The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. In this video, I make the case that “Dr. Strange,” a movie that rarely garners much discussion among MCU fans, is the most underrated movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ll even go so far as to say that it’s one of the best made MCU movies to date. With interest in the sequel growing steadily, I think the time is right to celebrate what an achievement this movie was. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: Heroes
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s another video about comic books, which shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. It’s also about Victor Von Doom, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been following this site for any extended period. This video is actually based on an article I wrote a while back, but with a few tweaks here and there. Given his eventual arrival into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think the time is right to celebrate why he’s such a great character. Enjoy!
You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.
It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.
From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.
In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.
I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.
This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.
Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.
While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.
What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.
There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?
That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.
Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.
Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.
The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.
It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.
In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.
That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.
That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?
For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.
In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.
To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.
For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.
The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is a brief exploration of one of the greatest fictional villains of all time, Lex Luthor. There has been an ongoing trend in recent year to develop more complex villains with equally complex motivations. However, there’s still room for the kind of old school, pure evil villain and nobody epitomizes that more than Lex Luthor. Hopefully, this video gives everyone a new appreciation of that. Enjoy!
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s another thought experiment about superheroes and what makes them effective. It was an extension of sorts of an article I wrote years ago on how to be an effective superhero. However, this video is a bit more open ended in that it takes a big picture approach to heroics. To all that check it out, I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments. Enjoy!
As someone who regularly consumes superhero media of all kinds, I try to appreciate the real heroes in the real world who regularly save countless lives. Most carry themselves without superpowers, flashy costumes, or charisma on par with Robert Downy Jr. or Christopher Reeves. They just do the work that needs doing to help people who will never know their name.
A couple years ago, I made a tribute to Dr. Norman Borlaug, the famed agricultural scientist who helped usher in an agricultural revolution. This man, who most have never heard of, has saved millions of lives by helping the world produce more food, reduce famine, and combat world hunger. The amount of good this man has done for the world cannot be overstated.
In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another individual who I doubt most people have heard of. He’s another doctor who, through his work, has helped save millions of lives, many of them children. It’s because of this man that millions of children born today don’t become ill with diseases that had ravaged humanity for generations.
That man is Dr. Maurice Hilleman. While his notoriety is not on the same level as Dr. Borlaug, I have a feeling his profile will rise considerably after the events of 2020. That’s because Dr. Hilleman currently holds the record for developing the most vaccines of any doctor in history.
In total, he helped develop more than 40.
Of those vaccines, 8 are still routinely recommended by doctors today. They combat terrible diseases like measles, mumps, Hepatitis, and chicken pox.
It’s a level of productivity that is unparalleled today. As a result of these vaccines, approximately 8 million lives are saved every year. Even though he died in 2005, he continues to save lives with each passing year through his work. Like Dr. Borlaug, his heroism only compounds with time. Even Tony Stark can’t boast that.
Most people alive today don’t realize just how bad it was before these vaccines were developed. Many diseases, some of which you’ve probably never heard of, were rampant. Before Dr. Hilleman helped develop the vaccine, measles alone infected between 3 and 4 million people every year in the United states, killing at between 400 and 500 at a time.
Children and the elderly were especially vulnerable. It was once just a fact of life that these diseases would come around and kill a sizable number of children. It was as unavoidable as bad weather.
Take a moment to imagine life in those conditions. One day, you or your children would just get sick and there was nothing you could do to prevent it. That was life before these remarkable advances came along.
That’s why when people say that nothing has saved more lives than vaccines, they’re not peddling propaganda. They’re just sharing the results of basic math. It’s because of men like Dr. Maurice Hilleman that these numbers are what they are. However, his name is not well-known, even in a field that has become more prominent.
Most people know who Edward Jenner is and appreciate how many lives he saved by combating Smallpox.
Most people know who Jonas Salk is and appreciate how many people he helped by developing a polio vaccine.
Now, what these men did was remarkable. They certainly deserve the praise and admiration they receive for developing their respective vaccines. However, Dr. Maurice Hilleman still deserves to be in that same echelon. For the number of vaccines he helped develop and the legacy he left, he certainly put in the work and accomplished a great deal.
The diseases Dr. Hilleman battled might not have been as high-profile as Smallpox or polio, but they were every bit as damaging. That makes it all the more frustrating to see efforts like the anti-vaxx movement take hold, which has led to resurgences of diseases like measles in certain communities. That is not the direction we should be going right now.
In the midst of a historic pandemic, the importance of medical science and those who work in it has never been more critical. This might be the best possible time to acknowledge the work of men like Dr. Hilleman. Even after this pandemic has passed, we should all appreciate work like his even more.
None of us have superpowers like Spider-Man or Superman.
Most of us will never be as rich, smart, or resourceful as Iron Man or Batman.
Dr. Hilleman had none of this. Just like Dr. Borlaug, he came from a poor family. At one point, he didn’t have enough money for college. He still persevered and he still managed to do the work that went onto save millions of lives. It might not be a hero’s story on par with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s still a special kind of heroism.
