The Sins of Professor X (Part Two)

Hey, did you miss me? Well I missed you! Welcome back to:

The Sins of Charles Xavier! (Part Two)

Let us jump in right where I left off on the good Professor, with…

4. Danger!

So the X-Men’s training room is pretty cool, right? For some reason Xavier saw fit to build a work-out chamber in his school called the Danger Room. It’s basically a room that can make all kinds of robots and hard-light projections so that the X-Men can practice getting shot at and train as a superhero team in a controlled environment.

It also serves as a pretty good backdrop every time Cyclops or Wolverine decide that the only way to solve their emotional issues is LARP violence. The Danger Room is basically the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation dialed up to 11.

So it really shouldn’t come as any surprise when the danger room eventually gains sentience, names itself Danger, and tries to kill all the X-Men, right? Because that is exactly what happened in Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.

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and she has human shaped boobs because Joss Whedon’s feminism is confusing

While that all seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill amazingly insane day for the X-Men, there is something deeper and unsettling about the story of Danger, who believes that she was trapped in the Danger Room for years and forced to run out simulations for the entertainment of others.

She was right. When Professor Xavier gave the Danger Room a science-fiction style upgrade using Shiar alien technology (because the X-Men fight a surprising amount of aliens), Danger was born. She was born the moment the Professor flipped the “on” switch. And he knew.

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So much for a symbol of peace and acceptance for all intelligent life, eh Chuck?

5. He erased an entire X-Team from existence.

Okay, look. Some of the stuff I’m pulling from here was in the 70’s, which was a weird time for comics all around. But hey, it’s canon, so here we go!

The original X-Men consisted of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Beast, and Iceman. Then in 1975 the original team was kidnapped by an evil living island because comics are amazing. Professor X and Cyclops recruit a new team to save the old one. This is the first appearance of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Sunspot, and Thunderbird. This comic is a big deal. It was the first to be written by the aforementioned Chris Claremont, and begins the saga of what most people recognise the X-Men to be today.

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The new X-Men save the old ones, end of story, right? Well… no. Between the old and new teams, the Professor actually recruited X-Men team 1.5. This team included Vulcan, the secret other brother of Cyclops. This team goes to the island and all of them die.

So naturally, instead of owning up to his responsibility in this tragedy, the professor wipes the memory of these events from Cyclops’s mind and pretends it never happened. Ha-ha. That’s nuts, Chuck.

6. He seriously messes up the lives of children.

Look, if I’m not careful this list could go on forever. I could talk about the Xavier Protocols where the good Professor created a plan to kill every one of his X-Men. I could talk about the time he and Magneto fused into a big dumb 90’s villain called Onslaught and tried to destroy the universe. I could talk about the time he faked his death to go marry an alien princess. Heck, I could just talk about how he constantly lets Magneto go because they are old buddies.

But instead, let’s talk about the state of the original X-Men, i.e. how being recruited by the good Professor ruined these people’s lives.

     6.1. Iceman

Bobby Drake aka Iceman is actually doing fine. He came out as gay recently, which is nice. I just wanted to get that out of the way. If you like the X-Men and are mad about this, I don’t think you understand what the X-Men are about.

     6.2. Beast and Angel

Okay. So when Beast joined the X-Men, he was a smart guy with big feet. Sure, he was a mutant and people bullied him about his big feet, but that’s not so bad, right? Well… after a Jekyll/Hyde style experiment, things changed for good old Hank.

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Hank these days is big, blue, and increasingly more cat-like. Do I relate to a smart guy who is covered in fur and can growl like an animal? I sure do. But not only did Beast’s body change, but he must also fight to stop his mind from turning feral as well. It is an uphill battle, and the big fuzzy genius must always be afraid of permanently losing his mind to a creature that just wants to chase a ball of string forever. That’s gotta suck, right? But Beast isn’t the only one who turned blue and lost his mind!

Angel was the most boring X-Man. His power was literally just having wings and being blond. So then to spice things up he was kidnapped by Apocalypse, tortured, brainwashed, given blue skin and knife wings, and used as a killing machine!

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As you can see from their expressions, both of them are thrilled by what being an X-Man has done for them.

     6.3. Jean Grey

Jean Grey has had it pretty rough. She died and came back to life as the Phoenix, with almost limitless power.

She could not control her power and lost her mind over time, becoming Dark Phoenix. In the Dark Phoenix Saga, she beats up all the X-Men, destroys a solar system by eating a sun, and then, when she regains just enough of her mind to see what is happening, allows herself to die before the Phoenix can take control again.

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Whoops.

Since then, Jean has come back to life again, married Cyclops, been cheated on by Cyclops, and died again (and is about to come back to life . . . again). Great job, Professor.

     6.4. Cyclops

And then there is good old Scott “Slim” Summers. Poster child of the X-Men, the Professor’s golden boy.

At least Xavier did a pretty good job raising Cyclops, right?

