Tag Archives: superhero media

My “Wonder Woman 1984” Review: An (Imperfect) Emotionally Charged Wonder

We’re at a point with superhero movies where the bar has been raised to such a degree that we can’t just call them a passing fad anymore. Love them or hate them, superhero movies have evolved. They’ve developed a complexity and nuance that few genres ever gain, regardless of medium.

Plus, they make billions at the box office. Let’s not forget that. It’s why the Bill Mahers of the world won’t stop whining about superhero movies anytime soon.

Forgetting the whiners and petty nit-pickers of the genre, superhero movies have a higher threshold to achieve to be considered successful. It’s not enough anymore than to just put a famous actor or actress in an iconic costume and replay famous scenes from comics. The story, characters, and themes have to be refined and compelling.

That’s a challenge for any movie, but one that felt far more daunting for “Wonder Woman 1984.” After the success of the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which did a masterful job of establishing Diana’s origin and building her superhero persona, this sequel is tasked with building on that foundation.

As someone who loved the first movie and made it a point to watch “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max with my mom on Christmas day, I had high hopes for this movie. I wasn’t expecting “The Dark Knight” level of quality, but I was hoping for a worthy follow-up.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll say without hesitation that it succeeded. This movie was a beautiful, emotionally driven cinematic experience and a worthy successor to the first “Wonder Woman.”

I say that knowing that some reviews were quite scathing in their assessment of the film. As is my general rule, I never read reviews before I see a movie. As I saw withNew Mutants,” that can wrongly color your perspective. As was also the case with that movie, I was genuinely surprised by the criticisms levied against “Wonder Woman 1984.”

However, I’m not going to waste my time responding to those criticisms. I’m just going to offer my take on why I thought this movie was a worthy follow-up to the first. Like any sequel, its primary goal was building on what the first movie established. In that sense, this movie did succeed.

The setup for the movie is a dazzling spectacle. Like the first, we get a brief glimpse of Diana’s youth on Themysicra. We see her living and growing amongst her Amazon sisters, showing the kind of power and potential that lies within her. It’s a true sight to behold and one director Patty Jenkins fleshes out meticulously.

Within that setup, though, is an important theme. It highlights the importance of truth and doing things the right way for the right reasons. You cannot and should not take shortcuts to achieve your goal. Doing so will always come at a price and incur consequences. It’s a simple, but necessary lesson that kids and adults alike often learn the hard way.

That leads us directly to the main antagonist of the movie, Maxwell Lord. Played by Pedro Pascal, he comes off as the very antithesis of this lesson. He’s a con-man and a huckster, always looking for a shortcut to get what he wants. That includes tampering with the forces of the gods, which puts him in direct conflict with Diana.

At the same time, this conflict ties closely to another unfolding with Diana’s new friend, Barbara Minerva. Played by Kristen Wiig, she comes off at first as the very antithesis of Diana. She’s a nobody. She has none of Diana’s power, grace, or skill. She’s basically invisible, only ever getting attention from people she doesn’t like.

This is very much in line with the characterization of Barbara Minerva in the comics. She’s Wonder Woman’s chief rival, but she started out as a friend. She’s even sympathetic to some extent. She’s not looking to become a villain, like Maxwell Lord. She just wants a taste of the power and prestige that she sees in Wonder Woman.

She ultimately gets her chance, as does Maxwell Lord. When Barbara stumbles upon the Dreamstone, a relic imbued with the power from Dolos, the god of lies, that can grant wishes to those who wield it. However, like a typical monkey’s paw narrative, every wish comes at a price.

It closely mirrors the lesson young Diana learned in her youth, as depicted in the movie’s opening scenes. Taking any shortcut to get what you desire will come at a price. You can try to avoid the consequences all you want, but it eventually compounds. The more you try, the worse it’ll get.

Maxwell Lord thinks he has a way to avoid this. He thinks he can get everything he wants by simply making the right kind of wish. That ultimately causes a great deal of destruction. I’d go into detail, but I’d rather not reveal too much. All you need to know is that it’s not the kind of destruction Wonder Woman can stop with her fists and her sword.

What happens with Barbara Minerva is even more impactful. Like Maxwell Lord, she’s unwilling to give up any power she gains. Unlike Lord, however, she’s willing to pay any price to keep it. That’s what sends her down a dark path. It’s also what turns her from one of Diana’s friends into a truly tenacious foe.

