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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Comic Quick Pick: Ms. Marvel #38

Fridays may be everyone else’s favorite non-weekend day of the week, but ask most comic book fans and they’ll say Wednesday holds a special place in their hearts. It’s that magical day when a new batch of comics enters the world and our souls are nourished by their awesome. I don’t care what kind of a week I’m having. When new comics come out on Wednesday, I find a reason to smile.

This week, with Valentine’s Day coming up and me being single, I needed more reasons than usual. Thankfully, this week brought us Ms. Marvel #38 and I’m already feeling the love. It also happens to be the five-year anniversary since her landmark debut. Given all the awards and accolades she received in that time, this definitely qualifies as a milestone worth celebrating.

I’ve gone out of my way to praise Kamala Khan before, citing her as a prime example of how to do female superheroes right in this crazy era. She’s young, lovable, determined, and idealistic. She’s also relatable, dealing with the same problems that most stressed out teenagers from Jersey City often deal with. If the past five years of comics haven’t convinced you of that, then Ms. Marvel #38 should help make that point.

This milestone issue is a one-shot, self-contained story that starts off with Kamala being in a miserable mood. Then, after a brief, but colorful adventure with her friends, she remembers that being pissed off all day is a waste of a perfectly good day. It’s simple. Writer G. Willow Wilson doesn’t try to reinvent Kamala here. She just affirms why she has come as far as she has in five years.

A big part of that process involves highlighting the parts of Kamala’s life that don’t involve costumed villains, superpowers, and dealing with Deadpool’s dirty jokes. Wilson takes the time to show Kamala dealing with parents, siblings, and just getting to school on a day when she feels like crap. It may seem mundane, but Wilson uses it to humanize Kamala at every turn.

In the same tradition of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel is a teenage girl first and a superhero on the side. She doesn’t have the luxury of mixing her personal life with that of her superhero life. Both affect the other and rarely in a good way. She wants to be a superhero, but she doesn’t want to stop being Kamala Khan. That’s not just a challenge. It’s overwhelming.

The stress really gets to her in this Ms. Marvel #38. Even without some major villain attacking, she’s doubting herself and her ability to manage everything. Then, she finds herself plucked into a strange new dimension where the most cheesy tropes of old RPG games come to life. If it sounds random, that’s because it is, but that’s exactly why it works.

Like a double shot of espresso and a slap upside the head, Kamala has to stop moping and be Ms. Marvel. At the same time, she has to help her friends who get sucked into this world as well. Nakia, Zoe, and Bruno do not have superpowers. However, they still end up helping Kamala every bit as much as her powers.

It’s one of the most common, but powerful themes of Ms. Marvel comics. Whereas supporting characters often end up being complications and liabilities for many heroes, Kamala’s supporting cast often supplement her heroics rather than hinder them. Sure, they still have to be rescued every now and then, but it never feels like anyone is a damsel.

There’s also more to this little dive into the world of overdone video game themes than just giving Kamala an adventure to go on. In between the colorful visuals that artist Nico Leon provides every step of the way, there are a few powerful moments in which Kamala and her friends realize how much they’ve grown and how much they haven’t.

It’s a fitting testament to how far Kamala Khan has come in the past five years. On some levels, she’s the same insecure girl she was before she got her powers. On others, she’s grown a lot since then. Having watched her grow since her debut issue, I found Ms. Marvel #38 to be a satisfying testament to the kind of hero she has become.

For that reason and plenty others, Ms. Marvel #38 is an easy choice for my weekly quick pick. Even if you haven’t been following Kamala Khan’s story too closely at this point, this wonderfully-crafted, self-contained story will help reveal why she has become such a big deal in comics in the past five years. Hopefully, the next five years are just as enjoyable, especially if she ever finds her way into the MCU.

Beyond being a teenager, a girl, and a fan of superheroes and video games, Kamala Khan’s journey is one that’s easy to follow and even easier to root for. She starts off having a bad day and you can’t help but want to see her turn it around. We’ve all had bad days. Some are so bad that even superpowers can’t cheer us up. However, Ms. Marvel finds a way because she’s just that special.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Comic Quick Pick: Ms. Marvel #37

Every Wednesday is a holiday for comic book fans. That’s the day when a fresh batch of comics from companies we love to complain about give us a fresh dose of ink-laden awesome. Within each batch of books are plenty of comics to brighten your week and make the world a little more magical. I try to single one particular comic out from that pack that I feel has more magic than most.

This week’s comic quick pick was tricky. There were some quality books this week from the likes of X-men, Justice League, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. However, one book found a way to stand out in the most adorable way possible. That book is “Ms. Marvel #37” and if you have a low tolerance for cuteness, this book may be too much for you.

I’ve sang the praises of Kamala Khan in the past. I’ll likely find new ways to praise her in the future, especially if she ends up joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She’s one of the most likable characters in all of superhero comics. It helps that she hasn’t been around long enough to do something awful, but it also helps when her personal struggles and her superhero struggles blend together perfectly.

