Category Archives: Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

The Secret Appeal Of Marvel’s “Black Panther”

As a fan of all things related to comic books and superheroes, I often find myself digging deeper into the messages and meanings behind these fanciful narratives. I’ve done it on this site before, using superheroes to highlight the value of uniquely balanced romances and the inherent dangers of excessive boredom. I’ll likely keep doing it, so long as my kinky mind keeps making these quirky connections.

Sure, there’s are plenty of times when I just prefer to pour myself a glass of whiskey, sit back, and just enjoy the raw entertainment value of a comic book or superhero movie. Given the sizable slate of superhero movies set for release in 2018, I’m probably going to need more whiskey.

There is one particular movie, however, that is making waves that I haven’t really talked about before. I’m referring to the upcoming “Black Panther” movie, a movie that is already setting pre-sale records on Fandango. While every movie produced by Marvel Studios these days seems to blow up the box office and enrich Disney, this particular movie is unlike anything they’ve ever tried before.

There’s a reason why I haven’t talked much about it. For the most part, I haven’t come up with any meaningful discussions that I think are worth sharing. Like most self-professed Marvel fans, though, I am excited about this movie. It takes a character who has been underrated and overshadowed for most of his history and elevates his position in the larger narrative of the MCU.

The fact that Black Panther is one of Marvel’s most prominent black heroes is certainly another important aspect. In the ongoing effort to promote more diversity in Hollywood and popular culture, “Black Panther” checks all the right boxes. He’s a prominent minority character who holds his own alongside other Avengers, as we saw in “Captain America: Civil War.” He’s ready for his own movie.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make clear that I don’t wish to get into all the racial undertones and white-washing controversies that have plagued Hollywood in recent years. As a comic book fan, I’m just excited to see Black Panther get a chance to elevate his presence. I sincerely hope that Chadwick Boseman can do for T’Challa what Robert Downy Jr. did for Tony Stark.

However, in seeing the growing excitement surrounding this movie, I feel as though the movie is revealing something about the current state of the world that’s not easy to see. It also reveals something profound about the character of Black Panther, as well, that might be even more telling in these sensitive times we live.

It might not be the message that the “Black Panther” movie is trying to convey. I don’t doubt for a second that Marvel Studios and Disney see this movie as just another part of the process of maximizing profits at the box office. However, when you look at the context of this movie and the character it’s built around, there’s one unexpected, but remarkable insight that emerges.

“Black Panther embodies the ideal king that everybody wants to live under.”

Unlike some of the other insights I’ve tried to ascribe to certain character, it’s not too hard to see this concept reflected in the character of T’Challa. Whether you only know him from his role in the movies or are familiar with his history in the comics, this trait is a core aspect to his persona. He’s not just an Avenger, a superhero, and a prominent black character. He’s the ultimate king that people want to be ruled by.

If it sounds like that conflicts with my assertion that Dr. Doom is the ultimate ruler, then please bear with me. I am going to address that in a way that will hopefully make sense. To understand why this is key to Black Panther’s character, as well as being a big part of his appeal, it’s important to know a few details about his story.

In both the comics and the MCU, Black Panther isn’t just a prominent superhero who also happens to be black. He’s the king of the fictional country, Wakanda, a secretive land in Africa that is extremely advanced and extremely wealthy. This is largely due to its rich deposits of Vibraniam, an equally fictional super-material that is more valuable than anything we have in the real world.

The particulars of Wakanda are important because, like Krypton, Asgard, or Gotham City, it embodies a particular concept. Wakanda is, in many respects, the embodiment of an exotic land that prospers without the influence of the modern world. A key trait of Wakanda is that, for much of its history, it shut itself off from the outside world and actively fought those who tried to change that.

That isolation doesn’t just give Wakanda its exotic appeal. It also insulates it from what we, in the outside world, see an increasingly corrupt system of world governments that don’t do a good job of helping people prosper. Despite all the data that clearly shows the world is improving with each passing year, there’s still a sense that there’s this one magical place that can do it better.

Wakanda is that place. Wakanda is technologically advanced, fully developed, and extremely prosperous. The fact that it’s a country in Africa, which is home to some of the poorest countries in the world, makes it all the more remarkable. The idea that it achieved all this without the aid of other nations helps add to the appeal.

This is where Black Panther’s appeal as the perfect king comes in. Beyond just being advanced and prosperous on its own accord, it’s not ruled by a flawed democracy, a corrupt dictator, or an inept republic. It’s ruled by a wise, competent, and compassionate ruler who also happens to be a superhero on the side. Black Panther, in many respects, embodies all the ways in which rulers wish they were seen.

He wasn’t elected, nor did he come to power in a coup. He rules because he’s the son of a previous, equally competent ruler. It’s basically a traditional monarchy, one that doesn’t require corrupt elections or elaborate legal traditions. While that seems antithetical to the freedom-loving crowd who scoff at living under kings, it does have great appeal.

Like Superman, Black Panther embodies everything people want in a ruler. This is what sets him apart from Dr. Doom. While Doom might be smarter and more capable, most people would not be lining up to live under his rule. Black Panther is different. He’s the kind of king people actually want to live under, even if it means living under the rule of a powerful monarch.

Black Panther and his exotic homeland are insulated from the corruption and ineptitude we associate with our existing rulers. It’s because Black Panther is from such an exotic place that prospered, despite being so isolated, that his ability to rule seems fittingly superhuman. He carries himself as the kind of king who won’t create crazy cults of personality or fail spectacularly.

That appeal is even greater these days because of the growing perception that all leaders are inherently corrupt. The 2016 Election was basically a year-long parade celebrating everything people hate about inept, corrupt leadership. It created this sentiment of hopelessness that no matter which leader end up in power, they’ll still be corrupt.

The events after the 2016 Election have only further reinforced this notion. In a sense, “Black Panther” is coming along at the best possible time because the general public is so disillusioned with the rulers they know. The idea that there’s this powerful, uncorrupted king who benevolently rules a prosperous land isn’t just appealing. It embodies a near-universal desire to live in a perfectly governed society.

