Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown

  • On December 16, 2009 ·
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I’ve got topics for posts and at least one podcast waiting to be edited but right now I’m at this point in production where I need to get as much done a day as I can. I don’t want to half-ass anything in terms of blog posts or other content so that means dedicating my time where it needs to be. I’m hoping to launch the new comic at the start of the new year but we’ll still have to see. I could blog every day or I could finish up inking and working on these pages and blog once they’re done. You can either follow the site’s RSS or you could follow me on twitter as that way you get both site updates as they come as well as my random ramblings.

Today I’m going to share a quick little video, Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown. This is a 1986 student film by Jim Reardon, director and storyboard consultant on The Simpsons. It’s black and white and rather rough, but that’s the fun of it. It’s violent, crazy, and exactly what a student film should be.

Disney and Dali – Destino

  • On December 8, 2009 ·
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Destino has an interesting history behind it. Originally Salvador Dali worked with the Disney studio in 1945 on this experimental film. Though storyboards and 18 seconds of test animation were produced, the film was scrapped because of financial troubles. Supposedly Walt’s nephew, Roy Disney, discovered the project while working on Fantasia 2000 and revived it. I’ve also heard it was rekindled because Dali’s estate was seeking to recover his contributions to the film since it was never completed. Either way, the short was finished in 2003 using mostly traditional animation and some computer work. It’s seen a limited theatrical release along with playing various festivals. The home release has been delayed a number of times for different reasons. Last reported it was slated for 2010. Until it’s available you can find it on various places online.

Picture of Salvador Dali and Walt Disney

Donald Duck In Nutzi Land – Der Fuehrer’s Face

  • On December 7, 2009 ·
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Something I can talk at length about is cartoon history. So for this next batch of posts I’m going to take you on a trip. We’re going to look at some stuff you might not have seen before, some stuff older folks might remember, and possibly a few you’ve just forgotten about.

Today I’d like to tell you about the 1943 Walt Disney Donald Duck cartoon, Der Fuehrer’s Face. Originally it was titled Donald Duck In Nutzi Land but that was changed after the success of the Spike Jones and His City Slickers cover of the Oliver Wallace theme song. It won the 1943 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

Obviously this is an anti-nazi propaganda short. It features Donald waking up in nazi Germany and going through the unhappy daily ritual of slaving away in a munitions factory, heiling Hitler, and being driven mad at bayonet point. It’s a good film with catchy music, solid animation, and very beautiful artwork. (All the hidden swastikas and whatnot make the backgrounds worth a thorough looking over.) Like most World War II cartoons there’s an attempt to make the enemy look silly, but it’s far from the most offensive or racist depictions I’ve seen of that era. It’s easily found online but since this one was released in Walt Disney Treasures – On the Front Lines and Walt Disney Treasures – The Chronological Donald, Volume Two (1942 – 1946), I urge you to either rent or buy it if you can. Usually these WWII shorts have to be passed around from collector to collector on poorly done tape dubs so anytime a studio releases a nice quality copy on DVD or something I’m gonna recommend picking that up.

Fake It Until You Make It

  • On December 2, 2009 ·
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I’ve heard people say “fake it until you make it” to mean that, if you want to be something you’re not yet, you have to pretend you are until you actually are. I don’t like calling it that because fakery implies falsity. To paraphrase Guy Gilchrist in his Drawn to Success series, “Think yourself into the BIG-TIME.” You have to start thinking and acting like a successful whatever you want to be before you can actually be a successful whatever you want to be. This means considering yourself among your peers and it also means doing the work expected of somebody in that position. It means trying things, researching things, and not just going on an ego trip.

You want a good example of people who fake it? Join twitter. Almost immediately you’ll be followed by social media gurus, web marketing experts, SEO specialists, online pioneers, and internet entrepreneurs. These are the folks who set themselves up as professionals on the internet because, hey, they’re on the internet, and you’re an expert in anything if you call yourself one, right? I used to have a courtesy policy of following people back if they followed me. Eventually spammers forced me to question if the person I was following back was even real. I’d thought I’d figured out a decent system to tell. Then I got direct messaged telling me the secret to a bigger penis. That was the day I stopped participating in the great circle jerk and quit following people I didn’t care about hearing from. Yes my numbers dropped almost immediately, but if they were only following me for the return, it’s not a big loss on my part. And the signal:noise ratio of my feed is so much better now.