Well…

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Whoops x2

So over time, Cyclops became more and more militant and single-minded. He became so obsessed with saving mutants and living up to Xavier’s dream that he eventually lost his mind.

When Mutants became an endangered species, Cyclops gathered all the survivors onto an island called Utopia, and turned them into a military unit for protection. Through all of this, the Professor simply gave the thumbs up to his number one son.

But all of Charles’ good fatherhood skills kind of went down the toilet as Cyclops replaced Magneto as the mutant extremist who believes humans are his enemy, went to war with The Avengers, took control of the Phoenix force that had once consumed Jean Grey, and finally killed Charles Xavier in a mad rage.

Charles Xavier founded the X-Men with the dream of a world where Mutants and Humans could live together in peace and harmony. Over the years he tried to achieve his dream through cohesion, manipulation, violence, and driving kids insane.

This is the end of the list. This past February, Sir Patrick Stewart graced the silver screen as Professor X one last time in Logan. As always, he will continue to be kindly and elderly and all that is good in the world.

And that is all he will ever be remembered as because as far as I know, the good Professor has been wiping all our minds just as casually as he does to his precious X-Men.

And if you are wondering why I have now attacked the qualities of both Albus Dumbledore and Charles Xavier, yes, the answer is because I’m super bitter that neither of them let me into their awesome schools. Even though dashing good looks and the ability to make cats like me are obviously mutant superpowers.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

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The Sins of Professor X (Part One)

Let me roll off some key features of a comic book character and see if you figure out who I’m talking about:

Kindly father figure, symbol of peace and tolerance, wheelchair-bound, teacher, bald, eyebrows like the wings of an eagle, enjoys the letter X, disagrees with his more violent buddy, named a school after himself, and the spitting image of Sir Patrick Stewart. See, at this point, you probably have a pretty clear idea of who I’m talking about. If you don’t… nah, you do (come on, Ben, be confident).

Okay, now I’m going to rattle off a few more key characteristics and see what happens: dead-beat dad, creepy perv, master manipulator, liar, militant extremist, destroyer of worlds, child abuser, slave driver, guy who can walk.

No, I am not describing two entirely different characters. All these characteristics add up to define Professor Charles Xavier, man of peace, founder of the X-Men, and:

jerk
(You said it, Kitty!) Art by Paul Smithaption

Welcome, to

The Sins of Charles Xavier!

  1. Dead Beat Dad

Okay so Chuck (which is short for Professor X) is pretty consistently nice to children, right? That’s one of his main features. The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters exists so that he can do his best to take care of young Mutants. He is like the father figure. So you would think Professor X would be just as caring (if not even more) with his own kid, right?

Ha-ha, nope.

From writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz, meet David Charles Haller, the son of Charles Xavier, or as you might know him better, LEGION (on TV via FX as of February 8th).

Legion
Image from gstatic.com

So Professor X had an affair with scientist Gabrielle Haller, and then took off as fast as his X-themed wheelchair could carry him. Legion has psychic powers like his father. His telepathy was uncontrollable for most of his childhood, along with a whole host of other powers. Over time, Legion developed a form of dissociative identity disorder. Each of his different personalities controlled a a different power.

Legion has over seven hundred personalities. Fun fact: he is an Omega Level mutant. This makes him one of the most powerful beings in the universe. Fun fact number two: his personalities are actually the minds of people who have been absorbed into his own. They are each living beings trapped in the brain of an insane god.

What did Professor Charles Xavier—the man who has dedicated his life to protecting mutants and training them to control their powers—do when he learned of the fate of his offspring? Nada. He left him locked up for years on Muir Island, trapped in a cell to keep the world safe.

Nice one, Chuck.

  1. Creepy Perv

This one is going to be short.

Professor Xavier met Jean I-Die-And-Come-Back-Every-Wednesday Grey (alias Marvel Girl/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix) when she was eleven years old, and she joined the X-Men at the age of maybe 15 or 16.

perv

Professor X had the hots for his teenage pupil. Gross, Chuck. That’s all I’ve got to say on this one. Okay, let’s move on.

  1. Hypnotising Wolverine

Why Professor Xavier, the great man of peace, let Logan the Wolverine (man who stabs everything, smokes everything else, and is unforgivably Canadian) into a school full of children without any misgivings was a longstanding mystery for me. Just me. I don’t know how many others care about these things. But all was finally revealed/retconned in the series Wolverine Origins. The reason Wolverine really joined the X-Men? He had been programmed to kill Charles Xavier.

Of course, this was a stupid plan. Xavier could sense the plot a mile away. So why did he still let Wolverine on the team? Because once safely in the X-Mansion, the professor simply used his telepathy to go into Logan’s brain and erase the brainwashing suggestions to go all stabby-stab.

After this, Xavier had a choice. Should he finally free the poor man who had been tortured and abused and manipulated for decades, and release Logan of all the Wolverine baggage that others put in his head? Or should he simply alter the programing so that Wolverine would then be loyal to the X-Men, and Hugh Jackman could show his tuchas in the Days of Future Past movie?

