Thursday, September 24, 2015

Superman - The Embodiment of White Privilege

I'm not a big fan of the term "privilege" as it is used by my fellow liberals. It started with "white privilege" and quickly grew to include "male privilege" but now the use has extended to "straight privilege" and "gender privilege." It seems that anyone who does not fit into a recognized minority and faces discrimination as such is privileged.

Is that fair? Without a doubt, these groups face greater discrimination than their counterparts, but does lack of discrimination equal privilege? As a socialist, I do believe in privilege, but I think it's economic in nature. The biggest difference between Batman and Daredevil is that Batman has a ridiculous about of money while Matt Murdock had to work hard to put himself through law school while raised in a Catholic orphanage. You could say Batman is "sight privileged," but I think that misses the point.

Lack of discrimination is not a privilege... it is a power, and perhaps the greatest icon representing white privilege is Superman. Sure, he isn't rich in the sense of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, but when it comes to happy childhoods, is there any superhero who had a better one than Clark Kent?

Superman's childhood is literally modeled after the American ideal depicted in the artwork of Norman Rockwell paintings. Growing up in the farmlands of Kansas, he is solidly from the heartland of America. Although religion is rarely discussed in Superman, you can't help but think that his upbringing is solidly Protestant (whether that's what he believes as an adult is a question for another day).

The very idea that Superman is invulnerable is a representation of white privilege itself. Superman has absolutely nothing to fear. Those few things capable of hurting him are also things that he can easily avoid, if he chooses to. Unlike the X-Men or Spider-Man, Superman is not chased down and actively discriminated against for who he is (Lex Luthor being the exception). He doesn't even have to wear a mask!

Unlike many of the others I've mentioned, it is virtually impossible to depict Superman as anything other than a white heterosexual male because every aspect of his upbringing and character is compatible with that identity. If Clark Kent were black or gay, we would naturally be concerned that his rural upbringing was full of tragedy and strife that helped shape the hero who he had become. If he were a woman, his gender would be politicized as much as Wonder Woman's. This kind of pathos is great for most superheroes, but with Superman, it is the idealism of his upbringing that makes him into such a pure being.

And yet, Superman is not a negative character. He is not meant to show the problem of white privilege, but rather the responsibility of privilege. Because he is invulnerable, he considers it his responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable. He wants everyone to have the same chance at happiness that he has had.

Recent Superman comics and movies have been trying to make Superman cool and edgy. They insert a lot of tragedy and pain in his life. They show his frustration at having to hide who he is, creating some obvious parallels to homosexuality. They show him getting angry and frustrated, shaving his head into a crew cut. They pair him up with Wonder Woman to show that he can get the greatest piece of ass in the DC universe... but they are getting further and further away from what makes Superman great.

Superman isn't great because he's like us. He's great because he's better than us, but he is 100% on our side. He isn't you. He isn't your friend or your brother or your dad. He is the mentor that we all want. He is the leader who stands out from a crowd of politicians and speaks to your heart. He's great because we want to be him... not to impress anyone, but just to feel what it is like to be so happy and safe and secure... so much so that you can spend your life giving without ever wanting for anything.

That's privilege... and we should all be so lucky.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How To Patronize Women The Marvel Way - An Agent Carter Review

So Agent Carter wrapped up its short 8 episode run today and I've gone from being pleasantly surprised with the first two episode to gradually being worn down by the countless cliches and Mary Sue tropes. It is a show that wears its feminism on its sleeve, but ironically, the best way I can think to describe it is "patronizing."

Now, please pardon the irony for a moment and allow me to deconstruct the word "patronizing." From the root "pater" meaning "father," to patronize means to treat kindly from a position of superiority. It refers to how fathers raise children to be obedient, how white colonists claimed "Manifest Destiny" as justification for destroying indigenous cultures, and of course, how husbands traditionally dominated their wives. The problem with patronage is that it creates a relationship whereby the one who is patronized is dependent upon the one who is patronizing them for undeserved praise, thereby inhibits personal growth.

The producers of Agent Carter are patronizing their lead character and, by extension, patronizing the audience and the very lofty subject that they are trying to promote, the empowerment of women. By focusing on Peggy Carter's gender, they are not properly establishing her character or developing her supporting cast as anything other than spotlights to illuminate her from every possible angle.

So I'd like to outline how this show fails at the basic elements of storytelling thereby undermining its premise. In short, this is why Agent Carter should not be hailed as a positive example of female writing, but should instead be condemned as yet another misguided attempt at female empowerment.

The most basic element of storytelling is motivation. A character needs motivation to act which creates drama. Lasting comic book characters always have strong motivation (usually involving the death of a loved one). So, what motivates Peggy Carter? Based on the bookend sequences in the first and last episodes, we are led to believe that Peggy's motivation in this series has been the death of Steve Rogers. Yet this motivation does not sufficiently explain her character nor is it properly established in the context of Captain America: The First Avenger.

With every hero, you need to establish where they gained their unique abilities. We know that Captain America can fight a battalion because he has the super-soldier serum. Thor, even without his powers, was trained by the warriors of Asgard and fought in many battles. However, Peggy Carter has the incredible ability to take down four fellow agents in an open room with no weapons while they are prepared for her and twice her size. However, at no point in the series are we given any indication that Peggy Carter has had any special background that would give her supernatural fighting skills. As the story deliberately points out, a woman in that time period would not likely have many opportunities to be trained in combat and would likely be discouraged from trying. So why is Peggy different?

Does it have something to do with her home life? We'd never know. They never make a single mention of Peggy's family. Was she an orphan? There is a lot of room to explain her abilities, but without any clues, it just seems like a huge oversight.

