent than ever when the motley crew entered the villain’s lair in the finale, the climax of three years of meticulous plotting and prophecy. It was the primary storyline revolving around the enigmatic Miss Vanessa Ives that showed the strain, despite the rich fabric that stretched across compelling supporting characters. Those sub-plots, many feeding into the primary story, had mixed success in concluding individual stories. Penny Dreadful was always particularly good at expanding minor and complementary themes, lifted from the great works of gothic horror, and using them to breathe new life into familiar characters. Many had already reached a satisfying end point at the end of the first or even second year only to be have new life breathed into them for the third. Take Caliban, the original creature of Frankenstein who ended the second season on an oh-so-fitting icebreaker his story thwarted in misery, only to return to London to have yet more heartache heaped upon him in the third year.

The finale began as it ended: with death. That was to be expected, but as much as it delivered more sumptuous horror from the pen of John Logan, who’s to say prolonging the pain of these characters was really the enjoyably right thing to do? Even the glimmers of hope were steeped in melancholy.

It’s a key question, as Penny Dreadful, a sometimes purposefully difficult mix of clinical stylisation and gothic romance was always a contrary beast.

Back to one

“The dead place”

Few shows matched Penny Dreadful’s first year success, when it simultaneously provided a compelling conclusion while enhancing and priming its central roster of characters ready for a heightened second year. Not every character made that first year of course, but Brona Croft’s demise not only allowed Ethan Chandler’s story to fulfil its supernatural promise, but through the creation of Lily, propel the good Doctor’s story onto the Bride of Frankenstein. Every character, except Sir Malcolm Murray’s manservant Sembene, was left in a stronger position come the close of that first season. And most tellingly of all, although a strong and unmistakable shadow had been cast, the show’s main nemesis not only failed to appear but wasn’t even named. Come the second season, the show’s longest at 10 episodes, there was an astonishing turn of events as the villain we all anticipated fell back, replaced by the revelation of two separate nemeses of unimaginable power and evil. Two brothers. Two fallen angels. Both of many names. Dracula assumed the physical side. And on the unphysical, the one most easily called Lucifer.

The second year, Lucifer’s time in the limelight, closed with a glorious pitched invasion of the witches lair, a beautifully realised coven enslaved to Lucifer. Her back story having once again taken mid-season prime position, there was no doubt as to the importance of Miss Ives as those dramatic events unfolded. By the end every character had lost something, but for Miss Ives it was the one constant she’d held on to for two years: her faith. That was a strange response to an infernal meeting and escaping the jaws of the devil, but it left her alone in London while the majority of other characters were scattered across the globe.

The third season seized those reins, embracing the global diaspora after the claustrophobic events of the show’s second year. It was a tough act to follow and the multiple, parallel strands in the Arctic, London, America and Africa, unsurprisingly lost the momentum that had made the previous year the show’s strongest. Despite the show’s clear intent to forge powerful stories of its own around familiar characters and original creation Vanessa Ives, the third season couldn’t match the rhythm of its predecessor. That second year benefitted from storming set-pieces, a chilling and opaque foe in those powerful witches and their puppet overlord, a disembodied foe of mystery. That year undermined expectations, pulling characters further from their source works, and the third year consolidated it.

“A grisly, undead thing”

Having established the challenging threat of the two brothers, the third series expanded its interest in pairs. Gothic master of duality Henry Jekyll was a high profile addition, working with his old school friend Victor Frankenstein to control the latter’s second surviving creation. Unfortunately, although the news of the show’s cancellation came late into the run, the third year was forced to confront the imminent apocalypse with indecent haste. And it was a singular mission for the most part. As Vanessa Ives walked into the arms of her immortal lover, other characters were forced to battle their personal demons and almost entirely the consequences of their earlier actions before they could join her. Yes, Vanessa’s true love was the knockout twist of the third year, matching the powerful reveal of Dorian Gray’s painting the year before. This was the year we met Dracula. But anyone expecting the two diabolical brothers to be pitted against each other were to be disappointed. There was little point pitting evil against evil when their rivalry could simply fuel the terror and impossible odds stacked against our anti-heroes. For each one had shown their fair share of weakness and flaws since in the three years prior. One foe eventually had to rise above the other. As established in the year’s mandatory exploration of Vanessa’s background, this time in the claustrophobic confines of an asylum cell, Lucifer was on the descent, Dracula very much on the ascent. Read more…

