Tag Archives: Magneto

Bringing The X-men Into The MCU: What To Do And What To Avoid

x-men-joining-the-mcu

These are exciting times for fans of Marvel and superhero movies. We thought we had reached a high point in 2012 when “The Avengers” came out. Then, we reached an even higher point this year with “Avengers: Infinity War.” Between raising the bar for superhero movies as a whole and generating billions at the box office, it seems impossible that Marvel could ascend any higher.

Well, Marvel Studios treat the impossible the same way the Hulk treats puny gods. They made Ant Man a successful movie franchise. They turned an obscure comic book featuring a talking raccoon into a multi-billion dollar phenomenon. At this point, doing the impossible is just another day at the office for Marvel and their Disney overlords.

In wake of the recent Disney/Fox merger, Kevin Feige and the brain trust at Marvel Studios will have even more tools with which to raise the bar. Even if they’re just running up the score at this point compared to the competition, there’s still plenty of room to grow now that they’ve got the entire mythos of the X-men and the Fantastic Four to work with.

This is already set to happen. Bob Iger himself has already indicated that there are plans to integrate the X-men and Fantastic Four into the MCU. How Marvel Studios will go about this is anyone’s guess and plenty of people have been sharing their guesses. I’ve tried to resist the temptation, but being a lifelong X-men fan and a lover of superhero movies in general, my restraint only goes so far.

However, I don’t want to wildly speculate or push an elaborate fan theory. Again, more than a few people have already done that. Instead, I’d like to do something a bit more generalized. Similar to my other articles on how not to screw up certain movies, I want to provide a guide of sorts.

At the very least, let’s avoid this.

I’m not going to get into specifics. Kevin Feige and a host of other people way smarter than me or anyone else on the internet are perfectly capable of handling those. Being a devout X-men fan, though, I feel like I can offer some basic pointers on what to do and what to avoid in bringing mutants into the MCU.

I think the X-men need that more than the Fantastic Four, at this point. Unlike Marvel’s First Family, the X-men entering the MCU will have far greater implications and not just because the last “Fantastic Four” movie almost killed the franchise. Mutants showing up in the MCU changes everything from what defines a superhero to how the physics of that universe operate.

At the same time, the X-men embody a particular theme, one that was relevant in 1963 when they first appeared, but has become relevant in entirely new ways in the 21st century. The last 18 years of X-men movies have tried to capture those themes, some being more successful than others. For the X-men to work in the MCU, it needs to capture those themes and get the characters right after Hugh Jackman set such a high bar.

Yes, it’s a daunting challenge, but one that Marvel Studios and their Disney overlords are more than equipped to handle. To achieve that success, and all the billions that come with it, here’s what I think they should pursue and what I think they should avoid.


Do: Tie The Events Of “Avengers: Infinity War” To Mutants (But Only Indirectly)

This is already part of the wild speculation surrounding “Avengers: Infinity War.” It would make sense to some degree, having Thanos’ universe-shaking actions lead directly to the creation and introduction of mutants in the MCU. However, I think having a direct link might undercut both the X-men and ultimate resolution of “Avengers 4.”

That’s why it would work better for both franchises if the link was indirect, at most. Part of the appeal of the MCU is that there are connections everywhere, but most of those connections are fairly loose. Sure, Dr. Strange will get a mention in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but the movie doesn’t center around setting up another franchise.

Ideally, the X-men would follow the same approach. Perhaps Nick Fury mentions some strange genetic anomalies popping up. Perhaps Bruce Banner or Black Widow mentions rumors of other living weapons, which could be a reference for Weapon X. Let those small hints establish that mutants exist, but save the particulars for an actual X-men movie.


Avoid: Having Mutants Appear Without Explaining Their Absence

This is probably the most daunting challenge for Marvel Studios to date, explaining how mutants exist in the MCU and why they’ve been absent thus far. Most people with an internet connection know why the MCU could never mention the X-men. Their movie rights were owned by another studio.

Just because Disney owns Fox now doesn’t mean that mutants can just suddenly appear. It’s not like magic in “Dr. Strange” or the Asgardians in “Thor.” These forces could operate under the radar, independently, and on a small scale. Mutants, by their very nature, cannot act like that.

The most defining theme of mutants, as they exist in Marvel, is that they’re random. They manifest all over the world in every major human population, regardless of geography, culture, language, or ethnicity. That’s not something that can just be ignored while aliens invade New York or killer robots invade Sokovia.

At the very least, an X-men movie in the MCU needs to establish a valid reason for why they’ve been absent. Moreover, it can’t just be the result of experiments or mad science, which was done in Marvel’s now-defunct Ultimate line comics and is way too similar to the Inhumans, whose TV show failed miserably.

Luckily for Marvel and Disney, there’s already an established way to do this and it came from an underrated cartoon called “X-men Evolution.” In that world, mutants are there, but their existence is kept secret by Charles Xavier. The events of “The Avengers” could give them even more reasons for keeping that secret and the whole movie could be built around mutants finally coming out.

Considering how mutants have often been used to symbolize the struggle of minorities, I think that’s both appropriate and compelling.


Do: Make The First Team Of X-men Young And Idealistic

The early X-men movies were a lot of things. Upbeat wasn’t one of them. The original “X-men” trilogy was very serious, full of brooding and tension, even among the younger characters. That worked for the early 2000s when superhero movies needed to get serious after the “Batman and Robin” fiasco. It won’t work in this current era.