That’s the primary theme in “Ms. Marvel #37.” There isn’t a villain to fight, for once. There is a disaster, but it’s not caused by a 100-foot monster or a mad scientist with access to too much plutonium. It’s caused by some a mix of bad luck and poor infrastructure, something that just happens to be a growing issue in the real world.

It’s not nearly as preachy as it sounds. It’s the kind of issue that the Avengers and other superhero teams don’t get to do often enough, help innocent people dealing with a disaster. Kamala gets to be a different kind of hero, one who does more than just punch villains. It helps reinforce that she’s not just a hero for the sake of wearing a fancy costume. She’s a hero because she genuinely wants to do the right thing.

What a concept, right? Kamala is someone who just does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Superman doesn’t have to be the only one with those kinds of values. Unlike Superman, though, Kamala has to do the right thing while babysitting. No, I’m not referring to having an annoying side-kick. I’m talking about a real, actual, diaper-wearing baby.

That baby belongs to her brother, Aamir. He entrusted Kamala and his wife’s brother, Gabe, to watch him. It started going wrong before people needed rescuing, albeit in a hilariously endearing way. Kamala has dealt with some pretty major threats since becoming Ms. Marvel. However, she’s never dealt with a baby and that overwhelms her than her last team-up with Carol Danvers.

It’s as hilarious as it is fitting. It shows that Kamala is still a teenage girl. She’s still young and easily overwhelmed by things she isn’t familiar with. She ends up having to rely on friends and supporting cast to help her, of which she has many. They all have a knack for showing Kamala that things don’t have to be as dire as she thinks. Experience will help you cope, regardless of whether you’re a superhero.

It’s a good message that’s a lot more useful than old PSA’s about eating vegetables and saying no to drugs. “Ms. Marvel #37” continues Kamala’s tradition of making a positive statement through superhero comics, something that seems corny on paper, but works beautifully through her.

It’s part of what makes Kamala so endearing. It’s also what makes her such an effective superhero as Ms. Marvel. She doesn’t just save the day. She inspires others and is, in turn, inspired by them. When things get rough, she reacts in a way that feels distinctly human. In the Marvel universe, which is populated by gods, demigods, and Squirrel Girl, it’s nothing short of refreshing.

To say Kamala has a rough, but enlightening day in “Ms. Marvel #37” would be accurate. It’s just as accurate to say that she has a few low points where she lets the stresses of babysitting and superhero work get to her. That only makes how she handles it that much more fitting.

Ms. Marvel #37” is not part of a larger story arc, nor is it tied to some ongoing event. It’s a simple, self-contained comic that G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon use to remind us why Kamala Khan is so lovable. In that sense, it works. In another, the final page provides an ominous hint that Kamala and her family are about to endure a major upheaval in the best possible way.

There are a lot of events going on in the world of superheroes. It’s tough, if not frustrating, to keep up with all of them. That’s exactly what makes “Ms. Marvel #37” so enjoyable. It’s one comic with one story about one lovable hero. You get you’re money’s worth, both in terms of satisfaction and feels. What more could you want?

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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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A Better Way To Promote Diversity

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How do you encourage meaningful change in media, culture, and social attitudes? That’s a reasonable and relevant question to ask these days. It seems everyone is either trying to push for greater diversity or whining about the lack thereof. More often than not, however, those efforts aren’t mutually exclusive.

Even if nobody has a definitive answer to the question of how, that hasn’t stopped many from trying. There have been major diversity pushes in every form of media from video games to comics to movies to TV shows. Not all of them have been successful. In some cases, they backfired horribly and cost people money.

I don’t want to belabor the specifics of those failures, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that they also have the effect of angering and/or insulting the audience. For franchises that have a huge fan base, that can be pretty detrimental. Some franchises never recover.

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It certainly doesn’t help that there are those who push for diversity for all the wrong reasons. There’s a very vocal contingent of critics/professional trolls who go out of their way to bemoan the lack of diversity in a certain piece of media. Whether it’s a video game having too many people of the same race or a lack of strong female characters, these people will whine about it as loud as the internet will allow.

For the most part, I don’t think anyone should give much attention to such whining. We’ve all dealt with whiny children at some point in our lives. Most people learn, often the hard way, that arguing with them rarely works out. Most people just give up to stop the whining. I’ve pointed out before why this can lead to bigger problems down the line.

It quickly becomes a brutal cycle. The more attention you give to these whiny children, the more incentive they have to whine so they can get what they want. The same applies to these “critics” who keep whining about diversity. It’s not enough for them that “Black Panther” is doing so well with a diverse cast. Some will still whine that it had no LGBT characters.

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It’s inescapable. You simply cannot win against a whiny child. No matter how much you go out of your way for them, they’ll find another reason to whine and so long as they keep getting their way, they’ll keep doing it. In the long run, though, that’s still a terrible way to promote diversity.

