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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Comic Quick Pick: Ms. Marvel #38

Fridays may be everyone else’s favorite non-weekend day of the week, but ask most comic book fans and they’ll say Wednesday holds a special place in their hearts. It’s that magical day when a new batch of comics enters the world and our souls are nourished by their awesome. I don’t care what kind of a week I’m having. When new comics come out on Wednesday, I find a reason to smile.

This week, with Valentine’s Day coming up and me being single, I needed more reasons than usual. Thankfully, this week brought us Ms. Marvel #38 and I’m already feeling the love. It also happens to be the five-year anniversary since her landmark debut. Given all the awards and accolades she received in that time, this definitely qualifies as a milestone worth celebrating.

I’ve gone out of my way to praise Kamala Khan before, citing her as a prime example of how to do female superheroes right in this crazy era. She’s young, lovable, determined, and idealistic. She’s also relatable, dealing with the same problems that most stressed out teenagers from Jersey City often deal with. If the past five years of comics haven’t convinced you of that, then Ms. Marvel #38 should help make that point.

This milestone issue is a one-shot, self-contained story that starts off with Kamala being in a miserable mood. Then, after a brief, but colorful adventure with her friends, she remembers that being pissed off all day is a waste of a perfectly good day. It’s simple. Writer G. Willow Wilson doesn’t try to reinvent Kamala here. She just affirms why she has come as far as she has in five years.

A big part of that process involves highlighting the parts of Kamala’s life that don’t involve costumed villains, superpowers, and dealing with Deadpool’s dirty jokes. Wilson takes the time to show Kamala dealing with parents, siblings, and just getting to school on a day when she feels like crap. It may seem mundane, but Wilson uses it to humanize Kamala at every turn.

In the same tradition of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel is a teenage girl first and a superhero on the side. She doesn’t have the luxury of mixing her personal life with that of her superhero life. Both affect the other and rarely in a good way. She wants to be a superhero, but she doesn’t want to stop being Kamala Khan. That’s not just a challenge. It’s overwhelming.

The stress really gets to her in this Ms. Marvel #38. Even without some major villain attacking, she’s doubting herself and her ability to manage everything. Then, she finds herself plucked into a strange new dimension where the most cheesy tropes of old RPG games come to life. If it sounds random, that’s because it is, but that’s exactly why it works.

Like a double shot of espresso and a slap upside the head, Kamala has to stop moping and be Ms. Marvel. At the same time, she has to help her friends who get sucked into this world as well. Nakia, Zoe, and Bruno do not have superpowers. However, they still end up helping Kamala every bit as much as her powers.

It’s one of the most common, but powerful themes of Ms. Marvel comics. Whereas supporting characters often end up being complications and liabilities for many heroes, Kamala’s supporting cast often supplement her heroics rather than hinder them. Sure, they still have to be rescued every now and then, but it never feels like anyone is a damsel.

There’s also more to this little dive into the world of overdone video game themes than just giving Kamala an adventure to go on. In between the colorful visuals that artist Nico Leon provides every step of the way, there are a few powerful moments in which Kamala and her friends realize how much they’ve grown and how much they haven’t.

It’s a fitting testament to how far Kamala Khan has come in the past five years. On some levels, she’s the same insecure girl she was before she got her powers. On others, she’s grown a lot since then. Having watched her grow since her debut issue, I found Ms. Marvel #38 to be a satisfying testament to the kind of hero she has become.

For that reason and plenty others, Ms. Marvel #38 is an easy choice for my weekly quick pick. Even if you haven’t been following Kamala Khan’s story too closely at this point, this wonderfully-crafted, self-contained story will help reveal why she has become such a big deal in comics in the past five years. Hopefully, the next five years are just as enjoyable, especially if she ever finds her way into the MCU.

Beyond being a teenager, a girl, and a fan of superheroes and video games, Kamala Khan’s journey is one that’s easy to follow and even easier to root for. She starts off having a bad day and you can’t help but want to see her turn it around. We’ve all had bad days. Some are so bad that even superpowers can’t cheer us up. However, Ms. Marvel finds a way because she’s just that special.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Comic Quick Pick: Ms. Marvel #37

Every Wednesday is a holiday for comic book fans. That’s the day when a fresh batch of comics from companies we love to complain about give us a fresh dose of ink-laden awesome. Within each batch of books are plenty of comics to brighten your week and make the world a little more magical. I try to single one particular comic out from that pack that I feel has more magic than most.