That’s what it was – noise. I’ve seen a lot of people set up sites where they think they can hold a megaphone, shout, “I am awesome!” and then the masses are just supposed to come. Yes, I know, “build it and they will come” is a popular chant but it means more than building a simple functional site. It also means building a decent comic, building a decent report with people, and giving them a reason to believe you are in actuality awesome.

Soundtrack to Life

  • On November 30, 2009 ·
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I really recommend listening to music while you work. In college we usually had the stereo blaring in the studio. Other times headphones were the norm. These days I’ve got some decent speakers hooked up to my computer. I’ve got a stereo in the studio, too, but it doesn’t have a proper line-in so I just leave my ipod upstairs connected to my clock radio when I’m home. I used to listen to smooth jazz on internet radio a lot but nowadays that makes me sleepy. Plus the station I used to listen to all the time started screwing with their playlists and doing more R&B than actual jazz. (The constant every other song station IDs and sales pitches really got on my nerves, too.)

Music can vary by personal taste and mood of the day. What I do suggest is getting ahold of instrumentals for times when you need to concentrate like writing or outlining a story. Words can be very distracting unless it’s something you’ve listened to so many times it’s all muddled together in your brain. Podcasts can be a good way to pass the time and to keep from feeling lonely. But if it’s just people talking I like to layer some of my own music underneath it or else I get bored fast. I don’t really watch TV shows or movies while I work though I know some people like the white noise. I like to focus on one thing at a time and unless it’s something I’ve seen a million times before, like the Angry Video Game Nerd reviews, I end up breaking from my work to watch. Some days I’ll even be doing that with old AVGN episodes if I really don’t feel like getting to work.

Something fun to do while working on comics is putting together playlists and soundtracks to stay focused and in the proper mindset. At some point Towniescomics used Green Day’s cover of Outsider by the Ramones as a theme song in my head. Grim & Saddam started outright with the theme to Perfect Strangers, one of my favorite zany sitcoms I planned on spoofing. 2071, the current project I’m working on, is still in the process of being figured out. It’s set in an alternate retrofuture so something like the Jetsons theme would be sort of appropriate if I could only find any other song in that style. There’s always scifi-themed bands like the Epoxies or the Phenomenauts I could fall back on. I suspect there’ll be a jumble of different songs to put together the proper mood to work in.

Lets talk about places to listen to music. is good for scouring for a particular song or artist. Pandora is good for finding similar-sounding songs to tunes you like. Musicovery is very similar but with more of a visual interface. Finally there’s if you want your search to be a little less broad and like building up a musical profile. I tend to be a creature of habit when it comes to music I like. I put playlists together and listen to them repeatedly until I burn out. I remember when Green Day’s American Idiot came out it was almost the only thing I listened to for about 2 years. Lately I have soundtrack lists and rock lists based on mood. There’s also jazz lists but I tend to play those when I’m winding down. I think I need to put together a new list and it’s hard figuring out a new full string of songs I want to sit down and listen to.

Be Careful With Your Dreams

  • On November 26, 2009 ·
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Rejection Letter from Disney

Click the image to see the original Flickr upload and view this at larger sizes.This is a form letter that was sent out to female artists’ inquiries into becoming animators at the Walt Disney studio over 70 years ago. Snopes took an interesting look at it, citing Miss Frances Brewer received a similar letter and that the Disney Studios Artist’s Tryout Book says,

All inking and painting of celluloids, and all tracing done in the Studio is perfomed exclusively by a large staff of girls known as Inkers and Painters… This is the only department in the Disney Studio open to women artists.

There’s also this blog post discussing female animators who broke this sexist standard and had long, happy careers. This sort of thing upsets me on a number of levels. I know what it’s like to be turned away sight unseen because of existing conditions outside of your control, be they existent or just in the mind of the person doing the turning away. This also denigrates the work of the Ink & Paint Department, reducing them to the mindless task of tracers. (Ask any professional comic book inker how they feel about being called a tracer and you’ll get an earful.) I have no idea if the person who signs off on the letters is a woman because the studio thought such things would sound less harsh coming from another female but it’s still very offensive, both in what it says and how it says it. Women artists can be employed but in non-creative capacities? Egad that’s horrible.

