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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #1

Ever comic book fan has been conditioned to revere Wednesdays as New Comic Book Day. It’s basically Christmas every week. However, much like Christmas, not all Wednesdays are equal in terms of the presents they bring. Every now and then, a Wednesday comes along that a certain segment of comic fans come to revere for years to come.

For X-Men fans, this will likely go down as one of those Wednesdays because “House of X #1” is just that astonishing. Every now and then, a book comes along that is presented as a major paradigm shift for the characters, the themes, and the over-arching narrative of a series. In superhero comics, books like that are hyped up at least once a month. Very few deliver on that hype. “House of X #1” is one of those select few.

To say that the X-Men comics needed a book like this is like saying an insomniac needs a good night’s sleep. For years now, going back to the days of “House of M,” both the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe has been in a constant state of extinction-level crisis. Even when they’re not about to go extinct, they’re caught up in something that has them just one slip-up away from another dytopian future.

In “House of X #1,” writer Jonathan Hickman dares to rebuild the X-Men’s world without first sending them to the brink of extinction. For anyone who has followed X-Men comics for more than two years, this is like a breath of fresh air, a massage, and a chocolate milkshake all rolled into one. It shouldn’t be that radical a concept, but between Hickman’s vision and Pepe Larraz’s beautiful artwork, it sure feels like it.

This bold new world for the X-Men isn’t built around mansions with high-tech jets hidden below the tennis court. You won’t find orbiting asteroids, isolated nations, or island sanctuaries in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This world is more than a nation or sanctuary. It’s a bold new form for Charles Xavier’s dream.

It comes courtesy of Krakoa, a name right out of one of the most iconic X-Men comics of all time. This living island has evolved and Charles Xavier is maximizing its potential with intriguing results. He comes off as more than just a visionary or messianic figure in “House of X #1.” He has a bold new plan for the entire mutant race and it’s big.

By that, I don’t just mean it’s big in terms of goals and scope. This plan is something that changes the way the X-Men operate. It’s not just flying around in X-Jets anymore. It’s not just peaceful protests and confronting bigotry. Charles Xavier is rallying mutants to his cause in a bold new way. He’s also dealing with humans in a new way, as well.

It’s here where “House of X #1” explores some very interesting concepts that take the X-Men into uncharted territory. For much of their history, the X-Men have been either reacting to attacks by their enemies or trying to counter intense hatred and mistrust of mutants. It hasn’t just hindered Xavier’s efforts at peace and understanding. It has kept them isolated and always on the brink.

Rather than simply brace for the worst, Charles Xavier decides to offer something tantalizing to both humans and mutants alike. I won’t spoil too many details. I’ll just say that he puts the X-Men in a unique position, in terms of how the world sees them. It may not win them the love and adulation that the Avengers get, but it does provide some bold incentives.

That’s something that few X-Men comics have ever attempted on this scale. It’s not enough to confront hatred and mistrust. Hickman puts the X-Men in a position to be more diplomatic with the world. They have something to offer the world. Accepting that offer benefits humans and mutants in a tangible, positive way.

Again, that should not be such a radical concept, but Hickman and Larraz present it in a way that feels both novel and vast. It’s not entirely utopian in its potential, but it has the potential to bring positive change to a world and a narrative that needs it.

As a lifelong X-Men fan, “House of X #1” fills me with both curiosity and awe. There’s a lot to love about this bold new world that Hickman and Larraz are building. For once, it’s not just another threat that puts the mutant race on the brink of extinction. There’s a larger effort to do something bigger.

That’s not to say the threats aren’t there. Just as Charles Xavier pursues his bold new vision in “House of X #1,” other visions forged by other characters emerge to present obstacles. Some parts of that vision are new, but there is some familiar imagery that X-Men fans will recognize. It ensures that there will still be plenty of mutant-powered fights in this new world.

At the same time, “House of X #1” creates a clear impression that fighting killer robots will only be a small part of this new vision for the X-Men. There’s so much more going on, both with the characters and with the larger Marvel Universe. After all the upheavals they’ve had over the past 15 years, it finally feels like they have room to grow again.

