5 arguments against overt, negative criticism of super heroes and comics

How respectable are comics, really? Comic book movies attract millions of people to cinemas. But what level of respect do these characters in costume receive?
Some might answer:
Yes, they are a respectable character archetype.
It’s not about the money the films garner.
The characters have meaning for the audience. We can look up to their example, if we want.
But others might argue that a man or woman lifting a car overhead, wearing bright colours, is disrespectful. Childish, and meaningless: a shallow stories punctuated with special-effects.
For situations where the criticism is negative in the extreme, there are several valid replies.
Here are five arguments against overtly negative criticism of super heroes and comics

1. Comics cross generations. Comics are stories that have the Same impact to an 80 year old as an 8 year old.

You might here someone say, or imply, that comics are for children. Comics connect with people of any age, or at least have the potential to reach people of any age. And media that unites generations is valuable.

2. Comics show ideas Of justice. Abstract concepts like justice become concrete and meaningful in comics.

Justice can be abstract. Abstract concepts are difficult to understand. A well researched and pitched comic story can act out and demonstrate abstract justice. They make justice concrete. And concrete concepts are easier to grasp.

3. Comics speak out against oppression.

Many different productions – novels, TV, and theatre- speak out against oppression. But comic books have gained a large platform. With that platform, they can speak out against oppression. Comics have supported the disenfranchised for decades, going back to the stories of Marvel’s X-men in the 1980’s.
Of course, no media is free of problematic issues. Some comics arguably maintain oppression. This point falls beyond this article’s scope, but is a fair point worth discussion.

4. They show us that caring about values and communities is fun.

Comics such as Ms.Marvel tell stories about thriving communities. Super Heroes in comics can care about their community. Comics tell stories that represent core values (humility, compassion, empathy) in a fun and engaging, playful way.

5. Superheroes in comics embody Communities. We follow their journeys, and gain a modicum of empathy.

By representing diverse communities more and more, audiences gain an insights. They get to know other people, and other communities we are not familiar with. Like argument number 3 above, other media can achieve this. Comics combine words and pictures, however. They can give insight in a unique and engaging way not found in other media.
These arguments were gathered from a talk held at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) on super heroes and the real world, which I wrote about in a previous post.
For more comics content on the Wallflyer and you can follow me, Joe, on twitter @thewallflyer.

Marvel elements and minerals other than Adamantium

The Marvel Universe is a home to several different types of fictional elements and minerals. However, since Marvel Studios does not own the copyright to the X-Men, and their associated elements and minerals, Adamantium has only appeared in the X-Men films, and the Wolverine films. This post is a short list of some of the fictional elements, minerals, and substances that appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe other than Adamantium.

Vibranium – Mined in Wakanda, used by Black Panther, Captain America, and Ultron.

Black Panther’s claws and armour are woven and developed from this raw material. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ultron created a powerful shell for its memory and software to reside on. Despite the strength and durability of this element and it’s derivative alloys – Captain America’s shield is the most well known example – the shell broke. Three other elements working together were able to destroy Vibranium. These are “Badassium”, Uru, and an Infinity Stone.

“Badassium” – A New Element from Tony Stark.

This is the new element Iron Man created after following an encoded schematic left to him by his father Howard Stark. He hacked together a particle accelerator in his basement, and used the stream of particles to forge this new substance. Although there is no reliable source for this, Stark wanted to patent his new element as “Badassium”.

Energy from this element, housed in his armour’s arc reactor, was able to damage Ultron’s Vibranium shell.

Uru – Mythical and magical, the alloy or element Thor’s hammer is made out of.

Thor’s hammer Mjolnir (“Mye-Mye”) is made out of this mythological metal. Uru requires the kind of heat found in the heart of star to become malleable and manipulated. The elements or mineral refined into Uru can only be found in Nidavellir, one of the nine realms. The magical side of the element means that objects are created with enchantments that allow a spiritual bond to form between the carrier, and the Uru object. Thor’s bond with Mjolnir is an example.

Lightning channelled through the hammer, along with Stark’s  New Element, was also able to damage Ultron’s Vibranium shell.

Infinity Stones – A complete mystery, possibly a mineral like other gemstones, but could be anything.