Ideally, producers of media will pursue diversity because they want to appeal to a broader audience. They want to make money and money doesn’t care about race, religion, or genital configuration. However, when critics/trolls rely on whining to get their way, then those efforts become less about diversity and more about stopping the whining.

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I believe there is a better way to promote diversity and it does not involve any whining. It doesn’t require some radical rethinking of how we go about producing, consume, or discussing media. It doesn’t even require some major protest, a new law, or diversity quotas. It’s just a simple change in approach that anyone can do for free and without that much effort.

That change can be summed up in two words: positive reinforcement. If you’ve taken a basic psychology class at any point in your education, you already know what this means. Even if you haven’t taken any classes and just deal with a lot of annoying people/children/whiners, you probably know the idea.

Rather than complaining about what is so bad about something, positive reinforcements involve focusing on the good. Rather than whine about what isn’t there, you celebrate what is there. Most importantly, though, you turn that outrage once reserved for those bad things into apathy. Most forms of media can survive outrage. They cannot survive apathy.

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To illustrate this approach, consider the following scenario that tends to play out whenever someone criticizes a movie, TV show, video game, etc. for a lack of diversity.

“Just look at this terrible affront to women, minorities, and LGBTQ people! It’s so racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic! It sends a terrible message and appeals to an audience that wants to cling to their regressive attitudes. It’s perpetuating a destructive, unhealthy mindset that directly impacts our culture. This affront should be censored, changed, or condemned endlessly until the world changes!”

Chances are, you’ve heard something like this over the past few years. Sometimes it involves a female character that doesn’t check the right boxes. Sometimes it involves a story that tries to check too many boxes. In any case, the whiners I mentioned earlier will find a reason to get upset about it. Moreover, they’ll demand some sort of change, coupled with condemnation over anyone who disagrees.

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That’s not going to promote diversity. If anything, that’s going to give people one too many reasons to resent pushes for diversity. Some media companies are already learning that the hard way, with Marvel being the most recent example. Ideally, you want someone to promote diversity because they want to and not because they’re afraid of a backlash.

With that in mind, here’s a second scenario that shows how positive reinforcement can further that effort.

“That thing some claim is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? I don’t really care for that. Let me tell you about this other thing that I just think is amazing! I love it. It’s so much fun and it sends such a good message to men, women, and minorities of all kinds. I want more of this. I’m willing to pay for more of this. Please make more of this!”

It may come off as some peppy kid who is way too excited about something. Then again, wouldn’t you rather be around that kid instead of the one that whines to get what they want? When someone is happy and excited about something, it’s kind of infectious. It makes us want to share in that feeling.

Throw money into the mix and suddenly, the same producers that make all the media that regressive types whine about actually have a good incentive to promote diversity beyond just placating whiners. Instead of just avoiding controversy, they actually want to do diversity and do it right.

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The key is focusing on instances where it is done right. They are there. There have been plenty of examples of the media actually getting diversity right. They just don’t make the news because outrage is louder and garners more attention. Even so, excitement and praise can be just as loud.

Instead of complaining about Rey being a Mary Sue in “Star Wars,” focus on how great Princess Leia was in the first trilogy or how great Ahsoka Tano is in “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”

Instead of complaining about Lara Croft being too sexy, focus on how great Samus Aran is in the Metriod games.

Instead of complaining about the lack of diversity on shows like “Seinfeld,” focus on how great the minority characters are in shows like “Fresh Off The Boat” or “House.”

It may not sound as vocal or satisfying as venting outrage about a flaw, but it sends the kind of message that others are more likely to want to get behind. Whereas positive feelings can have many benefits to yourself and those around you, venting outrage can be very unhealthy.

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In the long run, getting others to want to promote diversity is the best way to further it. Whining about it isn’t going to accomplish that. It’s just going to make others want to stop the whining. That may work for kids, but not functioning adults.

Movie producers, TV executives, comic book writers, and video game programmers alike are all still human at the end of the day. Human beings respond positively to positive feelings. Channel those feelings into promoting diversity and you won’t just get more of it. You’ll get people who are actually excited about producing it.

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Can “Tomb Raider” Succeed Like “Wonder Woman” (And Begin A Larger Trend)?

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It seems so long ago, but there was a time when movies based on superheroes were in the same sorry state as those based on video games. The fact I’m old enough to remember those days makes me feel way older than I want, but it’s still remarkable to consider at a time before big budget superhero movies like “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” grossed over a billion dollars.

That’s a huge shift from the mid to late 1990s, an era where such craptacular cinematic turds like “Batman and Robin” and “Super Mario Brothers” created the sentiment that those kinds of movies were box office poison. I’m sure some have yet to forgive Joel Shumacher and whoever thought casting Dennis Hopper as Bowser was a good idea.

That all changed, at least for superhero movies, when “X-men” hit theaters in 2000. Even with the stench of Shumacher’s failure lingering, that film proved that superhero movies can be both good and make a lot of money. As a result, the modern era of superhero movies was born.

