Tag Archives: Superheroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Powers of X #1

Lifelong comic book fans like myself wake up every Wednesday morning with a mix of excitement, anticipation, and dread. It’s a weekly event in which the worlds we love grow just a little bit bigger. However, not all New Comic Book Days are treated the same. Some are more memorable than others and I have a feeling that “Powers of X #1” will make this particular Wednesday feel special for X-Men fans.

The X-Men comics are in a major state of transition and upheaval. In the past, that has usually meant they’re facing yet another extinction event. Whether it’s Sentinels killing 16 million mutants or the Scarlet Witch going crazy, big change usually means the X-Men have to stave off another genocide.

Writer Jonathan Hickman is not taking that approach. As someone who has been reading X-Men comics for a good chunk of his life, I find it both overdue and refreshing. In “House of X #1,” he set out to build a bold new world for mutants. In “Powers of X #1,” he puts this world into a much greater context that will likely have X-Men fans talking for years to come.

This new vision for the X-Men isn’t just causing major upheavals in the present. It’s having an impact on the past and future, as well. Historically, this usually means that there’s yet another terrible dystopian future about to unfold and the X-Men already have way too many of those.

With Hickman, however, it’s not nearly as clear-cut and that’s exactly what makes “Powers of X #1” so engaging.

This isn’t just another case of some fateful decision in the past having dire consequences in the future. There’s no moment with Skynet or time traveling assassins. With “Powers of X #1,” the story unfolds across four distinct time periods. One takes place in the X-Men’s past. The other continues part of the story in the present that begins in “House of X #1.” The last two take place at multiple points in the future.

While much of the story unfolds in the future, there’s a never a sense that they’re too disconnected from the past or present. There are a host of new characters with familiar powers and appearances. Artist R. B. Silva is not subtle in who inspired the designs of these characters and that’s critical because a lot transpires in a short span of time.

We don’t get to know these characters very well, given their limited face time, but they do plenty to establish distinct personalities and motivations. We get a sense for what they’re after and what’s at stake. It’s not entirely dystopian in tone, but it is dire and not just for mutants.

Once again, Hickman goes heave on the world-building. In between Silva’s colorful depictions are little insights into how this future took shape. It’s not a simple as one fateful choice or one fateful death. It’s more a culmination of conflicts.

Mutants are on the brink, but it’s not because of a plague or a genocidal war. In this future, humans aren’t the enemy, but what they’ve become certainly is. They’re not just a bunch of fearful, mutant-hating zealots trying to product themselves with killer robots. They’ve actually become something more menacing.

The details aren’t all in place, but the hints are there. While mutants built on the foundation that Charles Xavier established, humanity went down a different path and it’s not one conducive to peace, love, puppies, and whiskey. Familiar faces like the Nimrod Sentinel make that abundantly clear, but it’s the new faces that add the most intrigue.

Nimrod and the other humans around it aren’t just human anymore. They’ve become part machine, as well. However, these aren’t Terminator knock-offs. They still have personalities. They even talk and converse like humans. They’re a whole new order of humans that Hickman identifies as the Man-Machine Supremacy. Given the events of “House of X #1,” it fits perfectly.

It also makes a twisted bit of sense in a not-so-dystopian way. In a world where mutants are suddenly organized, complete with a homeland and collective vision, humanity seems doomed to obsolesce. They’re only choice is to evolve in a new way so they have a chance at competing.

The story covers many concepts and raises many questions, but “Powers of X #1” works because there are just enough hints at the answers. It perfectly complements what “House of X #1” established with respect to setting, tone, and vision. Hickman creates a perspective that neither humans nor mutants want to go extinct. They both seek a bold vision for their future, but there’s only room for one in the future.

Every vision begins with a dream. Bold visions inspire bolder actions. This is the heart of what makes the X-Men who they are. It’s also the driving force behind the many conflicts they face. A book like “Powers of X #1” doesn’t attempt to subvert that conflict. It simply dares to evolve it in a new direction.

What this means for the X-Men comics moving forward remains to be seen, but it’s very likely that “Powers of X #1” will be one of those comics that gets cited for years to come as a major turning point. It affirms that while all New Comic Book Days are special in their own right, some will always be more special than others.

