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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Invisible Woman #5

Certain characters are held to very high standards. That’s especially true of superheroes. Not all heroes can or should be judged with the same criteria. Wolverine can go on a rage-fueled killing spree, lust after married women, and drunk a gallon of whiskey a day, but still get labeled a hero. That’s because he’s held to a different, albeit very lenient standard.

That sort of standard just can’t work for a character like Sue Richards. Aside from being a hero, she carries herself very differently from the likes of Wolverine, Tony Stark, and Black Widow. She’s not a career assassin, a playboy billionaire, or some cosmic tyrant. She’s a hero, a role model, a loving wife, and a caring mother. She knows who she is and cherishes that identity.

That same identity has been tested, strained, and pushed in her latest solo series, courtesy of writer Mark Waid. We’ve seen her revisit an old part of her life that almost took her down a very different path, one that would not have met those lofty standards ascribed to heroes like her and teams like the Fantastic Four. In “Invisible Woman #5,” she comes dangerously close to crossing lines she swore to never cross.

It’s the end of a story that has taken Sue Richards away from her family and her life of wild cosmic adventures. Instead of battling planet-eating cosmic beings, she navigates the shady world of espionage. By the end, it’s easy to see why she prefers battling Galactus.

At first, the mission was simple. Sue set out to find a former friend and partner, Aidan Tintreach. As is often the case in stories involving spies, espionage, and beautiful women, it gets exceedingly complicated very fast. Along the way, Waid explores just how capable Sue is on her own. She’s one of those characters who is often defined by her team and her family. She rarely gets a chance to show what she can do by herself.

As a spy, Aidan saw that potential in her. Throughout the series, he has forced her to realize it in ways that don’t always sit well. Initially, it was as an ally and someone in need of her help. The events leading up to “Invisible Woman #5” steadily revealed the kind of person he became. He now has Sue in a position to become that same person.

True to the high heroic standards that she holds for herself, Sue never stops trying to save her former partner. She keeps trying to reconnect with the man she once knew. At every turn, however, Aidan keeps shooting holes in their history and her faith in him. It puts Sue in a difficult position in “Invisible Woman #5,” one for which she can’t play by the same rules that help make her an iconic hero.

What starts as a rescue is now an unfolding tragedy and it comes dangerously close to becoming much worse. At this point, there’s no more room for betrayals and secrets. Sue has to confront Aidan, who at this point has a death wish. However, rather than poke the Hulk’s eye or kick a puppy in front of the Punisher, he wants Sue to be the one to stop him.

He seems so far gone, but Waid never paints Aidan as someone who has just lost their mind. He’s not the Joker, the Green Goblin, or a villain from a James Bond movie. He’s just someone who has crossed so many lines over the year as a spy, lying and betraying everyone along the way, that there’s no standard left to judge him. As a character and someone who used to ally himself with superheroes, he’s gone morally numb.

At times, Aidan comes off as a dark mirror for Sue. In him, she sees what she could’ve become if she’d remained a spy. He is living proof of what happens when you’re held to a high standard, but cross too many lines. It makes what Sue has to do to stop him feel so dramatic and impactful.

Along the way, she has to push herself and her powers in ways we rarely see outside of trips to the Negative Zone. Artist Mattia de Iulis does an excellent job showing off what Sue can do when she needs to use her powers creatively. The visuals make clear that, even without her family, Sue is very powerful.

Anyone who has read more then one Fantastic Four comic knows that. However, seeing her powers applied in such unique ways helps demonstrate what Aidan sees in her. If she held herself to a different standard, she could be a true force to be reckoned with and not just as a spy.

Between de Iulis’ renderings and Waid’s characterization, “Invisible Woman #5” shows the Fantastic Four’s perennial mother figure in a new light. We get to see glimpses of her past before she became this iconic hero that we hold to such lofty standards. We also see how her approach to heroism differs from those who immerse themselves in situations where heroes and villains alike have to lie, cheat, and deceive.

It’s not one of those stories in which Sue can rely on her family, teamwork, or her inherently endearing personality to save the day. She has to face down someone who ventured into the same shady world, but came out far worse. It’s not the kind of situations that Sue often finds herself in with the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #5” shows that she can handle it, albeit with a heavy heart.

In the end, that same heart is exactly why Sue Richards holds herself to such high standards. It’s the same reason why her heroism is judged by such a strict criteria compared to other characters in the greater Marvel pantheon. When she does have to cross a line, it breaks her heart, as it would for anyone who hasn’t been too hardened by circumstance.

The fact that there are still characters like Sue Richards, who hold onto those values and refuse to cross certain lines, is nothing short of refreshing. In an age where we expect heroes, celebrities, icons, and leaders to cross lines all the time, a hero like Invisible Woman stands out for all the right reasons.

 

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Multiverses, Mutants, And The (Uncanny) Implications Of “Spider-Man: Far From Home”

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Anyone who has read more than a few comics, seen a few movies, or consumed more than a little sci-fi knows what often happens when multiple universes enter the picture. First, the overall story becomes bigger in scope, scale, and complexity. Second, a host of major complications emerge. Third, when done poorly, it becomes next to impossible to follow.

In terms of a larger narrative, it’s a huge gamble. It’s one of those plot points that is easy to mess up, not unlike time travel, wizards, or clones. Very few franchises, be they movies, comics, or TV shows, can make that gamble pay off. If ever there was a franchise that could make it work, it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Between the record-breaking box office of “Avengers Endgame” and the adulation of countless fans, including myself, Marvel Studios is uniquely equipped to make the concept of a multiverse work within its over-arching story. To some extent, it has to. The finality of “Avengers Endgame” means it will have to find some way to grow without the iconic characters that helped make it.

