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How The Captain Marvel Movie Could Actually Fail

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I hope everyone has had a chance to catch their breath after the release of the “Captain Marveltrailer. I certainly needed a day or two. It was one of those experiences in which it takes time to process every wondrous detail. I don’t know how many times I watched it. I just know that March 8, 2019 cannot get here fast enough.

The response to the trailer has been overwhelmingly positive, which has become the norm for all things affiliated with Marvel Studios. The bar for this movie is high, but matching and exceeding high bars is exactly what Carol Danvers does. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already on an unprecedented win streak, both in terms of acclaim and box office. By all accounts, “Captain Marvel” is poised to continue that streak.

If I had to bet on it, I would place a hefty wager on “Captain Marvel” succeeding. Marvel Studios is riding such a huge wave of hype after “Avengers: Infinity War” that the idea of one of their movies failing seems unthinkable. However, it wasn’t that long ago that people felt the same way about “Star Wars.” Then, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” came along and shattered that notion with the force of a thousand Death Stars.

Like it or not, the law of averages dictates that Marvel Studios will fail at some point. Whether or not that happens with “Captain Marvel” remains to be seen. For the moment, that doesn’t seem likely, but the possibility is definitely there. I would go so far as to say that “Captain Marvel” is more vulnerable than previous Marvel movies and not just because the bar for success is so ridiculously high.

Kevin Feige, the President of Marvel Studios, has gone on record as saying that Captain Marvel will be one of the most powerful characters in the MCU. Her presence will be a game-changer for the immediate and distant future. That means the margin for error is ridiculously small. Marvel Studios literally cannot afford for “Captain Marvel” to fail. That may end up being what makes this movie so vulnerable.

As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and a Captain Marvel fan, I feel like it’s worth contemplating this most distressing possibility. Never mind the implications for Marvel, Disney, and the entire superhero genre that may unfold in the event that “Captain Marvel” fails. How could a movie with so much going for it and an Oscar-winning actress in Brie Larson end up failing in the first place?

After watching the new trailer multiple times, reading multiple articles, and contemplating my previous comments on this movie, I’ve surmised a handful of concerns that I believe could derail this movie. Some of these concerns assume certain details that may very well be dead wrong by the time the movie comes out. I have no insight beyond the trailers I’ve seen and the details that have been made public.

I don’t expect everyone to share these concerns. Some may even have entirely difference concerns and I’d be happy to discuss them in the comics. For now, this is just me, as a fan of both Carol Danvers and superhero comics, contemplating what could go wrong for a movie that aspires to do so much.


Reason #1: Limiting The Extent Of Carol’s Agency (Inadvertently)

One of the biggest revelations from the second trailer had to do with an important plot point that was ripped directly from the comics. In the first minute, we find out that Carol’s memory has been erased and she’s caught up in the agenda of the Kree. Given how the only notable Kree character in the MCU to date has been Ronan the Accuser, this does not bode well for her.

This is a critical detail because in the comics, Carol lost both her memories and her powers at one point and had to effectively rebuild herself. That struggle helped establish how resilient she was, as a character. It also helped build her appeal. More importantly, though, it emphasized her struggle to regain her sense of agency.

Being mind-wiped is always a tricky plot point, as was nicely demonstrated in “Captain America: Civil War.” The biggest problem is being mind-wiped really hinders a character’s ability to make weighty choices. For Bucky Barnes, that isn’t too controversial. For Carol Danvers, a female hero in an era where female heroes have become fodder for identity politics, it could be an issue.

If, from the get-go, Carol is just a puppet of the Kree and her entire story revolves around her escaping their control, then that doesn’t just narrow the plot. It limits her agency because it makes her choices predictable. If, at any point in the story, she’s faced with a choice to follow the agenda of the Kree or go against them, it’s not going to surprise anyone when she chooses to go against the aliens trying to use her.

