How Green Was My Goblin: A Look At Norman Osborn

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DISCLAIMER: Reading, summarizing and examining every appearance of Norman Osborn would be both overly time-consuming and messy. As such, this post will focus on his most significant early appearances and a large part of his recent storylines.

One of the reasons the Spider-Man franchise has lasted so long is due to how personal the character’s world is. Peter Parker is a human being before he’s a superhero, with all of his conflicts having human consequences. Parker isn’t a representative of anything lofty, he’s just a kid in a suit trying his best to help people. With that in mind, what kind of asshole would go out of his way to pick on the poor guy?

Amazing Spider-Man #39 (1966)

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Green Goblin/Norman Osborn is one of the oddest comic villains in terms of initial concept. He’s a green skinned (or is it garbed?) man with a purple Legend of Zelda tunic, a flying bat-thing (which was originally a fucking broomstick) who threw exploding pumpkins. And frogs for some reason.

Amazing Spider-Man #17 (1964)

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Even his original introduction is wacky as hell: seeking to take over the underworld of NY, Goblin hires three previous Spidey villains named the Enforcers, who consisted of a guy with lasso, a midget karate master, and a “strong for a normal guy” guy. His plan? Approach a film producer and casually suggest to him that he should fund a Spider-Man film. He does this in full costume.

Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1964)

 

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The guy agrees and just stands on a roof top waiting for Spider Man to just happen upon him (which actually works) He pitches him the film, which Spidey agrees to quite easily. The Goblin, having apparently written an honest to god script, has them shoot the first scene in a cave, where his “master plan” this whole time was to just to have himself and the gang (who Spidey thought were just guys who just happened to look like enemies of his) beat him up.

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Even as a 60’s comic lover, this debut has to be one of the dumbest i’ve ever read. We don’t even get a passing explanation of the Goblin’s powers, weapons, or even who the fuck he is in the first place. Apparently, writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko disagreed on who the Goblin should be. Ditko felt he should remain anonymous whereas Lee felt he should be someone close to Peter. When Ditko left the series, Lee had his way with the Goblin (that sounds dirty!), which leads us to the revelation that he’s Norman Osborn, father of Peter’s then-new friend, Harry Osborn.

Amazing Spider-Man #39 (1966)

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The backstory: Normie had a routine freak lab accident while working on (of course) green chemicals, which increased his mental and physical capabilities. It also increased his crazy as well, which manifested as the character of Green Goblin. Which doesn’t explain the gimmick AT ALL, but whaddaya gonna do? Much later on it was retconned that Norman Osborn had a recurring childhood nightmare of a literal “green goblin” that inspired his motif. So he’s basically an even more fucked up Batman.

The revelation of Norman Osborn as the Goblin is where he goes from being a silly Joker-esque madman to being a truly unique character. Like many villains, Osborn attempts to explain to Peter his origin, but what makes this moment particularly unique is that there’s a clear disconnect between how he views himself as Norman Osborn and the reality of his actions even before he became the Goblin.

Amazing Spider-Man #40 (1966)

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In his mind, he was a great father to Harry, whereas we can clearly see he was emotionally distant. In his mind, he’s a pragmatic businessman, whereas we can clearly see he’s quite corrupt. Osborn is completely delusional about his own villainy, a rare trait in comic villains. At this point, most super-villains are just crooks and despots, but he actually thinks his actions are for the best. By the end of this issue, Norman conveniently gets amnesia but this characterization sticks with the character for awhile anyway. His delusion reaches it’s zenith when blames Peter (without cause, of course) for his son’s drug abuse.

Slipping back into his Goblin persona, his method of “justice” is killing Peter’s girlfriend at the time Gwen Stacy. Your welcome for the spoiler.

Amazing Spider-Man #121 (1973)

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This sets off a chain of events that leads to his own (of course temporary) death.

Such a heinous act not only codified Osborn’s delusion, but also his pettiness. In a way, this is why he makes such a good antagonist for Spidey. Characters like Superman and Captain America represent lofty ideals, so their antagonists have to be equally as lofty. Generally, Lex Luthor is portrayed as having a sense of purpose so grand that he could just as easily be as heroic as he is villainous. In a Silver Age story, this was realized when he found his own planet (which he un-egotistically dubbed “Lexor”) where he got to play hero. 

Superman #164 (1963)

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Far from heroic, Osborn’s goals are no more lofty than fucking with Peter. His reintroduction to the Spider-Man franchise was orchestrating an elaborate plot to create clones of Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy just to fuck with him for…ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Once again, Spidey didn’t do anything to him or Harry before his resurrection and even spared his life after killing Gwen. 

Osborn went on to plague Spidey in a number of ways after his resurrection. For example, one story reveals he raised two Spidey-hating kids who he had with Gwen Stacy before her death. Comics, lol. The character continued to be singularly a Spidey villain till the Thunderbolts series, where he led a team of villains who were tasked with policing superheroes. The series illustrates the distinction between Norman’s personalities. Norman is a mixture of Lex Luthor and the Joker. As a businessman and leader, he’s very Luthor-like, with a massive sense of importance and superiority. Then there’s the Goblin persona, which is more Joker-like with an obsession with Spidey and massive bloodlust.  

Thunderbolts #111 (2006)

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His growing positive reputation combined with a strange set of events allow Norman to become Earth’s greatest hero when he defeats an alien queen during an invasion. His newfound admiration not only allows him to finally rewrite public record of his past crimes, it also means that he’s able to take the role of both Nick Fury AND Iron Man as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which he aggressively re- dubs H.A.M.M.E.R.) and leader of the Avengers (having jacked himself some sweet-ass armor and recast the team with equivalent super villains).

New Avengers Annual #3 (2009)

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This is definitely his “Lexor” moment, where Stan Lee’s Norman Osborn really comes to fruition. As mentioned, the two defining attributes of Norman are a) delusion b) pettiness. So seeing him in a role where he has to deal with characters like Dr. Doom and Namor, men with both a clarity and grandeur of vision, allows for both humor and tension.

Dark Avengers #6 (2009)

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He becomes, dare I say it, almost sympathetic. Osborn is so out of his depth and he knows it. Ironically, he becomes an almost Peter Parker like figure in the larger Marvel Universe. Spidey has also been in the big-time as an Avenger for over a decade now, but he’s often still written as the low man on the totem pole. Spidey’s role on the team is essentially comic relief. Parker and Osborn are both people of just enough ability to reach the peak of Olympus but with the barely the strength to survive the climate once they get there.

Brian Michael Bendis uses the persona of Norman to seemingly comment on  the irrationality of real life government leaders (most likely George W. Bush). Norman becomes increasingly obsessed with ” protecting America ” and letting his presence be known. When Asgard ends up hovering near Earth (don’t ask) he immediately views it as a threat despite the fact that NOTHING suggests that at all. As he did with Spidey, Norman delusions created a threat. In order to legitimize Asgard as a threat, he tricks an Asgardian into committing mass murder.

Siege: The Cabal #1 (2010)

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Norman’s war with Asgard is most likely meant to reflect the War on Terror, where many feel the American government purposely caused fear of Iraq in order to justify war, some even going as far to claim that 9/11 was engineered by them. Using Norman as a stand-in for Bush is a stretch, but fits into the public perception of what people considered “evil” at the time. Like the ‘corrupt corporate executive’ version of Lex Luthor in the 80’s, Norman reflected America’s distrust of those in power.