Speaking of oversights, why is Peggy such a patriotic American? She has a distinctly posh British accent, but when we first meet her, she is serving with the US military. I had always assumed this was some sort of Allied troop exchange, but why wouldn't Peggy help out in the reconstruction of Britain? Why go to America to be a secretary for the SSR?

The character of Peggy Carter is hopelessly thin. She is attractive and assertive, always knowing when to throw an insult or a fist, but the writing makes this very easy and convenient for her. Her challenges are annoying and, perhaps frightening, but they are never a serious threat to her.

In the finale of the series, Peggy Carter fights a Russian super agent, a precursor to Black Widow. When we were introduced to her true nature, a very dangerous assassin was holding a gun at her from point blank range and, without distraction, the agent killed him while unarmed. In short, she has a supernatural fighting ability. Yet Agent Carter doesn't need to do anything clever to defeat her when a well-timed kick will do.

So much of Peggy Carter's strength comes not from how she handles her problems or the decisions she makes, but rather from the lead actress's natural charisma, the overly generous writing, and their deliberate "straw man" approach to male characterization. Some misogyny is perfectly justified, particularly in a historical piece with a female protagonist. It would be conspicuous if there weren't a few awful males around, but Agent Carter goes overboard in depicting a black-and-white divided society where the heroine seems to be the only one dissatisfied with their role in life.

Chief Dooley is positively laughable as the gruff commander who acts sort of like a father figure, usually keeping Carter down but occasionally standing up for her. It's hard to identify whether it is his gravely voice or bad makeup, but he makes the show feel cheap and corny like a bad Funny-Or-Die video. He is so easily won over by the phoney Russian defector that it is impossible to have any respect for him. And when none of the other agents question his obviously bizarre behavior, we lose any remaining respect for them. Even worse, the writers try to tack on a backstory with his estranged wife and children right before he makes a heroic self-sacrifice, but its far too little and too late.
The second-in-command is Jack Thompson who is a brash, blonde idiot who thinks he's the hero just because he looks the part. When sent on a mission with Carter, he cries as he admits that he won his medal for firing on people who were surrendering. Later in the episode, we see him freeze in battle and cower in the corner. Repeatedly, he is shown to be ignorant, judgmental, and cowardly, but he is rewarded for it. He is supposed to stand for the different standards placed on men and women. It's a very childishly cynical depiction which suggests that if you look the part, life is handed to you on a silver platter.

Perhaps the most "emotional" scene in the entire season was the death of Agent Ray Krezminski. This is a character who the story deliberately goes out of its way to make us think is a big, dumb, hateful, misogynist pig... so when he dies, we could not possibly have less reason to care. Yet in the very next scene, we see the entire department in silence mourning his death and Peggy even joins in. The entire setup completely falls flat to such a degree that it is hard to understand why the writers expected us to feel anything but glee regarding his death. When I watched this scene, I was positively dumbstruck because I couldn't understand if the show actually expected me to mourn the death of a character that they had tried so hard to show had no redeeming qualities.

Even the three likeable male characters are straight-jacketed by their gender. Agent Sousa has an injury that left him in crutches and is consequently dismissed as half a man. This causes him to be more respectful to others who are dismissed by society including women and the homeless. For all of his positive qualities, he does little to contribute to Peggy's cause and a lot to hinder her.

Howard Stark plays the "amusing" womanizer, which feels really stale when Dominic Cooper does it. He's really no Robert Downey Jr. so we can't enjoy his performance in the same way. His womanizing is a weakness that leads to his downfall. The plot of the entire series is based around his irresponsible womanizing leading to his weapons falling into the wrong hands. Peggy admonishes him as a war profiteer and the series ends with Stark destroying his weaponry, but it doesn't really make sense. If you go back to Iron Man (which is the beginning of the Marvel cinematic universe), we know that Howard continued to irresponsibly produce weapons until his death (presumably of liver failure or STDs). This means that his character development was entirely false.

Perhaps the most likeable male character is Jarvis. With absolutely no fighting abilities and a frequent need to be rescued, he actually follows the traditional role of the damsel-in-distress (without the romantic overtones). Yet where the damsel is usually pure, Jarvis is shown to be complicit in the corruption of his boss, Mr. Stark, which earns him the ire of our heroine. Even before she knows this, Peggy and Jarvis visit Stark's ex-girlfriends who verbally and physically abuse Jarvis because of Howard's treatment of them. Peggy does not make the slightest effort to protect Jarvis, suggesting that she believes he deserves it. Yet Jarvis did absolutely nothing to deserve this treatment. We can only assume that Peggy is indulging in misandric schadenfreude. Because of what men in general do, Jarvis deserves to be the outlet of female frustration through physical violence. This further perpetuates the notion that female violence against men is acceptable due to the presumed ability of men to defend themselves.

Marvel has been getting a lot of credit lately for "empowering women" but I don't believe it for a second. Whether you are talking about Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow or DeConnick's Captain Marvel, female protagonists still lack a strong motivation and sense of self. They may have better representation and they may be treated with more respect, but they lack the depth that makes a character truly endure and resonate with audiences. To do that, you have to take risks with your character.

It's not easy to write an empowering female lead, particularly when you are concerned about media scrutiny. However, the biggest difference between male leads and female leads isn't gender; it's that male leads never had the burden of being representations of their gender. They simply had the burden of succeeding in a competitive creative market. That kept their focus where it needed to be: on entertaining their audience.