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Why “The Boys” Is The Ultimate Superhero Satire

amazon-prime-the-boys-tv-show

In the history of superhero media, 2019 will likely go down as one of the greatest years of all time. This year included three superhero movies that grossed over a billion dollars, including the first female-led superhero movie to gross a billion dollars and one that became the highest grossing movie of all time. Whatever the future holds for the genre, there’s no doubt that 2019 will go down as a banner year.

Regardless of what the James Camerons of the world think, superheroes have made their mark on the pop culture landscape. They’ll likely keep making their mark for years to come, especially after Marvel’s latest announcements for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, in the same year that superhero media achieved some of its greatest success, something comes along to utterly deconstruct it.

Whereas a movie like “Avengers Endgame” showed us just how great superheroes can be, a TV show like “The Boys” shows us just how depraved they can be. Being a comic book fan long before this golden age of superheroes, I already knew that. I followed the original comics when they came out in the mid-2000s. Now, thanks to a new TV show, everyone can experience the story that gave superheroes the ultimate gut punch.

Literally.

I’m not going to lie. I was genuinely surprised when I heard Amazon Prime was going to make this show. This is not the kind of story that you can turn into a Disney-approved, PG-13 spectacle for mass consumption. In anything, “The Boys” goes out of its way to explore the kinds of things that would make the censors at Disney and the MPAA throw up.

This is a story that does not hide the brutal violence, intense trauma, and unchecked hedonism that often seems unavoidable in the context of the narrative. Writer and co-creator, Garth Ennis, has a long history of embracing those darker elements of the genre. He did it with “Preacher” and his run on “The Punisher.” With “The Boys,” he took it to another level and beyond.

The world of “The Boys” is not unlike the early days of the MCU. The over-arching story tries to incorporate the fanciful ideals of superheroes into a real-world context. It doesn’t use fictional cities like Metropolis or Gotham. It doesn’t ignore how superheroes would affect society, government, or the economy. The many flaws of the real world are just as relevant in this world.

As are the sentiments about reality, in general.

From here, “The Boys” doesn’t necessarily portray a worst-case scenario for superheroes, but it comes pretty damn close. The “heroes” of this world are the Seven. They include the likes of Homelander, Black Noir, Queen Maeve, A-Train, and the Deep. They’re basically derivations of the Justice League, but in terms of heroic ideals, these characters have none of that.

The Seven conduct themselves as superheroes for the masses. They’re admired, respected, and idolized by many, just like their counterparts in the MCU. However, that heroic zeal is both a lie and a scam. Their entire image is built around a marketing ploy, courtesy of Vought American Consolidated, a defense contractor who incorporates superheroes into their arsenal.

Trust me. It’s even more corrupt than it sounds.

With that corruption comes greed, treachery, violence, and depravity the likes of which Batman would find too grim. These heroes basically get to smile for the cameras, enjoy the benefits of celebrity, and still conduct themselves as self-serving narcissist behind the scene. They can do whatever they want, get away with it, and still be beloved. It’s a recipe for all sorts of disasters.

On top of that, some of these characters are outright psychopaths. Homelander is a mentally unstable sadist who commits many vile acts throughout the comics, including rape. The TV show captures only a fraction of his depravity, but it’s more than enough to highlight the underlying message of “The Boys” and why it’s such a powerful story.

In essence, “The Boys” is the ultimate satire of the superhero genre. It’s entire narrative is built around exploring, exposing, and denigrating the ideals on which all superhero media is built upon. It’s not done for humor or comedic effect, either. The theme of “The Boys” is dead serious in showing how a world with superheroes becomes so depraved.

This is where the Boys themselves come in. They include Billy Butcher, Frenchie, Mother’s Milk, the Female, and Hughie. They both witness and directly experience the breadth of the Seven’s corruption. They take it upon themselves to expose these heroes for who they are.

However, their motivations aren’t entirely heroic. These characters often come off every bit as damaged, petty, and vindictive as the heroes they actively oppose. They don’t stick to high ideals, either. The Boys are brutal, albeit in a more focused and pragmatic sense.

It gets ugly.

It gets violent.

It gets downright traumatic.

It also gets the damn point across.

If “The Boys” has a unifying message that unites both the comics and the TV shows, it’s that superheroes can only ever make things worse in the long run. That ideal of a perfectly altruistic savior in the mold of Superman just doesn’t exist and wanting it to exist can be downright dangerous.