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Wolverine, whose entire character evolves from the fact that Xavier took him in out of the goodness of his heart, eventually learns of the betrayal. Wolverine continues to move forward as an X-Man trying to be the best version of himself, but this is no longer due to a motivation to live up to the shining image of Xavier.

I know what you’re thinking. Wow! That’s totally not cool, Charles. But at least the list ends here, right?

Nope! See you next time for Part Two, where I will quickly work myself out of this cliffhanger and jump right back into the thick of things with evil robots, crazy deceptions, and a heck of a lot of people named Phoenix.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

4 Heroes. 4 Movies. 4 Mistakes. 4 Puns.

Fantastic FOur cover
image source: d.gr-assets.com

There have been four attempts to bring Marvel’s first family to life on the big screen. First in 1994, then 2005, 2007, and most recently in 2015.

Whatever grand cosmic meaning might be found in four failed Fantastic 4 movies escapes me, but all of them have sucked.

I’ve heard people say maybe the Fantastic 4 just suck as a concept, or maybe they can’t be translated well into live action, or maybe they’re just too far out to get right. But… no. I’m here today to tell you that isn’t true at all.

The reason that we’ve never seen a good Fantastic 4 movie is because, well, nobody has ever made a real Fantastic 4 movie. Almost none of what made the comics so incredible for so many decades has ever been realized on screen.

Let me elaborate in the form of four major points, because that structure both allows me to argue what I want and also kind of make this whole thing a Fantastic 4 pun, which means this is the best day of my life.

1: We have never actually seen the real Doctor Doom.

In the comics, Victor Von Doom is the iron-fisted dictator of a sovereign island nation called Latveria, and grew up as an orphan living with a band of gypsies. The group he was in stayed on the move to avoid the wrath of the oppressive regime, until, through a combination of inventions and black magic, Victor lead an uprising and seized control.

Because yes, Doctor Doom can do magic.

A once-handsome man, Victor Von Doom’s downfall started when he summoned a portal to hell in order to bring his mother back to life; however, true to comic form, the portal exploded in his face instead, forcing him to seal himself inside a suit of magical armour.

Also in the comics, Victor is a master of science and technology, rivalled only by the mind of his college roommate, Reed Richards. Both studied science that I assume Stan Lee made up on the fly. This all happened in his early twenties, until, after getting his doctorate, Victor was kicked out for unethical practice and sent back to Latveria (where he lead the aforementioned uprising shortly after.)

See? Doctor Doom isn’t even a supervillain name, you guys. Victor has a doctorate. His actual name is just Doctor Doom.

Doctor Doom
image source:vignette2.wikia.net/marveldatabase/images

Word play jokes aside, Doctor Doom is arguably one of the greatest supervillains ever put to page. He once took on the Celestials (otherworldly beings of infinite power) and forced Galactus to kneel before him, and became essentially God as the most powerful being in the entire Marvel Universe (twice). He can occasionally do good as well, proving that he actually cares about the people of Latveria, and in one instance he even protects Franklin and Valeria Richards (the children of his worst enemy) from harm.

In fact, Doom has actually saved the world several times, because when all the heroes are sitting around contemplating what to do, Doom just busts open the door with a cry of “DOOM CARES NOT” and that’s that.

None of the details of this incredible character have ever appeared in a movie. In the 2005 movie, Doctor Doom was a seedy business man who gains the power to shoot lightning, and in 2015 he was a… programmer? I guess? Why is Fox so afraid to make Doom the magical science tyrant he truly is? They even have a problem with his name. In each live screen version, they tried to change his name (“Victor Von Damn”, and “Victor Domeshev “, respectively), and then changed it back at the last second.

The ongoing dynamic between Doctor Doom and Mr. Fantastic is probably one of the most interesting relationship in comics, save for that of Professor X and Magneto from the X-Men. Their rivalry and hatred of one another is strangely contrasted by the respect and kinship they try so hard to hide. Despite being morally polar opposites, deep down both Reed and Victor know that the only true equal either one has on the entire planet, maybe the entire universe, is each other. They are the two smartest men in the universe, both of them convinced that they have the right way and authority to save the world. But while Reed gets to be the hero, Doom is the villain.

In the movies we’ve never gotten past “Victor is jealous because Reed is smarter and can make out with Sue”.

If you need more convincing of how great of a character Doctor Doom is, go read the entirety of Jonathon Hickman’s Fantastic 4 run, half his Avengers comics, and his colossal finale Secret War. I promise, it will convince you. Doctor Doom is the number one Marvel supervillain according to Newsarama, and the third greatest comic book villain of all time according to IGN. So why are the studios so afraid to give us the Doom we deserve?

2: Where is Galactus, the devourer of worlds! 

Galactus
image source: cdn1.sciencefiction.com

Does anybody actually remember Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer? 

