Monday, April 7, 2014

My Top 10 Best Revenge Films

Looking for something to watch? How about a little vengeance? Here are my picks for the best 10 revenge films (in alphabetical order):

The Crow (1994)
Directed by Alex Proyas
Starring Brandon LeeErnie Hudson and Michael Wincott

"Little things used to mean so much to Shelly. I used to think they were kind of trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial."

Based on James O'Barr's 1989 comic book series of the same name, Brandon Lee stars as musician Eric Draven, who is murdered along with his fiancée Shelly (who is also raped) on October 30 (Devil's Night), the eve of their wedding day, by a group of thugs during a seemingly random home invasion. Because of his anger and sorrow, Eric is given a second chance by a crow (believed to carry souls from this life to the afterlife), being raised from the dead and given invulnerability and a chance to bring to justice all of the thugs who murdered him and Shelly. However, it's not just the fact that Draven is able to kill the guilty which makes this a decent revenge flick; it's the manner in which he does it.

I remember Draven as being the first somewhat superhero who killed his tormentors (the only person in comics who did that at that time was Marvel Comics' The Punisher), and the character became a major influence for a character I created in my writing. Unlike The Punisher, it was the first time a hero had such heavy, strong emotions conveyed to the public. This was captured not only in Lee's performance but also in the writing and production, which included rain and most scenes taking place at night. Also, the soundtrack kicks ass. Sadly, Lee was accidentally killed during the shooting of a scene in this film. However, he left one hell of a legacy in this film alone! This film has reached cult status and has earned its place among top pop culture revenge films.

Desperado (1995)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring Antonio BanderasSalma Hayek and Joaquim de Almeida

"You know, it's easier to pull the trigger than play guitar. Easier to destroy than to create. They killed the woman I loved ... and ruined my life."

Not many audiences knew when this film was released that it was a sequel to writer/director Robert Rodriguez's 1992 debut film El MariachiAntonio Banderas' "Mariachi" (taking over for the first film's actor Carlos Gallardo and paying homage to "The Man With No Name" series featuring Clint Eastwood) is looking for a man named Bucho, who is the top man responsible for changing his life and killing the woman he loved (Consuelo Gómez). Right from the beginning of the film, there is a major showdown and gunfight, thus cementing Banderas as a kick-ass action star! With a guitar case full of a cadre of weapons, Mariachi cuts a bloody path toward Bucho, while also having to deal with the destructive consequences of his road to vengeance. This is another film where the soundtrack (mostly provided by Los Lobos and Tito & Tarantula) really shines! This film would also establish writer/director Rodriguez as a bone fide talent in Hollywood (his El Mariachi only cost $7,225 to make and would go on to become an international success). The best part of the film are the finely edited sequences -- such as when Hayek's character is serenading to a sleeping Mariachi while killers are surrounding her residence.
Before Rodriguez made spy movies for kids, he created this Latino character who had some actual street cred with his badass-yet-emotionally-deep story. At times, of course, the action is a bit unrealistic, but it's fun to watch -- taking a cue from Quentin Tarantino and old "Spaghetti Westerns" (a la Sergio Leone).

Kill Bill (2003 & 2004)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Uma ThurmanDavid CarradineDarryl HannahLucy LiuMichael Madsen and Vivica A. Fox

"Revenge is never a straight line. It's a forest. And like a forest, it's easy to lose your way ... to get lost ... to forget where you came in."

I consider this to be director Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece. This revenge film, which Tarantino used to sample -- and pay homage to -- some of his most favorite film genres, is so epic that Tarantino had to split it into two parts. The first film is much more violent and action-packed, inspired by the classic Japanese Toei and chanbara films, Hong Kong (Shaw Brothers) martial arts films, the 1970s girls with guns films, and 1970s revenge films. Part One details protagonist The Bride's (Uma Thurman) awakening from a coma after being shot in the head by her former boss and boyfriend, Bill (David Carradine), who lead the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Darryl HannahLucy LiuMichael Madsen and Vivica Fox), of which The Bride was once a member. Part Two is more cerebral and less action-oriented -- instead delving into the details of why The Bride was marked for assassination, and her training as an assassin, as well as having to confront the truth of why she chose to go legit and quit the Viper Squad; this film is inspired by Leone's "Spaghetti Western" and revenge films. Thurman's Bride (or, B******, for those who know) is one of the tough female characters in pop culture today and an awesome force to be reckoned with. I cannot speak enough about how great this set of films are! There was talk of a sequel but Tarantino recently announced that the project was shelved. There was also talk of one long "director's cut" of these two films, called The Whole Bloody Affair, and it was to be released on DVD in 2009, but that project was also shelved. Either way, it does not take away from the impact of this film's greatness.

Leon: The Professional (1994)
Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Jean RenoNatalie Portman and Gary Oldman

"I like these quiet little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven."

Writer/director Luc Besson had already made his mark with The Big Blue and La Femme Nikita, but it was this story of a professional hitman, Leon (Jean Reno), who takes in a preteen girl Matilda (Natalie Portman in her first role) whose family was killed by crooked DEA agents led by Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), who is perhaps one of the best villains in cinema. When Matilda finds out what Leon does for a living, she asks him to help her to learn to "clean" (assassinate) so she can have her revenge on the agents. Against his better judgment, Leon teaches her a little bit at a time. In the meantime, Leon is opened to a whole new world as Matilda teaches him to live and love (in a familial way) -- she connects him to the world. There is plenty of action, but the story also has more of an emotional depth than most revenge films. From first viewing of this film, you could tell Portman was going to be a star as she holds her own with superb veteran actors Jean RenoGary Oldman, and Danny Aiello. This is also one of the few revenge films with a touching ending. Can't recommend this one enough!

Man on Fire (2004)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Denzel WashingtonDakota FanningRadha MitchellMarc AnthonyChristopher WalkenGiancarlo Giannini, and Mickey Rourke

"Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting."

Based on the 1987 book by A.J. Quinnell, this adaptation stars Denzel Washington as protagonist John Creasy, an alcoholic former CIA agent and Marine officer who is now a bodyguard, hired to take care of nine-year-old Pita Ramos (Fanning) just until her father (Anthony) can renew their kidnap and ransom insurance. At first, Creasy hates the assignment and often drinks himself to sleep; however, over time, Pita grows on him and the two form an unlikely strong bond. When Pita is kidnapped and is pronounced dead, Creasy viciously attacks everyone involved in her abduction and murder. Out of all the revenge films on this list, I think this one has to be the best when it comes to methodology. And, of course, Washington is at his best.

