Category Archives: Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

A (Non-Preachy) Lesson In Tolerance In Supergirl #19


Growing up, every TV show that aired between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. seemed air some sort of pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message. These shows assumed, rightly in my case, that a lot of kids who’d just gotten home from school would plop themselves in front of the TV and rather than doing their homework. In terms of targeting a market, it was pretty brilliant.

Having been fed those messages for over two decades now, I think they’ve been belabored to the point where most kids and young adults have gotten the message. Some are even annoyed by it. Even I admit there’s only so many times I can hear some poorly-rendered cartoon character say that tolerance is good and bigotry is bad.

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In recent years, especially with the rise of certain regressive elements within popular media, these pro-diversity, anti-bigotry messages have gone to distressing extremes. It’s no longer enough to just send the message. It has to be angrily protested by media critics, internet mobs, and hyper-sensitive crowds that push political correctness way past its previous extremes.

I could spend fill several blog posts of instances of people whining about a lack of diversity or complaining that political correctness has gone too far. I can understand the frustration of both sides to some extent. Both see a problem with the way tolerance is being promoted within society and they want to fix it. They both want to make society better and that’s entirely commendable.

Instead of focusing on the frustrations, though, I want to highlight an example of a pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message done right. By that, I mean it sends a message in a way that doesn’t sound preachy, heavy-handed, or denigrating to another group. As it just so happens, it unfolds in a comic book, a medium that has provided me with many deeper messages in the past.

In this instance, the comic is Supergirl #19 by Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala. Being a fan of the “Supergirl” TV show and of beautiful, lovable female heroes in general, I’ve been following this comic since it relaunched in 2016. It’s a series that deals with heroic conflicts typical of DC Comics and anyone remotely associated with Superman. This issue, however, takes a moment to get personal.

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The story itself is a brief, self-contained narrative often referred to as a one-shot. You don’t have to know the full story of the character or even the events of the past several issues to understand what’s going on. You don’t even have to know the first thing about Supergirl to appreciate the message that this issue conveys.

It’s built around a personal story told by a character named Lee Serano, a character whose life Supergirl recently saved. That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. Supergirl, Superman, and pretty much every major DC hero saves the life of a random character in almost every issue. However, it’s Lee’s struggles beyond being in the wrong place at the wrong time that make her note-worthy.

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Lee identifies as genderqueer or non-binary, a concept that tends to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. More often than not, stories about people who identify with this label are only identified as a way to point out how far political correctness has gone. It’s often a classification that certain people cite when making fun of those who think there need to be over 58 genders.

Whatever your attitudes towards gender, it’s still generally a dick move to ridicule and degrade someone for identifying that way. Throughout Supergirl #19, Lee doesn’t come off as someone who is just craving attention by identifying as some extreme minority. She comes off as someone who is genuinely conflicted with her gender and is afraid how it’ll affect her.

That’s where Supergirl comes in and this is where the anti-bigotry message gains some unexpected, but welcome dimensions. Like any good hero, Supergirl goes out of her way to help Lee beyond saving her life. She offers her both consolation and sincere affection, as any decent person would to someone who is in distress. The fact she has superpowers is basically an afterthought.

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It’s here where Lee stands up for Supergirl in a way that might catch even the anti-PC crowd by surprise. She acknowledges that there are those who look at Supergirl and only see this blond-haired, blue-eyed, traditionally beautiful, able-bodied, cis-gendered woman with superpowers. Her very presence is seen as part of the problem.

The fact she acknowledges this has an important context. This issue takes place at a time when Supergirl is trying to regain the trust of the public. Unlike her more famous cousin, she hasn’t been around long enough to earn everybody’s implicit trust when she makes a mistake. The extent of that mistake is covered in previous issues, but you don’t need to know them to get the message here.

In one of the most revealing scenes, Lee confronts the argument that certain regressive types would use against Supergirl if she ever tried to get involved with gender minorities, social justice, and everything in between. She makes this important comment that sets the tone for the entire story.

“People are out there talking, saying Supergirl’s dangerous, that she can’t be trusted. Saying that her hiding her dad – trying to help him get better – is wrong. I heard the talk. Believed it for a while, even. I mean, she’s the “All-American Ideal – blonde, white, pretty – and she can fly. She MUST think she’s better than us – above us,” and, “There’s no way she could understand,” right? But that’s not the truth.”

This statement is critical in that it highlights the most frustrating part of discussing these issues with the overly-regressive crowd. Their politics and attitudes are so skewed in one direction that they see anyone who doesn’t line up with their particular group, however eccentric it might be, as somehow unworthy of being part of the conversation.

It often happens in discussions involving race, gender, religion, and most other minority issues. For certain people in those discussions, often the angrier, more radical wings, just associating with the majority is seen as fraternizing with the enemy. It doesn’t just limit the conversation. It dehumanizes the opposing side.

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Supergirl #19 takes the opposite approach in that both Supergirl and Lee are humanized to the upmost. Lee isn’t some confused, attention-seeking teenager. Supergirl isn’t some arrogant, stereotypical stand-in for majority. They’re just two individuals, connecting like mature individuals do to help one another in a time of need. It’s basically a template for simple human decency.

Contrast that with those who claim white people shouldn’t contribute to conversations about race. Contrast that with those who claim beautiful people shouldn’t contribute to issues surrounding body shaming. Contrast that with those who claim men should shut up when discussing women’s issues, scorning anyone who dares to follow Matt Damon’s example.

These instances don’t just take the anti-bigotry, pro-tolerance message to an unhealthy extreme. It angers and alienates those on the other side of the argument. It gives them no reason to listen to what someone who considers themselves gender non-binary has to say, relying instead on prejudices and assumptions.