It’s an exciting time to be an X-Men fan. On top of Kevin Feige confirming that mutants are finally coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hickman and Larraz are taking X-Men in a bold, if not overdue direction in the comics. This sentiment is even captured perfectly in Charles Xavier’s first lines of the book.

“Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.”

Truer words were never spoken. In a world that gets invaded by aliens, Hydra, and renegade gods every other day, that’s saying something.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Age Of X-Man Omega #1

Comics are a unique form of media in that its structure allows a certain kind of story to be told. It’s not like a movie in that it comes out once every few years and costs over $150 million to produce. It’s not like a TV show either that requires broadcast rights, streaming services, and dealing with cable companies.

The simplicity of comics, unfolding on paper and needing only ink and text to convey the story, gives it near unlimited capacity for telling big stories with bold concepts with vibrant imagery. There’s no need to pay Michael Bay or a special effects team to bring it all to life. It just requires a bold idea and someone with incredible art skills to make it real.

A comic like “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” is one of those books that fully utilizes the greatest strengths of the medium. It builds entire worlds while exploring bold concepts on a level that, if it were a movie, would take the gross national product of a small country to make real.

Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, alongside artist Simone Buonfantino, created an incredible world. Mutants, the X-Men, and their struggle took on an entirely new context within a new realty, courtesy of Nate Grey, one of the X-Men’s most overpowered characters. Age of X-Man has been a story about the strengths and flaws in this reality. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” brings that story to a close.

From its inception in “Age Of X-Man Alpha #1,” this world that Thompson and Nadler created has been an elaborate thought experiment. What does a perfect, Utopian world look like for mutants and the X-Men? Given the many dytopian timelines the X-Men have explored, it’s not an unreasonable question.

Over the course of multiple books that cover multiple characters and concepts, we get to explore that world and all its complexities. Thompson and Nadler go heavy on the world-building, revealing the best parts of this Utopian vision, as well as price it incurs. With “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” the full story of this world is complete. Now, it’s up to the X-Men to decide what to do with it.

Like all Utopias, the Age Of X-man comes at a cost. On the surface, everyone is safe and happy. However, there are some dark, disturbing reasons for this. The X-Men of this world, which include the likes of Jean Grey, Storm, Magneto, Nightcrwaler, Mirage, Colossus, Beast, and Bishop, have been uncovering those reasons over the course of the series. Now, they know the full truth.

However, this isn’t just a matter of fighting the source of these harsh truths. Nate Grey is not a mustache-twirling villain. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” goes out of its way to justify his actions and the logic behind them. In the grand scheme of things, his logic isn’t that twisted.

The greatest strength of “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” as well as the overall event, is that none of the conflicts were born out of total malice. Nate Grey didn’t create this world to toy with the X-Men or get revenge. He did it because he had the power to end the never-ending struggle that only ever brings them pain and suffering.

It’s at the heart of every Utopian vision, attempting to eliminate suffering so that everyone can be happy. It always comes at a price and Nate Grey understood that price. He even goes out of his way to justify it to the X-Men as they’re opposing him. To some extent, he has a point.

He highlights how the relationships the X-Men forge have been a liability in their efforts. He points out, ironically, how some of their most human traits are the very reason why they suffer so much. His world worked to subvert that and, even though it meant manipulation and subjugation for some, it succeeded in its own perverse way.

That’s exactly what makes the ultimate conclusion in “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” feel dramatic. It’s not entirely framed as the X-Men escaping from a prison or uncovering Nate Grey’s secrets. There is a final clash and it definitely maximizes Buonfantino’s talents. However, that clash doesn’t end because the X-Men defeated Nate Grey.

Without spoiling too many details of a story that has such an immense scope, I’ll note there are some powerful moments in which the X-Men and the mutants they’ve sworn to protect make some difficult choices. They’ve lived in this Utopia. They now know the price of such a Utopia. What they do with this knowledge is less about the battles they fight and more about the choices they make.

For once, there’s no army of killer robots to fight. There’s no deranged, mutant-hating villain to thwart. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” puts the burden on the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe to decide the course of their fate. Being heroes, their decisions aren’t that surprising. Even so, those decisions carry a great deal of weight.

