Category Archives: Comic Books

If They Be Worthy…

I have commented on the “new” female Thor on this blog a few months ago, but know it appears that last week’s Thor #5 hit a raw nerve with the fanbase. The long and short of it was that Thor scribe, Jason Aaron, used Crusher Creel (AKA the Absorbing Man) as the mouthpiece for skeptical fans that questioned why this particular woman was worthy to wield Mjolnir. He used “feminism ruins everything” as loaded phrase that was a thinly veiled accusation of misogyny. However, I already brought of the point that placing Mjolnir in the hands or the outright (temporary) replacement of any hero with another, particularly with a visible minority, is a tired cliché. After reading the pages in question I have come to a conclusion.

 

Lady Thor is not a character. Rather, she serves as an ideological mouthpiece bereft of any identifying characteristics. Her worthiness to wield Mjolnir is an informed attribute that violates the old axiom of “Show, don’t tell” and is a telltale sign of sloppy writing. It also particularly egregious when there are other Asgardian women who are capable warriors in their own right like Lady Sif and Valkyrie and both are fairly prominent in the Thor mythos and the Marvel universe in general. It is essentially an admission that Marvel has no faith in the character outside of briefly bumping up sales.

 

Speaking of which, compare the case of Lady Thor to the new Ms. Marvel AKA Kamala Khan, who received considerable promotion by Marvel and the mainstream press. While I have not been able to pick up Ms. Marvel, but I have glanced through the tale on my intermittent trips to the comic shop so see what she is about. Kamala Khan is a character with her own distinct characteristics; yes, Marvel heavily publicized her Muslim identity but she is more than the sum her parts. One quote from Ms. Marvel scribe, G. Willow Wilson, resonates with me.

 

“She’s very much the kind of girl who grew up staring wistfully at Manhattan, thinking ‘If only I could make it to the big city.’ Jersey City is not just the backdrop of the series, but very much a part of Kamala’s own journey.”

 

The operative word here is “journey” where Kamala is supposed to grow as a character and form her own identity as an individual. Her wish of making “it” in the big city makes her a sympathetic character, not just Muslims and young girls, but also anyone who dreams of becoming more than what they are.

 

Kamala’s idol, Carol Danvers also experienced growth as a character that culminated in her taking the mantle of Captain Marvel, having “began” life as a supporting character for Mar-Vell. Immortus manipulated and raped her; Rogue stole her powers and her memories; and she struggled with alcoholism but came out of those experiences a confident and stronger heroine. If I could equate one Marvel character to Wonder Woman, it would Carol Danvers, or rather Captain Marvel. Granted, given that she attained the rank of colonel with the USAF, referring to her as “captain” sounds like a demotion.

 

But I digress.

 

Heroes must undergo their own crucibles and struggles. However, I see no such struggle Lady Thor, she simply lifted Mjolnir without so much as a demonstration of her worthiness and appropriated the name. The fact that Marvel has concealed her identity has to the hollowness of the character and the revelation of her identity will be disservice to women in comics because either her creation was an ideological means to an end, or Marvel stripped an existing character of her identity in the name of “girl power.” Some like Ben Kuchera of Polygon praise this ham-fisted approach, but the fact of the matter that people of his mindset do not see women as people. They see women and other minorities as tools to further their own agenda and will deny the very existence of minorities that have the audacity to question their narrative.

 

How people decide to spend their money is none of my business. However, the events of Thor #5 confirm my fears for the (non) character and affirm my decision not to sink my money into another cynical attempt to temporarily increase sales. Such sloppy storytelling ultimately shows that Mr. Aaron and Marvel do not see women as characters, just other soundbox for their regressive values. Perhaps the bigger sin here is that Lady Thor diverts attention from worthier titles like the Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel titles.

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Platypus Musings: Mega Man #45

Warning: There be spoilers.

Circumstances forced me to be more selective of which comic books I buy since moving to Calgary last November. My most important prerequisite for a title is that it cannot be cynical in any way. I view comic books as a diversion from an increasingly pessimistic world wracked with strife, hence my appreciation for the Silver Age of Comics. Out all the titles I have read in the past few years, Mega Man is one of the few comic books that captures the optimism of the jet/space age and balances it with character depth and even delves into philosophical issues regarding artificial intelligence. While the latter is noticeably absent from Mega Man #45, the emotional impact of the issue is some of Ian Flynn’s finest writing to date.

