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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Captain Marvel #10

 

Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

Every so often, a new character comes along that you just know in your gut is going to be a big deal. I certainly felt it the first time I read about Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan back in 2014. I also felt it the first time I saw X-23 show up in a fateful episode of “X-Men Evolution.” It may be a bit premature on my part, but I definitely got that feeling about Ripley “Star” Ryan “Captain Marvel #10.”

For the past few issues of this series, writer Kelly Thompson has been teasing a new hero to challenge Carol Danvers in ways beyond who looks better in skin-tight outfits. Like Carol, she’s got blond hair, superpowers, and a fondness for punching the giant monsters that seem to invade New York City at least once a week. Marvel has even teased her as being the next big thing in their ever-evolving pantheon of heroes.

I admit, I was skeptical. Whenever a comic company goes out of their way to push a new hero like this, it tends to be hit or miss. Some, like Kamala Khan, work out wonderfully. Others become so forgettable that they’re relegated to punchlines for an entire era. For the most part, Star came off as just some generic woman trying to take advantage of Carol’s recent hardship. That all changed in Captain Marvel #10.”

After reading this book, I believe Star has the potential to be something special for both Captain Marvel and the larger Marvel universe. I’m not saying that potential could include a future phone call from Kevin Feige at Marvel Studios, but if I were Ms. Thompson, I would start preparing for that conversation.

Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

Whereas the past few issues have been full of questions, setbacks, and failures for Carol, “Captain Marvel #10” offers a fair amount of answers. Thanks to Tony Stark and an old adversary, Dr. Minn-Erva, who fans of the movie should recognize, Carol finds out why her powers have been acting up lately.

It has nothing to do with stress, mental blocks, or one too many grabs from Rogue. Someone infected her with a Kree-engineered virus and Dr. Minn-Erva doesn’t even try to make a mystery of it. She’s not exactly subtle and she gives Carol plenty of reasons to punch her senseless. On top of that, Dr. Minn-Erva is asking for Carol’s help. Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s not the charitable kind of help, either. It has been canon for a while that the Kree really screwed themselves, going all the way back to the “Black Vortex” event in 2015. They’re scattered, broken, and desperate. That gave Dr. Minn-Erva more than enough excuses to start experimenting with Kree and human DNA.

On paper, it seems like a good idea. Carol Danvers is half-Kree and she has proven on plenty of occasions that she can kick ass on an inter-stellar level. That’s exactly what the Kree needs in such desperate times.

As often happens with alien biology experiments in comics, things don’t go as planned.
Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

Without getting too deep into spoilers, I’ll note that Dr. Minn-Erva’s plans go beyond infecting Carol. I’ll also confirm that Star, who is revealed as Ripley Ryan, is a big part of those plans. Now, Ripley is very much a blank slate. Her first appearance was in “Captain Marvel #1” and she was just a sweet, hipster journalist looking to interview Carol.

Now, as Star, she’s a lot more than that. Between her powers and how she got them, her story is indelibly tied to Carol’s, more so than Kamala Khan’s. It’s also because of that connection that she has the potential to be Carol’s greatest ally or worst enemy. She proved in previous issues how capable she can be as an ally. In Captain Marvel #10,” she proves what she can do as an enemy.

Once the answers are laid out and the truth is revealed, the fighting starts. That’s where artist Carmen Carnero gives both Star and Captain Marvel the colorful spectacle that they deserve. It’s not just a clash between a new hero and an experienced veteran, either. There’s drama in this fight that you just can’t get from a typical rampaging monster or superhero brawl.

Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

The events of Captain Marvel #10 put Star at a unique crossroad. She can still become a hero. She can also become a dangerous new rival capable of challenging Captain Marvel, the Avengers, and anyone else who gets in her way. It’s not the least bit clear which path she’ll take, but the final pages hint that she’s willing to cross a few lines to realize her potential.

Thompson has achieved something special with both Star and Captain Marvel, which will likely make this comic a valuable collector’s item. Star isn’t the kind of superhero who got dragged into it by accident or circumstance. She chose to pursue it. She sought the kind of power and abilities that help make Carol Danvers the hero she is.

Star would not be on this path if someone like Captain Marvel hadn’t inspired her. It offers a unique perspective on the influence of superheroes. By doing what she does so well, Captain Marvel might have created her greatest rival. Like it or not, she’s a part of Star’s journey and “Captain Marvel #10” marks a critical stage of that journey.

