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Jack Fisher’s Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-men #10

Every Wednesday, fans of comic books and superheroes are blessed with fresh batch of comics. It’s like Christmas every week and you don’t have to suck up to some jolly fat guy who lives at the North Pole. You just have to have a few extra bucks and a Comixology account.

This week, however, those extra bucks go a lot further than usual for X-men fans. That’s because “Uncanny X-men #10,” the final issue in a story arc that assembled almost every notable character associated with X-men has come out. Some weeks are harder than others when it comes to picking the most worthy comic from the bunch. This was not one of those weeks.

Make no mistake. “Uncanny X-men #10” is both a game-changer and a major upheaval for the X-men. It acts as a culmination of a battle that began with the return of Nate “X-man” Grey, but in a powerful new form. He’s not just another displaced character from a dystopian timeline, of which there are many in comics. His agenda is different and his personal connections to the X-men make him a daunting foe.

He’s not Apocalypse. He’s not Magneto. He’s not even some uneasy ally who was once an enemy and the X-men have had plenty of those. Nate Grey is out the save the world, but not by protesting injustice or signing an online petition. He literally wants to destroy it and remake it. Given the insane breadth of his power, that’s entirely possible.

For the past nine issues, he’s gone about his plan with the subtly of a hurricane. He’s abducted senators, mind-controlled powerful mutants, and waged war on anyone who might stand between him and a better world. The X-men, who have a strict policy against over-powered mutants destroying the world to remake it, oppose him at every turn.

Uncanny X-men #10” is just the final showdown and it’s a battle for the ages. The writing talents of Matthew Rosenberg, Ed Brisson, and Kelly Thompson team up with the artistic talents of Pere Perez to craft a mutant-powered spectacle that never slows down. It’s the most powerful mutants in the Marvel universe against a threat who wasn’t just a close friend. To characters like Jean Grey, he’s family.

This is where “Uncanny X-men #10” shines in a special way. While a good chunk of the comic is dedicated to epic mutant battles, there’s never a point where the action is mindless and impersonal. In between all the fighting, there are major personal stakes for Nate and his alternate universe mother, Jean Grey.

Their interactions is what really gives dramatic weight to the spectacle. I won’t spoil the details of their exchange. I’ll just say that it’s beautifully done. It’s genuinely heart-wrenching to see Jean having to battle her own son. Even if he’s from an alternate universe, she sees him as family and that makes fighting him all the more difficult.

That kind of heavy drama is what brings out the best in the X-men. It’s what makes for the best moments in superhero comics, as a whole. However, what really makes “Uncanny X-men #10” worth getting is how it sets up the future of the series.

Again, I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say that the aftermath of the battle creates a very different world for mutants, humans, the X-men, and everyone in between. It’s a world where all the hopes and dreams of the X-men are effectively moot. What does that mean for them and those they protect? There are some telling hints, but there’s definitely an impact when all is said and done.

I’m sure there will be plenty of X-men fans who feel both excitement and dread after reading “Uncanny X-men #10.” If you’ve been following X-men comics in any capacity for the past several decades, then you know that’s not unusual. However, this feels like one of those issues that people will be referring to for years to come. Whether they love it or hate it, this comic marks a major turning point for the X-men.

Most X-men fans knew that 2019 was going to be a major year for the Children of the Atom. Between two movies, the pending Disney/Fox merger, and the return of multiple major characters, there’s a lot get hyped about. “Uncanny X-men #10” is just the latest catalyst that can only help the X-men’s prospects in 2019.

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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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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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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, movies, philosophy, psychology, superhero comics, superhero movies, television, X-men

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “X-Men: The Exterminated #1.”

On Melodrama and Family Ties in Marvel’s ‘X-Men: The Exterminated #1’

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December 6, 2018 · 7:53 pm

Kamala Khan Vs. America Chavez: How To Succeed (And Fail) With Female Superheroes

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It shouldn’t be that difficult or controversial to create compelling female superheroes. In a perfect world, it would be no different than creating quality male heroes. As long as they’re compelling, enjoyable, and foster great stories, that should be enough.