Munich (2005)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Eric BanaDaniel CraigCiaran HindsMathieu KassovitzGeoffrey RushMichael LonsdaleMathieu Amalric, and Ayelet Zurer

"We are supposed to be righteous. That's a beautiful thing. And we're losing it. If I lose that, that's everything. That's my soul."

Based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, this film is based on the true story of Operation "Wrath of God," which was Israel's "off the books" retaliation for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre where five Israeli athletes and six coaches were killed by a Palestinian group called Black September. The film follows Avner (Bana) who is hired from Mossad (Israel's version of the CIA) to form a black ops group to kill top leaders and conspirators of the Munich plan. Spielberg uses his usual unique filming style and captures one of the best revenge films ever! There is plenty of tension as the group of ragtag operatives are somewhat making up their missions as they go along, but what is best about this particular revenge film is that it asks the kinds of questions that need to be asked. In one standout scene, Avner asks his handler (Rush), "Did we accomplish anything at all? Every man we killed has been replaced by worse," to which his handler replies, "Why cut my fingernails? They'll grow back." The other crucial scene is where one of Avner's teammates feels he is losing his soul over the revenge mission. On top of it all, John Williams' haunting score is phenomenal! It doesn't get much better than this!

Payback (1999)
Starring Mel GibsonGregg HenryMario BelloDavid PaymerLucy LiuKris Kristofferson, and James Coburn

"Not many people know what their life's worth is. I do. Seventy grand. That's what they took from me. And that's what I was going to get back."

I struggled of whether or not Mel Gibson's brilliant Braveheart should be on this list since his character William Wallace does start his rebellion due to him avenging the death of his wife; however, I decided Braveheart was not applicable to this list because even though there was one scene of revenge, it is not revenge that continues Wallace on his rebellion quest. There are plenty of Gibson films that focus on revenge and are great (RansomThe PatriotEdge of Darkness), but the one that take the cake is this gem from 1999. Based on Richard Stark's (real name Donald Westlake) brilliant novel The Hunter (and one of my favorite series of books), Gibson plays Porter (in the books, it's Parker) who is betrayed by his team of thieves, shot in the back and left for dead. When he awakens, Porter makes it his mission to get the money owed to him ($70,000) and get even with those who betrayed him.  

Revenge (1990)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Kevin CostnerMadeleine StoweAnthony QuinnJames GammonMiguel Ferrer, and John Leguizamo

"I killed a man who I hated today."

Aptly named (especially for this list!) is this 1990 revenge romance-suspense film (based on the novella by Jim Harrison) starring Kevin Costner as retired U.S. Naval aviator Michael "Jay" Cochran who wants a vacation and decides to visit his friend Tiburon "Tibby" Mendez (Quinn), a Mexican businessman who is actually a powerful crime boss. Upon arriving to Tibby's hacienda, Jay meets Tibby's young wife Miryea (Stowe) and the two soon fall in love. Unfortunately, Tibby finds out about this and is not too pleased. Events then unfold that send Jay in a downward spiral of revenge. I remember this as being one of the first movies I watched which was clearly about revenge and it captivated me. The direction of Tony Scott (who also did Man on Fire) is wonderful and the world lost a great director upon his death.

She-Devil (1989)
Directed by Susan Seidelman
Starring Roseanne BarrMeryl StreepEd Begley Jr., and Linda Hunt

"I've always found that justice serves those who serve themselves."

Hey, revenge can be funny too! And most people may think I'm crazy for loving this film. But I do. I think it's one of the best revenge films made! Also, before this film, I wasn't too crazy about Meryl Streep. But, after watching this film (based on the novel by Fay Weldon), I thought any actress (who's usually known for serious, dramatic roles) who can make a comedy -- and, in a sense, make fun of herself -- then she's got to be cool. In this film, housewife Ruth (Barr) has a loving family in her husband Bob (Begley Jr.) and their two children. But when Bob leaves Ruth for romance novelist Mary Fisher (Streep), Ruth chooses to get even. And get even, she does! Not just that but she also inadvertently makes a life for herself in the meantime. This film, while a comedy, does go to a few dark places as Ruth simply snaps and blows up her family home. Nevertheless, the film is funny and I have to admit that I never tire of watching it.

V for Vendetta (2005)
Directed by James McTeigue
Starring Natalie PortmanHugo WeavingStephen ReaStephen FryJohn Hurt, and Roger Allam

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Based on the revolutionary comic book series by legendary recluse writer Alan Moore, this film takes place in an alternate universe where Great Britain is the main power in the world and almost a fascist state (think of George Orwell's 1984). Evey (Portman) is nearly raped one night by the secret police after curfew, but is rescued by a man in a Guy Fawkes mask (which has since come to symbolize rebellion and revolution of the common man). The man, only known as "V," is somewhat of an anarchist upon first viewing, but it is soon revealed that the men -- including the Supreme Chancellor (Hurt), a bishop, a scientist, a police commissioner, and a news channel talking head (who is uncannily similar to a particular Fox News host who calls people "pinheads") -- who run Great Britain, have wronged "V," and he is out for revenge -- while also simultaneously rebelling against the fascist government. This is not just an entertaining movie but an important piece of writing regarding true freedom and how, oftentimes, the destruction of freedom does not come from an outside threat, but rather from within.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


The BBC's Sherlock recently ended its quick -- albeit eventful -- third season in early February, and I'm already going through withdrawal! What started as a contemporary retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's literary invention -- the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes -- has become a massive hit, allowing for the reemergence of old fans as well as forging new fans when it comes to the "world's greatest detective." First, let it be known, that if you are into any kind of crime drama/procedural shows -- fiction or non-fiction -- then you should immediately rent the DVDs or stream this show! At first glance of a season of Sherlock, one may immediately notice a season is only made up of 3 episodes; however, each episode is an hour-and-a-half long! So they are pretty much a series of trilogy movies. This contemporary spin on Doyle's great creation and his greatest stories include: A Study in Scarlet (here, the episode: "A Study in Pink"); The Valley of Fear and The Adventure of the Dancing Men (here: "The Blind Banker"); The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (here: "The Great Game"); A Scandal in Bohemia (here: "A Scandal in Belgravia"); The Hound of the Baskervilles (here: "The Hounds of Baskerville"); The Final Problem (here: "The Reichenbach Fall"); The Adventure of the Empty Hearse (here: "The Empty Hearse"); The Sign of the Four (here: "The Sign of Three"); and The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton (here: "His Last Vow").