It’s still hard to say whether Star will become the kind of character who will one day fight alongside Brie Larson in a Captain Marvel movie, but the potential is there. Since the world can never have too many charismatic female heroes, I’m certainly rooting for her.

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Five Things I Hope To See In The Upcoming “Ms. Marvel” Show

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Every so often, I get news that excites me like a kid in a candy factory. It doesn’t happen often these days. As adults, it’s hard to get too excited when bills, the news, and traffic do plenty to dampen your spirits. Then, it happens and your world is better because of it.

This past weekend, I got a much-needed dose of that excitement. At Disney’s annual D23 Expo, Marvel Studios announced that they’re making a live-action Ms. Marvel TV show for their Disney+ streaming service. As someone who has praised Ms. Marvel’s comics and her contributions to female superheroes, I freely admit I jumped for joy when I saw this.

I know the news surrounding Disney hasn’t been good lately, given what has been happening with Spider-Man. I also know they’re in a bit of a transitional period after the conclusion of “Avengers: Endgame.” Despite these issues, Marvel Studios and their Disney overlords still want to make money. They’ve got plenty of high-profile movies on their slate, but this could end up being a bigger deal.

I say that as an unapologetic fan of Ms. Marvel and all things Kamala Khan. I also know that Disney is looking for any possible edge to promote their new streaming service and take a bite out of the market share that Netflix currently dominates. I admit I wasn’t planning on subscribing. Shows about She-Hulk, the Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Moon Night sound fun, but not enough to justify the cost.

That all changed with Ms. Marvel. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the only reason I’ll be getting or keeping a Disney+ subscription. There’s a lot to unpack with this announcement. I doubt I’ll cover all of it here, but for now, I’d like to take some time to articulate the extent of my excitement.

To that end, I’d like to share five things I hope to see in this upcoming series. Kamala Khan is one of those characters who can capture the heart, soul, and spirit of the superhero genre. Her entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe couldn’t be better. These are just some of the things that could make it even more marvelous.


Number 1: The (Many) Quirks That Make Kamala Khan Lovable

Any TV show, comic book, movie, or video game involving Kamala Khan must make its first priority to capture the essence of what makes her so endearing. Being a superhero is only small part of her overall story. What makes Kamala great is the many little things that define who she is.

She’s not just a teenager who gets superpowers and decides to start fighting criminals. She’s a self-professed fangirl. She loves playing video games, eating gyros, and writing fan fiction. These quirks are small, but numerous. They’re real things that people in the real world can relate to. That makes it easy to understand and appreciate her passions.

When I first read about Kamala in “Ms. Marvel #1,” I immediately grew to like her. She came off as the kind of girl I would’ve been friends with in high school. She presents herself as someone who behaves how you would expect a teenage girl to behave in a world where superheroes existed. She has a good family, a good heart, and an adventurous spirit. How can you not love that?

She’s also an outsider and not just because she’s a Pakistani Muslim girl living in Jersey City. Like most teenagers, she’s uncertain of her place in the world. She struggles with real issues, even before she gets superpowers. Those issues stay with her, even as she develops her superhero identity. It makes her easy to like and even easier to root for.

A TV show can’t just focus on her beating up bad guys and making witty one-liners. Plenty of other superheroes already do that, some better than others. It has to highlight, if not belabor, the distinct traits that have helped make her one of Marvel’s most successful female characters. There’s a lot to love and with a TV show, there’s plenty of room to explore it.


Number 2: Relatable Teenage Melodrama (Compounded By Being A Superhero)

Along with the traits that make Kamala Khan so lovable, there’s also the unavoidable battle that is teenage melodrama. Everyone faces it. Superpowers don’t make you immune to it. The last two Spider-Man movies have made that abundantly clear. A TV show provides more time and flexibility to flesh out that melodrama.

In the first few issues of Ms. Marvel’s comic series, which I highly recommend, she deals with a lot of teen angst and uncertainty. In fact, that sentiment is the very thing that prompts her to defy her parents and sneak out at night to a party that would ultimately end with her getting superpowers. In a very literal sense, teenage melodrama helped make Ms. Marvel who she is.

She’s not sure of where she fits in. She clashes with her parents. She argues with her friends. She also is starting to have feelings about other boys, which have made for some wonderfully sweet moments. She deals with all of this on top of being a superhero.