I mean, no, not really. Because that movie was terrible. But it is pretty easy to name both the best and worst thing that movie managed to do. The best? I’ll admit, the Silver Surfer looked damn cool.

This is a character that Jack Kirby created supposedly because he was tired of drawing spaceships. It is the shiny, nearly featureless outline of a man who flies on a surfboard. It’s not such a hard thing to get right and they did. So what was the worst thing?

Probably the evil space cloud. That was not Galactus. Like Doctor Doom, Galactus is a genuinely fascinating and complex character.

The gargantuan planet eater Galactus is the only survivor of the universe that existed before our own. In fact, Galactus essentially is the universe of before, bonded to the last mortal of its existence, and was reborn into the giant purple-hatted being that constantly clashes with the Fantastic 4. But the fascinating thing is that the character of Galactus himself is not actually evil. He is a thinking being that can be reasoned and debated with, as well as a force of nature. Galactus destroys what he feels he must for his own survival, and for what he believes is best for the universe as a whole. He even created the Silver Surfer in order to seek out uninhabited planets that Galactus could eat without committing genocide.

And sure, Galactus often goes back on his word in that respect and tries to destroy the earth. But he is also a being that Reed Richards and the Fantastic 4 have spoken to, and have come to an uneasy alliance with.

So, as opposed to a boring space cloud, imagine superheroes fighting a planet sized alien being with a purple helmet who has existed since before the dawn of time itself.

I mean, maybe it’s just me. But a movie dealing with that character sounds genuinely interesting.

3: Science Fiction Extraordinaire

Silver Surfer
image source: s-media-cache-ako.pinimg.com

Right off the bat, lets skip the origin story.

Over half of the Fantastic 4 movies that have been made have been about the Fantastic 4 getting their powers, and then spending the whole movie trying to get rid of their powers.

That is genuinely the least interesting premise for a Fantastic 4 movie I can possibly conceive of, unless someone were to film Ben Grimm sitting on the toilet for two hours reading a newspaper. Seriously. Most superheroes don’t actually require that much context. That’s why so often the second movie for a superhero character is the better movie (The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, The Winter Soldier, and X-Men: United all come to mind).

So why not skip ahead to when the Fantastic 4 are genuinely an interesting family of pure insanity? So many of the classic FF tales are huge science fiction adventures into the depths of the earth, or the depths of space, or occasionally into another dimension entirely!

The early days of the Fantastic 4 were illustrated by Jack “The King” Kirby, who is basically the godfather of comic book art. Kirby’s FF days were punctuated by massive otherworldly images, shapeshifting aliens, mind-bending space battles, and galactic invasions of Earth.

In one comic, Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) was once inducted into an inter-dimensional organization called the “Council of Reeds”, which was entirely populated with alternate reality versions of him trying to save the multiverse. Best part? The story culminated with Doom defeating a race of Gods and the Human Torch locking himself in another dimension to fight an endless army of insect monsters. I mean that is… that would make the most wacked-out movie ever, right? And there’s the fun of the Watcher, an alien who lives on the moon and can see everything and has a giant head.

So far, we have seen none of that in the attempts at bringing them to screen, because the studios seem weirdly embarrassed of the more science fiction elements of the Fantastic 4 universe. Really, if you want these characters to work, abandon self-consciousness at the door. Give us the insanity and true scope of science fiction possible with these characters.

We were all happy to watch a talking raccoon with a space gun mourn the death of his talking tree friend.

We can handle it.

4: Family                                                                     

Above all else, the Fantastic 4 are a fundamentally different group dynamic than any other super team in comics. They aren’t the collection of mighty heroes like The Avengers, or the collection of outcasts like X-Men.

The Fantastic 4 are fundamentally a family. So you want to make them stand out from the rest? Make them an actual family. Instead of the painfully awkward romance between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman (who where near strangers), Give us the actual married Reed Richards and Susan Storm. But more than that. Give us their children, the occasionally cosmically-powered Franklin Richards and the super-genius Valeria Richards. Give us The Thing and the Human Torch being referred to as “Uncle Ben” and “Uncle Johnny”. Give us that super uncomfortable kinship between Valeria Richards and Doctor Doom, who see eye to eye on slightly more than her parents might wish.

Because that, more than anything else I’ve mentioned, is what sets the Fantastic 4 apart. This is a story about a real, developed and mature family that behaves as such. Please, someone out there, give us all these things.

Give us the real Galactus and Doctor Doom, and Mole People and shapeshifting aliens, give us the family dynamic and science-fiction insanity that have graced the pages of comic books for over half a century.

Give us the Fantastic 4 movie we deserve!

– Contributed by Ben Ghan

Not My Superman

index 2
Image source: http://hypable.com

The twenty-first century is home to a world that is perhaps a little darker and more complicated than the century that came before it, and our heroes should reflect that.