The series stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness, 12 Years a Slave) as the titular Sherlock -- the contemporary version which still holds true to a lot of the classic Doyle character (although, with some discretions): rather than smoke a pipe, this Cumberbatch's Sherlock wears nicotine patches (yes, more than one at a time), he is able to make correct deductions from the quickest, smallest clues, and he has eidetic memory. He is described in the premiere as having Asperger Syndrome or being a psychopath, and he is highly anti-social. Sherlock describes himself as "a high-functioning sociopath." Cumberbatch can spew out run-on sentences and give a ton of answers before you can say, "Elementary, dear Watson." 

Sherlock's business partner and longtime friend Dr. John Watson -- mostly portrayed as a comic foil to Sherlock -- is played with more seriousness by the wonderful Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Freeman's Watson brings a very hard, skeptical aspect to the character while also representing the "everyman" (or, the viewer) in his experiences with Sherlock. Watson is an army doctor veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and is at first put off by Sherlock but quickly amazed by Sherlock's gift for deduction based on minimal clues. Inevitably, Watson meets a woman who is loving and quite extraordinary, Mary Morstan (brilliantly played by Freeman's real-life partner, Amanda Abbington); and, gratefully, to change things up a bit, Mary has secrets which make her a formidable equal to the dynamic duo. 

Speaking of equals, to update Sherlock's famous quasi-love interest -- "The Woman" a.k.a. the woman Sherlock comes close to loving in the only way Sherlock can romantically love -- the creators adapted Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) into a dominatrix who believes in power and trading secrets for money. She is the only person who can somewhat perplex Sherlock and her addition to the series in season/series 2 is essential! 

Finally, there is the king of all villains as far as I'm concerned: Moriarty! Andrew Scott as Sherlock's arch nemesis, the genius villain consulting criminal James Moriarty may very well be one of the best villains EVER! As Moriarty says, "Ever fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain."  He and Sherlock's rivalry are what inspired the classic nemesis pairings such as Batman and the Joker, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Doctor Who and The Master, and Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort! Scott takes Moriarty to all new levels that I didn’t think possible on television. He’s an evil whose presence is felt with every minute he’s on screen. When he angrily rumbles that he will "burn the heart" out of Sherlock (a great line, by the way), you believe him! To Moriarty, everyone is merely a pawn – their lives insignificant and expendable. He is a “consulting criminal” whose intellect matches Sherlock’s, and whose cunning and ruthlessness places him above no other. I was a bit disappointed with his and Sherlock's "end" in the season 2 finale. However, it has been teased he may be making a return, which caused me to nearly wet myself!

I have to admit that I've been very disheartened with the state of television lately. With all of the gossipy reality shows and mind-numbing reality competition shows filling the prime time slots, it's difficult to find a show that really stimulates your imagination and keeps you well entertained. Fortunately, four shows this winter saved me from complete television anaphylactic shock: The Walking DeadDownton Abbey (Yes, DOWNTON Mother-F'n ABBEY!!!), Doctor Who (Yes, I KNOW I'm coming on-board late, but I'm all caught up and am a diehard fan!), and Sherlock! They were the only shows where I became excited to watch what the characters were in store for that particular week. Don't get me wrong. There are other shows on TV that I watch, but I don't get as much from them as I do the aforementioned four shows.

The greatest thing about one of the newest incarnations of Doyle's timeless character is placing him in the modern day and the brilliant writing and production by Steven Moffat (who took the reins as head writer and executive producer for Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss (who plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft in the series, and has also contributed to Doctor Who). The writing the show churns out is some of the finest writing in television today. It's got it all: from drama to action to comedy to suspense to even a touch of romance (although, it doesn't come from Sherlock himself!). Each movie-length episode's story propels the arc of the show forward, never with a lull, and keeps me guessing in an age when I can predict what is going to happen on nearly 95% of the shows I watch. Sherlock is probably the only show on TV where I wonder how the writers are going to write solutions for the predicaments they place their heroes in; I also wonder what they're going to do next, where they'll take the characters. Here is just a sample of the cliffhanger-like writing in the series when Moriarty first comes face-to-face with Sherlock:


Even CBS' mild Elementary (another adaptation of Doyle's Holmes) doesn't even come close to the excellence of the BBC's version -- and it's a universe I feel needs respect. After all, this is the story that helped inspire famous fictional icons such as Batman, Dr. Greg House, Dr. Spencer Reid, and Shawn Spencer, as well as spawn many incarnations of the character by many talented actors. Now, the series will be entering its fourth season/series if the BBC decides to pick up the show again; despite the busy schedules of Cumberbatch and Freeman (who have recently shared billing in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again), as well as producers Moffat and Gatiss, the producers have written out stories for seasons four and five so that is a good sign the show will be picked up for another season.

Sherlock takes television and makes it smart again! It's no longer merely some mindless wasteland populated with attention-seeking wannabes, vapid, superficial money princesses, unfunny distracting swill, or sex-driven plots. If you're looking to watch television that actually requires your attention and thinking -- and is extremely entertaining -- then the BBC's Sherlock should be your top priority in your rental queue; this is not a show to put on "in the background" and hope to catch the gist of what is occurring (it's too involved for that and deserves anyone's full attention). My favorite episodes are season two's "A Scandal in Belgravia" (which introduces Irene Adler) and "The Final Problem" (a Moriarty-centric episode). But the entire series has great episodes! The only unfortunate aspect to Sherlock is the time between seasons/series. I'd love to think season 4 will premiere in January 2015, but that's probably wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the wait is more than worth it!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"It's Just a Ride": A Tribute to Bill Hicks

"I deal only in facts, that's why I'm a cocky bastard."

Today marks the sad 20-year anniversary of when the world lost a true visionary, a comedic legend and even I dare say a prophet. Stand-up comedian Bill Hicks was only 32-years-old when he passed away in 1994. I often say that Hicks is one of my most favorite people -- let alone comedians -- to have ever lived. To me, Hicks was not just a stand-up comedian. He was a philosopher, a social critic, a satirist, and someone who was not afraid to point out hypocrisy and tried to right many wrongs through his comedic observations.