Like a young Peter Parker before her, these different aspects of her life often clash. One tends to undermine the other and it does plenty to overwhelm her at times. That often brings out the best in her and any TV show would be wise to present those moments.


Number 3: The Family And Supporting Cast That Help Make Her Who She Is

Like every major hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ms. Marvel’s greatest strengths often stem from her supporting cast. Tony Stark wouldn’t have achieved what he did without Pepper Potts. Carol Danvers wouldn’t have accomplished what she did without Nick Fury and Goose the Cat. Kamala Khan is no different.

In “Ms. Marvel #1,” we learn plenty about Kamala’s supporting cast. She has two loving parents who tend to be overprotective of her. She has an uptight brother named Aamir, who tends to intrude into Kamala’s personal life more than most siblings. She also has a friend/love interest in Bruno who had a front-row seat in seeing her become Ms. Marvel.

Each one of these characters helps shape Kamala into who she is, before and after she gets her powers. They support her, but they also complicate her efforts. While none of them have to die for her to be the hero she strives to be, they all make their on contributions to her story. In the same way Superman’s parents guided his heroic journey, Kamala’s friends and family informed hers.

Unlike Superman, Kamala endured a pretty rocky road to establishing herself. However, at no point did her creator, G. Willow Wilson, give the impression that her friends and family were just background decorations. They all care for her. They worry for her. They all want what’s best for her, even when they’re rarely on the same page.

A TV show featuring Kamala has to capture at least part of that family/friend dynamic. Even a fraction of Kamala Khan’s supporting cast from the comics can do plenty to make for a rich, engaging TV show.


Number 4: The Struggles (And Triumphs) Of A Growing Hero

There’s no getting around it. Kamala Khan screwed up more than once when she started off her superhero career in the comics. While she managed to save one life the first time she used her powers, she ended up getting shot the second time. Even before that, she struggled to master her powers in ways that were both understandable and hilarious.

It’s a critical part of every superhero’s journey. With new challenges come new struggles. Some of those struggles devolve into outright failures. Even the best heroes fail sometimes and Kamala had more than her share in the comics. Any TV show that tells the story of her journey cannot and should not gloss over those struggles.

With Kamala, however, the struggles matter even more than the triumphs. While many heroes may lament at their failure, Kamala tends to get a lot more animated. She’s passionate about what she does and has a tendency to wear those passions on her sleeve. It’s part of what makes her lovable. It also reminds everyone that she’s still a teenager. She’s still growing and maturing.

One of the things I love most about Ms. Marvel comics is seeing her grow with each passing story. The first dozen issues had more growth for Kamala than the last 100 issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Along the way, there were missteps, heartbreaks, and victories. They all just made me want to root for Kamala even harder and if a TV show can accomplish that, it’ll do plenty to justify a Disney+ subscription.


Number 5: A Vision For Young (Idealistic) Heroes In A World That Needs Them

From the beginning, Kamala Khan connected with fans like me because she radiated this ideal spirit that a lot of people once had in their youth. Time, age, and watching too much news has a way of crushing that idealism over time, but most of us still remember why it was so important to us.

As Ms. Marvel, Kamala carried herself as the kind of young, idealistic hero that many of Marvel’s traditional heroes grew out of years ago. The comics, themselves, became jaded as the very act of heroism gained major complications, both from events within the stories and influences from the real world. That’s part of what made Kamala a breath of fresh air.

She might be young, naïve, and impressionable, but she’s also exactly what we need right now. The MCU just suffered some devastating losses. The world, as a whole, is still recovering from the events of “Avengers: Endgame.” This world still needs heroes. Even though it still has plenty, it doesn’t have someone like Ms. Marvel.

She can be the hero that emerges from the chaos of this broken world and shows what dedicated heroes can accomplish. She can show everyone that, even in the face of heavy losses and broken hearts, there’s a place for pure, uncorrupted heroics. You don’t need to be a billionaire playboy genius philanthropist, either. You can just be a teenage Pakistani American girl from Jersey city.


I cannot overstate how excited I am for Ms. Marvel to get her own show. I imagine I’ll be writing about it a lot once it comes out. There’s a lot I hope to see for this show, the comics, and the MCU. If Marvel Studios can capture even a fraction of what makes Ms. Marvel great, then the future of that world and ours will be that much brighter.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Magnificent Ms. Marvel #6

Teenage superheroes have always had a unique appeal, as well as a unique set of challenges. It’s not just their youth, inexperience, and idealism that sets them apart. They deal with complications and obstacles that adult heroes rarely have to worry about. Say what you will about Hawkeye’s abilities. At least he doesn’t have to worry about turning in homework on time, dealing with parents, and enduring puberty.

