Category Archives: superhero comics

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-23 #11

Every week, a new crop of comics enters this world to make the world a better place and/or help tide fans over until the release of “Avengers Endgame.” Whether you’re a fan of superheroes, melodrama, or just pretty artwork from artists not afraid to draw gaudy costumes, there’s something for everyone.

Every Wednesday, I take it upon myself to select one comic that I feel offers something extra beyond the price tag. Historically, few characters offer a wider range of appeals than Laura “X-23” Kinney.

Some know her as the daughter of Wolverine. Some know her as the breakout star of the “Logan” movie who helped make Dafne Keen a star. Regardless of how you know her or the medium in which she comes, she often brings a diverse story of violence, brutality, melodrama, and heartbreak. This week’s pick, “X-23 #11,” delivers on all of this, and then some.

Since writer Mariko Tamaki took over the series, Laura has gotten back to basics in terms of her mission. While she served admirably as Wolverine for a while, her priorities often change when she finds out some mad scientist wannabe is trying to make living weapons again. Considering how often this results in a blood bath, such efforts should count as an elaborate suicide attempt.

It’s a bigger deal to Laura than most. Like Logan, these programs have brought her nothing but pain. Unlike Logan, though, she doesn’t have the benefit of having holes in her memory. She remembers all the horrible crap that these programs did to her, which included the murder of her mother. She has more incentive than most to take these programs down as quickly and brutally as her father would have.

This is the primary goal in “X-23 #11,” but there’s a lot more at work than just someone with adamantium claws tearing through a weapons facility. In X-men comics, that’s basically a typical Monday. What makes this typical part of Laura’s mission harder than usual is the growing divide between her and her clone sister, Gabby “Honey Badger” Kinney.

That divide began several issues earlier. Like a pissed off Wolverine chasing the last can of beer, things have been getting anxious between the two. Since her debut in All-New Wolverine, Gabby has been a wonderful ray of sunshine mixed with omega-level cuteness for Laura. I’ve documented the breadth of that cuteness before, but it has never worked against Laura until now.

Laura knows it’s happening. She even senses that there’s some simmering resentment in Gabby, so much so that it affects her tastes in music. This isn’t just sisters bickering over what to binge-watch on a Friday night, though. “X-23 #11” establishes a fundemental divide between Laura and Gabby that may very well send the two sisters in a very different direction.

Tamaki has been setting up that divergence for several issues, but now there’s no putting it off any longer. It started with a debate over what to do when a shady company called Harvest made an army of X-23 clones that had been augmented/hijacked by cybernetics. While it made for some pretty brutal battles, it also highlighted the difference in Laura’s approach to dealing with other living weapons compared to Gabby’s.

Gabby, being the glowing ball of lovable cuteness that she is, wants to save these weapons. She sees them like other sisters. Even when it they come off as brain dead, like the cyborg X-23 army they battled, her first instinct is to save them and not destroy them. Laura, having seen too many clones cause too much suffering, favors a more direct solution that involves adamantium claws.

What makes the drama in those issues, as well as “X-23 #11,” so compelling is that it’s easy to see both points of view. Gabby knows that she wouldn’t even be alive if Laura hadn’t shown compassion when dealing with the clones that these living weapons programs produce. She also wasn’t subject to the same tragedies as Laura so she still has that wide-eyed optimism about helping other clones.

Laura, being older and a lot more damaged from her experiences, knows that the real world tends to crush optimism the same way Logan crushes beer cans. She has suffered and lost a great deal in dealing with these living weapon programs. She understands that not every clone can be saved. She knew that was the case with the cyborg clones that she and Gabby battled, but also knew Gabby was not going to agree with her.

Now, as the aftermath of that conflict sets in through “X-23 #11,” they both face some difficult, heart-breaking choices. For once, few of those choices can be made while stabbing heavily armed henchmen. There is some of that in this story and Diego Olortegui’s artwork does plenty to make that a visual spectacle. However, it’s the family drama that really sets this issue apart.

If you’ve been following the evolution of Laura and Gabby’s relationship since her debut, then the events of “X-23 #11” are genuinely heartbreaking. These two have steadily become a real family in their brief time together. Now, they’re being torn apart by bitter disagreements and painful choices.

Both Laura and Gabby experience the heartache. Even if you haven’t been following their respective stories, it’s easy to appreciate the bitter divide between two sisters. It happens in the real world and without mutant powers. Sometimes, things between siblings go bad and they drift apart. Seeing that happen with Laura and Gabby is nothing short of tragic.

It’s bittersweet, but it also helps set the stage for the future of both characters. “X-23 #11” is one of those comics that doesn’t avoid a difficult moment between two characters who no longer see eye-to-eye on an important issue. Even within family, these moments happen. This one was inevitable, but Tamaki and Olortegui made sure this one hit hard in all the right ways.

With Logan back from the dead, it promises a very divided Wolverine family, to say the least. For a family that has been subject to cloning experiments, constant torture, and even a trip to Hell, it’s a tough situation, but one that tends to make them all more badass in the long run.

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Shazam! Review: A Simple Formula For Maximum Fun

shazam

When a particular genre becomes over-saturated and overdone, it’s tempting to try and reinvent the concept in hopes of striking a new chord. It’s especially tempting when so many others have risen the bar to such an insane extent that success can only be measured in billions instead of millions.

It would’ve been easy for a movie like “Shazam” to give into such temptation. With the recent success of “Aquaman” and “Avengers Endgame” set to break all sorts of box office records, it seems like this movie has to do something extreme, just to stand out. How else would it succeed in such a crowded market in a golden age of superhero movies?

That was my greatest concern before I saw “Shazam.” As much as I loved the trailer, I was worried that this movie would try so hard to stand out that it would overlook the part of actually being a fun cinematic experience. That sort of oversight has been plaguing the DC Extended Universe since “Man of Steel.”

This picture sums up the issues nicely.

Well, having seen the movie, I’m happy to say that none of those concerns were founded. In fact, I’m elated to report that “Shazam” is another big win for DC Comics and superhero movies, as a whole. However, it didn’t win because it reinvented the genre or did something radically different. It won because it followed the basic formula for quality superhero movies and had fun along the way.

