Superman, Nakama, and Me Aug17

Superman, Nakama, and Me...

The last person I thought I would be able to relate to is the Man of Steel. I’m not inhumanly strong, nor fast as a speeding bullet, nor have I x-ray vision or super hearing. For the longest time I didn’t care much for Superman. When my sister and I were kids, my parents bought us a DVD containing a bunch of vintage cartoons, including the original 1940s Superman. Even from a young age, I recognized that he was overpowered and always won the day with barely any opposition. Years later, I watched the show Smallville, a program that focused on his growing up with an adopted family and learning about his Kryptonian origins. However, not until the release of Man of Steel did I truly care for Superman, mostly because of his parents. I am adopted. Though my birth mother is living, my birth father passed away shortly after I was born, just like Superman’s. My adopted parents couldn’t have children, just like the Kents. Growing up, many people have asked if I knew my “real parents.” I don’t like that question, because it undervalues the ones who raised me. My adopted parents are my real parents. Just because I don’t share blood with them doesn’t mean they’re not as important as my genetic mother and father. My adopted parents are my “real parents” because they shaped me. Like Clark, I sometimes felt like an alien among my family. I could never relate to my friends when they spoke about how they inherited their parents’ features or quirks or when their mothers spoke about their pregnancies. Often I kept the fact that I’m adopted hidden until someone asked why I didn’t look like my younger sister or my dad. My birth father’s life was...

Living with a Bullet Wound Jul15

Living with a Bullet Wound...

Occasionally, I play a little game in the back of my mind where I imagine I go back in time and change something. Sometimes I go back and slap past me in the face right before I was going to do something stupid. Sometimes I go back and warn myself about a danger that is ahead. Every now and then I go back and change someone else’s actions—sometimes drastically—so I don’t have to suffer today for what they did back then. I play this game when I’m frustrated that I don’t have enough money to do what I want or when I’m feeling annoyed that I have to deal with an obnoxious family dynamic. But most of the time I play this game because I’m feeling depressed and want that feeling of hopelessness to go away. That’s when I imagine I could go back and somehow change an abusive childhood, a system of emotional damage or that one event that still haunts me… things that would take away the pain that I live with every day. So when Barry Allen sat on the porch experiencing the deep mourning that comes from watching his parents die right before him, giving up the perfect life with Iris to save Joe and knowing that not one but two mentors he trusted and loved turned out to be vicious and destructive forces he’d have to battle with, I felt his pain. And when he tells Iris that he can’t figure out how to engage in a relationship with her even though this is something he’s been dreaming about for years, his pain is heart breaking. Barry’s biggest problem is that he continues to live in the past and doesn’t look to the future. Iris leaves him, saying she’ll...

X-Men Apocalypse Isn’t About the End of the World Jul11

X-Men Apocalypse Isn’t About the End of the World...

One of my favourite parts of X-Men: Apocalypse is the scene toward the end of the movie, when various mutants pool their abilities together to rebuild Xavier’s mansion. Jean Gray hoists stones and beams with her telekinesis near a floating Magneto in plainclothes; Storm, who with Magneto had been under Apocalypse’s thrall, stands among the group as well. It’s a fitting picture of the possibility of renewal after and amid brokenness—the literal rebuilding of the mansion parallels the rebuilding of the X-Men team and the possibility that Xavier’s strained relationships with Magneto and Mystique can also be rebuilt. It’s also a very familiar type of scene. I’m hard-pressed to think of a single superhero movie that doesn’t end with an explosive (literally), destructive climax, followed by either a subsequent rebuilding, or at least the acknowledgement that a loss has been suffered. The rebuilding generally represents some restoration—whether it’s of a team, of an individual body, or of a literal building like the mansion. X2: X-Men United, for example, also involves an invaded and destroyed mansion that must be rebuilt. The Avengers leaves us with the sense that they have finally assembled. Groot sacrifices himself for his friends but, rather than being gone, regrows as a tiny shoot with a penchant for the Jackson 5. At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman’s infamous reputation is further disgraced, and viewers mourn the injustice of it, because we crave public, positive acknowledgement of his crusade. Disaster, in X-Men: Apocalypse, isn’t only something that can be overcome—it’s something that was defeated before some of us were born. This trope of costly destruction followed either by rebuilding, or the longing for renewal kept just out of reach, isn’t limited to superhero stories, of course, but superhero stories tend...