As a final chapter, “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” caps off a bold story within an exotic world that dares to explore some weighty concepts. The idea of a Utopia is not new, but it’s a concept that still resonates in both real and fictional worlds. As long as people live in imperfect worlds, fictional or otherwise, it’ll continue to resonate.

The Age of X-Man built a story around an ideal life for mutants, free of conflict and killer robots. That story didn’t bring an end to the X-Men and their mission, but it did put it in a very different context. That, in my opinion, is an uncanny accomplishment.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Lois Lane #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this world in the never-ending effort to make it feel less hopeless. Fans like me take comfort and joy in reading stories about powerful superheroes using their immense abilities to pull off heroic feats. Many of these stories center around extraordinary individuals doing extraordinary things with power that few in the non-comic book world can comprehend.

Then, a comic like “Lois Lane #1” comes along and proves that heroic feats don’t need superhuman abilities. They just need a stubborn and unyielding commitment to the truth.

I admit that the idea of a Lois Lane comic didn’t seem all that intriguing. I also freely acknowledge that I’ve criticized how Lois has been utilized in recent years with respect to the larger Superman mythos. Those criticisms aside, I don’t deny the importance of her character. She is still an integral part of Superman’s world, as well as the larger DC universe.

Lois Lane #1” doesn’t change that role, nor does it attempt to radically alter who Lois is. It just takes some time to focus on what she does, why she does it, and why it’s such a critical component of truth, justice, and the American way. You could even argue that those ideals are more critical now than they ever have been, which means Lois Lane’s story carries a weight beyond being Superman’s love interest.

Writer Greg Rucka, who has considerable experience writing DC’s strongest female characters, builds an entire story around Lois Lane exercising her expert reporting skills. On the surface, it may not sound as exciting as watching Superman punch meteors out of the sky, but the underlying themes of the story go beyond just saving the day.

Those looking for another story about Lois needing to be rescued by Superman again will probably be disappointed by “Lois Lane #1.” However, those hoping to see someone pursue justice in a way that doesn’t require Kryptonian biology are in for a treat. Superman may be the personification of truth, justice, and the American way, but it’s Lois Lane who proves you don’t need powers to fight for it.

The story is a potent mix of a spy thriller and a mystery built around headlines that are all too real to anyone with a news feed. Yes, there are plenty of super-villains in the DC universe looking to destroy whole worlds and rip apart the fabric of reality. At the same time, there are smaller-scale forms of injustice and those are the battles Lois fights.

In this case, her fight takes her to Russia, a place not known for press freedom. She has a story that won’t defeat Darkseid, but it will expose the corruption, injustice, and lies that plague her world as much as ours. While Superman is still in the story, he actually plays no part in helping her navigate this battle. In this particular battle for truth, Lois is on her own and she proves she’s capable without superpowers.

In fact, for the truth she seeks, superpowers aren’t that useful. Exposing corruption and lies is never a matter of how many meteors or parademons you can punch. Lois is a reporter. She needs information, sources, and connections. These are not things you can punch or magically conjure. Rucka has Lois rely almost entirely on her reporting skills rather than her intimate relationship with Superman.

Those reporting skills might as well be superpowers. Lois isn’t just dedicated to finding the truth. She’s determined. She willingly puts herself in danger to find the information she needs. While this usually means Superman has to rescue her at least once a week, that’s not the case here.

Lois Lane #1” shows that it is possible for Lois to navigate that danger without calling on her super-powered lover. After reading this comic, you feel as though this sort of triumph doesn’t happen often enough, both in the real and fictional world.

Throughout her history, Lois Lane has been a tricky character to develop. She’s so defined by her relationship to Superman that it’s difficult for her to stand on her own. Being a side-kick or a love interest tends to define a character more than what they actually do in a story.

Lois Lane #1” doesn’t try to subvert or redefine her lengthy history. She’s still very much Superman’s love interest. She still plays a vital role in his story. However, this comic makes the case that Lois can carry her own story, as well. Rucka, along with the art of Mike Perkins, demonstrate that she can pursue truth and justice on her own. For someone who needs to be rescued so often, it’s both refreshing and overdue.

