Tag Archives: comics

Why Superhero Secret Identities Are More Relevant Than Ever

Superman

You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.

It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.

From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.

In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.

I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.

This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.

Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.

While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.

What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.

There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?

That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.

Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.

The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.

It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.

In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.

That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.

That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?

For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.

In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.

To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.

For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.

The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.

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Filed under Current Events, Marvel, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, Spider-Man, superhero comics, superhero movies

Jack’s Comic Gems: Duke Nukem Glorious Bastard

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s the latest entry in my ongoing Jack’s Comic Gems series in which I highlight a quality gem from the world of comics. This one brings to light a gem from the world of Duke Nukem, a video game character who hasn’t been relevant since the 90s. However, he still managed to be part of an unexpectedly good comic. I was surprised too, but in a good way. Enjoy!

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Jack’s Comic Gems: Superman Unchained

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s another entry into my ongoing series, Jack’s Comic Gems. In it, I highlight some of the brightest gems of the comic book world. This entry is “Superman Unchained,” a rare blockbuster of a comic that had the highest production values, but still delivered. Enjoy!

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A Wholesome Comic Strip To Brighten Your Day (Featuring Mr. Rogers)

Every now and then, we need something simple, uplifting, and wholesome to boost our spirits. Whether you’re a child, an adult, or a teenager struggling through the rigors of puberty, we just need something positive to cling to, if only briefly.

I certainly need that from time to time. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t. The world can be a chaotic, ugly place. It’s easier than ever to focus on the bad and overlook the good. However, that good is still out there and, in the spirit of sharing that good, I’d like to present a small comic strip that always brings a smile to my face.

I’ll give everyone a minute to wipe the tears from their face or manage their “allergies.”

Yes, that was a comic strip featuring Thor and Fred Rogers.

Yes, that’s the same Fred Rogers from “Mr. Rogers. Neighborhood.”

There are already many unbelievably wholesome stories about Fred Rogers and the impact he had on countless children. The legend of this man’s uncanny kindness, empathy, and compassion is certainly a story worth telling and it has in a number of recent movies.

Like many, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ show. In recent years, I’ve rediscovered his remarkable story and his amazing acts of humility. When you need something uplifting to boost your spirits, those stories just find a way to touch my heart on a profound level.

This comic strip doesn’t just reaffirm that. It makes a perfect case that, regardless of how you define worthiness, Mr. Rogers shows just how far true humility will take you. It’s a message I think we can all appreciate right now.

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Filed under Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, noble masculinity, superhero comics, superhero movies, Uplifting Stories

Jack’s Comic Gems: Transformers Vs. Terminator

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s another entry in my ongoing series/playlist, Jack’s Comic Gems. This time, I highlight a recent gem called “Transformers vs. Terminator.” Enjoy!

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Latest “Black Widow” And MCU Delays: Perspectives And Prospective

This year has sucked for many reasons. While one reason tends to be more prominent than others, many of us have felt it. Some have just felt it more than others. While 2020 has sucked for everyone, it especially sucks for fans of superhero movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This year was supposed to be a year of transition. After the record-breaking returns of “Avengers Endgame,” the MCU was at a crossroads. Prominent actors had lived out their contracts. Certain heroes were killed off or retired. Longtime Marvel fans like myself were both anxious and curious to see where the MCU would go from here.

This year was supposed to be the beginning of Phase 4, which was to commence with “Black Widow,” “Eternals,” and “Shang-Chi.” On top of that, the MCU was going to venture into the world of streaming with several Disney-Plus shows. It all seemed so promising.

Then, the goddamn pandemic hit. Need I say more?

Now, it’s official. For the first time in a decade, there will be no MCU movies in 2020. According to The Verge, “Black Widow” has been pushed into 2021, along with the rest of the aforementioned 2020 slate of movies.

The Verge: Black Widow delayed to 2021, pushing back The Eternals and other Marvel movies

Black Widow will now open on May 7th, 2021 — more than one year after it was originally scheduled to be released. Like with other Marvel delays, Black Widow’s new date pushes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings back from its May 7th, 2021 release date to July 9th, 2021. The Eternals, which was supposed to follow Black Widow is moving from February 12th, 2021 to November 5th, 2021. A number of other Disney films, including West Side Story and The King’s Man, were also moved around as part of the shuffle.

Basically, the entire timeline for the MCU’s next phase just skipped a year. As someone who scheduled entire months around going to see Marvel movies, I can’t put into words how disappointing this is. This year has broken my heart, my spirit, and my hope for a brighter future. This just rubs salt, acid, and molten lead in the wound.