Or at least, that is the message that some people like to spew to justify a darker, more violent and morally ambiguous Superman. Some portion of our world has become convinced that the Superman who appeared on screen in 1978 just isn’t enough, and that The Man of Tomorrow should be just as grim and uncertain as we all feel the world has become. A simple, righteously smiling Man of Steel just isn’t compelling anymore.

Well, I’m sorry, but today I’m here to disagree. We don’t need a forbidding, morally ambiguous Superman wreaking havoc, nor do we need a Superman who is aware of his immense power.

I think I’m going to focus my argument by citing what I consider to be the best collection of Superman stories in the last twenty years.

From 2005 to 2008, a special out-of-continuity series was commissioned by DC. It was written by the great Grant Morrison (JLA, Batman Incorporated, New X-Men) and drawn by the exquisite Frank Quitely (New X-Men, Batman and Robin, The Authority). This series was called All Star Superman. It was meant to be a Superman tale without the constraints of continuity, and one that would “strip down the Man of Steel to his timeless, essential elements.”

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Image source: http://comixology.com

Apparently the original inspiration for the series came from when Morrison was at a ComiCon and saw someone dressed as Superman who wasn’t posed impressively or flexing. He wasn’t menacing or snarling like the cinematic Superman of the last few years.

In this interview with Newsarama, Morrison describes how “He was perched with one knee drawn up, chin resting on his arms. He looked totally relaxed… and I suddenly realized this was how Superman would sit. He wouldn’t puff out his chest or posture heroically, he would be totally chilled. If nothing can hurt you, you can afford to be cool. A man like Superman would never have to tense against the cold; never have to flinch in the face of a blow. He would be completely laid back, un-tense. With this image of Superman relaxing on a cloud looking out for us all in my head, I rushed back to my hotel room and filled dozens of pages of my notebook with notes and drawings.”

That is what Quitely’s first cover of the series shows: a Superman sitting in the clouds, smiling serenely. It is a Superman at peace with the world. Compare this image of a breathtakingly colourful and unthreatening hero with the tiniest of smiles playing about his lips, to the character’s most recent movie posters: grim and colorless, snarling and aggressive like someone is shouting “Henry, anthropomorphize threatening masculinity!” from behind the camera.

It shows a basic insecurity about the character being portrayed.

This kind of gentle, almost alien kindness is what makes Superman so fascinating all throughout Morrison and Quitely’s book. We have plenty of dark, brooding protagonists, and sure they are interesting, but let’s be honest—they are also a dime-a-dozen. In a world that Superman has to share with Batman (a.k.a. the king of brooding), does making Superman’s disposition as dark and conflicted really do anything to make his character stand out? I think a much better way of showing just how different Superman is from Batman, and indeed from any other hero, is to really show that smiling, almost alien innocence Quitely captured on his cover.

Another problem people often have with the man in red and blue is that being invincible makes him boring in a fight. Perhaps this is why Lex Luther is so often his greatest foe. Lex is human, and Superman, being the hero that he is, can’t simply punch his way through him. But that still doesn’t solve the problem that the only way to inject tension into a Superman battle is either with another Superman (Zod) or by hitting him with kryptonite, which is also incredibly boring.

I’m realizing as I type this that movie studios seem to be terrified of letting Superman battle anyone other than Lex Luther or General Zod, and I could probably spend the rest of this post just babbling about how cool Brainiac would be in a movie, but I won’t.

Zach Snyder and many other people’s solution to this problem is to make his fights bigger, to make Supes knock down cities while battling a god to the death. I understand the argument that Superman had to kill Zod at the end of Man of Steel, but I also point out that it was the writer’s decision to engineer that situation. I would instead argue that a good Superman story is one where violence and murder would never become the only choice.

In fact, I would argue that the best Superman story is one that doesn’t come to blows at all.

Yes, I can hear how shocked and indignant you are. “A superhero without a battle? Boooo!” But you know, with Superman being the most powerful person in the world, what’s the point? I think Superman is a far more compelling character when he is just simply, honestly trying to do the decent thing.

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Image source: http://comicvine.gamespot.com

Think back to the original Christopher Donner movie in 1978, which is the most enduring image of Clark Kent/Superman, and you’ll realize that there is actually very little violence in that movie. It is this huge blockbuster film that has stood the test of time, and it’s all about Superman saving people. He barely throws a punch the whole time. He catches a helicopter, derails a nuke, time travels, and hilariously kicks a football out of the stratosphere, but there is barely any violence. That’s because the character sitting in the clouds in All-Star Superman with that easy smile on his lips doesn’t need to be violent.

Speaking of the comic from which I seem to be pulling my whole argument, I think it’s important to share the most important page from within its story.

A teenage girl, with tears on her face, is standing on the edge of a high roof. She’s working up the courage to jump.

Then, behind her, the panel is filled with that familiar mix of blue, red, and yellow. “Your doctor really did get held up again, Regan” he says, and you can see the surprise on the girl’s face to suddenly not be alone. “It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.”