So why am I mentioning this? It’s important we artists don’t let one person crush our dreams. There are times when somebody will get in your way. There are times when you’ll get rejected. There are times when you need to realistically evaluate what your dreams are and how you can achieve them. Sometimes the thing you think you want first isn’t obtainable. Sometimes you mature and get more specific in your goals. Think back to what you wanted to be when you were a kid. Is it the same thing you want to be now? If it is, have you made any progress since then? Maybe what you want is really what you’ve been doing all this time. Or maybe it’s time to put those other things out of the way and get to it.

Scott Kurtz has an anecdote he shares about meeting Jeff Smith once and how, upon asking what it takes to get into the comics industry, he was promptly told off because most people didn’t want to hear the real answer. Like any job, comics require hard work, practice, training, business planning, a lot of things that aren’t very fun on their own. But that’s the reality of dreams. They’re not handed to you. Nobody promises you success. You have to work for them. You have to fall on your face sometimes, dust yourself off, and try again. And if people tell you you’re swinging too early when they pitch to you, you need to be capable of changing things up to make it happen. I recall once, when I was in art school, a professor was looking over this other student’s manga-esque comics and was listening to how she wanted to build up her own studio and empire, “Like Disney, only bigger.” Does anybody else hear the bravado in that statement? It’s very easy to say you want the world – it’s something else to go about getting it.

Dreams are an interesting thing. Sometimes chasing them is the only thing you have keeping you going. Sometimes they’re just a passing fancy. Ultimately it’s up to you to figure out what they are and realize them. No professional, no educator, nobody else is in charge of your destiny but you. As for me, hey, I’ve got some comics to draw. What am I sitting here blogging for?

Raise the roof – er, ceiling

  • On November 23, 2009 ·
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We took down the drop ceiling in my drawing studio this weekend. For now we’re leaving it open until we decide what to do with it. It was getting cumbersome and we’ve been meaning to take it down for awhile. I used it as an excuse to move my computer back from the TV room. Though I liked having my computer hooked up to an HD TV for a second monitor the location was less than ideal. My cat liked to steal my tools and there’s no door on that main room to keep her out. Plus I felt cramped sitting next to the TV and missed my drawing desk. I could come back to the studio to draw, sure, but if I wanted to work from reference I had to either print it out or draw with a clipboard in my lap. I know lap drawing is how plenty of people work, like Rob Liefeld, for example. Personally I’ve always found it a bit shaky and not as easy to produce a good image as sitting down at a desk. Part of it’s the ability to line up rulers better on a solid surface and I’m sure some of it’s mental – feeling like you’re actually at work. I got a new computer desk recently, too. My old one came apart from moving it too much and I’d been using the top of it on this old desk we had in our garage. It had horrible leg room and I was always having trouble with one leg. Bought a sturdy metal desk from Office Max and now I’m back across from the drawing table. (Which still needs cleaning off…)

Being able to slide my chair between the two desks is so very useful. One holds all my digital stuff and the other all my drawing and concept work. I also keep a laundry basket under my computer desk, even though it doesn’t hold laundry anymore. I got used to storing it there in college when space was at a premium and I’ve realized it’s the perfect leg rest. I can stretch my legs out over the top or sit them inside it. It sounds stupid but I really missed it when I came back home and got rid of it. Today I’m cleaning off the drawing table and sorting through all the piles of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve made better use of the space in the studio, now realizing how badly I need a bookcase or two, maybe even a cabinet. I had one of those mini bookcases that came with my old desk and it’s overflowing with papers. Paper organizers and the like are so ridiculously expensive. If you’re not careful you can easily get ripped off buying studio and office supplies. You don’t have to pay premium prices to find something that looks nice and is functional. Office supply stores are a little better than arts and crafts shops when it comes to pricing things but not by a whole lot. I’ve heard it recommended that you buy the cheapest tables you can find and spend the most on comfortable chairs. That’s good for your back though I really suggest getting a table you can tilt and angle. One of my profs in college once pointed out that students always lower their seats all the way down, which is silly. If you have it all the way up you can tower over what you’re drawing and see it straight. If you’re looking up at it you’re more likely to see things out of perspective.