These conflicts become very personal to Diana because she too is unable to resist the temptation. She may give so much of herself to others, but she also has desires and wishes of her own. That’s where Steve Trevor, played again by Chris Pine, enters the picture.

His death and heroic sacrifice in the first “Wonder Woman” movie was so powerful. That whole movie really sold the love that blossomed between him and Diana. Even as the years go by, his death still burdens Diana. She cannot let go of that love. She wants nothing more than to have it back.

It’s sad, but understandable. If ever someone deserved a consequence-free wish from all her heroic acts, it’s Diana. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it. She still tries. She gets her chance to be with the love of her life again. As with everything else, though, it comes at a price.

That’s the biggest theme of this movie. Getting what you want by breaking the rules or cheating will always come at a price. Even if you’re willing to pay that price, it does cause damage to yourself and others. It’s a painful lesson and one that gives “Wonder Woman 1984” so many emotional overtones.

It’s because of those overtones that this movie works so well. Wonder Woman, by her nature, is a very emotionally driven character. Her love, compassion, and heart are among her greatest traits. They’re as strong as her fighting spirit. The first movie revealed this and “Wonder Woman 1984” builds on that.

Her greatest struggles always have an emotional weight to them. It’s not just a matter of her beating up the bad guy to save the day. One of those foes was once her friend. Another is someone she can’t defeat simply by beating him up. She has to use that uncanny compassion and heart to win the day. That’s what makes her Wonder Woman.

I would argue that’s the most important aspect of her character and this movie captured it perfectly. I really did feel for Diana as she went through these emotional upheavals throughout the story. It brought out her greatest strengths, as well as her greatest weaknesses.

Now, speaking of weaknesses, this is where I also have to levy some criticisms of my own against “Wonder Woman 1984.” I promise they’re not nearly as petty or overblown as some of the other reviews to this movie. Some have complained about the length and tone of the movie. I honestly think that sort of criticism is misguided.

I’ll still say outright that this movie was not as good as the first “Wonder Woman.” This movie was not as concise and polished, in terms of story. There were a number of “and then this happened” moments that made the story seem a bit jumbled at times. In some cases, it relied too heavily on contrivances and suspension of disbelief to move things along.

I get the sense this was done to keep things moving forward from a plot standpoint. I also think there were some difficulties in revealing the ins and outs of godly magic, which is considerably harder to do in a movie when compared to a comic.

None of these shortcomings kept the movie from working overall. Gal Gadot once again carried her role as Wonder Woman with grace and grit. She, Steve Trevor, and Cheetah all had well-developed characters that played their roles well throughout the story. In terms of the most important elements to a good Wonder Woman movie, “Wonder Woman 1984” got them right.

If I had to score this movie, I’d give it a 4 out of 5. It has some noticeable flaws, more so than its predecessor. However, Gal Gadot is still an amazing Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins is still a great director, and this world they explored together was full of dazzling wonder.

For a year that has been so bleak and dire, it’s just what we needed. For that, I thank “Wonder Woman 1984” and all those who helped make it happen.

Leave a comment

Filed under DC Comics, Movie Reviews, superhero comics, superhero movies, Wonder Woman

Jack’s World: How “Megamind” Gave Us The Ultimate Incel Villain

The following is a vide for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It once again explores “Megamind,” a movie I’ve highlighted in the past for it’s colorful subversion of the superhero genre. It felt like the time was right to discuss it on my channel. This time, I explore how “Megamind” gave us the first true Incel villain before the concept of an “incel” was a thing.

Like anything involving incels, it’s a distressing topic and bound to generate some less-than-comfortable feelings. I still welcome comments and discussion. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under gender issues, human nature, Jack's World, men's issues, movies, politics, superhero movies, YouTube

Jack’s World: She-Hulk Show: Hopes, Concerns, And Predictions

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a brief rundown of the recent rumors surrounding the upcoming She-Hulk show on Disney Plus. I discuss the recent news surrounding the casting of Tatiana Maslany, as well as my hopes, fears, and predictions for this show. Enjoy!