The people behind the scenes with the Seven feed into that. The government, big corporations, and the media glorify these heroes because the people latch onto them. They want these heroes to be the idealized figures that they read about in comics and see in blockbuster movies. They buy into it and both the Seven and the organizations that manage them keep selling it.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that only amplifies the corruption. The Boys dare to battle that corruption, but with the understanding they’re fighting a losing battle. They can attack, expose, and frustrate these superpowered sociopaths all they want. They’re never going to destroy those rosy ideals on which the entire genre is build upon. At most, they can just make them pay a price for their egregious misdeeds.

It’s hardly proportional to the many atrocities the Seven commits, but that’s kind of the point. These are superpowered beings who can only be hurt so much, even by other superheroes. The Boys can never punish them in a way that feels equitable, compared to the injustices the Seven inflict. That doesn’t stop them from making an effort and making it better than most would expect.

The right tool for the right job.

How they go about this and how the Seven reacts is a long, tortured story that has many shocking moments that are not for kids or the faint of heart. The trailer for the TV show offers a hint of that, but there are scenes from the comics that even the lenient censors of Amazon Prime wouldn’t dare put on film. I won’t spoil the bloody details, but if you have the stomach, I highly recommend you check out the comics.

More than anything else, the “The Boys” is a brutal reminder that the ideals behind superheroes are probably the most fanciful part of the genre. In a real world full of corruption and collateral damage, superheroes can be far more dangerous than the threats they confront. It’s almost impossible to be a superhero without becoming a self-absorbed asshole to some extent.

Even the Boys, who actively battle the superheroes that fuel this fantasy, never come off as entirely altruistic. They’re simply more respectable and less narcissistic. In that dynamic, nobody can ever come off as truly heroic. There’s just too much room for corruption and ego.

While “The Boys” wasn’t the first comic to satirize superheroes, it’s definitely the most complete. “Watchmen” may get more praise and respect, but even in that story, the heroes still try to act like heroes in their own perverse way. What characters like Ozymandias and Rorschach do is framed as something heroic, even if it gets violent and brutal. There’s none of that with “The Boys.”

In an ideal world, even assholes will find a way to be heroic under the right circumstances. Tony Stark proved that in “Avengers Endgame.” However, in the world of “The Boys,” there’s no such thing as right circumstances. If anything, the entire superhero genre has it ass-backwards. Heroes will inevitably find a way to become assholes and if nobody stops them, then they’ll just push their assholery to new heights.

The Boys” is a unique comic in its own right, but the TV adaptation is coming along at just the right time. I would even argue that this kind of satire is necessary in the current cultural landscape. We need something like this to remind us that the ideals of superheroes are still ideals. Like most things in the real world, ideals tend to crumble when subjected to scrutiny.

At a time when people are consuming the ideals of superheroes at an unprecedented level, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective about the genre. A satire like “The Boys” may never have the same impact as anything from the MCU, but it’s still a story worth telling, if only to remind us that great power can also breed greater assholes.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #1

Ever comic book fan has been conditioned to revere Wednesdays as New Comic Book Day. It’s basically Christmas every week. However, much like Christmas, not all Wednesdays are equal in terms of the presents they bring. Every now and then, a Wednesday comes along that a certain segment of comic fans come to revere for years to come.

For X-Men fans, this will likely go down as one of those Wednesdays because “House of X #1” is just that astonishing. Every now and then, a book comes along that is presented as a major paradigm shift for the characters, the themes, and the over-arching narrative of a series. In superhero comics, books like that are hyped up at least once a month. Very few deliver on that hype. “House of X #1” is one of those select few.

To say that the X-Men comics needed a book like this is like saying an insomniac needs a good night’s sleep. For years now, going back to the days of “House of M,” both the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe has been in a constant state of extinction-level crisis. Even when they’re not about to go extinct, they’re caught up in something that has them just one slip-up away from another dytopian future.

In “House of X #1,” writer Jonathan Hickman dares to rebuild the X-Men’s world without first sending them to the brink of extinction. For anyone who has followed X-Men comics for more than two years, this is like a breath of fresh air, a massage, and a chocolate milkshake all rolled into one. It shouldn’t be that radical a concept, but between Hickman’s vision and Pepe Larraz’s beautiful artwork, it sure feels like it.

This bold new world for the X-Men isn’t built around mansions with high-tech jets hidden below the tennis court. You won’t find orbiting asteroids, isolated nations, or island sanctuaries in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This world is more than a nation or sanctuary. It’s a bold new form for Charles Xavier’s dream.