By making too much of the story about Carol re-asserting her agency, it makes the movie less about her fighting shape-shifting aliens and more about her regaining her independence. While that too can be a compelling story, and one in line with her history in the comics, it hinders the plot by making every choice obvious. When none of the choices in a story seem difficult, it can get boring fast.


Reason #2: Not Allowing Carol To Be Wrong

This is another factor that could make “Captain Marvel” too predictable and boring. Marvel Studios has made it clear that they want Carol Danvers to be the future of the MCU. Like Captain America, she’s poised to become the face of Marvel and their Disney overlords. For that very reason, it’s important that they allow her to be wrong.

To understand why, think back to “Wonder Woman,” the movie that set the gold standard for female superhero movies. In this movie, Wonder Woman doesn’t just make a fateful choice when she leaves Paradise Island. She also ends up being dead wrong about the identity of Ares. It made for a powerful moment that genuinely surprised me.

That moment didn’t just establish that Wonder Woman was fallible, despite being this overpowered badass warrior princess. It humanized her in a critical way. You could argue that this trait is more integral to Marvel’s heroes because they end up being wrong in a wide variety of ways. Tony Stark’s journey to becoming Iron Man started with him being wrong about something.

My concern for Carol is that making her this overpowered female hero who can defeat Thanos will take priority over everything else. The story won’t even give her a chance to be wrong or make a bad decision. That won’t just make the plot predictable and boring. It could earn Carol Danvers the dreaded “Mary Sue” label that has plagued characters like Rey.

That, more than anything, could derail Carol’s ascension to the upper echelons of the MCU. If she becomes a joke more than an icon, then she won’t be able to do carry out the bold plans that Marvel Studios has laid out for her. Part of what makes characters like Iron Man and Wonder Woman so popular is that they’re so easy to cheer for. Cheering for an annoyingly flawless character who is never wrong is much harder.


Reason #3: Not Effectively Explaining Carol’s Absence From The MCU

This is more a logistical concern than anything else. Before the first trailer ever dropped, it was established that “Captain Marvel” was going to take place in the 1990s. As a result, it would unfold within a world before the Avengers ever assembled and before superheroes ever became mainstream. It would also explore the origin of pre-eye patch Nick Fury, something that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” only hinted at.

That’s an intriguing idea that digs into an unexplored aspect of the MCU. At the same time, it does raise a major question. If Carol has been Captain Marvel since the 1990s, where has she been? Why wasn’t she available when Loki or Ultron attacked? While it makes sense outside the movies in that a “Captain Marvel” movie wasn’t even scheduled before 2012, those questions are still relevant in the story.

The end of “Avengers: Infinity War” somewhat compounds this issue because Nick Fury reveals that he has had a way of contacting Carol all this time. A tie-in comic also hints at his past dealings with Carol, but is vague on why he chose not to summon her. Chances are “Captain Marvel” will try to answer that question more in depth, but that answer might not be adequate.

It’s not a trivial detail that can be glossed over. If Carol doesn’t have a good reason for not being on Earth during invasions from aliens and genocidal robots, then that makes it harder to get behind her as the most powerful hero in the MCU. It can’t come off as an excuse because Marvel Studios hadn’t planned that far ahead. Without a good reason, Carol just wouldn’t come off as heroic.


Reason #4: Making Her A Female Superhero BEFORE Making Her A Great Female Characters

This is where the stakes for “Captain Marvel” get frustratingly political. I’ve mentioned before how creating quality female characters has become mired in identity politics. This movie has already been affected somewhat by those corruptive forces. “Wonder Woman” managed to avoid it from a plot perspective and that’s the most “Captain Marvel” can do.

This means that before Carol Danvers becomes the super-powerful, high-flying badass we saw in the trailer, she needs to establish herself as a character, first. This is something I’ve seen movies, comics, and TV shows get completely backwards in recent years. There’s such an emphasis on making someone a “strong female character” that they forget the part where they’re a compelling character.