Despite losing his war with Asgard and his public clout, Norman continues to be a major villain in Marvel Comics. Norman Osborn/Green Goblin’s continued prominence is a testament to the ability of skilled writers to reinterpret characters. Lets hope the wacko always has a place at Marvel.

For more posts on Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

The Lois Lane Effect

Top 5 Fictional Bullies

Spidey Tackles The Torch: Spider-Man As An Anti-Hero

From Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man: The Journey of Peter Parker

For more posts on Marvel Comics

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Thor: The Dark World Review

Iron Man: Real American Hero

 

 

 

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

 

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The Amazing Spider-Man series has had some big shoes to fill. Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man (2002) was basically our generation’s Richard Donner-directed Superman (instead of, y’know, Man of Steel). It not only reinvigorated the already successful Spider-Man franchise, it legitimized superhero film in general. This led to the current explosion of superhero films and, to quote the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Baron Strucker, “the age of miracles“. With all that in mind, what could the new Spider-Man series distinguish itself beyond adding on an adjective? The first film was both familiar and different. Mark Webb and Sony Pictures used many music and visual elements from the Raimi films but created a lore that impacts each film (Peter’s parents, Oscorp Industries, etc). Probably it’s most contentious element is Peter Parker himself as played by Andrew Garfield. This Peter Parker beckons more to the Stan Lee’s original vision: a smart alecky scientist with a nerdy-but-charming way with the ladies. I wouldn’t personally call this better or worse than Tobey Maguire’s portrayal, since Raimi’s Spider-Man was meant to be more of a “classic” superhero story with a more earnest protagonist. Overall, I think The Amazing Spider-Man was a solid iteration of the franchise. So what about the second film?

The premise: High school graduate Peter Parker is having turbulence in his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) due to her father’s last request for them to be apart. Exacerbating his woes is the return of childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan), who believed that Spider-Man is the key to curing his family’s hereditary illness. Further exacerbating things is the arrival of the villain Electro (Jaime Foxx), yet another victim of Oscorp’s piss-poor science regulations.

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Assuming that action is the first thing viewers for looking for, this film’s got a pretty decent amount. As with the previous film, Spider-Man’s acrobatics are portrayed  as more freeform and impulsive than practiced. He doesn’t move like an acrobat, he moves like a normal guy with massive strength and agility. This really shows itself while fighting the villain Electro, who he has to combat more evasively. One can tell that Mark Webb probably got excited when he realized that Spidey’s “Spider-Sense” meant that he could use gratuitous slow-mo, which he seemingly incorporated into every scene. While somewhat cliched at this point, at least it fits here. Unfortunately, the film’s so chock full of everything that there really aren’t many action scenes in it. It appears as if the filmmakers realized that themselves, given that we’re treated to an opening action scene that doesn’t even include Spidey and “action-packed” web-making scene similar to the one from the first film.

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While the film might skimp on action, it has plenty of romance. Now normally I roll my eyes at the cliche superhero romance, but I feel that Spider-Man – as the everyman – makes more sense with a love interest that characters like Thor or Batman. It helps that Garfield and Stone have natural chemistry, probably due to actually dating each other. They both have very natural humor and wit that makes their interactions fun rather than sappy. In a scene where they’re hiding in a closet (long story) they both connect on how cliched hiding in a closet is before having a bit of seemingly unscripted kissing. Many of their scenes wouldn’t be out of place in films like 500 Days Of Summer or Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Oh that hipster love!

Despite my enjoyment of the film’s romantic elements, it ends up being part of what makes the film inconsistent tonally. While I hate to draw too many comparisons between the Raimi films, one of their strengths was that they knew what they were. They were earnest and melodramatic superhero stories without much irony. These films attempt to be more modern (Peter wears a fucking Thrasher t-shirt at one point), which makes the moments where it slips back into cliche a bit more awkward.

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For example, hollywood nerd Electro wouldn’t be out of place in Batman Forever. Foxx plays him as a nebbish scientist with an inexplicable combover who becomes obsessed with Spidey after he saves his life. One scene has him (hilariously?) celebrating his birthday alone as he talks to a picture of Spider-Man on his wall. While I appreciate the film’s attempt to give him some humanity, because the character himself has no significance thematically, he lacks the same emotional weight of Green Goblin or even Sandman from Raimi’s trilogy. The tragedy of the character seems kind of insignificant to the film’s overall narrative as he becomes a generic villain.

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Harry Osborn also seems to be in a different movie at times; it’s hard to believe that the melodramatic Harry (who has a bit of a Children of the Corn vibe) was ever friends with the more laid-back Peter. To be fair, i’m not saying that Foxx or Haan put in bad performances, i’m just saying that they don’t necessarily fit into the film as well as they could have.

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Visually, the film is as gorgeous as one would expect from a Sony film. Electro is rendered magnificently as an electrical entity. Rather than just painting him blue and calling it a day, the filmmakers took the time to conceive elements such as making his skin slightly translucent in order to portray his vein’s lighting. As he grows in power, there’s visible reds and oranges underneath his skin which give off the impression of electric combustion. It shows that the effects guys really explored the idea of how an electric man would work visually. As far as cinematography, the only thing I noticed was an intriguing inclusion of a few dutch angles (a scene shot at a tilt). I suspect that they’re included just because the 60’s Batman series decided that all superhero shows and films have to contain dutch angles. To be honest, this is more of a stray observation and has little impact.

As an overall narrative, this film is okay when focusing on any of it’s constituent parts, if not necessarily forming a coherent whole. As mentioned, the love story between Peter and Gwen is fun and makes sense in context. Electro’s story is sad despite having a secondary focus. Harry Osborn’s conflict at Oscorp is equally as sad as his sympathetic goals fail to come to fruition. Do these elements sync up? Not really. They do end up impacting each other but more through contrivance than theme. Just look at how disjointed my premise summary was. As a sequel, it’s possible that the film slightly suffers from what happened the Spider-Man 3: there were several plots that they had to get through and no one thought through how they would intersect. What makes this better than Spider-Man 3  is that these plots are all solid on their own.

Final Verdict

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a fun film with an enjoyable love story and some good action. While it’s not as focused or as action oriented as it’s predecessor, it furthers the narrative journey of Peter Parker. While I wouldn’t call this film anywhere near the depth of it’s superhero contemporaries, it does manage to entertain.

Easter Eggs

Ravencroft Institute

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The facility where Oscorp takes Electro is basically Marvel’s equivalent to Arkham Asylum, used to house crazy supervillains such as the symbiotic Carnage and master of illusion Mysterio. It’s founder was Ashley Kafka, the lead scientist in the film.

Vulture’s Wings

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When showing Oscorp’s various powered armors, one of them appears to be a harness with wings. This is based on the villain Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture, who was an old man who invented a harness that allowed him to fly.

Felicia

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Harry’s secretary Felicia is most likely a reference to the Felicia Hardy aka the Black Cat, a thief who alternated between antagonist and ally of Spider-Man. They also had a fling. This sure sounds like another cat-themed supervillain…

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The douchey scientist played by BJ Novak is a reference to Alistar Smythe, a member of the Smythe family responsible for creating the robotic Spider-Slayers. He went a little bit further and turned himself into a spider-slayer.