1 Comment

Filed under Jack's World, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies

A Brief Message To Iman Vellani In Becoming Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan

In a year so full of objectively awful news, a tiny bit of good news goes a long way. When that news involves superhero comics and upcoming TV shows, it goes even further with me. On that front, such news has been few and far between. This year has been fraught with major delays and cancelled conventions. Fans like me need some good, exciting news for once. We’re due.

Then, this past week, we got it. It’s been in the works for a while now, but now it’s getting real. One of the big Marvel Studios Disney Plus shows that has been in development, “Ms. Marvel,” officially found their Kamala Khan in Iman Vellani. As an unapologetic Ms. Marvel fan who has sung her praises before, this is just the news I needed.

Deadline reported it. Many others in Hollywood circles praised it. Fans like me were just elated that Kamala Khan is set to enter the MCU.

Deadline: Newcomer Iman Vellani To Play Title Role In Marvel’s ‘Ms. Marvel’ Series For Disney Plus

After a long and hard search, Marvel has found its Ms. Marvel. The studio is tapping newcomer Iman Vellani to star in its Disney Plus series based on the comic-book character. Marvel and the streamer recently named Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Meera Menon as directors on the project.

Now, there’s a lot I want to say about this news, this casting, and the prospects for this show. I’ve already touched on some of that before and I have every intention of highlighting even more as the show develops. Ms. Marvel is very near and dear to me as a character. I’ll be among those cheering the loudest for her and for Ms. Vellani to succeed.

Before I get to any of that, though, I want to offer a special message to Ms. Vellani. I doubt she’ll ever read it. I’m sure she’ll hear from plenty of other voices far more prominent and insightful than mine. I still want to put this message out there because I think it’s worth saying.

Dear Ms. Vellani,

First off, congratulations! You just earned yourself the role of a lifetime with an incredible character. On behalf of many other Ms. Marvel fans, I wish you the best. We’ll all be cheering you on as you bring Kamala Khan to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It will be challenging. Anything worth doing is. I believe you’re up for it. I also don’t doubt that you’ll face obstacles, some of which have nothing to do with your acting abilities or your love for the character.

The world of superhero media is an amazing place. Both on and off the screen, there a lot to take in. Chances are, it will be overwhelming at time, but once the fans embrace you, they’ll be your greatest ally. It’s what helped Ms. Marvel become such a prominent, beloved character. That’ll help you achieve success on a level that will do justice to her legacy.

Now, there are parts of that world that are less pleasant. As in any genre, there are critics and trolls who will try to tear you down. They’ll attack you, just as they’ve done to the likes of Brie Larson, Daisy Ridley, and Kelly Marie Tran. Do not let them get you down. Do not let them stop you from being the best Ms. Marvel you can possibly be.

Also know that Kamala herself has attracted plenty of trolls. Some of the ugliest elements of superhero fandom have been denigrating Ms. Marvel since the day she debuted. Some go so far as to attack her creators. These people are no different than the villains Ms. Marvel fights. They do not deserve an ounce of your attention.

The love people have for this character is many times greater than those who go out of their way to hate her. That love is what makes Ms. Marvel special. We hope you feel that love as you don that now-iconic costume. May it carry you through the challenges that await and may it enrich your world, just as Ms. Marvel has enriched ours.

Sincerely, Ms. Marvel Fans

1 Comment

Filed under Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies, outrage culture, superhero comics, superhero movies

WandaVision Trailer: My Reactions And (Renewed) Hopes

This year has been a lost year for many things. I don’t think I need to go into reasons why or to what extent. It’s awful. We don’t need to be reminded of that. This is especially true for fans of superhero movies. To some extent, this year almost feels like karma after movies like “Avengers Endgame” dominated the box office for so long.

As bad as things have been, we’re still trying our best to inject a little awesome into this increasingly dystopian landscape. Like it or not, superhero movies and media still have a place in the entertainment landscape. This past year might have been a huge loss for the box office, but there’s still reason to be excited about the future of the genre.

That includes the entertainment behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When this year began, it promised to be a time of transition. With the rise of Disney Plus, Marvel Studios has a new medium to explore and evolve. Among those crop of shows is mini-series called “WandaVision.”

Given Vision’s fate in “Avengers: Infinity War,” the setup alone for this show is odd. Not being a fan of how their relationship was handled in the movies, I admit I wasn’t that excited about this show. However, I was curious.