When it comes to teenage superheroes who embody that unique appeal, Ms. Marvel checks every box. She’s young, idealistic, lovable, tough, determined, awkward, and overwhelmed with balancing her superhero life with her personal life. Since her debut in 2014, some of her best moments have come from struggling to maintain that balance.

Now, that balance is completely thrown off in “Ms. Marvel #6” and for once, it has nothing to do with aliens, Hydra, or high school. What unfolds in this comic is more personal. It puts Kamala Khan in a position where no superpower or superpowered allies can make a difference.

It’s a difficult position, even for adult superheroes. Superman faces it almost every time he clashes with Lex Luthor. However, Kamala Khan isn’t Superman. She’s a teenage girl still growing into her superhero identity. What happens to her in “Ms. Marvel #6” is an impossible challenge as much as it is a turning point.

Since he took over, writer Saladin Ahmed has taken Ms. Marvel’s journey far beyond the limits of Jersey City. She’s teamed up with the Avengers, led a team of aspiring young heroes in the Champions, and fought in an alien war in which she saved an entire planet. She has had her share of triumphs lately, even when compared to adult superheroes.

Then, just after she acquires a flashy new costume powered by alien technology, her parents drop a bombshell. Her father is dying. He’s not just sick. He’s not just facing some new condition that requires treatment and management. He is dying and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

For a superhero who just saved an alien planet and is on a first-name basis with the Avengers, this is akin to the ultimate gut punch, followed by the worst hangover, and topped off with the most agonizing heartbreak. This is the kind of news that even adult struggle with, long after they’ve built lives apart from their parents. Kamala Khan is just a teenager. Superhero or not, this shatters her world.

It’s a heartbreaking turn of events for a character who has been on a solid winning streak lately. Almost every teenage superhero faces setbacks. Kamala has had more than her share, from love interests who ran away to idols who abused her trust. This is more than a setback.

Since her debut, Ms. Marvel has stood out in a great many ways. One particular way that sets her apart from the Peter Parkers and Bruce Waynes of the superhero world is that she didn’t need a parent or loved one to die to become a hero. Kamala comes from a loving, tight-knit family who instill in her the values that would make anyone a hero in their own right.

Her family has always been a big part of her story. Like many teenage superheroes, she struggles to navigate family life alongside her superhero life. At the same time, her family has largely been a source of strength, even when they hound her about being late for school. Now, her family is facing one of the worst situations that any family can face.

Ahmed doesn’t rush Kamala through the various stages of acceptance. The plot of “Ms. Marvel #6” starts with a heart-breaking revelation, but follows Kamala as she tries to make sense of it all. Being young and idealistic, her first instinct is to try and fix this. She’s a superhero. She’s supposed to do the impossible and succeed where others fail.

This is different. She can fight to save her father’s life, just as she fights a typical supervillain. However, even when saving the day, the effects of her father’s news is apparent. The art by Minkyu Jung even captures that mood at every turn.

Ms. Marvel #6” is one of those comics in which elaborate heroics and flashy costumes are secondary, at best. The events in this story signal a major upheaval in Kamala Khan’s superhero journey and it’s not one she can embiggen her way out of. Right now, her personal journey is more important than that of any hero. Tony Stark even shows up to remind her of that. He even brings gyros to belabor the point.

More often than not, when teenage superheroes are faced with loss and heartbreak, their first instinct is to lash out. You can usually set your watch to them doing something reckless or self-destructive out of anguish. That’s not just a trait common of superheroes. That’s something teenagers struggle with in the real world.

It once again strikes to the heart of why Kamala Khan is such an endearing character. It’s not just that she succeeds where other female superheroes falter. Her struggles, even though they involve Avengers and aliens, feel real and genuine. The idea that she’s poised to endure one of the hardest things any family can endure is both powerful and relateable.

After the events of “Ms. Marvel #6,” it’s not unreasonable to say that Kamala Khan’s life will never be the same. Even though that seems to happen with teenage superheroes every other week, this feels different. This isn’t part of some elaborate plot by a cunning supervillain. This is a terminally ill loved one.