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Image source: http://comixology.com

And he hugs her.

That, I think, is the Superman that we need right now, more than ever. We don’t need an angry, grim goliath of strength knocking over cities or being forced to kill the villain. We don’t need a boy scout trying to out-grimace Batman.

We have other heroes to be our violent protectors, to be grim and complicated and scary.

But that’s not my Superman. That’s not the character dreamed up by two Jewish-American immigrants who were just wishing for a saviour in the form of a decent person. Superman doesn’t need to evolve to adapt to darker times. He was born out of the imagination of two young men terrified of the rise of the Nazi regime. What is darker than that?

Superman doesn’t work as a dark, complicated character, because that isn’t the point of him.

My Superman is the one sitting up in the clouds with a smile. My Superman is Christopher Reeves telling Lois Lane she shouldn’t smoke.

My Superman is the one who stops a teenage suicide, and holds us all tight. When Superman says “Trust me,” that girl on the rooftop believes him. Because who should we trust more than Superman?

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Playground Politics

 The funny books aren’t funny anymore.

By this I mean that, excluding Archie and the odd issue of Squirrel Girl, mainstream comics haven’t been true to their name for years now. Whether you like it or not, gone are the days of the classic ten-cent The Beano and The Dandy your granny used to read down at the corner shop. This is no one’s fault, really, at least no one specific. The heart of this change is within our changing world.

Today in North America, the political world is vibrant and teeming. Not only are we in a time of great political change both in Canada and the United States, but we are also surrounded by numerous and increasingly frequent events and crises that many are all too eager to spin to fit their political viewpoints. From immigration to ISIS to LGBTQ+ rights and beyond, there doesn’t seem to be anything safe from the perusal of daytime news or the mockery of late-night talk shows.

So where do comics fit into all of this?

Author Nick Spencer and artist Daniel Acuña present their answer to this question in the form of Captain America: Sam Wilson, Marvel’s current Captain America title. Here they tackle issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, as well as building racial tensions, poverty and the shrinking middle class, and, most notably, the issue of illegal immigration over the Mexican border along with various reactions to it.

This isn’t the first time comics have been used as a platform to address political and societal issues; V for Vendetta and Watchmen did it in the eighties, as did Hellblazer in the late eighties and early nineties, and X-Men has been representing minorities for many years, to name a few. However, Spencer and Acuña’s new effort seems to signal a violent shift towards an even more culturally relevant title.

Captain America: Sam Wilson chooses to rest in the middle of this cultural spotlight, and is not afraid to tackle touchy subjects within its pages. The protagonist and namesake, Sam Wilson, the new Captain America, takes an active stance, frequently confronting the polarization of views towards cultural issues.

“Red and Blue, Black and White, Republican and Democrat, North and South—Feels like we’re constantly at each other’s throats,” he says in the first issue, in which this popular superhero makes himself incredibly unpopular literally overnight by “going partisan” and sharing his personal views on political issues. In the world of the comic, this action leads to the public questioning what role superheroes play in politics; in our world, this spurs our discussion of the political role of comic books.

Fox & Friends’ Elisabeth Hasselbeck believes she has the answer to this discussion.

“Keep politics out of comic books, that’s what I say,” she declared at the end of a segment focused on Spencer and Acuña’s new book, in which she and her two co-anchors Clayton Morris and Tucker Carlson expressed their extreme displeasure at the message that it attempts to present. The main focus of their disgruntlement was the main antagonists of the first and second issues, the Sons of the Serpent, who are portrayed in the books as American ultra-conservative extremists attempting to repel illegal Mexican immigrants through vigilantism. Though these villains have been a mainstay of Captain America comics since the sixties, acting as a Marvel Universe proxy for the KKK, the crew at Fox & Friends saw them as a display that “now the threat comes from ordinary Americans—probably some of you watching at home!”

It is unsurprising then, in the face of this real world controversy, that Spencer depicts a similar reaction to Sam’s actions in the world of the comic, as he is quickly dubbed “Sam Wilson: Captain Anti-America,” by a fictional news organization.

Furthermore, the comic adds another layer of depth to the question by highlighting the previous Captain America’s very reserved stance in the realm of politics, a thought that is echoed once again by Fox & Friends when they comment on how much they liked the older Captain America stories in which he did heroic things like punch Hitler in the face. Is good ol’ Nazi bashing fun not good enough for today’s modern readers?

The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple “yes” or “no.”

Punching Nazis, while an enjoyable pastime, was not necessarily “good enough” in the forties when the original Captain America was published, just as it is not necessarily “good enough” now. It is not a matter of whether it was good or bad content, but rather one of cultural relevancy. In a time of war and ten-cent The Beanos and The Dandys, people needed a fun dose of Hitler smacking. Today, when comics and other forms of graphic fiction have the capacity to be instruments of social questioning and change, rather than simple amusements, there is almost a responsibility to make use of the opportunity.