The original X-men were teenagers when they first donned their costumes. They weren’t hardened soldiers like Captain America. They were lovably idealistic in pursuing Charles Xavier’s dream, believing they could be the ones that change the world. Unlike most teenagers armed only with a cell phone and no adult baggage, they have the powers to actually achieve it.

The heroes in “The Avengers” already provided plenty of jaded adult perspectives. The X-men can offer the youthful, idealistic perspective that’s so endearing, but so easy to undermine. That’s how the X-men started in the comics and that’s how they’ll thrive in the MCU.


Avoid: Making Wolverine The Center Of Everything

This is a caveat that’s just as relevant today as it was in the early 2000s when the “X-men” movies first came out. Now, I love Wolverine as much as the next X-men fan, but he is not the center of the X-men’s world. As lovable as Hugh Jackman is, the world of X-men cannot and should not be defined by all things Wolverine.

I would even go so far as to keep Wolverine out of the first X-men movie that takes place in the MCU. Establish the team before bringing him into the picture because it’s inevitable that he’ll command a lot of energy. If anything, Wolverine should get his own solo movie before he meets the X-men. Having held down three movies, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

Wolverine is a great character, but he can’t be the main driving force of the X-men again. He already was with the original “X-men” movies and the MCU doesn’t need to follow that path again. Let Wolverine thrive on his own. Let the X-men thrive on their own. If they can complement one another along the way, then everybody wins.


Do: Highlight What Makes Mutants Different From Other Super-powered Beings

This is something that even the comics don’t do particularly well. Within that world, mutants exist alongside all types of heroes, from gamma-powered hulks to inter-dimensional refugees to Superman rip-offs. However, mutants are still hated and feared for being different.

The reasons for that are many, but poorly fleshed out. Unlike the Inhumans or unlucky teenagers who get bit by a spider, mutants are random. They’re born with their powers and they can’t avoid them. Being a mutant is like being a particular race. You can’t change what you are. That’s exactly what makes mutants both different and disconcerting for the public.

We already saw in “Captain America: Civil War” that the governments of the world are quite anxious about controlling super-powered beings. Add mutants to the mix and the potential for conflict is even greater. The foundation is there. The X-men just have to build on it.


Avoid: Making The Hatred And Mistrust Of Mutants Seem Contrived

This plays directly into my last point, but there’s a reason it’s worth highlighting. Like the comics, the MCU already has plenty of super-powered, super-capable beings that governments and average people rightly fear. There are legitimate reasons for that fear. Most people wouldn’t trust Elon Musk with a suit of armor. Why should they trust Tony Stark?

Fear and hatred of mutants is the primary driving force of conflict in the X-men. It’s also the primary motivator for characters like Magneto. That fear and hatred has to be different than the other logistical concerns that played out in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Dealing with mutants can’t just be about holding them accountable through some international treaty. Mutants are a lot more chaotic because they’re random and not every mutant seeks to be a superhero, which is part of why Charles Xavier formed a school in the first place.

The measures in the MCU, as well as the logic behind them, need to be different. At a time when people being detained is a hot-button issue, the X-men have could be extra relevant.


Do: Establish Minor, But Relevant Links To Other MCU Characters

A big part of the appeal in the MCU is how everything seems connected. Captain America has links to Tony Stark’s father, Howard. Spider-Man has a close link to Iron Man, as well. “Thor: Ragnarok” established some ties with Dr. Strange. “Guardians of the Galaxy” created ties with Thanos that later played out in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

These kinds of links help make the MCU the box office powerhouse that it is and those links should continue in X-men. Again, the foundation is there. Carol Danvers, who is set to appear in “Captain Marvel,” already has close ties to the X-men in the comics. Wolverine even had close ties to Captain America during World War II.  Storm also has a documented, but flawed history with Black Panther.

How these links emerge depends heavily on how Marvel Studios decides to bring the X-men into the MCU. If they shake up reality or tweak the timelines, then there will be opportunities to establish these links. If they opt for something less messy, then they can just as easily focus on setting new links for future movies. Either way works, provided it’s done right.


Avoid: Creating Unnecessary Rivalries Or Conflicts

This is something that could very well happen if those connections I mentioned earlier aren’t done particularly well. I know it will be tempting for Marvel Studios to pursue a big “Avengers vs. X-men” event like the one that played out in the comics. Personally, I think that would be a mistake and not just because “Captain America: Civil War” already played that idea out.

Superheroes fighting other superheroes can be compelling, but it’s easy to overdo. It also has a nasty tendency to bring out the worst in all the characters involved. That has happened more than once in the comics, especially recently. Whenever heroes fight each other, nobody really comes off as heroes and that’s not a healthy way to develop quality characters. It just makes them seem petty.

The X-men already have a lengthy list of quality villains beyond Magneto. The original trilogy did a poor job of utilizing them. The MCU has already dealt with a significant villain problems in the past, but has since raised the bar with characters like Thanos and Erik Killmonger. Before the X-men start butting heads with the Avengers, let them clash with the likes of Sinister and Mastermold first.