Mutually Assured Punishment Jun24

Mutually Assured Punishment...

There are two things the Punisher doesn’t waste: words and bullets. “Bang.” The Punisher’s first and only word in his Daredevil debut tells me everything I need to know about him. He’s already blown away a bar full of Irish mobsters and most of a hospital security team, barely pausing to reload, and now I know he doesn’t blink in the face of a superhero. While the Punisher lives in a world full of heroes with colourful costumes and catchphrases—do-gooders who want to save the world—the dark paladin pretty much has one solution to any problem: murder it. And it’s when he and Daredevil start trading blows that things get really interesting. Daredevil is steeped in a Catholic ideology of law and order—he refuses to kill because he believes that judgment is better left to God or the law. The Punisher sees the broken system laid out before him and decides his justice is better than none, so he will be judge, jury, and—most notably—executioner. The Punisher subscribes to a theology of redemptive violence. He doesn’t believe what he’s doing is “good” or “right,” only that it is necessary. When Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson lead the Punisher’s defense in court, they try to leverage his military service to the jury and explain his murderous rampages as a form of PTSD, but the Punisher wants no part in it. The idea of taking justice into your own hands and righting wrongs on your terms is very attractive. He has no delusions about what he’s doing. He tells Daredevil, “You hit them and they get back up; I hit them and they stay down.” Daredevil believes if he takes the high road long enough, the world will take notice and shape up. It’s a fairly...

Atomic Robo and Choosing Joy Jun22

Atomic Robo and Choosing Joy...

“Darkness! No Parents!” Batman sings after rescuing the hero of The Lego Movie. “Batman’s a true artist,” his girlfriend adds. “Dark and brooding.” I love that moment because it skewers the mopey, self-absorbed, grim stories we’ve been dealing with since the dark age of comics in the 80s. Atomic Robo is a comic series created intentionally to reject the angst of many superhero stories. Developed by the team of Brian Clevinger (writer) and Scott Wegner (artist), Atomic Robo is built on a five-point pledge which starts with “No Angst.” Through the ten collected volumes of the series so far, the story has more than lived up to its promise. The title character is an atomic-powered, self-aware robot built by Nikolai Tesla in the early 1900s. The Robot’s lifetime is presented in a non-chronological fashion, a kaleidoscope of stories that include saving the world from mobile pyramids, Nazi brains-in-jars, and otherworldly horrors from beyond time. Robo faces every challenge with courage and humour. In the face of hardship, it is so simple to shut down, snipe from the sidelines, and refuse to fight back.   In one story, he and his team of scientists are called upon to defend the city of Reno from an invasion of giant ants. While Robo is on the ground battling the ants, his team hovers overhead in a chopper debating exactly how such insects could even exist. Frustrated both by his team’s lack of focus and his inability to defeat the ants, Robo says, “Guys, can we concentrate? Guns aren’t working.” The team answers back that the only way to defeat the bugs to is understand how they came to be. While they keep arguing, Robo grabs a handy Buick and smashes the nearest ant to jelly. “Automobiles have been the...