It comes courtesy of Krakoa, a name right out of one of the most iconic X-Men comics of all time. This living island has evolved and Charles Xavier is maximizing its potential with intriguing results. He comes off as more than just a visionary or messianic figure in “House of X #1.” He has a bold new plan for the entire mutant race and it’s big.

By that, I don’t just mean it’s big in terms of goals and scope. This plan is something that changes the way the X-Men operate. It’s not just flying around in X-Jets anymore. It’s not just peaceful protests and confronting bigotry. Charles Xavier is rallying mutants to his cause in a bold new way. He’s also dealing with humans in a new way, as well.

It’s here where “House of X #1” explores some very interesting concepts that take the X-Men into uncharted territory. For much of their history, the X-Men have been either reacting to attacks by their enemies or trying to counter intense hatred and mistrust of mutants. It hasn’t just hindered Xavier’s efforts at peace and understanding. It has kept them isolated and always on the brink.

Rather than simply brace for the worst, Charles Xavier decides to offer something tantalizing to both humans and mutants alike. I won’t spoil too many details. I’ll just say that he puts the X-Men in a unique position, in terms of how the world sees them. It may not win them the love and adulation that the Avengers get, but it does provide some bold incentives.

That’s something that few X-Men comics have ever attempted on this scale. It’s not enough to confront hatred and mistrust. Hickman puts the X-Men in a position to be more diplomatic with the world. They have something to offer the world. Accepting that offer benefits humans and mutants in a tangible, positive way.

Again, that should not be such a radical concept, but Hickman and Larraz present it in a way that feels both novel and vast. It’s not entirely utopian in its potential, but it has the potential to bring positive change to a world and a narrative that needs it.

As a lifelong X-Men fan, “House of X #1” fills me with both curiosity and awe. There’s a lot to love about this bold new world that Hickman and Larraz are building. For once, it’s not just another threat that puts the mutant race on the brink of extinction. There’s a larger effort to do something bigger.

That’s not to say the threats aren’t there. Just as Charles Xavier pursues his bold new vision in “House of X #1,” other visions forged by other characters emerge to present obstacles. Some parts of that vision are new, but there is some familiar imagery that X-Men fans will recognize. It ensures that there will still be plenty of mutant-powered fights in this new world.

At the same time, “House of X #1” creates a clear impression that fighting killer robots will only be a small part of this new vision for the X-Men. There’s so much more going on, both with the characters and with the larger Marvel Universe. After all the upheavals they’ve had over the past 15 years, it finally feels like they have room to grow again.

It’s an exciting time to be an X-Men fan. On top of Kevin Feige confirming that mutants are finally coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hickman and Larraz are taking X-Men in a bold, if not overdue direction in the comics. This sentiment is even captured perfectly in Charles Xavier’s first lines of the book.

“Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.”

Truer words were never spoken. In a world that gets invaded by aliens, Hydra, and renegade gods every other day, that’s saying something.

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Why Natalie Portman Becoming Thor Is The Biggest Story From San Diego Comic Con 2019

natalie-portman

If you’re a fan of comic books, superhero movies, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this past weekend was like Christmas, Halloween, the 4th of July, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. The San Diego Comic Con is essentially the epicenter of geek culture. In recent years, it has only gotten bigger, becoming a staging area for major pop culture events. This latest convention was no exception.

While there was plenty of news to follow at this year’s Comic Con, especially for X-Men fans like me, the biggest event was always going to be Marvel Studios. It has already been a historic year for superhero movies, especially on the Marvel side of the genre. Shortly before the convention began, “Avengers Endgame” officially passed “Avatar” to become the highest grossing movie of all time.

It’s a good time to be Kevin Feige.

It’s a good time to be Bob Iger.

It’s a good time to be a Marvel fan, in general.

With the end of “Avengers Endgame,” however, the story that began in 2008 “Iron Man” has concluded. The Avengers assembled in a truly spectacular battle for the ages. Thanos is defeated. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is once again secure, but after making the highest grossing movie of all time, how can Marvel Studios keep raising the bar like this?

In Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center, the next phase of the MCU was finally revealed. Some of the announcements were expected. News of a “Black Widow” movie, as well as an “Eternals” movie, had already been reported months ago. News of a “Blade” movie within the MCU was more surprising, but that wasn’t the biggest story by a long shot.