So, on this day as we anxiously wait for this pandemic to end, take a moment to appreciate the work of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. It’s because of him that such pandemics are so rare. It’s also because of him that this current pandemic won’t take nearly as many lives as it could’ve.
We currently live in a golden age of villains. Between Thanos, Erik Killmonger, the Joker, and Walter White, there has been a veritable surge of complex characters who also happen to be compelling villains. While there’s still a place for the kind of pure evil that Disney villains have relied on for years, this trend in a more refined brand of villainy feels both refreshing and overdue.
I’ve written extensively on villains before. As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and movies, I’ve consumed, contemplated, and scrutinized hero/villain dynamics more than most. In doing so, I’ve noticed plenty of trends. Like most aspects of popular culture, it’s always evolving. Very few themes and details remain constant, especially when it comes to antagonists.
That said, there’s one trend in villains that has remained somewhat constant over the course of my lifetime. It’s also a trend that I see as intensifying, albeit in a subtle way. Some of it coincides with the growing complexity of villains in popular culture, but most of the trend precedes the current era of superhero-dominated media. If anything, superhero media helped accelerate it.
While most villains and heroes rarely identify with a certain political affiliation, it’s usually not hard to discern how most would vote in a contemporary election. I would even argue that it’s easier to surmise what a villain’s political leanings are compared to that of heroes. Take any villain from the past 10 years of movies, be they superhero or otherwise. Chances are a vast majority of them would identify as conservative.
Now, I understand conservatism is an exceedingly broad term. It has a dictionary definition, but as a political philosophy, there are many sub-sets, divisions, and variations. From fiscal conservatives to social conservative to neoconservatives, there are many wildly different ideologies that still identify as conservative. A few actively clash with one another.
Those complexities aside, there are some core tenants associated with conservatism and it’s those very tenants that make it such an effective basis for villains. Chief among conservative values is the idea that traditional norms, institutions, and values be maintained. Change isn’t actively dissuaded, but it is viewed with caution and suspicion. To be conservative is to affirm the status quo, to some extent.
That’s all well and good if the status quo is beneficial to everyone. It’s not so preferable for those who either fail to benefit or are actively screwed over by that same status quo. Since there has never been a society in history that has achieved perfect prosperity for everyone, regardless of their minority status, there’s bound to be people who get left behind.
In our own real-world history, we’ve seen people from those disaffected groups organize and fight the status quo to better their lives. That struggle has played out in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the movement for women’s rights, and the LGBT rights movement that’s still going on today. Those who oppose these movements tend to have, broadly speaking, conservative leanings.
Look at the groups that opposed the Civil Rights movement.
They all espouse rhetoric that would put them at odds with Superman, Captain America, and most other superheroes who value justice, truth, and peace. For some, their talking points sound like ideas that only villains in the mold of Lex Luthor would agree with. While not all of them identify as overtly conservative, the standard principles are there.
Anything too different from the status quo must be wrong or evil.
Anybody too different from the people everyone else in a society must be bad, evil, or devious.
Any idea, trend, or movement that is disruptive or deviant in any way is something to be opposed.
It doesn’t just manifest in superhero movies or underdog stories, either. Look at a movie like “Footloose.” In this story, the people who ban dancing are uptight, dogmatic, religious zealots who likely voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984 when this movie came out. They were the antagonists of that story and the kids, while not overtly liberal, dared to defy them.
It can even manifest subtly in other media. In kids shows like “Recess,” “Hey Arnold,” and “Rocko’s Modern Life,” the most common antagonists are uptight authority figures who have no tolerance for new ideas, big changes, or anything remotely fun. It’s hard to imagine any of these characters voting for someone who builds their slogan around change, reform, and reinvention.
They like things the way they are. Most of them benefit from the current system and will naturally seek to preserve their place in that system. While they won’t always see themselves as villains, it’s difficult for them to come off as heroes. You can only be so heroic when your side is closely aligned with predatory business practices, fun-hating religious zealots, and unabashed war-mongers.
That’s not to say it’s impossible for liberals to be villains too. It does happen and it can be done very well when done right. I would argue that Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther” was more in line with an extreme liberal revolutionary who didn’t just want to pursue change. I would make a similar argument for Ra’s Al Ghul in “Batman Begins.”
These characters didn’t just seek to change society from its current unjust state. They sought to violently destroy it and rebuild it from the ground up. That kind of liberalism exists in the real world and it can make for compelling villains.
However, the number of villains who align with the politics of Killmonger are far fewer than those who would align with the politics of Lex Luthor. In general, it’s easier to resist change rather than embrace it. It’s also necessary to some extent for those to resist change to be uptight authority figures who are okay with coercing others to maintain traditions. Logistically, the villains in many conflicts must be conservative.
Now, that’s not to say that villains will always lean conservative in popular media. What it means to be conservative changes over time. If you were to listen to conservative rhetoric 50 years ago, they would sound very different. They might even sound liberal by today’s standards.
The same goes for liberalism of previous eras. It hasn’t always been closely aligned with the politics surrounding minority rights, income inequality, or political correctness. The liberals of the 1920s would likely clash with the liberals of today. That’s just part of the ever-evolving nature of politics.