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Neither side benefits from that approach. Nobody helps anyone when two sides of an issue harbor so much animosity that the very presence of another is seen as an insult. Yes, Supergirl does check most of the boxes for someone who faces far fewer issues than a non-white, gender non-binary individual in the United States. That doesn’t mean she’s part of the problem.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of Supergirl #19. Like other comics I’ve singled out in the past, I’d rather people take the time to read it in order to experience the breadth of the story. It’s a story worth heeding during these contentious times. I would argue it offers something far more important than those old after-school PSAs.

More than anything else, it emphasizes treating people as individuals and not lumping them into a particular group with a particular agenda. Lee points out that people just assume Supergirl thinks and feels a certain way because of how she looks and acts. That’s a flawed assumption that dehumanizes and denigrates her.

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It doesn’t matter if Supergirl, or anyone else who gets involved in contentious social issues, looks a certain way or doesn’t check the right boxes. She’s still a human being, albeit one with alien origins. Unless you can actually read her thoughts and feelings, as some DC characters can, then making those assumptions is just a different form of bigotry hiding behind the guise of anti-bigotry.

Supergirl #19 is a solid story with an important message. I would argue it’s more important now than it would’ve been in the days of after-school specials. It’s a good thing to promote tolerance, but not to the point that it inspires intolerable attitudes. Supergirl’s compassion helped Lee in her time of need. Her life and Supergirl’s are better because of it.

The fact that Supergirl didn’t even need to use her powers that much to help Lee is a testament to her character, as well as an inspiration. If she can help a total stranger that much, just by being decent and compassionate, then what’s our excuse?

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Current Events, gender issues, human nature

Why Ahsoka Tano Is The Strong Female Character We Need Right Now


There has been a lot of talk about “strong female characters” over the past several years. I know because I’ve contributed to some of that talk. I also put that term in quotes because it’s one of those terms that people love to throw around, but don’t quite know how to define. The only time most people use it is to complain.

This has been an especially hot topic among “Star Wars” fans lately, a conversation to which I’ve also contributed. It was fairly obvious from anyone who saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that the producers at Disney wanted to promote more strong female characters. The extent to which they succeeded is debatable, but the fact that someone made a “defeminized” edit of the movie should tell much of the story.

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Now, I can understand why Disney and other big movie studios would make a push for strong female characters. I think it has less to do with their commitment to inclusivity and more to do with improving their brand. They could probably care less about gender politics. They just know that a brand that appeals to more than half the population is a brand that’ll make more money. That is, at the end of the day, the primary goal.

With Disney and “Star Wars,” though, that effort almost seems desperate. Characters like Rey and General Holdo were portrayed as so strong and so capable that they didn’t always come off as interesting or very likable. The movies just can’t seem to get any female character not named Princess Leia correct.

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The real irony is that “Star Wars” already created an amazing female character who was more compelling, more likable, and more endearing that Rey or Holdo could ever achieve over the course of a single trilogy. In fact, they created her back in 2008 and put her through a journey that endeared her to men, women, and those of unspecified gender.

Her name is Ahsoka Tano and if the term “strong female character” is to have any meaning, she deserves to be the new standard by which all others are measured. She’s not Rey. She’s not Holdo. She’s not Princess Leia either. She’s very much her own character and it’s a character that we need more of in these fragile times.

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To those who only know “Star Wars” through the movie, they probably don’t know much about Ahsoka and that’s a true shame because her journey is very much in line with the larger themes of “Star Wars.” I won’t go so far as to say it’s on the level of Luke Skywalker’s journey, but that’s okay because Ahsoka’s journey is compelling in its own right.

In the lore of “Star Wars” that extends beyond the movies, Ahsoka’s story takes place primarily between “Attack Of The Clones” and “Revenge Of The Sith.” She was a young, immature Jedi who was assigned to a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker shortly after the Clone Wars broke out. To say she had the makings of a great female character at that point would’ve warranted a billion Jabba the Hutt laughs.

From the beginning, Ahsoka was not capable or likable. She wasn’t even that crucial a part to story surrounding the Clone Wars. She wasn’t that well-received by the fans either because she came off as annoying, immature, and distracting. That was somewhat forgivable since she was a kid, but she didn’t drop many hints that her journey would be that compelling.

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That changed considerably over the course of five seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” a highly underrated and very well-done TV series that only got better with each successive season. While this series didn’t really affect the movies that much, it is recognized as official canon. That helps make Ahsoka’s story more meaningful.

That meaning takes time to develop, though. Yes, she starts off as childish and annoying as most would expect of someone so young, but she steadily grows and matures. She becomes an integral part of Anakin Skywalker’s story in that he now has this kid sister to look after that he never asked for. Considering what a whiny guy he was in “Attack Of The Clones,” he really needed that.

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What makes Ahsoka’s story most compelling though, especially with respect to strong female characters, is how so much of it is defined by the hard choices she makes. Ahsoka is not like Rey, Holdo, or even Leia in that she often finds herself caught up in situations she doesn’t seek out. Ahsoka is an aspiring Jedi knight. She charges into those situations, making for some pretty dramatic moments.

She’s given no special treatment. Just being a female Jedi who happens to be the Padawan of Anakin Skywalker gets her no passes. She’s held to the same standards. She’s expected to rise to the occasion, which she does time and again. She doesn’t have to be forced into that central role. She becomes part of it like any other non-droid character.

What sets her apart, though, isn’t how well she plays the part of an aspiring Jedi. It’s how she’s allowed to make mistakes, learn from them, and make tough decisions along the way. She’s like Luke Skywalker in that she guides the story through the highs and lows of the conflict. There are times she learns a hard less. There are times Anakin Skywalker learns a lesson too. She both complements and supplements those around her.

In that sense, Ahsoka directly contradicts the Galbrush Paradox that often hinders a female character’s ability to struggle, fail, and mess up without becoming a trope. She’s allowed to be a little flawed while retaining a healthy level of femininity. She gets emotional, but not in the same way as Anakin or other male characters. She’s like an alien Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with a light saber.