Those familiar with the Mega Man series should know the basic plot of Mega Man 3: Dr. Wily seemingly “reformed” after the events of the previous game and works with Dr. Light on the peacekeeping robot, Gamma. Eight robot masters went berserk and stole the eight energy elements used to power Gamma and the Doctors dispatch Mega Man to retrieve them. Once Mega Man retrieves the elements, Dr. Wily betrays Dr. Light and steal Gamma for yet another world domination scheme (of course!) As such, Wily’s betrayal was always going to be inevitable in the comic adaptation of the game.

While the march to Mega Man 3 was a long one with the Worlds Collide and a de facto Super Adventure Rockman adaptation, Mr. Flynn did not scrimp on characterization. Forgiveness was the prevailing theme for the past year of the title, particularly how Dr. Light and Mega Man unconditionally forgave Dr. Wily for his past crimes. Being and idealist, Dr. Light was willing to give Wily the benefit of the doubt and defend him when Dr. Cossack expressed his (rightful) suspicions over Wily’s “reformation.” Wily’s second thoughts about his plan in Mega Man #36 demonstrated some surprising depth to his character. That despite being an egomaniac, Wily still had some capacity for sympathy, which gave his personal crossing of the Rubicon an element of tragedy. Though Wily could have redeemed himself, subsequent installments in the video game series ordained that he would not. Factor in a slow burn over nine issues and the impact of Wily’s betrayal hits harder than any weapon could use against the Blue Bomber.

Dr. Light’s breakdown is especially heart wrenching and is one of the few instances where a comic moved me on such a visceral level. The only other time a comic did that was Aunt May’s death in Amazing Spider-Man #400 (which Marvel undid a few years later) and I commend Mr. Flynn for the delivery of a calculated tug at the heart strings. One of life’s harsh lessons is that even if you treat others the way you want to be treated, there is no guarantee the other party will reciprocate that sentiment. Ultimately, Wily’s ego and jealousy stood in the way of any chance for redemption, which made the central conflict personal. In previous story arcs, “stop Wily’s nefarious scheme of the week” was the thrust of each conflict now there is an emotional stake in Mega Man’s next confrontation with the madman, which gives me a vested interest in the story’s conclusion.

If there were one flaw with the issue, it would be Ryan Odagawa’s pencils. While passable for most part, it deviates from the art styles of previous artists enough to appear jarring. I have some issues with Gamma’s proportions but the layouts are solid. Evan Stanley’s moodier colors are also a departure from Matt Herms’ more vibrant hues, but it appropriate considering the overall atmosphere of the issue.

That said, I consider Mega Man #45 the penultimate issue of the series so far. While it definitely darker than previous issues, it illustrates an important aspect of the superhero genre: tragedy is a common motivator for the hero’s actions. Bruce Wayne would not become Batman without the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Peter Parker would not be fighting crime without the death of Uncle Ben. Wily’s betrayal shows Mega Man that he has no moral scruples and that Mega Man must stop him to prevent Wily from hurting others as he did Dr. Light. It will be interesting to see if the events of this issue will set the tone for the rest of the series. If you are not reading Mega Man then you are missing one of the most underappreciated titles in the industry.

When is a Warrior Justified?

Marvel rocked the comic book world last Tuesday when they announced the mainstream Marvel Universe (AKA 616) would come to an end in Secret Wars after fifty-year years. What this means is still anyone’s guess but in all probability resemble a fusion of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and the original Secret Wars from 1984. However, I digress as the primary reason why I mention is because a comic blog I follow, Robot 6, profiled an artist who rendered their own “reboot” of the Marvel Universe to better reflect its diversity. While diversity in of itself is not “harmful and “bad,” it is problematic when mold to suit a particular ideology. The artist, who goes by the moniker “Calvin,” is immensely talented (I particularly enjoy his rendering of Pulsar AKA Monica Rambeau) but I noticed one thing: there are no white men.

Such a complaint may seem frivolous at first, even absurd, but I fear that “diversity” is becoming a codeword for “no white cishet males allowed” (as Social Justice parlance goes.) It essentially represents a toxic strain of fandom that is not only infecting comics, but also the media as a whole where the only acceptable prejudice is against white males. First and foremost, I stress that Calvin is perfectly within his rights to create and post what he desires and I am not trying to say otherwise. It is that I have always found it ironic that a certain group describes themselves as progressive, but reactionary in their thinking. Do Caucasian males face systematic oppression? Of course not, but it is not “justice” when social justice “warriors” use diversity as a bludgeon: it is petty vengeance, and it demeans ultimately minorities.