It’s not clearly stated what mineral these stones are made from. They are referred to  as “singularities” by the collector. The term singularities has a wide range of meanings. For example, the state of the universe before the creation of stars and planets is sometimes called a singularity. Based on this information, the Infinity stones could be made of anything. The Vision carriers  the Mind Stone embedded in his forehead. He can fire a powerful beam of gold energy using the stone.

Gravitonium – A new element discovered in a mine on Earth.

in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, scientist Dr. Franklin Hall studied gravity, and developed a theory that an exotic material could control gravity. Eventually, he discovered Gravitonium in a mine. After a series of event in Agents of SHIELD season one, Hall was trapped inside the Gravitonium, and the element was stored away. It is likely the Doctor will return at some point in the future.

Outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there remains an extensive list of imagined and fictional substances. One article on Wikipedia attempts to round up and catalogue these elements and minerals. I have just one follow up question – are there any other elements, minerals, alloys, or other substances that stand out, or should be catalogued?

Superman #37, Uncanny X-men #29, Daredevil #11 – Short Comic Review

While I’m on vacation for Christmas and New Year, I’ve put together a short round up of comics published this week. I’ll return to full reviews on January 10, 2015.

Superman #37

Ulysses visited Earth from another dimension several months ago, and has since teamed up with Superman to protect Metropolis. Recently, he broadcast a message: anyone on Earth is welcome to leave behind their problems and return with him to his home dimension. The price of a new start in a this Utopia is revealed here. Superman may not be able to save everyone.

The light blue energy that acts as Ulysses power source crackles accross the page: a bright lightening. There are themes here of over-population here, and the limited resources of both Earth and Ulysses home planet are discussed. There are large, light-filled scenes of “The Great World”, however the comic book presents a darker, violence fuelled storyline.

Uncanny X-men #29

Time travel is playing an increasingly larger role in Uncanny X-men. The issue begins with Time Travel, and ends with it. Considering that the current story arc concerns a powerful mutant with the ability to bend time, space, and matter at will, it makes sense that characters with the ability to time travel, namely Illyana Rasputin and Eva Bell, would use all abilities to stop the problems escalating.

Matthew Malloy’s abilities are the greatest of any mutant the X-men have encountered. Public opinion and SHIELD policy has grown increasinly anti-mutant, and pressure is placed on the X-men to contain Malloy. The other option is overwhelming military attack on the Uncanny X-men.

The scenes where Magneto weighs into the conversation between Cyclops and Malloy have detailed artwork, with great contrast in colour and ink. Later, when Eva Bell persuades the other Uncanny X-men that time travel is the only solution to the escalating problem.

Daredevil #11

Kirsten McDuffie and Daredevil take on a new case, and continue to write Matt Murdock’s memoir. Stunt Master was a character who sold his image and costume to a corporation. A new corporate-sponsored Stunt-Master uses everything at his disposal to create new and exciting publicity. Media strategies include borrowing Daredevil‘s tag-line “The Man Without Fear”, and even challenging Daredevil to an acrobatic challenge.

The first stunt-master, however, is unsatisfied with how his image was taken and used beyond the original contract he signed. The artwork for scenes where McDuffie, Murdock, and Smith discuss the case highlights Daredevil‘s sensory abilities to build character. George Smith has had a rough time. Sounds from the pins remaining after rehabilitative surgery to support his bones are audible to Daredevil. There are themes of dignity and resilience in this comic. A two page artwork where Daredevil stands his ground against Stunt-Master rushing at him on his bike stand out as excellent artwork.

Guardians of the Galaxy #21 – Comic Review

Tony Stark recommended that Flash Thompson – a soldier currently wearing the alien Venom symbiote – join the Guardians of the Galaxy. Possibly, Stark believed the alien should be sent back to space where it came from.

Guardians of the Galaxy #21 offers:

  • Good sequences of panels during action and conversation scenes
  • Different designs for the villain Venom
  • Themes of control, and compulsions

Venom’s character design changes several times during this comic, and is suitably alien. At one stage, the symbiote can compare to Big Chill, an alien from Ben Ten.

Art choices for the appearance of Venom in this comic book are suitably for science fiction. This is because the hood and cloak design Venom shows off when stalking Kree on the Planet Spartax looks alien.