Carol Danvers has decades of character development in the comics. She’s someone who has deal with upheavals in her personal life, her superhero life, and everything in between. It’s hard to fit all of that into a two-and-a-half hour movie, but both “Wonder Woman” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” showed that it’s possible.

I can easily imagine Marvel Studios feeling tempted to make “Captain Marvel” the kind of cosmic spectacle we saw in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I wouldn’t blame them for taking that approach, but having that without establishing the depths behind Carol Danvers would only be half a movie. Visual spectacles are great, but without quality characters, it’s just flashy images and nothing else.


Reason #5: Trying Too Hard To Make Carol Too Powerful

This issue is part logistics and part agenda. The events of “Avengers: Infinity War” were astonishing in terms of scope and scale. In the end, the collective might of dozens of Avengers could not stop Thanos. He was stronger than Thor, the Hulk, and the entire army of Wakanda. By default, taking him down requires a new level of power.

Carol Danvers promises to wield such power. Before the movie finished shooting, Kevin Feige dubbed her the most powerful Avengers in the MCU. That power may be necessary to defeat Thanos, but getting Carol that power could be tricky. Her power levels are already pretty extreme in the comics, but the MCU deals with different circumstances and scales.

The second trailer offers some clues as to how Carol gets her powers. Like the comics, they’re tied to her biology getting mixed up with that of the Kree. Beyond that, the scope and extent of her powers are vague. It’s not clear whether there’s something unique about her or the process that gives her so much power. At some point, she’ll have to level up and expanding powers in superhero media is always tricky.

When powers don’t have defined limits or are left vague, they tend to resolve every story in the spirit of a Deus Ex Machina trope. In short, there’s a supremely powerful threat. Then, by some contrived happenstance, the good guys gain access to power at or greater than the threat. It’s simple, but contrived. A DC movie may get a pass, but the bar for Marvel Studios is higher.


Again, I believe that “Captain Marvel” will be a great movie. Most of these concerns are just a byproduct of only knowing the movie through a couple of trailers. None of these reasons are inescapable. Given the impressive track record of Marvel Studios, there’s no reason to believe they won’t find a way to make it work and raise the bar even more.

One way or another, “Captain Marvel” is set to be a major turning point for the MCU. Whether it succeeds or fails, it will have a significant impact on the overall genre. However, it’s in the best interest for the MCU, Marvel, and superhero media, in general, that this movie succeeds.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, Marvel, movies, political correctness, superhero comics, superhero movies, women's issues, Wonder Woman

A (Partial) Symbiosis Of Awesome: My “Venom” Review

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Certain movies are subject to unique standards. Nowhere is this more apparent than with superhero movies. A sci-fi movie can be flexible with its use of sci-fi elements. The same can be said for generic genres like romantic comedies, horror, action, and even stoner movies. A superhero movie, whether fairly or unfairly, will be judged by much stricter criteria.

This is the problem “Venom” faced before it even started shooting. Most fans, especially those who follow Marvel Comics, were probably intrigued by the possibility of a movie about Venom. Casting Tom Hardy in the lead role definitely help. No offense to Topher Grace, but he’s far more qualified to play Eddie Brock than he’ll ever be.

Even so, “Venom” had a lot of logistical problems from the beginning. It wasn’t going to feature Spider-Man. It wasn’t going to take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It wasn’t even going to get input from Kevin Feige and everyone else at Marvel Studios, who have made creating billion-dollar movies seem inane. By some standards, that’s a serious handicap.

Most Marvel fans, and I consider myself one of them, aren’t too keen on the idea of a Venom movie that doesn’t involve Spider-Man or have any connection to the MCU. Even if you have a passing familiarity with Venom in the comics, you probably know that a lot of his story is connected with Spider-Man. Telling a Venom movie without Spider-Man is like telling a Joker movie without Batman.

Actually, that may be a bad example. Forget I said that.