However, as disappointing as this news is, I do want to keep things in perspective. I also want to highlight some insights that may or may not be encouraging. Please don’t mistake any of that for tangible hope. I still have none left. At the same time, I do see reasons for encouragement.

For one, I’m not too surprised by “Black Widow” being delayed. I think the bean counters at Disney saw the box office returns of “Tenet” and decided to throw in the towel for this year. Despite that movie being widely praised by fans and critics, it barely made enough to cover the marketing budget for a typical MCU movie.

Movie theaters are not back. They are a long way away from being back, so to speak. This pandemic has hit them harder than any other industry that doesn’t involve health care workers and mask manufacturers. Even if a good movie comes out, people are still reluctant to go.

That’s not likely to change this year. It probably won’t change in the first few months of 2021, either. However, if the current timelines are to be believed, we should have a working vaccine by the end of 2020. That’s the only way the world will return to some semblance of its former self.

Now, I don’t believe that timeline for a second and I don’t think Marvel Studios believes it, either. If they did, then they wouldn’t have pushed “Black Widow” all the way into the spring. While this does mean a longer wait, it also reveals something else that’s just as important.

Earlier this year, I questioned whether the entire movie theater industry has been irreparably damaged. While I stand by many of my points, I might need to pull them back. Before this news came out, Disney decided to take the plunge into pure streaming and dump “Mulan” onto its streaming service. I suspect that if this move proved both successful and profitable, then that might be the future for all its major movies.

However, that future is now in question. While Disney has claimed that the movie has generated some healthy profits, the extent of those profits is very much in question. Nobody is convinced that “Mulan” is a success or failure. This is not like “Trolls World Tour,” a kids movie that cost less than half of what it took to make “Mulan.”

In a healthy, non-pandemic world, it’s hard to say whether “Mulan” would’ve worked out better. However, it is fairly clear that dumping a big budget blockbuster movie on a streaming service just isn’t as profitable as the good old fashioned box office.

That bodes well for both movie theaters and the MCU. I believe that Disney and Marvel Studio believes that their big budget blockbusters need to come out in theaters. These are not cheap independent movies that Netflix gladly gobbles up. These are massive cinematic undertakings. They need movie theaters to get a good return on their investment.

That need might very well be what saves the movie theater industry, at least to some extent. I think moving the MCU’s heavy hitters into 2021, assuming by then a vaccine will have tempered the pandemic, shows that they still believe in this model. They’re still committed to using this platform for developing the MCU.

Honestly, I’m a bit relieved. As much as I love binge-watching my favorite movies, there’s still something to be said about the movie theater experience. I don’t think that watching “Avengers Endgame” on my TV would have had the same impact as it did when I saw it in IMAX. That experience is still valuable.

Now, I’ve learned not to trust release dates and timelines. This year has taught me that all timelines are tentative when pandemics are a factor. Be that at as it may, Disney’s reluctance to dump big movies on a streaming platform bodes well for the movie going experience.

If and when “Black Widow” comes out on its newly scheduled date, I’ll definitely be there to see it. It may also be the best possible sign that we’ve gotten through this awful shit storm that has been 2020.

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Jack’s World: How House Of X/Powers Of X Redefined The X-Men

The following is a video from my YouTube Channel, Jack’s World. As someone who has followed and praised X-Men comics for years, I wanted to make a video that articulated just how important the recent House of X/Powers of X story by Jonathan Hickman is in the history of the franchise. I tried to do it justice while trying not too hard to geek out. Enjoy!

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Jack’s Comic Gems: The Life Of Captain Marvel

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The following is a video I made for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s the first in what I hope to be a series about the special, often overlooked gems in the world of comics. I plan on making others like it. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!

 

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How To Save The Comic Industry (In Four Easy Steps)

The comic book industry is in a state of crisis. I know you can say that about a lot of industries amidst a global pandemic, but the comics industry has been extremely hard hit. Shipments of new comics have ceased. Comic shops are likely to go out of business without that influx of new product. The industry that I’ve loved since I was a kid has never been this vulnerable.

It’s very depressing. I certainly have felt that after multiple weeks of no new comics. A handful of people, namely the whiny agenda-pushing loser types, have been talking doom and gloom about the comics industry for years. However, this hit has nothing to do with some overly political T-shirt that Mockingbird wore.

Even after the pandemic ends, this industry that I love will never be the same. It can’t go back to the way it used to be. This crisis has shown, among other things, that the current model that the comic industry utilizes just isn’t sustainable. It needs an overhaul of some kind.

I’m certainly not smart enough to know what that overhaul entails. I doubt few people are. However, as a long-time fan and follower of the industry, I have a few ideas. To keep it simple, here are four steps to saving the comic book industry in a post-pandemic world.