Then, the trailer dropped and my curiosity has only grown. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you check it out.

It looks weird. The setup is very strange. The visuals are all over the place. It’s hard to tell whether Vision is alive, dead, or part of some strange fever dream. There’s a lot of strange humor and odd mysteries. This show looks downright crazy.

That’s exactly why my hope and excitement for this show has been renewed.

To explain, it’s necessary to know a few things about Wanda Maximoff. Before she helped make Elizabeth Olson a star, she was a very controversial and very unstable character in the comics. She had a nasty history of warping reality in distressing ways, often at the cost of her sanity.

If this trailer is any indication, she has not been coping well with Vision’s death at the hands of Thanos. That reaction would be perfectly in line with what happened to her in the comics during the infamous House of M event. That event is still a bit of a touchy issue for many comic fans, but it’s a perfect foundation for this show.

It puts Wanda in a position to deal with her many issues. However, given her powers and her unstable nature, that process is bound to be messier than series of intense therapy. It wouldn’t even be the first show that explored reality-warping people dealing with mental health issues.

Legion,” a short lived, yet well-done show on FX did something similar. For Wanda, creating these pocket realities in which she’s still with Vision, living this ideal life with her lover, feels exactly like something she’d do. Giver her upcoming role in “Dr. Strange: In The Multiverse Of Madness,” it could act as a precursor for things to come.

I hope this sets the stage. I also hope this makes Elizabeth Olson’s take on the character more complex. To date, all she’s done is fail to protect her loved ones and lash out. I think she has room to do so much more. I hope she succeeds with this show.

I think Marvel and Disney need this show to succeed, too. With the world still such a mess, they can’t rely totally on the cuteness and merchandizing potential of Baby Yoda to see them through.

Leave a comment

Filed under Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, romance, superhero comics, superhero movies

Superman, All-Powerful Gods, And What Sets Them Apart

superman

Superheroes mean many things to many people, especially at a time when superhero movies routinely dominate the box office. For some, they’re just gimmicks, fads, and marketing tools by big media companies. For others, they are akin to modern day mythology. It’s an apt comparison. Even contemporary heroes have a lot in common with the mythological legends of the past.

Some take it even further than that. Some will go so far as to claim that superheroes are filling the same roles as gods and deities. It’s not just the ones based on Norse or Greek mythology, either. In many respects, many iconic heroes fit many of the common traits ascribed to gods.

Superman is all-good.

Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet is all-powerful.

Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and even Mr. Fantastic are so smart that they might as well be all-knowing to most people.

Such divine, god-like feats make for iconic stories that offer lessons and insights on everything from morality to justice to society, at large. While superheroes aren’t worshiped within organized institutions or granted tax-exempt status by governments, they utilize a similar structure to that of other holy texts.

The narrative surrounding superheroes revolves around good, evil, and the struggles that occur in between. Both the good and the evil in these stories takes the form of some grand, larger-than-life character who embodies these traits and implements them on a level that’s impossible for ordinary people to comprehend. That’s what helps make the message so powerful.

However, it’s the qualities that set superheroes apart from deities that offers the most insights. I would even argue those insights are more critical now than they were before Superman, Batman, or Iron Man ever showed up on a movie screen. At a time when organized religion continues to exert immense influence on society, we should be scrutinizing these discrepancies.

I hope it goes without saying that modern superheroes can only do so much to compare with the deities of organized religion. No matter how much money “Avengers Endgamemade at the box office, it will never exert the same influence that the three main Abrahamic faiths have imparted over the two millennia. For better or for worse, history, politics, and the entire species has been influenced by these religions.

The most notable and obvious difference between them and superheroes is that the deities of religion aren’t presented as entertaining fiction. To the believers of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other religions, the deities and the characters in their holy texts are real. They’re not myths or legends. They’re real people and real forces that have real effects.

Regardless of how true that is, and I know atheists will point out how none of those effects can be verified, this is the critical difference between superheroes and deities. Adherents don’t just believe that these characters are real. They place their trust and faith in them, believing that doing so will guide them in life and protect them in death.

I understood this difference as a kid. I was both a fan of superhero comics and surrounded by relatives who were devout believers. I knew they didn’t see their holy texts the same way I saw Superman comics. Superman was just another character. They knew who created him. They knew he was a licensed fictional character from DC Comics.

