Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wiping the Slate

Finally got Casino Royale watched over the past few days. On the whole, the best James Bond movie in years...maybe ever. No problems at all with Daniel Craig--not even his hair color (crimeny, the state of discourse in the world today: in case no one noticed, Roger Moore didn't have black hair either. Buck up, people)--and I didn't miss all the gadgets one whit (does it bother no one else that the little toys with which Q would equip Bond always come in handy just in the nick? Never did he go back and tell Q, "Thanks for the necktie that's also a helicopter, but I didn't need it this trip so, here, you can have it back." And did we ever see these toys again? Bond makes good use of the electromagnetic wristwatch in Live and Let Die, so you'd think he'd add that to his arsenal. But no. We see it there and never again, just like all the rest of the stuff.

Which is the long way 'round to telling what I didn't like about Casino Royale: The reboot.

With Casino Royale, the 007 producers pretty explicitly say they are wiping the slate clean and starting over from the beginning--when Bond earns his double-oh status and jaunts off on his first mission...what the comic-book industry calls a "reboot." I suppose, in the case of 007, that makes some sense. But it does bug me that they pretty much threw out All That Has Gone Before except Judi Dench as M. I think she was a good choice for the "new" M back whenever (Goldeneye?), but I find her presence in this film to be jarring, since we're in a sense jumping back in time (although it's set in the present...also a little jarring) and we old-timers "know" that this M replaced a previous, male M who, we presume, was the one who elevated Bond to double-oh status in the first place and..

Well, it just makes one's head hurt, that's all.

I suppose the only way to look at Casino Royale is as a re-imagining of the franchise, a kind of parallel 007 universe that has similarities to What Has Gone Before but does not owe anything to that history. On which level, the film works very well.

Certainly I find the 007 reboot less offensive than many, if not most, comic-book reboots. I was a comic-book geek during what has now come to be called the Silver Age of American comic books. I suppose I started reading comics when I was five or six--so let's say 1962--and became an avid reader in 1964*. I continued until 1975, the year I left for college, after which I became an interested bystander who would occasionally browse the news
stands, less occasionally buy something (I got suckered into the "Death of Superman" marketing ploy back in the 1990s or whenever it was), more occasionally read about the industry and trends within.

Given that, I have no real vested interest in what goes on in that four-color world. But I must say I was truly ticked off some years ago when I learned that Superboy never really existed.

Yes, yes--they're all fictional characters. I get that. Even as a kid I got that...although I do remember being excited to learn there's a Central City in Colorado, and wondering if that's where the Flash lived. After which I spent some time with the road atlas trying to find Gotham City. But I digress.

I won't say that I was all that crazy about Superboy back in the 1960s, but I always enjoyed the idea of Superboy. Especially for an adolescent, even a pre-adolescent, the thought of this kid endowed with all these powers and abilities--to say nothing of his dog, who was similarly gifted--was wonderfully appealing. And the secret identity? Perfect! ("If they only knew what I can do!")

But then at some point--the 1980s, probably--someone decided to reboot the whole Superman mythos. Personally I think it was largely laziness ("Geez, this character's been around for like 50 years ago it's so hard to keep track of everything and everybody. Let's just throw it all out and start again, so everyone can see how 'creative' we are"), but for whatever reason they pitched pretty much everything and started over.

And one of the things that went was Superboy.

Because for some reason the "creative" forces at DC Comics decided that, instead of this little Superbaby arriving on Planet Earth and lifting pickup trucks and stuff, young Kal-El's powers and abilities came on slowly as he aged--a concept that is now mirrored in the Smallville TV series. That meant no Superboy, either. From what I've read, they explained away decades' worth of Superboy stories by saying that they were stories invented by Ma Kent, what-if stories speculating about how things might have been had Clark Kent had his super-abilities when he was a boy.

As my kids would say: Lame-o.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters. Indeed, in the not-so-grand scheme none of it matters. But I have to say, I felt--and feel--a little cheated. It's like, as a child, I read these stories and felt a connection to the character, and they were among the countless stair-steps that take us through childhood and into adulthood...and now someone runs out of ideas and so tells you that that which had some significance to you as a child wasn't (for lack of a better word) "real."

Well, excuse me, but it was.

Sure, it doesn't alter my memories of those carefree times. (Well, not entirely carefree: Comic books were twelve cents a throw, after all, and there was always the challenge of coming up with money to spend on something that one's parents were never convinced was not a waste of same.) And if I wanted to, I could risk another concussion and head into the attic in search of those old Superboy comics. But it doesn't change the fact that, to a small extent, I had something invested in these stories and characters, and at a very impressionable and formative age, and to later be told I invested in something that someone later decided never existed makes me feel cheated.

I mean, I can deal with the parallel-universe M conundrum. That's just the movies, after all. But Superboy? And Krypto the Super-Dog? Is nothing sacred?

* It's funny what sticks with you. I recall having Superman, Batman, and funny-animal comic books pre-1964, but nothing that every really caught my imagination. But it must have been 1964 when I was stricken with measles, and my dad, being a good egg and not knowing what he was in for, stopped off at a drugstore and bought and handful of comic books to cheer me up. He would have known nothing of comic books, and probably just grabbed the most colorful covers. One of them was The Amazing Spider-Man #16 ("Duel With Daredevil"), which is how I can pinpoint the event to 1964. I had never seen Spider-Man before (or, for that matter, Daredevil), and I was blown away. The
next 10 or 11 years were filled with comic books, most of which--including the one that started it all--are still with me, in bins in the attic.

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