Hicks was born on December 16, 1961, to Jim and Mary Hicks, the youngest of three siblings. He started doing stand-up comedy in Texas when he was only 16-years-old. He was inspired by comedians such as Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, and George Carlin, and soon learned that he got the most laughs when he did impressions of his family, and pointing out their eccentric ways. By 1987, Hicks had moved to New York City and had begun perfecting his routine, which came to fruition in 1990 when he released his first comedy album, Dangerous, and performed on HBO's One Night Stand. In 1993, he was asked by progressive heavy metal band Tool to open for them at the Lollapalooza music festival, and the band later featured a clip of Hicks' routine on their album AEnima (1997), which they dedicated to Hicks. On June 16, 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver. His final performance was at Caroline's in New York on January 6, 1994. Hicks died at his parents' house in Little Rock, Arkansas, on February 26, 1994. (NOTE: For a more in-depth view into what Bill Hicks was -- and still is -- all about, check out the masterful 2009 documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story.)

I discovered Bill Hicks soon after graduating high school, which, coincidentally, was soon after he died (1994). The number one thing I respected and admired about Hicks was how he didn't make the usual generic observations that comedians make. Ya know? Family bits (he did those in his youth), bits about everyday rude people, or the usual ongoing battle-of-the-sexes observations. Don't get me wrong. He would occasionally wade into those waters. However, his stuff deals more with political, religious, social, military, and moral issues. The only comic who had come before him who had dealt with such issues was Lenny Bruce (from the 1950s and 1960s) and George Carlin was just starting to touch on these subjects in the 1980s. Since Hicks, there have been comics such as Denis Leary, Lewis Black, Louis C.K., Patton Oswalt, Doug Stanhope, Joe Rogan and Lee Camp are just a few of the comics inspired by Hicks' style. But what is most legendary about how his ideas are still relevant today ... 20 years after his death. Even Hicks' routine about former President George H.W. Bush and the first Iraq War could be said about George W. Bush and his Iraq War. Ironic. Sadly, the same hypocrisy and injustice that Hicks addressed during his life still are present today -- in fact, some of these issues have become more prevalent since Hicks' time on stage. And the fact that one can listen to Hicks and still hear him make a valid point about these issues (i.e., religion, abortion, killing, the JFK assassination, politics, pointless television, war, drugs, sex, and music) ultimately proves his true talent for remaining socially important to our society.

Many of Hicks' topics were -- and still are -- hot-button issues; which is why some people do not like him, care for his comedy, or downright loathe him. I, on the other hand, enjoy the way Hicks' material can make me laugh and think. His delivery on criticisms and pointing out hypocrisy is my style of comedy. Oscar Wilde once said, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." Even Hicks knew a good amount of people didn't care for his comedy. This is one of my favorite interviews with Hicks on that very subject. And it's a good introduction before showing his more controversial clips.

"When did thinking not become entertaining!?"

First off, people who have not been exposed to Hicks' comedy before should know that Hicks was not an atheist (he was raised Southern Baptist and spoke lovingly of Jesus and God, but used them in his humor to make a point and point out hypocrisy), nor was he some political-agenda-type who was rooting for a particular political party (he hated both sides of politics), and these examples will be proven in some of my favorite routines of his. I should say that Hicks was a proponent of certain drugs (particularly mushrooms, marijuana, and LSD); and while I don't agree with every view of his on this, I still find his views funny and profound -- especially when it comes to Hicks' drug experience opened his mind to God's implementation of universal love. Second, I do have to warn that these clips contain heavy cussing ... so if anyone's offended by that, boy, did you pick to read the wrong article!

On Religion:

Hicks was not an atheist but he did not shy away from the hypocrisy that he saw in most of Christian fundamentalism. As he said in one of his routines, "God is love and there is nothing but love, being all-encompassing, has no opposite. You are completely forgiven on all things, there's nothing you've ever done that has ever swayed God's pure and unconditional love for you."

On War & Politics:

Hicks grew to dislike politics because he saw all of the hypocrisy and lying coming from each administration. He noticed the U.S. arming countries and then returning years later to bomb said country all because that country had "become too dangerous." Hicks was a patriot in every way because he questioned its practices and held up the U.S. to a higher standard. So, when that standard was not met or the country did things he found despicable and underhanded and exposed them in his routine. It has been attributed to former President Thomas Jefferson that "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." Actually, that phrase was coined by then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay in 1969. However, the phrase does correlate with President Teddy Roosevelt's quote: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." And that was what Bill Hicks was doing! He was pointing out wrongs that he felt needed to be pointed out.

On Pornography: 
On Music:

Hicks was such a lover of music -- being a musician himself (he played the guitar and had a band MarbleHead Johnson, and then Lo-Fi Troubador) -- that he treated any mundane music, which so happened to be pop music of his day (MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson, Rick Astley, etc.) with no respect. His favorite musicians included Jimi Hendrix, KISS, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan. And musicians Hicks inspired ended up dedicating albums to him: Radiohead, Tool, Super Furry Animals, The Bluetones, Pitchshifter, and Rage Against the Machine.

On Drugs:

On the JFK Assassination:

After hearing Hicks' thoughts on President John F. Kennedy's assassination, some might try to label him as that blockheaded "c" word. But Hicks was just using common sense ... oh ... and science, like, I don't know ... physics! What's also impressive is that Hicks was trying to stir people out of their apathy. He wanted people to investigate, explore and question things that were/are passed for "gospel" and yet don't make any sense whatsoever.

On Media:

Hicks knew that most popular television entertainment as well as advertising was evil and an expressway to "dumbing down" the population. He often played out in his routine that any time people would start becoming suspicious of the goings-on in this country, some stupid entertainment like American Gladiators (I think today he would replace that with reality shows and competition shows like American Idol) would become a convenient distraction. And for anyone who thinks this thinking comes just from Hicks and is invalid, then take a look at the box office family hit The LEGO Movie again! That entire movie has points with which Hicks would most likely find amusing and relatable.