This does not necessarily mean that every comic book creator has to write about politically charged and controversial topics, likely to get them more hate mail than Eisner Awards. It does mean that creators should realize that these opportunities exist, and that using the same old bag of tricks on modern audiences may work about as well as promoting newsprint to a world of social media.

Ultimately, one’s own perception of what graphic fiction should be is vital to deciding what it can be, but in terms of having an influence on politics, it clearly has the ability to at least encourage readers to question their world and culture.

The funny books aren’t funny anymore, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski

Not Your Usual Post-Apocalypse: The World of Stand Still Stay Silent

Ninety years later, everything is gone. Everything except Scandinavia, that is.

Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are all that remain of the Known world, and only Iceland is a completely safe area. As far as anybody knows, the rest of the Silent world is populated by the terrifying and dangerous victims of the Rash Illness, a pandemic that started innocuously and swept the globe, decimating almost all human and animal life. Those who succumb to the Illness either die or become the beasts, trolls, and giants that roam the Silent world in what appears to be perpetual agony. The remaining human life is concentrated in small, safe settlements, and they deal with their dangerous surroundings through a combination of fire, military prowess, magic, and cats.

Yes, that’s right, cats—somehow the only mammals immune to the Illness and invaluable allies to the surviving humans.

Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish woman and the writer and artist of Stand Still Stay Silent (draws upon Nordic mythology to tell her post-apocalyptic story in this ongoing webcomic, which began in 2013 and updates every weekday. A particular info sheet from the webcomic that depicts the Indo-European language tree has acquired a significant online presence outside of its original context, so all you language nerds out there may have seen her art before without realizing it. Readers may also know her from A Redtail’s Dream, a webcomic she completed as a sophomore about a young man and his shape-shifting dog who are tasked with saving their village from a meddling trickster fox. Both comics feature her beautiful artwork, which brings both the Nordic landscape and mystical dreamscapes to life in vivid colour. Sundberg creates a truly entrancing webcomic experience in her website design, which leaves no detail unattended to and draws the reader seamlessly into the pages of her story.

The ease with which the reader is brought into the world helps us follow the adventures of the motley crew embarking upon an expedition to explore the Silent world. Barely any of the six main characters have combat experience, so the two Finnish cousins and the young Swedish aristocrat follow the lead of a brash Norwegian captain and a chronically unemployable Dane. The Icelander who joins them later is a shepherd, who is even less experienced than the other three characters who are in their early twenties. The poorly funded crew is the first of its kind, in part because most of the remaining civilizations have little interest in rediscovering an old world that succumbed to so much death and decay. Described by Sundberg herself as “a story about friendship and exploring a forgotten world, with some horror, monsters, and magic on the side,” the crew find themselves working through language and personality barriers as they uncover old books and encounter strange creatures in the abandoned cityscapes. The characters are hilarious and compelling, and the world they inhabit is rich and intriguing. Sundberg often inserts worldbuilding pages near the end of chapters, offering insight into aspects of the post-apocalyptic society such as “The Blessed Felines” and their training process, the differences between Icelandic and Finnish mages, or “The Dagrenning program,” akin to in vitro fertilization and allowing Icelandic citizens to have children who are immune to the Illness.

At times, the tone of the comic becomes notably serious, even horrific. As the crew journeys farther and farther away from safe and inhabited lands, they witness the consequences of the Illness first-hand in old hospital wards and through fighting the creatures that attack them. In the Silent world, “the first rule for survival outside the safe areas” is to “stand still and stay silent” rather than running or calling for help when a beast, a troll, or a giant is encountered, because “it might go away.” For the inexperienced crew, the stakes are understandably high. One wrong turn could get them killed, and it seems they can’t help but make wrong turns everywhere they go. Sundberg makes the difficult shift from comedic banter to terrifying and tragic troll encounter seem effortless.

Beyond its excellent art and writing, Stand Still Stay Silent is a prime example of the new ways online publication can bring together fans of speculative work. The comic has an active readership that contributes to its comments section and participates in the fan forum, which has become a repository for the fan work that arises out of the comments. In particular, the fan community of this webcomic seems to favour writing poetry and filk songs (a genre of music related to fantasy and sci-fi, which often parodies of existing music) about scenes and ideas pertaining to the plot and characters. Though most of the works—particularly the filk songs—are written in English, some commenters even write poetry in traditional Scandinavian poetic forms and translate their fan work into English. The cultural exchange that occurs in the comments shows the power speculative fiction has to bring together people from all across the world over a shared interest. This celebration of friendship and adventure parallels the themes of Sundberg’s creation, with many more new fan works sure to come as the webcomic continues to develop.

-Contributed by Victoria Liao

Jessica Jones: It’s Time to Learn Her Name

The_Pulse_Vol_1_11_page_00_Jessica_Jones_(Earth-616)

When Marvel announced that it would be putting out several series on Netflix about street-level heroes, they told us who we’d be getting: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. And as I tried to force everyone I know to be just as excited as I was, whenever I reached the name Jessica Jones (to be played by Krysten Ritter), I was given a single overwhelming response:

“Who?”