At this point, it’s worth noting that this sort of appeal clashes significantly with the harsh truths of the real world. In the same way there’s nobody who can ever be as powerful or as good as Superman, there’s nobody who can ever be as good a ruler as Black Panther. His persona, as well as his country, simply could not exist in the real world.

There are actually countries in this world that are extremely rich in resources, not unlike Wakanda. There are also countries that isolate themselves from the rest of the world and attempt to thrive on their own, absent outside influence. Most of these countries are either extremely poor or extremely corrupt.

Even with semi-competent rulers, it’s impossible for any country to thrive like Wakanda. It’s equally impossible for any ruler to be as effective as Black Panther because no government, be it a dictatorship or a democracy, that can ever manage the never-ending chaos or accommodate infinite needs of the people with its finite resources.

In a sense, rulers like Black Panther and societies like Wakanda are large-scale wish fulfillment for those dissatisfied with their own society. We may not acknowledge that such a ruler and such a society are impossible in the real world, but neither are shape-shifting aliens or silver-skinned men on surf boards. The stories surrounding such concepts act as a unique kind of escapism, which is at the heart of every movie’s appeal.

Now, I’m not saying that this sort of appeal will be the sole reason “Black Panther” succeeds at the box office. I believe that if it succeeds on the level that some are already projecting, it’ll be because of a multitude of factors, much of which can be attributed to the winning formula that Marvel Studios has refined.

Whatever the racial or cultural undertones of a movie like “Black Panther,” it has already struck a chord. It’ll likely strike even more after it’s released. Most probably won’t be related to Black Panther being the perfect king or Wakanda being the perfect society, but the undertones are there. As people become more dissatisfied with their leaders and their society, they’re likely to become more overt about it.

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My Wish list For “Wonder Woman 2”

I know it’s been a while since I talked about Wonder Woman. In my defense, there have been a lot of distractions between the holidays, the response to the “Justice League” movie, and recent news stories to which I just couldn’t resist responding. Make no mistake, though. I haven’t forgotten about Wonder Woman or the fact that she had a breakout year in 2017.

In many respects, Wonder Woman was one of the best parts of 2017. She didn’t just amaze audiences by proving that there is a market for female superheroes, even after “Catwoman.” She raised the bar for the entire genre, both in terms of critical and commercial success. That bodes well for other female-led superhero movies.

While other female superheroes play catch-up, though, Wonder Woman is set to continue rising the bar. She’s Wonder Woman. That’s what she does through Gal Gadot’s charisma and she does it with uncanny grace. Shortly after her movie came out, a sequel was announced to the surprise of no one. At the moment, “Wonder Woman 2” is slated for release on November 1, 2019.

While that date seems so far away, some details are already starting to trickle in. Director, Patty Jenkins, has already started teasing details. At the recent Palm Springs Film Festival, she indicated that the sequel would be a very different film compared to its predecessor. Naturally, she didn’t give too many details, but it’s enough to get Wonder Woman fans excited.

Since I consider myself among those fans, I already find myself contemplating what a “Wonder Woman” sequel will entail. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve contemplated such things, either. While it’s too early to know or even speculate what “Wonder Woman 2” will bring, we can still hope and imagine the wondrous possibilities.

In that spirit, here is a brief, but basic wish list for what I hope to see in “Wonder Woman 2.” Granted, if Ms. Jenkins is serious about this being a very different movie, chances are not much on this list will apply. I understand and accept that. This is just the giddy Wonder Woman fan in me daring to imagine how wonderful this movie can be.


Wish #1: Establish More Villains (And Make It Personal)

If Wonder Woman has any flaws, beyond those that assholes and trolls point out, it’s that her list of villains isn’t quite as iconic as that of Batman or Superman. For much of her history, Wonder Woman’s greatest battles have been tied to those of the Justice League or those of her fellow Amazons. She’ll be a major force in those battles, but they rarely have major personal stakes.

Wonder Woman 2” presents a golden opportunity to change that because there are a few villains with strong personal ties to Diana. While Ares was more built up boss battle in the first movie, villains like Cheetah can test Diana’s heart, as well as her skill.

The recent Wonder Woman comics have done an excellent job establishing the deep personal struggle between Wonder Woman and Cheetah. While there are multiple women who have gone by Cheetah, the overall theme is the same. She is Diana’s rival, but there was a time when she was also her friend.

Having to fight her friends is an agonizing challenge for Wonder Woman, which we saw play out in the “Justice League” movie. It brings out her heart and her passions for all the right reasons. A more personal villain can only help expand that appeal in “Wonder Woman 2.”


Wish #2: Maintain A (Very) Distant Connection From The Other DCEU Films

While I stand by my statement that “Justice League” did not deserve the negative reviews it got, I don’t deny that the “Justice League” movie has become somewhat of a toxic brand. It’s not quite on the same levels as “Batman and Robin,” but at this point there’s just no way to salvage the backlash.

It’s for that reason, among many others, that I hope “Wonder Woman 2” maintains an extremely distant connection from the larger DC Extended Universe. I’m not saying it should cut itself off entirely. Even the first movie made it a point to establish that this movie was part of a larger world. The sequel should reflect that.

However, the events of “Justice League,” however big they might have been, shouldn’t be a major driving force in the narrative. Whether it takes place in the modern day or in the past, like the first movie, it can’t be too beholden to the events of other major DC movies.

A big part of the success of “Wonder Woman” was its ability to stand on it its own, apart from the rest of DC’s main superheroes. “Wonder Woman 2” should build on that and I imagine Patty Jenkins isn’t going to want to be too constrained by the burdens of other movies. For Wonder Woman, despite her kinky past, there can be no such restraints.


Wish #3: Build On The Amazons’ Mythology (And Diana’s Family Ties)

There were a lot of positives in “Wonder Woman” and I went out of my way to acknowledge them in my review of the movie. However, if there was one flaw in the overall narrative, it had to do with the limited exposure of the Amazons. That’s because in nearly every medium, Wonder Woman’s story is inherently enriched by her Amazon heritage.