What makes Bill Hicks so relevant in today's times is how insanely inept government and legislators have become -- or, should I say, continue to grow. Hicks said it best when he said this in an interview:

Not only do I miss Hicks today because he could have contributed so much to this world, but I also miss him because I would have LOVED to have heard what he had to say about Bush Jr. and his administration, the second Iraq War, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama, drone strikes, government shutdown, Benghazi, gay marriage, welfare, food stamps, Mitt Romney, minimum wage, cable news channels (and their talking heads), gun control, school shootings, and all of the rest of our zaniness. He taught independent thought and universal love which often came out as these maddening rants but as he would often say: "I gotta share this with you because I love you and you feel that." 

Hicks believed in freedom above all else:

To say Bill Hicks was ahead of his time is an extreme understatement! Even if you strongly disagree with him or think him completely rude, Hicks still believed in his right to express his ideas and did so unabashedly. He is an inspiration to those who fight the seeming majority and are quite blissfully ignorant of what is going on behind the curtains of our government as well as in our society.

But here's what I love best of all about Bill Hicks ... and why he's one of my favorite people. He told insightful, philosophical truth while making it funny ... and he made no allusions about the impact of the injustice, lies, and manipulation he witnessed. He was courageous -- even in the face of those who were quick to dismiss him and make him think what he said didn't matter. Of course it mattered! It still matters today! Bill is Howard Beale (portrayed by Peter Finch) from the 1976 film Network; he's "as mad as hell and ... not going to take it anymore!"  Hicks is that voice who tells you to point out something when you know it's wrong. He was courageous ... a rebel ... passionate ... a free-thinker ... a humanitarian (even though he sometimes raged against some of humanity's ways) ... and he infused -- and still infuses -- those who listen to him with those same qualities. He's the voice in our heads telling us that what we do matters and not to give in to someone or some issue simply because it's what another group -- whether political, religious, or social -- tells you to accept.

Like I said before, Hicks believed in freedom ... but freedom for everyone -- not just one country or a particular group of countries. And he didn't associate or equate freedom with symbols -- as referenced here:

There is a famous routine of his in which he deeply believed (and I believe it as well). And it has become a highly-shared video clip and meme over the internet -- especially in the past few years. When ending his Revelations show at the Dominion Theatre in London, England, in 1993, Hicks spoke about his understanding of life and how we could make it better:

Here is the written text:

There is a reason why this video is one of the most viewed and shared videos in today's society: people are tired of fighting; people are tired of bullshit; people are tired of politicians who don't give a shit about them; and there is a small population which is steadily growing that is tired of self-righteous indignation from others and having the self-righteous force their beliefs and rules on them just because they don't believe in what the self-righteous belief. Instead, people want inspiration; people want truth; people want love; people want to treat each other better and not be oppressed by what someone tells them they should fear. 

President Kennedy once said (doesn't matter what you thought of him as president or man; just truly listen to these words):

And that IS Bill Hicks' mission statement! He lived and breathed that statement! He believed that, deep down, we are all human and all are loved in God's eyes. 

Today, I raise a glass to not just one of the best stand-up comics who paved the way for many future comedians, but also to one of the best people who used his time here to make the world better and give us a better understanding into this life. Even though the world needs Bill Hicks now more than ever, he's still left us with much to ponder and appreciate through his recordings. Thank you, Mr. Hicks. 

In Memoriam: William Melvin "Bill" Hicks

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why the World Needs Comic Books

Comic books have been around since the late 1930s with most famous examples being the comic strips found in newspapers. In June 1938, publisher Detective Comics -- which would go on to be named National Comics and, now, DC Comics -- released its first issue of Action Comics for ten cents ($.10). And gracing that cover would be the superhero to end -- or rather lead -- all superheroes: Superman. 

Jewish creators writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster first envisioned Superman as a villain, bent on world domination; this was mostly because the character was inspired by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermensch concept. However, Siegel re-envisioned Superman as a hero and he was soon designed after pop icons of Siegel's and Shuster's day: actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. inspired the look of Superman, while the look of Clark Kent (named after movie stars Clark Gable and Kent Taylor) was inspired by silent film actor Harold Lloyd and Shuster himself. As for Superman's story, that would take inspiration from a very biblical place. The story of a little baby being jettisoned away from his home land and sent to a strange place is no stranger to our history. Superman -- or Kal-El as is his birth name -- was placed by his parents in a small spaceship as a baby and rocketed to earth so that he may be saved the doomed fate of his birth planet Krypton. This closely resembles the origin of Moses -- that's right, the Ten Commandments Moses. Moses was born at a time when an Egyptian Pharaoh, out of fear that males might grow up to help the Children of Israel bring his defeat, ordered that all male babies be killed by being drowned in the Nile River. Moses' mother Jochebed hid her son but soon decided that in order to truly save his life, he would need to be somewhere else. So she placed Moses on a small boat/craft and floated him down the Nile River. Moses was found by the Pharaoh's daughter and raised as her son.

But it's not just biblical origins that touch comics. Greek mythology has paved the way for the superheroes we currently know and love. Hercules was inspiration for Superman, while Wonder Woman, born from Hippolyta, received her powers as such: the beauty of Aphrodite, strength from Demeter, wisdom from Athena, speed and flight from Hermes, eyes of the hunter and unity with the beasts from Artemis, and sisterhood with fire and the ability to discern the truth from Hestia

Superman's journey was not to become king -- or god -- of the land, but rather to help mankind with his special superpowers that the earth's yellow sun gave him (yes, Superman is solar-powered). While there have been many iterations in different pop culture of why Superman was sent to earth, the one that sticks has been played out many times and is best captured by Superman's father Jor-El in this trailer (it seems as if the words could have been spoken from God to his son Jesus):

"Even though you've been raised as a human, you are not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason, above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son."

After Superman's introduction to the world, fans everywhere craved more. Thus, Batman was born -- as a counterpart to Superman -- in May 1939. Unlike the superpowers of Superman, Batman is human and all of his powers are self-obtained through physical training and education, as well as the hundreds of special gadgets he owns. Batman, who is billionaire Bruce Wayne, was born out of the cold-blooded murder of Bruce's parents right in front of him when he was a little boy. His need for justice and vengeance made him become a crime-fighting vigilante. This may shock contemporary fans, but, in the early days of his comic, Batman was even prone to use a gun! This was soon written out because of Bruce's aversion to guns as a result of his parents' murder weapon being a gun (this would inspire other writers to create famous pop characters who do not use guns and hate the use of them, such as Buffy Summers and The Doctor). 