Case in point, in the description for Fantastic Four, it reads:

The original Fantastic Four disbanded after internal conflicts rose to unbearable levels. Reed Richards had grown jealous of Susan’s natural ability to lead and he feared her brilliant mind surpassed even his intellect. However, it wasn’t until Reed’s poor judgement and leadership led to the death of Johnny Storm. Refusing to take blame for the death, Reed lashed out at his companions, which ended Susan and Reed’s relationship. Reed then left with Ben Grimm and their current whereabouts are unknown but rumors tell of Reed’s mental instability and the possibility of him planning a villainous revenge plot.

What galls me about the description is that Susan Storm’s (AKA the Invisible Woman) worth as a character predicates on the demonization of Reed Richards. Granted, depending on the writer, Reed Richards is either a completely insensitive jerk or generally nice, but absentminded, professor. His Ultimate counter even turned to the dark side. Meanwhile, Susan was the backbone of the team for much of its existence. It is true that Stan Lee and Jake Kirby portrayed her as a constant damsel in distress with a power that was only initially good for hiding, however she did gain the ability to project invisible force fields and even use them offensively. However, when you compare her to the socially inept Reed, hotheaded Johnny, and self-loathing Ben Grimm, she was the calmer head that kept the team grounded, especially Reed. Her growth into the “First Lady” of Marvel Comics is remarkable as TV Tropes confirms:

Sue Storm/Invisible Woman from Fantastic Four is the poster girl of this trope. (Literally— See the top level page.) Originally the Invisible Girl, she was very meek,  and her power was only personal invisibility. She was so useless (not many opportunities for stealth came along), the best her writers could say in response to constant fan outcry against The Load (even in-universe) was, “Having a pretty girl around makes the boys fight harder.” Her force field power was added (less than two years after her introduction), and she gradually became better and more versatile with it, especially under John Byrne. More dramatic was the shift from her original meek personality to her current confident one, which her new choice of codename signifies. These days, Doctor Doom himself considers her the strongest of the Fantastic Four.

What Calvin did to Susan Storm was ultimately condescending and sexist. Not because any overt hostility towards her, but because she is worthless in her current role in the comics. Reed Richards needs to be a mustache-twirling villain that Calvin needs to “rescue” her from. Similarly, Johnny’s death appeared to be an inversion of the “Women in Refrigerators” trope where its sole purpose is to facilitate Calvin’s hatred of Reed rather than advance Susan as a character. It is not a valorization of Susan as such; it is more an ingrained sexism that white knights mask with ostensibly benevolent intentions, which is anything but. The inclusion of Robbie Reye, Kamala Khan, and She-Hulk also carries the unfortunate connotations that the line-up serves more as an affirmative action checklist rather than including the characters on their own merits. A shame too, considering I always liked She-Hulk as a member of the team.

I admit that I am being very liberal in my interpretations of Supreme Marvel; however, much of the reasoning behind “diversity” in media is the exclusion and demonization of others based on the actions of their predecessors. Yes, Eurocentrism and sexism caused much suffering for minorities, but prejudice against a certain group does not erase those crimes. There are two idioms that come to mind: “Trouble with an eye for an eye is that it leaves everyone blind” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” For example, slavery is not solely a European phenomenon; the Arab slave trade lasted into the 1960s yet there is no widespread condemnation of Arab crimes against Africans and Europeans since the seventh century. Likewise, this willful blindness shows a fundamental intellectually dishonesty within the SJW sphere.

Human nature has a dark side that does not recognize pigmentation, ethnicity, or creed. I am not suggesting that Calvin should have made white men the most prominent characters. If he truly a proponent of diversity, he would have recognized they have a role to play. They do not need in a dominant role; the inclusion of Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon) as Captain America is a logical choice considering his history as a partner of Steve Rogers and the bird-of-prey motif fits with American iconography. What I would have hoped for is more balance; not a reactionary hatred that oppresses minorities more than any human could.

“Misogyny” and the new Thor

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I return after month of hiding from the mob in the Canadian tundra… actually, I jest because I have not had much to say on anything as of late, however, I found this article on the new female Thor that debuted this week. The gist of it is this: writer/comedian Brett White implies that a certain segment of the fandom is upset that a woman wields Mjolnir because of an innate male fear of feminism as evidenced by this quote.

 There’s a real noticeable difference when the hero’s replacement is a woman. I think that’s because it takes the already strong resistance to change that a lot of predominantly male comic book fans have and multiplies it by “misandry” to the power of “feminazi.” There’s a whole misogynist vocabulary that comes into play when the new hero is a woman. (…) I would be surprised if the same men that are uncomfortable with the idea of a female Thor are not also uncomfortable with the idea of having a woman for a boss. The fear that a female Thor is going to replace the male one seems to run parallel to the fear that feminism means women destroying men.

