The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It is another entry in my ever-growing Jack’s Comic Gems playlist. This time, I highlight a gem from the lands of Latveria with Fantastic Four: Books of Doom. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: Villains
Last week, I went on my first extended vacation in over a year. I actually left the state, traveled somewhere nice, and enjoyed myself in ways that didn’t just involve lounging on my couch. It was a wonderful feeling. The fact that I got to enjoy New Comic Book Day on the beach on a nice summer day just made it so much more enjoyable.
Seriously, it was one of the most relaxing feelings I’ve had in quite some time. It was refreshing, therapeutic, and so many other things I don’t have words to describe.
Now, I’m back home and back in my routine. I’m still recovering from some nasty sunburns. I think I’ve used an entire bottle of aloe vera, but the worst is behind me. It’s a good thing too because I’m healed up just in time for another New Comic Book Day. I may not be able to enjoy this one on a nice sunny beach, but sometimes my couch and a nice cup of coffee is still plenty enjoyable.
My vacation may be over, but that’s the beauty of being a fan of comics and having a Comixology account. Every week feels like an event. Every week gives you something to look forward to. How you enjoy it is up to you. Last week, I got to enjoy it on the beach. This week, I get to enjoy it on my couch. Both can be plenty relaxing for all the right reasons.
I encourage others to embrace that feeling. To assist, here’s my pull list and pick of the week. Enjoy!
My Pull List
My Pick Of The Week
Kang The Conqueror #1
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s another video about comic books, which shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. It’s also about Victor Von Doom, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been following this site for any extended period. This video is actually based on an article I wrote a while back, but with a few tweaks here and there. Given his eventual arrival into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think the time is right to celebrate why he’s such a great character. Enjoy!
You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.
It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.
From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.
In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.
I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.
This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.
Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.
While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.
What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.
There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?
That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.
Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.
Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.
The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.
It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.
In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.
That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.
That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?
For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.
In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.
To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.
For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.
The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is a brief exploration of one of the greatest fictional villains of all time, Lex Luthor. There has been an ongoing trend in recent year to develop more complex villains with equally complex motivations. However, there’s still room for the kind of old school, pure evil villain and nobody epitomizes that more than Lex Luthor. Hopefully, this video gives everyone a new appreciation of that. Enjoy!
These are exciting times for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and fans of superhero media, in general. The COVID-19 pandemic may have disrupted and delayed certain plans, but things do seem to be back on track. The success of the recent Disney+ shows and the release of “Black Widow” are encouraging signs that the MCU will continue to grow, evolve, and bedazzle.
However, if the MCU is to continue its unprecedented streak of success, it’ll have to address one massive Thanos-shaped hole that has remained since “Avengers Endgame.” Even as it introduces a new generation of characters while continuing to explore others, it’ll still need one key detail to keep the awesome flowing.
It needs a powerful, over-arching villain who will require the Avengers to assemble once more.
That is no easy feat to pull off. Thanos set the bar very high through three phases of MCU movies. He raised the bar for villains of all kinds, both for the MCU and for movies in general. He presented a threat that required the full force of the Avengers to stop. That’s why so many of us cheered during the climactic battle in “Avengers Endgame.”
The idea of any character presenting a threat like that is difficult to imagine. However, Marvel Studios has proven time and again that they can keep raising the bar. It certainly helps that Marvel has no shortage of villains from the comics, but the recent events of “Loki” have already revealed that one in particular is poised to become that next great threat.
He was already confirmed to show up in “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” He also has been cast to an accomplished actor in Jonathan Majors. Most importantly, he’s a character who has a lengthy history in the comics of being a huge threat to both the world and the multiverse. Much like Thanos, he has often required the Avengers to assemble in a big way in order to stop him.
By almost every measure, Kang has a lot going for him. He even has more to offer in terms of overall complexity. Both the comics and the “Loki” finale mention that Kang has multiple version of himself. You could argue that’s one of his most defining characteristics. Since he’s a time traveler, there are a near infinite version of him with varying levels of power, motivations, and malice.
One could be Immortus, who often carries himself as Kang’s final form.
One could be Iron Lad, a younger version of Kang who tries to walk a more heroic path.
One could be Rama-Tut, a version of Kang who ruled Ancient Egypt as a pharaoh.
It’s that flexibility that puts him in a unique position to be the MCU’s next great villain. It’s also something that helps him stand apart from Thanos in a big way. Thanos was big, bad, and menacing, but there was still only one of him to deal with. There are many version of Kang. Some are potential allies while others could be an even greater threat than Thanos. That could add a lot of drama and tension to every battle.
Since the rise of more complex villains like Killmonger and Baron Zemo, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made a concerted effort to give depth to their villains. Kang, given his many variations, is in a better position to provide that than most villains. You can have version of him trying to avoid his ultimate fate of becoming a ruthless conqueror doing battle with others who’ve already embraced that fate.
In the comics, this has always been a major struggle for Kang. It’s also a personal struggle and the Avengers often get caught up in it. As shows like “WandaVision” have so nicely demonstrated, Marvel Studios have shown how much they can milk a personal struggle for emotional resonance. If they can do that with Kang in a way that builds further drama with the Avengers, then they could set up something every bit as epic as “Avengers Endgame.”
That is likely the ultimate goal. However, there’s still a chance this effort could fail or fall short of Marvel Studios’ lofty standards.
I offer this possibility as both a long-time Marvel fan and one who isn’t too big a fan of Kang. In fact, I’ll go on record as saying he’s one of my least favorite villains. My reasons are purely personal. I just think he’s one of those characters who’s too malleable. He’s also one of those characters who do a lot, yet still ultimately achieve so little.
That’s just an unpleasant side-effect of him being a time traveler. While plenty of other Marvel characters travel through time, Kang really overdoes it. You could argue it’s the only truly defining aspect of his character. As a result, it could also be something that seriously hinders his story.
It’s not unusual for stories involving Kang to get confusing and complicated, even by time travel standards. It’s also exceedingly common for his time traveling antics to be solved with more time travel. Every time he seems on the cusp of defeating the Avengers, something happens that either changes the timeline or undoes everything Kang did to that point. He’s one of those villains who can do a lot, but leave a very limited impact.
That’s why I’m not too fond of him. Too much of what he does is easily erased or retconned by more time travel. On top of that, his reliance on time travel basically guarantees that you’ll be confused by the sequence of events within a couple issues at least. I can’t imagine it being much simpler over the course of multiple big budget movies.
That’s not to say he can’t work as the MCU’s next main villain. Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige have proven time and again that they’re capable of making these seemingly impossible stories work. They were able to transform Thanos into this death-obsessed madman into someone with more complexity and emotional range. If they can do that with Thanos, then who knows what they can do with Kang?
Hopefully, we’ll find out soon enough. Jonathan Majors has already given us a taste in “Loki.” I look forward to seeing something even bigger in “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” These are exciting and chaotic times for the MCU. Only time will tell how chaotic it gets and for a character like Kang, that’s all too fitting.
The following is a vide for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It once again explores “Megamind,” a movie I’ve highlighted in the past for it’s colorful subversion of the superhero genre. It felt like the time was right to discuss it on my channel. This time, I explore how “Megamind” gave us the first true Incel villain before the concept of an “incel” was a thing.
Like anything involving incels, it’s a distressing topic and bound to generate some less-than-comfortable feelings. I still welcome comments and discussion. Enjoy!
We currently live in a golden age of villains. Between Thanos, Erik Killmonger, the Joker, and Walter White, there has been a veritable surge of complex characters who also happen to be compelling villains. While there’s still a place for the kind of pure evil that Disney villains have relied on for years, this trend in a more refined brand of villainy feels both refreshing and overdue.
I’ve written extensively on villains before. As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and movies, I’ve consumed, contemplated, and scrutinized hero/villain dynamics more than most. In doing so, I’ve noticed plenty of trends. Like most aspects of popular culture, it’s always evolving. Very few themes and details remain constant, especially when it comes to antagonists.
That said, there’s one trend in villains that has remained somewhat constant over the course of my lifetime. It’s also a trend that I see as intensifying, albeit in a subtle way. Some of it coincides with the growing complexity of villains in popular culture, but most of the trend precedes the current era of superhero-dominated media. If anything, superhero media helped accelerate it.
While most villains and heroes rarely identify with a certain political affiliation, it’s usually not hard to discern how most would vote in a contemporary election. I would even argue that it’s easier to surmise what a villain’s political leanings are compared to that of heroes. Take any villain from the past 10 years of movies, be they superhero or otherwise. Chances are a vast majority of them would identify as conservative.
Now, I understand conservatism is an exceedingly broad term. It has a dictionary definition, but as a political philosophy, there are many sub-sets, divisions, and variations. From fiscal conservatives to social conservative to neoconservatives, there are many wildly different ideologies that still identify as conservative. A few actively clash with one another.
Those complexities aside, there are some core tenants associated with conservatism and it’s those very tenants that make it such an effective basis for villains. Chief among conservative values is the idea that traditional norms, institutions, and values be maintained. Change isn’t actively dissuaded, but it is viewed with caution and suspicion. To be conservative is to affirm the status quo, to some extent.
That’s all well and good if the status quo is beneficial to everyone. It’s not so preferable for those who either fail to benefit or are actively screwed over by that same status quo. Since there has never been a society in history that has achieved perfect prosperity for everyone, regardless of their minority status, there’s bound to be people who get left behind.
In our own real-world history, we’ve seen people from those disaffected groups organize and fight the status quo to better their lives. That struggle has played out in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the movement for women’s rights, and the LGBT rights movement that’s still going on today. Those who oppose these movements tend to have, broadly speaking, conservative leanings.
Look at the groups that opposed the Civil Rights movement.
They all espouse rhetoric that would put them at odds with Superman, Captain America, and most other superheroes who value justice, truth, and peace. For some, their talking points sound like ideas that only villains in the mold of Lex Luthor would agree with. While not all of them identify as overtly conservative, the standard principles are there.
Anything too different from the status quo must be wrong or evil.
Anybody too different from the people everyone else in a society must be bad, evil, or devious.
Any idea, trend, or movement that is disruptive or deviant in any way is something to be opposed.
It doesn’t just manifest in superhero movies or underdog stories, either. Look at a movie like “Footloose.” In this story, the people who ban dancing are uptight, dogmatic, religious zealots who likely voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984 when this movie came out. They were the antagonists of that story and the kids, while not overtly liberal, dared to defy them.
It can even manifest subtly in other media. In kids shows like “Recess,” “Hey Arnold,” and “Rocko’s Modern Life,” the most common antagonists are uptight authority figures who have no tolerance for new ideas, big changes, or anything remotely fun. It’s hard to imagine any of these characters voting for someone who builds their slogan around change, reform, and reinvention.
They like things the way they are. Most of them benefit from the current system and will naturally seek to preserve their place in that system. While they won’t always see themselves as villains, it’s difficult for them to come off as heroes. You can only be so heroic when your side is closely aligned with predatory business practices, fun-hating religious zealots, and unabashed war-mongers.
That’s not to say it’s impossible for liberals to be villains too. It does happen and it can be done very well when done right. I would argue that Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther” was more in line with an extreme liberal revolutionary who didn’t just want to pursue change. I would make a similar argument for Ra’s Al Ghul in “Batman Begins.”
These characters didn’t just seek to change society from its current unjust state. They sought to violently destroy it and rebuild it from the ground up. That kind of liberalism exists in the real world and it can make for compelling villains.
However, the number of villains who align with the politics of Killmonger are far fewer than those who would align with the politics of Lex Luthor. In general, it’s easier to resist change rather than embrace it. It’s also necessary to some extent for those to resist change to be uptight authority figures who are okay with coercing others to maintain traditions. Logistically, the villains in many conflicts must be conservative.
Now, that’s not to say that villains will always lean conservative in popular media. What it means to be conservative changes over time. If you were to listen to conservative rhetoric 50 years ago, they would sound very different. They might even sound liberal by today’s standards.
The same goes for liberalism of previous eras. It hasn’t always been closely aligned with the politics surrounding minority rights, income inequality, or political correctness. The liberals of the 1920s would likely clash with the liberals of today. That’s just part of the ever-evolving nature of politics.
For the time being, though, being a villain in popular culture usually means being conservative to a certain extent. Conservatives are more likely to be the rich, greedy business people who would gladly burn down a rain forest or exploit slave labor to raise profits. Conservatives are more likely to be the rule-loving, fun-hating, curfew-enforcing religious zealots who wouldn’t mind electing theocrats with every election.
These types of individuals are far more likely to be villains in a story. At the very least, they’ll side or tolerate the villain. It’s easy to believe that those who side with the religious right and well-connected rich people will generally oppose a selfless, likable protagonist. From a narrative perspective, these kinds of villains are better in that we tend to root for heroes who oppose authoritarian bullies like that.
Again, it’s guaranteed that political and cultural trends will likely change what it means to be conservative, liberal, and everything in between. For the time being, if you were to bet on the political leanings of an antagonist, the odds are mostly in favor of that antagonist being conservative.