However, even back then, I found myself wondering whether those same relatives would see Superman differently if they didn’t know he was a comic book character. I imagine if there were old stories about him from centuries ago, written as though they actually happened, they might be less inclined to discount him as fiction. Some might actually be more inclined to place their faith in him over other deities.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, but it only scratches the surface of what sets superheroes apart from ancient lore. Aside from how real people think these characters are, and some take it much further than others, the standard superhero narrative reveals something striking about the standard religious narrative.

To illustrate, take a moment to contemplate how Superman goes about being a hero. As the gold standard of superheroes for the past 80 years, he sets the highest bar and embodies the highest ideals for a hero. On top of that, he has powers and abilities on par with many deities. At times, he has been shown as capable of destroying an entire solar system with a single sneeze.

Despite all this power, Superman seeks only to help humanity. He doesn’t ask for praise, worship, payment, or sacrifice. He simply does it because it’s the right thing to do. He’s the ultimate paragon, selfless and compassionate to the utmost. The people of Metropolis, and the world at large, don’t need to have faith in him. They just need to trust that he’ll keep doing the right thing.

Contrast that with the deities in holy texts. Many are every bit as powerful as Superman, but display qualities that aren’t exactly heroic. Certain versions of certain deities have been shown to be petty, jealous, and vindictive, sometimes to an extreme. A deity does often help or guide believers in a conflict like a superhero, but it’s rarely done out of pure altruism.

These deities, many of which are believed to have created humanity and the world, exercise a certain level of authority over people. It’s not always outright forced, but the nature of the story provides plenty of incentives and/or punishments to those who rebel or subvert that authority. Some become cautionary tales or outright villains.

Some villains are sexier than others.

In this context, the religious narrative builds an over-arching theme that has little room for heroics. These deities and super-powered beings aren’t necessarily there to save the day. They’re there to maintain the order that they helped create. They function as the glue that holds the universe and humanity together. Anyone or anything that goes against it requires recourse from both adherents and divine forces.

We often see this manifest in the real world when religious people argue that things like homosexuality, which is often condemned in holy books, are this bigger threat to the world. That’s why you’ll hear plenty of dogmatic preachers claim that homosexuality won’t just give people distressing thoughts. They’ll say it will destroy society.

Religious dogma, by its nature, depends on a strict adherence to what is the status quo for a particular place, people, and time. Defending it isn’t just seen as an act of piety. It’s akin to a superhero saving the day from evil forces. Whether those evil forces are demons from the underworld or a gay couple who want to get married doesn’t matter. It’s all about preserving a system.

Conversely, superheroes like Superman don’t limit themselves to a status quo. They’re less driven about how things are and more focused on how things could be. Superman doesn’t just want to save the day and help people who need it. He seeks to give people an ideal for them to aspire towards. This is perfectly reflected in his father’s message to him, as read by the late Marlon Brando.

It is now time for you to rejoin your new world and to serve its collective humanity.
Live as one of them, Kal-El
Discover where you strength and your power are needed
Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage
They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be
They only lack the light to show the way
For this reason above all, their capacity for good
I have sent them you, my only son

It’s in this defining message that the superhero narrative distinguishes itself from religious traditions. These superheroes, as powerful as they are, didn’t create us. They don’t hold any inherent dominion over us. They didn’t create the current situation, however flawed it might be. They still seek to help people, carrying out feats that others cannot. That’s what makes them heroes.

One fights to maintain what society is while the other fights for what society could be. These narratives can exist alongside one another and can carry greater meaning for certain people. There are critical lessons in both, but I believe the lessons of Superman are more relevant than anything offered by the stories of religion.

For much of human history, organized religion was part of that social glue that helped keep society stable. For a good deal of that history, society was only as stable as the conditions around it. People hoped and prayed that there wouldn’t be a famine, a storm, or some other catastrophe that they could not control. Survival, even among kings and emperors, was their primary concern.

Things are different now. At a time when food is abundant, poverty is in decline, and education is more widespread than ever, survival isn’t enough. For a planet of billions to thrive, people need to prosper. Doing so means aspiring to something greater than the status quo. That’s exactly what superheroes embody.