“The Frankenstein Murders” – Frankenstein on TV and Film AD 2016

Victor Frankenstein 2016 AD

A special romantic catch-up with Jokerside’s favourite morality tale this Valentine’s Day! Love has a crucial place in Mary Shelley’s tale and Jokerside takes a look at 2015’s Victor Frankenstein on film and The Frankenstein Chronicles on TV through many glasses of pink sparkling wine. They’re needed. ❤ ❤ Spoilers abound ❤ ❤

WHEN JOKERSIDE LAST TOOK A LOOK AT CURRENT FRANKENSTEIN ADAPTATIONS TWO YEARS’ AGO, IT WAS A SUITABLY MIXED BAG. THE LONG-GESTATING AND HORRIFICALLY CONCEIVED I FRANKENSTEIN HAD DISAPPOINTED CINEMAS TO THE TUNE OF $70 MILLION. While on the small screen, scribe John Logan had sculpted one of the greatest Frankenstein adaptations in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.

Frankenstein’s creature is of course, never something that could or should be kept down. At the time, work was underway on Victor Frankenstein, a new big budget take on the legend, pulling together the great and good of BBC’s Sherlock, box office Brit and a script from Chronicle scribe, and son of a horror directing legend, Max Landis. It promised the biggest big screen splash since Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 gothic prize, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Hopes were very high. And on the idiot lantern, more promise lay in the rejuvenated ITV zeroing in on classic gothic horror. Alongside a dedicated stab at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a mysterious six part series called The Frankenstein Chronicles. The potential of these properties at the close of 2015 was huge, but as both took a barely faithful root to the story, could it be seized in a huge, stitched and unstoppable hand?

Victor Frankenstein (2015)

It can’t be understated: the chance for Victor Frankenstein to astonish and amaze were immense. Max Landis’ script promised a new take, taking the slant of Igor, a part of the myth that might be film’s greatest addition. Cast as Igor was Daniel Radcliffe, he of extraordinary and erratic acting choices since his Harry Potter days, and James McAvoy, an actor fully capable of recapturing the arrogant vigour of Peter Cushing’s great Baron Frankenstein of the Hammer series. And best of all, Victor Frankenstein sucked up the great and good of Sherlock, the BBC’s astonishingly successful modernisation of the great consulting detective. Memorable Moriarty Andrew Scott took the role of devout adversary to the mad scientist, while Paul McGuigan took up the directing reigns. McGuigan’s work on Sherlock almost defied belief, you only need to compare his episodes to the original pilot to see the skill and talent he brought to one of genre TV’s biggest properties. All in all, there couldn’t be a better choice. The stars were aligning, and Promethean man did they take a long time to do so. It was announced in 2011…

Fall of man

Meet your makers

And once again, it can’t be understated: Victor Frankenstein, languishing as a flop that couldn’t achieve half of I Frankenstein’s box office managed to miss by a mile. It’s a classic morality tale of its own where in spite of the great talent involved hardly any of the individual pieces connected. The blame for its poor box office, $6 million under its budget, can partially fall to theatres, particularly independent British chains, that failed to support its release, as much Victor Frankenstein is yet another low flying warning shot at the British film industry that scripts need to be worked and worked and reworked again. Some of the dialogue and all of the opposition is toe-curlingly horrendous. And it’s a damn shame. Before we get onto the ‘Luuuurve’ that defines this peace, it’s impossible to ignore those problems.