Soon after Batman's introduction, a new publisher named Timely Comics entered the fray, with its anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner and many others. Timely was soon renamed Marvel Comics, and when founder Martin Goodman hired his wife's cousin, Stan Lieber, in 1939 to be a general office assistant, little did Goodman know it, but he would be starting a new revolution in the comic business. Lieber would eventually come to be known as Stan Lee, who is responsible for the creation of every major Marvel character popular today: Spider-Man, Daredevil, Thor, The Hulk, the X-Men, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, and the Fantastic Four ... just to name a few.

I could go on and on about all of these characters' origins and how significant they are to the fans who read them, but, instead, I would like to delve into why these characters and their stories are so vital to our lives today and what we as a society can learn from them. What was first considered "kids stuff" has now developed an entirely new fan base -- with adults making up more of the readership. Why is that? Why are adults -- some of which are actors, singers, novel writers, comedians, philosophers, artists and even politicians -- reading these comics? I'm here to answer why comics are some of the most socially-relevant, important pieces of literature in today's society. 

This panel comes from the third volume of The Uncanny X-Men issue #1, in which Cyclops confronts The Avengers about how mutants (which the X-Men all are) are treated by regular humans.

When Stan Lee first created and published the X-Men (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl a.k.a. Jean Grey) in 1963, he admits that he had in mind the true-life inequality at that time of minority races and creeds. Lee had the revolutionary idea of taking a large group of people and giving them something that made them different from other humans. They would each have a different ability which could be used for good or bad, but would make them stand apart from "normal" society. Dubbed mutants, these special people would ultimately have a gift; even though their ability often sets the mutants apart from "normal" humanity, it still makes them special and unique. What once started as a metaphor for the racial divide in this country has now expanded to represent anyone who is treated differently for who they are -- from the racial minorities to the bullied to the gay and lesbian community to different religions. Of course, all of these types of people are not different -- they're human. We all have the same types of feelings, we all bleed, we all love, and we all die. And comics like the X-Men help society -- especially kids from a young age -- to see that. From the moment we start reading comics -- whether young or old -- they can help us to be more open-minded and understanding of each other. The topic of the exchange between Cyclops and Captain America above could perfectly be representative of any contemporary hot topic, whether its prejudice against race, sexuality, religion, or simply for being seen as "goofy," "stupid," "dorky" or "weird." Cyclops, who has usually stood for good, is at a breaking point and he lays out all of his frustrations to The Avengers. However, the uniqueness of the mutants and of human differences is not to be hidden. It is to be shared with humanity. After all, it is often the rebels, the risk-takers, the ones who are "different" who make a lasting imprint upon this earth. 

Comics give its readers a visual peek into the best and worst of humanity -- even if characters are non-human. There are good guys and bad guys, but comics also address the "gray areas" -- those situations with which a person or an act isn't always what it seems. Anti-heroes such as Batman, Sub-Mariner (Namor)The Punisher, Catwoman, The ShadowSpawn, Wolverine, John ConstantineJesse "Preacher" CusterMichonne, and "V" (from V for Vendetta) are characters who know that the world and its people are morally ambiguous and not every issue is simply black or white -- and they act accordingly. 

Since the introduction of the X-Men, other comic characters have helped the abused, bullied and abandoned feel like they had a place with which to turn when the real world was cruel. Comic book artist Dean Trippe needed a way to convey his feelings about being molested as a child. He ended up drawing the short comic called Something Terrible. In this autobiographical comic, Trippe shows with minimal dialogue how he was molested as a kid, and considered suicide, until he watched the 1989 Tim Burton movie adaptation of Batman. Then, he decided to become a comic book artist and it was the many characters (featured in his epic drawing) who helped him escape his pain and open him to the possibilities of living a life undiminished by what was done to him. Trippe also wanted to prove that not all children who are sexually molested become offenders themselves.

To read the entire panel, click here!

Here is a bigger pic of the epic character panel:

How many comic characters can you pick out? Even other famous characters such as Doctor Who, the Ghostbusters, Robocop, Speed Racer, Obi-Wan Kenobi and others have been adapted into the comic book format.

This comic proves that it's not simply the superpowers which give all of these heroes their importance and meaning; it's what they represent. Hope, loyalty, courage, doing what's right when everything goes wrong, being honest even if you can get you in trouble, and helping others. In a time when it's so easy to go the easy route and not care about others or do what's wrong to make more money or get out of trouble, these characters keep our morals in check. They remind us that doing the right thing is not always the most popular or easiest choice ... but it is what's right.
At times when people are divided over partisan politics, hot button issues and one group of people thinking they're way is the right way, it is important now more than ever to look to these characters written with carefully mindful tolerance and understanding. Most of the comic page's famous characters take the time to actually see both sides of a story. Especially Superman. That is why I find him the most interesting and inspirational. The most given excuse or reason I get from people who don't care too much for Superman is that he has so many powers, he has it too easy. However, I would say they're wrong. There is a certain character -- who is a fan favorite of many -- who does fall into the category of "having it too easy": Wolverine. The guy hardly ages, has a metal skeleton, iron claws, and heals from anything. The guy has survived everything thrown at him. Superman at least has Kryptonite to kill him. Wolverine has nothing really -- except, maybe, decapitation. And while Wolverine is still somewhat human, because of his human genes, he can have a connection to people if he chooses. Superman, on the other hand, is a true alien. If he ever even slightly loses his powers the wrong way, he is blamed by a good majority of the human race. There is no one else like him -- until Supergirl and Superboy came along -- not even thousands of other mutants. Kal-El (Superman) knows that he can never have children with the woman he loves, and he can never truly fully be himself without the fear of losing control or putting those he cares about in danger. Mostly, what separates Superman from Wolverine is that whereas Wolverine has a "screw 'em" mentality to anyone who disagrees and often gives in to his anger, Superman -- who gets just as angry (when his eyes go red, watch out!) -- can think out a situation and do what is truly best depending on the situation; Superman also is responsible when it comes to having to bury his anger and temptations for revenge. And if there's anything I've learned, there is a time to fight (albeit rarely), but there are also times -- more often than fighting -- when it's better to walk away. It sounds like a lame, cowardly way of thinking, but it is anything but that.