Ahsoka accomplishes all of this without relying too much on sex appeal. Granted, she’s not desexualized in a way that feels overt, which other franchises have tried too hard to do, but her looks are always secondary to her skills and the choices she makes. Yes, she’s cute in ways that men with sexy alien fantasies appreciate, but that’s never the primary appeal to Ahsoka.

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Her biggest appeal is how she navigates the same story as Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kanobi in her own unique way. That story is full of choices and actions that really set her apart. This is best exemplified in what I feel is the most defining and heart-wrenching part of Ahsoka’s story.

At the end of the fifth season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” Ahsoka is accused of taking part in a secret attack against the Jedi Temple. As a result, she is imprisoned, but escapes to prove her innocence. She eventually succeeds and is even welcomed back into the Jedi Order. However, at that point, she decides that she has no place in the Jedi Order anymore.

It’s a sad, but bittersweet moment. It’s a moment that breaks her heart and that of others, but one that those who saw “Revenge Of The Sith” knows is the right choice. She chooses to leave the order that she did so much to serve. In doing so, it makes for a truly emotional goodbye between her and Anakin, which also doubles as another sign of his eventual fall.

It’s easy to tell in that moment how much it pains Ahsoka. It pains Anakin just as much. That kind of heartbreak in the face of so much struggle is the kind of impact that helps define a character, regardless of their gender.

It’s that same impact that makes Ahsoka’s later role on “Star Wars Rebels,” another show that takes place before “A New Hope,” every bit as meaningful. In that show, Ahsoka continues following her own path, fighting her own battles, and proving her worth along the way.

It’s in “Star Wars Rebels” where Ahsoka Tano officially outgrows the part of being the snippy side-kick of a pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker and becomes an integral part of the larger “Star Wars” mythos. She’s not hardened or jaded like a Sarah Conners type character. She’s still full of heart, hope, and love, doing her part to make the galaxy a better place. Honestly, what more could anyone want of any character?

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Whether you found Ahsoka annoying at first or didn’t care for the female characters the movies tried to push with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it’s hard to look at the person she became and not be impressed. She has complexity, personality, and even a little sex appeal as an adult. In terms of quality female characters, she checks most boxes.

After the recent finale of Star Wars Rebels,” which left fans like me drowning in tears of joy, Ahsoka’s story is far from over. It’s a story that offers unique appeal through a remarkable female character from which little was expected. In the end, that ability to transform from that annoying side-kick to a truly endearing character that makes Ahsoka Tano the kind of female character that appeals to everyone, regardless of gender.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Star Wars

Storm And Black Panther: How NOT To Do A Superhero Romance


Say what you will about these tumultuous times. One thing is still clear. It’s a damn good time to be a fan of Black Panther. Whether you’re a long-time reader of the comics or Chadwick Boseman enjoying a meteoric rise in fame, these are the best of times for T’Challa, Wakanda, and everything in between.

As of this writing, the “Black Panther” movie has topped $700 million worldwide in just over a week since its release. It’s well-poised to cross the $1 billion mark that only a handful of movies have reached. Things are going very well for Black Panther is what I’m saying.

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I cite all this good news surrounding Black Panther because what I’m about to discuss is not going to show him in the best of light. None of it detracts from the character, nor does it undercut the remarkable achievements that the “Black Panther” movie has accomplished. Given the promising future of Black Panther’s future, though, I think now is probably the best time to bring it up.

Once again, it has to do with superheroes and romance. Long-time readers of this blog probably aren’t surprised by that in the slightest. I talk about superhero romances a lot, citing instances where those romances embody the best elements of a love story and those that are inherently flawed. I’m afraid this is going to be about the latter.

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Black Panther is a great character and has a lot of things going for him, right now. Between a successful movie and a successful ongoing solo series, which you should definitely check out, he has a lot has gone right for him. Unfortunately, that does not extend to his love life.

To those who only know T’Challa through the “Black Panther” movie, I’m not referring to Nakia, who is his primary love interest in that story. I’m referring to a much higher-profile relationship he had with a much higher-profile character in the mid-2000s. That character is Storm, a character I’ve praised before and not just for her love of foreplay.

It’s true. In Black Panther Volume 4, Issue 18, which came out in 2006, Storm and Black Panther got married in what was billed as the highest-profile superhero marriage since the wedding of Cyclops and Jean Grey. It even managed to temporarily stop the ongoing hostilities in Marvel’s now-famous Civil War event.

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On paper, it was billed as the union between two of Marvel’s most prominent black superheroes. It was presented as a union between a weather goddess and a king. It couldn’t have had more going for it without being the central plot of a Disney movie, which isn’t impossible at this point.

There’s just one glaring, omega-level problem with that approach. The relationship between Storm and Black Panther is one of the shallowest, emptiest, and least compelling romances in the history of superhero comics. Yes, it’s even worse than the time Juggernaut had a fling with She-Hulk.

For two character who are so iconic, well-rounded, and endearing, that’s quite a statement. I imagine that more than a few people disagree with it, but there’s a reason behind that statement and it’s not an overly petty one. Between being a die-hard fan of superhero comics and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, the flaws in this relationship stand out more than most for me.

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The most glaring flaw, by far, is just how forced the relationship was in the first place. I won’t say it was quite as bad as the relationship between Jean Grey and Logan was in the X-men movies, but it was pretty damn close. From the beginning, it was less about the chemistry between these two characters and more about the fact that they were two prominent black superheroes.

Never mind having an actual reason to want to be together. Never mind actually tying their respective stories together in a compelling way. The approach was as lazy as it was empty, essentially relying on the iconic status of both characters and nothing more. By that logic, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran should’ve gotten married already.

Even if the approach was lazy, the premise could’ve worked if there was time and effort into developing the Storm/Black Panther romance compelling. Sadly, that’s not the approach Marvel used. They were in such a rush to get these two married that they skipped the part where they told a dramatic love story that brings these characters together in a meaningful way.