This week’s comic quick pick was tricky. There were some quality books this week from the likes of X-men, Justice League, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. However, one book found a way to stand out in the most adorable way possible. That book is “Ms. Marvel #37” and if you have a low tolerance for cuteness, this book may be too much for you.

I’ve sang the praises of Kamala Khan in the past. I’ll likely find new ways to praise her in the future, especially if she ends up joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She’s one of the most likable characters in all of superhero comics. It helps that she hasn’t been around long enough to do something awful, but it also helps when her personal struggles and her superhero struggles blend together perfectly.

That’s the primary theme in “Ms. Marvel #37.” There isn’t a villain to fight, for once. There is a disaster, but it’s not caused by a 100-foot monster or a mad scientist with access to too much plutonium. It’s caused by some a mix of bad luck and poor infrastructure, something that just happens to be a growing issue in the real world.

It’s not nearly as preachy as it sounds. It’s the kind of issue that the Avengers and other superhero teams don’t get to do often enough, help innocent people dealing with a disaster. Kamala gets to be a different kind of hero, one who does more than just punch villains. It helps reinforce that she’s not just a hero for the sake of wearing a fancy costume. She’s a hero because she genuinely wants to do the right thing.

What a concept, right? Kamala is someone who just does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Superman doesn’t have to be the only one with those kinds of values. Unlike Superman, though, Kamala has to do the right thing while babysitting. No, I’m not referring to having an annoying side-kick. I’m talking about a real, actual, diaper-wearing baby.

That baby belongs to her brother, Aamir. He entrusted Kamala and his wife’s brother, Gabe, to watch him. It started going wrong before people needed rescuing, albeit in a hilariously endearing way. Kamala has dealt with some pretty major threats since becoming Ms. Marvel. However, she’s never dealt with a baby and that overwhelms her than her last team-up with Carol Danvers.

It’s as hilarious as it is fitting. It shows that Kamala is still a teenage girl. She’s still young and easily overwhelmed by things she isn’t familiar with. She ends up having to rely on friends and supporting cast to help her, of which she has many. They all have a knack for showing Kamala that things don’t have to be as dire as she thinks. Experience will help you cope, regardless of whether you’re a superhero.

It’s a good message that’s a lot more useful than old PSA’s about eating vegetables and saying no to drugs. “Ms. Marvel #37” continues Kamala’s tradition of making a positive statement through superhero comics, something that seems corny on paper, but works beautifully through her.

It’s part of what makes Kamala so endearing. It’s also what makes her such an effective superhero as Ms. Marvel. She doesn’t just save the day. She inspires others and is, in turn, inspired by them. When things get rough, she reacts in a way that feels distinctly human. In the Marvel universe, which is populated by gods, demigods, and Squirrel Girl, it’s nothing short of refreshing.

To say Kamala has a rough, but enlightening day in “Ms. Marvel #37” would be accurate. It’s just as accurate to say that she has a few low points where she lets the stresses of babysitting and superhero work get to her. That only makes how she handles it that much more fitting.

Ms. Marvel #37” is not part of a larger story arc, nor is it tied to some ongoing event. It’s a simple, self-contained comic that G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon use to remind us why Kamala Khan is so lovable. In that sense, it works. In another, the final page provides an ominous hint that Kamala and her family are about to endure a major upheaval in the best possible way.

There are a lot of events going on in the world of superheroes. It’s tough, if not frustrating, to keep up with all of them. That’s exactly what makes “Ms. Marvel #37” so enjoyable. It’s one comic with one story about one lovable hero. You get you’re money’s worth, both in terms of satisfaction and feels. What more could you want?

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Captain Marvel #1

It’s Wednesday and if you’re a lifelong comic book fan like me, you know that’s the most magical day of the week. Screw sleeping in on Saturday or going out to party on Fridays. Wednesday is new comic day, that magical day when a fresh batch of comics enter the world and make it more awesome. In celebration of this day, I offer my pick of a single comic that I feel makes new comic day that much more awesome.

This week was easier than most. If you were up late watching the College Football Championship Game, you saw the latest trailer for the upcoming “Captain Marvel” movie. This year is already shaping up to be an awesome year for Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, Brie Larson, and everyone affiliated with this marvelous character. Writer, Kelly Thompson, helps do her part with “Captain Marvel #1.”

Even if you’ve never read a Captain Marvel comic and only know the bare minimum about Carol Danvers, this comic is for you. It’s the latest relaunch of the series and after recent upheavals in her life, the timing is perfect. I know a lot of comic fans whine about the number of relaunches that occur these days, but sometimes it’s appropriate when a character undergoes a major transition.