The first movie did enough to establish who the Amazons were, why they are so important, and how important they are to Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much more than that. After Diana left Paradise Island, we didn’t hear from them again. That’s why I hope “Wonder Woman 2” takes the time to expand on the story of the Amazons.

They already showed how badass they can be in “Justice League.” I sincerely hope they get more opportunities in “Wonder Woman 2.” Between Diana’s mother and her more notable siblings, there’s a wealth of material for Wonder Woman to build on. It further raises those personal stakes I mentioned earlier, which can only help expand the appeal of Wonder Woman’s world.


Wish #4: Let Wonder Woman Address Social Issues (In Her Own Unique Way)

Given Wonder Woman’s iconic status as a female icon, it’s unavoidable that she’s going to provoke discussions about social issues. These days, that leads to many heated, hateful, and downright counterproductive conversations. However, that’s exactly why I still want Wonder Woman to address those issues in “Wonder Woman 2.”

Gal Gadot has already shown that she gets the unique spirit of love and compassion that Wonder Woman espouses. Sure, she is prone to making a few controversial remarks, but overall she gets what Wonder Woman is about. She even showed this in the first movie, having Diana navigate the very patriarchal world of the early 20th century, but without using that as an excuse to hate it.

Like it or not, there are a lot of social issues going on in the world. For the most part, we do a poor job debating those issues, as a society. Wonder Woman, with her emphasis on compassion and love for all, is the perfect antidote to that.

I don’t know how she’d go about it in “Wonder Woman 2.” A lot of that depends on the setting, the time period, and the conflicts involved. Whatever form it takes, though, I think it’ll be good for the audience and for the superhero genre to see Wonder Woman confront these social issues as only she can.


Wish #5: Expand The Emotional Stakes (And Let Gal Gadot Channel Her Passions)

This is more of a broader hope for “Wonder Woman 2.” While there are quite a few specific things I’d love to see in this movie, I think it’s more important that it embody the necessary theme that makes Wonder Woman so endearing. Like with some of my other wishes, those themes revolve heavily around the emotional stakes of Wonder Woman’s journey.

We didn’t see too much of that in “Justice League,” but we saw plenty of that in the first movie. Every battle she fought was an emotional struggle. That struggle gave Gal Gadot the opportunity to emote in a way that would make any Amazon warrior proud. Wonder Woman has never just been about fighting injustice or kicking ass. That is always secondary to her heart.

Some of the best moments in “Wonder Woman” just involved her taking a moment to smile, explore, and share herself with others. Whether it was making Steve Trevor feel awkward or making friends with Etta Candy, we got to see Wonder Woman share her passions with others outside the battlefield. That helped make her endearing on so many levels.

Wonder Woman is already a very likable, very passionate character. She’s the kind of person that men and women, alike, can rally behind. Any successful sequel will take those themes and run with them. There’s so much to love about Wonder Woman and how Gal Gadot brought her to life. If “Wonder Woman 2” can build on those themes, then it already has the most important ingredient for more wonderful success.

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Why Rey From “Star Wars” Is NOT A Mary Sue

There are a handful of character types that tend to evoke a collective groan from most audiences. Being an ardent comic book fan, as well as a general fan of sci-fi, romance, and fantasy, I’ve listened to those groans and even contributed to them. At a time when it’s easier than ever to share opinions and/or voice frustration, these frustrating characters tend to be more vulnerable than ever.

Chief among those groan-inducing characters is the dreaded Mary Sue. Chances are you’ve heard that cute little colloquialism after browsing gaming and sci-fi message boards for more than five minutes.

Usually, it applies to a female character, but can just as easily fit apply to a male character as well, often in the form of the equally groan-inducing label of Gary Stu. Sometimes it’s a criticism of a character. Sometimes it’s a flat-out insult. In most cases, it rarely has a positive connotation.

It’s for that reason that characters slapped with the Mary Sue label tend to be either controversial or destructive to an underlying narrative. Many writers, myself included, go out of their way to avoid crafting characters that might attract that label. I certainly made that effort when I wrote “Skin Deep” and “Passion Relapse.” I doubt I’m the only one who tries to avoid it.

These days, though, there’s one particular character getting slapped with that label and it has been generating discussions for a couple years now. It comes from “Star Wars,” one of the biggest franchises in the history of modern fiction and one of many productive cash cows for Disney. The character in question is Rey and I know that discussions about her tend to bring out the dark side in any “Star Wars” fan.

Now, I personally really like Rey. After seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she solidified herself as one of my favorite “Star Wars” characters of all time. I wasn’t entirely sold on her potential after seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I’ve since been convinced. Rey is a great character and one of the best things to come out of this new generation of “Star Wars.”

That said, I’m aware of the criticisms levied against her. She is very much at the center of an ongoing debate about female characters, in general, and what constitutes a Mary Sue. I tried to avoid those debates after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I feel comfortable entering the fray now after seeing Rey develop over the course of two movies.

Before I offer my assessment on whether or not Rey deserves the label of a Mary Sue, it’s helpful to highlight just what a Mary Sue is. There’s actually not any clearly-defined criteria, to date, and that criteria is constantly evolving. According to TVTropes.org, the simplest definition of a Mary Sue is a character that’s just too good to be true. More specifically, those traits include the following:

  • A bland, shallow personality that’s overly pure, overly good, and incorruptible
  • Flaws that are forced and only ever meant to glorify her purity and goodness
  • Beauty that is either flawless or idealized for any given world, fictional or otherwise
  • Physical skills that are exceedingly good to the point of never facing any real challenges
  • Mental acuity to the point where she’s never wrong, never foolish, and always on the moral high ground
  • Unlimited and contrived access to every tool or resource, be it something mundane or a Deus ex Machina
  • Always ending up with the perfect romantic partner and/or forging friendships with every meaningful character
  • Being at the center of every plot and sub-plot by default

Again, these are just a few traits associated with a Mary Sue and there are likely more. There are far more thorough insights into the traits of a Mary Sue, one of which was done by the YouTube channel, Overly Sarcastic Production. After their wonderful breakdown of strong female characters, I would put their assessment far above my own.