This leads to the supposed uproar in comic news when DC Comics decided to take out the last part of Superman's motto. You know? He fights for "truth, justice and the American way?"

Well, DC Comics decided to take out the "American Way" portion. A particular group of people hated DC's decision and thought Superman would turn into a "communist," a "socialist," or simply a "traitor." But ... if those critics had read the issue in which Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship, maybe they would have understood his reasoning for doing so:

In Action Comics #900, Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship.

Superman, sick of the way Iranian leaders are treating their people, flies to Iran and stands -- without fighting or talking -- between soldiers and protestors for 24 hours straight. Because of Superman's association with America, the Iranians look at it as unwanted American involvement and see his act as an "act of war" from the President of the United States. Superman decided to disassociate himself from America because he was the one who made the call to intervene against Iran -- not America. Superman also realizes that his mission of doing what is right is not simply an "American way," it's a humane way. He serves all the innocent people, all of humanity ... no matter what nationality. This is proven in the final panels:

Sure. It's a bold piece of writing and -- what some might say -- seemingly unrealistic. But it proves that Superman believes in every human life, not just ones who are born in America. And let's not forget that in Action Comics #1 from 1938, Superman not only captures and beats up a rapist, but also rescues Lois from a firing squad, frees foreign captives of a war who are being tortured, and goes after a U.S. lobbyist promoting war to a U.S. senator. Superman finds out which company the lobbyist works for (who turns out to be a U.S. munitions manufacturer magnate), and forces the magnate to enlist in the army and be sent to the very war that his company is manufacturing weapons for. When the magnate actually has to be in the war, on the front lines, he shouts to Superman, "This is no place for a sane man -- I'll die!" Superman quickly retorts, "I see! When it's your OWN life at stake, your viewpoint changes!" The magnate begs Superman to be returned to the U.S., and Superman agrees -- but only if the magnate promises to quit manufacturing munitions. The magnate agrees and is free to go (reference).

Fortunately, it's not just Superman who's breaking barriers. Marvel Comics' X-Men further stepped into the 21st century and addressed a hot topic social issue by introducing the first openly gay character in comics -- Northstar -- and his boyfriend Ken, and having them married on the cover of Astonishing X-Men issue #51.

At DC Comics, Batwoman was revealed to be a lesbian -- even though DC Comics has come under some flak because the company had decided to not follow through with Batwoman/Kate Kane's marriage to Gotham City detective Maggie Sawyer.

Nevertheless, DC also revealed in its Earth 2 that the Green Lantern Alan Scott is gay.

While some may not like or enjoy these storylines, it is a true testament that the comic writers are writing for a broad range of different people in today's culture. However, this concept in comics is neither so contemporary or so strange. When DC Comics' Green Lantern and Green Arrow teamed up in the 1970's, there was a controversial cover that tackled drug addiction. It was when Green Arrow found out that his sidekick, Roy Harper a.k.a. Speedy, was shooting up heroin:

There are other times when some events are so monumental that the comic industry cannot help but address it. When World War II (WWII) broke out and finally touched America on December 7, 1941, both DC Comics and Marvel Comics were there to help keep up morale for the troops overseas who had dreams of fighting and defeating Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler themselves, as well as helping soldiers believe what everyone already believed -- that the soldiers themselves were the heroes.

Another tragic real-world event -- something no mighty superhero could prevent -- would impel superheroes and their creators to step up and help in any way to alleviate a worldwide heartache.

Marvel's universe was especially affected due in large part that nearly all of its superheroes reside in New York City (whereas DC's characters are in fictional representations like Gotham City, Metropolis, etc.).

In 2004, DC Comics shook up the Justice League of America (JLA) with a morality crisis in its seven-issue run of the "Identity Crisis" storyline. In the story, Sue Debny, the wife of the Elongated Man, is killed.

SPOILER ALERT: When the JLA discovers it is villain Dr. Light who killed her and previously raped her, they vote on erasing the memories of Light and other villains who have discovered the secret identities of Superman, Batman and the rest of the JLA. The only person who disagrees with the mind-wipe is Batman. In the end, it is discovered that Atom's (Ray Palmer's) estranged wife Jean Loring killed Sue -- however, by accident -- and the mind-wipe of Light was uncalled for and unjustified. END SPOILER: The story showcases how far heroes are sometimes willing to go to protect loved ones from danger ... but at what cost? The heroes cross a line that becomes a big question of whether it should be crossed in the first place or not. Sure, Dr. Light is a despicable villain, but should his mind be entirely wiped clean? Most of the JLA seem to think so, but their decision will haunt them from this point on -- and it causes a rift with Batman, whom will go on to monitor them all in future issues.

Some of the stories featured in comic books became some of the most metaphorically deep storylines which would eventually go on to be used in contemporary TV series and films. One such story was the "This Man ... This Monster" story featured in Fantastic Four #51.

 In the story, Ben Grimm -- The Thing -- is transformed into a normal human again while someone else poses as Thing to try and kill Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). The sub-plot is that Grimm gets to feel normal again and propose to his longtime girlfriend, Alicia Masters. However, Grimm gets to her door and is about to knock when he is abruptly transformed back (after the imposter Thing sacrifices himself to save Richards) to Thing, making him back out of the proposal. The story is intriguing and heartbreaking all at once. It teaches of humanity and selflessness. It's these kinds of storylines (such as Grimm's not feeling "good-looking" or normal enough) that appeal to readers everywhere.

As previously mentioned, Superman's origin involves being an orphan, immigrant, and feeling alienated, which caused many readers from other countries -- as well as orphans and those who feel alone -- to relate to the superpowered alien. Those who were not born in America but dream of becoming citizens often hold Superman in high esteem (one such admirer is KISS frontman Gene Simmons, who was born in Israel and emigrated to New York City when he was 8-years-old).

In Spider-Man's origin, Peter Parker -- after having received his superpowers -- purposely ignores a thief fleeing the scene of a crime. Later, that same thief shoots and kills Peter's father figure, Uncle Ben. Amid his guilt of inadvertently causing his uncle's death, Peter learns the hard way that there is a responsibility that comes with not only having powers but also with being a good person.