The Carol Danvers in “Captain Marvel #1” is more grounded and self-aware than the Carol Danvers of recent years. She’s focusing less on high-flying space battles and more on events unfolding on Earth. Since Earth also has the occasional Kraken attack in Lower Manhattan, it’s not like she’s short on things to punch.

Beyond just punching monsters, this comic establishes that Carol Danvers isn’t just a hero, an icon, and the star of an upcoming movie that seeks to challenge “Wonder Woman.” She’s an actual person who has thoughts, feelings, insecurities, and even pet peeves. Granted, most of those peeves center around how annoying Tony Stark can be, but that just helps show how human she is, at heart.

Only a small chunk of this comic is spent with her fighting monsters or saving the day. A lot more of it shows Carol rebuilding and reconnecting with the people in her life that matter. That includes her best friend, Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew, and her frequent love interest, James “War Machine” Rhodes.

It makes for plenty of small, meaningful moments that bring out Carol’s humanity. It helps make the larger, more action-packed moments that much more enjoyable. There is a larger conflict unfolding. There are new threats emerging for Carol that have little to do with space aliens, superhero civil wars, or pre-ordering tickets to her movie.

The nature of those threats aren’t resolved in a few punches. In fact, it sets the stage for a larger story that’ll require Carol to raise the bar for heroes, as only she can. It shows Carol Danvers at her best in addition to showing her at her most human. It’s a perfect balance for a Captain Marvel comic.

It really is a great time to be a Captain Marvel fan. Even if you’re not, “Captain Marvel #1” makes a strong case on why she deserves to be in the upper ranks of Marvel’s greatest heroes. That makes my quick pick this week easier than usual. If you buy only one comic this week, make it “Captain Marvel #1.”

If nothing else, it’ll help tide fans over until the debut of her movie on March 8, 2019.

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“Captain Marvel” Second Trailer

Another glorious preview for “Captain Marvel” has dropped. Let’s all take a moment to soak in its marvelous glory. She’s destined to fly higher, farther, and faster than any hero before her. Thanos is fucked. Nuff said!

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “The Life of Captain Marvel #5.” Enjoy!

Losses, Journeys, and Ascensions: ‘The Life of Captain Marvel #5’

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December 21, 2018 · 10:21 pm

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for X-Men Red #11.

Jean Grey Exercises the Power of Emotional Intelligence in ‘X-men Red #11’

 

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December 17, 2018 · 8:47 pm

The Future Of Villains And Villainy

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What is happening to villains these days? That’s an entirely reasonable question to ask. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a remarkable shift in how we approach villainy in movies, TV, comic books, and video games. I’m not just talking about the superhero media, either. However, that happens to be the most visible manifestation of this change.

As a long-time fan of both superheroes and quality villains, I welcome this change. At the same time, I’m curious about where it’s leading and what it means for the future. Villains are as old as storytelling itself. From the Bible to “Star Wars,” these stories work best when there’s villainy to oppose the unfolding narrative. Villains have always evolved alongside the heroes that oppose them, but that evolution seems to be accelerating.

I’ve discussed the unique journey that villains undergo and how they set themselves apart from heroes. Traditionally, a villain’s primary purpose was to both oppose the hero and highlight how heroic they are. The sheer malice of characters like Lex Luthor help contrast the pure selflessness of characters like Superman. It’s easier to appreciate those heroes knowing they have to deal such malicious opponents.

Then, something remarkable happened. Audiences began demanding more of their villains. It wasn’t enough to just have a villain oppose a hero. People began wanting villains who were understandable and even relatable to some extent. Ironically, they wanted a villain they could root for.

That helped lead to characters like Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” His impact was so profound that I even called his influence the Walter White effect. However, I think there were others who paved the way for Walter White. If I had to pick one villain that helped kick-start this trend in villainy, it would be Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.”

From this portrayal of villainy, the emerging state of villains emerged and it may very well set the tone for the future. On the surface, this version of the Joker wasn’t too different from the one who had existed in the comics for years. He’s dangerous, destructive, murderous, and callous, like many villains. Unlike most, though, he does what he does with a laugh and a smile.

What made this version of the Joker so memorable was the principles behind his madness. To him, society is corrupt and people aren’t inherently good. As such, he seeks to point out how laughable it is when others try to save it. Batman’s crusade against crime is the biggest joke of all, which helps drive their rivalry.

