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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Captain Marvel #10

 

Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

Every so often, a new character comes along that you just know in your gut is going to be a big deal. I certainly felt it the first time I read about Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan back in 2014. I also felt it the first time I saw X-23 show up in a fateful episode of “X-Men Evolution.” It may be a bit premature on my part, but I definitely got that feeling about Ripley “Star” Ryan “Captain Marvel #10.”

For the past few issues of this series, writer Kelly Thompson has been teasing a new hero to challenge Carol Danvers in ways beyond who looks better in skin-tight outfits. Like Carol, she’s got blond hair, superpowers, and a fondness for punching the giant monsters that seem to invade New York City at least once a week. Marvel has even teased her as being the next big thing in their ever-evolving pantheon of heroes.

I admit, I was skeptical. Whenever a comic company goes out of their way to push a new hero like this, it tends to be hit or miss. Some, like Kamala Khan, work out wonderfully. Others become so forgettable that they’re relegated to punchlines for an entire era. For the most part, Star came off as just some generic woman trying to take advantage of Carol’s recent hardship. That all changed in Captain Marvel #10.”

After reading this book, I believe Star has the potential to be something special for both Captain Marvel and the larger Marvel universe. I’m not saying that potential could include a future phone call from Kevin Feige at Marvel Studios, but if I were Ms. Thompson, I would start preparing for that conversation.

Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

Whereas the past few issues have been full of questions, setbacks, and failures for Carol, “Captain Marvel #10” offers a fair amount of answers. Thanks to Tony Stark and an old adversary, Dr. Minn-Erva, who fans of the movie should recognize, Carol finds out why her powers have been acting up lately.

It has nothing to do with stress, mental blocks, or one too many grabs from Rogue. Someone infected her with a Kree-engineered virus and Dr. Minn-Erva doesn’t even try to make a mystery of it. She’s not exactly subtle and she gives Carol plenty of reasons to punch her senseless. On top of that, Dr. Minn-Erva is asking for Carol’s help. Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s not the charitable kind of help, either. It has been canon for a while that the Kree really screwed themselves, going all the way back to the “Black Vortex” event in 2015. They’re scattered, broken, and desperate. That gave Dr. Minn-Erva more than enough excuses to start experimenting with Kree and human DNA.

On paper, it seems like a good idea. Carol Danvers is half-Kree and she has proven on plenty of occasions that she can kick ass on an inter-stellar level. That’s exactly what the Kree needs in such desperate times.

As often happens with alien biology experiments in comics, things don’t go as planned.
Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

Without getting too deep into spoilers, I’ll note that Dr. Minn-Erva’s plans go beyond infecting Carol. I’ll also confirm that Star, who is revealed as Ripley Ryan, is a big part of those plans. Now, Ripley is very much a blank slate. Her first appearance was in “Captain Marvel #1” and she was just a sweet, hipster journalist looking to interview Carol.

Now, as Star, she’s a lot more than that. Between her powers and how she got them, her story is indelibly tied to Carol’s, more so than Kamala Khan’s. It’s also because of that connection that she has the potential to be Carol’s greatest ally or worst enemy. She proved in previous issues how capable she can be as an ally. In Captain Marvel #10,” she proves what she can do as an enemy.

Once the answers are laid out and the truth is revealed, the fighting starts. That’s where artist Carmen Carnero gives both Star and Captain Marvel the colorful spectacle that they deserve. It’s not just a clash between a new hero and an experienced veteran, either. There’s drama in this fight that you just can’t get from a typical rampaging monster or superhero brawl.

Captain Marvel (2019-) #10

The events of Captain Marvel #10 put Star at a unique crossroad. She can still become a hero. She can also become a dangerous new rival capable of challenging Captain Marvel, the Avengers, and anyone else who gets in her way. It’s not the least bit clear which path she’ll take, but the final pages hint that she’s willing to cross a few lines to realize her potential.

Thompson has achieved something special with both Star and Captain Marvel, which will likely make this comic a valuable collector’s item. Star isn’t the kind of superhero who got dragged into it by accident or circumstance. She chose to pursue it. She sought the kind of power and abilities that help make Carol Danvers the hero she is.