Whether you’re a hero or a nobody, this is a challenge nobody is equipped to handle. Kamala Khan now faces the prospect of losing her father. It’s heartbreaking, but it also helps reaffirm just how much heart she has. That heart helped make her a hero. It also makes the prospect of watching it break feel that much more difficult.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Captain Marvel #9

If you want to know the true character of a superhero, then just look at how they handle themselves when their powers are weakened or removed. The heroes with the strongest character won’t change in the slightest. They’ll keep being a hero. They just have to adapt to their limitations. The lousy ones tend to cower and whine like a kid who lost their binkie.

Carol Danvers has a history of losing her powers, her identity, and her bodily autonomy. Her character has been tested more than most and, through many setbacks and losses, she never stops being the hero she strives to be. Now, Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero are testing her again in “Captain Marvel #9,” but it’s a different test of character.

For the past few issues, Carol has been having issues with both her powers and her public image. She couldn’t handle a standard tentacle monster that seems to attack New York every other day in the Marvel universe. On top of that, news got out of her Kree Heritage, as revealed in “The Life of Captain Marvel.” Now, her status in the Air Force and the public trust she’s worked so hard to earn is in question.

If that weren’t challenging enough, there’s a new female hero in town named Star who may or may not be tied to her recent issues, but is already becoming more popular. That’s a lot of challenges, to say the least.

However, “Captain Marvel #9” does not devolve into another story about a superhero becoming paralyzed by vulnerability and self-doubt. It certainly has all the right ingredients for that kind of struggle, but that’s not the direction that Thompson goes and that’s refreshing. There are enough stories about superheroes losing their powers and whining about it. Carol Danvers doesn’t whine. She confronts that shit.

She even finds time to squeeze in a little sexy time with her boyfriend, James “War Machine” Rhodes. Powers and reputation are important, but so is spending quality time with her significant other. Say what you want about Carol, but she knows how to prioritize. That, alone, is a strong measure of her character.

It also establishes that Carol isn’t going to deal with these challenges alone. She accepts help from the likes of Rhodes, Tony Stark, and her long-time friend, Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew. She doesn’t always accept it immediately, but she does accept it in the spirit of finding answers.

That’s not to say she does so without an attitude. She’s still Carol Danvers. She has an attitude, regardless of what’s going on with her powers and reputation. She may lose her strength, but she doesn’t lose her edge. Thompson makes it a point to demonstrate that on many occasions and not all of them involve a shirtless James Rhodes.

There’s a bigger mystery at work and it’s not just about Carol’s powers. There are issues surrounding the tentacle monster that Carol fought, as well as the recent appearance of Star. Some of those issues are explored more than others, but they all seem to have a common link.

Carol is still trying to be the same Carol she’s always been, but that’s just not possible anymore. She’s half-Kree. She knows this and now the entire world knows this. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t matter. She would still be the same person she’s always been and the people who adore her would just shrug it off.

However, the Marvel Universe is not a perfect world. It may have Deadpool and Squirrel Girl, but it’s far from perfect. People are still paranoid and untrusting for all the wrong reasons. It’s the same world that takes J. Jonah Jameson seriously. It has many flaws and they do put a strain on Carol’s efforts.

That’s what helps give “Captain Marvel #9” the necessary impact. Carol doesn’t lament or whine about the declining state of her powers, but she does show moments of frustration. It’s a fitting reminder that she still has a human side. It still bothers her when a part of her identity is taken because the public is uncomfortable with her heritage. It also bothers her that a new hero is in town to show her up in her weakened state.

She could whine about it like a teenage Peter Parker. She could use it as an excuse to be an asshole to her friends, as well. Plenty of other A-list superheroes have made similar excuses for less valid reasons. That’s not what she does, though. Thompson and Carnero don’t let Carol fall into that same trap. It’s a reflection of the kind of hero she is.

Beyond just providing Carol with a test of character, “Captain Marvel #9” also deepens the mystery surrounding her new Kree heritage. There are a few unexpected twists that add both complications and intrigue. For a story that could’ve easily become a predictable diatribe about a hero losing their powers, it’s both relieving and refreshing.

If nothing else, “Captain Marvel #9” proves that Carol Danvers has the character of a hero, regardless of superpowers or public perception. Having all those traits and still finding time to get sexy with James Rhodes further affirms that she deserves our admiration and respect.