Logistical issues aside, I was still intrigued enough to give “Venom” a try. Like many other Marvel fans, I was not pleased with how his story was handled in “Spider-Man 3.” The only good that came out of that was a slew of dancing Toby Maguire memes. I felt Venom deserved better.

Well, without getting too deep into spoiler territory, I can affirm that “Venom” definitely succeeded where “Spider-Man 3” failed. It’s not just a good movie about Venom. It’s a good movie, overall. It had a lot of things working against it, but it still worked.

I know that the movie didn’t exactly thrill critics, nor did it blow the minds of hardcore fans who saw it. At the same time, it wasn’t messy or cumbersome like the theatrical cut of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Yes, this movie probably would’ve benefited by taking the “Deadpool” approach and gone for an R-rating. However, it still succeeds in many ways.

At its core, “Venom” works because it’s less about alien symbiotes infecting random people and more about Eddie Brock. This is his story and Tom Hardy does an excellent job capturing his persona. You don’t have to read a single comic to understand that Eddie Brock is not Peter Parker. He’s not exactly a hero, but he’s not a blood-thirsty villain, either.

Although that’s not necessarily obvious.

Eddie Brock is one of those guys who’s a loser and not just because he ends up bonding with a parasitic alien. One of the best things this movie did was show that Eddie’s life falls apart because of a decision that he makes. He’s not a victim of bad luck. In the beginning, his life is actually really good. However, he makes a fateful choice that completely changes that.

At the same time, the movie establishes that Eddie is not the kind of guy who jumps at the chance to be a hero. He has a few opportunities before he bonds with the Venom symbiote. He doesn’t take it and unlike Peter Parker, it’s not purely out of responsibility. He’s just not the kind of guy who embodies the selfless spirit of Superman or Captain America.

Then, when he encounters the symbiote, these personality flaws intensify. At first, he’s just overwhelmed. He reacts in a way most people would. His first instinct isn’t to help people or be a hero. He’s actually petty and self-serving for the most part. As the story unfolds, he and the symbiote literally and figuratively feed off one another. They both grow and evolve, as characters.

That process involves plenty of action, some of which is pretty visceral. If you’re looking for the kind of cartoonish beat-downs we got in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” you’re going to be disappointed. The action here is quite violent. It’s not on the same gratuitous level as “Deadpool,” but it’s close and it even holds back at times.

Given Venom’s brutal nature in the comics, this can be a bit of a problem. In watching this movie, you get the sense that the effects team worked overtime to keep the violence just below PG-13 levels. At times, it feels forced and that impacts the story to some extent.

This moment could’ve been MUCH bloodier.

That’s not the only issue, nor is it the biggest. While I believe the story works, I also can’t deny that it’s missing some key components. Those not familiar Spider-Man’s history surrounding Venom probably won’t notice, but it’s hard for me to be a Marvel fan and overlook some of these flaws.

The story of how Venom and Eddie Brock come together is solid, concise, and compelling, as it’s presented in this movie. However, it still feels like it’s missing a lot of emotional depth without Spider-Man. A big reason why Venom, and Eddie by extension, becomes so menacing is because of Spider-Man’s role in his story. Removing him from that story is glaring, to say the least.

To fill in those gaps, the movie creates a new source of conflict through the Life Foundation, which acts as the primary antagonist through its unscrupulous Mark Zuckerberg wannabe, Carlton Drake. That’s not to say Drake isn’t a decent villain, but he’s not even in the same hemisphere as Erik Killmonger or Thanos.

Pictured here is NOT Thanos.

Even by non-superhero standards, these villains are pretty bland. It’s basically Venom versus and evil corporation who ends up serving an alien agenda. There’s nothing memorable or iconic about them, but that’s okay in the context of this movie because they still fulfill their primary purpose. They create the necessary moments that move Eddie’s story forward.