For more reviews:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

American Hustle

Thor: The Dark World

Gravity

Don Jon

Riddick

Iron Man 3

Oblivion

Fast And The Furious 6

For more thoughts on Spider-Man:

The Journey of Peter Parker From Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Spidey Tackles The Human Torch: Spider-Man As An Anti-Hero

10 Thankfully Obscure Spider-Man Villains

For more thoughts on superheroes:

The Lois Lane Effect

Superstitious And Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in Gotham City

Superman As Defined By Lex Luthor

Bats In His Belfry: Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Ben Affleck As Batman: Why So Serious?

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Three Forms Of Comedy As Seen Through Justice League

Flash: The Quintessential Superhero

Hoverboy: The Most Racist Superhero Ever

From Comic To TV: Arrow As An Adaptation of Green Arrow

10 Freaky Yet Awesome X-Men You Forgot About

10 Stupid Attempts At Rebranding Famous Comic Characters

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

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Post-Avengers, I would say the biggest issue with Marvel films is that they seem to have ran out of characterization. The Iron Man sequels reiterate the same points of the first film: Tony doesn’t need the suit, Pepper is important, weapons can be misused blah blah blah. Thor: The Dark World doesn’t even pretend to progress Thor further than giving him an excuse to be on Earth. What’s disappointing about these films is that they don’t really progress anything that happened in Avengers; events are mentioned, but these stories are basically standalone. While I understand that Thor can’t team up with Iron Man, it would be nice if an invasion of fucking elves actually impacted someone outside of Great Britain. The first sequel to actually further  the Marvel Movie Universe is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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The premise: Post-Avengers, Cap is now S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite soldier. Rather than feeling at home, Cap begins to question his allegiance while operating in the shadowy world of intelligence. Things get worse when a threat from inside S.H.I.E.L.D. puts him at odds with the organization. Things get worser (I think that’s a word) when a mysterious assassin appears to oppose him: the Winter Soldier.

For anyone who actually cares, this film is partially based on several comic series I would suggest checking out: Secret Warriors, Fury’s Secret War, and primarily Ed Brubaker’s The Winter Soldier.

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To start, the title of this film is mildly misleading. The Winter Soldier is at best a subplot in this very dense film. Most of the film centers around yet another thinly-veiled “freedom or security” debate which stretches much further than any of the other Marvel films. These plots have become overused in actual comics, but not as much in superhero films so it’s not totally objectionable. What distinguishes the plot is that it serves as a reaction to the events of The Avengers, which would probably lead to an increased desire for world security just as 9/11 did. Since this is a Captain America film, it’s appropriate that the embodiment of American Dream has to weigh in on a post 9/11 world. It would have been great if he could have weighed in a decade ago but whatever.

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The main attraction of the film is action and deservedly so. What’s great about the film is that it combines some of the low-key practical combat of the the first film and The Avengers with a few “holy shit!” superhero moments. As a friend of mine noted, Cap gets to have his “Legolas versus a mammoth” moment that is easily one of the most badass things ever. One of the biggest complaints about the film’s predecessor was that most of the good action was in a montage. While I wasn’t as bothered by this (as an 80’s film fan) , I can assure you that every scene is given a pretty decent run-time without any montages. These scenes manage to have a large variety as well, ranging from car chases, elevator brawls, and aerial combat.

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As far as performances are concerned, it’s par for the course. Chris Evans is still a bit too “kiddy” for the ultimate authority figure at times, but his earnestness contrasts well with Johansson and Jackson’s usual cynical performances. Robert Redford plays his fairly obvious role well and i’ll leave it at that. Anthony Mackie is a great addition as the down-to-earth Sam Wilson aka “The Falcon”, which helps to keep Cap in line with his identity as a soldier. My only real complaint here is that the film, like many of it’s contemporaries, has a very jarring plot twist which should be much more disturbing than how the protagonists react to it. This is the same issue in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. I get that the Whedon-esque flippancy of the cast means they can stay deadpan throughout any scenario, but I think given the weight of what happens, I would at least expect a bit more emotion.

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In terms of plot, this film is a bit of a mixed bag. As usual, the “freedom vs security” plot goes in the most obvious direction since this is America, after all.  The original Winter Soldier arc told a tale of a Captain America who had to come to grips with being witness to unsavory government acts during World War 2, particularly with the Soviets. The titular Winter Soldier, a Soviet assassin, was a remnant of World War 2 come back to haunt him. The series was one of the few to show Cap’s incongruity with the real world as a hindrance to his position as America’s spirit. This film goes somewhat against this: Cap’s old timey beliefs in small government and “overt” intelligence are justified in the film’s climax. As always, Cap is never wrong. In the film, rather than being a fellow soldier suffering through war memories, Cap’s relationship to the Winter Soldier is based more on their mutual roles as elite soldiers kept in the dark about their superior’s goals. While the film differs a bit from it’s sources, it isn’t supposed to be an adaptation or a deep reflection on politics, so the plot is passable.

One of the last things i’d like to note about the film is that it’s oddly subversive of usual gender dynamics. The film doesn’t go in the Cap/Black Widow route or any romance route for that matter. Hell, he’s more obsessed with  saving his male buddies in the film, while the three female characters get to be (gasp) competent partners. There’s not even a “save the girl” moment! This in contrast to most superhero films, where most women have big “kidnap me” signs on their backs. While this might sound minor, it’s a big step in a mainstream film like this.

Final Verdict

Overall, this is an enjoyable film. The plot isn’t anything new, but at least gives a new dimension to the Marvel films. Chances are you’re going to see this for action and one-liners and that’s here in spades. The only reason not to see this is if you’re un-american. If so, get off my site you damn commie.

 

 

Hoverboy: The Most Racist Superhero Ever

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Like any other country, America has had a complicated history with prejudice. Generally, we view American history in very specific eras of “unenlightened” and “enlightened”, with us in the latter. As with any simplifying of history, this ignores the nuances of race and political relations throughout the years. Nothing is ever black and white. The study of any history always needs to take this into account, which in this case will be comic book history.

One of the most vitriolic interactions our nation has had is with Japan. The moment Japanese immigration became legal, several organizations endeavored to give Japanese-Americans as much shit as possible, including one as petty as the “Anti-Jap Laundry League” which is exactly what it sounds like. This was vastly exacerbated by World War 2 and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. As with any war effort, major media rushed to create war propaganda for the homefront.

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I hope it means the man

This included comic book companies. Characters who previously held no prejudices were now vehicles for Anti-Japanese rhetoric.

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One of the most prominent heroes of this generation was Hoverboy. The character was created by Chicago ad execs Bob Stark and C.L. Nutt in 1937. In short, he was a boy that hovered. Actually, he was a man, so his moniker is a bit of a misnomer. And we haven’t even gotten to the bucket helmet yet, which some claim was either an homage to a cartoon character named “Lil’ Bucketboy” or a reference to the “slop gangs” of the 30’s who competitively ferried various goods in buckets for cash. The only thing the character was noteworthy for was his…leanings. Whereas Superman merely dabbled in prejudice, Hoverboy was a full-on racist, misogynist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual asshole.

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While unpopular at first, during wartime, he got his niche as a “domestic” superhero who fought the Japanese threat in the States in a series called “Yellow Peril”.