The stage has already been set for a larger multiverse to emerge within the MCU. Just as fans like me are finally recovering from the emotional upheaval we experienced in “Avengers Endgame,” the second trailer for “Spider-Man: Far From Home” dropped and, beyond dropping some heavy spoilers, it revealed that the multiverse is officially a thing in this world.

There are a lot of implications for this, many of which go beyond Spider-Man’s story in the MCU. As the trailer reveals, the universe-altering events of “Avengers Endgame” opened a literal and proverbial door to new conflicts within the MCU. These conflicts offer many opportunities for some of Marvel’s many cosmic characters, but I believe the biggest opportunity is for the X-Men.

I say that not just as a huge X-Men fan who has already written extensively about their potential in the MCU. I believe that Marvel Studios could reinvent the X-Men and the entire concept of mutants in a way that’s fresh, engaging, and very relevant to events unfolding in the real world.

Marvel and their Disney overlords have already reported that the X-Men will be rebooted into the MCU in the coming years under the skilled hand of Kevin Feige. However, the method and details of that plan have yet to emerge and chances are, it’ll be several years before we see that full-on reboot that X-Men fans have been pining for since Hugh Jackman hung up his claws.

Imagining Wolverine without Hugh Jackman.

Even for Marvel Studios, it’s going to be a challenge. How do you introduce mutants, an entire race of super-powered beings, into a world in which they’ve never been mentioned? In fact, thanks to conflicts over movie rights, nobody in the MCU could even utter the word “mutant” without incurring the wrath of Fox’s lawyers.

That’s a problem because in over 10 years of movies, TV shows, and tie-ins, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become populated with many super-powered beings that include gods, super soldiers, and teenagers armed with spider powers. On top of that, they already have a race of genetically modified people called the Inhumans, who basically acted as a stand-in for mutants at one point.

This complicates the whole premise of the X-Men. A big part of their story and their appeal is the parallels between mutants and real-world minorities. The X-Men emerged during the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and have since come to represent oppressed minorities from many eras, from racial minorities to the LGBTQ community.

That’s a tougher parallel to establish in the MCU because how can mutants be hated and feared in a world where Asgardians, super soldiers, and talking raccoons exist? Granted, mutants have a unique aura of unpredictability in that anyone could potentially be a mutant. Unlike the Inhumans, there’s no catalyst or radioactive spider necessary to activate their powers. They need only survive to puberty.

It’s still a stretch because the hate and fear of the 1960s is very different from that of the early 2000s century. It’s one thing to just be afraid and hateful of mutants. It’s quite another to craft killer robots to hunt them while ignoring entire populations of similar super-beings.

This is where the multiverse could enter the equation. With the proper sci-fi machinations, it could both bring the X-Men into the MCU while framing mutants in a context that makes them very relevant to contemporary issues. The key is linking the struggle with mutants with that of refugees.

Whereas discussions over minority issues have become somewhat predictable in recent years, debates about refugees have been much more heated. It has triggered protests, empowered populist uprisings, and caused a rise in xenophobia that far exceeds the old-school racism of the mid-20th century. These are the kinds of heated politics in which the X-Men thrive.

The “Spider-Man: Far From Home” trailer establishes that something happened in the battle against Thanos that opened the door to the multiverse. It’s easy to envision a scenario in which a population from a more hostile universe seeks refuge in one that is already used to super-powered beings.

It’s not difficult to imagine things getting that bad for the X-Men or mutants. Both “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “The Gifted” explored a world where mutants where hunted, imprisoned, and outright murdered. The comics also have a lengthy history of dystopian futures in which the X-Men could not stop humanity from hating and fearing their kind.

Then, just as things look hopeless, a doorway to another universe unexpectedly opens. Mutants suddenly have a chance to escape their rapidly-decaying world and start anew. It’s an opportunity many desperate and traumatized refugees seek in the real world. Their stories are full of horror and atrocity. It’s a story that resonates beyond the superhero genre.

In addition to providing a mechanism for entering the MCU, it also solves another critical issue with respect to narrative. It gives the X-Men a new type of story that hasn’t been told before in the movies. For the past 19 years, almost every X-Men movie has followed a similar formula.

Mutants are hated and feared.

The X-Men try to combat that fear.

Someone, often Magneto, tries to provoke a war between humans and mutants.

The X-Men stop that war from occurring.

It’s a story that has played out many times. Sometimes, it has been great. Other times, it has been god-awful. Just telling that same story again in the MCU won’t be enough. By making mutants refugees, the entire dynamics change in a way that could cause all sorts of upheavals that could impact many other MCU franchises.

One possibility.

Like real-life refugees, they come to a new world out of desperation, escaping horrors that they had no part in creating. The world they enter is inherently suspicious of them. They see them as strange, dangerous outsiders who could bring their problems to their homes. These are real concerns from people other than the reactionary radicals who often preach hate.

It’s one of those issues that has no good resolution. These people are victims of a war that they want to escape. They flee to wherever they feel they’ll be safe. Often, their options are limited and when an opportunity comes along, they have to pursue or die. If the events of “Avengers Endgame” somehow create such an opportunity, then why wouldn’t someone take a chance?

It would put mutants and the X-Men at odds with everyone in the MCU, from the Avengers to SHIELD to the average person still recovering from invading aliens in New York. It would also establish a clear divide that could one day manifest in a full-blown “Avengers Vs. X-Men” movie, which has already been teased.

All that being said, the powers that be at Marvel Studios may opt for an entirely different approach. In that case, everything I just described may be a moot point. This is just one approach that I found myself contemplating after seeing the “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” It’ll probably be a while before we know the full implications, both for the multiverse and for mutants in the MCU.

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