On top of that, the lack of connections with the MCU make this movie feel small by comparison, especially in a year when “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” broke box office records. “Venom” has everything it needs to connect with the MCU. There’s nothing in the story that precludes it from having a role, but Sony has gone on record as saying that this movie is completely detached from that world.

The shared reaction of many Marvel fans.

As much as I’d love to see Tom Hardy and Tom Holland battle in a future movie, the lack of MCU connections still don’t take away from everything this movie does well. Overall, “Venom” is good movie that had a lot of factors working against it. This movie faced an uphill battle from the beginning, but still managed to achieve a lot. If I had to score it, I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

I’ve heard some claim that this movie belongs in the early 2000s and just doesn’t work within the current market of superhero movies. I say that’s bullshit. Good movies work, regardless of the year or era they come out. “Venom” is a good movie, but it’s also one that could’ve been much greater.

Coming out of the theater, I was satisfied, but felt as though there was a lot of potential left on the cutting room floor. It’s hard to know whether this movie would function better with an R-rating or as part of the MCU, but it manages to do plenty within its many constraints. Tom Hardy was handicapped in bringing Eddie Brock and Venom to life, but he still pulled it off.

Again, with all apologies to Topher Grace, Tom Hardy is now the definitive face of Venom and this movie sets him up for a promising future.

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A Dr. Doom Movie Has Been Announced (And It May Already Be Doomed)

This past weekend was a magical weekend for comic book fans, like myself. It was the four-day, fanboy and fangirl orgy known as the San Diego Comic Con. For comic book fans, it is the perfect combination of Christmas, Halloween, and Mardi Gras, all rolled into one. To say it’s kind of a big deal would be like saying boobs are kind of awesome.

I’ve been to comic book conventions before. I’ve talked about my experience and given advice on how to maximize the experience. I’m a regular attendee of the New York Comic Con, which is essentially the low-calorie version of the San Diego Comic Con. It’s still awesome, but if you want to be on the front lines of the greatest spectacle in all of comic book fandom, you go to San Diego.

One of the things at the very top of my bucket list, right up there with getting a kiss from Jennifer Lawrence, is to attend the San Diego Comic Con one year. I haven’t been out there yet, but I’m hoping that if my novels are successful enough, I’ll be able to buy myself some VIP passes and spend four days taking in the glorious spectacle.

I may very well meet my future wife there. Chances are, she’ll be dressed as Wonder Woman, Jean Grey, or Starfire. I don’t know what I’ll be wearing, but I hope it’s something that wins their heart.

Until that day comes, I’ll settle for watching news feeds and live-streaming. I spent a good four days effectively glued to my phone or anything with an internet connection, taking in every bit of news, sexy and otherwise. There’s always so much to take in. Some of it involves comics. Some of it involves movies. Some of it just involves celebrities dressing up in crazy shit to get a laugh.

This past weekend, though, there was one bit of news that really stood out. For an event that involves a lot of women dressed up as Sailor Moon characters, that’s saying something. As it just so happens, it involves someone that I’ve been talking about a lot lately, Dr. Doom.

I don’t know if this is the universe trying to tell me something. I don’t know if Fox secretly hacked my brain or some intern just read my blog on a coffee break. Maybe it’s just one big coincidence and my caveman brain has convinced me these internet ramblings are more influential than they could possibly be.

Whatever the case, the news got everyone buzzing and not necessarily in a good way. Fox, despite their craptacular failures in all things Fantastic Four related, are developing a Dr. Doom movie.

Den of Geek: Dr. Doom Movie In Development

Now, this is big news to comic fans. The idea that Fox would do anything involving the Fantastic Four should be enough to induce a migraine in anyone who thinks the world already has too many shitty movies. I’ve joked about it before, but for comic fans, this is no joke.