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From the very beginning of this particular story, we get one of the most common forms of propaganda: demonization. Though it’s become more of a figurative term, demonization originated in religious scholarship to describe how Christians literally viewed other religious deities as demons. In this case, the literal interpretation is more apropos. The perceived extent of Japanese “foreignness” meant that they were often literally viewed as monstrosities such as this Octo-Man (who sadly isn’t in the actual comic). Representing the Japanese through octupi is a strangely recurring element in WW2 propaganda. The octopus’ could possibly be an attempt to communicate that the Japanese are grasping and greedy.Or maybe the artist saw The Dream of The Fisherman’s Wife and thought they were into that kind of thing.

One would think the focus of Hoverboy’s “heroism” would be a Japanese saboteur or another worthy opponent. Well, it’s not quite that…

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So our hero is actually running down an escapee from an internment camp. If you’re not aware, during WW2, Japanese-Americans were thrown into internment camps without regard to a proven connection to the war. Most of these people were ordinary citizens, so chances are this guy isn’t quite Lex Luthor.

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Hoverboy’s confidence in the threat of the escapee is ludicrous, but remember that these stories were meant for children. Hoverboy – as a then-popular superhero – had enough clout to make these fears seem valid. This propaganda method is often called ‘assertion’: it’s akin to how advertisers often have a celebrity (let’s say Shaquile O’Neal) hawk a shitty product (let’s say Shaq Soda).

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This is where the comic delves into a strangely smart bit of irony. Hoverboy’s correction of the woman attempts to ground this story in “reality” where there is a limit to the evils of the Japanese. It turns Hoverboy into a reasonable authority rather than a racist, bucket-headed loon. Of course he makes sure to remind us that Japanese people would kill a baby if given the chance. Just so we’re clear.

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The end of this issue is baffling. The comic built up the threat of the escapee as a representative of the Japanese as a whole, so to drop it in the penultimate panel seems to be counter-productive as propaganda. Hoverboy ends the story claiming his guilt was irrelevant, meaning that the Japanese don’t even have to commit an actual crime to be worthy of death. A message that macabre begs the question: what is the point of this comic?

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Unsurprisingly, Hoverboy lost much of his popularity after wartime, but then was picked up again in the 1950’s due to the influence of the House of  Un-American Activities Committee (often abbreviated to HUAC). The committee was a government agency responsible for rooting out Communism in American society, particularly involving arts and entertainment. Who better to combat the foreign menace than asian-hunting, black-punching superhero Hoverboy! An animated series was created in 1953  during the ongoing Korean War. One of the plots involved Hoverboy fighting a villainous Julius and Ethel Rosenberg , who are two convicted communist spies executed for treason in real life.

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A re-enactment of their crimes

As you can imagine, the series was as ridiculous as the comic that preceded it. But even through such obvious prejudice, it’s possible that we could be misreading the series’ purpose.

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The cartoon portrays real-life spokesman for American anti-communism – Senator Joe McCarthy – as a mentor figure for Hoverboy. McCarthy was famous for making wild claims about the pervasiveness of communism in American politics and culture, to the point where his very name became associated with “the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence” (definition courtesy of Wikipedia). In other words, “McCarthyism”. While the series at first seems to present McCarthy as an intimidating figure, his behavior seems to shift into being even more ridiculous than Hoverboy himself. In one episode, he reveals that an American scientist was building a robot for the army, but the Russians bribed him to sell it to them. McCarthy is quick to call the scientist a commie, to which Hoverboy questions ” If he were a communist, why would he SELL them the design?“. Flustered, McCarthy tells him there’s no time to explain and then insinuates that Hoverboy is a communist, which shuts him up immediately. As much as the show seems to favor anti-communist rhetoric, it clearly lambastes the authorities behind that rhetoric. In this example, it mocks the idea that ANYONE who questions authority must be a communist.

In addition, Hoverboy spouts advice directly to kids that would be considered horrendously jarring, including warning children that “Anybody could be a commie, even Mom and Dad“. This brings us back to the issue of the comic series: who the fuck would agree to this? Would a child believe a cartoon over their own parents? Would the same child believe that any Japanese person is guilty of death for no apparent reason? It’s possible that this series and the comic that preceded it were never true propaganda at all but extremely subtle satire. 

While it’s easy to dismiss the satirical nature of the Hoverboy franchise, it’s important to remember satire had to be much more underwritten during these periods. The validity of the Japanese Internment was never officially questioned by the American government until the Carter administration in 1980, meaning that for almost half a century, many thought it was reasonable to lock up Japanese citizens without trials during WW2. During the Red Scare of the 50’s, even indirectly challenging American ideals meant you can be excluded from the entertainment industry for being a communist. This meant that the few creators who thought “This is whack!” had to express themselves in as covert a way as possible. And that way was by taking a “refuge in audacity”. If Hoverboy seems like the most racist, anti-communist hero one could imagine, he’d simultaneously appease the superficial censors and hopefully signal to a smarter-than-they-look youth how outmoded these ideas were. He took the occasional racism of mainstream comics (i.e. Superman “slapping japs”) and took it beyond the bounds of reason. Even Hoverboy’s first appearance has a bit of subversion to it; the title of “Fun Comics” is modified into “Somewhat Fun Comics“, telling us there’s something wrong with the story it’s telling.

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I can’t figure out what it is, though…

While the 60’s popularized social protest, the 50’s both intentionally and unintentionally laid the groundwork for upheaval. The 50’s saw the gradual decline (and literal death) of Joe McCarthy, who’s effect on the nation actually soured most of America’s anti-communist and xenophobic passions. For the first time in awhile, Americans began to realize how silly some of their own prejudices are when displayed on such a grand stage. This gave the flower children and collegiates fodder for protest in the following decade. While I’m sure most wouldn’t consider Hoverboy part of the movement that led to the firebrands of the 60’s, hopefully he can stand as an example that while we may judge history, we should never settle for it’s cover.

Most images courtesy of hoverboy.com,internet reviewer Derek The Bard’s review of the cartoon, and comic artist/fellow blogger Ty Templeton

For more posts on comics and history:

Iron Man: Real American Hero

The Lois Lane Effect

Bats In His Belfry: Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Superman As Defined By Lex Luthor

Spidey Tackles The Human Torch: Spider-Man As An Anti-Hero

Top 5 Bullies in Fiction

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Everyone’s had a bully at some point of their lives. If not, then you probably are / were a bully ( if so: not in the face, please ). Either way, we can all relate to bullying, which is why bullies are so familiar in fiction. The stereotypical bully is bigger than the protagonist, an athlete and most of all, monstrously violent. And yea, many times a bully really is just a brute with a gland disorder, but they are people as well. People who can fuck you up. So i decided to compile a list of some bullies who are particularly noteworthy.

5. Terry Filkins – Drillbit Taylor ( 2008 )

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This school is boring. Watching you freak out amuses me.