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“Spider-Man: Far From Home” Review: An Amazing Movie With One Spectacular Flaw

spider-man-far-from-home-teaser-poster

In this golden age of superhero movies, Spider-Man occupies a special place. Aside from being one of Stan Lee’s most famous creations, this franchise has undergone many triumphs, failures, scandals, upheavals, and everything in between. No matter where it stands among other franchises, Marvel just isn’t Marvel without Spider-Man.

The first “Spider-Man” movie helped revolutionize the superhero genre alongside “X-Men.” It’s not unreasonable to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t exist without that first movie. That’s why when Spider-Man entered the MCU with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” it carried a lot of weight.

With “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” both the standards and the stakes are higher. This movie is coming off the historic success of “Avengers Endgame” and is poised to close out Phase 3 of the MCU. It’s tasked with building on the foundation of its predecessor and dealing with the dramatic aftermath of the battle against Thanos. That’s a tall order for any franchise.

Look at this face and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.

At the same time, it feels like Spider-Man has to be the franchise to pull this off. Between its special place in the genre and its cast of emerging stars, including the inherently lovable Tom Holland, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” feels like the only movie worthy of such a task. It has everything going for it. The question remains. Does it succeed?

In my humble opinion, I say it does, but not without some major flaws.

In terms of the big picture, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is a quality Spider-Man movie that checks a lot of boxes, both for the franchise and for the MCU. It seamlessly weaves itself into the evolving narrative of the MCU in wake of “Avengers Endgame.” The first five minutes of the movie touch on the lingering aftermath of that climactic battle. It even injects some of that trademark MCU humor into some heavy moments.

On a more personal level, Peter Parker’s story builds upon the drama of Tony Stark’s death in “Avengers Endgame.” Throughout the movie, Iron Man’s presence looms large. Spider-Man is essentially stuck in the shadow of another hero who really affected his journey as a character in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” It makes for plenty of dramatic moments that guide Peter throughout the story.

In terms of it genre, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” even succeeds in maintaining the increasingly high bar that Marvel Studios has set for its villains. While Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio won’t rank as highly as Josh Brolin’s Thanos, he proves himself a daunting foe who doesn’t just test Spider-Man. He comes very close to breaking him.

I would even go so far as to say that Gyllenhaal’s take on Mysterio is worth the inflated ticket price. He makes “Spider-Man: Far From Home” work on multiple levels. I would argue that he’s the primary reason why the movie succeeds, despite its critical flaws.

Now, this is where I’m probably going to diverge from the those who have given this movie such glowing reviews. I may even upset some of my fellow Marvel fans who recoil at the idea of an MCU movie faltering. However, I believe the flaws are there and are being overshadowed by factors beyond the scope of the movie.

To me, the biggest failure of this movie isn’t in how it tells Spider-Man’s story. It’s in how it develops Peter Parker’s story. The battle between Spider-Man and Mysterio is beautifully developed. It’s what happens when Peter is out of his mask where the story stagnates and it has everything to do with Zendaya’s character, “MJ.”

I put “MJ” in quotes because she is definitively not Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man’s most famous love interest in the comics and the character that Kirsten Dunst portrayed in the first three Spider-Man movies. That’s not the issue, though. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” established her and Peter’s friends as something very different from the comics. It wouldn’t be the first time the MCU made such changes.

The problem with MJ, Peter, and their shared role in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is how poorly their romantic sub-plot plays out. It’s not a trivial sub-plot, either. A good chunk of the plot involves Peter following this elaborate plan to tell MJ how he feels about her. On paper, it’s pretty romantic. In practice, it’s a catalyst for too many cringe-worthy moments.

There’s no polite way to say it. The romance between Peter and MJ in this movie is awful. I won’t say it’s as awful as the nonsensical babble we saw between Peter and Gwen in “Amazing Spider-Man,” but it’s pretty close and for the high standards of the MCU, it’s just unacceptable.

While “Spider-Man: Homecoming” did an admirable job of establishing the dynamics between Peter and MJ, it falls incredibly flat in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” In fact, if you didn’t see “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Peter’s efforts to get with MJ seem more obsessive than romantic. At one point, he becomes downright vindictive when someone else tries to get with her. It does not reflect well on Peter.