It helps that the core appeal of Shazam, as a character and superhero, is that it approaches heroics with a childlike playfulness. Billy Batson, the alter ego of the titular hero, is not some jaded adult like Batman. He’s not even a boy scout idealist like Superman. He’s just a kid and one who got dealt a bad hand, for that matter. Being both an orphan and a troublemaker, he sees the adult world through very different eyes.

That’s a novel perspective, to some extent. Every other superhero movie, even going back to the era of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” has framed the idea through an adult lens. It always starts out as something simple. An individual gets superpowers, they start carrying out simple acts of heroism, and those acts eventually get complicated, as often happens with adult issues.

With a character like Billy, things never get that complicated. Again, he’s a kid. Even in his heroic form, he sees conflict with a childlike simplicity and “Shazam” captures that simplicity perfectly. The movie doesn’t deviate much from the details and themes of the source material. Concepts like the Rock of Eternity and the Seven Enemies of Man are present and accurately portrayed.

Such details may not matter to those unfamiliar with the comics, but such accuracy is largely a bonus. What really makes this movie work is how it follows Billy’s journey and not just the one he undergoes as a hero. His evolution when he’s not a magically-endowed superhero is arguably the most meaningful aspect of the story.

When we first meet Billy, it’s hard to discern whether he has the spirit of a hero. He’s no upstanding boy scout. In fact, he’s very much a troublemaker who’s willing to thumb his nose at police, break the rules when it benefits him, and run away from anyone who tries to help him. However, he never comes close to crossing that might send him down a darker path.

It’s that trait that sets him apart from his villainous counterpart, Dr. Sivana. While he’s no Thanos, he demonstrates that he’s a lot like Billy in a few key aspects. He’s given a chance to become a hero, but is unable to refuse the temptation that often comes with immense power. That failure haunts him and pushes him down a darker path.

For a time, it seems as though Billy could walk a similar path. When he first gets his powers, he reacts in ways that most would expect of a 14-year-old boy. He tries to buy beer. He tries to make money. He even ventures into a strip club. It’s hilarious and cute, but it also establishes the perfect tone for a movie that avoids complicating the standard superhero narrative.

Within that narrative, there’s a hero who makes choices and learns from his mistakes. There’s also a villain who makes choices and refuses to learn from them. When they eventually clash, it’s a flashy spectacle with simple, understandable stakes. It’s no Battle of Wakanda, but it doesn’t have to be.

The look of someone who DIDN’T get to work with Josh Brolin.

From the moment he first gets his powers to the final showdown with Dr. Sivana, Billy develops into his own hero, but never loses his childlike mentality. He’s not forced to grow up too fast, nor does he have to abandon the civilian life he’s trying to establish. Whereas being Bruce Wayne is often an inconvenience for Batman, being Billy Batson is necessary for Shazam.

This shows in the seamless characterization provided by Asher Angel, who plays young Billy, and Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam. At no point does either manifestation feel like a different character. They both wield the same childlike charisma as they navigate their superhero journey. The same lovability that made Levi so great in shows like “Chuck” help him and Angel bring out the best in Billy Batson.

When the movie begins, it’s not clear that Billy has what it takes to be a competent hero. Trying to determine his worth is like trying to determine if some random 14-year-old will one day play in the NFL. The odds are against them, but the potential is still there. By the time the credits roll, the message is clear. Billy has the spirit that Shazam was looking for and you can’t help but root for him.

At its core, “Shazam” checks all the right boxes for the classic hero’s journey. Billy Batson is perfectly poised to take that journey and not just because he’s one of many orphans who become superheroes. The movie doesn’t try to subvert these tried and true tropes. If anything, it embraces them and dares to have a little fun along the way.

It’s easy to share in that fun. The humor is exactly what you would expect of a movie that involves 14-year-olds getting superpowers. It’s serious when it needs to be, but never too serious. Given the grim and gritty settings of other DC Extended Universe movies, it’s a breath of fresh air that the superhero genre badly needed.

It’s not without its flaws. Some details of Billy’s life are underdeveloped and glossed over. There were also inconsistencies with Dr. Sivana as well, but none were egregious to the point where they derailed the movie. It simply stuck to a simple formula, mixed in a few twists along the way, and made the most of what it had to work with.

If I had to score “Shazam,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It didn’t reinvent superhero movies or raise the bar. It was simply a fun, entertaining movie that gave a character with little star power a chance to shine. It even managed to accomplish all this without trying too hard to make him like Batman. For a DC Comics movie, that alone is a major accomplishment.

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Five Reasons Why Marvel SHOULD Make An Avengers vs. X-Men Movie

avengers_vs._x-men_event

What can be said about the Marvel Cinematic Universe that hasn’t already been said, affirmed, or celebrated? I know I’ve said plenty about it, both in glowing terms and with real concern. Being a fan of superhero comics and the superhero genre, in general, I don’t think I can add much more to the near-cosmic status of this cinematic achievement.

The support of the fans and the billions made at the box office speaks for itself. Say what you will about Disney’s desire to exploit fandoms out of their money. They know how to give the people what they want. Between the recent success of “Captain Marvel” and the insane expectations surrounding “Avengers Endgame,” it’s hard to imagine this decade-spanning franchise ascending to greater heights.

I believe it will, though. I also believe that part of that ascension will involve pitting the Avengers against the X-Men in a clash that is sure to rock the foundations of the MCU. I know that’s somewhat of a reversal of my previous opinions, but recent events have led me to reconsider my position on the Avengers fighting the X-Men.

This isn’t just me, a passionate fan, speculating on what I think will happen once “Avengers Endgame” and the Disney/Fox merger is final. We already know that the X-Men and Fantastic Four are scheduled to arrive in the MCU at some point. It’s the impact they’ll have that’ll set the tone for the future of the MCU and there are already rumors about that impact swirling.

Now, all internet rumors should be taken with the smallest grains of salt, but according to We Got This Covered, a site with a mixed reputation at best, the top brass at Marvel Studios are already plotting a future Avengers vs. X-Men movie. If true, in whole or in part, it would be a bold move, even by the lofty standards of Marvel and their Disney overlords.