In an adaptation that updates the action to full on Victoriana and roots it in London away from the early 19th century central European setting, Victor Frankenstein never promised fidelity. Least of all because it chooses to follow the story of Igor, forming the moral heart of a story where he’s saved by Victor and has the chance to save his friend in return. But if you’re going to transport Frankenstein, it needs a reason. It must come down to more than the grimy, evocating vistas of Imperial London. That said, McGuigan’s usual supreme eye for the visual is a bit off. Amid the hectic editing, the flourish isn’t there in what should be joyous romp of Grand Guignol. In the opening sequence, Frankenstein helping Igor escape his circus prison for the thrill as much as opportunity, there’s much leaping, fire and explosion, most of it with very little cause. At one point a strong man even tears a book, just because he can. This is a tale of grotesques and the chance to widen that circus metaphor is lost almost immediately as both Igor and his obsession Lorelei are sucked into society. The swagger of a multi-layered update managed by Guy Ritchie’s successful and stylish Sherlock Holmes adaptations isn’t given a chance to develop.

Flattened characters

Out in society, the quality of the dialogue plummets into light character definition and awkward plot propulsion. Unsurprisingly, the only character who can almost rise above it is McAvoy’s Frankenstein, greedily grabbing all the great with disconnected, moustache twirling arrogance.

However, this Frankenstein is neither the earnest and misguided delusional that Branagh portrayed, nor the brewing callous Baron of Cushing. A hedonist, his drunken blasphemy and questioning of morality in front of shocked Victorian ladies tire very quickly. The attempt to flesh his motivation out is flat, particularly given the by the numbers appearance of Charles Dance as his terror of a father. Is any horror safe from Dance these days? The later reveal that his dedication comes from the loss of his brother not only feels bolted on, but in opposition to the amoral character we’ve seen earlier.

But his motivation is the least of the film’s worries. Andrew Scott, such a charismatic actor is once again hamstrung by English malevolence that seems to leave him unable to move his neck as Inspector Turpin. His character journey, defined by blunt grasps at Christianity and endlessly repeating a mantra while his psyche slides doesn’t provide the strong moral argument the film needs. His short and ill-built raid on Frankenstein’s premises, almost out of nowhere, may bring all plot strands to a sudden head but creates false drama. Turpin’s loss of his hand and inexplicable loss of his eye as his career and mind fall away, usurped by his hitherto unambitious deputy doesn’t add up. Most bizarre of all is how he’s confident enough to scratch his face with his fake hand just days after the incident. That’s bound to send him back to hospital. Read more…

“You fool Hyde, you can never defeat us” – Jekyll and Hyde AD 2016

Jekyll and Hyde 2015 2016

Following the gothic cross-sectional glimpses at Frankenstein and Dracula over the last two years, Jokerside looks at the rocky state of Dr Jekyll and the ever chaotic world of Mr Hyde… From ITV’s recently axed Jekyll and Hyde to what 2016 has in store for the character in adaptation. And yes, requisite mention for NBC…

*May transform into spoilers*

THE DEFINITE ARTICLE SHY NOVELLA STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE WAS PUBLISHED IN 1886. WITH IT, 36 YEAR OLD AUTHOR ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON NOT ONLY ENTERED THE ILLUSTRIOUS PANTHEON OF 19TH CENTURY HORROR WRITERS, BUT PENNED A SLIGHT STORY OVERSTOCKED WITH INFLUENCES. Although set in the far more commercial London, it makes for a heady exploration of the original city of two-sides, Stevenson’s home town of Edinburgh. In the latter days of the Victorian era, it’s also a handy analogy for contemporary fears for the individual, privatisation and public ownership, and class division. As the 20th century brought new concerns, Jekyll and Hyde was readymade to reflect them, much as the universally adaptable themes at the heart of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ensured it permanent relevance. Stevenson’s story was first adapted for the stage a year after its publication and continues to spread into films, music, books, art across the world. To the point that the good Doctor and his dangerous alter-ego make up the third most filmed literary character. The last decade has seen two major British adaptations, both modernising in their own way, while it’s provided inspiration for serials in America and America. There’s little sign of the original horror icon of split personality disappearing any time soon. And indeed, its themes have spawned other works that have stomped their own giant footprint on popular culture.  Currently mixing with the best of the box office, it’s impossible to look at the current state of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde without mentioning the Hulk in the room…

The shadow of the Hulk

“I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well “ – Stan Lee, 1974

Few sources have been as overshadowed by their inspirations as Hyde has been by Hulk, and Jekyll by Banner. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s most famous exploration of split personalities is a thinly veiled update, although has had far longer to explore the relationship between both personalities. Banner was similarly driven and doomed by his scientific genius, but never experimented on himself, as Lee drew liberal inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well.