We should continue to strive toward writing strong female characters, but this should happen as a natural extension of the creative process. When it is such a blunt and deliberate goal, the result is a misshapen blob of political talking points without any humanity behind it. It insults the idea that women are in fact strong enough and smart enough and self-aware enough to accept a female protagonist who has tangible flaws and weaknesses. It insults their intellect to ask them to accept that Peggy beat the Russian superspy with nothing more than a well-timed kick.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Marvel Migration - Part 1

Marvel is supposed to be set in our world. While the events of DC Comics occur in fictional locales like Metropolis or Gotham, Marvel stories primarily take place in New York City. Because the Marvel offices were located in New York, Stan Lee decided it would be convenient to have all of his heroes live in the city he knows best. Consequently, fifty years later, 95% of superheroes, supervillains, and superhuman events are concentrated in New York City. For those of us in the rest of the world, this can seem a little unfair. If this continues, Marvel will have to schedule an event to explain why New York City is a magnet for supernatural events.

Marvel has announced that, following the upcoming Secret Wars event, the old Marvel universe will be gone and replaced with something new. At this time, its unclear what that means and the comic community is just hoping its planned better than the New 52. However, my hope is that they make an attempt to diversify their lineup by expanding into new areas of the country and the world at large. Personally, I've never been to New York City, but I'm already sick of it from comics and television. I'd love to read more stories that take place in diverse environments.

So I propose a Marvel Migration, a publishing initiative designed to connect with a wider world by moving their star characters outward. Imagine how much Chicago or Seattle or Las Vegas would appreciate their own local heroes. You could create direct marketing campaigns in each region, but the challenge is choosing the right hero for the right town.

NOTE: I left out some popular heroes for good reason Spider-Man and Daredevil are perfectly suited to New York City, Hulk and Namor are perpetual wanderers, and Avengers can gather anywhere they want. 

The Solo Heroes

Captain America - Washington, DC

This one is pretty obvious. Although Cap is from New York, he represents America and he should operate from our nation's capital. This would surround him by politics and the intelligence community. Whether its Steve, Sam, Bucky, or any combination of the three, it'd make us all feel safer knowing that Captain America is protecting our nation's capital. 

Iron Man - Detroit, MI

Why would America's richest man go to its poorest major city? To buy it.

Imagine if Tony Stark bought every piece of land he possibly could in Detroit and vowed to transform our nation's poorest city into the world's leader of industry. Now, can he do it?

With the help of Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Bambi Arbogast, and all of his best and brightest, Tony micromanages his new city with the goal of creating a lasting utopia and an example to the world. As if that weren't difficult enough, his greatest enemies are determined to do everything possible to see that he fails.

Strangely, Wolverine is on a lot of Bulls merchandise.

Wolverine - Chicago, IL

While Logan fits in well both in New York and San Francisco, I think it would be fun to see him with his own city to protect, and I can think of no place better than Chicago. Its associations with organized crime, proximity with Canada, and population of angry hairy men make it the perfect fit.

Joined by his best sidekick and Chicago native, Kitty Pryde, Logan discovers evidence that the Weapon Plus program has reopened in the windy city and is selling "custom-made" superhumans for unique clientele through the black market. While Logan and Kitty can hurt their operation badly, the situation is rapidly spiraling out of control toward superhuman gang war.

Doctor Strange - Boston, MA

Doctor Strange is the perfect image of the mid-Atlantic New England sophisticate and there is no major city that fits that image better than historic Boston. The old world architecture lends an air of mystery and the rich (often violent) history of the town could serve as the basis for ghosts, witches, and demonic rituals.

I'd love to see a series where Doctor Strange really lives up to his names, so I'd create a story about a curse that affects the citizens in unique and unusual ways. Doctor Strange arrives to quarantine the area, treat the victims, and eliminate the disease. However, he soon realizes that there is a method to this madness and he needs to figure out what malevolent force is behind this before he loses the battle.

Thor - Seattle, WA

When it came to Thor, I immediately thought of the rainy city. Its like a halfway point between viking fishing villages and the splendorous spires of Asgard.

I imagine yet another reintroduction of Don Blake. Much like Watson in the BBC's Sherlock, Don Blake would be a military doctor who has returned from the Middle East with PTSD. He's opening up a new practice, but he's haunted by images of war, particularly the near death experience that injured his leg and requires him to walk with a cane. As his delusions become more realistic, he sees images of Loki and dreams that he is Thor, god of thunder. The memories of his battles on Earth and his battles on Asgard become inseparable. Eventually, he finds Mjolnir, disguised as a humble stick, and transforms into Thor, but he cannot return to Asgard and has no memory of its fate.

Dazzler - Las Vegas, NV

The mutant Dazzler is a successful pop singer and mutant who transforms sound into light. She practically is Las Vegas.

If Celine Deon can have her own stadium built in Vegas, Dazzler could easily become the regular act at a 5-star casino. Since she's a known superhero, its great publicity for the casino in two ways. Of course, once one casino gets a superhero, then the other casinos will want one. Soon, Daimon Hellstrom is performing stage magic down the block, a new Mr. Fixit is playing across town, and more are sure to follow. Pretty soon the town is overloaded with two bit heroes and villains, all of whom are trying to make a quick buck in the glamorous world of Sin City.

Nova - Miami, FL

For America's biggest party town, we need a young and energetic hero. When you include the amusement parks of Orlando, the space program at Cape Canaveral, and just the general inbred weirdness of the rest of the alligator-infested state of Florida, it is a perfect location for an off-beat hero like Nova.

Since Marvel's always looking to diversify racially, the largely Cuban population of Miami would create an interesting environment for the half-Mexican, Sam Alexander, the current Nova. This might just be the perfect place for him to go to college.

Ghost Rider - Phoenix, AZ

Like Hulk before him, Marvel's demonic biker belongs in the deserts of the American southwest. The imagery of biker culture is closely tied to the region, so it would strengthen the imagery (as demonstrated in the best moment from this awful film).