Step 1: Emphasize Quality Over Quantity

This is a simple metric. There are just too many books coming out all at once. However, this is a problem that predates the current crisis. It’s a problem that has lingered since the industry almost crashed completely in the early 1990s. It came down to simple economics. Publishers made too many books that not enough people bought. Even if they were only a dollar apiece, there’s only so much consumers can consume.

This is not a sustainable business model. Companies like Marvel and DC Comics grew the most when they were just publishing a dozen or so titles a month, with a few mini-series on the side. You could, conceivably, follow every major event in the Marvel or DC universe for less than $40, adjusted for inflation. That kind of easy access is what helped create the massive fandom that these franchises enjoy today.

That said, this isn’t the mid-1960s. The world is changed. Markets and consumer habits have changed. However, there’s still a place for comics in the publishing world. It’s just a matter of making those products more valuable. Books like DC’s Earth One series are basically single-issue graphic novels that tell a rich, complex story at a higher price and it’s worth every penny.

At a time when people are strapped for cash and looking for value, the comics industry is in a perfect position to tap into it. Make every comic count. Make every dollar feel like it was well-spent. It won’t just keep new fans happy. It’ll help create an entirely new generation of fans who are less inclined to go to crowded movie theaters.


Step 2: Embrace Digital (In A Novel Way)

This step plays directly off the first in that it embraces new technology. Decades ago, comics were easy to access because you could buy them at news stands and grocery stores. As a kid, I got most of my comics from the grocery store at first. They were easy and, much to my parents’ delight, cheap ways of putting a smile on my face.

These days, you can’t find comics in grocery stories. However, digital comics have grown a great deal and are more accessible than ever, thanks to companies like Comixology. Most comics are already released digitally on the same day they come out in shops. That’s great, but it’s basically just an extra convenience for those who don’t live near comic shops. That can’t be the extent of how digital comics impact the industry.

At the moment, digital comics are only a small part of overall comic sales, but they’re growing rapidly. In conjunction with that growth, the industry needs to embrace the other opportunities that digital offers. Services like Marvel Unlimited are nice, but they’re just giving us products that were already released. Why not give us something we can’t get anywhere else?

I’m not sure what that something is, be it a motion comic or something that sets itself apart from a traditional paperback. I’m not smart enough to figure it out, but digital offers so many rich opportunities. The first company to figure it out will make millions and entice a new generation of fans.


Step 3: Make Comic Shops More Than Comic Shops

I love comic shops. Some of my fondest memories have occurred in comic shops. I don’t want them to go away. However, embracing digital comics doesn’t mean the same as ditching these important brick-and-mortar structures. It just means changing their role in the overall comics infrastructure.

When I was a kid, there were two types of stores. One were the stores you could hang out in and the other were the stores in which the owners kicked you out if you lingered for more than 10 minutes. The future of the industry needs to embrace the former rather than the latter.

Comic shops can’t just be about selling comics and merchandise. Too much of that is online and relying on that model is doomed to failure. Instead, comic shops need to be part comic shop and part coffee shop. Make it a place where you don’t just browse the racks for new material. Make it a place where you can sit down with friends, get some coffee, get a snack, and enjoy comics in a communal manner.

Once comic shops are an experience again, people will visit them and not just because there are new comics to buy. If comics can become a popular hang-out once more, then they’ll have a place in a new market.


Step 4: Empower Creators (Instead Of Screwing Them Over)

As much as I love comics, I don’t doubt that it has engaged in some shady business practices. There are many stories about comic creators getting screwed over by major publishers. While every industry has shady practices, the comics industry relies too heavily on brilliant creators to screw them over.

While Marvel and DC have their Disney/WB overlords to please, they can’t just rely on being farms for intellectual property. There has to be a new and better way for compensating creators. Alan Moore may be a cankerous blow-hard, but he really did get screwed over when DC flat out broke their promise to him.

Broken promises always cost more in the long run, especially with respect to comics. It’s not enough for the publishers to just acknowledge the contributions of creators. They need to have a way to profit. It’s not impossible. Apple does it with their app store, creating a means for creative developers to profit from their creations while still making Apple billions.

When both benefit, everyone benefits. It’s really that simple.


I know the comics industry is undergoing rapid change. I don’t doubt I’ll be upset with some of those changes. However, I also understand that the industry needs to change in this increasingly chaotic world. These are just some ideas on how to go about it.

Whatever happens, I hope this industry that I love continues to thrive. I don’t know how, but I do know that a lot of people love it and they’ll find a way to make it work.