Fun Fact: This film was written by Seth Rogen and John Hughes under his pen name “Edmond Dantes” . Yes: “Breakfast Club – Sixteen Candles – Home Alone” John Hughes. This was also the last film he was involved with before his death. The premise: three nerds hire a bodyguard to protect them from two bullies. As a final film it’s…ok. Owen Wilson has his moments but the nerds are fairly trite and nothing else stands out either…except for the main bully, Filkins. Whereas the nerds in the film are a little too generic to be interesting, Filkins’ takes the equally generic bully stereotype to new heights. He begins as a standard bully, stuffing nerds into lockers and whatnot, but then quickly shifts into outright insanity. It turns out that he’s an extremely wealthy emancipated minor, which in the film’s logic means he can get away with destroying a student’s laptop, driving a car through people’s yards, attempting to run over people in broad daylight, and cutting off a man’s arm with a katana ( offscreen, unfortunately ).

Normally I hate the casually violent bully cliche because it’s hard to imagine in a modern school where adults are more reactionary. But the combination of Seth Rogen’s brashness and John Hughes’ 80’s nostalgia makes it more of an homage to the cliche itself. Rather than pretending as if he’s a normal bully, the film portrays Filkins as a violent psychopath who couldn’t and shouldn’t possibly exist in a modern school. His comeuppance at the end of the film is due to him chucking a sword at the nerds in the middle of a partyThis guy is so committed to being a bully that he’ll literally murder someone in front of several witnesses. I don’t care how you feel about bullying, that’s admirable.

4. Alan White – Freaks and Geeks ( 1999 – 2000 )

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” You like Bill Murray? Oh yeah? Bill Murray sucks! “

The stereotype of the bully is so ingrained that few writers actually question it’s validity. Bullies are the jocks. They’re the big men on campus. Everybody likes them, right? More often than not, no. Kids who often become bullies are often just as marginalized as the people they pick on. One of the few bullies to embody this is Alan White from Freaks and Geeks. Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s short lived dramedy series is well known for subverting many high school tropes. The designated geeks’ oppressor Alan is even more odd than they are. Skinny and awkward, the “threat” of Alan is more due to his aggressiveness than his physicality. The pilot of the series builds up to a fight between the geeks and Alan, which amounts to this:

After such a pathetic show, Alan’s bullying became more verbal, throwing out brilliant jabs such as changing the name Sam Weir to Sam Queer. Ah high school. The character gained some depth in the episode Chokin’ and Tokin’. Thinking his allergies aren’t life-threatening, Alan tricks one of the geeks into eating peanuts, leading to him become hospitalized. Whoops. Concerned, Alan visits him in the hospital and has a candid moment while the geek is unconscious ( you can watch the actual clip here )

” I’m sorry. I was just goofing on you. It’s not like you guys were ever nice to me. In the 4th grade i used to think you guys were really cool. I remember when you guys brought a model of the Saturn 5 in for show and tell and I asked if I can shoot off rockets with you and you said no. So i’m supposed to be nice to you? I like comics and sci fi too but you never ask me to hang out. “

We see a great commentary on one of the often overlooked causes of bullying: the cycle of victimhood. Alan, clearly lacking social skills already, perceives the geeks’ probably unintentional dismissals in the past as rejection. Afraid of being vulnerable, he strikes back against them in order to justify his alienation. This blurs the nerd / bully distinction, since it forces us to view the protagonists as part of a culture of abuse. Earlier in the episode, two of the three geeks abandons plans to attend a convention. When one of the other characters in the series, a fellow geek with weight and odor issues, offers himself to go, the geek seems less than excited. Later on, he claims he can no longer go due to an issue at home, but it’s suspect whether or not he’s just blowing him off. Alan’s view of the geeks now has a bit of credence to it; it’s possible that their desire to be insular marginalized him. This scenario highlights the often murky milieu of high school power dynamics.

3. The Tannens – Back To The Future Series ( 1985 – 1990 )

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” Make like a tree and get out of here! “

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Nowhere is that more true than in the Back To The Future trilogy.

Back to The Future ( 1985 )

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To start, lets look at Biff Tannen: the definitive bully. He hits every single trope: he’s bigger than the protagonist, he’s a jock, he’s popular ( for no apparent reason ), he’s dumb, he extorts favors, he’s a rapist ( ! ), he’s a racist, and most of all, he’s a murderer ( at least in one timeline ) ! Tom Wilson puts in an underrated performance as Biff; he manages to be as funny as he is threatening, vacillating between being just obnoxious and being a physical threat.

Back to the Future 2 ( 1989 )

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He also portrays the settled nature of an older, more sinister Biff well in the second film. Rather than being a negligible schoolyard bully, he becomes a deeply corrupt sadist. This version of Biff is a Mr. Potter-esque figure who’s so evil that it permeates all of Hill Valley, turning it into a dystopia.

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Wilson’s performance as his great- grandson, inventively named “Griff”, is wonderfully uncanny. The implication is that he’s a cyborg, which comes through in his staccato movements and manic pitch. He’s a futuristic fantasy version of the schoolyard bully: Biff was a slow, Archie-style meathead while Griff is a robotic speedfreak.

Back to The Future 3 ( 1990 )

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The Tannen line stretches back to the Wild West, where Biff’s ancestor was a cowboy ( the closest thing to a bully in that backdrop ). Fittingly, Wilson based his performance on Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? ( 1962 ). Lee Marvin’s titular Liberty Valance begins the film by robbing an honest lawyer ( Jimmy Stewart ) and then beating him savagely just for talking back. Likewise, Buford Tannen has a massive sense of entitlement that makes him think something as minor as a $80 dispute is worth murder. Overall, this family shows that evil is sometimes in the blood.

2. Butch Deloria – Fallout 3 ( 2008 )

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” I could be out there and kicking butt in my own gang and everything. The Tunnel Snakes could ride again! Or, y’know, slither again. Whatever! “

Most media that depicts 1950’s American youth incorporates the gang subculture of ” Greasers “,  a primarily Italian and Hispanic social group associated with hot rods, leather jackets, and their titular greased hair.

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Given Fallout 3 1950’s influences, it was natural for them to draw upon this culture for the Lone Wanderer’s lifelong tormentor. We see this primarily through his design, but also through a deconstruction of the archetype. For example: his obsession with hair makes him want to be a barber, which a career assessment test refers to only as a ” hairdresser ” to his chagrin. Butch is generally characterized as a chump: when his room is infested with giant roaches, Butch enlists the Wanderer to save his mother because he’s terrified of them. You can also beat the shit out of him and his entire gang as a teenager. It’s funny to think that in a post-apocalyptic world where violence becomes a norm, the resident gang-banger is a a bit of a pussy.

In spite of ( and partially due to ) these aspects, i feel as if Butch is a pretty interesting character. As with Alan White, the character is marginalized from the insular vault community. His mother is a promiscuous alcoholic, which led him to be born not knowing his father. This is probably the cause of his asshole behavior. Once the character makes it to the wasteland, he becomes interested in expanding his vault gang, the Tunnel Snakes. Which consists of just him and the wanderer at that point. At least the jackets are pretty cool.

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So why is this guy such a big deal? Well honestly, he isn’t in the canon of the game; he’s statistically the worst partner you can have. His starting weapons are a switchblade ( being a gang-banger and all ) and a 10 mm handgun. Mind you, this is a game where powered armor exists. The only unique thing he offers the player is, I shit you not, free haircuts.