To date, Fox’s track record with Fantastic Four movies sucks. There’s just no nice way to say it. They have butchered, bungled, and failed so miserably that they’ve become a case study, of sorts, in how not to do a superhero movie. If you’re not sure whether or not the movie you’re making sucks, just go watch 2015’s “Fantastic Four.” If what you’re doing is too similar, then you’ve fucked up.

As frustrating as Fox’s history with the Fantastic Four is, it’s also completely understandable as to why they’d want to make a movie like this. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any movie in DC’s movie universe, Fox can’t just take it’s time and be careful with a Fantastic Four movie. They can’t even wait for fans to forget about their previous failures.

That’s because, due to a legal clusterfuck that goes all the way back to the early 90s, Fox has to keep making Fantastic Four movies or they lose the rights. It doesn’t matter how awful they are. It doesn’t even matter whether or not they release it. They have to make these movies or Marvel and their Disney overlords get the rights back and Fox gets nothing.

It already happened once before. Fox tried and failed to turn Daredevil into a movie franchise. All they did was give Ben Affleck a better understanding on how to eventually become Batman.

By failing to continue that franchise, the rights lapsed back to Marvel and they immediately showed up Fox by creating a critically-acclaimed Netflix series. I’ve seen it. The first 10 minutes of the first episode is more entertaining than the entire “Daredevil” movie.

That’s why Fox needs to keep doing something with the Fantastic Four. Otherwise, they’ll have to sit back and watch as Marvel humiliates them again by succeeding where they failed on multiple occasions. Given all the egos in Hollywood, it’s totally understandable that they’d keep throwing good money at bad just to avoid that kind of pwning.

Now, if it sounds like I’m being overly pessimistic about a movie that may or may not even get made, I apologize. I hope I’ve made clear in previous posts that I’m as passionate about my comics as I am about sleeping naked. Dr. Doom is one of my favorite characters and, by a wide margin, one of my favorite comic book villain.

Fox has had multiple chances to make Dr. Doom the alpha and omega of villainy. First, they tried making him some charming, egotistical sweet-talker using the guy who played the asshole from “Nip/Tuck.” Then, they tried making him some disgruntled blogger. From a comic fan’s perspective, that’s akin to making chocolate fudge taste like dried horse shit.

Fox clearly doesn’t have a damn clue on who Dr. Doom is and how to capture what makes him so iconic. It’s not like they don’t have suitable reference materials. There’s an entire series called “Books of Doom” that show how Dr. Doom came to be. There are also cartoons that do, in a few minutes, what Fox couldn’t do with two movies.

Now, after all their failures, they still want to make a Dr. Doom movie? Not only would that give them yet another opportunity to undermine the greatest comic book villain of all time. It would also ensure that Dr. Doom never finds his way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Given how big a menace he’s been to pretty much every Marvel hero, that’s just tragic.

It’s hard to say just how serious Fox is with this. This is the same company that tried everything it could to stop the “Deadpool” movie and has been dragging its feet on a “Gambit” movie. However, they have way too many reasons not to pursue this.

It’s not just that Dr. Doom is one of the most iconic villains of all time. It’s not even that they’ve botched him horribly through multiple movies. We’re currently living in an era where villains are starting to gain just as much prominence as heroes.

The success of TV shows like “Breaking Bad” and the success of movies like “Suicide Squad” show that there is a market for a villain. I’ve talked about the heroes journey and the villains journey. Few could walk the villain’s journey better than Dr. Doom. At a time when people are turning to villains to fix problems, this may very well just be the best possible time for Dr. Doom to get a movie.

Unfortunately, it’ll still be Fox that makes that movie. Their track record leaves a lot to be desired. Despite this, there are some signs that they aren’t just trying to cling to the movie rights by throwing a couple million dollars at Roger Corman. They’re putting Noah Hawley, the man who made “Legion” a successful show this year, on the job. He’s got credentials, far more than Josh Trank ever did.

That said, I doubt you’ll find many comic fans who are excited about the prospect of Fox doing anything Fantastic Four related. Even fewer fans will have faith that Fox can get Dr. Doom right. They thought turning Doom into a disgruntled blogger was a good idea. What hope does this movie truly have?