While that has been great for the superhero movie genre, the video game genre didn’t fare as well. It’s not just because “Super Mario Brothers” was that bad, though. It’s more a matter of bad timing, bad execution, and movie studios just plain not knowing how to make a decent video game movie.

There have been attempts, including one “Doom” movie and fiveResident Evil” movies. None of them were the kind of hit that could kick-start an entire genre. Granted, Milla Jovovich made a respectable effort. Like the nipples on George Clooney’s Batman costume, though, it just didn’t take. As such, video game movies remain a punchline instead of a genre.

That may be about to change, though. Just this past week, a second trailer dropped for a movie that could do for video games what “X-men” did for superheroes. That movie is “Tomb Raider,” the same title of one of the most successful video game franchises of the past 20 years, which also happens to star one of the most famous, not to mention sexiest heroines of all time.

Unlike “Resident Evil” or “Super Mario Brothers,” Lara Croft is the kind of character who can work just as well in an action movie as she does a video game. Her being a digital sex symbol is just a nice bonus. The fact that Warner Brothers cast Alicia Vikander to play her role, an Oscar winning actress who did plenty to establish her sex appeal in “Ex Machina,” shows they’re really trying this time.

Just watch the trailer. Even for those who have never played a “Tomb Raider” game or cared much for Lara Croft can’t deny the potential. I still hesitate to say it, but this might just be a true video game movie that doesn’t suck.

I say that not just because of the trailer. Modern audience have learned since “Snakes on a Plane” that an awesome trailer rarely makes for an awesome movie. I’m daring to have confidence in this movie because it looks like it’s trying to capture the theme and spirit of the game without sacrificing the quality of the movie. For video game movies, that’s unprecedented.

Beyond the apparent effort, though, there’s something else “Tomb Raider” has going for it. Thanks to the success of “Wonder Woman” last year, which I so happily documented, this movie is coming along at the best possible time.

It’s not just generic male heroes or John McClane rip-offs that appeal to audiences anymore. “Wonder Woman” proved that there is a market for female heroes. Not only was that movie critically praised. It made a lot of money, more than all five “Resident Evil” movies combined. Nobody can argue that female heroes don’t sell anymore. Wonder Woman proved they do and “Tomb Raider” can take it a step further.

I believe this because the Lara Croft that’s set to show up in this movie is not the same Lara Croft that once drew so much ire from whiny pop culture critics who think every attractive female character is just fodder for horny male gamers. This a different, more complex Lara Croft than the one that Angelina Jolie tried to bring to life in two previous “Tomb Raider” movies.

Now, I don’t want to dwell too much on those movies or the associated flaws with them. I’ll just say that, while I don’t consider those movies bad, they really were just generic action movies slapped with a “Tomb Raider” logo. Angelina Jolie certainly had the sex appeal, but it did little to make Lara Croft that interesting, which showed in the critical response and the box office for both movies.

The Lara Croft that Alicia Vikander is playing in this movie has more complexity and nuance to her. That version of Lara came to life in the 2013 “Tomb Raider” video game that rebooted her story. Having played that game multiple times and joined the chorus of its many critical praises, I can say with confidence that this trailer captured those critical elements from that game.

In the 2013 game, Lara doesn’t start out as the sexy, sassy archaeology enthusiast who loves to shoot guns and run around in hot pants. She’s an ambitious, but inexperienced young woman who is still growing into that persona and over the course of the game, she eventually develops into that character that so many video game fans know and love.

As other successful movies have shown, establishing growth in a character and making them someone we can root for goes a long way towards making a movie compelling. Part of what made “Wonder Woman” so great was that we got to see her grow into the beautiful female icon that so many cherish. The previous “Tomb Raider” movies, and most video game movies in general, barely tried.

Instead, most video game movies make the mistake of assuming the audience already knows the characters and just plops them into an action-heavy story with no purpose, heart, or major drama. If there is any drama, it’s usually forced or contrived. This version of “Tomb Raider” looks like it will take those same dramatic elements that made the 2013 game so compelling and translate them into the movie.

This version of “Tomb Raider” also has the benefit of coming out at a time when there’s a legitimate push for female-led movies. It’s very different from the Angelina Jolie era, whose movies came out a time when legendary flops like “Elektra” and “Catwoman” were setting back female heroes for a decade. Studios can’t get away with being that reckless with female characters anymore.

It’s for that reason that I have genuinely high hopes for this movie. It’s also because of the success of “Wonder Woman” that I believe there’s already an audience that’s eager to help “Tomb Raider” succeed.

Hollywood is already trying to capture that audience with movies like “Atomic Blond” and “Red Sparrow.” The recent announcement of a “Black Widow” movie being in development by Marvel Studios is only adding more momentum to the future of female heroes in movie.

Tomb Raider” succeeding will do even more than just build upon that momentum. It will establish that the success of “Wonder Woman” was not a fluke. It is possible to build a successful, lucrative franchise around more than one powerful woman. Lara Croft may not be an amazon warrior, but she has the potential to carve a place for herself in an increasingly competitive market.