Arizona is also the site of a lot of discriminatory legislation and hostility regarding the Mexican immigrant population. This could be the basis for great storytelling with a message. Not to mention that the long highways of the national border are great for showing chases featuring illegal immigrants, border patrol, minutemen, and drug smugglers.

The Teams

X-Men - San Francisco, CA

Following the Decimation event when the population of mutants was temporarily reduced, the X-Men briefly relocated to San Francisco. And I loved it.

While the X-Men were constantly discriminated against in New York, San Francisco has a history of embracing diversity with open arms. This changed the dynamic of the X-Men drastically. Suddenly, they were working with their community against threats from the outside. They could still face broad discrimination outside of the city, but inside San Francisco, they were home.

Unfortunately, this lasted only about a year, but I'd love to see them return. The last time the X-Men were in town, San Francisco faced riots, military law, and invasion by Sentinels, so they might be a bit more hesitant about having them back. Then again, there are probably a lot of people in San Francisco who appreciate that kind of chaos. This is a home for those who are feared and different, and the X-Men have always seemed most at home when they are there.

I'm sorry, but when I searched "Fantastic Four"
and "Texas," this is the best that I got.

Fantastic Four - Austin, TX

When it came to the Fantastic Four, there were a lot of choices. Little known fact, the team first debuted in the fictional city of Central City, which was mapped at Stockton, CA. I thought their celebrity might be ideal in Los Angeles, then the space program in Houston came to mind. Whenever I think of Texas, I think of the strange liberal bastion of Austin, known for being the antithesis of the largely conservative state. What better place for a post-nuclear family?

Reed Richards purchases a closed NASA facility just outside the city borders and starts retrofitting it as the new headquarters for Fantastic Four Inc., an exploratory and development company. Sue manages the book, Ben is in charge of security, and Johnny lives rent free, as always. Of course, their insatiable curiosity and colorful past has a way of bringing the adventures to them, even though they spend most of their time exploring the universe, as always.

New Warriors - San Diego, CA

As for Marvel's classic junior superhero team, San Diego is a great city for exploring adolescence, and as the home of Comic Con International, it just makes sense to stake a claim to it.

With youth teams, the first thing you have to ask is "Do they have a mentor?" An adult-sanctioned team like the original X-Men or New Mutants has a bit more legitimacy, but lacks the autonomy of an independent group. Since Runaways and Young Avengers have the independent youth team covered, I'd recommend the more traditional route.

I could see orphan and perennial sidekick Rick Jones volunteering to mentor a group of teenage superhumans with ambitions of being a hero. Jones might even choose San Diego because of the relatively low incidents of superhuman crime, but little does he know that a low-level crime boss had the same idea.

Next in Part 2!

We continue with teams, both national and international. No "Avengers West Coast." These are distinct teams with their own brands (even if I borrowed the name from some defunct titles).

Friday, October 31, 2014

What's Left for Marvel Studios?

Well, Marvel just announced their "Phase 3" in the Marvel Cinematic universe. And Phase 2 still has two more films to debut with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Of course, there is also Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., now featuring comic character Mockingbird, as well as the upcoming spin-off series Agent Carter. And don't forget the Netflix deal featuring Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Drew all teaming up as the Defenders.

All of this leads me to ask... what's left? Naturally, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man properties are out of reach, with each planning long-term franchise films under other studios, so what properties does Marvel Studio have left that could translate well to film or television?

10. The Eternals

If Thor's tale is truly coming to an end, as the title Thor: Ragnarok would suggest, it could be just the right time to introduce Jack Kirby's other pantheon. Although not initially written as part of the Marvel universe, The Eternals created a rich mythology of cosmic beings as only Jack Kirby could envision.

When a race of faceless titans from space known only as the Celestials visited the planet Earth, they manipulated the DNA of early hominids to create two incredible races: the Eternals and the Deviants. The Eternals were perfect immortal beings living high in the mountains while the Deviants were hideous mutated creatures living deep underground. Locked in ageless conflict, their tales gave birth to the myths of man. Greek myth, in particular, was inspired by names like Ikaris, Sersi, Thena, Ajak, and Makkar. Every few thousand years, the Celestials would return space to judge their creation either by blessing or destruction. Like the comic, a film would center around the latest (and perhaps, final) judgment of the Celestials.

Additionally, this could be an interesting way to introduce the character of Hercules to the Marvel Universe. Although not a part of these stories in the comics, Hercules debuted years earlier as part of a more traditional Greek pantheon and a counterpart for Thor. Since the Greek gods have not had the same level of development as the gods of Asgard, this could be a clever way to streamline the character.

9. Squadron Supreme

If Marvel really wants to stick it to DC, they will produce a Squadron Supreme film. Although it wouldn't be set in the same Marvel universe, this could be a way to expand into the Marvel multiverse.

The Squadron Supreme began as blatant counterparts of the Justice League from another universe as a means to have the Avengers fight their competition from another company. Years later, in the 12-issue Squadron Supreme miniseries, their story was expanded as a cautionary tail of a small group of well-intentioned people who think they can run the world. This was revamped more recently as Supreme Power by J. Michael Straczynski which focused on the alienation and manipulation suffered by the heroes of this world prior to their authoritarian take over.

As a film, it could easily be seen as a criticism of the Distinguished Competition's more grim and gritty approach to filmmaking.

8. Runaways

Runaways is a huge fan favorite Marvel series created by Brian K. Vaughn and featuring such writing talents as Joss Whedon and Terry Moore. The series focuses around a group of teenagers who discover that their parents are supervillains. They come together as a team to foil their plans before running away to live on their own.