It would definitely be a gamble, that’s for sure. That’s because the Avengers and X-Men have clashed in the comics before. There was even a major crossover event entitled “Avengers vs. X-Men” back in 2012. While I won’t get into the specifics surrounding that event, I will go on record as saying that it’s not one of those iconic Marvel stories that fans hold dear.

In fact, “Avengers vs. X-Men” is probably the most controversial and divisive story Marvel has told in the past 15 years. It’s not just because it pitted two iconic superhero teams against one another for reasons that weren’t properly fleshed out. It marked the point where heroes fighting other heroes officially got old.

It doesn’t help that the MCU already had a major clash like that with “Captain America: Civil War.” It helps even less that “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” burned fans out even more on the topic. However, by the time Marvel and Disney get around to making an Avengers vs. X-Men movie, I believe the time will be right to tell this story.

Right now, the MCU is in a bit of a transition. “Avengers Endgame” is set to conclude the story that began with “Iron Man” back in 2008. The arrival of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four in the MCU hasn’t even begun yet and the powerful voices at Marvel Studios have already indicated that they’ll be starting from scratch.

Whatever form their arrival takes, it’s sure to take the MCU in new directions. However, I believe an Avengers vs. X-Men movie would unite the new aspects of the franchise with the old. It would act as a catalyst, of sorts, to connect the stories of the present to those in the past. If done right, it could carry the MCU to heights that Thanos himself couldn’t have achieved.

While I am not a fan of how the conflict played out in the comics, I believe the likes of Kevin Feige and Laura Shuler Donner could craft a superhero battle for the ages that will leave fans like me excited for another decade. What follows are my top five reasons why I believe Marvel and Disney should pursue Avengers vs. X-Men movie.

I concede there are many who don’t share my sentiments. I welcome any comments arguing to the contrary. For now, though, this is why I believe such a movie would fit perfectly into the cinematic marvel that is the MCU.


Reason #1: It Would Highlight (And Confront) The Discrepancies On How The World Approaches Superpowers

As soon as the X-Men arrive in the MCU, they’ll be faced with a frustrating double standard. Spider-Man has superpowers that he uses to swing around New York City, fight bad guys, and save the day. In general, he’s celebrated as a hero, along with most of the Avengers. The X-Men use their superpowers to do the same, but are labeled dangerous threats. What gives?

There are a lot of political and logistical reasons for this. Unlike other heroes, the X-Men are mutants. They were born with their powers. They’re part of an emerging sub-species that may or may not render homo sapiens extinct. That scares ordinary people more than some kid who just got superpowers in a random accident. How does society and established superhero teams deal with that?

It’s a relevant question and one the Inhumans failed miserably at addressing. Part of what made “Captain America: Civil War” such a compelling movie was that it didn’t avoid the complexities of this issue, acknowledging how difficult it is to hold people with superpowers accountable. That conflict was never fully resolved. In an Avengers vs. X-Men movie, the stakes would be even higher.

Unlike “Captain America: Civil War,” however, neither side can leave the conflict unresolved. Mutants will still emerge. People will superpowers will continue to exist. It puts iconic heroes in difficult positions that they can’t punch, stab, or smash their way out of and that often brings out the best and worst in these iconic characters.


Reason #2: It Would Raise The Stakes Surrounding Mutants In The MCU

In many ways, a clash with the Avengers would be the best way to show just how big an impact they’ve had on the MCU. Once the Avengers take notice, there’s no ignoring it anymore. Neither mutants nor the X-men would be able to operate in their own little niche of the MCU. They would have to play a larger part in a world that has already incurred a lot of damage from super-powered beings.

This sort of step is necessary in the overall narrative surrounding mutants in the MCU. It would be their coming out party, so to speak. It would show how far they’ve come and how much farther they have to go in terms of gaining legitimacy in the MCU. The X-Men, especially, have a lot to gain and a lot more to lose.

Unlike the Avengers, they can’t fall back on their reputation of having saved the world from Ultron or a Chitari invasion. They’ll be this upstart superhero team fighting to protect a group of vulnerable minorities who may or may not present a clear danger to those around them. It’ll be their chance to show that they belong on the same stage as the Avengers and the MCU will be better because of it.


Reason #3: It Would Intensify Rivalries And Ruin Friendships

There are plenty of rivalries in the comics that haven’t yet made their way into the MCU. Some are more prominent than others. The recent arrival of Captain Marvel lays the foundation for an especially big rivalry between her and Rogue, which would certainly add more personal stakes to an Avengers vs. X-men movie.

Beyond rivalries, the comics are full of friendships and connections that run quite deep. Wolverine had close personal ties to both Captain America and Black Widow in the comics. Storm has an extensive, albeit flawed, relationship with Black Panther. A number of X-Men have even been Avengers at some point.

Any clash between the Avengers and X-Men is sure to complicate every friendship and rivalry the two teams may have. Some of those connections will take time to develop. It’s very likely that the next phase of the MCU will probably focus on that in addition to integrating mutants into the MCU. An Avengers vs. X-men movie could simply act as a boiling point where it all comes to a head.


Reason #4: It Would Complicate What It Means To Be A Superhero (In A Good Way)

To some extent, the Avengers were lucky that Marvel Studios couldn’t use the X-Men in the early days of the MCU. In a world without mutants, being a superhero was less complicated. They just needed to use their powers and abilities in a heroic way. Then, they had to assemble and show that they could win wars against invading aliens.

The presence of an entire race of super-powered people, many of which are not inclined to be superheroes, adds a huge complication to the path towards heroism. The fact that mutants have powers presents them and non-mutant heroes with a conundrum.

Are mutants who don’t use their powers to be heroes irresponsible?

Are mutants who choose to use their powers for heroics on the same level as those who got their powers through another means?

These questions don’t have clear-cut answers. In a world where superpowers exist, mutants are a huge complication and the X-Men are on the front lines of it all. They try to inspire other mutants to do what they do while protecting those who choose a different path. They do so knowing that it only takes one mutant using their powers irresponsibility to do a lot of damage.

In an Avengers vs. X-Men movie, the very merits of being a superhero will suddenly be up for debate. That debate won’t likely be resolved with civil conversation and intelligent discourse. Whenever someone like Wolverine and the Hulk are involved, it’s a given there’s bound to be plenty of stabbing and smashing.