I’m going to keep an eye on this so expect me to talk about this again, as I do with many topics involving superhero movies. Until then, here’s a quick fan film I found does with an $11,000 budget what Fox couldn’t do with millions. It shows that, villain or not, Dr. Doom is a character who deserves better.

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Why Most Superheroes Are Woefully Incompetent (By Design)

Image result for incompetent superhero

I’ve been meaning to do a post like this for a while now. It’s a topic I’ve actually tried to discuss on comic book message boards. Unfortunately, most comic book message boards too readily devolve into debates about who can lift Thor’s hammer, who Wolverine is sleeping with, and whether or not She-Hulk shaves her pubic hair. Yes, it gets that bad.

Ignoring, for a moment, the immaturity of certain crowds on message boards, there are certain issues pertaining to comic books and superheroes that are too easy to overlook. I say this as someone who is plenty eager to overlook the flaws in a story if it means seeing Starfire, Wonder Woman, Emma Frost, and Storm of the X-men kick ass and look damn sexy while doing it.

One of those flaws, ironically enough, deals with the actual pragmatics that come with being a superhero. Granted, those practical details are usually an afterthought in most superhero comics. Why would anyone give much thought to that when they could instead focus on giant monsters, killer robots, and the Hulk’s penis?

Some of the problem has entirely to do with fans like me. I freely admit that, as a fan, I’m part of the problem. Superheroes, whether they’re in comic books, cartoons, or blockbuster movies, aren’t created with the intent of being really good at their jobs. They’re created as a product to sell. That means they have to be compelling, engaging, and part of a meaningful story.

That’s why we don’t care if Spider-Man fails miserably to stop a criminal or if Superman fails miserably to keep Lex Luthor locked in prison. So long as it’s part of a story, we keep buying in. We increase our emotional and financial investment. It keeps the narrative going and, by default, the money for the company producing the merchandise.

That’s also why there will never be a superhero who is too good at fighting crime, defeating enemies, and solving problems. After a while, they do too much good and the world they live in just doesn’t have enough flaws to be interesting anymore. Who wants to read about Spider-Man anymore after he’s effectively solved New York’s crime problem and spends his days taking photos of hobos pissing on trees in Central Park?

On some levels, comic book companies and movie studios of the world knows this. They’ll never admit it outright, but in the back of their mind, they have to know that they can never let a hero be too competent. Even Superman has to slip up every now and then. Make no mistake though. He definitely has throughout his 70-plus year history, sometimes in laughably disturbing ways.

There’s a very simple reason for this and unfortunately, it’s neither heroic nor sexy. I’ll give you a hint. It’s valuable, it’s green, and it fits perfectly in a stripper’s G-string. If you need more than one guess, you should probably see a doctor.

Yes, I’m talking about money. If anything, it’s kind of ironic, given the values that many superheroes hold and how broke many superheroes often are. They’re created to embody our greatest values, but they’re sole purpose, from an image standpoint, is to make money for the company that owns their rights.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, superheroes do succeed in that respect. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Spider-Man alone makes over a billion dollars a year in merchandising. That’s not a typo. I said billion. Batman is a very distant second with a little less than half-a-billion.

Superheroes are big business these days, both in terms of making money and spending it. According to rumors by Bleeding Cool, the next two Avengers movies could collectively cost a billion dollars. Again, that’s not a typo.

It’s because superheroes make so much money and generate so much money for the economy that they have to stay incompetent to some extent. Just look at the superheroes of old, from Greek mythology to the bible to the medieval legends of King Arthur. They all have one defining trait. They all had definitive endings.

Whether tragic or triumphant, the heroes of old were part of a finite narrative that had an ending. King Arthur dies. Hector dies. Jesus Christ triumphs over the Satan. If these were comics, they would never survive in the modern market because they’re too complete. Modern superhero stories can never truly end.