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As a romance fan and a comic book fan, that was as satisfying as food poisoning and a hangover. Instead of presenting valid reasons as to why these two characters should be in love, Marvel rewrote Storm and Black Panther’s history to establish that they met each other when they were young and shared a strong connection. That’s all well and good, but there’s one glaring problem.

By rewriting the past, it devalues the emotional depth in the present. Instead of actually building that depth, it’s just suddenly revealed that these two characters had a long-standing history. There’s no need to tell a more elaborate story. It already happened in the past and they’re only acknowledging it now. If I could write that with more sarcasm, I would.

Now, history being rewritten in comics is nothing new. That’s what comic fans refer to as a “retcon” and it’s basically the narrative equivalent of a mulligan. When used correctly, it can help clear up convoluted elements. When used poorly, however, it can be very destructive. Just ask Captain America fans.

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A retcon is the ultimate contrivance and that was the foundation of the Storm/Black Panther relationship. If every good relationship starts with a strong foundation, then the Storm/Black Panther relationship was built on a mix of quicksand and moldy bread.

I get the intent. In order for Storm and Black Panther to get married, they needed to establish that their relationship was somehow worthy of being on the same level as Superman/Lois Lane or Mr. Fantastic/Invisible Woman. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to rewrite their entire history so that their love was something that had depth. It just happened entirely behind the scenes.

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Contrast that with the love story we saw in the “Black Panther” movie between T’Challa and Nakia. There was nothing contrived about that story. These two characters both had their own narrative. In pursuing that narrative, they came together in a way that felt organic, genuine, and sincere. It was probably the most sincere love story in a superhero movie since the original Deadpool movie.

That shared narrative has huge gaps with Storm/Black Panther and not just because it required a rewriting of their respective history. Even before that retcon, Storm and Black Panther followed very different narratives.

Storm, since her debut in 1975, has been an integral part of the X-men and their story. She was a key player in some of the most defining moments in X-men history. Along the way, she’s had various romantic relationships with the likes of Bishop, Nightcrawler, and Forge. For a time, she had a pretty passionate relationship with Wolverine.

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The fact she had all those relationships while Black Panther had plenty of his own, most notably with former Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau, makes the idea that they shared this powerful bond in their youth seem not so powerful. Even if there were other forces pushing them apart, the fact they followed such distinct narratives really undermines the sincerity of their relationship.

It also makes for some pretty distressing implications. Throughout the X-men’s history, the team has been on the run and on the brink every other week. In some cases, it led to some pretty brutal tragedies. All these things were happening with the X-men and Storm was often on the front lines.

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The fact that she and her friends struggled so much while T’Challa, king of the most advanced nation in the Marvel universe, never did a goddamn thing to help her or her friends just makes the situation even worse. Unlike Wolverine or Forge, he wasn’t there to share in all the struggles. Granted, T’Challa had his own struggles, but neither he nor Storm ever went out of their way to support one another.

Sharing struggles is one of the most important components of a believable, functional romance in both the real world and in superhero comics. Without that, it’s like trying to build furniture without a hammer. You can try, but if you don’t have the right tools, the results are going to be limited at best.

It’s the fact that Storm and Black Panther shared such different struggles that their marriage in the comics ended in a fairly ugly fashion. When the Avengers and X-men clashed in the aptly-named “Avengers vs. X-men” event, Storm and Black Panther were on opposite sides. The conflict was so bad that it left Wakanda in ruin and by the end, their marriage was annulled.

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It was an inglorious ending to a romance that Marvel tried hard to make iconic. Unfortunately, they went about it in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons. There’s no question that Storm and Black Panther are among Marvel’s highest-profile black heroes, even more so now with the success of the “Black Panther” movie. That’s still not the sole reason why they should be romantically involved.

The relationship was so forced and so flawed that even the X-men’s most iconic writer, Chris Claremont, says the whole thing was a big mistake. Storm and Black Panther may have potential, but by forcing it and rushing it to such an egregious extent, it’s hard to take that romance seriously.

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If nothing else, the Storm/Black Panther relationship should provide a cautionary tale for superhero romances and real romances alike. Most importantly, it reinforces the notion that genuine romance can’t be forced. Strong couples share in their respective struggles, supporting one another and guiding one another.

Storm and Black Panther did none of that. Marvel’s approach to forging their relationship only gave them more reasons not to be together. Both characters have a bright future in their own respect, but that future cannot and should not be forced or contrived.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men

Why Cheetah Should Be The Main Villain In Wonder Woman 2

It’s been a while since I talked about Wonder Woman, DC Comics, or developments surrounding the planned sequel to her first movie, which I praised to no end last year. Even though a sequel was announced shortly after the movie’s historically successful debut, not much news has come from it.

There’s a reason for that, albeit a distressing one. The news surrounding anything related to DC’s movie universe has been pretty grim since “Justice Leagueunder-performed at the box office. While I enjoyed the movie and gave it a glowing review, I can’t deny that it’s perceived shortcomings have caused all sorts of problems for the DC movie universe.

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Those problems aside, Wonder Woman is still seen as the lone bright spot in a bleak outlook, especially as Marvel keeps raising the bar with their movies. To date, “Wonder Woman” remains the highest rated, highest grossing DC Comics movie. That makes the success of the sequel, still only known as “Wonder Woman 2,” of paramount importance to the future of superhero movies.

To date, there hasn’t been much news surrounding “Wonder Woman 2.” The only official details we have thus far are that Gal Gadot will continue to play Wonder Woman as only she can and Patty Jenkins is once again set to direct it. According to Jenkins herself, it will to be a very different movie compared to the first one. These are her words:

“We’re actually making a totally different film with a lot of the same, similar like things that we love, but it is its own movie completely, so it’s not ‘two’ to us. It’s an entirely new adventure together that we couldn’t be luckier [to do].”

I’m certainly excited about it, as I am with all things related to Wonder Woman. However, there’s one element that I believe will determine whether “Wonder Woman 2” is a “Dark Knight” level success or a “Batman and Robin” sized disaster. By just referencing “Dark Knight,” I think most superhero movie fans know where I’m going with this.