Whatever the criteria, the Mary Sue is such a fluid concept, which is part of why it’s such an empty criticism. However, it has become a more serious criticism and since it’s being applied to “Star Wars,” it’s definitely carries more weight than usual.

With all that said, does Rey fit that criteria? Is it a valid criticism to call Rey a Mary Sue whose portrayal is weighing down the overall narrative of “Star Wars?” It’s a debate I’m sure will continue for quite some time, but here’s my definitive response, for what it’s worth.

No. Rey is NOT a Mary Sue…for the most part.

Now, I’m aware I’m being somewhat vague by adding that little caveat at the end. However, there’s a reason for that and I’m fairly confident that they qualify as reasons and not excuses.

For one, Rey’s story is not complete. That much needs to be said from the beginning. It’s something that I find many debates involving Rey tend to overlook. Yes, her story is lagging a bit more than those of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo did in the original trilogy. There are other reasons for this, but they’re unrelated to the debate at hand.

Even with an incomplete story, I believe that Rey has done enough over the course of two movies to prove that she’s not a Mary Sue. I think she established that shortly after her appearance in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

In terms of appearance, she comes off as someone who could put on a set of clothes from Wal-Mart, walk into a typical high school, and not generate much reaction. She doesn’t radiate the kind of beauty or royalty that often defines a Mary Sue. Even if she later proves to have a special destiny, that basically puts her in the same category as Luke Skywalker and every other legendary hero.

In terms of personality, she’s not exactly gushing with love and likability, which is another key trait of the Mary Sue. In many respects, Rey is somewhat cold and detached when she first shows up. She doesn’t whine or lament about her less-than-extraordinary life, nor does she eagerly jump at the chance to join the resistance when she encounters Finn. Hers is a more complex journey.

In terms of skill, this is where I think most of the Mary Sue accusations come from. I admit that I thought her excessive skill with the Force, flying the Millennium Falcon, and defeating Kylo Ren pushed the bounds of her character a bit too much. Even I was tempted to throw that label on her after seeing her accomplish so much with so little training.

However, when I step back and look at the larger plot, as well as incorporate the events of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I see that those traits aren’t enough to warrant calling her a Mary Sue. They are a flaw in her character. That much, I don’t deny. Just having that flaw, though, doesn’t make her a Mary Sue.

I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did a lot to help distance her from that label. It did so by having her make a few bad judgment calls while also not winning her battles quite as easily. When you look at the sequence of events in that movie, she didn’t actually succeed in most of what she sought out to do. Most of the success in that movie came from others, namely Kylo Ren, Finn, and Poe Dameron.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Rey failed miserably in her efforts, I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” established that her skills have limits. She has all sorts of natural talent, but she doesn’t always apply it effectively. That’s not unusual for real and fictional characters. You could even make the argument that her missteps help really help to improve her likability.

A Mary Sue is supposed to be sickeningly perfect and hopelessly ideal, so much so that there’s no need for a plot since they just fix everything with their charm. Rey isn’t like that in either movie. In fact, the final battle in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” didn’t really involve her. More than anything else, her role really complemented all the others by the end of the movie.

Now, I’m certain there are more than a few ardent “Star Wars” fans with X-wings tattooed on their chests who will claim I’m dead wrong. Those arguing that Rey is a Mary Sue have more than a few points to make and I don’t deny that some of those points are valid. I just don’t think they’re sufficient.

Rey is a great character, but one with some obvious flaws. I would call her overpowered and over-skilled, but you could levy that criticism against other iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and even Batman. Unlike those iconic characters, though, Rey is very new to the cultural landscape and her story still has room to unfold, as director Rian Johnson has pointed out.

I don’t doubt that debate over whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue will continue for quite some time. While I don’t think the next “Star Wars” movie will definitely resolve that, I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t have to be at this point. I think Rey has done enough to subvert this dreaded label.

She’s still a great character with a number of conceptual flaws. I think she has a bright future in our culture. She’ll always have her critics, but all great characters do. It’s just a matter of how they navigate that criticism. Given the cultural weight “Star Wars” carries, I’d say she’s handled it much better than most non-Jar Jar characters could ever hope.

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Why Dr. Doom Is The Ultimate Jedi

If you’re a “Star Wars” fan in any capacity, then these are truly exciting times. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the blueprints of the Millennium Falcon tattooed on your back or just think porgs are adorable, this is basically your Mardi Gras. Another new “Star Wars” movie is set for release and, by all accounts, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is set to give Disney a fresh pool of money to swim in.

Now, I love “Star Wars” as much as anyone who grew up on a healthy diet of sci-fi and comic books. I’ve seen every movie in theaters. I had more than my share of “Star Wars” toys as a kid. I do intend to be in line to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on opening night. Like X-men and football, I’m that passionate about the things I love.

It’s because of that passion that I often find myself coming up with strange, if not eccentric, interpretations of the story. Part of that stems from my love of fan theories and my inclinations to create my own. “Star Wars” has such a rich, vibrant mythology surrounding it. Naturally, it’s going to inspire more theories than most.

However, in getting my mind one with the Force in anticipation of the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I found myself contemplating some unexpected ideas. In doing so, I came to a realization that isn’t so much a fan theory as it is an observation, and one that will probably incur the wrath of every adherent of the Jedi Order, which is a thing by the way.

I’m willing to take that chance, though. I don’t know whether the Force will be on my side after this, but in the name of digging deeper into the “Star Wars” mythos, I want to put this out there. If you’re prone to Sith-level outrage, you might want to put up your deflector shields because I’m about to make a statement that strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Jedi. That statement is this.

Dr. Doom is the perfect embodiment of the Jedi.

I’ll give “Star Wars” a moment to stop seething and Marvel fans a moment to stop laughing. Take all the time you need. I know this sounds like something a man only comes up with after he’s had a few too many glasses of whiskey while re-watching “The Empire Strikes Back” one too many times. Make no mistake. I’m dead serious about this.

By every measure, Victor Von Doom, the same character who is regularly regarded as the greatest villain of all time, represents the values of the Jedi Order better than any other character. Given Doom’s villainous nature, which I’ve discussed before, that sounds like the equivalent of claiming that Jar Jar Binks was a Sith Lord. Actually, that might be a bad example.

