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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: DCeased #1

It’s Wednesday and for comic book fans, it’s basically a holiday that doesn’t require decorations, greeting cards, or annoying commercials. Every week brings something new and with many people still recovering from the impact of “Avengers Endgame,” myself included, the world needs something to help us move forward.

With that in mind, this week’s quick pick offers something that is the dramatic antithesis of a bittersweet ending to an 11-year movie franchise. “DCeased #1” is not the kind of story that will lift your spirits or trigger tears of joy. It’s a different kind of story that seeks a different impact and, much like “Avengers Endgame,” it succeeds.

The story does not build heavily on recent events in the world of DC Comics so if you haven’t kept up, you won’t be too lost. It’s very much a self-contained story that takes a particular concept that’s unique to the DC Universe and twists it in ways it has never been twisted. The results are brutal, terrifying, and a sight to behold, albeit a morbid one.

Writer, Tom Taylor, has a rich history of taking certain concepts within the superhero genre and re-imagining them in new, compelling ways. He did it with his criminally underrated run on “Superior Iron Man” and “DCeased #1” definitely has traces of those themes.

It starts with something familiar. The Justice League has once again defeated Darkseid. In terms of standard operating procedures in the DC Universe, that’s akin to paying your taxes or getting your driver’s license renewed. However, this typical triumph isn’t the end of the story. It’s just the beginning and it gets very dark, very fast.

At first, it has all the makings of another elaborate plot by Darkseid. He’s always had plenty of that. Being a god-like bringer of death and destruction, he always seems to have something going on and never lets defeat by the Justice League hold him back for long.

Then, his plan goes horribly and shockingly wrong. I won’t spoil the details, but what happens to Darkseid, and later everyone on Earth, strikes at the foundation the DC Universe. Like many other superhero comics, there are a special brand of physics in play, many of which would make Einstein’s head explode. However, when those physics are defied or subverted, bad things tend to happen and this might be the worst.

This isn’t the kind of impact that gives an all-powerful, obscenely-evil character like Darkseid an insane power boost. This is something that torments even the most villainous beings as much as its most virtuous heroes. Gods, demigods, aliens, Amazons, billionaire playboys, and even average people on the street are all equally vulnerable.

For once, there’s no evil figure to fight. There’s no devious villain to outwit or overpower. This is a force of nature that hits anyone and everyone. It’s akin to gravity, light, or taxes. Nobody can escape and nobody is immune.

While the concept of “DCeased #1” may seem like apocalyptic disaster porn, its dramatic structure keeps it from getting too gratuitous. Taylor demonstrates a refined understanding of how certain concepts work in the DC Universe and artwork by James Harren and Tervor Hairsine give rich details to some bleak undertones. Taken together, it creates a dark story that has just the right impact.

Whether you follow the comics or only watch big budget superhero movies, it’s easy to get caught up in the standard tropes of superheros. We expect them to fly in, save the day, or even undo the damage if things get too bad. There are any number of stories like that, especially in the DC Universe. That’s why a story like “DCeased #1” can be so refreshing, even when it deals in such dark themes.

This isn’t a case where we can expect the mightiest heroes in DC to save the day, smile for the cameras, and go back to their lives as mild-mannered reporters. This is a devastating cataclysm for which there is no going back. There’s a uniquely surreal impact to watching this world of mighty superheroes succumb. It’s not just different for the sake of being different. It shows us a different aspect of these characters and this world.

We all know what happens when superheroes save the day. Most people have seen that story in some form or another at some point in their lives. “DCeased #1” dares to ask what happens when superheroes can’t save the world. It’s not that they fail. Technically, they’re not even defeated in the mold of Darkseid beating up Superman. Things just go horribly wrong due to forces beyond their control.

In a world full of god-like super-beings from various planets and universes, this level of destruction has quite an impact. Beyond being the antithesis of the classic hero-saves-the-day narrative, “DCeased #1” presents a story that requires these heroes to reveal a different side of themselves. We know how they are when they’re at their most triumphant. Now, we get to see who they are when all hope is truly lost.

It’s a story worth telling and, if your heart and soul can handle it, “DCeased #1” takes the first step in this utter deconstruction of the DC Universe. It’s a dark, grim sight to behold, but one that brings some welcome novelty to superhero comics.