Do: Let Ryan Reynolds Continue Being Deadpool

Does this really need an explanation? Deadpool is awesome. Ryan Reynolds is lovable, talented, and charismatic. It’s not broke so don’t try to fix it. Just let Deadpool be Deadpool and let the money roll in.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Deadpool, superhero movies, X-men

How Negative Expectations May Ruin “X-men: Dark Phoenix” (For The Wrong Reasons)

SophieJean1

There’s an important, but understated difference between negative expectations and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expectations are like reflexes. They’re somewhat involuntary, reflecting our assumptions and understanding of a situation. A self-fulfilling prophecy involves actual effort. Whether intentional or not, it guides our perceptions in a particular direction, one often associated with a particular bias.

To some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy is akin to self-hypnosis. We convince ourselves so thoroughly of a particular outcome that to consider otherwise would be downright shocking, if not distressing. That’s why it’s so difficult, at times, to escape a particular expectation, especially if it’s negative.

I bring up expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies because they do plenty to shape our reactions and attitudes, especially in the media we consume. For better or for worse, often varying from person to person, we tend to determine how much we enjoy something before we even experience it.

Sometimes, it works to the benefit of a particular movie, video game, or TV show. The powerful brand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built heavily on the expectations that a long list of quality, well-received movies have established. Conversely, the DCEU struggles with negative expectations, thanks largely to a catalog of movies that have failed to consistently deliver.

Then, there’s “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It’s a movie for which I’ve made my passion and my excitement very clear over the past year. It’s also a movie that is in the midst of an emerging crisis. It’s not the kind that involves negative press, actors melting down on set, or sordid sex scandals, for once. Instead, it’s an issue that involves negative expectations that may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As big an X-men fan as I am, I don’t deny that the X-men franchise is not on the same level it was in the early 2000s when it dominated the box office alongside Spider-Man. Even though I loved “X-men: Apocalypse,” I can’t deny it under-performed and underwhelmed.

Despite that, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has more going for it. It’s attempting to tell the Dark Phoenix Saga, the most iconic X-men story ever told. Moreover, it’s attempting to tell that story after it botched it horribly in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Even the director, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying that he wants to “X-men: Dark Phoenix” to succeed where the last one failed.

Given how rare that kind of humility is in Hollywood these days, X-men fans and fans of superhero movies in general have every reason to expect better things from this movie. Given how low the bar is after “X-men: The Last Stand,” I’m more optimistic than I dare to be when it comes to comic book movies.

Unfortunately, that sense of optimism seems to beg getting less and less prevalent. Whether due to the underwhelming performance of “X-men: Apocalypse” or a growing impatience to see the X-men join the MCU after the Disney/Fox merger is complete, there’s a general sentiment that this movie is going to be bad.

I see it on popular YouTube channels. I see in the many comic book message boards I frequent. The overall consensus is that this is a Marvel movie that isn’t part of the MCU. Therefore, it’s going to be terrible. That is, by every measure, a terrible excuse to dismiss a movie, especially when we haven’t even seen a trailer.

To make matters worse, a recent string of leaks from an alleged test screening revealed details that have only fueled those negative expectations. For reasons that I’ll make clear in a moment, I won’t list the details of those links. I will, however, offer a direct quote that aptly sums up the prevailing attitude for this movie.

“I do believe some things won’t change. What can’t change is the movie being really underwhelming. Really lower your expectations because this one is not good.”

This news, if accurate, is not encouraging to anyone hoping to see a well-done Dark Phoenix Saga on the big screen. To make matters worse, those who already had negative expectations about this movie have even more excuses to resent it.

As I’ve noted before, people tend to cling to excuses that justify their preconceived notions. It doesn’t even matter if the excuse is true. Once they have it, they cling to it. It’s usually not done out of malice. It’s just a lot easier to keep thinking what you’ve already thought rather than adjust your expectations.

In this case those, the story surrounding the leaks has already confirmed to be untrue. That leak came from a Reddit post, of all things, which is akin to getting your news from 4chan. On top of that, and this is a testament to Reddit’s users, the mods have stated outright that the user was not credible. This is an exact quote.

Apparently test screen guy is Atlanta Filming, created an account and sent fake spoilers/leaks. Trying to discredit other bloggers because he wants to be “the only legit source”.

If that weren’t telling enough, it was already announced back in March that the movie was going to undergo reshoots in August. Now thanks to “Justice League,” reshoots have gotten a bad name, but they’re a fairly common practice. Even the heavily-hyped, positively-perceived “Avengers 4” is scheduled for reshoots.

Even if those leaks were accurate, chances are the cut of the movie shown at test screenings isn’t the final cut. Kinberg himself has said that the reshoots are intended to shore up the final product, as one would expect of any piece of art. It sounds so reasonable and logical.

That still doesn’t matter, though. It doesn’t change the expectations. This movie still isn’t meeting the impossible set of criteria that fans spoiled by the MCU have so unreasonably set. It’s not in the MCU, nor is it being guided by Kevin Feige. Therefore, it must be terrible.

It’s unfair, unreasonable, and just plain asinine to judge “X-men: Dark Phoenix” by those standards, especially with reshoots to come and no official trailer. At this point, the negative expectations are so heavy that they’re starting to sound more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With that being the case, I feel like I can predict the reactions from people once the trailer drops. Sure, there will be some like me who are eager to give this movie a chance after what happened with “X-men: The Last Stand,” but I think there will be more comments like this.

“It’s not the MCU. I’ll pass.”