Taking Off the Masks Jun20

Taking Off the Masks

Glasses on, he’s a mild-mannered reporter at the Daily Planet. Glasses off, he’s a Son of Krypton, ready to save the universe. Glasses on, she’s Diana Prince—a sweet, unassuming officer in the US military. Glasses off, she’s Wonder Woman, Princess of the Amazonians. Their glasses serve as masks to hide their secret identities. I love that, for at least these two, the disguises they wear are in their “regular” lives—they take off their “masks” to be the hero that is natural to them, instead of putting one on to become something “other.” Many superheroes wear masks that are important to their survival. Masks allow them to function in regular society so that they can have something of a normal life, gather intel, and protect their loved ones from villains who might seek to hurt or control them. Masks offer protection, boundaries, and retreat. In The Princess Bride, when asked by Fezzik why he wore a mask, Wesley replied, “It’s just that masks are terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.” His answer is a flippant comment to dodge the question, but it is also a truth. Masks are terribly comfortable. Let’s face it (see what I did there?)—we all portray to the world the image that we want seen, the person that we want to be perceived as. Social media makes it so much easier than it used to be… I can create the mask of whatever reality I want to all of my “friends” through pictures, memes, and text, and I never have to step outside or run into another human being to do it. If I wear masks too much, I run the risk of forgetting who I am. Technology has created a myriad of ways for me to mask myself.  I can post things that make me look good, but leave off the things that pain or embarrass me. With online gaming, I can engage people around the world, creating a sense of camaraderie without the necessity of intimacy. With online shopping, I can order everything I need to survive and have it delivered without speaking to a single person. All of these things are amazing and awesome, and to an introvert like myself, really a dream come true!  I can live in almost complete anonymity if I want to. The art of social interaction is dying in many places. People’s feelings are neglected; the consequences of words and actions are  forgotten. People have a tendency to be less concerned about hurting other’s feelings when not communicating face to face. But even after stepping outside to deal with other human beings face-to-face—which I actually do for a living—I continue to wear masks. Sometimes it’s necessary; in dealing with other people’s feelings and grief, I often have to mask mine so I can focus on their pain. When I’m talking with a family who has lost a loved one, or a person suffering with addiction, homelessness, or abuse, I have to keep a strong face on so that I don’t turn into an empathetic puddle next to them. If my child is sick or hurt and I’m worried, I need to hide my fear so that theirs isn’t magnified. There are times when wearing a mask is for the good of others. But, there are also times that I wear one to protect myself. When I choose not to make myself vulnerable, when I don’t like who I am and wish I was someone different, when I don’t feel like I’m good enough, or if I’m afraid of not being accepted in a particular circumstance, I put on that comfortable thing, the face that I am willing to present. Sometimes that mask is self-deprecation—I’m going to make myself a joke before you do. It might look like apathy or laughing off a hurtful comment. I might wear the mask of self-righteousness or defense if...

It’s Not You, It’s My Enemies Jun03

It’s Not You, It’s My Enemies...

There are many good reasons for superheroes to keep their identities secret. However, there’s one not-so-great reason. In particular, it seems to be a favourite of Superman’s, Batman’s, Spider-man’s, and countless others’. It’s what TV Tropes calls “It’s not You, It’s My Enemies,” where the superhero does not reveal his identity to his love interest in order to protect her from his adversaries. While I understand the need to keep loved ones out of danger, I think this particular trope is one that we need to stop using. In CW’s show The Flash, Barry Allen is a CSI for the Central City Police Department. When he was 11 years old, his mother was murdered by mysterious red and yellow lighting, and his father went to prison for the crime; Barry has been trying to make sense of the event and prove his father’s innocence ever since. In the pilot episode, Barry is struck by lightning at the same time the S.T.A.R Labs particle accelerator explodes, sending out a wave of dark matter. Nine months later he wakes up at S.T.A.R Labs from a coma and discovers that he has super speed. He shows his new powers to the three scientists who work there—Dr. Harrison Wells, Dr. Caitlin Snow, and Cisco Ramon—and they team up to help him learn about his new abilities. One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s only the male superheroes who use this excuse. At the same time, Barry’s adoptive father, Detective Joe West, is hunting down a criminal with the supposed ability to control the weather, Clyde Mardon. This causes Barry and the others to realize that others were also affected by the dark matter, and Barry decides to go up against Clyde with his speed. The episode culminates in...

A Bizarro Kind of Love Feb01

A Bizarro Kind of Love...

If Superman turned on us, we’d be toast. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…” This old timey description doesn’t really do justice to what we have come to know of the hero’s capabilities. Back in the 1940s, mistaking a superhero for a bird or a plane was the best they could do, because that was pretty much what they had. Nowadays, Superman’s pantheon of villains and intergalactic foes has progressed far beyond human technology, requiring Superman to exceed his previously known limits—after all, he has to be a match for whoever attacks the earth. And he is. His powers (unless you throw kryptonite into the mix) are nearly limitless. So what would happen if he was to turn evil? He’s only human, after all. Well, actually, he’s not, but you know what I mean. Earth would face the most powerful villain it has ever seen. But I’m not scared. Because Superman’s not real, you say? No! That’s just crazy talk. I am not afraid of my hero turning bad because he constantly reveals his gentle nature and compassion for the small, the weak, and the needy. To me, Superman is the embodiment of love because he wills the good of all others—even though he really doesn’t have to. He treats Bizarro, not like the monster that everyone else sees, but like a child who needs assistance. Superman’s encounters with Bizarro are my favourite examples of this. I like to think I’m kind of a niceish person, but if I was faced with a warped clone of myself who had all of my ninja powers but lacked my even temper and responsible conscience, I’m not sure how kindly I’d react. More to...

The Rorschach Test: Watchmen, Truth, and Lies Jan18

The Rorschach Test: Watchmen, Truth, and Lies...

I first got into comics when I was in junior high. It was a good time for comics, the simpler days before Marvel’s Ultimate complicated the continuity of the Marvel Universe, before upstart companies like Image and Valiant further challenged what it meant to be a superhero. The additions to my collection were based primarily on my interest in individual superheroes rather than the quality of the narratives. I was an undiscerning reader: I read The Amazing Spiderman, The Uncanny X-men and a few other Marvel titles because I liked those characters. I bought various Batman titles because Batman’s cool and Superman titles because… well, I don’t know why I bought Superman titles. I have never understood why anyone liked Superman. And then someone told me about Alan Moore and I picked up Watchmen.  I wasn’t prepared for what I read. It was so many different genres all wrapped into one: mystery, revisionist superhero narrative, political treatise, alternate history. Watchmen was my first exposure to a comic raising deep moral, ethical, and philosophical questions, often questions without clear answers. And it remains one of the few comic I return to again and again because of how Moore treats those questions. When all the conspiracies within Watchmen have been uncovered, when Ozymandias’s plot to create world peace in an alternate 1985 has been revealed, truth and deception remain powerful thematic elements. Once the truth that Ozymandias has framed Dr. Manhattan for nuclear attack on New York in order to unite the United States and the USSR is revealed, the heroes must wrestle with the information they possess in the light of the new-found peace that could stabilize the world. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see the dangers of Rorschach’s black and white perspective....

Oh, the superhumanity Nov09

Oh, the superhumanity...

The second that we got to the train station—before we even parked—I spotted some co-attendees for my first-ever Comic Con. The red cloak and Thor’s hammer were the first things to clue me in. Costumed folk were everywhere on the way to the convention, and as I walked the streets of New York with my husband, we played many rounds of “Cosplay or Everyday?” Some I was able to figure out and some remain inconclusive for me. My husband and I met the first Godzilla suit actor, Haruo Nakajima, and got his autograph for my son, who has wanted to be a kaiju actor since he was four. Doing that for my son made my day, but seeing the cosplayers, the merchandise booths, the life-sized TARDIS, and the exhibits was amazing—I’d like to do that every year. But my favourite part was attending a presentation by Scott Snyder (Batman writer), called “DC Entertainment Spotlight on Scott Snyder.” Snyder shared the challenges of writing and all of the rejections he faced before he got anywhere (that was great for me to hear). However, his best insight was when he shared about his vision of Batman. Much of the discussion focused on the villains that plague Batman, because no hero can be discussed independently of his or her villain(s). While a true hero isn’t defined by his villains (try as the villains might to make it so), he is, in part, shaped by them. Snyder pointed out that the villains totally outweigh the heroes—the hero-to-villain ratio favours villains almost exponentially—making the defeat of evil an insurmountable task.Batman’s awareness of his weakness makes him stronger and a better hero. In the Batman universe, the most formidable villain is Gotham itself. The city is the embodiment of evil;...

Certain doom Aug14

Certain doom

Sometimes I forget that villains consider themselves to be the heroes of their own stories. Take Dr. Doom, for example. He believes he’s the hero of everyone’s story. In Doomwar #3, Dr. Doom faces a mystical arch that blocks his path, inscribed with the words “Only Through Purity Unencumbered by Pretense May You Pass.” Dr. Doom has killed untold thousands in his conquest to gain power, so purity isn’t exactly his namesake. I mean, his name pretty much says it all. He removes all of his armour—something he has never done up to this point in history—and walks through the arch naked and totally vulnerable. He is transported to the mysterious cosmic lair of Bast, the Panther God of Wakanda, an incredibly powerful deity who could destroy Dr. Doom in a moment should he be found of impure heart. Bast recalls the decades of death and destruction Dr. Doom has caused and asks him why he would think for a moment he is pure enough to pass through alive. Freedom and security exist in a precarious balance. Dr. Doom genuinely humbles himself before Bast, and explains the justification for his actions. He says that he’s looked into tens of thousands of possible futures and in every one the human race is enslaved or destroyed by an alien power; every future, that is, except the one where he rules humanity as an absolute dictator. Every attempt he made to overthrow the world’s governing powers, every time he fought to destroy the Fantastic Four or the Avengers? He did it for the good of humankind. Bast sees that Dr. Doom is telling the truth, deeming his intentions “pure.” He allows him to pass. This is why Dr. Doom will never admit defeat. If what he’s seen...

What Would Punk Rock Jesus Do? Jun25

What Would Punk Rock Jesus Do?...

A reality TV show executive clones the DNA of Christ, implants that clone into the womb of an 18-year-old virgin and videos her life so it can be watched by the world, The Truman Show style. How’s that for a solid premise? I’m hooked. Every ounce of me wants to review this comic, aptly named Punk Rock Jesus, but according to the Managing Editor (i.e. the Commander), I am “not supposed to be writing reviews.” I hope you read that in a snarky tone because, despite snark being completely foreign to her speech, it is how I falsely remember the conversation. Without giving much away about the story, Punk Rock Jesus explores a powerful question: can people’s religious beliefs be exploited for profit? The answer, which should be to no one’s surprise, is an absolute yes. I mean, if we can exploit people’s desire for marriage (The Bachelor and its affiliates), spiritual exploitation isn’t so surprising. Money complicates every situation, in the church and outside of it. Years ago, I was listening to a podcast that featured Scott Kurtz of PVP Online fame; I recall him telling a story about his encounter with The Christian Plumber. This legit plumber would come to his house, do the work he was hired to do, offer prayer, and leave a Bible verse on the table as he left, written on a card. The weird thing is—he wasn’t a Christian. It was all a marketing gimmick and, while I don’t appreciate the dishonesty, I can admire the ingenuity of it. In North America we have Christian schools, Christian bookstores, Christian fast food chains, Christian plumbers, and even I work at a Christian radio station. As customers and clients, Christians are fiercely loyal, so there is a lot of...

Why the knight stays dark Jun11

Why the knight stays dark...

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? This question is the engine that drives the battle between Batman and his arch-est of arch nemeses, the Joker. Batman’s story is one of tragedy. Bruce Wayne was a boy when his parents were shot and killed in front of him. They were the victims of a desperate criminal in a desperate city. Wayne is an orphan left in the care of the family butler, and he is heir to Wayne Enterprises and its massive fortune. He decides that as long as he draws breath, he will do whatever he can to make sure no one else has to feel that pain and loss. He decides to become a symbol. He decides to become Batman. Wayne spends the rest of his life training every part of himself to fight against injustice and those who would prey on the vulnerable. He closes himself off to everyone but a handful of people whom he trusts with the hope that no one will ever get hurt because of his actions. The knight stays in the darkness so others don’t have to. Over a long period of time, Batman starts to make a positive change in Gotham City. Crime is lowered and the streets are safer. Batman even takes in a protégé to ensure that his legacy of protection will not end with him. Things are looking up until a criminal shows up on the Gotham scene with seemingly no regard for human life. The word on the street was this guy called himself the Joker. Batman had dealt with all sorts of dangerous criminals in the past, but this one is different. The Joker is the human embodiment of madness. He has no cause. He has no vendetta. He acts as an agent of pure chaos....

Be thou my Vision May20

Be thou my Vision

There’s nothing science fiction loves more than a saviour. All our favourite stories seem to depend on the chosen one who will come and defy the otherwise unconquerable odds, leading the good guys to a lasting victory against the dark and sinister group against whom they fight. Never tell me the odds. Sometimes these saviours are unlikely heroes, thrust into the spotlight, left to rely on a colourful cast of friends to survive the first two acts before discovering who they were meant to be all along. Sometimes they emerge from the womb a certified badass and leave a trail of blood, brass and bodies behind them on their way into the heart of darkness. No saviour ever made a difference without giving their life, literally or figuratively. But every once in a while, a saviour is born into a story as an unexpected hero. A saviour like Vision. Whether you believe the stories about him are true or not, Jesus—as a character—was the perfect and archetypical saviour. A poor child born connected to the king’s bloodline, but with no money or political power. He was nothing like the priests of the time wanted or expected, and in fact, Jesus basically told them they were doing everything wrong. Replace first century Jerusalem with twenty-first century New York City, and Jewish priests with a murderous, all-knowing artificial intelligence, and Vision is Jesus. He is created as a combination of the pinnacle of technological achievement, and the closest thing Tony Stark has to a son, Jarvis. Ultron’s dream for Vision was as his right hand—a sword of judgement to be wielded from the throne over the world. But when Vision awoke as the very embodiment of an Infinity Gem, he was something else entirely. He was the...

Deadpool: Flirting with death Mar24

Deadpool: Flirting with death...

The fear of death serves as an agent for many stories, especially within the Marvel universe. From the death of Uncle Ben to Bruce Banner’s constant state of panic about the monster lying in wait ready to reap death and destruction on the world, death is something to be feared. Most characters do whatever it takes to not die. But not Deadpool. Deadpool does not run from death; in fact, he’s fallen in love. Born as Wade Wilson, he made his living as an assassin. His motivations were unclear, but we know he was very good at what he did, and what he did wasn’t very nice. While at the top of his game, Wilson developed an aggressive form of cancer. He voluntarily entered the Weapon X program (which, you may remember, is how Wolverine got those fancy metal upgrades to his bone claws) in the hopes of preserving his life. Weapon X infused Wolverine’s healing ability with Wilson’s DNA, but at a supercharged rate. What if we were to love death? Wilson flirted with death while he was being experimented on. Literally. He was so close to dying most of the time that he would often see Death (in the form of a woman) looming over him. He eventually fell in love with her, and she found herself irresistibly attracted to him. It was his time with Death that made those torturous days of experimentation bearable for him. Wilson’s cancer interacted with the increased healing factor and made it even more powerful (according to comic book science). Thus, Wade Wilson was reborn as Deadpool, and as much as he wanted to die to spend eternity with Death, he became virtually unkillable. During his adventures, Deadpool has his head cut off, half of his body liquefied, and...

Swinging a mile in Spider-Man’s tights Feb02

Swinging a mile in Spider-Man’s tights...

“With great power comes great responsibility.” This six-word sentence, said first in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) by Ben Parker to a young Peter Parker, has become one of the most iconic sentences in all of comic book history. This statement condenses Marvel’s purest sense of heroism into a balanced and understandable concept: those of us who have the ability to do good are charged with the duty to do so. Peter Parker is the hero who most comic fans wish they could be. Wolverine is indestructible, but lonely. The Hulk is the ultimate power fantasy, but lacks self-control. Iron Man may be a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, but he’s not exactly well adjusted. Marvel is no stranger to heroes with grey-area morality.Kids grow up pretending to shoot webs from their wrists and swing from lampshades because something about Peter Parker and Spider-Man has resonated with them for over 50 years. In 2012, Marvel shook things up by ending 50 years of Amazing Spider-Man and starting up Superior Spider-Man to run in its place, with a surprising twist. Otto Octavius has swapped his mind with Peter Parker’s and left Peter to die in his own deteriorating body. For two years, Otto becomes Spider-Man. Having inherited all of Peter’s memories, he believes that, unshackled by Peter’s concrete morality, he can be a better hero, and—you guessed it—a superior Spider-Man. To New York City, Spider-Man is still Spider-Man—he’s still spinning webs of any size and catching thieves just like flies. The first time anyone notices something is off is when Superior Spider-Man corners a murderous villain named Massacre. Spider-Man turns Massacre’s weapon against him and publicly executes him by shooting him in the head. Though Massacre deserved to pay for his crimes, this is not something...