Ok, that’s enough blogging for now. I’ve got a studio to clean up and I should at least try to do some blogging before my homeboy Kyle comes up. You may remember him from one of the podcasts. He’s supposed to be visiting this week and I’m gonna try to get him to record some more with me. We usually watch horrible movies together so hopefully we can get another review out to you guys.

Does Size Really Matter?

  • On November 20, 2009 ·
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Sizing pages can be a real hassle especially if you plan on printing your projects later. (Which you always should at the outset because it’s better to have print-quality files and never do anything with them than to have that one perfect piece and realize it’ll look like crap in print.) Yes I’m doing comics on the web but printing a tangible book of those comics is important for a number of reasons. I don’t want to get into the whole print vs. web debate but you shouldn’t close yourself off from potential revenue streams. Web-exclusive materials are harder to seek a profit from and a big part of the whole online revolution of the last few years isn’t so much that you’re using the web instead of print to make money, it’s that you’re managing the printing of your work yourself and distributing it online as well. It’s more indie vs. corporate in those regards. But I’m not here to take sides in that discussion. Today I’m going to talk to you about sizing your comics for the web while considering print.

Spike has gone on record as saying printers work for you and you should make your comic whatever size you feel comfortable with. I can agree with that on a certain level but irregularly-sized books will probably cost you more to print in the long run. For those just starting out you may want to consider what sizes are common to print at. If you’re looking at Comixpress or Ka-Blam! for an initial run you can snag templates off their sites. I wouldn’t recommend working at those sizes originally, though. Drawing actual size can be a little confining when trying to work in detail and most professionals work 1/3rd or so larger then shrink their art down to tighten things up. On my current project I’m working roughly 7″ x 11″ which is about the same size Bryan Lee O’Malley draws Scott Pilgrim at. I’m sure he has his own reasons for working at that size. I’m doing it because I can get 2 pages from one sheet of 14″ x 11″ bristol board, (Which is nice if you plan on doing 2-page spreads with full page bleeds. I know such a thing could conceivably work on the web in a McCloudian Infinite Canvas way, but for practicality’s sake I’m avoiding them now.) I can do full-size pencils and sketches on regular typing paper which means I can rework things as much as I want on other sheets affordably before inking, and I can scan pages in on a regular consumer scanner. (This last part is important if you’ve seen this tutorial behind Copper.)

Speaking of O’Malley, I’ve been looking to some of his pre-production work on Flickr for ideas on laying out pages. The thumbnails I’ve used on the prologue have become hard to read when going back to them when I’m no longer in the manic writing zone you get into when working on a piece. I want something that makes sense when I have to look back on it but doesn’t require too much detail. Something like this seems like a bit much for work only I’d see. This is closer to how I’ve been doing it but at a size that’s mostly squiggles. I may attempt something closer to this only using a Sharpie and a #2 pencil or something so I’m not tempted to spend a long time rendering them. Still trying to work out a way to script dialogue I’m comfortable with. It’s interesting I think of action conceptually and have to work at drawing it but I like to visualize dialogue and writing it out in script form takes all the fun out of it for me. Maybe I’m wired funny, I dunno.

Cartooning Tutorial Vids AHOY!

  • On November 19, 2009 ·
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Alright, I need to get back to work so we’re gonna make this a quick post with some youtube tutorial links. Lets start this off strong with with clips of Meredith Gran working on her webcomic Octopus Pie.

First drawn totally in Manga Studio with her cintiq:

Then sketched digitally, inked on paper, then toned and lettered digitally:

Then we’ve got Jeff Smith inking some panels. Here’s a shot of him drawing Billy Batson from Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil:

And another panel from the same book:

Lets follow this up with some more nice brush work from Chad Cole:

And top things off with a whole playlist of videos including Jim Lee walking us through his process on penciling and inking a sketch as well as him talking comics with Stan “The Man” Lee.