Now, I don’t discount the potential that this movie could also fail. Like I said, video game movies have an abysmal track record, to say the least. That legacy is going to be difficult to overcome, but as “X-men” showed in 2000, it only takes one hit to start a trend. It’s a trend that I believe needs to happen for the good of the entire movie industry.

Even if you’re among the crowd who thinks the media is trying way too hard to push diversity in movies, video games, comics, and whatever other form of media is trying to turn a quick buck, it’s better for everyone that we have heroes who actually vary from time to time. There shouldn’t be that many similarities between John McClane, Luke Skywalker, and James Bond and every major movie icon of the past 50 years.

There is room for female heroes. There’s also room for movies based on video games. It’s not good for the industry, as a whole, if the only successful franchises come from Disney, Marvel, and the collective minds of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. By succeeding, “Tomb Raider” will open the door for a broader array of movies and female character.

That added variety need not come at the expense of the established male characters that we all know and love. “Wonder Woman” didn’t have to knock Superman or Batman down a peg in order to succeed. She found a way to succeed on her own and the superhero movie genre is better because of it. Lara Croft is fully capable of succeeding as well and the video game movie genre will be better too.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this movie. Like “Wonder Woman,” it’s success will have far-reaching implications beyond the movie itself. It has everything it needs to succeed, from quality source material to an Oscar-winning actress to a market that’s recently demonstrated that iconic female characters can make millions at the box office. It just needs to follow through.

It’s doubtful that “Tomb Raider” will succeed at the same level as “Wonder Woman,” but it doesn’t have to. It just needs to turn a profit and capture all the elements that make Lara Croft great. If it can achieve that, then the future for both video game movies and female heroes is brighter than ever. It may not make us forget “Super Mario Brothers,” but it’ll help us move forward.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, Movie Reviews, sex in media, Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot’s Message To Misogynists (And Why It’s Incomplete)

It has been a good year for Gal Gadot. When you’re the woman who brought Wonder Woman to life in one of the most successful movies of 2017, as well as the highest grossing superhero origins movie of all time, you can objectively say you’re doing pretty damn well for yourself.

Ms. Gadot has every reason to be confident and not just because she’s the second woman since Lynda Carter who can call herself Wonder Woman with a straight face. She didn’t just make the “Wonder Woman” movie an unmitigated success while also getting Chris Pine naked in the process. She did it in a way that was truly empowering to women, female superheroes, and guys who just appreciate women who can kick ass.

As such, Ms. Gadot’s words carry a lot more weight than most people, regardless of their gender. She could say tomorrow that pineapples and beaver testicles are the greatest pizza topping of all time and we, as a society, would still take her seriously. That’s how much power you get from making an awesome “Wonder Woman” and doing part of it while pregnant, no less.

That’s why when, during a promotional interview with IGN with her “Justice League” co-star, Ezra Miller, Ms. Gadot made a bold proclamation. Granted, it wasn’t entirely serious and Miller had goaded her, but since she’s Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot, these words still carry weight.

“Misogynist sexists, your wrath upon this world is over!”

If you want to see the full interview in order to get the full context of the statement, which is important here, you can watch the video here.

Again, the statement wasn’t on the same level as a full-blown protest, complete with bra burning. This is her and a co-star goofing around, but some of that sentiment stems directly from some distressing recent events involving powerful men being dicks to women. These issues are serious, bringing out the best and worst in people.

That’s why Ms. Gadot’s message matters. As I write these words, there are probably people out there taking them far more seriously than she intended. Some may even use it as a rallying cry to wage war against everyone with a penis who dared to have a dirty thought about a beautiful woman. While those people may be a fringe minority, the message still resonates, due to the unique time we find ourselves in, as a culture.

There’s no question that 2017 is a turning point and not just for female superhero movies like “Wonder Woman.” USA Today is already calling it “The Harvey Weinstein Effect” and has been maintaining a list of powerful men who have lost their jobs and/or reputations, due to sexual misconduct.

At this point, even if you’re a card-carrying member of the patriarchy, you can’t deny the growing trend. It’s gotten to a point where anytime you see a male public figure’s name trending on social media, there’s a good chance that they’re somehow involved in some sordid sexual misconduct. Say what you will about the merits of this trend, but it’s happening.

Going back to Ms. Gadot’s bold proclamation, I think it’s partially accurate in that it’s already being fulfilled. Powerful men who have harassed women are losing power, reputation, and influence. Influential organizations are cutting ties with those who are embroiled in sex scandals.

If you’re a powerful man who loves using his power to coerce sexual favors, this is not a good time for you and Ms. Gadot’s words should strike fear in you. While that part of her statement is valid, and most people would probably agree with it, there is one issue with it. It’s incomplete.

By that, I don’t mean Ms. Gadot misspoke. I am not foolish enough to tell Wonder Woman herself how she should talk when she could probably kill me with her pinkie toe. In terms of the overall substance of her message, though, it’s one of those instances where the rhetoric is more ambitious than the words.