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It’s all about the villains. Regardless of the studio making the movie, the heroes involved, or the sex appeal of said heroes, the movie often succeeds or fails by how compelling or forgettable the villain is. Nobody will ever forget Health Ledger’s Joker in “Dark Knight.” Conversely, I’m pretty sure everyone has already forgotten Steppenwolf in “Justice League.”

Wonder Woman” may not have had an iconic villain on the same level as Heath Ledger’s Joker, but the combined narratives of both Ares and Dr. Poison worked because they supplemented Diana’s journey towards becoming Wonder Woman. Since the core of “Wonder Woman” was built around that journey, she didn’t really need a villain of Joker caliber.

However, she’ll need one for “Wonder Woman 2” and that’s where Cheetah comes in. She has already been rumored to be the villain of the movie. She’s no Joker, but she is probably Wonder Woman’s most well-known villain. The fact that she isn’t an embittered child of Zeus, a story so old that it pre-dates movies, comics, and the printing press, makes that status all the more remarkable.

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From a pure comic book stand point, Cheetah makes the most sense as the main villain for “Wonder Woman 2” because she’s also one of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes. Her origins go all the way back to the earliest, and also kinkiest, era forged by Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston.

Like many other classic villains, Cheetah’s persona mirrors Wonder Woman’s in many respects. In her earliest incarnation, Priscilla Rich, she’s an aristocrat woman born to a powerful family. Her mother isn’t a queen, like Diana, but just being in that privileged position from birth puts a great many expectations and temptations on her. It brought out the best in Diana, but it brought out the worst in Cheetah.

From a purely thematic standpoint, that’s an important component for Wonder Woman’s journey. In the same way characters like General Zod embody the kind of person Superman might have become, Cheetah shows Wonder Woman the much darker path she could’ve walked.

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That path already has a very lengthy gap for Patty Jenkins to work with. The conclusion of “Wonder Woman” and the events of “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice” reveal that Diana had been secretly living in the modern world since the end of World War I. That’s a lot of time for her journey to take many turns, some of them darker than others.

That significant breadth of time actually plays to Cheetah’s advantage because her title is not tied to one person. In some instances, it’s a legacy that others take on. In others, it’s a curse that gets transferred from one person to the other. In every case, though, Cheetah embodies a persona that directly clashes with everything Wonder Woman’s stands for.

Wonder Woman fights for compassion. Cheetah fights for herself.

Wonder Woman believes in blessings. Cheetah believes in curses.

Wonder Woman is deeply empathic. Cheetah is exceedingly callous.

Wonder Woman is loyal to her friends. Cheetah betrays them.

Wonder Woman believes in love. Cheetah is driven by hate.

These contrasts were best embodied in Cheetah’s earliest incarnations, but it’s actually her more modern persona in Barbara Ann Minerva that, I believe, has the most potential for “Wonder Woman 2.”

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Like other Cheetah’s before her, Barbara is a privileged woman from a powerful family in which she has all these expectations thrust upon her. As a result, she shares many of the selfish, arrogant, neurotic traits of Priscilla Rich and every spoiled rich brat that ever lived. However, what makes Barbara’s story more compelling is that in her most recent incarnation, she started off as a close friend of Diana.

It’s an element to the villain’s journey that makes their story more entwined with that of the hero. By starting off as a friend, it makes the inevitable clash that much more dramatic. Given the high drama we got in Diana’s final battle against Ares in “Wonder Woman,” it makes sense to take a similar approach with “Wonder Woman 2.” Diana, as we’ve seen, is at her best when drama and passions run high.

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The Barbara Ann Minerva that Diana knows in the most recent comics can come off as a spoiled brat at times, but she has a genuine fascination with gods, mythology, and the divine. In that context, it’s only natural that Diana would start out as an ally and a friend.

For Diana, especially after how her first movie ended, she would need a friend. After losing Steve Trevor, she would need someone to connect with in a world that is still very new to her. Conversely, Diana can give Barbara the connection she seeks to the world of gods, demigods, and magical lassos that make for hilariously awkward moments.

These two women have everything they need to forge a powerful friendship. At the same time, though, they have everything necessary to create a bitter rivalry as well. In the comics, Barbara’s ambitions and bad choices are what turns her into the feral, villainous Cheetah. It’s those differences in choices doesn’t just make their clash dramatic. It makes it genuinely heartbreaking for Diana.

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To some extent, making a new friend and seeing them become an enemy would be even worse than losing Steve Trevor. It would also provide a legitimate explanation as to why Wonder Woman remained hidden from the world for so long, up until the events of “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.”

Cheetah can do for Diana what Killmonger has recently done for Black Panther. She can give Wonder Woman an enemy that forces her to confront the harsher parts of a world that is still new to her. Back home on her paradise island of warrior women, she was sheltered from all these hardships. Now, she’s all alone in having to face them. That struggle is what will forge her into the iconic female hero that we know and love.

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This is, of course, my own personal sentiment and I understand that doesn’t account for much. I’ve already made a wish list of all the things I want to see in “Wonder Woman 2” with the understanding I’ll probably only get a fraction of it, at most. After the first movie, both Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins have done plenty to earn my trust.

It’s simply my hope that a sequel to such a wonderful, ground-breaking movie will find new ways to raise the bar for superhero movies and female superheroes, in general. That bar is still rising and I believe a character like Cheetah can help raise it for Wonder Woman.


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The following is a link to a review I wrote for PopMatters on “Wonder Woman #40.” Enjoy!

PopMatters: “Wonder Woman #40” Review

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February 16, 2018 · 5:47 pm

Romance And Tragedy Done Right (In An X-men Comic)


When it comes to two genres that are often associated with one another, romance and tragedy are the literary equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. When you think of one, it’s not long before you associate it with another. Romance without tragedy is like fries without ketchup. Both are still good on their own, but it’s only when they’re together that they maximize their potential.