Star would not be on this path if someone like Captain Marvel hadn’t inspired her. It offers a unique perspective on the influence of superheroes. By doing what she does so well, Captain Marvel might have created her greatest rival. Like it or not, she’s a part of Star’s journey and “Captain Marvel #10” marks a critical stage of that journey.

It’s still hard to say whether Star will become the kind of character who will one day fight alongside Brie Larson in a Captain Marvel movie, but the potential is there. Since the world can never have too many charismatic female heroes, I’m certainly rooting for her.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Magnificent Ms. Marvel #6

Teenage superheroes have always had a unique appeal, as well as a unique set of challenges. It’s not just their youth, inexperience, and idealism that sets them apart. They deal with complications and obstacles that adult heroes rarely have to worry about. Say what you will about Hawkeye’s abilities. At least he doesn’t have to worry about turning in homework on time, dealing with parents, and enduring puberty.

When it comes to teenage superheroes who embody that unique appeal, Ms. Marvel checks every box. She’s young, idealistic, lovable, tough, determined, awkward, and overwhelmed with balancing her superhero life with her personal life. Since her debut in 2014, some of her best moments have come from struggling to maintain that balance.

Now, that balance is completely thrown off in “Ms. Marvel #6” and for once, it has nothing to do with aliens, Hydra, or high school. What unfolds in this comic is more personal. It puts Kamala Khan in a position where no superpower or superpowered allies can make a difference.

It’s a difficult position, even for adult superheroes. Superman faces it almost every time he clashes with Lex Luthor. However, Kamala Khan isn’t Superman. She’s a teenage girl still growing into her superhero identity. What happens to her in “Ms. Marvel #6” is an impossible challenge as much as it is a turning point.

Since he took over, writer Saladin Ahmed has taken Ms. Marvel’s journey far beyond the limits of Jersey City. She’s teamed up with the Avengers, led a team of aspiring young heroes in the Champions, and fought in an alien war in which she saved an entire planet. She has had her share of triumphs lately, even when compared to adult superheroes.

Then, just after she acquires a flashy new costume powered by alien technology, her parents drop a bombshell. Her father is dying. He’s not just sick. He’s not just facing some new condition that requires treatment and management. He is dying and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

For a superhero who just saved an alien planet and is on a first-name basis with the Avengers, this is akin to the ultimate gut punch, followed by the worst hangover, and topped off with the most agonizing heartbreak. This is the kind of news that even adult struggle with, long after they’ve built lives apart from their parents. Kamala Khan is just a teenager. Superhero or not, this shatters her world.

It’s a heartbreaking turn of events for a character who has been on a solid winning streak lately. Almost every teenage superhero faces setbacks. Kamala has had more than her share, from love interests who ran away to idols who abused her trust. This is more than a setback.

Since her debut, Ms. Marvel has stood out in a great many ways. One particular way that sets her apart from the Peter Parkers and Bruce Waynes of the superhero world is that she didn’t need a parent or loved one to die to become a hero. Kamala comes from a loving, tight-knit family who instill in her the values that would make anyone a hero in their own right.

Her family has always been a big part of her story. Like many teenage superheroes, she struggles to navigate family life alongside her superhero life. At the same time, her family has largely been a source of strength, even when they hound her about being late for school. Now, her family is facing one of the worst situations that any family can face.

Ahmed doesn’t rush Kamala through the various stages of acceptance. The plot of “Ms. Marvel #6” starts with a heart-breaking revelation, but follows Kamala as she tries to make sense of it all. Being young and idealistic, her first instinct is to try and fix this. She’s a superhero. She’s supposed to do the impossible and succeed where others fail.

This is different. She can fight to save her father’s life, just as she fights a typical supervillain. However, even when saving the day, the effects of her father’s news is apparent. The art by Minkyu Jung even captures that mood at every turn.