That’s not to say that the rise of superheroes is directly linked to the ongoing decline of religion, but the contrasting narratives reflect just how much priorities have changed. Superheroes don’t demand faith, sacrifice, and reverence, just to keep things as they are. They go out of their way to save a world that they believe is worth saving, hoping that it can better itself.

They can help, but they can’t do it for us. That’s another trait that Superman demonstrates, much to the chagrin of villains like Lex Luthor. Like deities of old, he doesn’t use his powers to achieve everything for humanity. He seeks to empower them to achieve those feats on their own. That process of aspiring to be greater than is often an affront to a religious narrative, but critical to the themes of superheroes.

Even if superhero movies stop making billions at the box office, the over-arching message will still be relevant. Faith in what is just isn’t as appealing as hope for what can be. The gods of religion offer comfort in familiar order, but superheroes can inspire hope in something better. Given the many flaws in this chaotic world, I believe that hope is more valuable than any ancient doctrine.

Leave a comment

Filed under extremism, human nature, philosophy, religion, superhero comics, superhero movies, Thought Experiment

The Spider-Man Paradox: Power, Responsibility, And Guilt

S13

My YouTube channel, Jack’s World, is still very new and still has plenty of room to grow. I really enjoyed making my video on “Dark Phoenix.” That’s not surprising. I enjoy talking about superhero media in general. To that end, I’ve made another video, this time on Spider-Man. I originally intended to make it an article, but I think it works much better as a video. Enjoy!

If you have any suggestions for topics you’d like me to cover in a video, especially the superhero variety, please let me know.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's World, Marvel, psychology, Spider-Man, superhero comics, superhero movies, YouTube

Why “Joker” Is Brilliant, But Controversial (For The Wrong Reasons)

960x0

Every now and then, a movie comes along that’s brilliant in so many ways, but undermined by the circumstances of its release. In the same way certain movies come along at just the right time to become a cultural phenomenon, others hit theaters with unexpected forces working against them.

When “The Dark Knight” came out in 2008, its timing was perfect. It struck all the right notes from a cinematic, narrative, and cultural perspective. On top of that, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker went down as one of the greatest displays of acting prowess of all time, and not just for a superhero movie. For many, myself included, Ledger’s version of the Joker will always be the one by which all others are measured.

By contrast, “Joker” couldn’t have been timed worse. The current social, political, and cultural landscape is vulnerable and hypersensitive to every one of the themes it explores. On top of that, the movie explores those things very well, so much so that it warrants being in the same conversation as “The Dark Knight” in terms of how it portrays the Joker.

While Heath Ledger’s Joker is still superior in almost every way, what Joaquin Phoenix accomplished in this movie deserves plenty of praise. At the very least, it helps cleanse the memories of those still cringing at Jared Leto’s rather eccentric take on the character in “Suicide Squad.”

This movie, as well as Phoenix’s performance, comes at a time when taboos about mental health and disturbed lonely men are hot-button topics. On top of that, a string of mass shootings perpetrated by disturbed men, some with disturbing manifestos, has created real-life horror while stoking genuine fears. The story in “Joker” neither avoids nor downplays those issues.

This movie also dares to do something that few beyond Alan More has been able to achieve, which is to give the Joker a backstory. For many lifelong comic fans, especially Batman fans, the very concept of fleshing out this character undermines the core of his appeal. He has always functioned better as a chaotic force of nature rather than a person with a tangible history.

Ever since his creation in 1940, his life and his story have been vague. He has been defined as a perfect counter to Batman’s never-ending crusade. Whereas Batman seeks justice through clear, defined rules, the Joker seeks chaos and laughs at such rules. He can never be too defined, as a character, if he’s to personify that chaos.

Despite these challenges, “Joker” finds a way to tell his story and, like “The Dark Knight” before it, actually manages to make the Joker even more terrifying. Through the character of Arthur Fleck, we see a disturbed mind trapped within an environment that does everything to make his condition worse. Through both unavoidable circumstances and fateful choices, we see this broken mind become something far more dangerous.

It doesn’t happen all at once. There’s no single trigger, like falling into a vat of chemicals. There’s a cumulative effect to Arthur Fleck’s transformation. It’s not always logical or smooth, which comes off as intentional from the beginning. The only constant is that Fleck gets more twisted and unhinged with each escalating event.