In that same spirit that the likes of Shakespeare and “Titanic,” superheroes often follow that narrative, but with more spectacle than old playwrights and even James Cameron could ever imagine. Being such a huge fan of superhero movies and comic books, I’m more familiar with their take on romance and tragedy than most aspiring erotica/romance writers.

As such, when an amazing, uncanny, astonishing, or whatever other adjective that a comic book puts before their title tells a story that truly embodies those ideas, I take notice. Seeing as how I’m also an unapologetic romance fan on top of being a comic book fan, those kinds of stories resonate especially well for me. They don’t come around too often, but when they do, they’re worth appreciating.

This particular story involves the X-men, which should surprise nobody who has followed this blog over the past couple years. It also involves the romance/tragedy of Cyclops and Jean Grey, which should also not surprise anyone. I’ve mentioned them before when talking about balanced romances and insufferable love triangles. This might end up being the most heart-wrenching, albeit for all the right reasons.

The name of the story is called Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey by Matthew Rosenberg. Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, I strongly encourage everyone to read it. Either buy it at a comic shop or buy the digital version. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, it’s a great story that will still evoke all the right emotions.

That’s because this story does something that’s very rare and very difficult to do. It’s something that everyone form Shakespeare to Tolken to Stan “The Man” Lee struggled with at some point in their creative endeavors. It gets the balance between romance and tragedy right. It gets it so right, in fact, that I intend to judge all future romance/tragedies by this comic. That includes any I write.

To understand how I came to this conclusion, it’s important to understand the context of the story and why it had such a powerful impact. To do that, it’s necessary to point out the circumstances of this story. When it was announced last year, it’s stated goal was to bring Jean Grey back from the dead. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with comics knows that’s not all that groundbreaking.

Superheroes have been dying and coming back to life for decades. While “The Death of Superman” might have been the most high-profile, the initial death of Jean Grey in the original Phoenix Saga is probably the most iconic. That story established Jean Grey as a character who would be defined by death, rebirth, and everything in between. That’s part of the reason it’s the foundation of the “X-men: Dark Phoenix” movie.

That original story had a lot of romantic elements in it, but it was largely defined by its tragic ending. In that original story, Jean Grey willingly sacrificed herself in front of Cyclops and her friends to stop herself from becoming corrupted by the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force.

It was a truly gut-wrenching moment. It’s because of that moment, though, that it’s often singled out as one of the best X-men stories of all time. It was the culmination of Jean Grey’s struggle to deal with the immense power with which she’d been imbued. Moreover, she reached out to that power in order to do the impossible to protect those she loved, even if it corrupted her.

That’s an important detail to note because that’s a theme that would go onto play out on many occasions for Jean, eventually culminating in her second death in 2004. Her constant struggle to manage the immense power granted by the Phoenix Force and the corruption that often came with it is one of the primary driving forces behind Jean’s character. It’s also a big part of her appeal.

Rosenberg uses those same themes, as well as the immense power afforded by the Phoenix Force, to build the tragedy and romance that plays out in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. It’s a story that has more drama going for it than most because, despite the presence of time travelers, Jean Grey has been dead since 2004. Her coming back after such a long absence is a big deal for X-men fans and for her character.

The challenge Rosenberg faced was making that resurrection feel more compelling than overdue in an era where dead characters come back all the time. On top of that, Jean’s association with a cosmic force known for death and resurrection means her character basically has a built-in cheat code for bringing her back. How can that be so compelling, let alone raise the bar for romance and tragedy?

This is where the spoilers come in so again, please take the time to read the comic if you can. That’s because the way Jean comes back in this story has less to do with tragedy and more to do with agency. Way back in the original Phoenix Saga, Jean reached out to Phoenix Force in an act to save her friends. It was a choice of desperation.

Well, since that fateful choice, the Phoenix Force has been like a clingy ex, wanting desperately to stay bonded to her, even thought it often corrupts her. I’ve argued before how the context of that corruption might be more complicated than it seems, but on the basis of history alone, Jean Grey has many reasons to regret that choice.

The Phoenix only gives her another in this series. After having bonded with plenty of other hosts since her death, it goes to great lengths to bond with Jean again. It goes so far as to resurrect both her and everyone she ever cared about, creating this own little world in which Jean never experiences the many tragedies that befell her. It’s like the Matrix, but with a volatile cosmic bird running the show.


As part of that fantasy world, Jean Grey’s long-time love, Cyclops, is alive and well. That’s critical because, at least for the time being, he’s also dead. The Phoenix Force basically gives her everything to be happy, content, and loved. Keep in mind, though, it’s not doing this out of pure altruism. It wants to bond with Jean again. That’s the goal and the fantasy world is just a means to an end.

That makes the tragedy inevitable. As is often the case with fantasy worlds, even those created by a cosmic power, they tend to crumble under the harsh weight of reality. The way in which this happens is best revealed through the story. However, the part of the story that really balances out that tragedy occurs in the final issue.

In that issue, the fantasy world crumbles, thanks largely to the efforts of Jean’s fellow X-men. Naturally, the Phoenix Force fights this and tries to tempt Jean into bonding with it again, saying its power can give her everything she desires. It can even bring back those she loves.

As part of a last-ditch effort, it demonstrates this by bringing Cyclops back to life. He’s not a clone. He’s not a time traveler. He’s not some illusion either. He’s the real, flesh-and-blood Cyclops, complete with the thoughts, feelings, and passions of the man she married.

It’s a dick move on the part of the Phoenix Force, to say the least. It’s also the moment where the romance balances the tragedy in an important way. That’s because in that moment, Jean makes another fateful choice, one every bit as dire as the one she made in the original Phoenix Saga. This time, though, she lays her heart on the line, knowing damn well it’ll be broken.

