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:

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(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.

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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

Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

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Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

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Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

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Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

rollingstone
Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

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

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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

Doing What’s Right: A Review of Captain America – Civil War

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Image source: marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com

“No. You move.”

Captain America: Civil War needed to be a lot of things. As the introduction of both Black Panther and a new Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the final instalment in the Captain America trilogy, and the sequel to both First Avenger and Winter Soldier, this movie is also the culmination of a journey that Marvel has been headed towards since Robert Downey Jr. first appeared on screen in Iron Man.

It feels very much like we were always heading for this.

Amazingly, it works. Civil War works as an Avengers movie (with, oddly enough, more Avengers than either of the movies to actually use the title), but more importantly, it works as a Captain America movie. The grander scope and moral debate at the heart of Civil War is all filtered through Cap. Even if you disagree with him, the morality makes this not only a thrillingly engaging action movie, but also one of the most emotionally investing that Marvel has ever produced.

Let’s set the scene: the characters in the Marvel U have finally noticed what we the audience have been pointing out for years. When the Avengers save the day, there is always a ton of destruction and collateral damage. Avengers fought a war in New York, (the ramifications of which are still felt on the Marvel Netflix series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones), The Winter Soldier destroyed Washington, DC, and then Age of Ultron lifted the city state of Sokovia thousands of feet into the air then vaporized it.

The Avengers come to fight and people die. Finally, the world has noticed. When an Avengers mission chasing the mercenary Crossbones through Lagos in Nigeria ends with the accidental destruction of a building, and the death of several diplomats from the nation of Wakanda, it seems to be just one step too far.

The Avengers are issued an ultimatum in the form of “The Sokovia Accords”.

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Once signed, the Avengers will no longer act autonomously, but be sanctioned and controlled by a United Nations panel. This mirrors the “registration actof the Civil War comic which ordered heroes to register with the government; however, since practically nobody in the MCU has a secret identity, this element has been stripped away.

What is brilliant about the motivations of the characters in this movie is that they all make sense. You understand why some characters sign the accords and others don’t. When the lines are drawn, you understand why each Avenger has chosen the side they do.

Tony Stark (Iron Man) began as the ultimate capitalist. In his second movie, he famously stated that he’d “privatized world peace”. But over the years, from the first Avengers movie and Iron Man 3 to Age of Ultron, we have seen Tony becoming increasingly paranoid and obsessed with security. He is shown time and time again that he and others are not responsible enough keep the world safe on their own. So this is the Tony Stark entering Captain America: Civil War. He signs the Accords because he believes the Avengers operating above the law is no longer the right thing to do.

Then we have Captain America. Steve Rogers, who, in his first movie, had such a powerful faith in the systems of government, has been repeatedly shown that these systems fail. The Army tried to stop him when he could save the lives of Bucky and his friends, so Steve disobeyed orders and saved the day. In The Avengers, Steve finds a government that lies to him, and a Shield that pilfers Hydra technology and is willing to launch a nuclear bomb at the island of Manhattan. Then, in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Steve finds his trust in systems totally shattered as Shield is revealed to be mostly controlled by the Nazi death cult of Hydra. As Steve says in the movie: “The safest hands are still our own.”

Tony can only trust systems, and Steve can only trust individuals. So with a small push from Sharon Carter, who gives Steve a speech that Cap famously gives to Spider-Man in the Civil War comic, Cap refuses to sign the accords and the Avengers are split. It’s a testament to the even footing that both points of view are given that even after having seen the movie twice, I still can’t completely commit to one side or the other.

That could have been the whole crux of the story, but of course it isn’t. This is a Captain America movie, and the sequel to Winter Soldier. And that means Bucky, and not just as an afterthought. The movie starts with a flashback to the 1990s of the Winter Soldier making an assassination on an old lonely road. When the signing of the Accords are sabotaged, the Winter Soldier takes the blame.

This is where the mysterious villain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) enters the picture, having uncovered an old Hydra book containing the code words that can hypnotize poor Bucky, bringing out his murderous Winter Soldier side.

Zemo’s backstory is simple. He was Sokovian military, he feels that the Avengers killed his family in Age of Ultron, and wants revenge. He is a surprisingly effective villain, and (though still a little lackluster, as almost all Marvel villains tend to be), I actually really enjoyed his simple, subtle, and ultimately tragic character. I was also pleased to find a villain who understood he couldn’t just kill the Avengers. Finally, we have a bad guy who doesn’t think himself stronger than Earth’s mightiest.

It is the hunt for the Winter Soldier that truly drives the movie: Cap’s insistence on saving his old friend and everyone else’s insistence on his guilt puts Cap up against UN orders. When Zemo sneaks into the UN under the guise of a therapist, he activates Bucky to escape (who then basically walks through all the Avengers because Bucky is Marvel’s equivalent of The Terminator). But it is Cap grabbing hold of Buck’s helicopter and crashing it down into the river below that brands Cap, Bucky, and Sam Wilson (Falcon) as fugitives from justice.

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Falcon, by the way, seems to be almost solely motivated by the desire to make Steve Rogers smile, regardless of his own personal investment in whatever is happening. And it is amazing.