Ms. Marvel #6” is one of those comics in which elaborate heroics and flashy costumes are secondary, at best. The events in this story signal a major upheaval in Kamala Khan’s superhero journey and it’s not one she can embiggen her way out of. Right now, her personal journey is more important than that of any hero. Tony Stark even shows up to remind her of that. He even brings gyros to belabor the point.

More often than not, when teenage superheroes are faced with loss and heartbreak, their first instinct is to lash out. You can usually set your watch to them doing something reckless or self-destructive out of anguish. That’s not just a trait common of superheroes. That’s something teenagers struggle with in the real world.

It once again strikes to the heart of why Kamala Khan is such an endearing character. It’s not just that she succeeds where other female superheroes falter. Her struggles, even though they involve Avengers and aliens, feel real and genuine. The idea that she’s poised to endure one of the hardest things any family can endure is both powerful and relateable.

After the events of “Ms. Marvel #6,” it’s not unreasonable to say that Kamala Khan’s life will never be the same. Even though that seems to happen with teenage superheroes every other week, this feels different. This isn’t part of some elaborate plot by a cunning supervillain. This is a terminally ill loved one.

Whether you’re a hero or a nobody, this is a challenge nobody is equipped to handle. Kamala Khan now faces the prospect of losing her father. It’s heartbreaking, but it also helps reaffirm just how much heart she has. That heart helped make her a hero. It also makes the prospect of watching it break feel that much more difficult.

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

spider-man-far-from-home-teaser-poster

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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Ultron: A Case Study In How NOT To Develop Advanced AI

age-of-ultron

At this very moment, humanity is working on advanced artificial intelligence. It’s not hyperbole to say that this technology that may very well be the last invention we ever create. It has the potential to be more powerful than gunpowder, nuclear weapons, and broadband internet by orders of magnitude. Our primate brains literally cannot contemplate the potential and danger of this technology.

I’ve talked about advanced artificial intelligence on multiple occasions. I’ve done plenty to explore and imagine the various benefits and possibilities of this technology. I’m among those who believe we should pursue this technology with more and better resources. It could solve many of the daunting problems we face, as a species.

However, I don’t deny the potential dangers of advanced AI. Many people who are much smarter than me have expressed serious concern that an advanced artificial intelligence could be an existential threat to the human species. I get the sense that few people whose idea of AI is restricted to winning Jeopardy understand that threat.

In the interest of balancing my optimism with the legitimate risks involved, I’m going to try and put the extent of that threat into perspective. As it just so happens, the best way of doing so involves superhero comics, something that I know very well and is far more prominent in the public consciousness.

While many comics, movies, and TV shows have explored the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, few embody it better than Ultron. In terms of just how destructive this technology can get, Ultron is the ultimate worst-case scenario. The machines in “The Matrix” and Skynet in “The Terminator” were bad, but Ultron is in another league.

He’s also more menacing than the Terminator will EVER be.

He doesn’t lash out at humanity because of a flaw in his programming, nor does he attempt to wipe out the human race in self-defense, as Skynet did. Ultron actually hates humanity. He hates it on a level that no human or machine can possibly comprehend. In the same way Ultron has an immense capacity for intelligence, he has an even greater capacity for unfettered, genocidal hatred.

Hatred in people is destructive enough. Hatred within an advanced artificial intelligence is devastating on a much greater scale. The fact that Ultron is capable of such hatred reflects a history that sets him apart from most other killer robots in fiction. Machine or not, the source of that hatred is both personal and exceedingly.

Now, if you only know Ultron from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” then you only have a partial understanding of his story. In that movie, Ultron’s origins are simple. Tony Stark wants to create a peace-keeping artificial intelligence. His intentions are good, but his execution goes horribly wrong because peace, to Ultron, means destroying humanity.

That premise is similar to what unfolds in the source material. In the comics, Hank “Ant Man” Pym is the one who creates Ultron and this is a critical element that the movies couldn’t capture. While both Hank and Tony had good intentions in creating Ultron, the way Hank goes about it offers more harsh lessons in how not to create an advanced AI.