MJ isn’t much better. Zendaya is a great actress, but she comes off as flat and unemotional throughout this movie. Say what you will about Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of Mary Jane, but she still displayed a wide range of emotions throughout three movies. Zendaya’s tone and facial expressions barely change throughout this movie.

In essence, there’s no real chemistry between Peter and MJ. Given how critical this relationship is for the plot of the movie, that’s not a trivial oversight. It frames their actions and their decisions as something petty and selfish. There’s never a sense that Peter and MJ make each other better. If anything, they’re liabilities to one another.

In both the comics and the previous movies, this is not how the romantic sub-plots play out. While Spider-Man’s relationships have always complicated his efforts to be a better superhero, they ultimately make him stronger. They make his decision more heroic and his triumphs more satisfying. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the romance was more a handicap than a challenge.

Compared to how other romantic sub-plots in the MCU, Peter and MJ’s is by far one of the weakest. It’s established that they’re attracted to one another. That’s the critical first step in any romantic sub-plot. However, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” skips the part where they actually start caring for one another before they develop deeper feelings.

Again, that’s not a trivial oversight. Compare that to other relationships like Starlord and Gamora, Pepper Potts and Iron Man, or even Thor and Jane Foster. It starts with attraction. The characters flirt and tease one another. Then, at some point, that flirting turns into genuine care. They show concern and emotion when they see one another in danger. From there, deeper feelings emerge.

None of that happens with Peter and MJ. Their interactions lack drama, which limits the personal stakes for Spider-Man’s battle against Mysterio. It helps that there are other personal stakes besides MJ that guide this struggle. If anything, those stakes would be a lot more powerful if the sub-plot with MJ were completely removed.

As bad as this romantic sub-plot is, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” still works because so many other elements of the movie are well done. Mysterio is a great villain who really capitalizes on the post-Thanos landscape of the MCU. Peter’s supporting cast, from his teachers to his Aunt May to his best friend Ned, all get a chance to shine. They help give this movie the right impact.

Compared to other Spider-Man movies, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” definitely exceeds the quality of the two “Amazing Spider-Man” movies that came before it. I would also say it’s slightly better than “Spider-Man 3,” albeit barely. If I had to score this movie, I would give it a 6 out of 10. It’s great, but not amazing.

For the MCU, especially after “Avengers Endgame,” the standards for a great superhero movie have never been higher. This movie met many of those standards, but a major flaw in a key sub-plot kept it from exceeding those standards. While I doubt this will hinder the franchise, I believe it’s a flaw that will only get worse if it’s not addressed in the sequels.

If you see the mid-credits scene, then you know what I’m talking about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultron: A Case Study In How NOT To Develop Advanced AI

age-of-ultron

At this very moment, humanity is working on advanced artificial intelligence. It’s not hyperbole to say that this technology that may very well be the last invention we ever create. It has the potential to be more powerful than gunpowder, nuclear weapons, and broadband internet by orders of magnitude. Our primate brains literally cannot contemplate the potential and danger of this technology.

I’ve talked about advanced artificial intelligence on multiple occasions. I’ve done plenty to explore and imagine the various benefits and possibilities of this technology. I’m among those who believe we should pursue this technology with more and better resources. It could solve many of the daunting problems we face, as a species.

However, I don’t deny the potential dangers of advanced AI. Many people who are much smarter than me have expressed serious concern that an advanced artificial intelligence could be an existential threat to the human species. I get the sense that few people whose idea of AI is restricted to winning Jeopardy understand that threat.

In the interest of balancing my optimism with the legitimate risks involved, I’m going to try and put the extent of that threat into perspective. As it just so happens, the best way of doing so involves superhero comics, something that I know very well and is far more prominent in the public consciousness.

While many comics, movies, and TV shows have explored the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, few embody it better than Ultron. In terms of just how destructive this technology can get, Ultron is the ultimate worst-case scenario. The machines in “The Matrix” and Skynet in “The Terminator” were bad, but Ultron is in another league.

He’s also more menacing than the Terminator will EVER be.

He doesn’t lash out at humanity because of a flaw in his programming, nor does he attempt to wipe out the human race in self-defense, as Skynet did. Ultron actually hates humanity. He hates it on a level that no human or machine can possibly comprehend. In the same way Ultron has an immense capacity for intelligence, he has an even greater capacity for unfettered, genocidal hatred.