It resembles Big Chill from the Cartoon Network animated series Ben Ten. Both Venom in this comic and Big Chill wrap moth-like wings around themselves, which creates a cloak and cowl look.

Later, fight scene between Gamora and Venom showcase good choices of background colour and inking. Lines drastically add to the flow of action, as the pencilling renders Gamora’s acrobatic skills in avoiding the Symbiotes’ flurry of strikes. Venom’s appearance shifts again here, becoming even more like an insect for a moment.

A sequence of panels where Star Lord describes his past, brief relationships shows Kitty Pryde becoming more concerned across a series of panels. Each panel captures her facial expression changing with each second she hears more of Peter Quill’s past “hookups…[and]…meaningless stuff.”

Venom and Flash Thompson conflict over control, while Star Lord and Kitty Pryde’s continue their new, long-distance relationship. Rage and violence dominate Venom’s behaviour, while Drax the Destroyer has quiet, but similarly violent moments.

Flash Thompson moans that he was not in control of the Symbiotic alien Venom. He can control it on Earth, he argues. Alongside this central conflict rests Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde’s new relationship, in which Peter struggles to control his behaviour.

Rage is common for him. Thompson screeches in angry, short outbursts. He violently dispatches with aliens who cross his path, or cannot give him what he wants: a way back to Earth.

Drax the Destroyer does not have more than a few lines in the comic book, but does stage a lengthy, violent battle with an alien beast.

Control appears often in this comic. Venom and Flash Thompson form the centre of this theme since Thompson constantly struggles for control with the alien symbiote . Parallel to their relationship is an altogether different one, between Star Lord and Kitty Pryde. Star Lord makes a point to Pryde that he is controlling his past reactions to high stress and changing.

The comic is largely about control. In Flash Thompson and Venom’s struggle, control between the symbiote and the host is a clear. The conflict represents the struggles with addictions and compulsions. Violence and drinking appear in the comic, with scenes in a bar on the planet Spartax. Placing Venom with the Guardians of the Galaxy – a team know for their disfuctions, as Star Lord states when speaking with Kitty Pryde – highlights struggles with control and compulsions.

Starlord does not wish to fall back into habits he relied on to relieve tension and stress in the past. Instead, he talks to Kitty.

Later, after the confrontation between Gamora and Venom, the Guardians discuss what to do with Thompson and the Symbiote. Star Lord says that like the Guardians, the Symbiote is “broken”.

It’s not completely clear, since calling something dysfunctional broken is not specific, however Star Lord has observed that Thompson’s weaknesses and compulsions are difficult to handle in day-to-day life, just like his own, which he discussed with Kitty Pryde earlier in the comic.

The Guardians believe they can help Thompson regain control by taking him back to Earth, where he has more friends and support, and feels safe.

A space-propaganda message about the dangers of heroes and Terrans from Earth. The message delivers a more chilling call to destroy Earth, rather than simply control or corral humans from spreading out into the wider-galaxy. Whether this conflict expands into a larger plot thread remains to be seen.

Guardians of the Galaxy #21 is published by Marvel comics ($3.99 USD). Brian Michael Bendis (W.) Valerio Schiti (A.) Jason Keith (C.) VC’s Cory Petit (L.) Cover artwork by Schiti and Ponsor.

Death of Wolverine #4 – Comic Review

In his final moments, Wolverine stands out as a monument for popular culture. Death of Wolverine #4 offers:

  • Cinematic artwork that manipulates time across the pages
  • Frankenstein themes, and insight into Wolverine’s character
  • Scientific information: binomial classification of animals
  • Themes of time passing, and milestones
  • A comic suitable for older readers, particularly at college level

Cinematic artwork with clean design choices appear throughout the comic book. Wolverine receives a fitting end rendered expertly in the comic’s opening and conclusion

Throughout this comic, artwork is cinematic. Moment to moment transitions are expertly rendered. watching each panel progress the story feels like watching a moving image. Wolverine acts on instinct. Only small internal dialogue boxes appear. This design choice keeps the artwork flying through to the conclusion.

Another strong artwork choice manipulates time. Wolverine steps into a room, and sees the space as he knew it decades ago. The page artwork, a memory, is saturated in peach light. Turning the page warps the reader to the present day. Everything is in the same place as it was in Wolverine’s memory: only decades have passed. The light is now cold blue. A man standing behind a console has aged, his beard now white when it was once brown.