However, I do believe there is an argument to be made here and not just because the designs for Darth Vader might have been inspired by Dr. Doom. To understand this argument, we must first understand the core tenants of the Jedi Order. According to the official Star Wars wiki, the Jedi Code is built around these principles.

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.

Anyone who has watched at least two “Star Wars” movies can probably see plenty of examples of these tenants. In every movie, in some form or another, the Jedi espouse principles of non-attachment, harmony, knowledge, and an overall understanding that death is neither the end, nor the beginning.

Those who have studied philosophy and theology in any capacity will probably recognize that these concepts are very similar to major principles of Taoist philosophy. In fact, the whole Sith/Jedi dichotomy nicely reflects that of Yin and Yang, which is probably the most well-known Taoist principle.

With those concepts in mind, you might instinctively believe that Dr. Doom would more closely align with the tenants of the Sith. Like the Jedi, they too have their own unique code. Again, according to the official Star Wars wiki, that code is as follows:

Peace is a lie. There is only Passion.
Through Passion I gain Strength.
Through Strength I gain Power.
Through Power I gain Victory.
Through Victory my chains are Broken.
The Force shall free me.

While those tenants may sound like something Dr. Doom embraces, a closer examination of how Doom conducts himself reveals something else. You don’t even have to dig too deep to see just how much Doom embodies the ways of the Jedi.

One of the most distinct differences between a Sith and a Jedi is how they approach passion. Sith, as Anakin Skywalker so nicely demonstrated in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith,” are fueled by their passions. Their anger and hate fuels them. Jedi see those emotions as temptations that send Force-wielders down a dark, selfish path. Anakin’s descent into the dark side nicely documents that fall.

However, while Dr. Doom can become annoyed and frustrated, he rarely demonstrates Sith-level anger. In fact, most of the time, Doom’s emotional state is one of cold, callousness. When he donned his famous, obscenely overpowered armor, he did so with the intent of shedding the passions that he believed had held him back.

As a result, Dr. Doom is largely devoid of the kinds of passion that would make him a Sith. If anything, that lack of emotion, along with the immense intelligence that makes him one of the smartest minds in the Marvel universe, grants him two of the key Jedi tenants by default.

The Jedi Code also focuses on tempering chaos, promoting harmony, and achieving serenity. In a sense, these are all perfectly in line with Dr. Doom’s goals. Stan Lee himself, the guy who co-created Dr. Doom, went so far as to say that Doom isn’t a villain in that he seeks to rule the world because he believes he can do a better job.

In a sense, Doom sees the same thing the Jedi sees. The world around him is full of chaos. People, in general, are consumed with chaos. Nothing but destruction will come from that chaos and they both seek to temper it. The only difference is that Doom does more than just attack it with a light sabre.

Dr. Doom’s desire for order are even reflected in the crossover event, Doomwar. It’s in that event that Dr. Doom learns from Bast, the Panther God, that the only future in which mankind is free from suffering, want, and chaos is one where he rules. In a sense, Doom see’s ruling the world as his destiny. Given how often the Jedi and the Sith make a big deal about destiny, Dr. Doom fits right in with those principles.

Even in matters of life and death, Dr. Doom aligns himself with the Jedi, albeit in more overt ways. For him, death is hardly a barrier. Whereas Sith fear and dread death, as Anakin Skywalker did in trying to prevent the death of his loved ones, Dr. Doom basically brushes it off. He doesn’t just cheat death with his army of Doombots. He has actually become a god on more than one occasion.

Whereas a Sith like Anakin will lament the loss of his mother and wife, Dr. Doom will sacrifice the woman he loves to a demon without batting an eye. Like the Jedi, he does not care for personal attachments or petty passions that might hold him back. He sees himself as too smart and too capable for such things. It’s not that he sees himself as a god among men. He’s just smart and powerful enough to prove it.

In a sense, Dr. Doom is the ultimate endgame for a Jedi. He is the ultimate extreme of what happens when you take the Jedi Code and push it beyond the limits of frail human minds. It leads someone to becoming numb to their passions, empowered by knowledge, and driven to forge harmony out of chaos.

With that in mind, I want to acknowledge that there are other intricacies to the Jedi Code with which Dr. Doom is inherently incompatible. Unlike Doom, Jedi don’t seek to rule whereas Sith Lords do. Also unlike the Jedi, Dr. Doom can be pretty damn selfish and arrogant, which are hardly in line with the selflessness championed by the Jedi.

However, when evaluating the code of the Jedi and the Sith, Dr. Doom still checks more boxes with the Jedi. Her certainly wouldn’t get along with the likes of Yoda, Mace Windu, or anyone on the Jedi Council, for that matter.

Then again, Dr. Doom doesn’t get along with anyone and that’s kind of on purpose with him. He doesn’t care whether or not anyone gets along with him. He only cares that they honor his authority and superiority. Like a Jedi, he is beyond petty emotions or blind ignorance. His strength, knowledge, and abilities speak for themselves. He needs no passion or anger to fuel him. He just needs to be Doom.

In writing this, I imagine I will upset and/or anger many “Star Wars” fans whose knowledge of the franchise is far greater than my own. There may even be a few details that effectively nullify my claim about Dr. Doom’s status as the ultimate Jedi. I welcome those discussion, provided they’re not on par with a Sith-level temper tantrum.

Given the upheaval in the Jedi order so artfully promised in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I just felt as though this observation was worth sharing. It’s impossible to know whether Dr. Doom would make for the perfect Jedi, the ultimate Sith, or something in between. It’s just interesting to see how the ideals he embodies fits into this iconic sci-fi mythos.

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Why I’m More Excited For “X-men: Dark Phoenix” Than “Avengers: Infinity War”

Not long ago, the internet stopped for a brief moment and had a shared orgasm over the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer. I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed my share of the collective ecstasy. I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. Sure, I had a hard time hiding my comic book loving boner, but compared to other awkward boners I’ve dealt with, I was more than happy to wear loose pants for the rest of the day.