By far, the biggest Marvel Studios news to come out of San Diego Comic Con 2019 was Natalie Portman returning as Jane Foster to play a female Thor. I’m not going to lie. When I saw this news, I had to blink a few times and slap myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Once certain this was real, it finally sunk in.

Natalie Portman is returning the MCU as Jane Foster to play a female Thor.

To appreciate why this is a huge deal to longtime comic readers like me, I need to provide a little context. Jane Foster being Thor is a concept that only recently gained prominence, thanks to one of Marvel’s top-tier writers, Jason Aaron.

Back in 2014, the Thor comics underwent a major upheaval. After a fateful encounter with Nick Fury, Thor suddenly became unworthy of lifting Mjolnir. It was a dramatic moment that defined the character for years to come. Then, after everyone in Asgard failed to lift the hammer, Jane Foster came along to wield it. In doing so, she became the new Thor.

If you haven’t read the first few volumes of that story, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Even if you’ve only seen the movies, you’ll still find plenty to love about these comics. They made me a fan of both Thor and Jane Foster. If Marvel Studios and Natalie Portman can even capture a fraction of this story’s greatness, then it’ll be a bold new era for superhero movies.

Now, make no mistake. Jane Foster becoming Thor was not without controversy. In fact, the timing of this story couldn’t have been worse. It came out right around the same time that efforts to promote diversity within superhero comics had become mired in regressive politics. It was a time when iconic characters were being replaced and new characters were being created, albeit with mixed results.

This is how mixed it got and NOT in a good way.

I’d rather not go into all the issues, controversies, and absurdities from that era, but I will say that Jane Foster becoming Thor was one of the success stories from that tenuous period. Her journey as the new Thor didn’t supplant that of her predecessor. If anything, it complemented his story. The title of Thor was greatly improved because Jane Foster wielded that hammer.

Now, Marvel Studios is in an even better position to do the same. The success of both “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” has established that there is a market for female superheroes. The events of “Avengers Endgame” also opened the door for someone else to step in without diminishing Chris Hemsworth’s character, who may still have a part to play in “Guardians of the Galaxy 3.”

It also helps that Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster has been MIA since the events of “Thor: The Dark World.” While her reasons for leaving were somewhat obscure, the announcement at San Diego left no room for ambiguity. She’s coming back and she’s going to play a major role in the next phase of the MCU.

In my opinion, this will go down as one of the most pivotal announcements in the history of the MCU. Why do I believe this is bigger than the Eternals, Blade, Black Widow, or any of the upcoming shows on the Disney+ streaming service? To answer that, it’s necessary to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The Jane Foster that Natalie Portman played in the first two Thor movies is not the same Jane Foster who has established herself as a prominent force in the comics. Throughout her history, she has maintained a strong connection to Thor and not just as a romantic interest. In many respects, she has been the character through which ordinary, non-Asgardian people explore Thor’s world of gods, demigods, and monsters.

A big part of what made Jason Aaron’s story surrounding Jane Foster becoming Thor so powerful was how she proved her worthiness of that title. As a mortal woman with many mortal limitations, she embraced that role and proved herself against gods, monsters, and even other superheroes. It was easy to cheer her on every step of the way.

In any era, it’s a powerful story, having an ordinary human embrace god-like power to bear god-like burdens. In this current era of superhero movies, Jane Foster becoming Thor isn’t just a fitting, comics-accurate way to build her story in the MCU. It’s a story that almost feels necessary.

The MCU is a world that has become densely populated by super soldiers, aliens, gods, monsters, and demigods. With the conclusion of “Avengers Endgame,” the world is in a tenuous state. Friendships, families, and teams have been decimated due to the conflict surrounding Thanos and the Infinity Stones. There are voids to be filled, including a few once populated by gods.

Ordinary people becoming heroes is a story that the MCU has told many times before, the latest being “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Stories about ordinary people becoming gods haven’t been nearly as common and with the Eternals already poised to join the MCU, I think that story should play out in some manner, if only to keep humanity connected to this world.

Jane becoming the Goddess of Thunder is the perfect story to maintain that connection. Unlike Carol Danvers, Jane is not a soldier or a warrior. She’s a scientist who got caught up in the world of gods and superheroes, but she didn’t run from it in the comic. Now, armed with Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning talent, she’s poised to make a similar journey in a world that needs new heroes to step up.