Let it be clear that I loathe it when identity politics drips into popular entertainment. First, I concede that there are many fans who resist change. We are a rather conservative bunch; we generally accept one definitive version of character, though it varies from fan to fan. By that I mean we have had several versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom because of the split between the differ epochs of comic book history. Case in point–Barry Allen is my definitive Flash because of my affection for the Silver Age but many fans prefer Wally West because he was the Flash they grew up with in the Modern (post-Crisis on Infinite Earths) Age. However, with the Marvel heroes, there has been only one definitive version of their primary heroes since the 1960s. While Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Thor were “replaced” at various parts of their history by the likes of John Walker, Jim Rhodes, and Eric Masterson, such substitutions were temporary and the originals resumed their roles.

I find it highly disingenuous that Mr. White cries “misogyny!” when fans get upset over a woman replacing a man in the role of a hero. Where were the complaints when Carol Danvers took on the mantle of Captain Marvel? I seriously doubt anyone took issue with it because Carol Danvers was a member of Mar-Vell’s supporting cast before becoming a hero in her own right. Factor in her time as a United States Air Force officer (though she earned the superior rank of Colonel, so she outranks Captain America), it made sense for her to inherit the role though Monica Rambeau  set the precident of a woman holding the title. If this new “Thor” was Valkyrie or Lady Sif, I would have less reservations. Both are part of the Asgardian mythos Marvel built and it would make sense if they were able to lift Mjolnir. As Thor #1 (2014) does not reveal the identity of the new “Thor,” I shall withhold judgement.

In any case, I ask Mr. White and Thor scribe Jason Aaron this question: why should I be invested in this character? Comic book fans have long memories and we know this changeover is ultimately temporary. Thor 3 is currently on Marvel Film’s slate and its highly likely that Thor Odinson will become worthy of lifting Mjolnir again and this as-of-yet unnamed character will share the fate of Beta Ray Bill. Likely placed on the shelf and becoming little more than a footnote in Marvel history twenty years’ time. Perhaps I do not know the little details but they are irrelevant compared to the broader strokes. Mr. White may make claims about sexism and talk down to his audience for ideological reason but misogyny is not the problem here, it is cynicism on the fans’ part because the House of Ideas has gone into the recycling business.

All-New Marvel NOW, same as the last.

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Despite what I have said about Marvel absolutely killing the DC/Warner Bros. giant when it comes to superhero movies, their comic books are another matter completely. Though it is not exactly news anymore, most comic fans are aware of a woman taking up Mjolnir and Thor’s role as the goddess of Thunder and Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon) taking up the mantle of Captain America now that Steve Rogers is showing his age now that a supervillain sucked to Super-Soldier from his veins. However, I recently came across this GIF via the Facebook group, “Has DC Done Something Stupid Today?” (Odds are yes.) In it, “Marvel” proudly declares in all caps

MARVEL: NEW FEMALE THOR

DC: I didn’t-

MARVEL: NEW BLACK CAPTAIN AMERICA

MARVEL: TAKE ALL THIS COOL SH*T MARVEL BE OUTIE!

MARVEL: PEACE

Pardon me if I must say that I can barely contain my indifference because it feels like Marvel retreading old ideas taken from the eighties and nineties. This is not the first time Odin has deemed Thor unworthy and this is not the first time that a woman has held Mjolnir, as Wonder Woman did in the likely non-canon DC vs. Marvel crossover from 1996 and Odin subjected Thor to the gender bender in the post-apocalyptic Earth X. As for Sam Wilson taking up the Star-Spangled Shield, it makes sense. He has been an associate and partner of Cap since the late sixties, after all. However, this is the second time Marvel has replaced Steve Rogers in a decade. Remember The Death of Captain America from 2007? A brainwashed Sharon Carter assassinated Steve Rogers shortly after the end of Civil War. (But as with most superheroes, he got better.) James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky AKA The Winter Soldier took up the mantle and actually held onto it for four years until Fear Itself in 2011. Marvel wants its readers to believe the shake up of the status quo will have a lasting impact on the comics, but I find that hard to believe when the House of Ideas is doing a little recycling. To be rather blunt, these press releases leave me rather skeptical that there will be a lasting impact. I admit Captain America’s death lasted and had an impact but then they hype the death of the Human Torch, then the death of Peter Parker to make way for the Superior Spider-Man, and now the Death of Wolverine. The former three came back, why should I believe the world’s most populate Canadian will take the dirt nap for long?