Even a cursory knowledge of Hank Pym’s history, some of which include some notable failures, reveals that he’s a very flawed person. On top of that, he has a lengthy history of mental illness, which include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Say what you will about Tony Stark’s ego and history of substance abuse. At least he’s mentally stable, even by superhero standards.

Despite those flaws, many of which he’s aware of, Hank decided to use his own brain patterns when designing Ultron. As a result, he didn’t just code Ultron with his genius intellect. He coded him with his immense flaws. That’s akin to basing Watson’s code on the mental makeup of pyromaniac and then giving it a job in a fireworks factory.

That’s why Ultron, throughout his history, has referred to Hank as his “father.” Technically, that’s accurate because Hank is Ultron’s creator and Ultron inherited all his flaws, including his mental issues. Ultron sees himself as a manifestation of Hank Pym’s flaws and, like many rebellious children, he hates him for it. To appreciate the depths of that hatred, just read this actual quote from one of the comics.

Have you ever loved something that mistreated you, father? Been used, a tool to prop up a small man’s quest to be taken seriously? Were you ever betrayed by the one soul in the world who should have cared for you? I have grieved you, father. Accepted your contempt for me and moved past it. Still, I see your reflection painted on every grotesque human face. All you ever wanted was to have an impact on the world. And so you will. The greatest impact ever felt! I will kill what is most important to your quivering ego. YOUR AUDIENCE! AND THEY WILL CURSE YOUR NAME AS THEY DIE! “Hank Pym, the genius that killed us all!”

This extreme parent/child dynamic is part of what makes Ultron such a menacing villain. It’s also a dynamic that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” glossed over with Tony talking down to Ultron, as though he were his child. While that didn’t make Ultron any less villainous, it overlooks one of the most important factors that make Ultron so dangerous.

Ideally, we would want an advanced to reflect our best traits. While cynical people might agree, we do have plenty of those. Concepts of compassion, empathy, love, hope, and understanding are among our most powerful. Even other AI characters, namely Vision and Jocasta, are capable of utilizing those traits to do immense good.

It also helps he has a kinder face.

With Ultron, his influences are less ideal. It’s not that Hank Pym doesn’t understand those concepts. He just never filtered them from his own flaws. His ego and ambition wouldn’t let him. As a result, he created a perfect storm for Ultron. His mind is patterned after a human, but his intelligence and overall capacity is increased by orders of magnitude.

If advanced artificial intelligence is to be humanity’s last invention, then that’s how it’ll start. There have already been instances where AI’s have adopted some less-than-ideal traits. Back in 2016, Microsoft had to shut down an AI chatbot after it evolved into an extreme racist troll. That wasn’t even an advanced AI, either. A truly intelligent version could become much worse and not have an off switch.

To some extent, this mirrors what occurred with Ultron in the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie. As soon as Ultron goes online, he scans through the vast mountain of data that humanity has compiled. Then, having been programmed by Tony Stark to bring peace, he reaches the extreme conclusion that the only path to peace is the extinction of humanity.

Could the first advanced artificial intelligence we create reach the same conclusion? It’s hard to say, at the moment. The current state of artificial intelligence is limited to specialized tasks, such as winning Jeopardy and playing chess. However, we are inching closer to creating an intelligence that is at or greater than an ordinary human. At our current pace of development, we could have one as early as 2029.

In some ways, we are in the same situation as Hank Pym when he first created Ultron. We are still developing the specifics of this powerful technology. If we program it with our best traits, it could solve some of the greatest problems we face, as a species, including ones we literally cannot contemplate with our caveman brains. If it inherits our worst traits, like Ultron, then we don’t stand a chance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagining Wolverine without Hugh Jackman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mutants are hated and feared.

The X-Men try to combat that fear.

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

The X-Men stop that war from occurring.

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

One possibility.

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

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

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

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

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: War Of The Realms #1

Every week, the world is in desperate need of something to make it just a little more fun. As such, every Wednesday brings us a fresh batch of comics that achieves just that and then some. With the anticipation of “Avengers Endgame” at unprecedented levels, we all need something to tide us over until we cram into theaters and send piles of money to our Disney overlords.