“X-men Apocalypse sucked! I’m not even giving this one a chance.”

“To hell with this movie! Just let Marvel have the rights back already! Fox can’t do anything right!”

Now, far be it from me to defend Fox, the same company that gave us “Wolverine: Origins,” but these are all intensely petty reasons to judge a movie. I say that as someone who is guilty of setting low expectations for movies, cartoons, comics, and TV shows. Hindsight has done plenty to reveal which of those were the result of self-fulfilling prophecies. That still doesn’t make the expectations any less absurd.

Even for those who aren’t just ardently opposed to any superhero movie that isn’t a product of the MCU, I think I can predict the criticisms they’ll probably levy against this movie even after it comes out. Chances are, they’ll be every bit as petty and include comments like this.

“It’s too dark and not cosmic enough!”

“It’s too cosmic and not grounded enough!’

“It’s too much like the comics!”

“It’s not enough like the comics!”

“It doesn’t have enough [Insert Favorite Character Here]!”

“It has too much [Insert Intensely Hated Character Here]!”

There will probably be plenty more excuses for hating this movie, far more than I can list. It doesn’t even matter how subjective they are or how empty they may be. People who are determined to hate something will find an excuse that satisfies their psyche and vindicates their feelings. Anything else would require that someone actually re-evaluate their expectations and that’s just untenable.

It’s frustrating and tragic that a movie or any piece of media would be subject to this kind of debasement before it’s even completed. It’s one thing for a movie to face skepticism because of production troubles, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” being the most recent example. For a movie whose primary crime is not being in the MCU, that’s just plain absurd.

In terms of the bigger picture, it’s good for superhero movies, as a whole, if “X-men: Dark Phoenix” succeeds. It’s unhealthy for the genre if the MCU is the only acceptable avenue for quality superhero movies. We’ve seen with “Wonder Woman” that it is possible for a superhero movie to succeed in a world that doesn’t have Robert Downy Jr. or Chris Pratt.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” deserves the same chance. That’s why I intend to keep my expectations high, but cautious for this movie. Even if it turns out to be good, though, I worry that it’ll be undercut by too many people who are too eager to hate it. It would be both a tragedy for the movie and all those involved, as well as a bad omen for the genre as a whole.

2 Comments

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, media issues, movies, X-men

Emma Frost: The Future Of Female Villains?

Not long ago, I dedicated several posts to the defining traits of villains and why Walter White was such a game-changer, beyond getting Bryan Cranston more Emmys than he’ll ever need. I could’ve done many more posts because quality villains are every bit as integral to any story as a quality hero. Just look at Batman’s rogues gallery, and the number of cos-players that dress as them, for proof of that.

In these discussions, I kept things fairly general and if I did, I singled out a specific character like Walter White or Magneto. Well, recent events and ongoing trends have inspired me to re-address the issue of villains from a different angle. Specifically, I’d like to talk a bit about female villains.

Quickly, take a moment and recall your favorite female villain of all time. Chances are it’ll take you a moment and not just because a great many female villains made us both scared and horny at the same time. It may also be difficult because some female villains don’t exactly carry themselves as villains. Catwoman may be a thief, a deceiver, and the subject of one of the worst comic book movies of all time, but she’s not an outright villain.

Female villains are one of those difficult concepts to flesh out and not just because men can’t resist turning female villains into sexy anti-heroes, some more egregiously than others. It’s just one of those elements that either gets under-used or overlooked.

Well, as is often the case with the ever-changing/insanely-erratic tastes of pop culture, that may be changing. At a time when a new generation of strong female characters, badass female superheroes, and women who just do more than give the male characters something to obsess over, it was only a matter of time before female villains caught up.

Now I generally suck at making predictions. I’m the same guy who was convinced that Cleveland Cavaliers would never win the NBA championship last year. I’m not proud of the things I had to do for the bets I made on that game, but it does show that everybody, including aspiring erotica/romance writers, can be dead wrong. With this, however, it’s not just a prediction. It’s based, in part, on an observation.

As most regular readers of this blog already knew, I love comic books and superheros. Specifically, I have a special affinity for X-men comics. So it should come as no surprise that I follow the events of the X-men comics very closely. Well, this past week, something pretty damn major happened in the X-men comics and it has to do with this woman.

Her name is Emma Frost. Trust me, she’s even sexier than her fan art would imply. She’s a prominent character in the X-men comics and has had numerous roles throughout the series for over 30 years now.

At times, she’s been a devious villainous vixen. At others, she’s been a cunning heroic vixen. In every role she’s in, she generally makes it a point to be sexy as hell. She doesn’t mind getting naked, she doesn’t mind having sex, she doesn’t give half-a-tortoise fart about what anyone things. In short, she’s a perfect blend of Regina George and Wonder Woman.

Now Emma Frost is somewhat unique in that she’s had so many roles, but she’s never defined herself completely as a hero or villain. She hasn’t even been an anti-hero. If you were to do the villain’s journey test I laid out in a previous post, she wouldn’t complete it, but she would come pretty damn close.

The same goes for the hero’s journey. She would check some boxes, but not all. She’d just look a million times sexier than anyone else on that journey.

Why is this important? Well, in a major X-men crossover event that just concluded recently, Emma’s role changed again. After a clash between the X-men and the Inhumans, one Marvel built up over the course of two years, Emma crossed a line that effectively sealed a new fate for her. She’s a villain now. However, she’s a very different kind of villain.