The problem is that the message gives the impression that there’s an actual war going on. Coming from Gal Gadot, who served in the Israeli army before becoming Wonder Woman, it makes sense for her to frame it in such a way.

However, when it comes to powerful men exploiting vulnerable women, that’s not a war. That’s an societal problem on top of a leverage problem on top of a biological problem within the ongoing problem that is our caveman brains. Granted, that’s a lot of problems, but framing it as a war only compounds them.

That’s because wars, and wraths by default, are chaotic and bloody. Wars have casualties and most of the time, they’re not just enemy soldiers. Declaring a war on something, even if it’s an objectively bad thing, is bound to stir chaos that will affect others than the intended targets. Just look at the casualties in the ongoing war on drugs for distressing proof of that.

Ms. Gadot’s comment also implies there’s some shadowy army of evil Harvey Weinstein clones, each plotting and planning to create a world where they can harass and assault women with impunity. That may very well be a plot for another Wonder Woman movie, but it’s not reflective of the real world.

The kind of misogyny that creates men like Harvey Weinstein is not the result of some shadowy conspiracy that only Alex Jones would buy into. They’re largely a result of unequal power structures, outdated ideas about gender roles, and people generally taking advantage of opportunities that other horny men can only dream of.

It’s not an agenda or a wrath that’s in play here. It’s injustice and exploitation, coupled with greed and corruption. That, in and of itself, is a pretty toxic combination that affects people of any gender. It can get pretty bad at every levels of power, but it’s not just restricted to misogyny or general sexism.

Now, there’s no question that there’s still a lot of injustice and sexism in the world. If Ms. Gadot wants to fight that, both as an advocate and as Wonder Woman, I would gladly fight beside her, along with anyone else who would heed her call. That call, however, can’t be the same as a war cry against a secret cabal of misogynist sexists. It has to have more substance than that.

For the most part, people already despise misogynist sexists. Neither Ms. Gadot nor Wonder Woman need to convince anyone of that. Men with sordid pasts are already seeing their reputations and authority being undermined by recent efforts. Ms. Gadot herself even played a part in one of them involving Brett Ratner.

However, it can’t be like Wonder Woman’s final battle against Ares in the “Wonder Woman” movie. That’s not how sexism manifests in the real world. It’s not one of those things that can be fought with fists and godly powers. It’s one of those things that can only be fought with understanding, knowledge, and compassion, all of which are among Wonder Woman’s core tenants.

I don’t know what a better rallying cry would be for Ms. Gadot. Even if I did, it wouldn’t mean much coming from a male erotica/romance writer. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexism are all serious issues. As such, any effort to confront them needs to start with the right message and I hope Gal Gadot is among those who delivers that message.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues

How To NOT Screw Up The Captain Marvel Movie

It’s a sad fact of life in an overly flawed world. You hope for the best, but it’s rare that it ever actually happens. Even when it does, it’s not always as much fun as you hope. Ask anyone who lost their virginity during a dare or stood in line for hours to see the Star Wars prequels.

In my experience, it’s rarely feasible to build your anticipation around something for what it can be if everything goes flawlessly. In the real world, there’s no such thing as flawless. People make mistakes. Parties go horribly wrong. Hearts get broken. Michael Bay is given too much money, cocaine, and high explosives.

When it comes to superhero movies, though, it’s not possible to hit a home run at every turn. You can’t expect them to blow your mind and give you the kind of mental orgasm that takes a week to recover from. At best, you can just hope that it doesn’t suck. I love those kinds of orgasms as much as the next guy, but let’s face it. They’re rare and awesome for a reason.

Some movies come close to achieving that kind of cinematic bliss, though. “Wonder Woman” sure did, but as I pointed out in my review, it did have its shortcomings. They were still very minor and by nearly every measure, it is the most successful female superhero movie to date.

More importantly, “Wonder Woman” proved that female superhero movies can be successful. They don’t all have to be box office bombs like “Catwoman.” That opens the door for other female heroes to follow in Wonder Woman’s footsteps. At the moment, though, the only female solo movie besides the Wonder Woman sequel is “Captain Marvel.”

Marvel may have DC beat in almost every other aspect of its movie universe, but now there’s one area where it can’t say it dominates. Sure, it has a lot of strong female characters like Black Widow, Gamora, and the Scarlet Witch. However, they’ve largely been in supporting roles. They’ve never had a chance to shine like Wonder Woman did in her movie.

Captain Marvel will get that chance. She’s the closest hero Marvel has to Wonder Woman, thanks largely to the efforts of writers like Kelly Sue DeConnick. As much as Marvel has dominated DC at the box office, it now has a sub-perfect record. Given the amount of ego and cocaine in Hollywood, there’s no way that Marvel Studios will let that stand.

I don’t doubt that Kevin Feige and the powers that be at Marvel Studio will make every effort to ensure that “Captain Marvel” matches and exceeds “Wonder Woman.” They’ve already cast the beautiful and talented Brie Larson as Carol Danvers. They also announced some major details about the movie at the San Diego Comic Con.