I honestly didn’t think I could be more excited about the impressive slate of superhero movies set for release in 2018. Then, Entertainment Weekly had to come along and offer a first glimpse into “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” a movie I’ve talked about before with the same anxious excitement as Wonder Woman. Honestly, I don’t think anyone not named MC Hammer makes pants loose enough.

I don’t know if the timing was on purpose. I just know that my erection can only get so hard when it comes to superhero movies. Me being an unapologetic X-men fan, which I’ve belabored more than once on this site, I’m inherently more excited about this movie than I am “Avengers: Infinity War.”

I get it. Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige are on a win-streak that would make an entire team of Michael Jordan’s envious. To date, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has raked in over $13 billion and “Avengers: Infinity War” is guaranteed to add to it and at a time when even highly-touted X-men movies can’t rake in more than $800 million.

Why, then, should anyone who isn’t an unapologetic X-men fan be more excited about “X-men: Dark Phoenix?” There are many reasons, more so than most who aren’t X-men fans probably realize. Some are more obvious than other. The first, and most notable, can best be summed up by two words: Sophie Turner.

In case anyone needs a reminder why she’s such a big deal, take a look at these first glimpses of Ms. Turner in all her Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix glory. Be sure you have loose pants and clean underwear handy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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I’ll give everyone a moment for their heart to settle and their pants to untighten. Take all the time you need. Believe me, it took me longer than I expected.

That one picture, in addition literally burning with Ms. Turner’s sex appeal, checks the most important box I listed in my article about how to not screw up a Dark Phoenix movie. It unleashes the fiery passion of the Phoenix and uses Sophie Turner’s sex appeal to do it.

While I doubt that director Simon Kinberg read that post, it’s a big deal that he’s emphasized this aspect of “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” That’s primarily because that critical element that makes the Phoenix Saga one of the greatest X-men stories of all time was omitted from the last attempt to do a Dark Phoenix movie, “X-men: The Last Stand.” The less said about that craptactular failure, the better.

Beyond capturing the necessary elements for a decent Dark Phoenix story, it also reflects a fundamental difference between this movie and “Avengers: Infinity War.” At its core, the Phoenix Saga is about a beloved friend and hero becoming corrupted. It involves high drama, heart-breaking sacrifices, and beautiful redheaded women kicking ass.

The core of “Avengers: Infinity War” is decidedly not that, especially after Black Widow died her hair. This movie is banking less on high drama and more on over-the-top battles involving the most powerful heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe against Thanos, one of Marvel’s most overpowered villains with a disturbingly extreme death fetish.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach. In fact, it’s probably the best possible approach for a movie that has been built up over the course of over a dozen big-budget films. Nobody can ever claim that Kevin Feige hasn’t been thorough in establishing the scale for this movie.

The problem, if you can call it that, is because of that scale, it’s difficult for a movie like “Avengers: Infinity War” to be anything other than what you expect it to be. It’s going to be an intense, over-the-top battle that will triple down on the themes that made the first Avenger’s movie so successful. At this point, that’s all it can do.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” offers something more than that. Like “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s expanding the scope and scale of the movie to a level that no previous X-men movie has ever attempted. Whereas the first X-men trilogy tried way too hard to stay grounded, this one is letting the X-men push the boundaries like they do every other week in the comics.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” will let the X-men go into space. It’ll let Jean Grey get overwhelmed and surrounded by cosmic fire, something “X-men: The Last Stand” barely even attempted. It’ll even let Sophie Turner get naked. That alone is worth the bloated ticket price.

Those elements, both the cosmic fire and the nudity, don’t even have to be forced. They’re actually in line with the canon X-men comics. Jean Grey has been known to fly around in the cosmic buff every now and then. I won’t say it’s a critical element to Phoenix Saga movie, but as someone who values nudity more than most, I can safely say it’s a hell of a bonus.

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While I doubt anyone will pay extra to see Thanos get naked in “Avengers: Infinity War,” there’s one more element that helps sell me on “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It has less to do with spectacle or nudity and more to do with underlying theme.

In a sense, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” is an opportunity to go beyond superhero movies. Like “Logan” and “Deadpool” before it, this movie has elements that can help it go beyond superhero movies, just as the original Phoenix Saga dared to go beyond stories about super-powered people in spandex costumes defeating villains.

There are all sorts of genres that “X-men: Dark Phoenix” can encompass. It can be a tragedy. It can be a sci-fi adventure. It can be a romance, which I’ve touched on before. It can be so many things, all within a single narrative. The ability for one movie to encompass all those elements, be it a superhero movie or a Disney musical, is a rare and special thing.

Avengers: Infinity War” has its place and chances are, it’s going to make more money than “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It may end up making more money than any movie in history that doesn’t involve exploding death stars or blue aliens.

For me, someone who isn’t one of Fox or Disney’s accountants, you can’t put a price on the breadth of experiences offered by “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” Given the early fan responses to these new teasers, it’s safe to say I’m not a alone in this sentiment. Hopefully, those sentiments only grow once the first trailer drops.

If Fox, Simon Kinberg, and Sophie Turner can get it right in all the ways X-men: The Last Stand” failed and/or didn’t attempt, then it promises to be a truly special cinematic experience.

Also, and it’s worth repeating, the prospect of Sophie Turner getting naked outside a disturbing scene in “Game of Thrones” should appeal to everyone. Besides, why should Jennifer Lawrence’s nudity-loving Mystique have all the fun?

 

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Gal Gadot’s Message To Misogynists (And Why It’s Incomplete)

It has been a good year for Gal Gadot. When you’re the woman who brought Wonder Woman to life in one of the most successful movies of 2017, as well as the highest grossing superhero origins movie of all time, you can objectively say you’re doing pretty damn well for yourself.

Ms. Gadot has every reason to be confident and not just because she’s the second woman since Lynda Carter who can call herself Wonder Woman with a straight face. She didn’t just make the “Wonder Woman” movie an unmitigated success while also getting Chris Pine naked in the process. She did it in a way that was truly empowering to women, female superheroes, and guys who just appreciate women who can kick ass.