What do I mean by that? Why is that even relevant? Well, to answer that, think back to what I said about listing your favorite female villains. Go back to that list again. Exactly how many of those villains are refined, well-rounded, complex characters? Chances are your list will shrink considerably or outright disappear.

That’s because female villains have a history of being annoyingly flat. Going all the way back to the Wicked Witch of the West, they rarely had many compelling traits. Most of the time, they were just evil witches or devious vixens. Basically, just think of every evil female character in a James Bond movie. That’s the extent of the depth female villains usually get.

This is what makes the development with Emma Frost so intriguing. Emma Frost isn’t like Pussy Galore or the Wicked Witch of the West and not just because she looks better in a thong. As a character, she has a rich history. She even had her own comic series at one point. She has various layers as well. She’s not just out to be a total bitch and look good doing it, although she does make it look pretty damn easy.

Emma Frost has real, genuine motivations. They’re not always pure either. For a time, she was a stripper who didn’t mind using her sexuality to get ahead in the Hellfire Club, who have been major X-men villains for many years. When she was a teacher, she watched many of her students die in an attack that she had no chance to stop.

However, she has never been one to play the part of a victim. She never uses tragedy or excuses to justify her actions. She does what she thinks needs to be done and anyone who disagrees with her can just kiss her perfectly shaped ass. Hell, she could probably charge for that and it would be worth every penny.

The recent events in the X-men comics pushed her to extreme actions and for good reason. As part of the story that set up the clash between the X-men and the Inhumans, she lost someone near and dear to her. Cyclops, a character she had been romantically involved with, died in her arms. It affected her profoundly, which is saying a lot for someone who killed her own sister.

That effect leads her to do more than just lead a conflict. They put her in a position to become a hardened, but complex villain, both to the X-men and anyone else who generally pisses her off.

Her timing really couldn’t be better. Just as everyone from Disney Princesses to Taylor Swift prove that there’s a market for strong female personalities, she’s entering a domain that’s ripe for new energy. Emma Frost could very well be the first of a new push for better female villains to go along with the female heroes that every comic company and movie studio is pushing these days.

I feel like this is a trend that needs to happen. Women can kick ass as heroes. That much they’ve proven. Why not show they can do the same as villains? Emma Frost is unique in that she has the kind of complexity that allows her to be a hero when she needs to be and a villain when she wants to be. I believe there will be a market for that kind of complexity.

Sure, some parents would still prefer that their daughters dress up as Disney princesses rather than Emma Frost, if only to avoid any Honey Boo Boo comparisons, but having strong female villains still does something important. It adds balance to the greater narrative between heroes and villains as a whole.

Now I’m somewhat guilty myself of not fleshing out female villains. In my book, “The Escort and the Gigolo,” the main villain was a woman named Madam Felicity. While I did make an effort to give her some complexity, I admit she’s not more ground-breaking than a James Bond villain with boobs.

I’d like to change that in future novels. I just hope that by then, Emma Frost will have set the bar and set it high. As any X-men fan will tell you, Emma never does anything haphazardly. If she’s going to usher in a new wave of strong female villains, then she’s going to make damn sure she’s the best and looks damn sexy while doing that. For that, she’ll always have a special place in the hearts and pants of X-men fans everywhere.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Villains vs. Anti-Heroes: There IS A Difference

Go to any message boards for comic books, movies, TV shows, or Twilight fan fiction and you’ll hear any number of twisted interpretations of certain characters. Everybody has their own opinions, but let’s face it. Some go out of their way to melt their own brain in an effort to interpret a character in a particular way.

Talk to certain Harry Potter fans and you’ll find takes on Voldermort that are creepier than all the clown makeup and anime porn in the world. As a noted comic book fan, I’ve certainly had my share of twisted interpretations, as well as heated debates on message boards. I understand that these debates are about as productive as spitting into the ocean in hopes of causing a flood, but it also reveals how broad our interpretations can be.

I bring this up because in my many discussions about evil, villains, and recent trends in villains, I knew there was going to be one major complication to this discussion that was sure to piss off certain fans of certain characters. Given how much time and effort some people put into dressing up as certain characters, that’s not an anger to take lightly.

For many of my discussions about Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” I referred to him as a villain. I even fit his narrative into the context of the “Villain’s Journey.” When I watch Breaking Bad and assess the story, I believe Walter White to be a villain.

I did this knowing that there’s a sizable chunk of Breaking Bad fans that refuse to label him as such. To these fans, and they’re not entirely misguided in their assessment, they see Walt as an anti-hero. They see what he did and why he did it as not being fit for a true villain. Never mind the problem with calling any villain “true” in the era of “alternative facts,” it’s not an unreasonable position.

Walter White is not Dr. Doom or Lex Luthor. He’s not Wolverine or Dirty Harry either. There are any number of debates fans can have, and there have been many, on this issue. I don’t want to have them all. My blog, if not the entire internet, simply isn’t big enough for that debate.

However, if I’m going to talk about villains like Walter White, Magneto, and Dr. Doom, I need to address the influence of anti-heroes. I hope to do another more in depth exploration of anti-heroes in a future post, but for now, I’ll keep it in the context of how they relate to villains.