For the time being, though, being a villain in popular culture usually means being conservative to a certain extent. Conservatives are more likely to be the rich, greedy business people who would gladly burn down a rain forest or exploit slave labor to raise profits. Conservatives are more likely to be the rule-loving, fun-hating, curfew-enforcing religious zealots who wouldn’t mind electing theocrats with every election.
These types of individuals are far more likely to be villains in a story. At the very least, they’ll side or tolerate the villain. It’s easy to believe that those who side with the religious right and well-connected rich people will generally oppose a selfless, likable protagonist. From a narrative perspective, these kinds of villains are better in that we tend to root for heroes who oppose authoritarian bullies like that.
Again, it’s guaranteed that political and cultural trends will likely change what it means to be conservative, liberal, and everything in between. For the time being, if you were to bet on the political leanings of an antagonist, the odds are mostly in favor of that antagonist being conservative.
Why do we root for people who do awful things?
Why do we root for the crazed killer in a slasher movie?
Why do we celebrate anti-heroes over traditional, upstanding heroes?
Why do we want people who do irredeemable things to be redeemed?
These are questions are similar in that they have a common theme, but they apply to a wide variety of situations. It feels like those questions have become more relevant in recent years as the standards for quality TV, movies, and characters has risen, which I’ve called the Walter White effect. While it can make for compelling stories, the questions themselves have distressing implications.
I’ve found myself contemplating those questions more seriously after the final season of “Bojack Horseman.” While I love this show and have praised its themes in the past, the final season really pushed the envelope on how far a show could go in telling stories about broken characters.
There’s no getting around it. From the first episode to the series finale, it’s abundantly clear that Bojack Horseman is not a respectable person. He’s a self-centered, narcissistic, alcohol, ego-centric asshole who has hurt people, exploited people, and taken full advantage of his celebrity status. If we knew someone like this in real life, we would never root for them. We’d probably root against them.
However, as I watched this show over the years, I still found myself rooting for Bojack. In following his story, learning about who he is, where he comes from, and how he deals with his problems, I genuinely hoped that he would find some semblance of peace in the end. Even as his sordid deeds started to come to light in the final season, a part of me didn’t want to see him fall, especially when he’d made so many strides.
Bojack isn’t the only character with this issue. There are countless other characters in popular culture, such as Don Draper and Wolverine, who do many awful things throughout their story. I’m a fan of those characters, especially Wolverine. At the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that he’s done terrible things that are on par with Bojack’s crimes.
At the same time, I root for Wolverine. I also find it easier to root for him over Bojack because while Wolverine is largely a product of what others have done to him, Bojack is a product of his own awful decisions.
Bojack has no special powers or excuses, outside being a celebrity. He has his share of issues and circumstances, from verbally abusive parents to substance abuse to legitimate mental illness. However, throughout the show, he’s still the one who makes the choices that ultimately hurt him and his loved ones. Moreover, he spends a great deal of time avoiding the consequences or downplaying them.
This is why I think the final season of “Bojack Horseman” was so impactful. While I did often root for Bojack throughout the show, the final season made it a point to remind everyone of the terrible things he’s done. The show is brilliant in how it has everything collapse around Bojack, but not because of circumstance. Once again, his own terrible choices and endless excuses are what do him in.
Seeing him face real, actual consequences for his decisions helped give the show a sense of balance when it ended. Bojack didn’t have a happy ending. Very few characters did. At the same time, he wasn’t killed or endlessly punished. It just left him in an uncertain state where he faced consequences for his past choices. Now, he has to make new choices moving forward.
It’s not satisfying for anyone who’d been rooting for Bojack. At the same time, it’s cathartic for that part of us who wanted him to face consequences for the awful things he’d done. Even so, the fact we rooted for him in the first place is oddly jarring and I think it speaks to a part of our nature that’s difficult to understand.
On some level, I feel like people want to see horrible people redeem themselves. Redemption stories are powerful in both the world of fiction and the real world. I think it’s in our nature to want to see good in everyone, even when they’ve done awful things. The power and desire to forgive is real.
However, does that mean we should let horrible deeds go unpunished? It’s one thing to forgive someone for a lie, but what about someone who abandons his best friend when he gets fired? What about someone who nearly chokes a woman to death in a drug-fueled rage? What about someone who takes advantage of a woman with amnesia?
Those deeds are all things that Bojack did over the course of “Bojack Horseman.” There are many others, some of which he never faced consequences for. Even though he’s an extreme example, even by fictional character standards, we still root for him. We still want him to find redemption. I think that says more about us than it does about him.
Awful people will do awful things, but when we see them trying to make things better, it’s hard not to cheer them on. I believe its in our nature to want to see others be the best they can be. The challenge is balancing that inclination to root for them and the need to punish shitty behavior.
Bojack’s story is over, but there are plenty of other characters like him that we root for. It’s not wrong to root for them, but it’s important to maintain a proper perspective. Redemption can be a powerful story. However, can there be any redemption without consequences?
I don’t know the answer. If you have some insights, please share them in the comments.