Since the characters of Runaways have no costumes or codenames, they are very easy to adapt into other media, but perhaps they would do best as television show. As a companion to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Runaways would be an easy sell to a younger demographic, and with a cabal of villains at the heart of the premise, it would be easy to work in new characters with powers of their own.

The only thing that might give Disney pause is the fear of promoting running away from home as a solution to your problems.

7. Ghost Rider

Now that Marvel has the license back to Ghost Rider, it's just a question of where they will use it. No doubt that Doctor Strange will open the doors to the supernatural world of the Marvel universe, so will Ghost Rider be there to drive through them? Will they continue to use the character of Johnny Blaze after the last two films?

Although Blaze has the strongest origin and longest association with the character, Ghost Rider actually soared to popularity with the introduction of teenager Danny Ketch as the host of the Spirit of Vengeance... although that probably has more to do with his dramatic redesign. In those comics, Johnny Blaze returned as a drifter with a shotgun that fired hellfire. I could definitely see that approach inspiring the Marvel films, especially if they want to distance themselves from Nicholas Cage.

6. New Warriors

One popular element of superhero comics that is sorely underrepresented are teenage superheroes... and, particularly, teenage superhero teams. Since they don't have access to X-Men or Spider-Man, Marvel is likely eyeing their remaining teenage superheroes and none have a longer history than the New Warriors.

The New Warriors were an unsupervised, unsanctioned group of teenagers who took their inspiration from the Avengers. Although coming from different backgrounds and heroic origins, they came together to fight for justice, but often make mistakes along the way. Their most infamous mistake was  joining a reality TV series which led directly to a botched mission, their own deaths, and the deaths of many civilians, including children.

Although the team's roster has changed dramatically over the years, I would stick with fan favorites like Night Thrasher, Namorita, Darkhawk, Firestar, and Speedball along with the popular duo of Cloak and Dagger.

5. Blade

Like Ghost Rider, Blade was recently reacquired by the Marvel parent company, but his original film kicked off the trend of A-list superhero movies way back in 1999.
Rumor has it that Marvel is considering hiring Wesley Snipes to reprise the role. It certainly makes sense. Snipes redefined this character as much as Robert Downey Jr. redefined Iron Man. Why wouldn't they want him back?

And while my dreams of Captain America/Blade: Howl of the Cap-Wolf may have been deterred by Civil War, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we get a cameo in Doctor Strange. Maybe they could even join Ghost Rider as a new version of the Nightstalkers.

4. Moon Knight

One of the last classic solo characters yet to be featured in film or television, Moon Knight was an attempt by Marvel to create their own Batman in the late seventies, but with a supernatural Egyptian curse as the hook.

Marc Spector was a mercenary who betrayed his own commander when they were raiding the temple of Khonshu, a lunar god of vengeance. Beaten nearly to death, Spector was reborn as Khonshu's avatar.

Fighting injustice at night, Spector dressed in the vestments of Khonshu's warriors, but he became increasingly unstable, adopting multiple identities. It is unclear if he is experiencing utter madness or if he has been possessed by spirits beyond his understanding.

3. Young Avengers

While the New Warriors were inspired by the Avengers, the Young Avengers deliberately attempts to recreate that classic dynamic but in an all new generation of young heroes.

The first incarnation of Young Avengers were formed after the dissolution of the classic Avengers. The team is gathered by Iron Lad (a time-traveler from the future) who recruits Patriot (grandson of the prototype Captain America), Wiccan, Hulkling, a new female Hawkeye, and Stature (the size changing daughter of Ant-Man, Scott Lang). Years later, after the team had disbanded, they are reformed by a child version of Loki along with the new additions of Kree warrior Noh-Varr and other dimensional powerhouse Ms. America Chavez.

The one drawback on this concept is that a lot of these characters have their origins based in events that have not yet happened in the Marvel cinematic universe. Not the least of which is that an adult Loki is currently being played by the extremely popular Tom Hiddleston.

Still, with this many characters to choose from, a clever writer could work around these issues and there are a lot of reasons why they should. This team has a history of unstable leadership and tragedy with a very fun and stylish sensibility. It could offer the best elements of Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Iron Man with the added benefit of youth appeal.

2. Thunderbolts

With all the villains piling up in the Marvel universe and the heroes fighting amongst each other, this would be the perfect time to introduce the Thunderbolts!

Originally, they were the Masters of Evil, villainous counterparts to the Avengers. Yet when the Avengers had seemingly died, they adopted new identities as a superhero team. Yet in playing the role of the hero, many of them began to question their own decisions and even became the heroes they were pretending to be. Led by the disfigured Nazi Baron Zemo disguised as Citizen V, the team included the manipulative psychologist Moonstar, the mechanical genius Techno, the supersuit-flying Mach-5, the size-changing Atlas, and the energy projecting Songbird. After being exposed, the team went fugitive and attempted to redeem themselves, eventually becoming an official government run team designed to give supercriminals the opportunity to reform.

As a film, the Thunderbolts would be an excellent fit if the Avengers were disbanded or disgraced, but the sequel Avengers versus Thunderbolts would be epic.

1. Nova

In some ways, we've already had a preview of this film as Guardians of the Galaxy featured the planet Xandar, home to the Nova Corps.

Led by Nova Prime (Glenn Close), the Nova Corp are the peace-keepers of the universe. The original comic featured Richard Rider while the more recent comics (and Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon) feature Sam Alexander, a younger Hispanic character. In either case, the story is the same: a young man is thrown into the dangerous task of keeping order in the wonderous depths of Marvel universe.

If Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel's replacement for the Fantastic Four and Inhumans is their replacement for X-Men, Nova would be an excellent choice as a replacement for Spider-Man.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Quick Guide To The Guardians of the Galaxy

While Marvel Studios is sitting at the apex of their success, they are taking a chance with something a little different with the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film. This is a particularly unusual choice since this incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy is only a few years old, and though gaining in popularity, even die-hard comic fans know little about them. Since I knew next to nothing myself, I decided to research the Guardians of the Galaxy. So here is my guide to the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The original Guardians of the Galaxy

The original incarnation of this team was a 31st century counterpart to the Avengers, similar to DC's 30th century superhero team, the Legion of Super-Heroes. They are most well-known for their role in the Avengers' Korvac Saga. Although there were many members of their team, the only ones relevant to the current team or upcoming film are Major Victory (a 31st century counterpart to Captain America) and Yondu (a blue-skinned archer-warrior from Alpha Centuri).

Created in 1969, the Guardians finally had their own series in the mid-90s by Jim Valentino, but it did not catch on and the characters were soon forgotten.

Annihilation (2006-2007)

The inaugural event that preceded the debut of the team consisted of a prologue issue with four miniseries including Nova, Silver Surfer, Ronan, and Super-Skrull followed by the Heralds of Galactus mini-series. Beginning in Thanos and the Drax the Destroyer miniseries, this event features the invasion of bug-like entities from a sector of space called "The Crunch" where the Negative Zone meets the "Positive" universe. Led by Annihilus, the unstoppable swarm is dubbed "the Annihilation Wave."

In their first strike, the Annihilation Wave destroys an intergalactic prison known as the Kyln where a half-human superhero who called himself "Star-Lord" is being imprisoned following his destruction of a small planet to save many others. In their second strike, the Annihilation Wave destroys Xandar and the galactic peacekeepers known as the Nova Corps leaving only Centurian Richard Rider with their entire power and legacy.

The event comes to a conclusion in the Annihilation miniseries as the intergalactic powers form a united front, kill Annihilus, and force the invading army to retreat (though several planets remain occupied).

Nova (2007-2010)

Following the aftermath of Annihilation, Nova received his own series focusing on Richard Rider baring the burden of the entire power of the Nova Corps and the Xandarian Worldmind. This series ran along side Guardians of the Galaxy and was also written by Abnett and Lanning, so while it is not necessary to read one to enjoy the other, they do go well together.

This series focused on the struggles of Richard Rider following the death of the Nova Corps. With his former team, the New Warriors, now hated on Earth following Civil War, he finds he has no place on Earth, but instead struggles to be a one man Corps.

Annihilation: Conquest (2007-2008)

This event crosses with the Nova ongoing series, but is also told in the miniseries Annihilation: Conquest - Quasar, Wraith, and Star-Lord. As Star-Lord helps rebuild the Kree Empire following Annihilation, he unknowingly helps to facilitate a Trojan horse invasion led by the techno-organic Phalanx. Eager to atone for his most recent mistake, Star-Lord leads a team of elite Kree convicts into a dangerous mission in the heart of Kree space. This is the team that would soon become the basis for the Guardians of the Galaxy including Bug, Rocket Raccoon, Mantis, Groot, and Captain Universe.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2008-2010)

Following the battle in Annihilation: Conquest, Star-Lord reforms his team as a proactive group designed to prevent the next universe damaging events. As a result of the previous storyline, the fabric of space/time has been weakened and their first priority is to repair the places where reality has been stretched to the breaking point. The critical component in their plans is the all-powerful Adam Warlock, who is a human who has evolved to the point where his connection to quantum energies is indistinguishable from magic.

Although Bug and Captain Universe were not in the initial lineup, they were replaced by Adam Warlock, Quasar (Phylla Vell), Gamora, and Drax the Destroyer. After discovering the severed head of a Celestial floating in a space just outside of the universe, the Guardians are able to use the Celestial head as a teleporter with unlimited range. This place, referred to as Knowhere, is used as an intergalactic port that barely tolerates the Guardians' presence. Their security chief is a telepathic dog with a Russian accent known simply as Cosmo.

Secret Invasion (2008-2009)

Although not directly tied to these events, this Marvel event featured the invasion of Earth by alien shapeshifters. This required both the Guardians and Nova to be preoccupied on vaguely related adventures. Yet this event directly leads into the following cosmic event...

War of Kings (2009)

When the Skrull invaded Earth, they replaced (amongst many) the Inhuman king, Black Bolt. Unwilling to led this threat pass, Black Bolt converted the Inhuman capital city into the starship that it originally was and led his people to destroy the fleeing invaders. After they were destroyed, the ship turned to Hala, the home planet of the Kree Empire. The Inhumans and the Kree have been enemies since the Kree created the Inhumans with genetic experimentation designed to help fix their own genetic stagnation. Surprisingly, the Kree ruler, then Ronan the Accuser, surrendered to the Inhuman invaders with the belief that their strength would be to the benefit of the war-weary empire.

Meanwhile, the other great empire of the known universe, the Shi'ar Empire, had been taken over by a human mutant - Gabriel Summers who preferred the name Vulcan. An omega-level mutant, Vulcan possessed the ability to manipulate limitless energy as well as a sadistic desire for power. Vulcan had taken the Shi'ar throne through marriage, deceit, and power, killing both his own father and the Shi'ar Emperor D'Ken in the process.

Soon, Vulcan's expanding Shi'ar Empire meets the recently conquered Kree Empire and the two empires engage in a war that threatens the fabric of reality, forcing the Guardians and Nova to find a way to bring the war to a swift and stable conclusion.

Realm of Kings (2010)

Following the conclusion of War of Kings, both Black Bolt and Emperor Vulcan are missing and presumed dead as the Inhuman doomsday weapon caused a massive interstellar phenomenon called "The Fault." Although nearly suicidal to enter, the various universal representative each send in their explorers only to discover a universe where death has been destroyed and life has been perverted. Seeking to invade their world, they call it the "Cancer-verse."