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. You could even argue it has become even worse in recent years for female superheroes because they’ve become entwined with identity politics. It’s no longer sufficient for a female hero to just be likable and interesting. They have to take part in the never-ending whining contest that dominates outrage culture.

As a lifelong fan of superhero comics, this really frustrates me. I get that comics, like any medium, often reflect the issues of the time. That’s not new and comics have taken positions in those issues. Iconic stories have been crafted around them. The current situation with female superheroes, however, is less a reflection of the times and more a liability.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to single out two female superheroes, Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan and America “Miss America” Chavez. Both characters were created within the past 10 years. They’ve also been cited as prominent figures in the recent push for diversity within comics that has caused a lot of uproar or all the wrong reasons.

What sets them apart is that one character, Kamala Khan, has become a success story by most measures. Since her debut issue in February 2014, she has become popular and beloved. She has received and won numerous accolades and her graphic novels have made it onto the New York Times Best Sellers list. I consider myself a fan of hers. She’s one of my favorite female heroes.

On the other end of that spectrum is America Chavez. She debuted in 2011 and went onto have her own ongoing series. Unlike Kamala, though, her series received no accolades, sold poorly, and did nothing to endear her to fans of superhero comics. She has had opportunities to establish herself as a quality female hero. With few exceptions, she has failed at every turn.

These two characters represent a stark dichotomy in the current world of female superheroes. One provides a template for success. The other is a cautionary tale of how not to create a compelling female superhero in the current climate. It’s pretty striking how two characters created within a similar cultural environment can go in such wildly different directions. However, that difference also carries with it plenty of lessons.

To be fair to the medium I love, creating female superheroes today is very different compared to past decades. If Wonder Woman, Storm, Carol Danvers, or Supergirl were created today, they wouldn’t have the same impact. They came out at different times and under different circumstances. Those circumstances played a key role in how they became iconic.

Great female superheroes, and quality female characters in general, have traits that allow them to resonate in any era. However, the timing and influences have to be right for them to carve a place in popular culture. Kamala Khan and America Chavez dealt with similar circumstances when they debuted. That makes them a good case study in how female superheroes can succeed and fail.


Why Kamala Khan Succeeded

I still remember the day I read Ms. Marvel #1. I hadn’t been planning to buy it. I remember clearly that it was a light week, in terms of comics. I happened to have a few extra bucks to spend. I had heard that there was going to be a new Ms. Marvel. Having been a fan of Carol Danvers, I decided to check it out.

I’m glad I did because that one fateful issue made me a Kamala Kahn fan for years to come. The story it told struck all the right chords. It presented a character who felt real, genuine, and relatable. The fact that she was a girl, a Muslim, and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants was secondary. She still felt like a character that I could be friends with if she were real.

The reasons why Kamala was so endearing had little to do with how many diversity points she scored and everything to do with how the writer, G. Willow Wilson, went about developing her. She spent almost the entire first issue just revealing who Kamala was and what sort of life she had. We learn about her family, her friends, her hopes, her dreams, and even her favorite hobbies.

She quickly becomes more than just another teenage character. She’s a self-professed fangirl who writes fan fiction, plays MMO games, and loves gyros. Wilson approached developing Kamala the same way Stan Lee approached developing Peter Parker. She developed the personality before turning them into a superhero.

When Kamala finally does get her powers, Wilson establishes a solid reason for why she’s a hero. Just getting powers isn’t enough. Unlike Peter Parker, however, she doesn’t need a loved one to die. Being a fan of superheroes and having decent parents puts her in a position to make that choice without anyone dying. That, alone, makes her worthy of admiration.