What is cheating, anyway?

  • On November 17, 2009 ·
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This post is going to cover several topics – the forum and comments, twitter, what you can expect in content, and then the subject of cheating. But first lets do some house cleaning.

Taking the forum offline and enabling comments

I like forums. They’re great places for group discussions. Yes, Twitter is awesome, but sometimes you need/want more than 140 characters. I took posting in our forum much like posting blogs here. I could expand on a subject over several posts, add all sorts of references, links, videos, images. But that created twice the real estate to cover. Blogging in the morning is a good way to focus but too much of it can get in the way of real work. Having to post content in a forum as well increases the amount of stuff I could be doing instead of drawing and what’s the gain in that? I know running a forum means posting lots of fresh content and getting others to do the same. I had friends who signed up but almost none of them invested the time to even make a first post. These are people I know. If they can’t bother to post anything, what’s the likelihood of strangers wanting to register and post? So for the time being I’m going to be realistic and scale back. I’m opening up comments on the blog. Registering is a plus. I’d like folks to register so I can eventually work on a members area for them to interact and whatnot. But right now just comment if you have ideas, suggestions, or like what you see. You don’t have to register to comment – in fact, I’m wiring Twitter up to commenting to encourage folks to join in.

I’m enabling it for blog posts from now on because, really, turning comments on for the entire archive is silly. If anything I should have a time limit on how old articles can be before commenting goes off. I’ve got too many posts to enable/disable comments on everything easily and offering older posts only opens up more room for spammers. Spam is a big concern of mine. Last time I opened comments I got somewhere between 3-5,000 spam comments. The only realistic way I could remove them all was to nuke the database. I don’t want to have to do that again. But I know folks want to discuss the stuff I post here and I really want to engage them in it. Hopefully things will be more manageable this time around.

Who’s this blog for, anyway?

They say you write what you know. So my audience is, in effect, me. Or people like me. I’ve been reading/making webcomics for awhile now and I’m honestly making a serious effort these days. I have a story I like that I want to tell to the best of my abilities and I want to share working on that with the rest of you. It seems a little esoteric right now because I’m discussing the creative process/struggle from the point before the launch. I’ve set a launch date and I’m working to get as much done before then as I can. Once the comic premiers I’ll be sharing more artwork up here and trying to get some opinions on it. I’ll also be streaming some as I work like other webcartoonists are doing. I just don’t want folks getting sick of seeing the same page before it’s actually complete and they see it in context.

Thoughts on cheating

“Cheating” is one of those loaded concepts, like “selling out,” that usually doesn’t have much meaning beyond what’s in the mind of the person saying it. When I first got into webcomics everybody was hating on sprite comics. Megaman, Final Fantasy, whatever it was, people considered them the bottom of the barrel. Anybody could slap some images together and write a fart joke on top of it. But what about sprites you created? What about reusing your own art? Does that mean even original pixel art done in the style of 8-bit games is cheap? How about comics that use pre-existing art like PartiallyClips or Wondermark? Today we have stickfigure comics and other strips where the art is an afterthought to the joke or concept being expressed. This brings up the question – what is cheating?

This is one of those “I know it when I see it” deals. It’s over-used, sure. There are folks who consider anything that isn’t hand-drawn and lettered a cop-out. Use a digital font? Cheater. Wacom tablet? Cheaty McCheatpants. How about 3D comics that use posed models and there’s no real drawing going on? I argue it’s more about intent and motive than anything else. If somebody throws something together haphazardly  and then goes to a forum and brags wanting to show off their skills, we can see through that. We don’t care because you haven’t given us a reason to care. Two guys sitting on a couch playing a video game and you’ve photoshopped in a blurry background. It’d be a masterpiece maybe back in the day when we didn’t have Photoshop or a thousand bland comics about two guys playing games.

Cover to How to Cheat in Photoshop CS3

This right here is what I think of when people talk about cheating. The author wants to show off some quick tricks that’ll fix up any old thing. As with any technology, there is no “make it good” button in Photoshop. You need to pay attention to every element individually as well as look at your piece as a whole. Sometimes it’s as easy as setting up an action and a work flow to correct a recurring problem. Other times you should just rip the thing up and start again. I mean, do you see the hole in his elbow under the cards? Once it’s seen it can’t be unseen.