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Shazam! Review: A Simple Formula For Maximum Fun

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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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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Detective Comics #1000

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this world and makes it a little more awesome. However, it’s not every week that an iconic character achieves an incredible milestone that only one other superhero comic has achieved to date. There aren’t a lot of characters who could hope to achieve such ratified status, but if ever there were someone equipped for that journey, it’s Batman.

Today will likely go down in history as one of Batman’s greatest triumphs and he achieves it without the aid of Christopher Nolan. That’s because on this day, Detective Comics #1000 came out. Beyond just being a landmark issue that celebrates the legacy of Dark Knight, this comic helps remind superhero fans of every generation why Batman has endured.

From the triumph of “The Dark Knight” to the lasting damage done by Joel Shumacher, Batman has navigated many eras over the years. However, like Superman and Wonder Woman, he has never deviated far from his core persona. He’s a detective, a symbol, and a personification of vengeance against egregious injustice. No matter the time, place, or culture, there’s always room for that kind of crusade.

Detective Comics #1000 helps affirm that by telling a collection of short stories by some of DC Comics’ top writers. None of these stories really tie into one another and they don’t have to. It’s just not possible to capture the breadth of Batman’s legacy in just one story, no matter how many members of his iconic rogues gallery enter the picture.

Instead, each story is crafted in a way that helps capture a critical element of Batman’s never-ending crusade. A story by Scott Snyder helps highlight Batman’s unparalleled detective skills. A story by Warren Ellis highlights Batman’s ability to strike fear in criminals. A story by Christopher Priest show show Batman’s humanity is as strong as any one of his skills.

Each story carries its own weight, in terms of drama and impact. They present some of Batman’s best traits alongside his greatest weaknesses. They never give the impression that Batman is too powerful or too capable. At the end of the day, he’s still human. He has very human vulnerabilities and not just compared to the heavy hitters of the Justice League.

Beyond not being bulletproof, there are many instances that show he’s still someone who was deeply scarred as a child. The murder of his parents still haunts him. There are times in which he fails to cope with it, as nicely shown in a story by Denny O’Neil. At the same time, however, that loss and the pain it causes still drives him to be Batman.

In many respects, Batman is more true to his persona than Bruce Wayne. If anything, Bruce Wayne is the real mask. When he’s not wearing his cowl, he has to be someone else. He has to give the impression that he’s a successful, functional adult who got over the murder of his parents long ago. That has never been the case for Batman.

After 1,000 issues of Detective Comics, it’s abundantly clear that Batman does not see injustice the same way others do. People suffer tragedy and injustice all the time, both in the world of superhero comics and in the real world. Most people are content to let the authorities and the justice system deal with it. Batman isn’t most people.

In his world, the crime-ridden metaphor that is Gotham City, the authorities are corrupt and the system is flawed. Unlike people of lesser means, he’s in a position to actually do something about injustice. As Bruce Wayne, he can help improve the economy of the city. As Batman, though, he can make it so other children don’t have to watch their parents die.

It’s a powerful message full of powerful themes. They’re as relevant today as they were 80 years ago when Bob Kane and Bill Finger first created Batman. Injustice and tragedy know no single time, race, culture, or gender. They affect everyone and Batman stands on the front lines to fight it.

More than anything else, Detective Comics #1000 reminds us of why we want Batman on the front lines of that crusade. He’s capable of confronting the worst of the worst in terms of criminals. He’s also compassionate enough to understand and empathize with those who have been affected by injustice. It’s how he’s able to recruit and inspire others like Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, and Catwoman.

Over the years, he’s even managed to carve out an extended Batman family, of sorts. It’s not the same as the family he lost, but an incredibly touching story by Tom King and Tony Daniels shows just how much it means to him. It helps give balance to someone who can be a hardened crime-fighter one moment and a caring friend the next.

Not all the stories in Detective Comics #1000 are so serious and dramatic. The story by Paul Dini provides some colorful humor that shows that even the gritty world of Batman isn’t prone to a few absurdities. Batman himself doesn’t deny this. He just embraces and accepts it as part of his never-ending crusade.

