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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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Filed under censorship, Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, media issues, political correctness, sex in media, superhero comics, superhero movies, women's issues

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for X-23 #6. Enjoy!

Class, Clones, and Killer Robots in Marvel Comics’ ‘X-23 #6’

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November 8, 2018 · 5:02 pm

The following is a review I did for PopMatters for “The Life of Captain Marvel #4.”

Carol Danver’s Past Has a Twist in “The Life of Captain Marvel #4”

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October 18, 2018 · 6:36 pm

On My Way To New York Comic Con 2018!

Today, there’s no need for sexy musings.

Today, there’s no time for sexy stories.

Today is all about me heading to the New York Comic Con! I’ve documented my experiences before. I’ve every intention of doing the same here. Every year seems to bring a new experience, a new spectacle, and a new story to tell. Say what you will about nerd culture and superhero media. It’s a hell of an experience and one that fans like me deeply cherish.

I hope to post various updates throughout the day. If I encounter anything especially exciting or sexy, I’ll be sure to document it here. For now, just know that I am on my way to the Jacob Javits center in New York City where I hope to join those looking to share the experience.

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Jack’s Quick Pick: Wonder Woman #55

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder Woman #55

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