"At school, even in kindergarten, [adults] teach [children] to behave in the world. [Adults] teach [children] not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share and not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying 'everything's going to be alright,' 'we're doing the best we can,' and 'it's not the end of the world.' But I don't think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities? My father always says, 'You are what you do, not what you say.'" This quote was taken from then-12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki when she spoke to the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992. Superheroes in comics teach and provide those same lessons. But in an age when wars are waged for the wrong reason and/or under false pretenses, people are insulted and/or harassed for their beliefs, personal freedoms are taken away with the signing of an act, and the less fortunate and less wealthy are treated with suspicion, disrespect and inhumanity, one has to wonder where all of the morals, kindness, respect, tolerance and compassion that is pounded into our heads as children by not only those around us (parents, relatives, friends, teachers, etc.) but also the heroes of literature, television, movies, and music, are today. Someone was so gracious and compassionate to the less fortunate that he once said, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." That was Jesus (Mark 10:21-25). And not only did he preach -- and live -- that way, but he also healed the sick, hung out with sinners and miscreants, and invited the poor to dine with him.

We are raised to have compassion, understanding, patience, kindness, respect, courage, and critical thinking when we are young; and, yet, when we grow up, and if we still cling to these concepts, we are blasted by those who are in opposition when we show these traits, with words such as "naive," "misinformed," "communist," "socialist," "confused," "wrong," "pinhead," "hippie," "fanatic," "freeloader," "idiot," "lazy," "stupid," and "unpatriotic" -- just to name a few. Unfortunately, these vocal name-calling opponents are the ones who are abundantly heard, thanks to "news" and social media graciously being a platform for such talking heads. When it comes to these such people, luckily, comics also can also teach us how to deal with them too. In the first panel below, Superman's enemy, Lex Luthor, may speak with an extreme hatred but his thinking is not far from those who spout hatred and separation on TV, radio, social media and in books. Here is a sample of Lex Luthor's hatred for Superman, with whom Lex hates because Superman is an alien:

Lex Luthor (who, in the DC Comic universe, even becomes President of the United States) may be a bit extreme of a metaphor, but it nonetheless is appropriate for the obsession with certain groups and types of people in this world -- on any issue from any side of the spectrum -- who think the world should think and live the way they do. But, those people, like Luthor, miss the point. Others may say that these talking heads are simply "putting on an act." But if they are feeding into that act and putting out negativity for profit, then they are no better and no different than the people who really feel those negative feelings and think those thoughts. In the end, comics and its denizens teach us an important lesson in trying to change people through intimidation, name-calling and bullying. Here is one such example as evidenced in the 2013 Superman film Man of Steel:

It's not just Superman we can learn from. In the pages of Spider-Man comes the famous quote: "With great power comes great responsibility." In Gotham City, as easy as it would be for Batman/Bruce Wayne to kill the Joker so he could save a countless amount of lives in a future that didn't have Joker, Batman refuses to do so because it goes against his morality of not killing people. In the 1987 graphic novel Watchmen -- written by the recluse comic book genius Alan Moore and the only graphic novel/comic to be featured on Time magazine's "All-Time 100 Greatest Novels" list -- the central characters are all former superheroes who are either retired or working for the U.S. government. Each of their lives are by no means perfect and each has their own personal struggle to overcome against the backdrop of one of their own -- now a government mercenary -- being murdered and trying to solve why he was murdered and who is responsible.

SPOILER ALERT: When the heroes find out it is one of their own -- Ozymandias -- who is responsible for the murder, and that he is unleashing a giant squid in Manhattan (in the movie version, he plans on detonating multiple nuclear bombs in major cities) to unite the world in peace, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan, and Silk Spectre all agree to stay silent of Ozymandias' guilt and plan so that the world would unite with -- and support -- the U.S. (which was previously in danger of war with Russia). The only hero not willing to compromise is Rorschach (think of a mix between Batman and The Punisher), who is less utilitarian and believes that the sacrificing of one life for the safety of millions is not justified; every life counts. Rorschach plans on exposing Ozymandias' scheme and thus putting the new world peace in peril. When confronted with his imminent death at the hands of Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach rhetorically asks, "What's one more body amongst foundations?"

Comics provide just as much philosophy, imagination, metaphor, relatability, and entertainment as regular literary novels. But what's more is that comics not only have great stories and great writing -- they also have some of the best artwork seen. From older comics ...

This one is a personal favorite -- and a great issue ("Who is Scorpio?") -- from 1968: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., drawn and written by Jim Steranko, who drew some revolutionary images and layouts for the comic industry in the late '60s.

... to the inbetween ones ...

Frank Miller's 1986 cover to his introduction to the darker Batman in The Dark Knight Returns.

... to the newer ones.

Alex Ross (who paints the most realistic versions of comic book characters) submitted this masterpiece for Uncanny X-Men #500 in September 2008.

The beauty of comics today is that no matter what you as a reader are into, there's a comic for it. Do you like superheroes? Of course they're there. Like super-heroines? They're there.

My youngest daughter is named after Supergirl's (and the contemporary Starbuck's from Battlestar Galactica) birth name: Kara.

Do you like comics that are not about superpowers? They're there! 

Do you want comics based on classic novels? They're there!

Do you want comics either based on -- or adapted into -- your favorite TV shows? They're there!

There's every kind you could think of. Even though they may not be mainstream, it's out there and just needs a bit of searching to find.

And if there's ever any reason whatsoever that our world needs superheroes, it's because they provide a contemporary mythology for our times and our country, as well as providing imagination, hope, and inspiring people of all ages with courage and compassion.

Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, San Francisco transformed into Gotham City for a day to make 5-year-old Miles Scott's dream come true. Scott, who has leukemia, donned the Batman costume -- calling himself Batkid -- and set off throughout the city to save lives and fight bad guys.

The late Karl Nawskon often wore his Superman shirt when going through chemotherapy treatments.

These window washers dress up as superheroes when going out to wash the windows of patients at a children's hospital.

"You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you; they will stumble, they will fall. But, in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders."

In the end, comics have grown to paramount heights since their introduction in the late 1930s. They're not just "funny pages" or "kids stuff" anymore. Comics are an artistic -- in every sense of the word -- way to convey a society's national conscience while also holding up moral questions that should be asked in any day and age. They make us feel, learn and have a better understanding for those who are different from us. And in a world where one-sided thinking seems to rule -- or, at least, dominate -- our social and mass media, leaving millions to be bombarded with such narrow views, that's a welcome sight for anyone hoping to live in a better, more understanding, symbiotic world.

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