The Incredible Hulk currently finds himself in successful, if not straightforward times. Assimilated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the beginning, The Incredible Hulk was a modest success in 2008 compared to stablemate Iron Man. Through the witty script of Joss Whedon, the Hulk became one of the stand-outs in 2012’s The Avengers although curiously, never with the suggestion that this audience appreciation could translate to a successful solo outing. Indeed, as Mark Ruffalo was the third actor to take on Banner in so many films, the road was rocky. While solo outing rights remained blocked at Universal, forthcoming buddy movie Thor Ragnarok (due 2017) will pit the green brute alongside the Norse God in a build-up to the two Avengers Infinity War movies that Ruffalo has suggested forms a quasi-Hulk solo movie of its own.

Two-faced

Of all the legacies of Stevenson’s creation, the Hulk sits at the top of the pile, and will be dominating blockbusters for years to come. And as a pop culture behemoth, the Hulkification of Hyde was inevitable almost as soon as Marvel’s pop culture behemoth survived cancellation after six issues in 1963, just as Banner had survived the gamma radiation. Over at DC, the home of personified literary grotesque Gotham City threw up a thin, but fascinating most-of-the-time rogue in Harvey Dent. Two Face surfaced from law rather than medicine, but has proved one of the compelling and tragic figures in the rich tapestry of Batman’s friends and rogues. Obsessed with duality and literally split down the middle as the result of an acid attack that reawakened severe and deep-rooted personality disorder. Taken down by his job, from the heights of District Attorney, he’s Batman’s fallen angel and much like the Hulk (although admittedly a little more black and white), never the villain but an amoral presence in the original Hyde mould. Like Hulk, Two Face has had a mixed form in adaptation. His first big screen moment in 1995 showed how poorly he could be treated as Tommy Lee Jones channelled the nuances of personality disorder through alternating talking and shouting. Fortunately, 2008’s The Dark Knight stunned when it pulled a Two Face origin out of its rich script, drawing on many of the same tragic lines as what might remain Harvey Dent’s finest hour: Batman: The Animated Series’ Two Face in 1992. The Dark Knight did highlight the difficulties of the character however – without re-treading his inherent conflict, Nolan’s masterpiece showed that the fleeting last act emergence of the villain was just about all he needed in comparison with other rogues of Gotham.

Crucially, both Hulk and Two Face are victims of circumstance, although scuppered by their own genius. Still, these villainous and superheroic versions of Stevenson’s character might have brought out the comic book potential of the character, but they haven’t stopped the original making his mark on the medium.

One of the most prevalent examples came in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – something even more blatant in the doomed 1997 film adaptation. After Fox’s failed television update has now morphed into a film reboot, that version won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Still, hopefully they’ll stick closer to the source. As one of Britain’s premier adapter’s and adaption curmudgeons, Moore’s love letter to these literary constructs deserves deft work.

The rebounding comic book stylings of the children of Hyde where also clear in the recent ITV adaptation, which imposed the central figure into a comic inspired set-up and even expanded the universe with nods to Marvel. As Hulk stories had soon developed in the sprawling storylines of comic book chronology, Hyde was now become an indefinite article. He is a Hyde and is not alone, least of all with the late arrival of his sister and lycanthropy dripping through another family line. “I’m a Hyde” his sister said knowingly. But that was just one of the references flowing through the blood of his most recent vehicle…

Jekyll and Hyde (ITV, 2015)

The Gordian Knot…

Before purposefully transforming into Hyde for the final time during the tenth episode of ITV’s big budget repurposing of Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Jekyll drew a comparison between his predicament and the Gordian Knot of Alexander the Great lore. How right he was. Sadly, a month since that finale aired, ITV have not only enacted their own quick slicing solution on the show, but Ofcom have found it in breach of broadcasting regulations. Read more…

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