It’s an exciting, but uncertain time for the MCU. However, when you’ve got a story like that of Jane Foster becoming Thor and an actress as talented as Natalie Portman leading the way, the future has never been brighter.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Invisible Woman #1

There are some iconic characters whose iconic status acts as a double-edged sword. Being iconic helps give them staying power. Only a handful of characters are iconic enough to remain relevant for extended periods, especially when their relevance extends all the way back to the Kennedy Administration.

With that staying power, however, comes often baggage, circumstance, and complications. For much of her history, Sue “Invisible Woman” Richards has been defined by her role in Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. She’s not just the cute blond on a team of superheroes. She’s a wife, a mother, and a sister. She frequently acts as the anchor that holds the Fantastic Four together, as a family.

It’s a role that has helped make her iconic, but it has also limited her opportunities to explore stories outside that family role. It certainly didn’t help that she, Reed, and her children were MIA from Marvel’s comic book universe for an extended period, which may or may not have had something to do with movie rights.

Even with those complications, Sue is one of those characters who has always had the potential to be something more than her iconic role on a famous superhero team. With “Invisible Woman #1,” Mark Waid and Mattia de Iulis finally take a chance at realizing that potential. At a time when the Fantastic Four are still recovering from years of negligence and a historically bad movie, the timing couldn’t be better.

This isn’t just another story about Sue holding her family together. It’s not about her trying to balance being a mom, a wife, a sister, and a superhero. Waid and de Iulis put Sue in a position to show that she can be iconic in her own right without sacrificing what makes her so vital to her family.

The premise of “Invisible Woman #1” is fairly simple. It establishes that there was a time in the past when Sue explored other types of superhero activities on top of her role with the Fantastic Four. One of those activities involved espionage on behalf of SHIELD. In the world of Marvel superheroes, it’s basically the equivalent of taking the night shift at a grocery store.

She was good at it too. She could get the job done and, unlike other trigger-happy SHIELD agents, she could do it without much bloodshed. It nicely reflects the loving, compassionate nature that makes her the lynch-pin of the Fantastic Four. It also shows that she can be tough and cunning when she needs to be.

It’s a side of Sue that hasn’t been explored much, but one that still reflects the greatest strength of her character. She’ll never be as cunning as Black Widow or as stoic as Nick Fury, but she’ll find a way to get the job done and she’ll make an impression on those who work with her. Even before she became a mom, she embodied that motherly love that many find comforting.

It’s because Sue did this job her own endearing way that she gets pulled back into the world of espionage. In many respects, the timing couldn’t be better. Waid builds on the recent developments with her family that have been unfolding in the current Fantastic Four comics under Dan Slott, which I highly recommend. She’s still the same mother figure she has always been, but her family is evolving.

Her children are growing up. One of her closest friends is married now. Her brother is always doing his own thing. Waid even explores how someone like her deals with the changing nature of her family. It makes diving back into the shady world of espionage feel like a golden opportunity and Sue embraces it.

It also helps that the stakes aren’t so high that the entire multiverse is in jeopardy. Whereas the Fantastic Four will routinely prevent reality from falling apart, this particular mission involves saving the lives of imprisoned students and a captured agent that she once worked with. The world isn’t at stake, but it feels personal for Sue and that’s all the motivation she needs.

It’s both refreshing and overdue, seeing a character like Sue take on a challenge that’s far different from cosmic, psychedelic adventures that often involve shape-shifting aliens and hostile planet-eaters. She does so while never deviating from what makes her so endearing, as a member of the Fantastic Four. Waid’s past history with the Fantastic Four helps make “Invisible Woman #1” feel like a perfect extension of an iconic character.

The pace of the story is slow and steady, but it never drags. It sets up plenty of intriguing elements, some of which are hinted at in the final pages. There’s a great deal of introspection, which makes sense for a character who has been subject to many upheavals in the world around her. It helps reaffirm why she’s so iconic in the first place.

Sue Richards will always be defined by her role in the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #1” proves that she still has room to grow. She can still be a mom, a husband, a sister, and a superhero. She can also be a spy on the side and not fall into the same trap as every female spy in a Jame Bond movie.

Both Sue Richards and the Fantastic Four have a long way to go in terms of recovering from the setbacks incurred by bad movies and vindictive CEOs. While it may be a while before they show up in the MCU, a book like “Invisible Woman #1” feels like a small step in that process.

It’s been a while since anyone has been able to say it with a straight face, but the future of the Fantastic Four looks genuinely fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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