On this note, Falcon and Bucky share relatively little screen time together, but when they do it’s also incredible. If this were a romantic comedy, Sam and Bucky would essentially be Steve’s two boyfriends jostling for his attention while glaring at each other and thinking “Steve likes me best.”

At this point, it is also important to talk about Chadwick Boswin’s “King T’challa” (Black Panther). The actor invented his own accent for the role, since Black Panther is the king of a fictional African country. Black Panther isn’t on one side, so much as he just really wants to kill Bucky, for reasons that make perfect sense. The character is regal, lethal, and fights like an actual cat. Even his costume is amazing, and I’m incredibly excited for his solo movie. In the end, between the voices of Cap and Iron Man, Black Panther works as the third perspective. He is essential to the plot, and at no point does his inclusion feel forced.

The Avengers eventually meet at the Berlin airport, Cap and his team racing to capture Zemo, and Iron Man and his side determined to bring Cap to justice. Everyone gets their moment in this fight. Scarlet Witch gets a whole bunch. And Ant Man, a character who I was ambivalent about in his own movie, gets a moment here which might go down as one of my favourite in movie history.

Tom Holland’s motivations and reality as “Spider-Man” and “Peter Parker” are set-up beautifully in just one scene. Through his conversations with Tony, we see Peter as the shy awkward kid who just wants to make a difference and protect the “little guy”. Which, by the way, perfectly mirrors the moment Steve had in the first Captain America movie, when Dr. Erskine asks why he wants to join the war effort.

Then we get Spider-Man for the long and glorious airport Avengers brawl.

He’s perfect. Spidey holds his own against even the Winter Soldier (where all the other Avengers have failed), fighting against Cap and his team. He’s strong and fast, flipping through the air with webs flying around him, and he won’t stop talking.

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This is the Spider-Man we’ve always wanted to see. In the twenty-five minutes he appears in this movie, Spider-Man acts more like the famous chatty, annoying kid who’s swung through comic pages for fifty years than any of the five whole Spiderman movies. As a criticism, there is no real reason for Spider-Man to be in the movie at all from a narrative point of view, but he makes up for it by being incredibly fun.

But this is all leading towards a confrontation between Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man. Without spoiling anything, the climax of Civil War has surprisingly low stakes. There’s no classic world-ending scheme or invading army. All of that is traded for emotional stakes.

Civil War is in many ways a tragedy, as the heroes don’t make amends in the end, but instead fall into a greater split that goes beyond politics. Come the end of the movie, Iron Man is fighting for vengeance and Cap is fighting for friendship, in a harrowing, violent confrontation where just for a moment, you might really believe that one of these heroes is going to kill the other.

What’s really well done is at no point does this conflict feel forced. You understand, as everything is slowly stripped away from him, why Cap will fight for Bucky at all costs. But similarly you understand why, by the end of the movie, Iron Man feels he needs to kill the Winter Soldier.

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Usually motives in a superhero movie are pretty simple. The good guy wants to be good, and the bad guy doesn’t, and then they fight. That isn’t Civil War. We understand and accept the motivations driving each opposing side, and that is why this movie works so well. It’s also why at the end, as Captain America and Iron Man fight so brutally, it really is tragic.

In all this, Steve Rogers seems to have completed the arc he began all the way back in his first movie, to transform from a man into a legend.

“You’re trying to do what you think is right,” are nearly Cap’s last words of the film. “That’s all any of us can do.”

Because this is who Cap is: he’s going to do what he thinks is right.

I’m sure everyone will be back together again by the end of the next Avengers movie, but that doesn’t change how powerful this movie was.

Captain America: Civil War, is arguably both the best solo and team movie Marvel has produced. For the first time, we are wrapping up a superhero trilogy without a weak link.

Civil War raises the bar for everything that must follow, and incidentally, this is the first I can remember where I walked out of the theater considering the movie to be better than its source material.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Not My Superman

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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

Daredevil Season 2: Here Comes the Man Without Fear

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Image source: http://www.superherohype.com

There’s a moment in the third episode of this season where, faced with fighting his way down a whole building of armed thugs, Matt Murdock gives a quick grin from under his mask, and then with a sudden violent and terrible fury he roars, smashing out the lights overhead. At this point, I almost unconsciously pointed at my screen, and whispered, Here comes Daredevil, the man without fear.” Because this is a character with such a long history, with titans behind the page like Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, Ann Nocenti, Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, and Mark Waid, there are many different interpretations of the character.

So of course, Netflix’s Daredevil can’t be any one of those specific incarnations. But there is such love, understanding, and attention to detail being put into not only the incredible Charlie Cox’s performance but behind the camera as well that it’s just dazzling. Through all the years and runs of comics, the people on this show really know what makes Daredevil Daredevil. Not just the man, but the world he exists in and the characters around him.