As such, Ms. Gadot’s words carry a lot more weight than most people, regardless of their gender. She could say tomorrow that pineapples and beaver testicles are the greatest pizza topping of all time and we, as a society, would still take her seriously. That’s how much power you get from making an awesome “Wonder Woman” and doing part of it while pregnant, no less.

That’s why when, during a promotional interview with IGN with her “Justice League” co-star, Ezra Miller, Ms. Gadot made a bold proclamation. Granted, it wasn’t entirely serious and Miller had goaded her, but since she’s Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot, these words still carry weight.

“Misogynist sexists, your wrath upon this world is over!”

If you want to see the full interview in order to get the full context of the statement, which is important here, you can watch the video here.

Again, the statement wasn’t on the same level as a full-blown protest, complete with bra burning. This is her and a co-star goofing around, but some of that sentiment stems directly from some distressing recent events involving powerful men being dicks to women. These issues are serious, bringing out the best and worst in people.

That’s why Ms. Gadot’s message matters. As I write these words, there are probably people out there taking them far more seriously than she intended. Some may even use it as a rallying cry to wage war against everyone with a penis who dared to have a dirty thought about a beautiful woman. While those people may be a fringe minority, the message still resonates, due to the unique time we find ourselves in, as a culture.

There’s no question that 2017 is a turning point and not just for female superhero movies like “Wonder Woman.” USA Today is already calling it “The Harvey Weinstein Effect” and has been maintaining a list of powerful men who have lost their jobs and/or reputations, due to sexual misconduct.

At this point, even if you’re a card-carrying member of the patriarchy, you can’t deny the growing trend. It’s gotten to a point where anytime you see a male public figure’s name trending on social media, there’s a good chance that they’re somehow involved in some sordid sexual misconduct. Say what you will about the merits of this trend, but it’s happening.

Going back to Ms. Gadot’s bold proclamation, I think it’s partially accurate in that it’s already being fulfilled. Powerful men who have harassed women are losing power, reputation, and influence. Influential organizations are cutting ties with those who are embroiled in sex scandals.

If you’re a powerful man who loves using his power to coerce sexual favors, this is not a good time for you and Ms. Gadot’s words should strike fear in you. While that part of her statement is valid, and most people would probably agree with it, there is one issue with it. It’s incomplete.

By that, I don’t mean Ms. Gadot misspoke. I am not foolish enough to tell Wonder Woman herself how she should talk when she could probably kill me with her pinkie toe. In terms of the overall substance of her message, though, it’s one of those instances where the rhetoric is more ambitious than the words.

The problem is that the message gives the impression that there’s an actual war going on. Coming from Gal Gadot, who served in the Israeli army before becoming Wonder Woman, it makes sense for her to frame it in such a way.

However, when it comes to powerful men exploiting vulnerable women, that’s not a war. That’s an societal problem on top of a leverage problem on top of a biological problem within the ongoing problem that is our caveman brains. Granted, that’s a lot of problems, but framing it as a war only compounds them.

That’s because wars, and wraths by default, are chaotic and bloody. Wars have casualties and most of the time, they’re not just enemy soldiers. Declaring a war on something, even if it’s an objectively bad thing, is bound to stir chaos that will affect others than the intended targets. Just look at the casualties in the ongoing war on drugs for distressing proof of that.

Ms. Gadot’s comment also implies there’s some shadowy army of evil Harvey Weinstein clones, each plotting and planning to create a world where they can harass and assault women with impunity. That may very well be a plot for another Wonder Woman movie, but it’s not reflective of the real world.

The kind of misogyny that creates men like Harvey Weinstein is not the result of some shadowy conspiracy that only Alex Jones would buy into. They’re largely a result of unequal power structures, outdated ideas about gender roles, and people generally taking advantage of opportunities that other horny men can only dream of.

It’s not an agenda or a wrath that’s in play here. It’s injustice and exploitation, coupled with greed and corruption. That, in and of itself, is a pretty toxic combination that affects people of any gender. It can get pretty bad at every levels of power, but it’s not just restricted to misogyny or general sexism.

Now, there’s no question that there’s still a lot of injustice and sexism in the world. If Ms. Gadot wants to fight that, both as an advocate and as Wonder Woman, I would gladly fight beside her, along with anyone else who would heed her call. That call, however, can’t be the same as a war cry against a secret cabal of misogynist sexists. It has to have more substance than that.

For the most part, people already despise misogynist sexists. Neither Ms. Gadot nor Wonder Woman need to convince anyone of that. Men with sordid pasts are already seeing their reputations and authority being undermined by recent efforts. Ms. Gadot herself even played a part in one of them involving Brett Ratner.

However, it can’t be like Wonder Woman’s final battle against Ares in the “Wonder Woman” movie. That’s not how sexism manifests in the real world. It’s not one of those things that can be fought with fists and godly powers. It’s one of those things that can only be fought with understanding, knowledge, and compassion, all of which are among Wonder Woman’s core tenants.

I don’t know what a better rallying cry would be for Ms. Gadot. Even if I did, it wouldn’t mean much coming from a male erotica/romance writer. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexism are all serious issues. As such, any effort to confront them needs to start with the right message and I hope Gal Gadot is among those who delivers that message.

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My Justice League Review (And Why The Criticisms Are Unwarranted)

When I did my review for the “Wonder Woman” movie earlier this year, I did so under fairly favorable circumstances. The movie was already getting a lot of positive buzz from critics and general word-of-mouth. I was excited to see it in any case, but that buzz certainly set a positive tone when assessing the merits of that movie.

With “Justice League,” I face the polar opposite of those circumstances. While I generally try not to give much weight to critics or Rotten Tomatoes scores, it was hard to avoid this time. Unlike “Wonder Woman,” the buzz for this movie was entirely negative and it showed in the box office returns, also known as the only real measure that studios care about.

For a movie that was set to be a major milestone, finally putting DC’s most iconic heroes into one movie, it has since become an outright scandal. How can a movie with so much superhero star power do this poorly? That’s a question I am not equipped to answer, especially since people much smarter and more well-connected than me already have.