It’s hard to imagine any crusade lasting 1,000 issues and spanning eight decades, complete with campy TV shows and genre-defining movies. The universal nature of Batman’s crusade against injustice helped fill those issues with so many iconic moments. This landmark issue shows why that crusade is poised to endure another 1,000 issues.

The struggle never ends, but he never gives up. He can’t and he won’t. He’s the goddamn Batman.

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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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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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Exploring Radical (And Kinky) Idealism: “Wonder Woman Earth One Volume Two” Review

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When “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 1” came out in 2016, it was groundbreaking in how it re-imagined Wonder Woman while reconnecting her with her kinkier roots. For years, she’d been moving away from the unique brand of feminism that her creator, William Moulton Marston, had once defined her. This culminated in her 2017 movie in which all the BDSM connotation were purged from her persona.

While many creative forces over multiple decades turned Wonder Woman into someone very different from her creator had intended, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette went in the opposite direction. They dared to embrace the kinks and reshape Wonder Woman’s story in a way that works while retaining Marston’s original themes.

That story remains one of my favorite Wonder Woman stories of all time and one I’ve gone out of my way to praise. Finally, after a two-year wait and a prolonged absence of kink from superhero comics, “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” has arrived. Fans of warrior women, feminist utopias, and not-so-subtle bondage themes can rejoice.

Like any sequel, it faces the inescapable challenge of matching the high bar set by its predecessor. On top of that, it also has to dig deeper into an aspect of Wonder Woman that generations of writers have tried to overwrite or ignore. Even with an elevated profile, thanks to her movie, this is a part of Wonder Woman’s persona that is largely unknown or undeveloped.

The greatest challenge of Volume 1 was to reintroduce Marston’s radical concepts of love, submission, and domination in a way that didn’t feel like bad fan fiction. Morrison and Paquette succeeded by building the story around this dazzling, techno-feminist utopia on a mythology built on ideas that seem antithetical to the world dominated by lies, mistrust, and cynicism.

If the goal of that story was to affirm the potential of these ideas, then “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” is built around how those ideas are challenged. It’s one thing to defend them on an island paradise populated by immortal warrior women of unyielding compassion. It’s quite another to defend them in a world where gay frogs inspire conspiracy theories.

Wonder Woman’s situation is considerably different this time around. She’s not insulated on her island paradise. She’s well-known public figure, an established superhero, and a vocal proponent for her radical ideology. She presents it as a viable way of achieving peace and justice in a world full of suffering and hatred. Unlike other wide-eyed idealists, she comes off as entirely genuine.

Not surprisingly, the world isn’t eager to sign up for her novel approach of peace through submission to a loving authority. It doesn’t just come from grumpy old men who only want women to make babies and sandwiches, either. Even among other women, her ideas are challenged and deconstructed throughout the story.

What does it even mean to submit to a loving authority?

Why is she so sure that it’ll work in the world outside her idyllic homeland?

How are men supposed to approach this concept?

How far is she willing to go to implement her ideas?

These are all difficult questions that get asked throughout the story. Wonder Woman doesn’t avoid these questions, but she doesn’t get a chance to answer them either. Even though she is celebrated by many, nobody seems capable of embracing her ideology as completely as her.

To further complicate this challenge, Nazis enter the picture. Trust me, it’s not as shallow as it sounds. The story isn’t built around Wonder Woman acting like Captain America, traveling the world and punching Nazis. In fact, the way she handles her enemies in this story is very different to the methods she used in the “Wonder Woman” movie. However, that’s where the story gains both complications and nuance.

Through a few flashbacks and side-plots, we get to see how Wonder Woman’s ideology confronts something that’s completely antithetical to everything she stands for. Initially, it looks like her approach works. She’s so compassionate and so empathetic that she can take violent, hate-filled Nazis and redeem their souls. That’s where the complications come in.

In both the events that unfolded in the past and those that play out in the present, we see shortcoming of Wonder Woman’s ideals. It’s not that someone taints or disproves them. As the conflict plays out, we see how the components necessary to make her ideology work aren’t as abundant as they are in her homeland. As a result, Wonder Woman pays a price for her idealism and it’s a steep, heartbreaking price.