Despite his gameplay shortcomings, i always felt the character had great potential as a foil to the Lone Wanderer. Like the Wanderer, he’s a teenager from the vault without battle experience. He also has a missing dad as well. Whereas the wanderer wants to leave to find his Dad, Butch just wants freedom. If Fallout 3 was more character-driven, he’d probably be the most interesting guy in the game. One of the primary themes of the Fallout series is letting go of the past and looking to the future. That fits in perfectly with Butch and the archetype he draws from: in West Side Story ( 1961 ), the greaser hoods have all been marginalized into their paths by their race and economic backgrounds. Even Fonzie from Happy Days, a heroic greaser, was shown to have redeemed himself from a tragic urban back-story with a missing father and gang connections. Imagine a story that powerful, but with laser guns! And i’m not the only one who thinks the guy has potential; some players have even modded Fallout: New Vegas ( 2010 ) to include the overlooked Butch Deloria. Hopefully, the actual game creators could take note and include the guy in the future of the franchise.

1. Eugene ” Flash ” Thompson – Spider-Man ( 1962 – Present )

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Puny Parker!

In a heroic tale, antagonists elevate a protagonist into heroism. For superheroes, this is mostly accomplished by supervillains. Given that the Spider-Man franchise draws much of it’s appeal from how the fantastic affects the mundane, Peter Parker also got a high school bully. As you can tell from the panel, the initial conflict in their first appearance ( Amazing Fantasy #15 1962 ) was pretty standard: Thompson was a popular and attractive jock and Peter was an unpopular and unattractive bookworm. While now a cliche, it’s important to remember that there weren’t as many bully / nerd stories then, which makes the conflict more specific. Despite being a smart dude, Peter does lack several heroic qualities. In the mundane high school world, the primary qualities he’s lacking are humor, confidence, and sexual charisma.

The Amazing Spider-Man #2 ( 1963 )

Umm...yea. Great comeback.

Umm…yea. Great comeback.

This is something most modern media don’t get about these archetypes: while audiences are often either “nerds” themselves or sympathize with nerds, that doesn’t mean nerdy characters are inherently admirable. This is a problem in media such as The Hard Times of RJ Berger, The Big Bang Theory, and the aforementioned Drillbit Taylor that create one-note nerds who never grow into compelling heroes. In contrast, once Peter Parker’s dangerous and thrilling lifestyle as Spider-Man allows him revisit his conflict with Flash from a competitive position. Peter is able to return Flash’s insults, fluster him with his bravado, and get his girl to make eyes at him.

The Amazing Spider-Man #13 ( 1964 )

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The conflict between the two isn’t always the same in every iteration; several versions portray their relationship more violently. While Flash does threaten Peter, their relationship almost never incorporated violence in the original series. Both Spider-Man film series turn Flash into a psychopath who would beat Peter’s face in for sneezing on him. This of course sets up the inevitable fight where Peter beats his ass and we all cheer. Stan Lee, rather than going for immediate gratification, builds a relationship between the two that remains playfully combative through clever wordplay and one-upmanship. While not witty, Flash’s combination of machismo, deluded confidence, and goofy Steve Ditko-drawn mugging makes him pretty funny.

The Amazing Spider-Man #25 ( 1965 )

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Granted, they have a formal boxing match at one point that turns out exactly as you think it would.

The Amazing Spider-Man #8

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Slowly, Flash begins to realize that Peter is more admirable than he originally thought.

The Amazing Spider-Man #39 ( 1966 )

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Flash himself became more admirable as well; his obsession with Spidey makes him want to be a hero himself. He later joins the military, loses his legs, becomes an alcoholic, and gains the Venom symbiote. Comics are weird. In a totally not gay way, Flash is sort of like Lois Lane, given his Peter-hate-that-turns-into-respect and admiration of Spidey. A combative yet not-overly-malicious teenager relationship is a hard thing for modern writers to do, which makes all the more impressive how well Stan Lee handles it. Flash challenged Peter, but as a shortsighted rival and not as a sadistic thug. Likewise, rather than backing down or becoming violent, Peter finds the inner strengths he’s always had to measure up. Their mutual growth embodies the constant progression of The Amazing Spider-Man series throughout the decades.

So what have we learned from these characters? Bullying is wrong…except when part of a well crafted story.

To read some more of my pop-culture lists:

10 Underrated Movie Characters That Fans Really Hate

10 Cover Gimmicks That Cheapened Great Characters

10 Stupid Attempts At Rebranding Comic Characters

8 Most Iconic Slasher Movie Death Scenes

10 Thankfully Obscure Spider-Man Villains

The Lois Lane Effect

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That’s why Lois Lane is so perfect for him. She’s the perfect blend of firebrand, intelligent opponent and total doormat. And she’s hot.– Lois Lane as defined by “Jimmy Olsen”

Writing is hard. One of the hardest aspects of writing is evoking drama in a made-up story. Who really gives a shit if Mark Hamill has to sit in a fake plane in order to make a toy ball explode? This is where emotion comes into play: if the audience can relate to a conflict, even if it is contrived, they will be invested in that toy ball exploding. And of course, the easiest way to go about doing this is to shove into plots the greatest of all contrived conflicts: the quest for sweet, sweet nookie.

Fred Durst approves

Fred Durst approves

As i mentioned in another post of mine, modern Romantic fiction (and not just guy meets girl stories) was codified during the Middle Ages of Europe, with much of the coda coming from the Chivalric code. A man fights through everything from other men to Hell itself in order to prove himself worthy of his lady. It was supposedly as true for real life knights as it was for Lancelot himself. As such, this basic tenet of manliness passed on till modern times, where pretty much any “real man” in fiction has to kick ass and get laid (in either order). This sequence is especially important in the superhero genre.

           Action Comics #1 (June 1938)

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The golden standard for superhero love interests is Superman’s longtime girlfriend Lois Lane. Debuting in the very first issue of Action Comics, (where Superman first appeared) Lois is as old as the hero himself. Given that these were stories meant for children, their relationship was no more complex than ” Clark wants Lois. Lois wants Superman. Conflict. Ironically, she was actually more progressive than the characters she inspired in her Golden Age 1930’s-40’s appearances, being assertive and only occasionally used for “save the girl” plots.

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The Fleischer Superman cartoons even had her fighting in World War 2 as a covert agent.

And the ” Baddest Bitch ” award goes to…

This characterization ceased during the “Get Back In The Kitchen!” 50’s and the rise of the Comics Code Authority, which literally had doctrines such as “The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage“. This led to the Lois Lane who became a bane upon Superman and comics and general. She was reduced to an annoying hanger-on who’s only concern was marrying Superman.

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The biggest loss for the franchise was that she ceased to even have a reason to be around anymore. Golden Age Lois served as a challenge for Clark since he had to win her over without being Superman. She was a badass character in her own right which justified her astronomical standards. Reducing her to a satellite love interest nullified that romantic conflict and replaced it with a series of ” zany ” marriage schemes. You’d think she needed a green card or something. What was even worse is that as she became more arbitrary, her prevalence in media increased, to the point where she got a whole series dedicated to her desire to bone Superman.

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Lois was never good with linear reasoning

Batman #157 (August 1963)

Vicki Vale CompetitionGiven that Superman is the quintessential superhero, several other franchises had a Lois Lane equivalent just to keep up with the Joneses. Batman had Vicki Vale (played by Kim Basinger in the film) who was a reporter who wrote about Batman, intending to find out his identity and bone him (in either order). Oh, and she didn’t like Bruce Wayne that much. Sounds familiar? Barry Allen aka The Flash got his own model in Iris West, yet another “intrepid reporter” who couldn’t figure out his secret identity until they were already married. “Intrepid” must be old timey slang for “idiot”.