Rather than just reject this tactic as another attempt by the Phoenix to lure her in, she embraces it for a brief moment. In that moment, she gets to say goodbye to her husband. She and Cyclops even go out of their way to make clear how much they love each other, both in life and in death. Even if you’re not a big romance fan, this is a moment of pure, unadulterated heart.


We still know the tragedy is coming. We know it’s a moment that’s going to end with tears and sorrow. Anyone that ever had to read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school English class knows it’s coming and is might think they’re numb to it, especially if they flunked the test.

That’s why it was so important for the story to reaffirm that sentiment. Rosenberg did something critical when he had Cyclops and Jean Grey remind each other just how deep their love went. He gave even greater weight to the loss.

At least with “Romeo and Juliet,” the characters involved had just met. They barely knew each other. Cyclops and Jean Grey’s love story spans 50 years of X-men comics, complete with weddings, clones,  and raising a child together in the future. To know the extent of their love is to know just how much that tragedy hurts.


That, more than anything, is what puts Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey in a league of its own in terms of romance and tragedy. Instead of the tragedy defining the romance, it’s the other way around. It’s the romance that gives that tragedy such immense weight.

In too many stories, both in comics and in other mediums, tragedy relies too heavily on its own weight to make an impact. Making a love story dependent on that tragedy gives the impression that the love needed it in order to have depth. That’s why, when the tragedy eventually occurs, it doesn’t always hit all the emotional chords.

Rosenberg left no emotional chords unstruck with this story. It’s because Jean shared that special moment with the man she loved that her decision to reject the Phoenix Force carries so much weight. That decision comes with so much pain, anguish, and sorrow. It’s one thing to just depict it. It’s quite another to truly convey it.

That’s what truly makes Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey so special. It conveys both the breadth of the romance and the extent of the tragedy. Moreover, it does that in a way where one complements the other. For a romance built heavily around two characters operating as equals, I can’t think of anything more fitting.

Again, if you’re fan of romance, tragedy, or both, check out Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Even if you hate comics and the X-men, this one will evoke all the right emotions. You’ll shed tears of sorrow and joy at the same time. It’ll feel so weird, but so right.


Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men

What Colossus And Kitty Pryde Of The X-men Can Teach Us About Love

I know it’s been a while since I talked about comic books, comic book romances, or general life lessons from comic books. As a self-proclaimed comic book fan who loves to tie that passion into other sexy topics, I feel like I owe myself and certain readers an apology. Consider this part of my effort to make up for it.

Just because I haven’t been writing about comics much lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been following them. It also doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the major developments unfolding in the comic book world. As I write this, there’s a lot going on, from Tony Stark’s return as Iron Man to the return of Superman’s iconic red trunks.

If you’re a comic book fan, though, you already know about this and I don’t need to say anything to get you excited. If you’re a comic book fan who also happens to be a big romance fan, there are other stories that excite you. I mentioned one late last year with the big announcement that Batman and Catwoman are getting married. Now, I have another.

Kitty Pryde and Colossus of the X-men are getting married too!

The big announcement was actually teased last November in the form of a wedding invitation that designated the summer of 2018 as the big day. It also highlighted some of Marvel’s most famous superhero marriages. Never mind the fact that Marvel has a shaky track record with married characters. It’s still exciting news, especially for X-men fans like me.

It’s big news for Marvel as well. They’re already promoting this as a major event for these characters and for the Marvel universe as a whole. Sure, it may just be their way of competing with the upcoming Batman/Catwoman wedding, but that doesn’t make the sentiment involved any less genuine. It also doesn’t make the promo video for X-men Gold #30, the wedding issue set to come out this summer, any less sweet.

I know Kitty Pryde and Colossus are not exactly on the same level as Superman and Lois Lane, Batman and Catwoman, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or even Deadpool and tacos. In the pantheon of superhero romances, they’re not exactly top five, but they’re not afterthoughts either.

Their romance has never been a major plot in an X-men movie, nor has it been a focus in any X-men cartoons. However, for those familiar with the X-men comics, this relationship is as special as it is unique. It’s one of those romances that blossomed in unique and sometimes controversial ways.

Chief among that controversy was the age difference between the characters when they first met. When Kitty first joined the X-men in Uncanny X-men #129, she was 14-years-old and Colossus was 19. Needless to say, it didn’t sit well with Marvel’s editors at the time when writer Chris Claremont had Kitty develop a crush on him.

That crush, however, never got as creepy as some of the other romances that Marvel had teased. As the characters grew, aged, and developed within the pages of the X-men comics, that teenage crush evolved into something more serious. Eventually, they developed one of those relationships where they always seemed to find their way back to one another.

I won’t recount all the chaotic elements of their romance. I’ll just point out there have been many times where they’ve gotten closer, been friend-zoned, ended up in other relationships, and even died on one another, which happens a lot in comics. I’ll also say that the love between Kitty Pryde and Colossus carries with it some unique insights into love, relationships, and how they blossom.

So, in the spirit of celebrating the upcoming nuptials of these fictional characters that I hold dear, I’d like to share some of those insights that translate into real-world lessons on love. Being both a romance fan and a comic book fan, I’m especially fond of the parallels that tie works of fiction into serious matters of the heart.

Whether or not the marriage of Kitty Pryde and Colossus lasts or prospers in the X-men comics remains to be seen. Regardless of Marvel’s poor track record with marriage, they’re a couple worth rooting for and this is what they can teach us.

Lesson #1: Failed Relationships Can Still Succeed

For many fictional romances, especially those involving superheroes, the romantic dynamics are often idealized, pure, and heavy on melodrama. They’re basically “Romeo and Juliet” with superpowers, built around a love that’s so pure it can only ever be corrupted by a horribly contrived love triangle.

Colossus and Kitty Pryde are decidedly not that. Theirs is a more clumsy romance, one where they sort of stumble their way towards one another. Throughout their history, they have tried to forge a relationship, but failed on multiple occasions, sometimes due to circumstances and sometimes due to hard choices.