First off, I think I need to make clear that villains and anti-heroes are not the same. Granted, they can be easy to confuse, but they are very different in terms of narrative, motivation, and personality. It’s possible for an anti-hero to be a complete asshat and still be heroic, as Wolverine regularly proves. It’s also possible for a villain to be endearing, as Freddy Krueger movies regularly prove.

So what’s the difference? What sets an anti-hero apart from a villain? Well, it doesn’t help that the definition of an anti-hero is somewhat vague. Even Wikipedia struggles to answer it. The simplest definition it offers is this:

An antihero, or antiheroine, is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality.

It’s not overly ambiguous, but it’s lacking in that it uses what a character lacks to define them. Unless you’re diagnosing personality disorders, that’s just not sufficient. Anti-heroes are as old as Ancient Greece, Don Quixote, and a time when Clint Eastwood actually had a successful acting career. By any measure, this concept does have roots.

Being a comic book fan, there are plenty of anti-heroes occupying my list of favorite characters. Wolverine is probably the most notable, but there are many others like the Punisher, the Hulk, Deadpool, and John Constantine. Some of these characters, like Deadpool, go out of their way to make clear that they’re not a hero. However, they do have some distinct qualities that set them apart from villains.

Anti-Heroes, especially those in superhero comics, still battle injustice in a larger world, just like traditional heroes. They fight criminals. They protect the innocent. They’ll even save the world from an invading alien army. The main difference is they’re just more willing to be assholes about it.

While most sane people have an innate aversion to assholes, we are willing to overlook a certain amount of assholery if it serves the greater good. Aristotle might have been a racist, anti-woman, douche-bag by most standards, but his contribution to western civilization was pretty damn important for our progress as a species.

There is a limit to just how much douche-baggery we’ll tolerate for an anti-hero, but core sentiment of the character remains. They still want to help others. They still want to save the day. They still, and this is critical, will do the right thing even if it doesn’t serve their best interests.

It’s that last quality that helps unblur the lines between villain and anti-hero. When faced with a chance to do the right thing or do something that’s self-serving, an anti-hero will most often do the right thing. They may be a total dick about it. They may even kill, destroy, or cuss like a hung over Quentin Tarantino. They’ll still do the right thing.

A villain will, at the end of the day, mostly favor the decisions that serve their interests. At the moment in the comics, Lex Luthor is a member of the Justice League and Dr. Doom is the new Iron Man. It’s a long story as to how this happened, and some of those stories are pretty damn awesome, but the sentiment of the characters is still the same.

Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom are being heroes because it still serves their interests. It’s not about doing the right thing for them. They may claim they want to redeem themselves, but that’s really not that altruistic when you think about it. They want to be perceived as heroes. They want to have that kind of adulation. On some levels, it’s inherently selfish.

Compare that to Wolverine or Deadpool. They couldn’t give two whiffs of a wet fart about how they’re perceived. They still do things their own way and their decisions aren’t always self-serving.

By this standard, Walter White is far more in line with a villain. He let Jane, Jesse’s girlfriend, die rather than save her when he had the chance. He poisoned a little kid as part of an elaborate plan to take down a rival. There are all self-serving decisions. These are, by most measures, morally abhorrent. That’s what makes him a villain and that’s what sets villains apart from anti-heroes.

I understand there are still arguments to be made about Walter White’s status as a villain and an anti-hero. I’ll save those arguments for another post. In the end, it’s still somewhat easy to confuse villains and anti-heroes. However, when you break down their character and what motivates them, the line isn’t as blurred as we think.

There’s a place for villains. There’s a place for anti-heroes. I imagine there will be plenty of debates about which is which and who is who, but it’s these very conflicts that help bring out the best and, necessarily, the worst in these characters.

3 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

The Hero’s Journey Vs. The Villain’s Journey

Let’s face it. When we find a winning formula, we like to follow that formula as closely as possible for as long as we can. Why wouldn’t we? We like winning. We like things that work. Who goes out and buys a broken car just because they’re tired of buying one that works?

In terms of winning formulas in pop culture, few are as tried and true as the so-called “Hero’s Journey.” It’s a formula that’s been around since the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” a story so old that the bible may have ripped it off to some extent. For something to have worked for that long, it must be doing something right.

The concept was somewhat formalized in 1949 when Joseph Campbell described it in his book, “A Hero with a Thousand Faces.” In its simplest, most basic form, he sums up the formula like this:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Read over this simple summary, think back to some of the most iconic heroes of all time, and you’ll find it applies to a lot of characters. From King Arthur to Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, the formula of the Hero’s Journey is so tried and true that any fiction without it is akin to a cake without frosting.

Then, Walter White came along. Suddenly, the “Hero’s Journey” just wasn’t enough for people anymore. They’ll still gladly embrace that narrative, so much so that they’ll make superhero movies a billion-dollar industry. However, audiences now show that they’re in the mood for something different. What else explains Bryan Cranston’s multiple Emmy awards?

Enter a different journey, one that has played out before, but never got the same attention or Emmy consideration as the Hero’s Journey. I’m talking about the “Villain’s Journey” now. The name may be unoriginal, but its formula is just starting to evolve.

So what exactly is that formula? Is it just the complete opposite of the Hero’s Journey? Well, it’s not accurate to say it’s completely unique to that narrative. It’s also not accurate to say it’s a mirror image that would warrant full-blown plagiarism like those practiced by certain presidential candidates.