It’s a philosophy that few other than terrorists and extreme nihilists would buy into, but it’s one that’s understandable to some extent. We don’t have to agree with them or their methods. We just have to see their twisted logic. They can’t just be standard James Bond villains whose motives are indistinguishable from fascists, communists, or terrorists. There needs to be something more personal at work.

We saw plenty of that in 2018’s biggest movies. From “Black Panther” to “ Avengers: Infinity War” to “Incredibles 2,” the villains all had something personal at stake. Erik Killmonger saw his villainous actions as heroic. He wasn’t out to just take over Wakanda. He had a vision in mind that felt justified to some extent, especially to those familiar with real-world historical injustices.

Thanos raised the bar even more in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He never tries to come off as a hero, but he never sees his actions as villainous, either. In fact, when heroes like Dr. Strange call him out, he frames his desire to cull half the population in the universe as mercy. For him, it’s simple math. Half a population is better than no population at all.

These motivations, as devious they might be on paper, have some semblance of merit to it. Both Thanos and Killmonger think they’re doing the right thing. That significantly impacts how the heroes in their stories go about thwarting them, although I would argue that one story was more complete while the other remains unresolved.

In “Black Panther,” T’Challa doesn’t just stop at defeating Killmonger. He actually sees some of his enemy’s points and takes steps to address them. He doesn’t revert things back to the way they were. Wakanda doesn’t return to the same isolated state it had been at the start of the movie. Instead, he seeks to find a middle ground. That, I would argue, is the new template for how heroes defeat this kind of villain.

The resolution in “Avengers: Infinity War,” however, is not as clear. That’s largely due to the story not being complete. There is a sequel planned, but at no point in the three-hour spectacle did the Avengers attempt to prove Thanos wrong. They only ever tried to stop him. That oversight has not gone unnoticed by audiences.

This, in many ways, sums up the new dynamic between heroes in villains. It’s no longer enough for heroes to just defeat their adversaries. It’s not even enough for villains to be exceptionally devious. There have to be larger principles at work. It can’t just be reduced to general greed, ego, or bullying.

Thanos seeks to kill have the population because he believes that it’ll prevent the complete extinction of all life.

Erik Killmonger seeks to empower oppressed minorities to right past injustices.

Dr. Doom seeks to conquer the world because a world under his rule is the only one free of suffering and want. That’s actually canon in the comics.

It’s makes crafting compelling villains more difficult, but at the same time, it opens the door to more complexity. On top of that, it demands that audiences think beyond the good versus evil dynamic that has defined so many stories, going back to the days of fairy tales. It’s a challenge that some are certain to fail. Some already have, sadly.

It also sets the tone for future forms of villainy. How that villainy manifests is impossible to predict, but given the current trends, I think there’s room to speculate. At the heart of this emerging villainy is the idea that the current system just isn’t working. It’s so bad that the only viable option is to destroy and rebuild it. There’s no room, whatsoever, for reform.

This is where the heroes will have to evolve, as well. They can’t just play “Super Friends” and save the day. They have to actually make meaningful changes to move society forward. King T’Challa did that at the end of “Black Panther.” Other heroes need to be as willing. Otherwise, they won’t be able to call themselves heroes. They’re just defenders of a status quo may not be working as well as they think.

It’s an ideological struggle that parallels many real-world struggles. People today have less and less faith in established institutions. As a result, more people are falling sway to populist rhetoric that promises to break down the current system entirely. By and large, people today aren’t content with just preserving things as they are. They seek more meaningful change.

That presents a serious problem for heroes and a golden opportunity for villains. Historically, heroes haven’t been able to effect change beyond a certain point. Some of that is for logistical reasons. A hero can never create a functioning utopia without ending the story completely, which is something major media companies cannot have. There’s too much money to be made.

Logistics aside, the future of villainy will have plenty of raw materials to work with and plenty of societal angst to draw upon. Heroes who save the day, but do little else won’t be able to call themselves heroes in the world currently unfolding. Villains who have a real vision with understandable motivations will find themselves with more supporters than before.

It’s no longer taboo to root for the villain, especially when the heroes don’t confront the flaws in their rhetoric. In what seems prophetic now, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” may have put it best when Ultron stated:

“I’m sorry, I know you mean well. You just didn’t think it through. You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.”

That’ll be the key to the future of villainy, change in a world that resists too much of it happening at once. It’ll make for some complicated villains, but it will definitely make the struggle of heroes even harder. However it plays out, I believe it’ll be worth watching.

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