In those failures, Kitty Pryde dated other men, like Pete Wisdom and Iceman. Colossus dated other women, like Domino. Along the way, they each followed their own stories. They each grew in their own way. They weren’t dependent on each other. They didn’t have to be together to become strong.

These failures may have derailed their romance at times, but it didn’t end their love or their desire to be together. Eventually, they found themselves in a position to act on that love in the pages of X-men Gold. Now, they’re getting married. Ironically, their past failures helped get them to that point.

Learn from failures in a relationship and build a better one from the ashes. That’s not just a critical lesson. In a world where the ideal love stories of “Romeo and Juliet” are reserved for high school English classes, it’s a much more realistic way to approach love.

Lesson #2: Love Who Someone Is Trying To Be (And Not What They Were)

This kind of gets into those creepier elements I mentioned earlier. It’s true. Kitty and Colossus had a sizable age gap when they first met. Age gaps in young romances are taboo and for good reasons, beyond just the legal reasons. However, that age gap hid another important lesson that Kitty and Colossus later embodied.

Beyond the basic flirty exchanges they had in their youth, Kitty Pryde distinguished herself as a special character by how quickly she grew and matured throughout the pages of Uncanny X-men. Sure, she was a vulnerable young girl when she first joined the X-men, but she didn’t stay that way.

The same goes for Colossus, who underwent more than his share of upheavals. Some of his greatest moments involved him trying to be a kinder, gentler soul, despite having the kind of obscene strength that steroid-laden meatheads can only envy.

Again, a lot of complications get in their way, as is often the case with superheroes, but whether or not they manage those complications isn’t the point. It’s who they’re trying to be, as individuals, that makes them who they are. It’s that striving that often draws them together. It’s that constant effort to be better that fuels their chemistry.

That chemistry is built less on who they are and more on who they’re trying to be. Kitty and Colossus saw who they were trying to be in the midst of the chaos that comes with being X-men. That’s the person they fell in love with and in a chaotic world where everyone has to better themselves just to keep up, that’s an important and underrated facet of love.

Lesson #3: Seek To Grow With AND Love Someone

This also ties, somewhat, to the age gap between Kitty Pryde and Colossus, but without the taboo. Age gaps matter when two people are young, immature, and don’t have a firm grasp of their emotions. They matter less and less at time goes on. I say that as someone whose parents have an age gap that’s actually wider than Kitty and Colossus.

In a sense, the age gap worked to Kitty and Colossus’ advantage because they didn’t just see each other in their impressionable youth. They actually watched each other grow into adults. While they weren’t always on the same team, they were able to grow together within a similar environment. In doing so, that innocent crush evolved into something deeper.

That’s an important distinction that a lot of young people, myself included, don’t often realize until much later in life. We focus so much on the here and now when it comes to loving someone that we forget that we’re still growing as individuals. Sometimes, two don’t realize we’re growing apart until it’s too late.

I’ve seen this happen in the real world with once strong relationships that just drift apart as the couple gets older. I’ve also seen it happen in the opposite direction, watching two people grow closer as they actually seek to grow with someone, as well as love them. Kitty Pryde and Colossus are a perfect embodiment of the latter.

Lesson #4: Let The Moment Be Right For Love (And Guide It If You Can)

I know I keep repeating this and it’s worth belaboring, but Kitty Pryde and Colossus had a lot of obstacles when it came to getting together, the least of which involved Colossus dying at one point. It’s worth belaboring because it reflects how hard these two had to work in order to get together over the course of several decades of X-men comics.

Within those complications, though, is an important lesson that best played out in Joss Whedon’s legendary run on Astonishing X-men. The circumstances aren’t always right for two people to come together. However, when that moment is right, don’t be afraid to act on it. You can’t force those moments. You can only let them unfold and embrace them.

For Kitty Pryde and Colossus, those moments were rare, but they weren’t random. When Colossus returned from the dead, they had every reason to just jump each other’s bone in an overly dramatic moment. They didn’t do that, though. They didn’t try to force that moment. They just led each other to it.

A similar situation unfolded in X-men Gold. They had an opportunity to jump back into their relationship, but they didn’t. Sure, they made excuses at first, which I found annoying, along with many other long-time X-men fans. However, by taking it slow and letting the moment come to them, it made the eventual culmination in X-men Gold #20 that much more satisfying.

You can’t force a romantic moment, nor should you. However, you can guide the situation towards those moments. If the love is strong, like it is with Kitty Pryde and Colossus, it’ll happen and it’ll be beautiful.

Lesson #5: Don’t Make Excuses For Loving (Or NOT Loving) Someone

This is a common and annoying trope with fictional romances. For those not built on love-at-first-sight or sickeningly-pure infatuation, a romantic sub-plot in most stories will be full of excuses on why they should not be together. Given my take on excuses, it should surprise no one how much this annoys me.

Kitty Pryde and Colossus made a lot more excuses than most and not just because of the early age gap. Sometimes it was because they were on different teams. Sometimes it was because they were caught up in other relationships. Sure, some of those excuses were valid, like being dead or trapped in a giant bullet flying through space. Those that kept them apart, however, were often shallow or contrived.

Now, some of this might have been due to whoever was writing the X-men comics at the time. As I’ve noted before, there have been instances where bias writers force contrived plots to keep certain characters apart. Chris Claremont’s efforts with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine are well-documented.

The efforts surrounding Kitty Pryde and Colossus, though, never got that extreme. They also never undid the chemistry between them or fundamentally changed the elements that attracted them to one another. In that respect, they didn’t make excuses. They didn’t hide from those emotions, even if they avoided them. That ended up strengthening their relationship in the long run.

It’s another important lesson about excuses and reasons. When your reasons for not being with someone are built on excuses, then you’re missing the point. Kitty and Colossus stopped making excuses in X-men Gold #20. If they can do it, then there’s hope for everyone, real and fictional alike.



Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, sexuality, X-men