While Lois Lane will never be an iconic female hero on the same level as Wonder Woman, she embodies many of the principles that heroes of all kinds fight for. They readily protect the innocent and defend justice with their immense powers, but Lois Lane demonstrates why those principles matter.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: War Of The Realms #6

Once a week, the comic gods bless us with a wave of new material to help make this feeble world a bit more divine. Some weeks feel more blessed than others and when it comes to concluding epic crossover events, there are plenty of blessings to go around.

If the final battle in “Avengers Endgame” stoked your appetite for high-stakes superhero battles, then congratulations! You now know what long-time comic book fans have been enjoying for decades. Before superhero movies raked in billions at the box office, battles of such epic scale played out in events like Onslaught, Secret Invasion, and Maximum Carnage. Today, War of the Realms joins those marvelous ranks.

The verdict is in. The conclusion is unavoidable. “War of the Realms #6” effectively caps off both a massive conflict and an incredible era for a certain collection of characters. This seeds of this war that were planted years ago finally bore fruit and even if you haven’t followed every stage of growth, that fruit still tastes pretty damn sweet.

War of the Realms #6” isn’t just the end of the massive, realm-spanning war that started with Malekith the Accursed. It’s the end of a rocky journey for Thor, his family, and his friends. By the time the fighting stops, the Thor we see is a Thor who is worthy on an entirely new level. Not even the pickiest enchanted hammer can deny that now.

The War of the Realms was never just about Malekith waging a massive war on Earth. That was still a big part of it, but there were other personal stakes in this war that made it feel like more than god-fueled disaster porn.

Malekith basically attacked at a time when Thor, Asgard, and the entire foundation of the 10 realms were vulnerable. Even before Thor became unworthy of his iconic hammer, the divine realms of the Marvel Universe faced some heavy upheavals. Asgard was no longer this beacon of power and order. Thor’s father, Odin, made more than a few ill-fated decisions and didn’t have Anthony Hopkins’ charm to get him through.

Over the course of War of the Realms, and its various tie-ins, one thing became clear. This war could not be won by simply reverting to the same tactics that had saved Asgard many times before. Thor, Odin, Freyja, and the Avengers who fought by their side had to be bolder. They also had to be willing to pay a price.

Historically, that’s something Thor has avoided. Sacrifice is something his father often preaches and warns about, but Thor often finds a better way, usually with the help of his fellow Avengers. That’s not the case, this time. Thor subjects himself to some heavy torment in “War of the Realms #6” to help win the day. The results of his actions are as satisfying as they are worthy.

Writer Jason Aaron, who has been spearheading Thor’s story in the comics for years now, completes a lengthy chapter in the God of Thunder’s ever-evolving mythos. If becoming unworthy was Thor’s lowest point in this arc, then “War of the Realms #6” is a new high point.

Thor doesn’t just prove himself in the face of Malekith’s unending forces. He shows how much he’s grown in recent years and artist Russell Dauterman makes it a sight to behold. There’s redemption in some areas. There’s also vindication, which is something Thor has not had much of in recent years. By the end, even his father recognizes that.

Thor isn’t the only one who shines, either. War of the Realms has assembled a diverse and colorful mix of heroes with which to navigate this conflict. Wolverine, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and the Punisher have all had great moments. Thor’s supporting cast, including Jane Foster and his parents, also play a major role in beating Malekith.

Even though War of the Realms is very much a Thor story, it feels like everyone involved had a chance to benefit from the struggle. Thor just happened to benefit the most.

War of the Realms #6” is one of those comics that feels like a turning point for a certain set of characters. In addition to being an action-heavy, super-powered conflict involving mortals, gods, and dark elves, it always felt personal to those involved.

For a crossover story, that’s a critical element. Whether it’s a comic book, a blockbuster movie, or the real world, a war with personal stakes is a war with greater meaning. Without those stakes, it’s just violence and bloodshed. In comics, meaningless action is fun, but meaningful conflict is what brings out the best in these characters.