Marvel Comics dealt with this trope better in the 60’s, but still with a few Lois Lane influences. Before the arrival of plot tumor Mary Jane, Peter Parker started off with Betty Brant, who was sort of like a deconstruction of 50’s Lois Lane. She was also clingy and jealous, but instead of being played entirely for laughs, it was actually a serious relationship problem which caused him quite some grief.

The Amazing Spider-Man #15 (August 1964)

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He then went on to court Gwen Stacy, who began as actually quite vain, being interested in Peter literally because he had the nerve to not try boning her.

The Amazing Spider-Man #31 ( December 1965 )

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Once their relationship became settled, however, she started to become yet another satellite love interest. So much so that Marvel editors thought the most interesting thing they could do with the character is kill her off.

      Journey Into Mystery

Nurse Jane Foster Dreaming of Thor

Marvel’s other flagship hero, Thor, had a love interest in Jane Foster (who was carried over into the films but more on that later) back in his ” secret identity ” days. A doctor’s assistant in his mortal form’s (Donald Blake) practice, Foster and Blake were mutually attracted, but he thought she only pitied him due to his handicap (he couldn’t walk without a cane). This was exacerbated by the fact that she was (you guessed it) also attracted to Thor, but they couldn’t consummate due to Odin’s plot-drama doctrine of “don’t let mortals know about your secret identity”. To be fair, this dynamic was interesting at times because it injected a bit of classical myth: human/god coupling is an issue in almost every religion. Nevertheless, it was dropped once Thor stopped being a part-time human all-together and rationally decided to have sex with hot god babes instead.

Following suit with Thor, most superhero franchises drifted away from the generic love interest formula moving into the next few decades. Dimensions were added to pre-existing and new love interests. Many became (with varying levels of quality) “tougher” to compensate for previous portrayals. Lois Lane, the progenitor herself, was one of the first to get her metaphorical balls back.

                                                      Man of Steel

Maybe a little too much balls...

Or maybe her literal balls…

Some ladies went the Jane Foster route and were just phased out of focus; Hal Jordan/Green Lantern’s first love Carol Ferris became more important for becoming a hero/villain (it’s complicated) in her own right. Their love affair became just one of many flings for the bachelor hero. On the darker side of the spectrum, some were used as macabre drama fodder, such the aforementioned death of Gwen Stacy. Comic writer Gail Simone dubbed this trope “Women In Refrigerators“, referencing a controversial Green Lantern story where the hero’s girlfriend was brutally murdered and…well you could probably guess…

Green Lantern #54 (1994)

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“WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!?”

Obviously a fucked up trope it is in it’s own right, many writers consider this equally terrible (if not worse) as just having a living shallow love interest.

For the most part, the role of superhero girlfriend had a decent reinvention in mainstream comics. The days where love interests bogged down superhero tales were going away…until fucking Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002).

Keep in mind this is the official poster

Keep in mind this was the official poster

What Richard Donner’s Superman films were in the 70’s, Spider-Man was to the current generation. It reinvigorated the comic film and also set the stage for how these films will be adapted. This included how love interests would be integrated. And boy was it an awful model for it, since Mary Jane pretty much eclipses EVERYTHING in the film series. The film’s events unfold as such:

1. Peter takes a picture of MJ and gets bitten while he’s distracted

2. Peter becomes a wrestler with his new powers because he wants to buy a car to impress MJ (leading to his life-defining negligence)

3. Peter incorporates red into his costume because it’s her hair color (fuck patriotism, I guess)

4. Peter’s relationship with Harry is strained due to a love triangle with MJ

5. Norman Osborn goes on a homicidal rampage because Peter hooked up with MJ

And that’s not counting all of the damsel-in-distress nonsense. Fuck Norman Osborn; SHE’S clearly the antagonist of the film. The second film takes this even further by beginning with Peter’s voice over stating that ” She looks at me everyday. Mary Jane Watson. Oh boy! If she only knew how I felt about her “. The film basically establishes it’s premise as ” It’s all about MJ! “. Forget nuclear armageddon guys; how’s Petey going to go to MJ’s play? Is MJ going to marry that astronaut guy who we’ve never seen before? Pressing issues indeed.

While i wouldn’t say that these films necessarily caused an insistence on superhero love interests, it wouldn’t be too wild to assume that film producers, always eager to emulate the success of hit movies, saw this as an affirmation of the Lois Lane formula. This meant that every hero who had some canonical squeeze had a love story shoehorned into his film.

Keep in mind this was ALSO the official poster

Keep in mind this was ALSO the official poster

As mentioned before, Thor and Jane Foster’s coupling was an artifact of his secret identity days when his human persona already had a longstanding relationship with her. Yet, she’s placed in the film (albeit with a different job) as the woman he falls in love with in about three days.  Once again: Asgard. Hot god babes. C’mon.

Ditto

Seriously guys?

For the Iron Man films, they took Pepper Potts who he only occasionally fucks when he’s not fucking super-models or super-heroes or anything with a hole in it, and turned her a convenient satellite love interest. In contrast, in the comics she eventually married Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau’s character) until he died, so it wasn’t even like her and Tony had that serious of a relationship. And as for Nolan’s Batman films, I had no issues with the character of Rachel Dawes (who was a pretty good moral compass)…buuut then he forced in a last minute hookup with Selina Kyle that was as plausible as the end of John Hughes’ Career Opportunities (and no, I don’t expect you to get that reference).

Good thing he isn't world-famous or anything...

Good thing he isn’t world-famous or anything…

As much as i’ve grown to be wary of love interests in comics, i’d be bereft to call them necessarily a bad thing. As i mentioned in the beginning, this trope’s defining nature is its relatability. Love is the most ubiquitious real-life concern; it’s something most people want and desire. And not everyone is necessarily smart about it. People do get obsessed with relationships and often put aside other important things in order to focus on them. And in the hands of a good writer, a love story can elevate a hero. With that being said, it’s a trope that needs moderation. If there’s a narrative point in a relationship, so be it, but it shouldn’t be a necessity for every hero. Those unfortunate stories with Lois Lane were made during a time when the country was trying to avoid certain truths. No one wanted to admit women could be independent. No one wanted to admit marriage wasn’t as great as we all believed. To some extent, we’re still thinking that way. But things are changing. And as we change, our heroes (and heroines) should too.

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For more posts on Superman and DC Comics:

Superman As Defined By Lex Luthor

Flash: The Quintessential Superhero

Bat In The Belfry: Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Superstitious And Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption In Gotham City

Ben Affleck As Batman: Why So Serious?