To understand this formula, we still need to understand the particulars of the Hero’s Journey. Since this journey has been so studied and belabored, most of those details will be pretty familiar. Anyone who saw Star Wars, Harry Potter, or followed any superhero created by Stan Lee will recognize these details.

Familiar or not, the crux of the journey is that it’s a cycle of sorts. It takes a character down a path that establishes them as a hero archetype. So if we’re going to create a similar journey for a villain, let’s follow this same cycle.

Since I’ve been referencing it in multiple posts, I’ll use “Breaking Bad” and Walter White as the primary example. However, I’ll also cite other famous villains like Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and Flavor Flav when necessary. I’m not trying to recreate the entire breakdown that Joseph Campbell did. I don’t have the time, energy, or alcohol supply to do that at the moment. I’m just going to highlight the steps of the journey.


Step 1: Ordinary World (With Extraordinary Flaws)

This step is similar to that of the hero, but for the villain, the ordinary world shouldn’t be ordinary. He or she sees that state as a flaw. Walter White certainly did. He was a grossly overqualified high school chemistry teacher who’s run of bad luck and poor decisions put him in a horribly flawed situation. For a villain, that’s just untenable.


Step 2: Answering One’s Own Calling

This is where the villain starts to go in the opposite direction of the hero. For the hero, there’s a call that they must respond to. Whether it’s the murder of their parents or the destruction of their home world, something calls upon them to be heroes.

A villain decides to skip a couple steps. A villain answers their own call. Walter White didn’t need someone telling him to get into the meth business. He saw something he knew he could do and he did it. That’s all there was to it.


Step 3: Gaining Minions

Since the villain is the one making the call, there’s no refusal. There may be reluctance, but the villain doesn’t refuse their ambition, nor do they temper it. It’s a step they don’t have to take when compared to the hero. It’s a shortcut of sorts.

That shortcut gets even shorter once minions get involved. By minions, I don’t mean the kind of throw-away thugs that ever James Bond villain employs. I mean partners that the villain can use, manipulate, or persuade in aid to his goal. For Walter White, he found a minion in Jesse Pinkman. This partnership, while productive, wasn’t always healthy and Jesse certainly suffered at times.


Step 4: Tasting Their First Triumph

This is where the villain gets their first taste of what it’s like to win. It sometimes requires pain, sacrifice, and cunning, but there’s one important theme. They like it. They like it enough to want to do it again. Walt’s first triumph over Tuco, as well as his memorable reaction to it, shows that he’s starting to embrace this world.


Step 5: Beating Out Rivals And Gaining Influence

Once the villain has that taste of triumph, they seek more. They seek it like crack addict in withdrawal. This is where lines are crossed, friends abandon them, and the ambition gains a more selfish undertone.

This is where Walter White starts to ascend from small-time meth cook to full-blown kingpin. Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom underwent a similar journey, crushing anyone who stood in their way, often brutally. Gus Fring can attest to how brutal it can be.


Step 6: Accumulating Rewards (and Wanting More)

At this point, the villain is on top of the world. They’ve beaten their rivals. They’ve vindicated everything their ego has told them. They feel they’ve earned this success. They make any excuses for the lines they crossed or the people they’ve hurt. They reached the top and they’ve since stopped giving a damn about how they got there.

In Season 5 of Breaking Bad, Walter White reached this stage. It was no longer about making money for his family. He said it himself. He wanted an empire. He eventually got it, so much so that he had acquired actual piles of money. Even so, it never seemed to be enough.


Step 7: Hitting A Limit and/or Encountering A Rival

This is the part of the journey where the villain crosses paths with the hero. This is when Lex Luthor encounters Superman. This is when Dr. Doom encounters the Fantastic Four. It’s the proverbial wall that every villain reaches, one in which their endless ambition can go no farther. They can’t get any more and that pisses them off.

For Walter White, this was the point when his meth empire started crumbling. Enemies, including old partners like Jesse Pinkman and friends like Hank Schrader, turned against him. No matter what he did from that point on, his ambition and reward never went further.


Step 8: Endless Struggle and/or Self-Destruction

This is the final step in the journey, one in which the villain has long passed the point of no return. They cannot be redeemed, nor do they want to. They effectively accept their role as a villain. They lose more than they can ever regain. Lex Luthor loses his influence. Dr. Doom loses his power. They never stop and blame themselves either. They just keep fighting others who deny them.

For Walter White, he took the self-destruction route. While he did try to redeem himself to some extent, he never apologized for it. He even admits to his own wife that he did what he did for himself. In the end, it left him alone, but he still fulfilled his ambition. He still succeeded on many levels.


This marks the end of the Villain’s Journey, at least according to my formula. I’m not saying it’s definitive. I’m not even saying that it applies to all villains. There are parts of this journey in which it’s kind of a stretch to apply it to Walter White. There are times when he’s more anti-hero than villain. However, the theme remains the same.

The ascendance of Walter White within pop culture, as well as a growing emphasis on giving villains as much depth as heroes, will likely bring greater scrutiny towards the Villain’s Journey. For now, I’m just looking to get the conversation going. I’m a cook in the kitchen fooling around with the ingredients.

I don’t doubt that there are more skilled chefs who will come along and improve upon this formula. I also don’t doubt that we’ll see more characters go on this journey. They may or may not result in more Emmys for Bryan Cranston, but they will help bring greater balance to the never-ending narrative that guides heroes and villains alike.