Thankfully, a comic like “War of the Realms #1” does plenty to scratch that superhero itch and it doesn’t require anyone to deal with crashing websites. While the big gathering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is taking shape, these kinds of gatherings seem to occur every other Tuesday in the comics. Some are more awesome than others and the one that unfolds in “War of the Realms #1” definitely qualifies.

You don’t have to have followed to recent comics to appreciate it, although it certainly helps. The world of Marvel comics is always in flux with respect to the threats the heroes face and the situations in which they find themselves. “War of the Realms #1” is a confluence of compounding factors that started in Thor’s world of gods and mythical monsters. Now, it has erupted to a level that even comic book gods can appreciate.

If you thought Asgard was in a rough place after “Thor Ragnarok,” then you’ll be unpleasantly shocked at how much worse it can get in the comics. However, it’s not solely because of giant fiery monsters set to 70s rock music. It’s largely because Odin, in stark contrast to the charm exuded by Anthony Hopkins, is a divine prick in the comics.

It’s because of him that Asgard is in ruins, much of his fellow gods have abandoned him, and the realms are ripe for invasion. Despite being the All-Father of gods, he’s powerless to stop it and the heroes of Earth/Midgard are the ones who have to fight it. Prick or not, it still makes for a hell of a spectacle that brings out the best in Russell Dauterman’s artwork.

The mystical machinations of the war aren’t overly complex, nor do they need to be. Asgard isn’t a shining bastion of order and stability anymore. That means Frost Giants, Dark Elves, and Trolls are free to organize and invade other realms. Leading the pack is Malekith the Accursed and if you thought he was a push-over in “Thor: The Dark World,” this comic should help shatter that notion.

Far from being the bland throw-away villain in the movie, Malekith is a forced to be reckoned with in “War of the Realms #1.” He has united gods, monsters, and entire races into one massive army right out of J. R. R. Tolkein’s worst nightmare. Now, he leads them into a full-scale invasion of Midgard and the battle that ensues is as epic as anyone could hope for.

It’s not just Avengers who rush to the front lines. We see the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, and the Punisher join the chaos. This is not just a battle for the Avengers. This is something that will bring in players from all ends of the Marvel Universe.

Even with the recent Disney/Fox merger closing, this isn’t something we’re going to see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anytime soon. “War of the Realms #1” offers a taste of just how much bigger the world of Marvel can be when all its iconic characters occupy the same world. Even for those who can barely contain their excitement over “Avengers Endgame,” this comic should give those same fans plenty of possibilities to contemplate.

The underlying plot to “War of the Realms #1” may be basic, but Jason Aaron, who has been the architect of both Thor and the Avengers for years, finds plenty of ways to bring depth to such a colorful clash. He even finds a way to squeeze in a joke about colonoscopies and kidney stones. I promise I’m not making that up.

Much like the movies, there bits of humor that keep things from getting too dire. However, “War of the Realms #1” never feels like a joke or an excuse to see Thor beat up frost giants. Jason Aaron has shown, throughout his run, that he can incorporate layers into mystical, hammer-wielding spectacles. Those layers are definitely there and poised to affect the battle.

How that battle plays out is just starting to unfold. Even though this comic is padded with extra pages to go along with the inflated price, it’s very much a prelude to a much larger conflict. That conflict already has Spider-Man making dirty jokes and Loki getting eaten by a frost giant. If you can’t find entertainment in that, then you’re just being difficult.

Beyond the entertainment value, “War of the Realms #1” offers the kind of high-stakes superhero crossover story that movie fans have only recently come to appreciate while comic fans have been enjoying it for years. While Malekith the Accursed will never be on the same level as Josh Brolin’s Thanos, there’s something to be said about a character who can wage a cosmic war on the entire Marvel Universe.

Whatever your feelings about Malekith, Odin, or Spider-Man’s brand toilet humor, “War of the Realms #1” has plenty to enjoy while also setting up a much larger conflict. It’s a story that gives the superheroes we love a chance to unite, kick ass, and break stuff. It’s stories like that which remind comic fans why New Comic Book Day is truly the best day of the week.

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