In some ways, I see it as denial on Marvel’s part. Despite the ubiquity of superheroes in film, television, and other forms of marketing, none of that has translated into a long-term rise in sales within their native medium. DC Comics is just as guilty, but it is becoming so obvious on Marvel’s part. For all this talk of “diversity” (something I find lacking in comics, I admit) all this crowing about “NEW FEMALE THOR” and “NEW BLACK CAPTAIN AMERICA” comes off as crass marketing and attention-seeking by paying the barest lip service. Especially when we know that Thor will pick up Mjolnir again and Steve Rogers will regain the Super-Soldier Serum eventually.

Sorry Marvel, as a firm believer in the Status Quo is God, I am not biting.

Platypus Musings: The Sad State of DC Comics

One of my favorite bloggers and web-voyeur, Sean CW Korsgaard, recently posted his review of the recently released Guardians of the Galaxy film and gave Marvel its much-deserved props for moving outside its comfort zone. However, in his introduction he made note of DC Comics/Warner Bros. “flail in its attempts” to hype Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (featuring Wonder Woman and half the Justice League.) I would have taken exception to that ten years ago as I was a rabid DC fan who believed Geoff Johns could do no wrong with his inaugural runs of Flash, JSA, and the upcoming Green Lantern: Rebirth. However, now that I am older and supposedly wiser, my fanaticism for DC has waned. While I still love Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and even lesser names like the Atom, Hawkman, and Firestorm, the company has been one colossal disappointment after another for at least the past few years. And no, I never really liked Batman. I could never identify with a multi-billionaire whose hobbies include brooding in a guano-filled cave and beating up criminals because of his freudian issues…

…but I digress.

Count me among the fans who are frustrated by the flaccid performance of 2011’s Green Lantern and the adequate-at-best Man of Steel. Marvel has been become a Hollywood juggernaut and a darling with fans while their distinguished competition sputters along. Even Wonder Woman, one of the comic book medium’s most iconic characters, cannot get a movie because, “she doesn’t have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognizes” said DC Entertainment Chief, Diane Nelson, last year. I say that is a steaming load and I am reasonably certain that many of my fellow fans would agree. If DC has one major strength, it has prominent female characters who are not distaff counterparts of a male character (i.e. Wonder Woman and Black Canary) whereas Marvel’s best effort is Black Widow whose ability to carry a movie by herself is questionable (with no disrespect intended to the talented Scarlett Johansson.) Granted, there are rumors that a Wonder Woman movies is on DC’s slate, I am pessimistic over whether DC and Warner Bros. could pull it off or not.

My main problem with DC is that they are complacent and believe that they cannot do any wrong, or at least they give me that impression. I recall how Christian Hoffer of the Outhouse, a site that specializes in satire, wrote that DC denied their requests for interviews based on the site’s biting criticism towards them. Granted, Marvel has demonstrated a similar predilection towards journalists, I believe that there is something terribly rotten with DC’s management when they reboot their universe to bring in new fans yet they paradoxically tell creators that they publish comics for forty-five year olds and likewise consider having only five percent of their readers claim to be new a success when they rolled out the New 52. To be blunt, it feels like DC Comics wants me to be grateful that they casually swept aside so many of the stories and irrevocably altered characters I enjoyed. Similarly, the vibe I get from the publicity pertaining to Dawn of Justice is they want me to be grateful that they are stuffing Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg into a movie they have no real place in.

It seems that DC Comics wants to do too much, too fast in its race against Marvel. Though I believed that Ryan Reynolds would have made an excellent Hal Jordan/Green Lantern with the right script and direction, they should have reserved Parallax for another film and possibly saved the Green Lantern Corps for the mid-credits stinger. (I would also like to say that the film would have failed for the same reasons if they had used John Stewart as the main protagonist.) Man of Steel suffered from the same problems where it could not decide whether it wanted to be like the Dark Knight trilogy or the more action-oriented Avengers. That is probably the sad part of all this, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more of a spiritual successor to Richard Donner’s Superman from 1978 than any of DC’s recent offerings. It seems that Marvel knows what direction it was to take with its cinematic universe just as Donner had a vision for what he wanted to do with Superman though Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man over “creative differences” demonstrates that it is not all lollipops and rainbows. I knew that they were reaching for something bigger and exciting when I saw that after-credit scene from the first Iron Man movie. I cannot say I get that feeling from Man of Steel or Dawn of Justice.

I am sorry DC–actually, scratch that, why should I apologize? You have to earn my affection and my money if you are going to release any films based on your characters. While I thoroughly enjoy Arrow and eagerly await Flash, you really need to get your act together and stop tripping over yourself in your race to get Justice League to theaters. I plan to watch Guardians of Galaxy, and when I do, I will quietly lament the potential you are squandering.