With her thirteen-episode Netflix series by showrunner Melissa Rosenberg coming out in November, and my moral compulsion to tell people about good comics, I’ve decided, fine—I’ll tell you who Jessica Jones is.

In her short history of publication, a lot has happened to Jessica Jones. She gets married to Luke Cage (to be played by Mike Colter), they have a baby (who practically all the Avengers babysit), she and Luke run an Avengers team, and they fight off an alien invasion! But for this article, and keeping in mind what the show will be about, I’ll focus on the early days of Jessica Jones.

It makes sense that so few people know about Jessica. She is not of the Stan Lee golden-era of classic heroes. She’s just over a decade old, and debuted in a less than mainstream series.

In 2001, writer Brian Michael Bendis (of Ultimate Spider-Man fame) pitched a new series: a gritty, down-to-earth private detective comic, starring a former superhero who walked away from the life in tights. At first it was going to be an out-of-continuity miniseries, starring Spider-Woman Jessica Drew (who would indeed appear in a later Alias arc).

But, deciding he wanted to create something all his own, Bendis promptly changed the last name in his scripts. The wonderful watercolours of David Mack made up the covers and artist Michael Gaydos filled the interiors of Jessica’s world.

Thus, Jessica Jones was born!

Jessica begins as a normal kid, attending Midtown High alongside Peter Parker, who she has a crush on but never works up the nerve to speak to. Then, she is in a car accident—her family hits a truck carrying the trademarked radioactive waste that always activates superpowers in comics. Her family is killed. After a year-long coma, Jessica survives. Gifted with flight, durability, and super strength, Jessica briefly tries her hand as a costumed superhero called Jewel. But after a scarring event, she gives it all up.

As a private detective, Jessica takes on clients who often hire her to find a loved one or to spy on a spouse. She makes a living. She smokes, she swears, and sometimes she drinks too much. She is disillusioned with both the system and the world she lives in. Police resent her for her former superhero lifestyle; heroes hate her for giving it up. Jessica hates most of them because she thinks they’re awful.

This is how we first meet Jessica Jones. She’s angry, she’s unhappy, and she’s carrying a lot of baggage that she doesn’t like to face. She’s self-destructive, and has a bit of self-hatred. She’s not a superhero. She doesn’t throw herself at muggers or race into burning buildings.

But she does her job. Each time Jessica is given a case, she is thrown into a world of dangerous people and people in danger. But underneath all her pathos, her messed-up sense of self, her cynicism, and her bad language, Jessica can’t help but get sucked into other people’s problems. Ultimately, she is an empathetic, moral person—and a hero.

In a great crossover moment, she’s hired to be Matt Murdock’s bodyguard when he is publicly outed as Daredevil (the comic Daredevil was also written by Bendis at the time). There’s also a time when J. Jonah Jameson hires her to find out who Spider-Man is, and she spends weeks billing him while she feeds the homeless and doesn’t bother to investigate… because Jessica Jones is amazing.

Far away from the fantastical epics of the Avengers or the X-Men, Jessica’s world is that of a noir detective drama, infused with superpowers and a heavy dose of humanity. I think the story that truly best illustrates what made Alias such a special book also happens to be the only case that takes Jessica outside of New York.

Alias issues eleven through fourteen tell the four-part story, “ReBeCCa, PLeaSe CoMe HoMe”. Jessica is hired by single mother in small-town New York to find her missing child.

Some claim her alcoholic father kidnapped her; others don’t know what to think. But as Jessica continues her investigations, a single uniform rumour about the missing Rebecca begins to emerge: Rebecca has run away from home because she is a mutant.

This is a story in which Jessica tackles the horrible reality of how bigotry still holds its place in the modern world. Its greatest moment is when Jessica confronts a priest as he gives a sermon filled with hate speech against mutants. It really says something about the nature of this book and its character that it tackles the mutant metaphor of oppression and persecution better than most X-Men books.

But Jessica is by no means a perfect character. In a way, Alias is a book about someone suffering from depression and PTSD, caused by her short time as a costumed hero and the abuse she suffered at the hands of the mind-controlling villain, The Purple Man (to be played by David Tennant). In the end, however, Jessica manages to beat The Purple Man and begins to make an effort to fight her inner demons as well.

Alias starts with Jessica punching a man through her front door and getting far too drunk, but ends with her beating the bad guy and making a stab at happiness.

Hers is a crass, brutal, and blunt story. It is about the importance of having friends, standing up for what one believes in, and how to love oneself. It is a great story. So, if you have any time between now and November, I’d suggest picking it up and reading it. Then on November 20, please join me in binge-watching all thirteen episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix! (Viewer discretion is advised.)

Contributed by Ben Ghan