This is where Phoenix’s performance really shines. He carries himself with a presence that feels very close to what Ledger captured in “The Dark Knight.” He starts off as simply being mentally ill and struggling with it. However, what he does with his illness and what it does to him turns him into something more than just another disturbed loner.

It’s here where the controversy behind the “Joker” takes hold. I would argue it’s a dumb controversy, but it was serious enough for Aurora, Colorado to cancel screenings of the movie. While it feels like an overreaction, it’s somewhat understandable, given what happened in Aurora in 2012.

If that were the extent of the controversy, then “Joker” would only be a passing concern for most people. Then came the idea the movie celebrates or glorifies “incel culture” through Fleck’s story. While I usually try to be balanced when scrutinizing certain ideas, even if they’re absurd, I can’t do that this time.

Simply put, this part of the controversy is just plain stupid. There’s no better way to say it.

Worrying that this movie might somehow inspire lonely, disturbed men to go on killing sprees is completely without merit. It’s akin to worrying that “Friday the 13th” will inspire anyone who wears a hockey mask to brutally murder camp counselors. Moreover, the absurdity of this controversy undercuts the more substantive messages of this movie.

There is a real message in “Joker” and it has nothing to do with incels, masculinity, or even violence. In this world, Gotham City is the perfect symbol of a grossly flawed society that tries to pretend those flaws can be fixed by staying the course. From the perspective of people like Arthur Fleck, this notion is a complete joke.

Much like our world, there’s a small segment of very rich, very powerful people who benefit the most from this society. The Wayne family is the perfect manifestation of this joke. Even when they carry themselves as responsible, upstanding pillars of the community, they still look down at those who are dissatisfied. On top of that, they think their dissatisfaction is a flaw.

Arthur Fleck is as caught up as anyone in this decaying society. Then, through details I won’t spoil, he starts something that inspires chaos that would make Heath Ledger’s Joker proud. That chaos may or may not be entirely justified, but it’s understandable. In a sense, the Joker is just an extreme manifestation of something that seemed inevitable.

If there is a real controversy with “Joker,” it’s that the wrong issues became controversial. This movie conveys a message to the rich, powerful people who benefit the most from society that things aren’t as rosy as they seem. Those same people who think they know the solutions have no idea what people at the bottom are going through and dismissing them as “clowns” only makes things worse.

We’ve already seen this happen in the real world. The powerful who seek greater power call those who lash out as unimportant or misguided. They think those who protest loudly have nothing of merit to say, which only feels like an excuse to not listen. In that sense, it’s probably not surprising that many media outlets have turned on this movie, albeit for the wrong reasons.

At its core, “Joker” highlights the craziness that compounds craziness. In a world that’s unfair, unjust, and full of lies, how can sane person not be driven insane by their circumstances? Arthur Fleck had more circumstances than most and his mental illness only compounded the situation.

There are times when it’s not entirely clear when the events unfolding are real or vivid delusions. It nicely reflects the uncertain nature of the Joker’s origins, as both the Killing Joke and “The Dark Knight” have previously established. There’s a point in the movie where it becomes unclear where Arthur Fleck truly comes from or whether that name is truly his.

In the end, his name doesn’t matter because once he becomes the Joker, he becomes something more than just a mentally ill loner. For certain people who have seen mentally ill loners commit atrocities in the real world, it sparks real fear. At the same time, “Joker” makes clear that’s the wrong target.

After seeing “Joker,” I feel like I just saw a movie that people are going to be talking about for years to come. It’s a movie that can be interpreted in many ways, which is perfectly befitting of the Joker’s chaotic nature. At the same time, I knew some of those interpretations would be used in the name of an agenda and not in a good way.

In another time, “Joker” would be hailed as a movie worthy of praise on the level of “The Dark Knight.” However, because it came out at a time when people fear the lonely, deranged men more than the society that creates them, it’s not able to have the same impact. It’s still an excellent movie and one that will have a unique place in cinematic history for years to come.