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Filed under DC Comics, Marvel, superhero comics

New Comic Day April 15, 2020: Limited Releases, But One Pick

Another Wednesday has arrived. Once again, it’s another Wednesday without the weekly dose of joy that is new comics. It wasn’t a surprise, but it still happened. All major publishers, including Marvel and DC, have announced that no new comics will be released this week, except for digital only titles or previously scheduled compilations.

There aren’t enough words in any language for me to articulate how much this sucks. However, rather than spend another lonely Wednesday complaining about it, I’m going to make an effort to find a shining gem in this sea of doom and gloom.

Yes, major publishers are still delaying their shipments and releases. That’s to be expected of big, entrenched businesses who have been following a particular model for decades.

At the same time, independent comic creators still have an opportunity to publish their work on established platforms outside that entrenched system. Thanks to sites like Comixology, some creators can bypass the typical comic publishing model altogether and release their work straight to the public. As a lifelong comic fan, I can’t say enough about these creators.

While the selection of independently created comics tends to be limited, there are still quality books within this crop. I would even argue that the current lack of major titles gives them a chance to shine in ways they never would’ve been able to in an ordinary market. If a book is really good, it deserves to be singled out for the joy it brings during these difficult times.

To that end, I’d like to highlight one particular book that came out today. It’s not a superhero comic. It’s not from a major publisher, either. Despite all the forces working against it, this book still found a way to shine through on this gloomy Wednesday and for that, I’m happy to single out its greatness.


Lost On Planet Earth #1

Lost On Planet Earth (comiXology Originals) #1 (of 5)

Some stories don’t need to be full of epic space battles and alien invasions to be impactful. In fact, the sheer grandiosity of those stories often make it hard to relate to. Most people aren’t billionaire playboy philanthropists or a demigoddess born into a race of warriors. We can be in awe of their exploits, but overwhelmed by their impossible standards.

That’s exactly why “Lost on Planet Earth #1” is so refreshing. It’s a story built around futuristic, sci-fi aesthetics in a post-scarcity world. It involves alien races, star ship fleets, and a universe full of interplanetary intrigue. At the same time, it feels like a down-to-Earth, slice of real life story that real people in the real world can relate to.

Written by Magdalene Visaggio, with art by Claudia Aguirre, we follow the boundless ambition of a young woman named Basil Miranda. She starts out as focused, determined, and dedicated. She’s like that person we all knew in high school who went out of their way to overachieve, setting a high bar for herself and doing everything she can to top it.

She’s not smug or self-righteous about it, either. She’s also not someone who relies on a super soldier serum, bites by a radioactive spider, or a billion-dollar bank account to pursue that ambition. She’s just a very driven young woman who decided at age 5 that she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. From that day forward, she worked hard every day in pursuit of that goal.

Then, the day of her exam to join the interplanetary fleet, something unexpected happens. She’s asked a question that she never could’ve prepared herself for. It’s a simple question, but one people in real and fictional worlds alike struggle to answer.

What makes you happy?

It sounds basic, but it has profound implications, both for Basil and for anyone who has ever thought about it for more than five seconds. In all her ambition, she never stops to contemplate whether this goal she decided when she was five-years-old is what will make her happy.

Yes, it will make her successful.

Yes, it will put her in a position to have a major impact on her world and others.

However, will it make her happy?

That triggers a full-blown crisis in Basil, which Aguirre’s colorful artwork captures beautifully every step of the way. Suddenly, this determined young woman who was so disciplined and certain is now utterly overwhelmed. She doesn’t know what to do with herself and struggles to figure that out. I won’t get into spoilers, but it does lead her down some unexpected paths.

What Visaggio does with “Lost on Planet Earth #1” is remarkable in how it flips the script on an ambitious character’s journey. It’s easy for anyone in a sci-fi fantasy world to look up at the stars and yearn to explore, thrusting themselves into new conflicts. It’s also easy for someone in the real world to envision their future, thinking this is what they want for themselves.

It’s a lot harder to stop for a moment, take a look inside yourself, and ask why you pursue these goals in the first place. Do you genuinely think they’ll make you happy? Is success and achievement really the same as happiness and fulfillment? These are questions some people go their whole lives without contemplating. Many people, especially young people like Basil, aren’t inclined to think that far ahead.

These heady concepts help make “Lost on Planet Earth #1” a unique story within a sci-fi worlds. They’re concepts that are worth exploring in the real world, as well. We can all identify with Basil’s unexpected struggle in this story. In times of crisis when we have more time than usual to think about these things, this book asks some profound questions that are worth answering.


To Magdalene Visaggio and Claudia Aguirre, thank you for making this comic and releasing it during difficult times like this. As a comic fan and just someone in need of a more uplifting story, I really appreciate it.

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