But this doesn’t just apply to PS. When we draw we take little shortcuts. We all do. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We want to speed things up and get to the parts we like. But how many times do you redraw a memorized pattern for a hand only to later realize it doesn’t look like the person is actually holding anything? How many webcomics these days have characters with their arms crossed and their eyes half open? Now carry this into writing. How many times does snarkiness replace personality in a character? How many “zany neighbor” types do we see? As much as I enjoy Family Guy the character of Peter drives me crazy because he does insane things because, obviously, he’s the dumbest person in the world. Just like how every sitcom dad has to be so stupid he’s dangerous. This is a de-evolution of comedy that comes from being raised on certain things and regurgitating them. A common criticism of  The Simpsons is that there’s nothing left to do. The show’s been on so long that the writers are running out of material to explore. Then there’s the fact that people coming in grew up on the show. I recall hearing that one of the writers was excited about working on the show because he had a class on it in college. As it is now the series is so engrained in people’s minds that it’s stale. And this brings us back to comics in a strange way. Once a strip becomes successful it often grows complacent and formulaic. After all, less folks are going to write in and complain about an inoffensive comic. This breeds mediocrity.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s Jumping the Shark and Worthless Characters. Fonzie jumping the shark in Happy Days is one of those moments where you sit back and go, “What the hell am I even watching anymore?” In comics you might be familiar with Cerebrus Syndrome. Lots of us have been there. We’ve got this goofy gag strip and our characters are doing outlandish things. Then we decide we’re serious artists and turn some one-off bit into this epic 10 year storyline. This makes a comic like an onion. It’s tightly compact, has many layers, and usually brings readers to tears trying to unravel the damned thing. Containment of storylines, arcs, and plot points can be hard to manage. If you need footnotes to orient readers on what’s going on you might be having troubles. It’s best to have a clear narrative and point to what you’re trying to get across. I used to let my stories meander and go all over the place. You can get lost that way if you don’t set some limits and constraints. It doesn’t have to subscribe to the sitcom ideal of everything returning to the status quo by episode’s end, but it’s easier to work with stories if you think of them in bits as opposed to ongoing continuing sagas that never ever end. Ever.

The kid who played Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch

I rarely watched The Brady Bunch but I know the loathing people had for Cousin Oliver. You see him a lot in TV shows where they try to recreate lightning in a bottle. Cast chemistry is a magical thing. When it works it just works. Sometimes something new doesn’t belong there. Sometimes something new should be it’s own thing and it shouldn’t encroach on the existing property. And sometimes it’s best to just hang things up when the magic is gone. Take a look at this photo from That 70s Show.

Cast pic from That 70s Show illustrating how nobody likes Randy

Somebody look out of place here? That guy peeping out from the left there? Why yes,it’s Randy, the guy they wrote in to replace Eric and Kelso. I have nothing against this actor personally. Yet every time his character was on screen I would get mad at my TV. He was such a transparent fill-in and I hated how we were just supposed to accept him. At some point we become invested in the characters and the series. If you don’t treat them with care this happens. If you have some sort of agenda to push with your comic or fall back on cliches you lose a lot of the credibility you’ve worked for. Characters should be introduced naturally. Another good example is Superman Returns. They really wanted to return to the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve era Superman movies. In a lot of ways you can see that movie as a love letter to Superman 2. (So much so that a good case can be made that it doesn’t actually go anywhere new.) Personally, I think you can take your favorite characters out and play with them, fine, but do something interesting with them. And this comes back to the whole new character problem because in this movie we have super baby. That’s right, Lois had a kid and got married while Superman was gone. That’s not what I sign up for when I go to see Superman. I don’t want to see the awkwardness of them wanting to make out and then the husband comes in. Is that what you watch a Supes movie for? Awkward love triangles? With everything they could throw into that movie – a smorgasbord of villains they could introduce into the movie universe – they pull out Lex Luthor. At least it wasn’t another origin story again, right?