Instead, I’m going to walk right into this ongoing firestorm of whining and anger to give my spoiler-free review of this movie. I wanted to do it sooner, but I decided to let that firestorm die down just a bit before I offered my take. That might have been a mistake on my part. There’s a lot of noise surrounding “Justice League,” but not much insight.

With that in mind, I’m going to keep my review simple. I’m not going to try and extrapolate a bigger picture, like I did with “Wonder Woman.” I’m just going to focus my review on one simple question.

Is “Justice League” a good movie?

Before I go into detail and try to talk over all the noise, I want to answer this question with my honest and sincere sentiment. Given how much I’ve talked about comic books, superheroes, and superhero movies, including the sexy parts, I like to think my answer has at least some weight. However much stock you put into my opinion, here’s my ultimate conclusion on “Justice League.”

It is a good movie.

Yes, I realize that sentiment doesn’t reflect its Tomatometer score. Keep in mind, though, that score reflects the opinions of critics who are paid to see and/or overthink movies. It doesn’t reflect how actual fans feel about it, which actually shows in the response for this movie.

Even critics can’t deny that this movie went out of its way to please fans, especially those who were dissatisfied with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.” It directly dealt with the aftermath of that movie, as well as the characters’ reaction to it. It even dealt with the aftermath of “Wonder Woman,” building upon a foundation and creating connections, exactly like a real movie universe should.

Those connections weren’t too critical to appreciate the movie as a whole. It also works very well on its own, creating a simple, concise plot that really ramps up the scale. Again, it’s entirely consistent with the effort to make a large, inter-connected movie universe, just as Marvel has done with so much acclaim.

However, that’s not my primary reason for me saying that “Justice League” is a good movie. In simplest terms, this movie is good because it sticks to the basics and does them very well. It doesn’t try to be overly elaborate. It doesn’t attempt to reinvent the characters to an excessive degree. Yes, those characters have some variations, compared to their comic counterparts, but it’s nothing that warrants confusion or outrage.

Superman is still Superman. Wonder Woman is still Wonder Woman. Batman is still Batman, even if it is through the brooding demeanor of Ben Affleck. Getting those three right is critical to the success of any “Justice League” movie and this one makes it a point to do that early on.

It doesn’t stop there, though. It puts time and energy into developing the rest of the league, namely Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. These three characters had only brief cameos in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” but they achieved much greater depth here.

These supporting members weren’t just there to fill out the ranks. They each had their own personal story to follow. Through that story, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg gain a personal stake in “Justice League.” It’s not just about saving the world for them. They’re struggling for something greater and, through the story, they achieve it.

At times, there are a lot of plots unfolding simultaneously. The personal stories of all those involved tend to mix. While it does get somewhat messy, it never gets chaotic. The story never goes off-track and it never becomes too confusing, which was a common criticism levied against “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.”

A major reason why the story remained so concise was because of the main villain, Steppenwolf. While he’s not as iconic a villain as Lex Luthor, Loki, or Darkseid, who is mentioned multiple times, he does plenty to establish himself as a powerful threat and a highly motivated villain.

Like the other members of the league, his role in the plot has a personal component. He doesn’t just show up, wanting to destroy the world for shits and giggles. There’s an actual reason behind his actions and those reasons never become excuses, something that should carry weight for any character.

On top of those reasons, Steppenwolf’s story helps build the bigger picture of the DC Extended Universe. Through it, we learn that there are much larger conflicts in this universe that go beyond the Justice League. It helps establish a larger role for the Amazons, who showed their strength in “Wonder Woman.” It also establishes the Atlanteans and Green Lantern Corp, who are set to show theirs in future movies.

If the secondary goal of “Justice League” was to build a world and expand the possibilities, it certainly succeeded. If its primary goal was to bring each hero together in a way that was entertaining, flashy, and dramatic, then it succeeded as well.

There were plenty of powerful moments. There were plenty of dramatic moments. There were even some funny moments, most of which involved Ezra Miller’s Flash. Few of the moments felt forced or contrived. None felt empty either. There was purpose in every moment, decision, and action. By those most basic of standards, “Justice League” works.

I would even argue that this movie works better than a lot of Marvel movies. I would certainly put it above titles like “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” and “Iron Man 3,” movies that I think get more praise than they deserve. “Justice League” even makes the effort to improve on the mistakes of its predecessor, something few franchises even try, as “Amazing Spider-Man” can attest.

None of this is to say that “Justice League” is without flaws. It certainly has a few. The effects aren’t as flashy or colorful as other movies. Even “Man Of Steel” had better effects, by comparison. It’s also worth belaboring that Ben Affleck is no Christian Bale and Steppenwolf is no Darkseid. It really did feel as though the movie held back, at times.

If that’s the biggest shortcoming of “Justice League,” though, then I still say it qualifies as a good movie. It tells a story. It fleshes out characters. It tells a big, flashy story, full of big battles and satisfying conclusions. There’s a sense of emotional catharsis at the end that is much more uplifting than what we got in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.” When put in the context of the greater DCEU, it acts like frosting on the cake.

Why, then, does it receive such hate and scorn from critics? If this movie does have a major crime, it’s that it isn’t crafted in the same mold as Marvel with their cinematic universe. I don’t deny that Marvel sets a very high bar. However, this movie cannot and should not operate by those same standards. If it did, then those same critics would just whine that it’s ripping off Marvel too much.

There are other criticisms of “Justice League,” but when so many of them revolve around Henry Cavill’s digitally-removed mustache, those criticisms are downright petty. It is possible to hate and criticize this movie by focusing on those petty issues, but that’s hardly a fair way to judge the actual substance of the movie.

In terms of actual substance, “Justice League” has it and plenty more. It Superman being Superman, Batman being Batman, and Wonder Woman being Wonder Woman, just in case her movie didn’t give you enough of that. For that reason, “Justice League” deserves far more praise than it has gotten and far less petty criticism.

In the end, it still gives us a satisfying, live-action Justice League movie. That, in and of itself, makes it inherently awesome

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