The Thanos Imperative (2010)

Following the conclusion of both Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy, these two titles have their respective stories resolved in the dramatic conclusion to this cosmic epic of events from creators Abnett and Lanning. This series features the battle of our universe against the Cancer-verse as the Guardians use Thanos, avatar of death, to combat a universe where death doesn't exist.

This event ties up all of the cosmic events since Annihilation.

Annihilators [Earthfall] (2011)

Following The Thanos Imperative, the telepathic dog from Knowhere, Cosmo, recruits a team to replace the Guardians in order to fulfill Star-Lord's dying request. No longer a team of unpredictable rebels, Cosmo is directed to recruit the most powerful - the Annihilators. This team consists of Silver Surfer, Ronan, Gladiator, Quasar, and the unanticipated addition of Spaceknight Ikon.

The Annihilators are featured in two miniseries. The first self-titled series features the Annihilators versus the Dire Wraith as they ally themselves with the Spaceknights. The second series (subtitled "Earthfall") features an encounter with the Avengers as the Universal Church of Truth resurrect Adam Magus on Earth.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Marvel NOW! (2013-present)

The most recent incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy is written by Brian Michael Bendis. There is a significant change in the character of Star-Lord. In addition to being blonde where he was previously brunette, there is a focus on Peter's promiscuity and issues with his abandoned father, who apparently is actually ruler of Spartax. This series also includes Iron Man and recent Marvel acquisition Angela to the team.

In my estimation, the Bendis run is not nearly as good as the Abnett and Lanning run, and I would not recommend  it. The title takes a major shift in tone and story as well as stunt-casting members like Iron Man, Angela, and Venom who dominate the storyline.


If you want to just dive into it all (as I did), I recommend that you start with Annihilation and end with Thanos Imperative. Don't avoid the events as they are crucial to the story. You can skip Secret Invasion, but if you like Guardians, you'll probably also like Nova and they work well as companion titles.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Marvel Universe - Part 3: Terrestrial Races

Now that we've covered the cosmos with alien races and cosmic beings, let's go back to your home planet, Earth.

Aside from the obviously predominant human race, the Earth has been home to many offshoot races. Some of them are ancient and others new. Many still reside on the planet while others have colonized distant worlds. These are the terrestrial races.



The dominant race on Earth, humans vastly outnumbers all other sentient life forms, yet they do not possess the unique abilities of their offshoot races. Due to ancient genetic tampering by the Celestials, many humans possess latent abilities that may become activated by radiation.

Humans have a reputation for being chaotic and unpredictable. Numerous attempts have been made to control or eliminate the human race for the sake of universal stability, but all such attempts have ended in disaster.

Notable Humans: Tony Stark, Nick Fury, J. Jonah Jameson, Maria Hill, Punisher
First Appearance: Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939)
Chance of Appearing in GotG:  Duh


On Earth, the once generic term "mutant" has been applied to a specific spontaneous generation of humans born with superior abilities and thus scientifically designated as homo sapiens superior. Usually these traits manifest during puberty, often during strenuous or anxious situations. Due to the dangerous nature of their abilities, mutants are frequently distrusted and the two races are constantly in conflict. Many experts on the mutant phenomenon believe this to be the beginning of the next stage in human evolution.

Notable Mutants: Charles Xavier, Magneto, Apocalypse, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm
First Appearance: X-Men #1 (Sept. 1963)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: Zero (Fox retains the rights to Marvel's mutants)

Mutates  (Savage Land)

In an attempt to create his own army, the mutant supremecist Magneto crafted a citadel in the middle of the hidden prehistoric jungle called the Savage Land. There he conducted genetic experiments on a tribe called the Swamp Men resulting in artificial mutants referred to as "mutates." Although they rejected Magneto as their leader, they became a major power in the Savage Land, held in check mainly by the land's jungle protector, Ka-Zar.

The word "mutate" is also used to refer to a servant class of mutant in the apartheid state of Genosha, but these mutates were mutants who were genetically altered for subservience by a mutant called the Genegineer. Therefore, they are not a distinct race.

Notable Mutates: Brainchild, Sauron, Lorelei, Gaza, Amphibius, Lupo
First Appearance: X-Men #62 (Nov. 1969)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: Zero (see above)


Homo mermanus is a submarine race of water-breathing humanoids. As yet, their historical origins are unknown, but were believed to have derived their name and culture from settling the ruins of the sunken continent of Atlantis following the Great Cataclysm. They have blue skin and gills on their neck that require a breathing apparatus when above water for an extended period. Although their numbers are not fully known, there are believed to be only a few thousand, mostly populated in the city of Atlantis.

Although technologically superior to the human majority, their culture is still based in monarchy with various houses often engaging in a coup d'etat for the throne. Their government has been made (relatively) stable by the long (but not unbroken) reign of Namor, their half-human king.

The Atlanteans also have an off-shoot race/culture known as the Lemurians. Nearly identical to Atlanteans, the only difference is their prominent scales and slightly greener hue.

Notable Atlanteans: Princess Fen, Lady Dorma
First Appearance: Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: 1/100

Ancient Atlanteans (Uhari/Chordai/Mala)

Only recently discovered in the depths of the ocean floor in caves developed by coral reef, they were hidden from the rest of the world for thousands of years. They were only spoken of in legend by the new Atlanteans and then as hostile invaders who used peace talks as a cover for invasion. This belief seems to be bigoted as all behavior shows them as no more or less hostile than any other terrestrial race.