Age, time passing, and milestones that mark the passing of time, are a key theme of this comic. In setting chosen for Wolverine’s final appearance is Paradise Valley, Nevada. Monolithic stone mesas standing in the red sand for thousands of years are literally milestones. It’s fitting that Wolverine, a milestone in the Marvel Universe and popular culture, receives his ending, interred and laid to rest, here.

The core character conflict introduces Frankenstein themes. The villain of the comic brings scientific information into the core conflict.

The confrontation that marks out the action in this comic is between a scientist and his creation. Another tie back to Frankenstein themes. A now elderly scientist associated with the military program that created Wolverine wants to correct his mistakes at all costs.

Without spoiling the characters identity, the confrontation provides some insights into the Wolverine. Scientific information appears; mammalian taxonomy – sometimes called “latin names” – the binomial names for living creatures appear at the centre of the core character conflict.

A wolverine is called Gulo Gulo. This is Latin for Gluttonous Glutton. Wolverine’s have insatiable appetites and is apparently the only animal that “kills for pleasure”. The scientist criticise Wolverine, and tries to take one last swipe at his confidence.

The villain’s plan is horrific. It’s worth pointing out these scenes contain semi-graphic surgery artwork.

Milestones in Wolverine’s life appear in the final scenes. The weight of time passing – Wolverine’s long history – receives an acknowledgement

A bright sunset closes the comic. Panels featuring key moments from Wolverine’s life are placed along the top of a two page artwork. The sunset panel acts as a base. Milestones in Wolverine’s life are laid out here. His time as a soldier in World War Two, His time in Japan, His time at the Jean Grey School.

Despite capturing moments in time from across the Marvel Universe, The comic takes place in about an hour or less. Despite such a short amount of time passing, Death of Wolverine #4 manages to show the significance and weight of time and milestones.

Spoiler Warning:

  • Wolverine is eventually trapped in a downpour of molten adamantium. Inside the metal, entombed, Wolverine himself is turned into a milestone – a metal monolith.

The final pages of the comic contain a gallery of cover artwork collecting the variant covers of all the Death of Wolverine comics. Finally, a page at the end of the comic provides the creators space to reflect on the passing of Wolverine.

Death of Wolverine #4 is published by Marvel Comics ($4.99 USD). Charles Soule (W). Steve McNiven (P.) Jay Leisten (I.) Justin Ponsor (C.) Chris Eliopoulos (L.) Cover artwork by McNiven, Leisten, and Ponsor.

Avengers and X-men: Axis #1 – Comic Review

In an new Marvel event, a powerful new villain created from violence, and the frankenstein-like combination of Professor X and the Red Skull, begins a dark plan. This is chapter one of Axis. The comic book offers:

  • The opening of a large scale event, with many Marvel Universe characters.
  • Artwork of an immensely powerful villain, against a grim background.
  • Insight into Tony Stark’s character.
  • Hatred themes – how the emotion is used, and reactions to it.

The Marvel Universe unites in a grim setting against a giant, red colossus: Red Onslaught

Large scale events bring the disparate fragments, individuals, and teams from the Marvel universe. Medusa, Invisible Woman, the X-men, Two teams of Avengers, the Vision, Captain America. There are a vast selection of bright colours from the many costumes worn by Marvel’s Super heroes.

They charge into battle – a thunderstorm rages over the rustic wood huts constructed to hold mutant prisoners. A grim scene. Even during brighter scnenes, a gloomy haze seems to cover sources of light.

These Avengers, X-men, and individual heroes unite against a giant, red, horned colossus calling itself “The Red Onslaught”. Imperial purple and scarlet armor plates; black keratinous horns curved inward; black octopus tentacles sprouting from its back.

With telepathy, the creature unleashes hateful thoughts, and forces them upon Marvel’s heroes. Iron Man is its first target

This entity is more creature than human. It’s a giant, at least the height of small office building, and was created when the Red Skull attempted to fight Magneto, and was killed by the magnetic villain.

Red Onslaught tortures and torments. With telepathy, it forces everyone around the globe to think hateful and violent thoughts. Not simply unleashing repressed anger, envy, or other vicious thoughts bubbling below the surface, Red Onslaught has telepathic power enough to inserting hate into those without any. Conflict is manufactured: a real nightmare.