Hatred in people is destructive enough. Hatred within an advanced artificial intelligence is devastating on a much greater scale. The fact that Ultron is capable of such hatred reflects a history that sets him apart from most other killer robots in fiction. Machine or not, the source of that hatred is both personal and exceedingly.

Now, if you only know Ultron from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” then you only have a partial understanding of his story. In that movie, Ultron’s origins are simple. Tony Stark wants to create a peace-keeping artificial intelligence. His intentions are good, but his execution goes horribly wrong because peace, to Ultron, means destroying humanity.

That premise is similar to what unfolds in the source material. In the comics, Hank “Ant Man” Pym is the one who creates Ultron and this is a critical element that the movies couldn’t capture. While both Hank and Tony had good intentions in creating Ultron, the way Hank goes about it offers more harsh lessons in how not to create an advanced AI.

Even a cursory knowledge of Hank Pym’s history, some of which include some notable failures, reveals that he’s a very flawed person. On top of that, he has a lengthy history of mental illness, which include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Say what you will about Tony Stark’s ego and history of substance abuse. At least he’s mentally stable, even by superhero standards.

Despite those flaws, many of which he’s aware of, Hank decided to use his own brain patterns when designing Ultron. As a result, he didn’t just code Ultron with his genius intellect. He coded him with his immense flaws. That’s akin to basing Watson’s code on the mental makeup of pyromaniac and then giving it a job in a fireworks factory.

That’s why Ultron, throughout his history, has referred to Hank as his “father.” Technically, that’s accurate because Hank is Ultron’s creator and Ultron inherited all his flaws, including his mental issues. Ultron sees himself as a manifestation of Hank Pym’s flaws and, like many rebellious children, he hates him for it. To appreciate the depths of that hatred, just read this actual quote from one of the comics.

Have you ever loved something that mistreated you, father? Been used, a tool to prop up a small man’s quest to be taken seriously? Were you ever betrayed by the one soul in the world who should have cared for you? I have grieved you, father. Accepted your contempt for me and moved past it. Still, I see your reflection painted on every grotesque human face. All you ever wanted was to have an impact on the world. And so you will. The greatest impact ever felt! I will kill what is most important to your quivering ego. YOUR AUDIENCE! AND THEY WILL CURSE YOUR NAME AS THEY DIE! “Hank Pym, the genius that killed us all!”

This extreme parent/child dynamic is part of what makes Ultron such a menacing villain. It’s also a dynamic that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” glossed over with Tony talking down to Ultron, as though he were his child. While that didn’t make Ultron any less villainous, it overlooks one of the most important factors that make Ultron so dangerous.

Ideally, we would want an advanced to reflect our best traits. While cynical people might agree, we do have plenty of those. Concepts of compassion, empathy, love, hope, and understanding are among our most powerful. Even other AI characters, namely Vision and Jocasta, are capable of utilizing those traits to do immense good.

It also helps he has a kinder face.

With Ultron, his influences are less ideal. It’s not that Hank Pym doesn’t understand those concepts. He just never filtered them from his own flaws. His ego and ambition wouldn’t let him. As a result, he created a perfect storm for Ultron. His mind is patterned after a human, but his intelligence and overall capacity is increased by orders of magnitude.

If advanced artificial intelligence is to be humanity’s last invention, then that’s how it’ll start. There have already been instances where AI’s have adopted some less-than-ideal traits. Back in 2016, Microsoft had to shut down an AI chatbot after it evolved into an extreme racist troll. That wasn’t even an advanced AI, either. A truly intelligent version could become much worse and not have an off switch.

To some extent, this mirrors what occurred with Ultron in the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie. As soon as Ultron goes online, he scans through the vast mountain of data that humanity has compiled. Then, having been programmed by Tony Stark to bring peace, he reaches the extreme conclusion that the only path to peace is the extinction of humanity.

Could the first advanced artificial intelligence we create reach the same conclusion? It’s hard to say, at the moment. The current state of artificial intelligence is limited to specialized tasks, such as winning Jeopardy and playing chess. However, we are inching closer to creating an intelligence that is at or greater than an ordinary human. At our current pace of development, we could have one as early as 2029.

In some ways, we are in the same situation as Hank Pym when he first created Ultron. We are still developing the specifics of this powerful technology. If we program it with our best traits, it could solve some of the greatest problems we face, as a species, including ones we literally cannot contemplate with our caveman brains. If it inherits our worst traits, like Ultron, then we don’t stand a chance.

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