Even iconic comics like Watchmen, which was supposed to have a definitive end, but DC Comics nixed that by incorporating it into their mainline superhero comics. Granted, this thoroughly pissed off Watchmen’s creator, Alan Moore, but he’s been pissed off for any number of reasons for the past 30 years so that’s not saying much.

Instead of ending, modern superhero comics are prone to a tricky phenomenon that most comic book fans know all too well. It’s called retroactive continuity, also known as a “retcon.” This is basically the literary equivalent of a mulligan.

Has Spider-Man become too convoluted, mature, and dark? A retcon will make him a lovable loser again. See “Brand New Day.”

Has Batman become too campy and goofy? A retcon will make him dark and gritty again. See “Batman Begins.”

Have the Fantastic Four become too flat and boring? A retcon will make them a team of jaded young millennials. See 2015’s “Fantastic Four,” although pretty much every Fantastic Four fan would strongly advise against it.

Thanks to retcons, superheroes never age. They can always be reinvented, re-tooled, and adapted for a new audience. Granted, that won’t stop some audiences from whining about it, but it effectively ensures that the narrative never ends and the particulars of the story at every point in the timeline are subject to change.

This can be a good thing sometimes, such as when a retcon gives us a great character like the Winter Soldier in the Captain America comics. However, it can also splatter painfully disturbing details on an established narrative that didn’t need it. Just talk to Spider-Man fans about a story called “Sins Past” and watch them become visibly ill.

In the end, however, it often means that characters never really progress beyond a certain point and the problems they hope to solve never go away. The Joker always escapes. Lex Luthor always returns. Spider-Man’s girlfriend gets killed, injured, or impregnated by his worst enemy. It’s as frustrating as it sounds.

Most superheroes will gloss over this detail by taking a stand against killing. That’s perfectly understandable on some levels. The morality of killing someone is one of those few moral issues that don’t generate too much debate, unless it involves Nazis in video games. However, in some respects, the anti-killing is both an excuse and a sales tactic.

Batman is, by far, the best example in this respect. Despite being the alpha and omega of an ordinary man achieving extraordinary feats without superpowers, Batman still cannot and will not stomach killing any of his villains. No matter how many times they escape, kill, or torment others, he refuses to kill them.

Ignoring for a moment the debate on whether he’s responsible for the deaths those villains subsequently inflict, there’s one other issue that makes Batman’s anti-killing stance more a marketing gimmick than a morality stand. Batman’s villains are iconic characters in their own right.

Just look at the list of famous Batman villains. Then, remember how many of them are popular Halloween costumes. Also keep in mind one of them earned Heath Ledger an Oscar and another got Margot Robbie to put on hot pants. Creating characters this iconic isn’t easy. That’s why comic companies and movie studios are so reluctant to kill them.

This is the dilemma that all superheroes face in modern comics and movies. If Batman kills the Joker, then there are no more iconic battles between the two. If Superman kills Lex Luthor, then there’s no more epic struggle. That means there are fewer comics to sell, toys to make, and slutty costumes to create. That situation, from both a fan and business standpoint, is untenable.

As a result, every modern superhero is, by design, incompetent to some degree. On top of that, the villains are either insanely lucky or ridiculously resilient. That’s why we’ll never see a version of Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man who actually succeed at reducing crime. That’s why we’ll never see the X-men or the Justice League actually create a peaceful world.

It’s not that it’s impossible. It’s just that it ends the story and the ability for big companies to make a boatload of money off them. That ensures every modern superhero is a walking paradox. They can never truly achieve their goal, but they can never stop trying either. It’s not because it’s the right, moral thing to do either. It’s because movie studios and publishing companies still need to make money.

That’s not very heroic, to say the least, but that’s the world we live in. Until money and movie rights stop driving superhero narratives, we’ll never see a truly competent superhero.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes