Harvey Dent’s Other Face: Why Gotham Needs the Truth More Than Heroes May28

Harvey Dent’s Other Face: Why Gotham Needs the Truth More Than Heroes...

Gotham City is one of those fictional locations I don’t want to visit. The mob has people under its control in every institution, supervillains regularly hatch deadly plots, and a kid can’t be sure his parents will make it home safe from the opera late at night. Trying to clean up the city is like trying to cure it of cancer—corruption and deception just keep popping up in new places, regardless of attempts to wipe it out. In The Dark Knight, Batman and Detective Gordon employ vigilantism and work with tainted cops to make a difference. Nobody talks about it, but everyone knows they’re fighting fire with fire. Into this chaos, Harvey Dent enters as the white knight. He’s fearless in the courtroom, ingenious in carting bad guys off the streets, and charming enough to win the heart of Rachel Dawes. Even Bruce Wayne is convinced that Dent’s methods are effective. Batman would rather see true law and order prevail in Gotham than his behind-the-scenes crimefighting. “Gotham needs a hero with a face,” he says. But Dent has two faces. “Fair’s fair,” he teases before betting on a cheater’s coin. His deception lets him trick Rachel into dating him and later enables him to terrorize one of the Joker’s minions after kidnapping him for information. He relies on a legal technicality to arrest dozens of the mob’s men at once, knowing most of them will be freed soon. Lying about being the Batman to set a trap for the Joker comes pretty easily for someone whose job is seeking the truth. And his nickname among Gotham’s cops could refer to his shady dealings or the way he suddenly lashes out in anger when something doesn’t go as he expects. We’re tired of hiding, ignoring,...

The Fear of Disappointing Others is Strong with This One May25

The Fear of Disappointing Others is Strong with This One...

The other day, a friend asked me which I hate more—disappointing myself or others. Assuming the “others” are important to me, I choose them every time as the worst scenario. Even the thought of disappointing those I care about makes my insides twist up and my eyes sting from future tears. In Spider-Gwen #2, Gwen loses her phone and gains a concussion after a devastating fight with the Vulture. But it seems the thing she’s worried about most is not the threat of death, but disappointing others—her dad, her band mates, even the illusion of Spider-Ham who shows up to offer counsel in her concussed state. Rather than stick around to face their disappointment, Gwen has disconnected herself from all the people who care about her. It’s a common super hero trope—leave the people closest to you so they don’t get hurt—but in Gwen’s case, she’s leaving them so she doesn’t get hurt. “Being a super hero is way more than facing bad guys, Gwensday… sometimes you gotta face real life,” Spider-Ham says to her. Walling myself off from others is always the easy answer—it protects me from so many vulnerabilities. Why not just live in solitary to avoid all the messy emotions—feelings that can leave me curled up in a distressed ball on my bed, that can cause so much stress I get physically sick. Except I’ve faced that loneliness before, and I’ve found that the messiness of relationships are worth it. I get tired of carrying my baggage around all by myself, and I’ve found the people who love me are often willing to help me with it. It seems Gwen comes to the same conclusion, because at the end of this comic, she finds her dad in an alleyway. Holding up Gwen’s cellphone that he...

Avengers: Infinity War Defines Love that Lasts Forever May07

Avengers: Infinity War Defines Love that Lasts Forever...

WARNING: Spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War ahead! Avengers: Infinity War contrasts what cannot last with what endures forever. The main issues at stake are, after all, “infinity” stones. It’s intriguing that, despite their names, these stones command forces that are finite in scope within our universe: power, space, time, reality, soul, and mind. The one notable force that has no infinity stone is love—and perhaps, given the paradoxical nature of the other stones, this is intentional. Thanks to the film’s enormous cast, there are an unusually large number of relationships hanging in the balance as Thanos stalks across the universe in search of the stones. And the explored relationships aren’t all on the heroes’ side; I was surprised to discover that part of Thanos’s motivation is his own twisted concept of love. Selfish Love Throughout the film, Thanos’s self-serving “love” is juxtaposed with the legitimate love demonstrated by the Avengers and the Guardians. First, there’s Thanos’s attitude towards the universe: according to Gamora, “he only ever had one goal: to wipe out half the universe.” Thanos believes it’s his job to maintain “balance.” He doesn’t see his actions as the destruction of billions of lives; he believes he’s giving the remaining billions the chance to experience better existences. In the film, just like in life, sometimes we wonder if love is worth it. Infinity War also highlights a much more personal relationship for Thanos: his status as a father to Gamora, whom he adopted after destroying half the population of her planet. Of all his “children,” Gamora is Thanos’s favourite, even though she hates everything about him. In order to obtain the soul stone, Thanos has to sacrifice what he loves most. Gamora taunts him, believing that there is nothing he loves, and therefore...

Preparing for Infinity War: Saying Goodbye, Part 2 Apr25

Preparing for Infinity War: Saying Goodbye, Part 2...

In Part 1, we went through most of the Avengers and their impact on the world. Here we have several more Marvel heroes who will face Thanos’ Infinity-gauntleted fist and perhaps death. Which heroes will fall and what legacy have they left behind? Each character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had an effect on both their world and mine. If any of them aren’t going to make it through this fight, here’s how I’d want to see their final scenes play out. 1. Black Panther “Vengeance has consumed you. It is consuming them. I am done letting it consume me. Justice will come soon enough.” T’Challa is the newest addition to the Avengers’ growing ranks and boy, is he a worthwhile one. After his father is assassinated in Civil War, T’Challa accepts the mantle of Black Panther just in time to defend Wakanda from a nearly successful coup. He might hold the most balanced moral center of any hero appearing in Infinity War—the weight of his own beliefs, the influence of his role as Black Panther, and the well-being of an entire nation all rest on his shoulders and he doesn’t take that lightly. After he broke down the exclusionary policies of Wakanda, T’Challa showed us it’s always better when humanity builds bridges instead of walls. The perfect send-off: With the vibranium suit, superhuman abilities, and army of Wakandans at his back, Black Panther would not go down easily. We haven’t seen Thanos collect the Reality Stone yet, but I’d love to see it used in the style of Doomwar to molecularly turn all vibranium in Wakanda inert, and then Black Panther takes down a member of the Black Order before being overwhelmed. 2. Gamora “Whatever nightmares the future holds are dreams compared...

Preparing for Infinity War: Saying Goodbye, Part 1 Apr23

Preparing for Infinity War: Saying Goodbye, Part 1...

As Infinity War’s release looms just a few days from now, my mind has been racing with questions—which heroes will be squashed under Thanos’ Infinity-gauntleted fist and what impact have they left behind? Each character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had an effect on both their world and mine. If any of them aren’t going to make it through this fight, here’s how I’d want to see their final scenes play out. 1. Iron Man “We need to be put in check. Whatever form that takes, I’m game.” The genesis of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe came as a total surprise to everyone. Without Iron Man’s caustic wit, Scrooge McDuck-level wealth, and awakened willingness as a reluctant hero, the world would be a Chitauri-infested disaster. Tony Stark reminds us it’s not the perfect who are called to be heroes, but the willing. It’s never too late to bend that weapon into a ploughshare, to try to build a shield when all you’ve ever known are swords. The perfect send-off: We’ve seen a strong mentorship connection develop between Tony Stark and Peter Parker. If Iron Man has to die in Infinity War, I want to see Spider-Man do something recklessly heroic only to have it utterly fail, and Iron Man swoop in to take the killing blow. 2. The Hulk “That’s my secret Cap, I’m always angry.” Two movies couldn’t make audiences care about the best “monster-inside-me” in Marvel until Mark Ruffalo’s soft charm grounded him as a man who fears and resents the power he wields. As an intellectual peer to Tony Stark and a physical match to Thor, Banner justifiably wants to run from his fears. There’s not a braver moment for Banner than when he Vespas back to Manhattan, realizing that...

Fame Comes with a Price Apr06

Fame Comes with a Price...

Spider-Gwen’s on a mission to improve her damaged reputation in Spider-Gwen #1 because the media has branded her as a super-villain. It’s ironic, then, that she faces off against the Vulture, who accuses her of caring what people think when he wants so badly to feel special himself. “Hunted and hounded and you still seek their approval?” he taunts her, but she effectively turns his taunts against him and he becomes enraged. He’s “owed.” He’s “entitled.” His name “belongs” in lights, Gwen thinks as she fights him. Perhaps she recognizes his vanity so quickly because she’s been there herself, stuck in a world where people think the worst of her and she wants to prove them wrong. I’m not sure why Gwen wants the trust of people who have turned their back on her, but she knows that she has to put in the work to gain respect—chasing the Vulture down in the first place to “get trust, pride and life back,” while the Vulture just wants fame out of jealousy. Perhaps she just wants support in her life as Spider-Woman. Perhaps the Vulture’s taunts don’t affect her because she recognizes that feeling special due to strangers’ opinions of her is fleeting. I like the idea of being famous, but Gwen demonstrates it comes with a price. When your life—even your masked persona—is in the limelight, people judge you. You’re tempted to question your self-worth under such intense scrutiny. Gwen’s mental health is deteriorating from the pressure, which is made clearer in the next issue when she starts having visions of Spider-Ham swinging beside her. How long can she make it on her own when the world has determined she is against...

The Courage to Seek Counseling: Even Heroes Need a Hand Apr04

The Courage to Seek Counseling: Even Heroes Need a Hand...

In the first Avengers movie, Loki taunts Nick Fury by asking, “How desperate are you? You call on such lost creatures to defend you.” Although he’s trying to demean the fledgling Avengers team, Loki is also not entirely wrong: in some ways, the Avengers are “lost creatures.” Each of them is struggling with one or more major life issues. As the team grows during subsequent films, each new recruit brings their own set of baggage along with their superpowers. Every MCU Avenger faces a struggle worthy of professional help. Tony Stark exhibits signs of PTSD, the result of being held hostage in the desert and falling through a wormhole. Steve Rogers has his own version of PTSD as well as survivor’s guilt and culture shock. Bruce Banner lives in constant fear of becoming the Hulk, afraid his own mind and body will betray him. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. So why doesn’t a single member of the team ever use a counseling resource for help? The first reason, of course, is that the Avengers are characters whose “lives” must be compressed into two-hour films. But I believe it’s more than that. The Avengers’ reluctance to seek support for their struggles reflects the larger attitude of our culture. When life throws a curveball, the tendency is to take the hit and act like it didn’t cause any damage. Getting counseling help has become so stigmatized that people are afraid to do it, on-screen or off. When life throws a curveball, the tendency is to take the hit and act like it didn’t cause any damage. When I speak of “counseling,” I don’t necessarily mean a session with a professional counselor, although they are often best-qualified to provide reliable advice from an...

Should You Sacrifice Your Dreams? Mar30

Should You Sacrifice Your Dreams?...

In Edge of Spider-Verse #2, Peter Parker is dead. Gwen Stacy is Spider Woman, riddled with guilt over his demise, and she finds herself overwhelmed with the prospect of her double lives. In a culture that constantly tells me to chase my dreams no matter what, this comic sends a different message. As Gwen is swinging through the streets chatting with her dad on the phone (hands-off devices recommended when you’re Spider-Woman), he encourages her to leave her band and go to college. At this point, he’s unaware she’s Spider-Woman and is juggling her dreams with a host of other responsibilities. “I love music, Dad. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she says. “I know, honey,” he replies, “and the things we love are always worth fighting for. But everyone has something they want. What is it the world around you needs? What is it that only you can give?” I instantly rebel at reading this line, because everyone knows you’re supposed to put individual dreams above everything else. It’s why university students jump between majors until they discover their passion. It’s why people switch jobs when they don’t love their work any more. It’s why advertisements tell me I’m worth it. It’s why Gwen plays in a band instead of attending university, and why she becomes Spider-Woman in the first place—to avoid responsibility and do what she wants. But maybe there’s something to Captain Stacy’s advice. Maybe I should consider what I can offer others instead of just what I want for myself. I want my innermost desires and the unique things I can offer to line up, but they don’t always. Sometimes these decisions come up in small ways, like running an errand for a friend when I’d rather be at home...

Let the Guy in the Chair Be Your Guide Mar26

Let the Guy in the Chair Be Your Guide...

“Can I be your guy in the chair?” When Ned finds out that his buddy Peter Parker is actually Spider-Man, he wants in on the action. He puts himself forward as Peter’s self-appointed “handler;” the guy who tracks Peter’s movements and provides information just in time. This proves both useful—and comic—at the climax of Spider-Man: Homecoming when Peter is battling the Vulture and Ned provides backup from the school library. Ned shuttles between computers using a rolling office chair, tracking Peter’s phone, calling Happy Hogan and telling Peter how to find the lights on the car he’s appropriated. Thrilled to be helping, Ned blissfully exclaims, “Guy in the chair!” Ned is just the latest in a long line of “guys in the chair” in pop culture. Where would Kim Possible have been without Wade? Neo, Trinity and Morpheus would have been lost without Tank manning the switchboard on the Nebuchadnezzar. Without Chloe O’Brien, Jack Bauer wouldn’t have made it through eight seasons and three movies. Tony Stark needed help so badly that he built Jarvis. The price of ignoring my conscience and other sources of wisdom can be high. And I’m a little jealous. What I wouldn’t give for my own personal “guy in the chair.” When I leave for work, my guy would tell me traffic conditions and the quickest route. When I need data in a meeting, he’d have it ready. At the grocery store, he could inform me if I’m getting the best deal and how to tell a ripe melon from a dud. Forget battling villains, having a “guy in the chair” available 24/7 would be a huge time saver. A “guy in the chair” is a lot more than just a source of information, though. He can also be...

Black Panther Invites Us to Make Homes for Those Without Feb28

Black Panther Invites Us to Make Homes for Those Without...

There are few things in the world more precious than home. When I’m there, I can be exactly who I am. I don’t have to put on a good face to be accepted—I can just be me. I don’t have to dress a certain way or agree with a certain ideology. I am loved and safe and valuable even if my wife disagrees with me or my children are angry. Home is safe. It should be, anyway. For many people, the places that should be home—family, community and country—have been undermined or destroyed. Oppression, racism, and systemic violence have denied people security and love. Too often, this is a direct result of the racism the villain in Marvel’s latest movie, Black Panther, is afflicted by. Erik Killmonger grows up in the streets of Oakland without a father, denied a connection to a loving home, land, and family. He sees the oppression and suffering of people like him, rooted in Africa but displaced, and so sets out in anger and vengeance. It’s difficult to respond with grace when someone is angry and bitter. The worst part about Killmonger’s villainy is that his anger is justified. His rage over people’s suffering is understandable. He is angry because people are dying and others could have done something about it, but didn’t. This frustration and anger fuels a need to make a change, which he believes can only be accomplished by from others. And yet this path of vengeance won’t make the world a better place, even if it makes him feel better. T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, recognizes Killmonger’s intent and does not deliver a killing blow in their final fight. Instead, he offers healing. Yet with his final breath, Killmonger says, “Bury me in the ocean with...

Choosing Who We Become: Bucky Barnes and Past Trauma Jan22

Choosing Who We Become: Bucky Barnes and Past Trauma...

After Bucky Barnes falls from the train in Captain America: The First Avenger, he loses a limb, along with so much more. Captured by the evil HYDRA, he is turned into a living weapon and brainwashed into forgetting who he really is. All he can do is follow orders, without any concept of his old identity. Then, decades later, Bucky is sent to kill his former best friend, Steve Rogers. Steve recognizes Bucky and tries to remind him who he is, but Bucky’s identity has been reduced to vague memories. Bucky senses that he’s missing a part of himself, but after all the trauma he’s endured, he doesn’t know how to restore his old identity. Bucky eventually disobeys his orders and saves Steve, then disappears and researches his past life. He ends up living undercover in Bucharest, trying to regain his memories so he can return to the man he used to be. Bucky realizes he can’t be the man he was, but he can choose who he becomes. The sad events of Captain America: Civil War make it clear that Bucky can’t fully escape the trauma of his past. Although he wants to be a decent person again, the “programming” that the enemy built into his brain enables Zemo to unleash Bucky—as the Winter Soldier—on the Avengers, sparking the rift that tears the team apart. Grief and trauma can make us feel like we’ve lost ourselves. A few months ago, my dog passed away due to cancer, and I felt like I’d been robbed of a limb. My dog provided so much joy and stability that, without her, I didn’t feel like myself. As time went on and the sorrow gradually receded, I realized I would never return to my old “normal.” The...

Spider-Gwen and the Cost of Justice Jan03

Spider-Gwen and the Cost of Justice...

On Earth-65, Gwen Stacy is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Woman, a wise cracking crime fighter with spider powers—quite like the Spider-Man of Earth-616 (a.k.a. regular Earth). There is a lot of pain in her past. Peter Parker, her shy and introverted friend is bullied more and more in school, until he develops the lizard serum to fight back. Spider-Woman (Gwen’s early persona) ends up fighting him and, in the fight, pushes Peter too far. He dies in her arms. Because witnesses see a reverted Peter Parker dying as a result of their fight, she is branded a murderer and her father, Captain George Stacy, vows to bring Spider-Woman to justice. In a face-off between Captain Stacy and Spider-Woman, she reveals herself to be his daughter and says: “You’re a good cop, dad. You put on that badge and carry that gun because you know if you don’t, someone who shouldn’t will. When I put on this mask, I only did it because it freed me from responsibility. I thought I was special. And Peter Parker died because he tried to follow my example. I have to take responsibility for that. To make his death mean something. But I can’t do it in a jail cell. This mask is my badge now. If I don’t define what it means… monsters like this [Aleksei Sytsevich, a.k.a. Rhino] will” (Edge of Spider-Verse Vol 1 2). A cost has been paid. A life has been lost. A debt is owed, at least in Gwen’s mind. So, she opposes the police and fights crime. She goes after Aleksei and has several run-ins with the Kingpin. She faces the shadow organization S.I.L.K., which is behind all sorts of sinister plots across the multiverse. She travels to several...

Grief’s Paralyzing Effect on the Justice League Nov27

Grief’s Paralyzing Effect on the Justice League...

When a parental nightmare came true, I was frozen with fear. My son’s seizure medication had failed him catastrophically, and for a few days we weren’t sure what was going to happen. He was in the hospital for two weeks, and even since he’s been home, the dread of what could have been, and what someday might be, still clings to me. For the days he was in the hospital, I couldn’t move—family tried to get me to go for a walk, for coffee—for anything—but I couldn’t leave his side, not even for a moment. Grief can be paralyzing. It makes us stop, take notice of the pain, and sit with it. When dealt with healthily, it can move us into a new depth of human experience, making us stronger, more empathetic, and ready to reach out and help others. Or, it can hold us in place and prevent us from acting, stopping us from living fully. In the Justice League movie, each member experiences a form of grief that keeps them stuck in place until they find community, a common mission, and healing. Steppenwolf, an alien who has his sights set on conquering Earth after a failed attempt hundreds of years ago, is back. He plans to retrieve the three power cubes that are hidden from him by the Amazons, Atalantians, and humans who guard them. Apparently, humanity isn’t making Earth a hellscape fast enough for his taste, so he decides to put those cubes together and let them do their job, which is recreating the face of the Earth in a semi-molten state. Keeping busy isn’t the same thing as dealing with our feelings. Since Batman can barely fight a few of Steppenwolf’s minions on his own, he realizes it’s going to...

All Hela Breaks Loose: The Goddess of Death’s Obsession Nov13

All Hela Breaks Loose: The Goddess of Death’s Obsession...

To be Asgardian royalty is to have daddy issues. Thor and Loki’s struggles with their father form the crux of past films in the series, but in Thor: Ragnarok, the brothers’ anger is vastly overshadowed by the rage of Hela, the older sister they never knew existed. As Odin’s firstborn, Hela once held her father’s favor, ruling and fighting by his side—only to be banished when Odin had a change of heart. Under normal circumstances, Hela’s anger over Odin’s rejection would be understandable—except that Odin’s repentance was entirely justified. According to Hela, they had rebuilt an Asgardian empire by violently conquering other lands and peoples. Hela not only played a vital role in the battles, but served as Odin’s executioner—and she loved every minute of it. But Odin eventually realized his actions were unjust and decided to become a wiser, kinder king. Hela didn’t agree with the decision. Suddenly, Odin’s most powerful asset became his strongest opposition. Unable to cope with Hela’s power and unwilling to let her continue her bloodthirsty rampage, Odin banished Hela from Asgard and imprisoned her. Hela doesn’t just toy with the deaths of others; she revels in them. When Odin dies, his power can no longer keep Hela contained. Mere minutes after being freed, Hela breaks Thor’s hammer, strands him and Loki on Sakaar, and heads to Asgard to reclaim the throne. Hela doesn’t just toy with the deaths of others; she revels in them. Upon her return to Asgard, she is challenged by a group of soldiers and slaughters them all. While walking among their broken bodies, Hela exclaims, “Oh, I’ve missed this.” Death is a weakness that every mortal being shares, and Hela loves exploiting that weakness. She eagerly inflicts death on anyone who opposes her, and...

Why Destiny Matters and The Tick Oct04

Why Destiny Matters and The Tick...

The Tick doesn’t do a lot of thinking. He’s not a smart guy; but he knows evil when he sees it, and he’ll spring into action because he knows that fighting evil is his destiny. The Tick’s origin is something of a mystery; he has no idea where he came from and knows very little about himself. The only thing he’s certain of is his destiny, and it drives everything that he does. The rest of the rational world spends their time asking the question “Who am I?” as they search for meaning. Not The Tick. He’s defined entirely by his drive to conquer evil, and as far as he’s concerned, this destiny has no connection to his past, and requires no other pertinent details—only that he should embrace what he was made for and live it out every day. So, what is this force he calls destiny? If you ask him, he’ll tell you, “Destiny’s powerful hand has made the bed of my future, and it’s up to me to lie in it. I am destined to be a superhero. To right wrongs, and to pound two-fisted justice into the hearts of evildoers everywhere. And you don’t fight destiny. No sir. And, you don’t eat crackers in the bed of your future, or you get all… scratchy.” Again, The Tick’s no genius, but he gives good advice—you should never eat crackers in bed. It’s folly. And you don’t fight destiny… unless, of course, you enjoy being sad and unfulfilled. Like The Tick, it’s up to me to live out what’s in my heart, or not. I’m not a puppet. As a Catholic Christian, I too, have a sense of destiny. I believe that I was made by God for some very specific things—some...

We Need More Karen Pages Sep25

We Need More Karen Pages...

What defines a strong female role model? A woman who fights for what she believes in? A woman who won’t give up? A woman who isn’t defined by a man? A woman willing to make sacrifices for others? If it’s all of the above, then Karen Page from Netflix’s Daredevil fits the bill. Karen’s character is introduced in the first Daredevil comic in 1964. She is a classic damsel in distress, secretary to the firm of Nelson and Murdock, and a love interest to various suitors. Eventually becoming an adult film star with a drug addiction, she cleans up her act but ultimately dies saving Daredevil. Karen of the Daredevil TV series, however, is different. Though she is a secretary and a love interest, those things do not define her. Karen can’t always punch her way out of situations and though she could very much use her sexuality as a weapon, she doesn’t. In comparison to other heroines from Marvel shows on Netflix, many wouldn’t describe Karen Page as a badass. She doesn’t have the physical power of Misty Knight, Jessica Jones, or even Madam Gao. Yet that’s the very reason she is strong, because she still manages to fight for what she believes in under the harshest of pressures. With the rise of female-led shows and movies like Jessica Jones and Wonder Woman, I’m hungry for more heroines. Yet, people keep limiting their definition of “empowered” to characters like Arya Stark, Harley Quinn, and Colleen Wing without considering the immense strength of Sansa Stark, Lois Lane, and Karen Page. It took me years to redefine my understanding of strength. Growing up in an Indian Malaysian household meant I was exposed to the wonders of Indian Cinema in all its splendour and, yes, these...

Ms. Marvel Defines How to Be Yourself Aug23

Ms. Marvel Defines How to Be Yourself...

Nerds may not be the long-suffering social group they used to be, but I still don’t feel like I fit in any place where Star Wars isn’t a useful conversation starter. Hanging out at a bar isn’t fun for me. Fashion doesn’t intrigue me. I get more excited about a new superhero movie than a famous singer coming to town. I find working out boring, and I don’t even like the taste of coffee! But if I think I stick out at Starbucks with my hot chocolate and Boba Fett hat, I need to remember Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, and how drastically different she feels from everyone around her. Kamala is a second-generation Pakistani Muslim teen living in Jersey City. Sometimes her heritage isn’t a big deal, but as a 16-year-old, she’s fed up with restrictions. Her religion means she eats different foods, dresses modestly, and celebrates holidays most people are unfamiliar with. Her parents want to keep her away from boys and wild parties, but she claims they won’t let her out because she’s a girl. Plus, her nerdy interests distance her from her straight-laced family and draw ridicule. She spends her time drooling over bacon sandwiches, writing superhero fan fiction, and questioning traditions at her mosque—such as why women have to sit separately from men. She imagines that if she became a hero, she’d take a page from her role model—Ms. Marvel, now rebranded as Captain Marvel: “I would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels.” It’s fun to spend a few hours pretending to be someone vastly different from me. Whether I’m cosplaying or playing a roleplaying game, I get to put on a mask and act in ways I otherwise wouldn’t. I...

With Great Offense Comes Great Responsibility: Spider-Man and Pornography Aug07

With Great Offense Comes Great Responsibility: Spider-Man and Pornography...

“I’m offended.” This phrase has become emotionally laden, and all too often used in North American culture to gain unearned power over whatever or whomever has caused the “offense.” But if I’m offended by someone, does that give me special rights? If anything, being offended confers responsibility: responsibility to address the source of offense, to explain my point of view, and, perhaps most importantly, to listen to the other perspective. That’s a lot of work, however; no wonder the path of least resistance leads to Internet trolling and flaming tweets instead. So, here am I; I’m offended. I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming in theaters and loved its portrayal of a kid struggling to understand what it means to be a hero. The next day, I read a review by Ben Kayser, Managing Editor of Movieguide, the self-described “Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment,” which not only described the film as poorly written and badly directed, but also took issue with a single line that the headline claimed “might have ruined” the entire film. Kayser took offense at the line “I was… looking at… porn?” Peter Parker’s friend Ned says this during the climactic battle when he’s providing logistical support in the school’s computer lab. Doing his best to assist his buddy as “the guy in the chair,” Ned gets busted by a teacher who demands to know what Ned is doing. Not wanting to betray Peter’s secret identity, Ned offers this plausible but shameful excuse.  Kayser found this “irresponsible and frustrating,” believing the line to be an attempt to render porn consumption “normal and acceptable.” I stewed over this for a couple of days before I finally worked out why I was irked: Kayser was offended.  Reading his article and review, I realized that he was offended that Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t measure up to his values. This is illogical because the only way to ensure that any artistic endeavour measures up to your values is to produce it yourself, by yourself. As any artist will attest, the moment another person becomes involved in your project, compromise begins. I don’t agree with Kayser that people of faith have to compromise anything in watching this film. Despite Kayser’s offense, porn consumption is normal, or at least it has become so in our society. Most famously, Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse of the University of Montreal had to restructure his  study comparing men who consumed porn with those who hadn’t because he couldn’t find any control subject in their twenties who had never consumed porn. On this point, I agree with Kayser: this is not acceptable, for a variety of reasons. I don’t agree, however, that it’s a cause for hand-wringing and finger-pointing, or throwing rotten tomatoes at an amazing film. I suggest, rather, that this is an opportunity, a chance to have a discussion. Porn users are not a proud bunch. We might be willing to acknowledge and detail usage in an anonymous Internet survey, but none of us are going to list it as an accomplishment on our curriculum vitae. There won’t be any “Porn Pride Parades” coming to your community anytime soon. You might know someone who is upfront and casual about using porn, but for the rest of us, it’s a source of shame and we are only as healthy as our darkest secrets. If nothing else, Ned’s line is an opportunity to shine some light on a dark truth. I took my eleven-year-old son to this movie, and I will be using this moment to have a frank and open discussion with him about pornography; where Kayser takes offense, I see opportunity. My son wants to be like me; I want him to be better. Ned’s line is an opportunity to shine some light on a dark truth. Kayser also doesn’t seem to understand that acknowledging that something is occurring is not the same thing as condoning it. If...

Accepting Weakness in Thor Jul26

Accepting Weakness in Thor...

I’ve heard it said that your greatest weakness is your greatest strength pushed too far. There’s some truth to this, because it’s easy to become so reliant on the things we’re good at that we don’t notice when exercising those traits has become counterproductive. In the first Thor movie, we see the titular hero fall victim to this exact phenomenon. A small squadron of Frost Giants have infiltrated his home world, and despite their quick and trivial defeat, Thor prepares a counterassault to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Despite being the most foolish thing he does in the movie, this process clearly shows Thor’s strengths; his charisma, his passion, and his courage enable him to rally his friends and reach Jotunheim to confront the Frost King. Superhero stories are not about demonstrations of power; they’re about learning to confront weakness. Once he achieves his desired battle with the Frost Giants, of course, his plan falls apart. Rather than subduing them, as Thor had hoped, his attack only encourages them to begin a new war. While Thor’s abilities allow him to accomplish as much as he does, his over-reliance on them also leads to his fundamental flaws. He can’t see past his own sense of power to realize that brute force is useless in controlling the Giants. On top of that, he even becomes judgmental, rebuking Odin for taking a calmer, more rational approach to dealing with the situation. While I’m the polar opposite of Thor personality-wise, I’ve recently become aware of that same type of judgmental attitude in my own life. For example, I tend to be an extremely cautious person. I like to gather as much information as possible and plan ahead before I say or do anything, and this...

Losing Your Self-Worth to a Suit Jul17

Losing Your Self-Worth to a Suit...

When Tony Stark gives Peter Parker an upgraded suit and recruits him for the Avengers’ Civil War, Peter is ecstatic, thinking he’s about to become a member of the team. But Tony has other plans. Although he lets Peter keep the suit, Tony sends Peter back to his old, ordinary life in Queens, telling the super-teen that he’ll call him when there’s a new mission. That call never comes, and Peter grows increasingly frustrated. Isn’t the guy who snatched Captain America’s shield ready for more challenging tasks than giving directions to old ladies? “Can’t you just be a friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man?” Tony suggests when Peter seeks out more dangerous adventures. But in the course of protecting his neighbourhood, Peter finds a gang of arms dealers selling weapons enhanced with remnant Chitauri parts, leftover Ultron tech, and other exotic wreckage. Although he tells Tony about the threat, Peter is not content to sit on the sidelines and decides to investigate for himself. Peter is everything you’d expect from a teenaged superhero—he’s gifted, but also clumsy, inexperienced, and still learning that actions have consequences. On top of that, he’s enthralled with his new suit. Thinking the suit holds the key to being a better superhero, Peter disables the “Training Wheels Protocol” Tony added to the software, and suddenly he’s got a mind-blowing amount of tech at his disposal (though he has no idea how to use it). Wanting to be worthy of the Avengers, Peter relied on his suit to make him a hero and ended up losing confidence in himself. When I thought about Peter’s attachment to his suit, I realized that most people rely on some kind of “super-suit” to create a “better” version of themselves, to function in areas where they feel deficient....