Not all of it is a direct result of her ideology, though. Wonder Woman also deals with a devious adversary in Dr. Psycho, who effectively turns her ideals against her. He doesn’t just question or deconstruct the merits of submission to a loving authority. He manipulates them to his own ends, which plays right into the hands of her critics.

It’s tragic in that it leads to heartache for Wonder Woman and her friends, but it stops short of breaking her. This is Wonder Woman, after all. Loss, defeat, and criticism do not break her. No mortal or God can break her. Those are her words, not mine. These challenges, however, put her in a difficult position where she has to confront unpleasant truths.

Without spoiling too many plot points, I’ll note that Wonder Woman comes to realize that there are grater complexities to loving submission than she ever could’ve realized. She sees first-hand how difficult it is to get someone to willingly submit in a world where weakness can invite harm, exploitation, and injustice. Just preaching her message isn’t enough. By not doing more, it costs her and those she cares about.

In terms of the larger narrative, “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” is a wonderfully effective evolution of the world that Morrison and Paquette created. Along the way, the story continues to embrace the unique principles of the original iteration of Wonder Woman that Marston crafted in 1942.

Not entirely, that is.

If there’s any shortcoming to the narrative, it’s how incomplete it feels at the end. It’s not a cliff-hanger, but there are many lingering plot threads that don’t get resolved. Granted, it says on the final page that there is a Volume 3 planned for this series. Given the two-year gap in between this book and its predecessor, the wait seems nothing short of agonizing.

Even with those dangling threads, “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” is still a complete Wonder Woman story that’s unlike anything you’ll get in the movies or comics. If I had to score it, I would give it a 9 out of 10. The lack of resolution at the end is the only thing keeping it from a perfect score. It still gets so many things right about who Wonder Woman is and why she’s so endearing.

The fact that she can be endearing while retaining the radical spirit that Marston had envisioned helps make “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” all the more remarkable. She’s not just a fierce warrior woman. She’s the personification of a different approach to gender, power, and love. It may seem bizarre and kinky to us, but it has powerful implications for people of any gender.

It doesn’t go overboard with the BDSM undertones, nor does it focus heavily on gender politics. They are mentioned, but not forced into the plot. There are things Wonder Woman does that feminists, conservatives, and BDSM fans can get behind. At every turn, she carries herself as someone who is willing to embrace everyone. It’s that unconditional, universal compassion that makes her Wonder Woman.

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Filed under comic book reviews, gender issues, superhero comics, superhero movies, Wonder Woman

Jack’s Quick Pick: Wonder Woman #55

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I’m going to try a little something new here so please, if possible, tell me what you think. Every Wednesday, a crop of new comics come out. I’m usually up bright and early to read them, thanks to digital subscriptions through Comixology. It makes for many restless nights, but it’s worth it to start my day with an awesome comic. As such, I want to single out a particular comic that I feel really stood out.

This week, it’s Wonder Woman #55. Granted, I’ve written plenty about Wonder Woman and the many reasons why she’s an iconic female hero. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that she still has comic coming out regularly come out and this week, we got an especially wondrous treat.

Steve Orlando and Raul Allen capped off a story that began several issues ago that had Wonder Woman reunite with her renegade Amazon sister, Artemis of Bana-Mighdall. While this isn’t the first time they’ve clashed, this particular comic beautifully demonstrated what sets Wonder Woman apart from her fellow Amazons and so many other heroes in general.

While Wonder Woman’s power set makes her one of the most powerful figures in the entire DC Universe, even those immense abilities don’t reflect her greatest strength. Sure, they come in handy whenever Darkseid invades Earth, but those are not the most important weapons in her arsenal.

More than anything else, Wonder Woman’s greatest power is winning battles with truth and compassion. She doesn’t seek to solve problems through domination. She seeks peace through truth and loving submission, a theme with some kinky undertones. She wields that power with effective grace in this, albeit not in too kinky away.

I could go on and on about the non-kinky aspects of the story that make it so awesome, but I’d rather let the book speak for itself. That’s why I’m proud to make this comic my first quick pick. Even if it doesn’t make you submit, it’ll fill your heart with Wonder Woman’s love and compassion. Any comic that can do that is a true wonder.

Wonder Woman #55

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