9 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

Magneto: The Original Walter White?

It’s a common pattern in pop culture. Elvis and the Beatles didn’t invent rock music. They just made it mainstream. “The Godfather” didn’t invent the Italian Mafia. It just made it mainstream. The movie “Deep Throat” didn’t invent blowjobs. The human race figured that out centuries ago. The movie just finally got around to recognizing how amazing the concept would be.

These patterns often play out before our eyes without us really noticing. Nobody ever realizes they’re part of something greater, at least until they’re being played by Denzel Washington or Daniel Day Lewis in a movie. There’s always some strange revolution going on and I’m not talking about the kind that involves fad diets.

When I decided to break down the impact of Walter White on villains and antagonists in pop culture, I knew I was a bit late to the party. “Breaking Bad” has been off the air since 2013. In that time, the cultural impact of Walter White and how Bryan Cranston brought this character to life has spread. Many have already done far more thorough breakdowns of this character that are far more insightful than anything I could ever do.

At the same time, however, a part of me still looks at Walter White and sees the same pattern that has played out in music, TV, and even porn. Like Elvis, Walter White didn’t invent the complex antagonist/anti-hero. He just made it mainstream. However, I think there’s another character who accomplished this while Bryan Cranston was voicing bad Power Rangers villains.

Which character am I talking about? What kind of character could’ve possibly captured the complexities and depth that Walter White embodied without having his own show on AMC? This character actually pre-dates AMC, cable TV, Power Rangers, and even hippies. His name is Erik Lensherr, but he’s best known as the X-men villain, Magneto.

Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I jump at the chance to relate anything I can to comic books, especially X-men.

I’ve already used X-men to highlight what I feel are relevant issues. I’ve cited an X-men comic as a prime example of a true relationship of equals. I’ve cited X-men as teaching valuable lessons in the importance of foreplay. I’ve even singled out one X-man in particular, Storm, as a more viable female icon than Wonder Woman.

That said, it should come as no surprise that I make another connection when the unapologetic comic book fan in me sees the opportunity. For Magneto, the opportunity is definitely there. Based on his story, his personality, and his actions, he can claim that he was Walter White before there ever was a Walter White.

That claim isn’t hard to justify to anyone who learned about Magneto from the X-men movies, specifically the first X-men movie in which he was played by Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen, and the pseudo-reboot entitled “X-men: First Class” in which Michael Fassbender gave the character an uncomfortable amount of sex appeal.

Both these movies make it a point to emphasize one of the most important, not to mention traumatic, aspects of Magneto’s character. He’s a holocaust survivor. He didn’t just live through one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind. He lost his entire family in it. He literally saw humanity at its worst. Can anyone honestly blame him for being a villain?

Unlike Walter White, it wasn’t desperation or circumstance that made Magneto want to give a big middle finger to the human race and get the ball rolling on their successors. He’s always been a little pissed off at the world for allowing such an atrocity. When you’re surrounded by the greatest evils of humanity, is it any wonder why you would found a group called the Brotherhood of “Evil” Mutants?

Even if he does have a good reason for being evil, this justification alone doesn’t put Magneto on the same level as Walter White. A major aspect of Walter White and the concept he embodies is the complexity of his character. If Magneto were just another Dr. Doom wannabe who just happens to have a better reason for hating the human race, then this concept wouldn’t apply.

However, Magneto does have depth. He does have complexity. His history is rich with stories that has him navigating a vast gray area of morality. One day, he’s a reformed man who helps the X-men fight off killer robots trying to wipe them out. On another, he’s creating a giant mutant monster to unleash upon the human race.

This isn’t just a bitter old man who gets moodier than most. His shifting allegiances, as well as his efforts to walk that fine line between villain and anti-hero, doesn’t happen sporadically. Magical spells aren’t used to just make him a hero, although that tactic has been used on other characters in comics.

Magneto’s story, much like Walter White, follows him making hard decisions in difficult situations. The consequences of these decisions lead him down many paths, some of which get pretty damn dark. Just read Cullen Bunn’s 2014 “Magneto” series for proof of that. That series alone ensures Magneto deserves to be on the same level as Walter White.

What makes Walter White such a compelling character is that his struggle and his hard decisions feel so real. He’s a man struggling in a difficult situation, but those situations only serve to bring out the worst in him.

Magneto may live in a world of mutants, superheroes, and characters who ride cosmic surfboards, but what he endures is painfully real. He lived through a real atrocity that has scars that we, as a species, are still struggling to confront. Whether the evil within him was always there or influenced by these struggles, it still felt painfully real.

The X-men, and the mutant struggle that Magneto has always been a part of, embodies the struggles of minorities. Even X-men director, Bryan Singer, has cited these struggles as an important part of the mythos. The struggles of minorities and the atrocities they suffer is painfully real.

In the case of Magneto, the horror of these real events helped shape his fictional path as a character. Walter White can’t claim he endured such atrocities. He endured injustice, but not on the same level as Magneto. These forces shaped their respective stories and personas.

At the end of the day, it still leaves us wondering whether these forces actually made them evil or just brought out the evil that was already there. While it may involve a little of both in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a big part of what makes these characters so compelling. At least with Magneto, he can say he knocked first.

8 Comments

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, X-men