War of the Realms definitely did this for Thor and “War of the Realms #6” ended the final battle on a strong, thunderous note. If Chris Hemsworth made you a Thor fan, then “War of the Realms #6” will help affirm your love of this most worthy of Asgardians. If neither this comic nor Mr. Hemsworth charisma is still enough to make you a Thor fan, then you’re just being difficult.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: War Of The Realms #4

Once a week, the benevolent lords of the comic book world and the corporations they serve grace us with a new stack of comics. At a time when only the headlines of The Onion don’t make you cringe, this world needs the joy they offer. As such, I make it a point to single out one comic from that stack that offers the most value for the joy it conveys.

Some comics succeed by focusing on character development, as is often the case in most X-Men comics. Some succeed by subverting or stretching common superhero tropes, as we often see in comics like Kick-Ass, Invincible, or The Punisher. However, a book need not be overly creative to qualify as an awesome comic. It just needs to take everything we love and turn the volume up to 11.

That’s exactly what “War Of The Realms #4” does and then some. It’s one of those books where you need only real the title to know the scope and scale of the story within. This is not just superheroes in flashy costumes battling killer robots on the streets of a big city. This is a war that spans multiple realms involving gods, demigods, evil elves, and frost giants. If you can’t be entertained by that, then you’re just being difficult.

That said, “War Of The Realms #4” is not just several dozen pages of flashy action scenes. There have been plenty of those moments since this event began, but the action was mostly a means of conveying the sheer breadth of this war. Now, the writer of this Marvel main event, Jason Aaron, has raised the stakes even more by making it personal and turning the tide of the battle.

While you don’t have to know too much about the mythos surrounding Asgard and the 10 realms, it certainly helps in this case. Even if you’ve only seen “Thor: The Dark World,” you’ll have enough insight to know why this war is so massive. Malekith the Accursed might have been an afterthought in that movie, but make no mistake. He’s a devious, scheming, evil badass that requires a fully assembled team of Avengers to combat.

For the past three issues, Malekith and forces that include Frost Giants, Angels, Fire Demons, and Dark Elves have led a massive invasion of Earth. It’s not just in New York City, either. Malekith has bigger ambitions than simply disrupting traffic on Broadway. His forces hit every continent.

To this point, there has been no stopping him. Despite the Avengers fighting back on every front, teaming up with the likes of Spider-Man, Blade, Wolverine, Daredevil, Punisher, and Ghost Rider, it still isn’t enough. They still find themselves pushed back, beleaguered, and overwhelmed.

As a result, there have been casualties in this war. Some have already hit certain characters harder than others. Thor, the one usually tasked with beating the unholy shit out of Malekith before he can launch an invasion, is effectively subdued before he hammer back the threat. It is, by far, the most successful attack Malekith has ever launched against his Asgardian nemesis.

That means winning the war won’t come from Thor swinging his hammer around and hitting anything that looks like an evil elf. The Avengers and heroes from across the Marvel landscape have to join in the battle. They’ve managed to fight back, if only to keep the battle going. However, they haven’t made much progress in terms of ending it.

That changes in “War Of The Realms #4” and in some incredibly satisfying ways. Aaron, with the help of the divine artwork of Russel Dauterman, shifts the course of the battle by giving Odin and Freyja an overdue moment that has been years in the making. It’s a moment that marks an emotional high point for this event and for Thor’s overall story.

For the past several years, some of Thor’s biggest battles involve his parents. Odin and Freyja may have come off as only somewhat overbearing in the movies, but things are far more dysfunctional in the comics. There have been times when they’ve actively opposed one another. At one point, Odin even fought Jane Foster when she was wielding Thor’s hammer.

He is a divine blow-hard who most fluent language is arrogance. Freyja has managed to temper his tendencies in the past, but those moments have become few and far between. For a while, they were the godly equivalent of a married couple attempting a trial separation and making everything worse. They still see each other as husband and wife, but it seems like a formality at this point.

Finally, they share a moment in “War Of The Realms #4” that affirms why they got married in the first place. It’s a moment that will likely define the course of this realm-spanning war and have major implications for Thor, Asgard, the Avengers, and every other creature that has tasted an Uru hammer.

I won’t spoil the details of that moment. I’ll just say that it’s a culmination that has been in the works since before the war began. Every big battle, whether it’s in a comic book, a movie, or a TV show with a massive budget, needs a moment like that to give the conflict some emotional weight. That weight has been somewhat lacking since this event began, but “War Of The Realms #4” delivers in a way that feels satisfying and thrilling.