The first target: Tony Stark. Iron man once had the weaknesses of all the Avengers, X-men, and other Marvel Universe individuals saved in a register of super heroes – his initiative files. These were thought lost – his memories deleted like data on a corrupt hard drive.

No malicious thoughts are buried too deep for Red Onslaught. Stark’s anguish is clear when he comes to understand that he has been subtly influenced by the Red Skull for some time now.

Through the powers of Wanda Maximoff, and the setting, the comic references the historical use of hatred and propaganda in World War Two. Onslaught argues Iron Man’s anxiety comes from a hateful place.

Hatred is the theme of this comic book – while it is the first in a large scale event, the opening issue makes a strong impression with this theme. What people do with hatred, and what hatred causes play out in this issue.

Historically, hatred’s role in World War two is highlighted:  a concentration camp setting appears, referencing the Nazi party, and the propaganda that created hate. The Red Skull is a historical villain, and the roots of the character in World War two are clear in the concentration camp setting. Further, scenes where Scarlet Witch is coerced into manipulating reality into a “nazi nightmare” show more historical references. It’s nothing close to the House of M story line, but stands out as a significant moment nonetheless.

Red Onslaughts breaks down Iron Man’s fears and anxiety, mocking Stark. Iron Man’s catalog of weaknesses was compiled from Stark’s hatred of his friends, not fear or anxiety, according to the creature.

Avengers and X-men: Axis #1 is published by Marvel Comics. Rick Remender (W.) Adam Kubert (A.) Laura Martin and Matt Milla (C.) Chris Eliopoulos (L.) Cover artwork by Cheung and Ponsor.

All New X-Men #32, The Wicked and the Devine #4, The Multiversity: Society of Super Heroes #1.1 – Short Comic Review

While I’m on vacation for three weeks, I’ve put together a short round up of comics published this week. I’ll return to full reviews on October 11, 2014.

All New X-Men #32

The young, time-travelling X-men are scattered across the planet after almost rescuing a new mutant with the ability to create portals between parallel worlds.

A grand tour of various locations in the Marvel Universe, the artwork in this issue captures vibrancy, colour, and danger. Latveria, The Savage Land, and New York appear. Also appearing is the gloomy domain of the Mole Man’s underground kingdom.

Jean Grey and Miles Morales share a deep conversation – dialog where two super-powered characters catch up on the defining moments in their careers so far is expertly written.

There’s more than one cliffhanger here – it may take several issues to resolve this plotline.

The Wicked and the Devine #4

Every 90 years, 12 gods from across the world’s pantheon’s reincarnate as 12 teens. Not everyone believes this story, however. One of them – claiming to be Lucifer – is arrested and imprisoned for murder. And Laura – a god-fan and amateur detective – investigates.

Introducing the home of several gods, Laura marches through wide, blue marble corridors alongside a powerful sky god called Baal – his character design favors gold chains and burnt orange suits with two buttons, which show the gods make interesting fashion choices.

Large powerful images of fire and water appear later in the comic, establishing an elemental theme. Lightening is also referenced.

Through body language and dialog, the god’s power is clearly underlined.

A final conversation between Laura and Lucifer effectively shows moments of deception and power, revealing that this is a mature, and complex comic book.

The Multiversity – Society of Super Heroes #1.1

Doc Fate, The Atom, Abin Sur, The Black Hawks, and a refined and still immortal Vandal Savage form a new team of super heroes on one of the fifty two parallel universes that exist in DC comics.

This golden age planet Earth, numbered Earth 40 – with technology, fashion, and popular culture references from the 1940’s and 1950’s – is under attack from invaders. A less refined and dangerous Vandal Savage is travelling across the multiverse, invading different Earths as he sees fit.

The comic book delves into themes about the costs of war and violence. The Atom reflects about the costs of using his Iron Monroe technique, the “Atomic Fist”, to kill the monster Blockbuster – he has crossed his principals at great cost. Artwork choices show clear and strong character design. Monsters in particular look fearsome. A skeletal Parallax torments the Atom and fights Abin Sur.

This comic book is one part in a segment of a larger story arc, which when fitted together, would show off characters and super heroes from across the previous seven decades.