Three Forms Of Comedy As Seen Through Justice League

For more posts on Marvel Comics:

Spidey Tackles The Human Torch: Spider-Man As A Classic Anti-Hero

Journey of Peter Parker from Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Iron Man 3 Review

Thor: The Dark World Review

For more posts on Romance in fiction:

The Unfortunate Undeath of Chivalry: The Implication Of Romance In Hollywood

Don Jon Review

Thor: The Dark World Review

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Thor is the Dos Equis guy of Marvel. Whereas Peter Parker cries about dead uncles and Tony Stark can’t put down that bottle of Jack Daniels, Thor fights rock giants and beds valkyries with a grin on his face and sledge in his hand. He’s omnipotent. He’s noble. He’s boring as shit. One of the reasons it took soooo long for Marvel to even create a film about one of it’s most significant characters was because he’s extremely difficult to adapt into a compelling protagonist. With that in mind, i saw the first Thor ( 2011 ) with apprehension and came out…neutrally. It’s about as good of an adaptation as one could do, but it’s not a good film in its own right. As mentioned, Thor was severely lags behind his Avengers kin in terms of character in the film. In addition, a large portion of the film ( by necessity i understand ) happens on Earth for the sole purpose of:

a) connecting the franchise with the awkwardly integrated S.H.I.E.L.D.

b ) connecting him with humanity despite the fact that it was established IN THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM that the Asgardians had already interacted with humans several times in the past

c ) forcing a relationship with all the chemistry of peanut butter and salami

With that being said, i thought it was well cast, which allowed for fairly boring characters to be interesting ( especially Loki ). In addition, i’ve grown to appreciate the artistic direction of the series in regards to its Asgard ( which i’ll touch upon later ). But enough about the first film, what do i think about it’s illustrious sequel?

Honestly? It’s better. Still not good, but better. And not for necessarily the best reasons.

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The plot: After the events of the first film, Thor has been busy maintaining order in the ( poorly defined ) nine realms of the universe. Back on Midgard / Earth, Padme and that busty CBS waitress happen to find a rip in the fabric of reality ( which happens sometimes ). It turns out that one of these rips leads to a macguffin known as “dark aether” which was previously a plot point in an ancient war between the Asgardians and the oddly-technologically-advanced Dark Elves, who want to use it to spread the daaaahkness across the realms.

The Dark Elves

The Dark Elves

One of the biggest problems i had with the first film was it’s scenes on Earth and this one more than makes up for it. The majority of the film takes place on Asgard and occasionally the titular dark world. As such, we get the sheer scope of the world of Thor. This is helped by another narrated “historical lecture” by Anthony Hopkins as Odin in the beginning. Though he’s clearly a little checked out in this film, Hopkins as always manages to get across the gravitas that a film featuring Norse myth should have. Speaking of which, one of the most under-appreciated aspects of these films is the art direction. And i don’t mean flashy Hollywood CGI ( which is still good, i’ll admit ) , i mean the actual aesthetic choices. The film furthers a sort of “magitech” feeling for the Asgardians and their technology. When Loki is imprisoned, his force field cell looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in Star Trek if it weren’t for those stock “fantasy runes”. Choices like this keeps Asgard from feeling like a generic Dungeons and Dragons locale and also makes it fit in a world where Iron Men and Heli-carriers abound. The villainous Dark Elves take this even further by using weapons straight out of Halo such as energy rifles and grenades. Overall, like the last film, The Dark World has a very strong aesthetic goal and concept that makes for compelling visuals…

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…which doesn’t do much for uncompelling plot. Thor: The Dark World suffers from the same condition as Iron Man 2 ( 2010 ) by being an uninspired franchise sequel. By the end of Thor, Thor goes from being a cocky guy who cares little for his enemies to being a cocky guy who cares a little for his enemies. That’s it. That’s the only psychology you could milk out of that asshole. As hard as it is to believe, there’s LESS characterization in this film. The only driving aspect of the character is, of course, his arbitrary love for Jane Foster ( Natalie Portman ).Once they’re reunited, that becomes the only thing we get out of the guy emotionally. Even when a MUCH more terrible event occurs during the film, he barely has emotional reaction. This is why Thor is such a god-awful film protagonist: no matter how charismatic Hemsworth is, he can’t make up for a character with absolutely no pathos. There’s nothing for him to grow into at this point, his narrative journey ended in the first film. This makes the scenes on Earth more painful than they were in the first film, since they literally have no bearing on anything. Ironically, the film’s choice to use Earth comedically actually undercuts most of the point of the first film. The first scene with Jane Foster shows her on a date with the affable Chris O’Dowd ( Bridesmaids ) who looking like this…

Chris O'Dowd At Jameson Done In 60 Seconds Media Day

…pales in comparison the dreamy Thor. During the scene, Darcy ( Kat Dennings ) shows up and basically cuts the poor sod off, while Jane purposely ignores him, which is funny because…it’s actually not that funny. It underscores the biggest problem with this film and the challenge of Thor as a superhero. Once all of the “character development” of Thor was finished, humans became punchlines to the film’s jokes. “Look at this limey loser! He ain’t shit compared to Asgardians!”. Even Jane ends up being portrayed as more of a commoner during her brief stay on Asgard, where she can barely has any screen presence when compared to her godly costars. So with all that in mind: how do you then justify Thor’s interest in Earth? Asgardians and whatever the fuck Hogun is are essentially humans but better. Why the fuck was it important for him to be a hero on Earth? The film seems to forget it has to even establish that reasoning. This lack of motivation stretches an already stretched-thin excuse plot.

Speaking of plot, it’s actually the opposite of Iron Man 2 in terms of complexity. Which is a bad thing. Obviously, no one really cared about writing a good story for Iron Man 2. So instead, they have a quick plot that needs little explanation AND could be conveniently wrapped up succinctly. The Dark World takes a fairly uninteresting macguffin plot and actually makes it hard to understand through a whole shit load of plot elements. This is where the ” magitech” elements work against the film, since we’re given obscure technobabble for almost every aspect of the climax. I dare any viewer to honestly tell me how exactly Thor defeats the Elves by the end. In terms of subplot, the only one of note is the hinted at Jane / Sif rivalry. I’ll just tell ya, it’s not that big of a deal. See it for yourself and you’ll probably agree.

One of the most criminal sins for the more passive viewer is the fact that, once again, Thor barely fights. I get it, i really do. Thor is a god. Because of this, showing him in combat often would kind of diminish the majesty of his might. This is the reason why this is one of the few elements that didn’t bother me. As i said, Thor just ain’t interesting. There’s no way for him to lose and he has no personal struggles to overcome. This film manages to spend just enough time away from Thor in order to actually be somewhat compelling. We get more screen time with his mother Frigga ( Rene Russo ) who has some tense moments. As per fan-girl request ( literally ), we get plenty of Loki as well. While it’s obvious he’s a bit tacked on to the plot, i’ll admit Hiddleston plays his role well as usual as Thor’s untrustworthy sidekick. Personally, i think the time could have been better spent with supporting characters Thor actually LIKES like, i don’t know, the four fucking badass warriors who would follow him to death. But as a non-fifteen year old white girl, i am clearly not part of Thor’s fanbase.

Thor: The Dark World film still

Final Verdict

This film is the lowest form of ‘ok’ to me. The first act is impressive and really ties you into the Norse mythos the film creates. The best parts for me were when they didn’t focus on Thor or Jane and instead had us soaring around this world. The actors make due with what they got, but it ain’t much. Not to mention the plot is almost pointless. See this film if you liked the first one, appreciate the talents of the cast, or have the money for IMAX 3D. Don’t see this film if you didn’t like the first, actually want character development, or want an interesting story.

For more posts on Marvel heroes:

Iron Man 3 Review

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Journey of Peter Parker from Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man Tackles The Torch: Spider-Man as a Classic Anti-Hero

The Lois Lane Effect