On paper, it looks like this movie has what it takes to match “Wonder Woman.” Then again, on paper I’m sure “Batman and Robin” seemed like a good idea. While I have high hopes for this movie, just as I did with “Wonder Woman,” I’m not going to set my expectations too high. Between the two “Matrix” sequels and “Wolverine Origins,” I’ve been burned too many times.

With that in mind, I intend to do for “Captain Marvel” what I did for “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” I’m going to provide some tips that I’m sure Kevin Feige will never see on how to avoid screwing up the “Captain Marvel” movie.

Wonder Woman” set the bar pretty damn high and looked dead sexy while doing it. It’s unreasonable to expect “Captain Marvel” to exceed it on every level. However, there are a few simple tips to ensure it doesn’t end up enduring the same infamy with “Catwoman.”


Tip #1: Let Carol Fly High (And Take The Audience With Her)

This is the most important tip, right up there with the Marvel Studios logo and Samuel L. Jackson dropping F-bombs, as only he can. Carol Danvers has a few defining traits beyond just looking awesome and kicking ass on a cosmic level. One of those traits is what makes her feel both distinctly human and someone we want to cheer for.

Throughout her history, Carol Danvers has been ambitious in a very particular way. Everybody, male or female, will look up at the stars at night and admire their beauty. Carol, however, doesn’t just want to admire. She wants to actually go there. She doesn’t want to shackle herself to this tiny little mud ball full of killer clowns, spiders, and the Kardashian family.

That’s why she joined the Air Force and fought to outperform everyone in her path. The fact she did that without a penis was secondary. Even before she got her powers, she aspired to go to the stars. Once she got those powers, she was determined to fly higher and go farther than anyone had ever dared, regardless of whether or not they had a penis.

Therein lies the key. Carol dares to venture out into the unknown and kick the ass of anyone or anything that tries to hold her back. That’s the kind of ambition people can get behind. That’s the kind of drive that people admire and want to follow.

It’s part of what makes Wonder Woman so endearing as a character to men and women alike. She has bold ambitions, but she isn’t an asshole about it. She doesn’t just seek to prove herself. She seeks to inspire others. That’s what Captain Marvel needs to do with her desire to go to go to the stars and carry the audience along for the ride.


Tip #2: Tie Carol’s Story Into That Of Mar-Vell’s

I get that there are times when it’s not possible to incorporate certain elements from the comics into a movie. That’s why we didn’t see any not-so-subtle BDSM themes in the “Wonder Woman” movie. However, the movie still made a concerted effort to capture some of the core details of Wonder Woman’s mythos, such as her iconic outfit and her relationship with Steve Trevor.

In the same way Wonder Woman needs her lasso and a desire to have sex with men who look like Chris Pine, there are some core elements to Carol Danvers’ story as a superhero that cannot and should not be glossed over. One of the most important elements involves her connection with Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel whose title Carol took on after his death.

Theirs is an unique connection, one with very different dynamics compared to Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. While there were some romantic overtones early on, their connection was more of a partnership rather than a romance. You can’t tell Carol’s story or get a feel for how she becomes a hero without telling Mar-Vell’s story as well.

That story doesn’t need to take up half the movie, but it does need to feel relevant. Mar-Vell’s story isn’t exactly boring either. He was an alien spy posing as a human on Earth on behalf of the Kree, a race that made it’s presence felt in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There’s already some connections to build on. This movie just has to do it without a talking raccoon.

The key here is to use Mar-Vell’s story as an alien spy who grows fond of a beautiful Earth woman to supplement Carol’s story. That story is part of how Carol becomes Captain Marvel. That’s why when Kelly Sue DeConnick had Carol take on that title, it had a lot dramatic weight to it. That kind of drama is key for any successful movie, regardless of whether or not it has a talking raccoon.


Tip #3: Give Carol An Attitude (And Make It One To Rally Around)

One of Wonder Woman’s most defining traits, on top of being a beautiful warrior princess, is her capacity for love and empathy. Sure, she’ll fight with all her heart against demons, monsters, aliens, gods, and whatever asshole decided that “Ant Man” should get a movie before her. It’s that heart that makes her personality so endearing.

I point that out because Carol Danvers is not like that. Carol has an attitude and it’s not Wonder Woman. Just because Wonder Woman made a successful movie doesn’t mean Carol has to be too much like her because, in nearly every part of her 40-year history, she’s not like that.

Carol Danvers is a tough, hard-nosed woman who always pushes herself a little farther than anyone dares. That’s to be expected because she’s no princess. She’s a pilot in the United States Air Force. You need to have some attitude to make it there. There are real women who have succeeded in that effort. Let those women be the template.

The key is to do it in a way that doesn’t make her an arrogant bitch. I don’t doubt that’s going to be a challenge because the line between assertive and bitch is exceedingly blurred, more so for women than men. It’s an unfair double standards that people love to whine about, but never do anything to fix. Some argue it can’t be fixed.