There are other moments in between. Aaron never lets the plot become too chaotic and Dauterman makes sure there’s always a spectacle to admire. Many characters manage to shine through the fog of war, including Ghost Rider, the Punisher, and Jane Foster.

It’s still a big, flashy war featuring superheroes, gods, and monsters from every corner of the Marvel universe. It has all the flashy style to make this realm-spanning war feel like a major event, but “War Of The Realms #4” gives it the necessary substance to give it weight.

It has spectacle, drama, action, and adventure. It also has gods, demigods, superheroes, and evil armies that can overrun continents. What more could you want from a comic book?

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this chaotic world and makes it a little more tolerable. As someone who has come to appreciate this weekly injection of personal joy, I’ve taken it upon myself to single out one particular comic that helps make that Wednesday extra special in the hearts of comic fans.

This week had more going for it than most because “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” came out and for those still bathing in the afterglow of the “Captain Marvel” movie, this is a perfect desert. While it doesn’t feature Carol Danvers, it does focus on Kamala Khan, her biggest fan and the one who has been carrying on her mantle wonderfully since 2014.

I’ve already mentioned Kamala before, having singled her out as a case study in how to do young female superheroes right in an era where gender politics and internet trolls are determined to make everything go horribly wrong. Kamala has grown a great deal over the past several years and, with the success of “Captain Marvel,” seems destined to enter the MCU.

There’s so much about Kamala that makes her lovable, heroic, and compelling. If you need a reminder why, “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” is the perfect refresher. This series marks a transition of sorts. The previous writer for Ms. Marvel, G. Willow Wilson, has left the title. As the one who created Kamala Khan and did so much to make her so lovable, she set a very high bar.

Kamala’s new writer, Saladin Ahmed, does plenty to maintain the lovability that comic fans have come to expect from Ms. Marvel. In the earliest parts of the issue, he takes a page right out of Wilson’s creative playbook by focusing heavily on Kamala’s story when she’s not in costume.

It’s a major part of what makes Kamala so relatable. She’s an aspiring superhero, but she’s also a teenage girl with plenty of non-superhero issues to deal with. She has friends, parents, and bus schedules to deal with. Like a young Peter Parker, she has to balance her superhero life with her civilian life. Unlike Peter Parker, though, her life is subject to unique challenges that aren’t contingent upon dead uncles.

While Kamala does spend time in her Ms. Marvel costume fighting a couple villains, the biggest upheavals in “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” occur when she’s not in costume. I won’t drop too many spoilers. I’ll just say that her superhero life and her civilian life come at a sudden crossroads.

At first, it seems sudden. There doesn’t appear to be much of a build towards the drama. Then, Ahmed throws in an unexpected twist towards the end that completely changes the situation surrounding that drama. It suddenly becomes a mystery, one that may have greater consequences for Kamala down the road.

Every teenage superhero faces critical moments, at some point, that changes the course of their journey. Peter Parker often dealt with those moments by quitting for a while, but Kamala never gives the impression that she’s going to quit. Despite all the hardship and frustration that being Ms. Marvel brings her, she never uses that as an excuse to walk away. That, in and of itself, puts her ahead of the curve for most aspiring superheroes.

At the same time, it also makes her vulnerable. “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” puts her in a position where her life as Ms. Marvel and Kamala Khan undergo a major upheaval. She faces a new kind of threat that isn’t well-defined. However, it quickly establishes that it’s capable of attacking her on a very personal level.

It’s the worst kind of attack for a young hero undergoing heavy personal dramas. She basically has to fight her battles with a wounded spirit, but she still fights. That’s what makes her Ms. Marvel. That’s what makes her so easy to root for, both as a character and as a hero.

For years, G. Willow Wilson told Kamala’s story in a way that made her endearing in her own unique way. So far, Saladin Ahmed is moving that story forward in ways that make you want to root for Kamala even more. “Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1” doesn’t just tell the next phase of Ms. Marvel’s superhero journey. It raises the stakes, promising a new kind of challenge that will either break her heart or make it stronger.

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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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