The Ancient Atlanteans actually consist of three separate race: the Uhari (fish-like [left]), the Chordai (eel-like), and the Mala (crab-like). However, these three races are fully integrated in a single culture that identifies themselves as the Ancient Atlanteans. This calls into question how the current Atlanteans got their name and what the connection may be to the sunken continent.

Notable Ancient Atlanteans: Ul-Uhar, Vii, Wuu
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #576 (Feb. 2010)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: 1/200


During the First Host of the Celestials (see Part 2: Cosmic Beings), these cosmic gods experimented on proto-humans to create three distinctly different races: the constantly mutated and monstrous Deviants, the god-like Eternals, and, between them, the human race. While the Deviants made their home in the subterranean caverns developing powerful weapons, the Eternals made their home in the mountain, probing the universe with their minds, and developing fantastic powers.

Early in the development of their society, the Eternals were ideologically divided by two brothers: Kronos and Uranos. Kronos advocated living peacefully separate from the strife of humanity and the Deviants while Kronos suggested that they should master the Earth and subjugate the other races. This inevitably resulted in a civil war in which the followers of Kronos were victorious, leading to an era of peace and prosperity. Meanwhile, Uranos and his followers were banished into from the Earth itself, finding a Kree (see Part 1: Alien Races) outpost on Uranus where they were attacked by the Kree and experimented upon... leading directly to the Kree experiments that resulted in the Inhumans (see below). The surviving Eternals escaped to Titan, a moon of Saturn, where they founded an independent colony. This offshoot of the Eternals referred to themselves as Titans and produced some of the most powerful beings in the known universe, most notably the worshiper of death called Thanos.

Notable Eternals: Thanos, Zuras, Makarri, Sersi, Ikaris, Ajak, Thena, Eros
First Appearance: Eternals #1 (July 1976)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: Confirmed (Thanos)


While humanity fought desperately with the beasts of the Earth for survival, the Deviants were able to dominate their race and build a vast capital on the island of Lemuria. When the Celestials returned for the Second Host, the Deviants brazenly attacked their creators and, in return, the entire Earth was rocked by "the Great Cataclysm," a seismic event that sunk both Lemuria and the far off nation of Atlantis.

Since then, the Deviants have remained in hiding, seeking to undermine the efforts of both humanity and the Eternals in order to seek the favor of the Celestials. However, as always, the Deviants will not hesitate to steal the Celestials power, if given the opportunity.

Notable Deviants: Brother Tode, Ghaur, Kro
First Appearance: Eternals #1 (July 1976)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: 1/10


Following the Kree encounter with the Eternals, the Kree began a series of tests on the human population to unlock their potential. This created the Inhuman race. Their abilities (and often, a new appearance) emerge when they are exposed to the Terrigen Mists.

While they lived for thousands of years hidden in the Himalayas, the Inhumans eventually moved their entire city to the moon and, later still, back to the Kree homeworld as their conquers, though briefly. Recent events have caused the destruction of their city and released the Terrigen Mist into the world, transforming latent Inhumans and forcing the race to redefine themselves.

Notable Inhumans: Black Bolt, Medusa, Crystal, Maximus the Mad, Gorgon, Triton, Karnak
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #44 (Nov. 1965)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: 1/15

Alpha Primitives

The Inhumans employ an artificial race of identical beings as a slave race to perform menial tasks. Since they were expressly created for this purpose, they possess limited intelligence and imagination, making them very docile. However, they have been known to be agitated, resulting in class warfare.

Notable Alpha Primitives: None
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #47 (Feb. 1966)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: 1/100

Moloids (Molemen)

The moloids are the "mole men" of myth and legend which live in the deepest, darkest tunnels beneath the Earth. They were genetically engineered by the Deviants as a servant race following their loss of human slaves after the Great Cataclysm. Eventually, the population of moloids grew out of control to the point where the Deviants no longer attempted to control them. They even produced a minor offshoot race called the Tyrannoids and a precursor race called the Gortokians (but they quickly went extinct).

In recent years, the moloids were discovered by an explorer named Harvey Elder while investigating the caves of Monster Island. By this point, the moloids had become weak, subservient, and docile due to generations of in-breeding. They quickly accepted Elder as their leader and he rechristened himself as the Mole Man.

Even more recently, some moloids have evolved to demonstrate signs of complex intelligence. Four such moloids have joined the Fantastic Four's youth think tank known as the Future Foundation.

Notable Moloids: Mik, Korr, Turg, Tong
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #22 (Jan. 1964)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: Confirmed (Thanos)


Native to the unnatural prehistoric jungle reserve known as "the Savage Land," the Man-Apes (or Ape-Men), refer to a range of proto-humanoids that have been preserved in this environment. Due to the unique nature of the preserve, there has been significant crossbreeding and some of the species of humanoids simply have no historical counterparts.

Notable Man-Apes: Maa-Gor, Grog
First Appearance: X-Men #10 (March 1965)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: 1/50

New Men

Created by a superpowered geneticist called the High Evolutionary, the New Men were evolved from a wide variety of animals to endow them with the intelligence, size, and stature of a human being. These were both experiments and a servant race who would help the High Evolutionary achieve his goal of creating the perfect being. However, the High Evolutionary is a gentle master and has allowed the New Men to form their own society with their own roles.

The society of the New Men is located on Mount Wundagore in the Transian mountain range in Eastern Europe. The mountain is protected by New Men warriors known simply as the Knights of Wundagore.

Notable New Men: Bova, Man-Beast
First Appearance: Thor #134 (Nov. 1966)
Chance of Appearing in GotG: 1/100


And that brings us to the end of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Marvel Universe! We've covered aliens, cosmic beings, and the races of Earth, but let us know what you'd like to learn about next in the comments below!

Do you want a guide to the DC universe? A guide to Marvel cosmology or multiple dimensions? Let me know!