That’s not an issue that “Captain Marvel” can hope to resolve over the course of a single movie. As such, it’s important that she walk that fine line in crafting her attitude. Again, Kelly Sue DeConnick struck the perfect balance when she took over Carol’s story in 2012.

She gave her a personality that was tough, but welcoming. She made her someone you want to hug, but don’t want to fuck with. Carol Danvers is ambitious and tough, but also has a strong sense of duty. Being a soldier, a pilot, and a hero, she sees that as part of her mission. It’s what makes her so likable as both a character and a hero.

She can have an edge, but she doesn’t have to be an asshole about it. Being an asshole is one of those traits that knows no gender. Brie Larson is a great actress who has proven that she can play tough, balanced roles. Let her do that and look sexy as hell in the process. That’ll help any movie.


Tip #4: Acknowledge Carol’s Faults And Let Her Bear Burdens

In addition to her attitude, Carol Danvers does has faults. Again, and it’s worth repeating, she is not Wonder Woman. She’s not some demigod princess whose beauty and strength were forged by gods. She’s an ordinary American woman who got her powers because she ended up working with an alien spy. She a fallible, mortal human being with tangible flaws. Any movie about her shouldn’t hide those flaws.

Some of those flaws are more obvious than others and I’m not just talking about the unpleasantness surrounding the plot with Marcus Immortus. Despite being ambitious and determined, Carol tends to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie and is prone to take stupid risks. This has gotten her into trouble before and quite recently in the comics.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that she’s also an alcoholic. However, it’s not the kind of alcoholism that we see with Iron Man. His brand of alcoholism is largely a product of irresponsibility and poor coping skills. Carol’s alcoholism is more about escaping her problems.

In the context of her character, that makes sense. She grew up looking at the stars and wanting to actually go there. She’s always pushing herself to fly a little higher and faster. When she’s unable to do that, she looks for an escape.

For her, accepting limitations is not easy. That’s how her alcoholism got so destructive in the comics, so much so that even Iron Man noticed it. When Iron Man says you have a drinking problem, you can skip the intervention.

That doesn’t mean that Carol has to be a total drunk in the movie. It doesn’t even have to be overtly stated. The reason why Carol drinks is more important than her actually drinking. Accepting limits is difficult for her. It’s a key part of her story and her personality. Let her endure those burdens. Let her confront those flaws. She doesn’t have to be Wonder Woman. Let her be human, with or without her powers.


Tip #5: Make The Kree/Skull War As Epic As Possible

This is somewhat indirect of Carol’s story, but one that’s vital if “Captain Marvel” is to be a fitting addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beyond just being one of Marvel’s most powerful female characters, her movie also has to expand the overall mythos of the MCU. “Wonder Woman” did that too with DC, albeit on a very limited scale.

In this case, though, that scale needs to be turned up to eleven and given an unlimited supply of crack. That’s because it was announced at the San Diego Comic Con that the “Captain Marvel” movie would introduce the world to the Kree/Skrull war. Talk to any long-time Marvel Comics fan, like yours truly, and they’ll tell you two things. One, She-Hulk is uncomfortably sexy. Two, the Kree/Skrull war is insanely epic.

We like to think we humans are pretty damn good at war. We’ve fought so many of them over our history. Compared to the Kree/Skrull war in the comics, though, we might as well be a bunch of two-year olds playing with melted action figures.

This war is beyond anything Stephen Spielberg or Christopher Nolan could ever capture. For one, this war is on a galactic scale. It’s not just about warring tribes who don’t agree on how many goats to sacrifice during the summer solstice. These are two very different species with very different visions for the galaxy. As big as the galaxy is, it’s just not big enough for them to co-exist.

This massive war has influenced many areas of the Marvel Universe within the comics. It’s usually inevitable that the Avengers, X-men, or any major superhero team from Earth gets caught up in it whenever they dare to leave the planet for more than five minutes. It’s a huge part of the cosmic elements to Marvel, which “Guardians of the Galaxy” just started exploring.

Given the success of those movies, “Captain Marvel” has plenty to build on. Carol Danvers is a soldier. Putting her in the middle of an epic war the likes of which few humans can even fathom will help bring out the best in that soldier. That’s why the Kree/Skrull war has to be as epic as a galactic-level war deserves to be. It’ll bring out the best and worst in all those involved.


There are a lot more tips I can give, but these are the big ones. Unlike “Wonder Woman,” Captain Marvel doesn’t have the burden of proving that female superheroes can hold their own. That has already been proven, so much so that even Ryan Reynolds from “Deadpool” acknowledged it.

More than anything else, “Captain Marvel” must show that Carol Danvers is someone who deserves to be in the same league as Wonder Woman. She’s not the same icon that Wonder Woman is, but she has the potential to be. This movie could finally help realize that potential. It could also be a “Catwoman” level screw-up and no character, male or female, deserves that.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes