Tag Archives: female heroes

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

Higher, Further, Faster, And Fun: A (Spoiler-Free) Review Of “Captain Marvel”

captain-marvel-costume-brie-larson-mcu-movie

Soaring to new heights, venturing into uncharted territory, and achieving greater things always requires a great deal of risk. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always gotten and that’s just not enough for some people. For Marvel Studios, the gold standard by which all other movie studios are measured, it has to take those risks in order to expand its dominance into another decade.

A movie as big as “Avengers: Infinity War” or as diverse as “Black Panther” had high stakes on top of higher aspirations. They had to keep raising the bar that Marvel Studios had already raised to unprecedented heights. Those movies both succeeded and raked in record profits, but even those movies never faced challenges like the ones faced by “Captain Marvel.”

Without a doubt, this movie will go down as one of the riskiest movies Marvel Studios has ever made, which is saying something for the same studio that made an “Ant Man” movie. It’s not just because “Captain Marvel” is Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie, nor is it because DC set a pretty high bar with “Wonder Woman.”

Captain Marvel” arrives with more baggage than any other superhero movie not associated with Joel Shumacher. In some respects, it’s coming out at the worst possible time. This is an era where gender politics are on a hair-trigger and features an actress who has been outspoken on where her political affiliations lie. It’s like bringing a tank of gasoline to a growing wildfire.

The context of this movie and its politics are already well-documented and I’ve made my opinions on it known. Beyond the politics, the heated gender debates, and coordinated efforts to tank this movie, there’s still one critical question that overrides all the baggage and burdens.

Is “Captain Marvel” a good movie?

Having seen it at a midnight showing in which the theater was quite packed, I can say in my humble opinion that yes. It is a good, entertaining movie. It doesn’t deviate too far from the Marvel Studios tradition of making superhero movies that are fun, entertaining, and heartfelt. However, “Captain Marvel” ends up achieving much more than that.

Before I go any further, I want to make a few comments about the heated politics surrounding this movie. I’m not going to focus too much on them, but I’m not going to avoid them, either. I get that some people will go into this movie with certain expectations and look for any excuse to justify those expectations. This is my response to those specific individuals.

No, this movie is not laced with radical feminist undertones.

No, this movie does not denigrate men or a specific race of men.

No, this movie does not make overtly political statements.

No, Carol Danvers is not a Mary Sue who is never allowed to fail or be wrong.

Yes, the movie is entertaining and fun in the tradition of good superhero movies.

Yes, the movie is respectful of the history and personality of the character.

Having said all that, I understand that there are a number of people who may disagree with every one of those statements. However, after seeing the movie and having time to digest all its high-flying details, I believe that doing so requires a level of outright pettiness that obscures just how good this movie is.

 

This movie does not have the luxury of expanding on a character who was previously introduced. Unlike Black Panther, Carol has nothing to build on when the movie starts. However, things move quickly once the action gets going. We find out early on that Carol is in a difficult situation, but tenuous situation. In addition, that situation helps further the world-building that is so distinct of the MCU.

We learn more about the Kree in the first 20 minutes of this movie than we have in any other Marvel movie, to date. They’ve been mentioned before in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but who they are and what they’re like is firmly established in “Captain Marvel.” Their iconic rivals, the Skrulls, are also introduced and it’s here where the movie really shines.

If you’re not familiar with the history of comics, it’s hard to overstate how critical the Kree/Skrull war is to the cosmic side of the Marvel universe. This massive war is something that Carol finds herself in the middle of and her role in it evolves over the course of the movie. Without getting too heavy into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that this evolution is what helps make her Captain Marvel.

Carol’s story isn’t just about her seeking to fly higher, further, and faster. Through both flashbacks to her past and struggles in the present, her journey from being a loyal Kree warrior to Captain Marvel feels personal, even as it moves the story forward. At first, it feels like the story is on a predictable path. However, that changes, thanks largely to Carol’s the supporting cast.

This is where Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Nick Fury and Ben Mendelson’s role as Talos really complements the story. Their choices and their actions put Carol in a situation where she comes to some difficult realizations and has to make difficult decisions. In doing so, she becomes the hero that she needs to be, both for this movie and for the MCU.

It’s not unlike the evolution that other characters like Tony Stark and Thor have undergone. They start off with one particular outlook on their world. Then, they find themselves in a situation that undermines and even shatters what they thought was right and true. Rather than avoid the unpleasant implications, they confront them. That’s what heroes do and that’s what Carol Danvers does.

By the end of “Captain Marvel,” it’s easy to root for Carol. As she realizes her true power, she becomes the kind of hero that fits right in with the Avengers. The source of that power is not something she inherits or pursues. True to her comic book origins, her high-flying aspirations lead to an accident that comes close to destroying her. Also like the comics, it renders her vulnerable in unexpected ways.

Throughout the movie, Carol is guided and often frustrated by her limits. Some of those limits are things she puts on herself. Some are limits that others impose on her. Overcoming such limits, be they her own emotions or the actions of others, is the true strength of her character. It’s a strength that anyone, regardless of race, gender, or anything of the sort, can respect.

That’s not to say there aren’t flaws in that journey, along the way. In terms of a superhero origin movie, I would not put “Captain Marvel” above the ranks of “Batman Begins” or “Iron Man.” The movie does feel somewhat congested in several areas and the pacing, especially in the early parts of the movie, are a bit erratic.

There’s also an issue with villains in this movie, to the extent that they’re vague. Both the Skrulls and Jude Law’s, Yon-Rogg, aren’t going to give Thanos or Erik Killmonger a run for their money. Even the presence of a young Ronan the Accuser feels like a missed opportunity. While Carol has plenty of fights to pick in this movie, the lack of a major villain is somewhat glaring.

Let’s face it. Nobody was going to top THIS guy.

However, this doesn’t keep “Captain Marvel” from succeeding in the ways we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios. The distinct bits of humor and tone are definitely there. The use of 90s nostalgia, from grunge rock to Blockbuster, works at every turn. The choice of music is spot on for every scene. Like “Captain America” and “Wonder Woman,” the time and place fits perfectly with the story.

By nearly every measure, “Captain Marvel” checks all the right boxes, in terms of a quality product from Marvel Studios. Again, it is possible for someone to single out certain scenes as proof that the movie is trying to make a political statement. However, I would argue that you could find similar scenes in movies like “Wonder Woman” and even “Deadpool.”

At the end of the day, if you’re really determined to hate this movie and label it as some sort of hit piece against a particular race or gender, you’ll find multiple excuses. However, it still requires a level of pettiness that requires someone to actively look for a reason to be offended and there’s already too much of that in this world.

If you watch “Captain Marvel” with the sole desire to be entertained and see the MCU evolve before your eyes, this movie will deliver in all the right ways. If I had to score this movie, I would give it a 4 out of 5. It’s a fun ride with a few bumps along the way, but is ultimately satisfying by the end. On top of that, the post-credits scene help further build the excitement for “Avengers: Endgame.”

Also, no matter your politics, the Stan Lee tribute at the beginning of the movie is beautiful.

1 Comment

Filed under Marvel, Movie Reviews, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

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

birthday_present__marvel_team_up_by_viktormon-d7mq5iy

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.

8 Comments

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

A Better Way To Promote Diversity

Tracer

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.

Image result for green lantern movie

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.

Image result for whiny children

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.

Image result for whiny SJW

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.

Image result for positive person

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.

Image result for whiny SJW

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.

Image result for Black Panther on throne

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.

Image result for venting anger

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.

1 Comment

Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sexuality, video games

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

Tomb-Raider-Poster-Alicia-Vikander

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.

1 Comment

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