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Image Source: http://www.superherohype.com

Let’s start this review with the Punisher as portrayed by Jon Bernthal. Yes, this is the Punisher we’ve been waiting for. Episodes one to four of this season play like the Daredevil vs Punisher movie, and while I don’t mean to belittle the greatness of the remaining episodes, those first four make for a spectacular bit of television. Punisher is brutal, unforgiving, and terrifying. He’s also uncomfortably understandable, occasionally sympathetic, and at one point genuinely heart-breaking. Some of the best scenes of the season aren’t the (incredibly good) fight scenes, but the dialogue between Daredevil and Punisher, two figures who, in a way, are trying to do the same thing. In Matt Murdock’s own words, Frank Castle is actually a good man, he just doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong anymore.

Even though after the first four episodes, Daredevil and Punisher only directly cross paths a few  times, that isn’t how it ends. Much of the middle of this season is taken up by the trial of the Punisher: Frank Castle vs the people of New York. This is where we get to see Elden Henson’s “Foggy Nelson” and Deborah Ann Wolf’s “Karen Page” shine.

Foggy is a real lawyer. This was a criticism of Daredevil’s freshman year, that the lawyer side didn’t get much… lawyering. This time we get some real lawyerly stuff. All throughout the trial, Foggy (who didn’t want to defend the Punisher in the first place) absolutely shines. He’s smart, sincere, and really sells it as a guy who only just now realized that he’s good at his job.

Karen, on the other hand, goes a different way this season. Honestly, it feels like the writers weren’t initially quite sure what to do with Karen this year. She and Matt strike up an almost-romance, but that kind of fizzles out. She also develops a rapport with the Punisher during his trial, because if last year taught us anything, it’s that Karen enjoys the company of dangerous men. (He dresses like the devil and punches? Nice. He straight up murders bad guys? Nicer). But eventually, it was her involvement in the old world of the New York Globe that I liked.

If there was any element of season one I initially missed, it was the grim, world-weary detective work of reporter Ben Urich. But slowly, Karen slips into his shoes. She makes a good reporter, and she was always a better investigator then secretary. So while this role is a departure from the comics, it’s a welcome one. Her interactions with Ellison, Ben’s old editor, bring a smile to my face.

The awesome Rosario Dawson also returns as Claire the nurse, as does Matt’s priest, Father Lantom (portrayed by Peter McRobbie), but both in a far more minor capacity. They are Matt’s voices of reason, and in a season of an increasingly unreasonable hero, it makes sense that their voices take a back seat.

But, when talking about this second half of the season, you might be wondering, “Where did Matt go?” Enter Elektra Natchios. Much of her background from the comics has been changed, but the important notes stay the same. She was Matt’s old college flame, she very much enjoys violence, and she’s got some secrets in the dark.

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Image source: http://www.superherohype.com

Elodie Yung’sElektra” brings a sense of escalating violence, of spinning out of control, and of the giddy embracing of a more fantastical life. She does it very well, and manages to bring more to the role, to create a far fuller and more interesting character than any version of Catwoman who supposedly tempted Batman on screen. She is continually there, like a younger echo of Daredevil’s old mentor Stick, reminding him his life in the mask is so much easier than his life in the dark-red glasses.

Unlike characters like Spider-Man, who constantly throw their costumes in the trash, Matt Murdock likes being Daredevil. That becomes a part of the conflict later in the season, as it becomes easier and easier to just put on the mask and beat a bad guy then it is to put on a tie and try to survive the world as Matt Murdock. This is why, unfortunately, we see very little of Matt Murdock in the Punisher’s trial, although when we do see him he is something to watch.

In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I’m going to avoid talking about the last few episodes of the season. However, I think it’s fairly okay to say that yes, The Hand (cult of evil ninjas) are the bad guys this season. They never quite match the threat or emotional investment of Wilson Fisk or Frank Castle, nor is their evil plan ever fully, properly explained, but I think we’re going to be seeing them again.

In a way, it feels like the writing room of Daredevil was as divided as the characters themselves, with half wanting to do the Punisher, and the other half wanting Elektra and The Hand. So we got both. I won’t complain, really. I do think that the two halves of the season could have coalesced a little more tightly. But I’m a guy who likes all the big names in one room. I can’t always get what I want.

While the action in Daredevil has always been something else, it’s easy to admit the dialogue and pacing in its second season are a big improvement. A problem near the end of season one was the pacing. It became very slow, almost stretching to the point where I have trouble remembering certain episodes. But this time around, the pace continues to pick up, getting faster and faster. The characters can talk about their different ideas of justice, and heroes, and their relationship to the city, without it ever becoming bulky or heavy-handed.

New York City is as much a character as Matt himself. He really does love his city. Daredevil manages to capture a bit of the superhero mythos that many of its big screen counterparts have lost. It’s that strange, possessive idea that the city belongs to its heroes as much as the heroes belong to their city.

“My city.” Matt says this many times throughout the series. Not “in my city”, “our city”, or “this city”. “My city”. It’s a sentiment echoed by Karen, and Foggy, and even the villains.

This is the way Daredevil feels about Hell’s Kitchen. It is a deep, emotional attachment to the roots of his city, making his city almost something mythic to be protected and understood. This, more than anything else, is who Daredevil is.

This is a show that understands its characters with incredible depth and nuance. This is Daredevil, and the Punisher. That is the Hell’s Kitchen of the Daredevil comics. Honestly, I think I can just say: job well done. When is season three?

-Contributed by Ben Ghan