From that point forward, it’s easy to root for Kamala. She carries herself as someone you want to root for. She personifies how fans of superhero comics are inspired by their heroes. Her having a chance to be a hero like the ones she idolizes isn’t just endearing. It’s special. That’s why she succeeds and why it’s very likely we’ll see her enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point.


Why America Chavez Failed

Take everything I just said about why Kamala Khan works and why she’s so lovable. Then, reverse it completely. That’s basically who America Chavez is and why she’s more a joke than a success.

On paper, America has a lot going for her. She’s not just another generic female hero. She’s Latina, she’s a lesbian, and she comes from a very different world, literally and figuratively. In terms of diversity points, she checks as many boxes as Kamala. She has her own unique style and she even uses a familiar moniker that has been successfully used by others.

Beyond those traits, however, there’s nothing about her character or her story that will get superhero fans cheering. She’s not relatable like Peter Parker or Kamala Khan. She’s from a place called Utopian Parallel, which is exactly as boring as it sounds. Her world was threatened with destruction, but her parents sacrificed themselves to save it. They’re the only respectable heroes in her story.

America, for reasons that are poorly told and poorly developed, decides to prove that she’s as good a hero as her parents. Her world is a utopia. It doesn’t need her. As a result, she just looks for a world that needs heroes and happens to choose one that has a massive glut of them. Already, her judgment is questionable.

If you’re expecting me to explain the depths of why she’s a hero and how she distinguishes herself, I’m sorry to disappoint. That’s the extent of her heroic journey. She doesn’t answer the hero’s call as much as she looks for an excuse. She doesn’t work her way into the world of heroism. She just throws herself into it and skips the part that makes it a meaningful story.

It certainly doesn’t help that she’s grossly overpowered in a way that makes every battle feel boring. Unlike other powerful characters, including Superman or Captain Marvel, there’s no real intrigue to her abilities. Whereas Kamala Khan and Peter Parker struggle, seeing their powers as burdens at times, America Chavez rarely strains herself. When she does, it feels forced and contrived.

On top of all that, America never comes off as a likable person. In nearly every scene she’s in, she carries herself with an in-your-face, screw-you, I’m-better-than-everyone attitude that isn’t the least bit endearing. She basically tries too hard to be a badass female hero, but forgets the part where heroes are actually supposed to be admirable.

It’s not enough to just punch a Nazi, which she does at one point. Being a hero means embodying ideals that go beyond gender politics. America Chavez’s story is so contrived, at times, that it feels like the most shameless kind of pandering. It’s why those who bemoan Marvel’s diversity push often cite America Chavez as the personification of everything wrong with that effort. Sadly, she gives them plenty to work with.


Lessons For The Future

I have high hopes for Ms. Marvel. I even hope that, at some point, America Chavez becomes a solid character. There’s plenty of room for new characters that resonate with everyone, regardless of gender, race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of established characters, either. Heroes can be anyone. That’s what makes them icons.

Now, I understand that there are plenty of people out there who don’t like Kamala. I don’t deny that she has her flaws and she’s had some pretty unflattering moments. I also understand that America Chavez has her share of fans who think I’m not being fair to her. I don’t claim that my take on her is definitive.

I singled these two characters out because I believe they embody the struggle facing female superheroes in the existing cultural climate. Like any creative endeavor, there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Kamala Khan and America Chavez provide important lessons on what to do and what to avoid. They include, but aren’t restricted to, the following.

Lesson #1: Build the character before the hero

Lesson #2: Appeal to everyone and not just a select few

Lesson #3: Make their struggle feel real and genuine

Lesson #4: Give the character a distinct and endearing voice

Lesson #5: Don’t just rely on punching Nazis

There are many other lessons to be learned from characters like Kamala Khan and America Chavez. Some of those lessons have to be learned the hard way, but they’re worth learning. More quality female superheroes can only help the genre, as a whole. Superheroes, by definition, are supposed to inspire others to be better. That inspiration need not be restricted to gender, race, or any other distinction.

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