Reason #5: It Would Create New Opportunities For Better Villains (With Better Motivations)

Every clash between superheroes comes with a cost. “Captain America: Civil War” effectively divided the superhero community, which made them ill-prepared when Thanos arrived in “Avengers: Infinity War.” The comics followed a similar theme. After the original Civil War event, the entire world became vulnerable to a Skrull invasion.

A battle between the Avengers and X-Men will create a new host of vulnerabilities. For villains, it’s a golden opportunity to establish themselves in a world that is suddenly crowded with superheroes. While Thanos, Loki, and Killmonger all raised the bar for villainy, they couldn’t have emerged without the right opportunity.

With mutants, there aren’t just new opportunities. There are entirely new dynamics at work. It’s no longer a world in which superpowers are just complicated accidents. They can happen in individuals simply by being born. Within those dynamics, new kinds of villains with entirely new motivations can emerge.

Good villains are every bit as critical as good heroes, more so today than in previous eras. If the MCU is to continue to dominate, it needs to nurture the development of those villains while also creating vulnerabilities for them to exploit among heroes. An Avengers vs. X-Men movie would accomplish both.


There are probably other reasons I could list as to why I feel Marvel Studios should make this movie. There are probably plenty of other reasons why they shouldn’t. With the future of the MCU once again set to change after “Avengers Endgame,” the possibilities are vast. With the inclusion of the X-Men, and all the complications that come with them, it’s poised to evolve in bold new ways.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Deadpool, Marvel, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies, X-men

Higher, Further, Faster, And Fun: A (Spoiler-Free) Review Of “Captain Marvel”

captain-marvel-costume-brie-larson-mcu-movie

Soaring to new heights, venturing into uncharted territory, and achieving greater things always requires a great deal of risk. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always gotten and that’s just not enough for some people. For Marvel Studios, the gold standard by which all other movie studios are measured, it has to take those risks in order to expand its dominance into another decade.

A movie as big as “Avengers: Infinity War” or as diverse as “Black Panther” had high stakes on top of higher aspirations. They had to keep raising the bar that Marvel Studios had already raised to unprecedented heights. Those movies both succeeded and raked in record profits, but even those movies never faced challenges like the ones faced by “Captain Marvel.”

Without a doubt, this movie will go down as one of the riskiest movies Marvel Studios has ever made, which is saying something for the same studio that made an “Ant Man” movie. It’s not just because “Captain Marvel” is Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie, nor is it because DC set a pretty high bar with “Wonder Woman.”

Captain Marvel” arrives with more baggage than any other superhero movie not associated with Joel Shumacher. In some respects, it’s coming out at the worst possible time. This is an era where gender politics are on a hair-trigger and features an actress who has been outspoken on where her political affiliations lie. It’s like bringing a tank of gasoline to a growing wildfire.

The context of this movie and its politics are already well-documented and I’ve made my opinions on it known. Beyond the politics, the heated gender debates, and coordinated efforts to tank this movie, there’s still one critical question that overrides all the baggage and burdens.

Is “Captain Marvel” a good movie?

Having seen it at a midnight showing in which the theater was quite packed, I can say in my humble opinion that yes. It is a good, entertaining movie. It doesn’t deviate too far from the Marvel Studios tradition of making superhero movies that are fun, entertaining, and heartfelt. However, “Captain Marvel” ends up achieving much more than that.

Before I go any further, I want to make a few comments about the heated politics surrounding this movie. I’m not going to focus too much on them, but I’m not going to avoid them, either. I get that some people will go into this movie with certain expectations and look for any excuse to justify those expectations. This is my response to those specific individuals.

No, this movie is not laced with radical feminist undertones.

No, this movie does not denigrate men or a specific race of men.

No, this movie does not make overtly political statements.

No, Carol Danvers is not a Mary Sue who is never allowed to fail or be wrong.

Yes, the movie is entertaining and fun in the tradition of good superhero movies.

Yes, the movie is respectful of the history and personality of the character.

Having said all that, I understand that there are a number of people who may disagree with every one of those statements. However, after seeing the movie and having time to digest all its high-flying details, I believe that doing so requires a level of outright pettiness that obscures just how good this movie is.

 

This movie does not have the luxury of expanding on a character who was previously introduced. Unlike Black Panther, Carol has nothing to build on when the movie starts. However, things move quickly once the action gets going. We find out early on that Carol is in a difficult situation, but tenuous situation. In addition, that situation helps further the world-building that is so distinct of the MCU.

We learn more about the Kree in the first 20 minutes of this movie than we have in any other Marvel movie, to date. They’ve been mentioned before in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but who they are and what they’re like is firmly established in “Captain Marvel.” Their iconic rivals, the Skrulls, are also introduced and it’s here where the movie really shines.

If you’re not familiar with the history of comics, it’s hard to overstate how critical the Kree/Skrull war is to the cosmic side of the Marvel universe. This massive war is something that Carol finds herself in the middle of and her role in it evolves over the course of the movie. Without getting too heavy into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that this evolution is what helps make her Captain Marvel.

Carol’s story isn’t just about her seeking to fly higher, further, and faster. Through both flashbacks to her past and struggles in the present, her journey from being a loyal Kree warrior to Captain Marvel feels personal, even as it moves the story forward. At first, it feels like the story is on a predictable path. However, that changes, thanks largely to Carol’s the supporting cast.

This is where Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Nick Fury and Ben Mendelson’s role as Talos really complements the story. Their choices and their actions put Carol in a situation where she comes to some difficult realizations and has to make difficult decisions. In doing so, she becomes the hero that she needs to be, both for this movie and for the MCU.

It’s not unlike the evolution that other characters like Tony Stark and Thor have undergone. They start off with one particular outlook on their world. Then, they find themselves in a situation that undermines and even shatters what they thought was right and true. Rather than avoid the unpleasant implications, they confront them. That’s what heroes do and that’s what Carol Danvers does.

By the end of “Captain Marvel,” it’s easy to root for Carol. As she realizes her true power, she becomes the kind of hero that fits right in with the Avengers. The source of that power is not something she inherits or pursues. True to her comic book origins, her high-flying aspirations lead to an accident that comes close to destroying her. Also like the comics, it renders her vulnerable in unexpected ways.

Throughout the movie, Carol is guided and often frustrated by her limits. Some of those limits are things she puts on herself. Some are limits that others impose on her. Overcoming such limits, be they her own emotions or the actions of others, is the true strength of her character. It’s a strength that anyone, regardless of race, gender, or anything of the sort, can respect.

That’s not to say there aren’t flaws in that journey, along the way. In terms of a superhero origin movie, I would not put “Captain Marvel” above the ranks of “Batman Begins” or “Iron Man.” The movie does feel somewhat congested in several areas and the pacing, especially in the early parts of the movie, are a bit erratic.

There’s also an issue with villains in this movie, to the extent that they’re vague. Both the Skrulls and Jude Law’s, Yon-Rogg, aren’t going to give Thanos or Erik Killmonger a run for their money. Even the presence of a young Ronan the Accuser feels like a missed opportunity. While Carol has plenty of fights to pick in this movie, the lack of a major villain is somewhat glaring.

Let’s face it. Nobody was going to top THIS guy.

However, this doesn’t keep “Captain Marvel” from succeeding in the ways we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios. The distinct bits of humor and tone are definitely there. The use of 90s nostalgia, from grunge rock to Blockbuster, works at every turn. The choice of music is spot on for every scene. Like “Captain America” and “Wonder Woman,” the time and place fits perfectly with the story.

By nearly every measure, “Captain Marvel” checks all the right boxes, in terms of a quality product from Marvel Studios. Again, it is possible for someone to single out certain scenes as proof that the movie is trying to make a political statement. However, I would argue that you could find similar scenes in movies like “Wonder Woman” and even “Deadpool.”

At the end of the day, if you’re really determined to hate this movie and label it as some sort of hit piece against a particular race or gender, you’ll find multiple excuses. However, it still requires a level of pettiness that requires someone to actively look for a reason to be offended and there’s already too much of that in this world.

If you watch “Captain Marvel” with the sole desire to be entertained and see the MCU evolve before your eyes, this movie will deliver in all the right ways. If I had to score this movie, I would give it a 4 out of 5. It’s a fun ride with a few bumps along the way, but is ultimately satisfying by the end. On top of that, the post-credits scene help further build the excitement for “Avengers: Endgame.”

Also, no matter your politics, the Stan Lee tribute at the beginning of the movie is beautiful.

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Second “Dark Phoenix” Trailer: Reaction And (High) Hopes

It’s been a long wait since the first trailer for “Dark Phoenix.” In that time, there have been plenty of distractions and upheavals, from who would host the Oscars to trolls attacking the “Captain Marvel” movie for asinine reasons. Plenty still find excuses to whine about this movie, also for asinine reasons. Finally, despite all that proverbial noise, we get a second trailer and it was so worth the wait.

There are a lot of things that a quality story about the Phoenix Saga needs to capture all the right feelings. This one checked nearly every box, more so than the first.

It had drama.

It had devastating emotional upheaval.

It had elements of cosmic influence.

It had inner turmoil.

It had heartfelt sorrow.

It had despair.

It had desperate people trying desperately to save someone they loved.

Even if you haven’t read the originals story, these are all important components for a powerful story. It’s part of the reason why the Phoenix Saga is often identified as the greatest X-men story ever told. Unlike previous attempts, this movie is making that story front and center.

That, more than anything, should give me and other X-men fans hope that this one will be done right. I’ve seen more than a few people whine about how similar this movie is to “X-men: The Last Stand.” I don’t blame those people for seeing this as a bad thing, given how poorly that movie handled the Phoenix plot.

Nuff said!

However, this trailer does much more than the first one to set itself apart. Yes, Jean is still wearing a large red overcoat instead of her iconic Phoenix attire, complete with the waist sash, but attire was not the reason why the previous attempt to tell that story failed.

As I’ve noted before, the most critical part of telling any story about the Phoenix Saga is capturing the right emotions with the characters. With all due respect to Famke Jansen, Sophie Turner shows more emotional range in this trailer than Ms. Janssen did over the entire course of “X-men: The Last Stand.” Moreover, it highlights the emotional impact that her growing powers have on everyone Jean loves.

That impact includes a heavy loss, as evidenced by the funeral scene. It also shows in how both Jean’s friends and enemies react to handling her. Some, even those who think themselves her friend, think she’s beyond saving. Others, namely Cyclops, are still determined to save her.

Not ignoring the fact that Cyclops is actually playing a major role here instead of getting killed off in the first 10 minutes of the movie, thereby worsening the worst love triangle of all time, this trailer leaves one other important element unspoiled and up in the air.

We know there will be death and loss in this movie, as is often the case in any X-men story involving the Phoenix Force. I even uncovered some critical hints during my trip to New York Comic Con last year. There’s still one burning question that will likely determine how this movie is received.

What is the ultimate fate of Jean Grey?

This is one instance where the answer could take us down many paths. If Jean Grey ultimately dies, as happened in the original story, it would be keeping in the spirit of loss and sacrifice. It’s difficult to pull off, but given how bland, cowardly, and unceremonious her fate was in “X-men: The Last Stand,” it wouldn’t be that hard to improve upon.

If she lives, though, which actually was the initial ending to the story in the comics, it would require a very different recourse compared to the previous movie. That may ultimately be the best way to silence those who keep bemoaning how much this movie resembles “X-men: The Last Stand.” However, getting Jean to a place where she could survive, even after losing control, would be a difficult task.

Whatever the outcome, the stage is set. “Dark Phoenix” is coming and will likely be the swan song of this era of X-men movies. With Disney about to take over Fox and set to bring the X-men into the MCU, it would be perfectly fitting if this movie ended on a high note. We saw how powerful that kind of story can be with “Logan.” After seeing this trailer, I believe this movie has that potential, but with more cosmic flare.

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Five Reasons Why Spider-Gwen Deserves Her Own Movie

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It’s a great time to be fan of superhero comics, but it’s especially great if you’re a Spider-Man fan. Even if you’re not a big fan of the superhero genre, it’s hard to deny the prominence of this famous Marvel franchise. Between a successful spin-off movie in “Venom,” the remarkable acclaim for “Into The Spider-Verse,” and the recent trailer for “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” it’s an amazing time for wall-crawler enthusiasts.

At this point, hoping for more is just being greedy. With a sequel to “Venomin the works and other spin-off projects in the pipeline, it almost feels wrong to hope for something specific. Marvel, Sony, and Disney are already giving us so much. What more can they possibly offer?

Well, I’d like to make the case that there is one particular branch of the evolving Spider-Man universe that warrants greater attention. It’s something that was already hinted at within “Into The Spider-Verse” and I feel she could have a greater than any other Spidy-centric media. The timing is right. The market is ripe for her ascension. It’s just a matter of building on foundation that is already rich with potential.

I’m referring to Spider-Woman, also known as Gwen Stacy, but best known as Spider-Gwen. In the mythos of Spider-Man, she’s a fairly recent development. However, her rise to prominence has been nothing short of spectacular and I believe she has done plenty to warrant her own place in the franchise.

Most Spider-Man fans know the name, Gwen Stacy. She has had a prominent place in the Spider-Man comics for decades. However, like Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen emerged in an alternate universe where known characters are different and events unfold differently. Her sequence in “Into The Spider-Verse” offered a brief overview of who she was, but her story is far richer than that.

That story still contains many of the iconic themes associated with Spider-Man. Issues like power, responsibility, and dealing with J. Jonah Jameson are a huge part of Spider-Gwen’s story. However, there are a few distinct variations that help set her apart and it’s because of those traits that I believe she can carry her own movie.

What follows are just a few reasons for why I feel that way. There are probably plenty more that other Spider-Gwen fans will resent me for skipping. I understand and accept that responsibility. Since these are such great times for Spider-Man fans, I like to think we don’t need that many reasons to give someone like Spider-Gwen her own movie.


Reason #1: She Sets Herself Apart From Peter Parker (Aside From Being A Woman)

If the success of “Into The Spider-Verse” taught us anything, other than the inherent appeal of cartoon pigs, it’s that you don’t have to be Peter Parker in order to embody the themes of Spider-Man. Miles Morales did a lot to set himself apart in terms of personality, circumstances, and abilities. Spider-Gwen does plenty of that too, but she takes it even further.

In the world of Spider-Gwen, the story of Gwen Stacy unfolds very differently. She’s not a nerd like Peter. She’s not a biracial teen trying to fit in at a new school. She’s the same sweet girl that Spider-Man fans know from classic stories. That all changes when she gets bit by that radioactive spider instead of Peter.

The Gwen Stacy that emerged after is still Gwen, but she goes about utilizing her powers very differently compared to Peter. They change the way she carries herself. She doesn’t approach them the same way as Peter or other Spider-Man characters. She follows her own path, complete with her own sense of power and responsibility.

Her approach is not radically different from that of Peter Parker, but it still feels distinct. How Gwen becomes Spider-Woman and how this affects her, as a character, is not a story that can be told with Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or any other character, for that matter. The fact she’s a woman at a time when female superheroes have been subject to greater scrutiny is just a nice bonus.

Moreover, the story of Peter Parker has been told and retold many times, already. There have been three distinct timelines with three different actors taking on the role. There’s only so much more that can be done at this point. Gwen Stacy is a different story, but one that’s familiar enough to fit into the greater Spider-Man mythos.


Reason #2: Her Story Brings A Unique Set Of Challenges (Aside From Being A Woman)

Being a masked vigilante is hard. Five decades of Spider-Man comics and three movie franchises have done plenty to establish that. However, Peter Parker never had to deal with being a vigilante while having a cop for a parent. He also never had to be the prime suspect in the death of a friend that he tried desperately to protect.

Those are just some of the challenges Gwen faces throughout her story in the comics. Unlike Peter, she’s not just another high school student trying to balance her personal life with her superhero life. She faces far greater challenges than not having a date to the prom or showing up late to class.

One of her biggest challenges, throughout her story, revolves around being a vigilante while her father, George Stacy, is a cop with the NYPD. On top of that, he’s initially tasked with arresting Spider-Woman because she’s implicated in the death of Peter Parker. Learning that his daughter is Spider-Woman only compounds that challenge.

There’s a lot of drama in that dynamic. If you want to see how it plays out, I strongly recommend checking out the comic series written by Jason Latour. These challenges are things that you won’t find in a Spider-Man story with Peter Parker. Like her counterparts, Gwen bears many burdens and responsibilities, but having a cop for a father only makes it harder.

At a time when the conduct of the police is under more scrutiny than ever, I think a Spider-Gwen movie could explore those conflicts better than most. Beyond giving Gwen different obstacles, it offers a different perspective on what it means to be a hero and how difficult it is to manage when family affairs get involved.


Reason #3: The (Fitting) Tragedy Of Peter Parker In Her World

It’s impossible to tell the story of Spider-Gwen without telling the story of Peter Parker in her world. Her version of Peter is very different in that not getting bit by that radioactive spider sent him down a darker path. His story is one of tragedy, but it’s the kind of tragedy that complements Gwen’s story and fits perfectly with the themes of Spider-Man.

In many respects, Peter fills the role of Uncle Ben in the world of Spider-Gwen, but not in the same way. It’s not a classic case of failing to stop him from getting hurt by a random accident. Gwen actually went out of her way to protect Peter. Getting superpowers actually made that easier for her. She sees him as her friend and wants to help him.

However, in doing so, Peter makes some fateful decisions that result in his death. It’s not just tragic. It’s gut-wrenching for Gwen. She has to watch this boy she cares about die because he wanted to be more like her. She’s very much responsible for what happened to him. On top of that, Spider-Woman is blamed for his death, thanks to shoddy reporting by J. Jonah Jameson.

This version of Peter is powerful in how it twists the classic Spider-Man narrative without warping it entirely. By helping Peter like she did, Gwen ultimately failed him. That’s a different, but effective way to learn the importance of power and responsibility.


Reason #4: She’s Likable In Many Ways (More So Than Peter)

Even in stories where she doesn’t have powers, Gwen Stacy is a genuinely likable character. She’s sweet, fun-loving, and genuine. She’s the kind of girl you can be friends with and/or fall in love with. She’s honest and blunt in how she deals with people. She’s also compassionate and understanding. Getting superpowers only enhances these traits.

What we saw in “Into The Spider-Verse” was just a small sample of a much richer persona. Her attitude, as well as her ability to connect with others in awkward situations, is plenty endearing. In the comics, we see this manifest in many other ways. From the way she deals with her father to how she interacts with her band-mates in their all-female band, the Mary Janes, is likable on so many levels.

I would go so far as to argue that she’s a lot more likable than Peter Parker, if only because she’s less prone to brooding and whining. Throughout the comics, she ends up in some pretty rough situations, which include being actively hunted by the NYPD and unable to go home to her father after he learns of her identity. It’s rough, but at no point does she just whine about it.

As sweet as Gwen is, she also has grit. She knows how to endure a lousy situation and when the going gets tough, she finds a way to get stronger. She still messes up along the way. In fact, she messes up a lot in the comics, but she learns from her mistakes and she grows along the way.

I’m not saying Peter Parker hasn’t grown over the years, but even after five decades of comics, cartoons, and movies, his growth tends to regularly stagnate. Every time he seems to move forward with his life, he takes a step back, whether it’s undoing a marriage or losing his billion-dollar company.

Spider-Gwen may not have had as much time to grow and regress, but her story has been allowed to evolve in many ways since her debut. That development is full of opportunities. Even though she has only been web-swinging since 2014, she has plenty of material for a great movie.


Reason #5: Her Story Is Not Bogged Down By Continuity

This is more a logistical issue than anything else. Peter Parker has been around since the Kennedy Administration. His story has years upon years of continuity that effectively shackle him from radical change. I’ve mentioned before how all superheroes are subject to these constraints. I’ve even argued that Spider-Man is more inept than most at dealing with them.

With Spider-Gwen, however, there are far fewer constraints and many potential avenues for growth. Her story, and that of her distinct alternate universe, is in its infancy, relative to other superheroes. She hasn’t been around long enough for complications and retcons to accumulate. She can follow many different paths, both in the comics and in the movies.

One of the common complaints that comic fans will levy against a movie is how closely it follows the source material. Since Peter Parker is such an icon, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. With Spider-Gwen, there isn’t much source material from which to deviate. “Into The Spider-Verse” already captured the basics. A full-fledged Spider-Gwen movie will have plenty of flexibility.

There are plenty of other reasons I could list to justify Spider-Gwen getting her own movie. She’s a great character who embodies unique aspects of the greater Spider-Man mythos. Given the current state of the superhero genre, especially with respect to box office returns, I don’t think Sony, Marvel, and Disney need many to make Spider-Gwen their next success story.

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Five Comic Books I Would Recommend To Bill Maher

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I love comic books.

I love superhero movies.

I love geek culture and actively participate in it.

I also understand that there are people who don’t share those passions. Some may even see them as childish and foolish. That’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t make them a bad person, by default. It doesn’t even mean I can’t get along with them or agree with them on other issues.

The fact I have to make that disclaimer only makes the current state of affairs more frustrating. I feel it’s more necessary now because I’m about to address a topic has evoked all the wrong emotions for all the wrong reasons. Normally, my first instinct is to avoid such controversy, but since it involves superhero comics, I feel inclined to respond.

It started late last year with a blog post by Bill Maher, a late night talk show host for the long-running HBO series, “Real Time With Bill Maher.” That blog post came shortly after the death of Stan Lee and, without going too heavily into details, attacked the culture behind comic books and superhero media.

Many took that post as an insult to the legacy of Stan Lee. Having read that post multiple times, I really didn’t get that sense. I won’t deny that I took some offense to it, but I’ve read far more offensive things in the comments section of YouTube videos. The fact that it got such a visceral reaction only skewed the conversation even more.

Then, this past week on his show, Mr. Maher finally addressed the issue again in the closing commentary on his show. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

The long and short of it is his commentary had less to do with Stan Lee and more to do with people who think comic books warrant serious cultural weight. He goes onto bemoan how people cling to the things they loved as kids as a way of avoiding the adult world. It’s less an indictment on people who like comics and more a criticism of people who whine about adulting, in general.

To some extent, I understand his criticism. There are people in this world who try to avoid adult responsibilities at every turn. They don’t want to deal with the harshness of the real world and cling to fantasies about having superpowers that render those problems moot. Even as someone who loves superhero comics and movies, I think that’s an issue for some people.

For most people though, it’s just fun. Mr. Maher seems to completely overlook that. I don’t care how old you get. Having fun is fun. Comics are a lot of fun to read, follow, and enjoy. The more “serious” pieces of literature that he recommends in his commentary probably have plenty of merit, but they’re not nearly as fun.

The idea that he finds superhero media as childish is understandable. Bill Maher is over 60 years old. For most of his life, comic books and superheroes have been for children. It’s only within the last 30 years that they’ve matured to a point where they appeal to all ages, so much so that they’ve raked in over $20 billion at the box office. You don’t make that much money on childish things.

In addition to box office billions, some comics have gained serious acclaim. A select few have even been recognized as some of the greatest literary works in the past 100 years. I doubt Mr. Maher is aware of this because most of these amazing works happened after he became an adult. I imagine that if you were to ask most people his age, they would agree that comics shouldn’t be considered serious literature.

I respectfully disagree with that notion and I know many others disagree as well. That said, I doubt anyone will ever convince Mr. Maher that he’s wrong. He has made his politics very clear on many occasions and I don’t doubt he’ll say other offensive things in the future.

At the very least, I can offer Mr. Maher some perspective. I believe that, if he were to give comics a chance, he would see their literary value. He may still think they’re childish, but I think he would have a greater appreciation for the medium, if only because he sees how it has evolved since he was a kid.

What follows are five comics that I would personally recommend to Mr. Maher. I feel these books would help show just how salient comics can be in terms of society, politics, and art. While I doubt he’ll give them a chance, I hope others who share his sentiments take a moment to see why comic books and superhero media have become such an integral part of our culture.


Watchmen

This is an easy choice and not just because Watchmen routinely ranks near the top as on of the greatest comic books of all time. This seminal work by Alan Moore and David Gibbons actually speaks to the same criticisms that Mr. Maher levied against superheroes. Watchmen is, at its heart, the ultimate deconstruction of the entire concept of superheroes.

This story isn’t just about heroes fighting villains or heroes fighting other heroes. Watchmen is a story with deep, philosophical overtones about what it means to wield power and make peace in a chaotic world. It casts a harsh light on the dangers of relying on superheroes or super-powered beings to solve big problems on the global stage. It’s a sentiment that Mr. Maher himself has made on more than one occasion.

Being a political person, I believe Mr. Maher would find a lot to enjoy about the world of Watchmen. Beyond the art and the complexities of the story, it has a message that goes beyond good guys fighting bad guys.

In many respects, Watchmen was the comic that broke all the rules and ushered the medium into a new era. It proved that a comic could make serious contributions to the world of literature. Between its unique place in the history of comics and the awards it received, I think Watchmen can prove to Mr. Maher that comics can be great works of art that tell relevant messages for the real world.


Sandman

This is another series that routinely gets mentioned in discussions surrounding the greatest comics of all time. Like Watchmen, Sandman pushed the limits on what a comic book could be. It’s not a standard superhero comic. It’s not about heroes searching for some ominous glowing object, which is something Mr. Maher pointed out in his criticism. Sandman is deeper than that.

The writer of Sandman, Neil Gaiman, dared to craft a more mature fantasy. This is a world where mythological figures like Morpheus, Lucifer, and even characters from the bible interact with one another in a complex narrative that provides insight into spirituality, religion, and philosophy.

I believe that insight would appeal to Mr. Maher more than most and not just because he’s a self-admitted stoner. Say what you will about him, but he’s a very intelligent man who went to an Ivy League school. He also majored in English, which I think would make Sandman that much more appealing to him.

The story in Sandman is not something most children will understand or appreciate. Even most adults may struggle to make sense of the various themes that Gaiman explores throughout the book. It’s a powerful story, but one that works best in the medium of comics. I think if Mr. Maher gave Sandman a chance, he would see that.


X-men: God Loves, Man Kills

Even though Mr. Maher singled out superheroes as the most childish element of comics, I believe there are still a select few that would still appeal to him, if only because of his political leanings. Mr. Maher has always identified as a liberal and routinely espouses the value of liberal principles. He grew up watching the civil rights movement unfold and it has clearly had an impact on him.

That’s exactly why a comic like X-men: God Loves, Man Kills would resonate with him. Even though it follows many common superhero themes, this classic X-men story by legendary X-men writer, Chris Claremont, goes much further in linking the struggle of the X-men with that of civil rights.

This story is less about the X-men fighting killer robots and more about confronting the depths of human bigotry. In addition to providing the inspiration for “X2,” it explores a kind of bigotry that feels like it was ripped from the real world. It even throws religion into the mix with the introduction of Reverend William Stryker, a man who has drawn more than a few comparisons with Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Maher will probably notice those parallels more than most. He has made no secret of his disdain for organized religion and the people who use it to justify their bigotry. X-men: God Loves, Man Kills tells a story of just how dangerous that kind of religiously-motivated bigotry can get. Even though it’s still a superhero story, it doesn’t hide from the real-world parallels.

Good literature, whether it’s a comic book or a novel, often reflects the controversies of its time. The X-men were created right at the onset of the Civil Rights Movement. Stan Lee has gone on record as saying that elements of the X-men were inspired by real life heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. As both a proud liberal and a critic of religion, Mr. Maher will find plenty to like about this classic X-men story.


All-Star Superman

This story might be the toughest sell for Mr. Maher. However, I think if any comic can demonstrate the value of superheroes, it’s All-Star Superman. This love letter to Superman and all the fanciful themes surrounding him is a celebration of the ultimate hero. Even if Mr. Maher thinks idolizing heroes is dangerous, I think even he’ll appreciate why Superman is such an icon after 80 years.

What makes All-Star Superman special isn’t in how it depicts the Man of Steel at his best. It’s not just about him saving the day, defeating Lex Luthor, and winning the love of Lois Lane. More than anything else, the story that Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly tell demonstrates just how much Superman inspires those around him.

Throughout the series, there are many great moments that are full of heart, hope, and compassion. Some of it is cartoonishly over-the-top, but it never feels corny. There’s never a point where Superman takes a moment to tell a bunch of kids to eat their vegetables and stay in school. It doesn’t try to make Superman someone he’s not. He’s the ultimate paragon of virtue and this series just runs with that.

To further raise the stakes, this version of Superman is living on borrowed time. As powerful as he is, he has saved the day one time too many. He basically has to do what he can with what little time he has left to make the world a better place. It’s an endeavor that even Mr. Maher can appreciate.

More than once, Mr. Maher has tried to inspire others to be better. Even if his efforts are politically motivated, the will to inspire is something he’s always shown, going back to his days on “Politically Incorrect.” Even if he thinks Superman comics are for kids, he can still appreciate Superman’s efforts to inspire the good in others.


Y: The Last Man

This is another acclaimed comic series that doesn’t rely on superheroes, fancy costumes, or superpowers. At a time when gender politics are such a hot topic, a series like Y: The Last Man is more relevant than ever. This beloved comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra takes issues surrounding gender to an apocalyptic extreme.

As someone who has routinely criticized how the debate surrounding feminism and gender has evolved, I believe Mr. Maher will find a lot to like about Y: The Last Man. This is a story that puts men and women in the ultimate bind. One day, without warning, every creature on Earth with a Y chromosome just keels over and dies. Only one man, Yorick Brown, and his pet monkey, Ampersand, survive.

The story the follows is both a fight for survival and a critical insight into what happens when gender dynamics operate in extremes. The world that Vaughan and Guerra show just how much men and women rely on one another without realizing it. When one is completely removed from the equation, it pushes people beyond the brink.

At the same time, it shows just how resilient people can be in terrible situations. The will to survive knows no gender. It can bring out the best and the worst in someone, but the best is what usually keeps driving us. Mr. Maher has often spoken urgently about issues like climate change. The apocalyptic setting of Y: The Last Man shows why that urgency is necessary.


Again, I don’t expect Mr. Maher to change his mind on much. He has made it abundantly clear in the past that he is very set in his ways. However, if he is genuinely open to seeing the merits of comic books, these titles should help. Comic books may have been for kids when he was a kid. They have since become so much more and their legacy, like that of Stan Lee’s, will continue for generations to come.

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