1 Comment

Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, superhero comics, superhero movies

The (Amazing) Sights, Spectacles, And Lessons Of New York Comic Con 2019

9FE52827-2897-4629-B24A-9FDE46A77E9A

Another New York Comic Con has come. Once again, I managed to experience it for a single day. While I would’ve loved to spend another day seeing everything I didn’t get a chance to see yesterday, it was an incredible experience. I enjoyed every minute of it and, like other New York Comic Cons before it, this one will be full of many treasured memories.

I could write several books, and even a couple sexy short stories, about all the things I saw while I was there. I attended panels, met incredible people, saw amazing costumes, saw some breaking comic book news, and even got a chance to connect with some real celebrities. I cannot overstate what a thrill that was.

New York Comic Con has always been so much fun, just as the entire city of New York always been fun. There are so many places to see and people to meet. I found myself running around the Jacob Javits Convention Center, trying to experience as much as I could. I like to think I took in as much as I can, given the constraints of time and only having a Friday pass.

By far, one of the best parts of New York Comic Con was seeing the costumes of fellow fans. This year might have been the most diverse, creative year yet. I saw plenty of typical costumes, like Batman, Superman, Deadpool, and the Joker. This year, however, had one of the most diverse set of costumes that I’ve ever seen.

It was so incredible that I nearly drained the batter on my phone, trying to get as many pictures as I could from those willing to share one. Here are just a handful of the ones I managed to get. Trust me when I say this is just a small sample of the creative passion I saw.

Every year, the fans who make these costumes find a way to surprise me. Next year, however, is going to be tough to be. That said, I’m sure the passion of these fans will help them find a way.

In addition to the costumes, New York Comic Con often leaves me with some unique takeaways that I could never get by just reading stories about it. Actually being there and seeing it first-hand will always have a more extensive impact. This year had some more nuanced lessons than previous years.

The first, and most apparent, lesson I learned is that the impact of anime is growing. This year, I saw more anime-inspired costumes than any previous year. I didn’t recognize all the anime that it came from, but there was definitely an uptick in anime costumes and that nicely reflects the growth of the genre.

The second lesson, which is more or less a reinforcement of what I’ve learned in previous years, is that most writers, creators, and celebrities are awesome in person. Many consider themselves fans, as well. I’ve interacted with plenty online, mostly through Twitter. They’re as nice in person as they are in real life.

I even had the privilege of meeting a few I’ve worked with. A while back, I reviewed “Swing Volume 2” after getting an advanced copy. While in artists alley, I had a chance to meet the writer, Matt Hawkins. He was an awesome guy and the insights he gave were incredible.

To those who think the details of that story were embellished or eroticized, I can attest that they weren’t. Everything Mr. Hawkins wrote about in that story was inspired by real people and real couples. I can’t thank him enough for sharing such insights and I’m already looking forward to Swing Volume 3.

The third lesson, which I guess is more an exercise in best practices, is that if you really want to get into a panel, you need to get in line at least 20 minutes early. While I managed to get into all the panels I wanted, the lines were long and I just barely got in.

For the advanced screenings of upcoming movies and cartoons, you need to be even more proactive. I was unable to get into a screening of “Wonder Woman: Bloodlines” or “Joker.” Those filled up very quickly and if I want to get in next year, I’ll have to be even more proactive.

There’s so much I experienced. There are many more things I wish I could describe, but it would take too much time and energy away from writing sexy short stories. I’ll just belabor that I had an amazing time. I saw so many amazing things and met so many awesome people. I’m already looking forward to going back next year.

2 Comments

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Jack Fisher's Insights, superhero comics, superhero movies

Back (And Exhausted) From New York Comic Con 2019

9FE52827-2897-4629-B24A-9FDE46A77E9A

It was a long, eventful day, but it’s over now. I built my entire day around attending New York Comic Con 2019 and, without a doubt, it was a day well-spent. I saw so many amazing things. I met so many awesome people. Between the fans, the costumes, the panels, and the big news, there was just so much to experience. I’m still processing it all.

To be honest, it’s going to take a few days to fully appreciate what I experienced. That’s to be expected for the New York Comic Con. For as long as I’ve been going, it has always been this huge spectacle that overwhelms me with so many things I love. Every year I feel like it has to take a step back, it somehow surprises me.

This year was no exception. It was an incredible experience. Now, I’m exhausted and badly in need of some rest. As long and arduous as this day was, however, it was SO worth it.

1 Comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, Marvel, superhero comics, superhero movies