Category: Guest Writer

Reality & Continuity, Or Why 9/11 Reveals Some Insights About Live-Action Superheroes

Superheroes aren’t real. (Gasp, I think one may have just died because I said that). They aren’t, but the rise of realism in comic storytelling that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, means that readers demand realistic elements to the storytelling. Even though our capes are walking deus-ex-machinas, we prefer the veneer that all things are genuine struggles for them. But surprisingly, superheroes do have limits. They are not perfect. Because for all that the superheores can do in their fictional realms, they cannot leap from the page and be a part of this world. However, they can appear increasingly life-like through good and sustained storytelling.

A good measure to think about superheroes is to consider how they operate in response to the world around us? How do they deal with real tragedies such as 9/11 and other tragic events wherein they are specifically designed to protect us from? Herein, I will explore how both DC and Marvel have grappled with that idea and the implications it has had for their cinematic and television universes.

I turn to Peter Coogan and his seminal book on the superhero as a genre (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/222322.Superhero) to highlight the power of the genre over others and how it may operate or deal with the real world.

“Real events from the past are worked in…Likely it will become more prominent as creators are freed from the burden of timeless continuity and are able to present stories that deal with the passage of time in more flexible ways….The superhero has a unique signifying function. It can be used to express ideas that other genres cannot portray as well. Superheroes embody a vision of the use of power unique to America.

Superheroes enforce their own visions of right and wrong on others, and they possess overwhelming power, especially in relation to ordinary crooks. They can project power without danger to themselves, and they can effortlessly solve problems that ordinary authorities cannot handle. This vision of power fits quite well with the position America finds itself in after the Cold War. America is the only superpower in the world, something like Superman in the days before other superheroes and supervillains.”

However, with cataclysmic or galvanizing events, trying to tell superhero stories becomes trickier. Cord Scott articulates this challenge in discussing writers dealing with World War II in “Written in Red, White, and Blue: A Comparison of Comic Book Propaganda from World War II and September 11” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00381.x/abstract):

“The writers and artists had to walk a fine line in how they portrayed these characters and how they showed them fighting the enemy. If a character was too successful at a time when the war was going against the United States, sales went down and people became demoralized. If the superhero did nothing but fight imaginary, nonthreatening foes (such as domestic criminals), then the heroes were not doing their part for the war effort.”

What does walking a fine line look like when dealing with more contemporary events, especially when the perceptions of comics and readers are much darker and adult-oriented, when censorship and violence is much more present within comics?

911—Continuity vs. Non-Continuity Responses

In 9-11: September 11, 2001 (Stories to Remember, Volume 2), published in January 2002, DC published a 2-page feature as part of a 2-volume series of publishers and artists delivering stories about 9/11 with the proceeds going to charities for the survivors. The short piece, “Unreal” features Superman saving a spaceship while breaking the fourth wall and telling the reader that despite his superpowers, he cannot “break free from the fictional pages.” The story reveals a child reading the comic that Superman is featured in and being rescued by a firefighter (likely, in one of the World Trade Center towers). The final panel bears the words, “A world, fortunately, protected by heroes of its own” while showing a silhouette of a firefighter holding an American flag.

By contrast, Marvel Comics addressed 9/11 in Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 2. Interupting the ongoing plotline, the largely internal dialogue of Spiderman is heard as he makes his way through New York City in the wake of the devastation. A bystander confronts him, “How could you let this happen?” He ponders this question and denies his ability to have stopped it with, “We couldn’t imagine. Only madmen could contain the thought, execute the act, fly the planes. The sane world will always be vulnerable to madmen because we cannot go where they go to conceive of such things.” Despite incapable of preventing it, much of the Marvel Universe is dedicated to the clean up in various not-so-sublte disguises. Included in the mix are characters such as Dr. Doom, Magneto, and Kingpin—characters who’s fictitious murders well surpass the death-toll of 9/11. According to Spider-Man, their presence is “Because even the worst of us, however scarred, are still human.”

Brian K. Vaughan’s series, Ex-Machina presented an interesting third option for superheroes regarding 9/11. The series presented the main character, Mitchell Hundred as a superhero who managed to prevent the second plane from striking the second town. Two years later, Garth Ennis would entirely reinvent 9/11, preventing it from happening as we know it and simply having his hedonistic and narcissistic superheroes fighting one another and causing one of the hijacked planes to crash into the Brooklyn Bridge. While both series started with Wildstorm (a subsidiary of DC), The Boys moved to Dynamite Entertainment after the first six issues. However, both were contained universes that had no need to address continuity issues. They also both adhere to Coogan’s point about the chronological distance allowing for them to play with the event.

But DC and Marvel’s approach to the real event is fascinating in its initial reaction to the event. Marvel folds the story into its universe—albeit a bit clumsy. It doesn’t give up its own fictitious realism but doubles down on it. By contrast, DC gives up the ghost and merely says, “Hey, we’re not real and can’t do anything.”

The Real World Approach To Movie-Making

For many years, Marvel was known for being a bit more realistic with its fictional world than DC. The classic, “superheroes with problems” shtick that derived from the 1960s Lee & Kirby team up has long permeated an assumed difference between Marvel and DC. But it goes deeper than that. It’s not just superheroes with problems, but it’s superheroes in a real world. Notice that Marvel Comics, by and large, exist in realm places New York City, Los Angeles, London, etc whereas DC has its fake cities: Metropolis, Gotham, Central City, etc.

This difference also accounts for some of the reason why Marvel has dominated at the box-office in the last decade whereas DC continues to stumble.   Until Man of Steel (although really, not until Dawn of Justice), DC Comics created contained fictions. When the movie ended, the credits rolled and the story was complete and contained (even when sequels would follow, they existed solely within that superhero’s limited world). It was even rare for the movie to reference anything beyond its own world (e.g. Batman might reference supervillains in Gotham, but never those of Superman). For most of the last forty years, every time DC sets to tell a new superhero story in film, they hit the reset button from anything else relating to DC.

For over a decade now, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has continually let viewers know that the fiction does not end. They did this through cameos, Easter eggs, and post-credit scenes—all of which told us, the universe was not contained; there was more story to enjoy. Though this is most clearly done through the Marvel Cinematic Universe (movies revolving around the Avengers character franchises), it was also present within the X-Men movies of the 2000s with numerous references to other characters and events within the Marvel Universe (and, of course, their branching out with the Wolverine movies).

At best, DC can said to be trying to do this now with its TV series and films, but it appears to be in a constant state of catch-up. While its Arrow, Flash, and other shows have found ways to be woven together and that with Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the films are existing in the same world, Marvel still beat it to the punch in making the jump between the TV and the films with Agents of Shield.

I don’t have a superpower to tell the future, but my guess will be that it will be a long time before DC can meaningfully compete with Marvel on the cinematic level with engaging individual tales that interweave with a large tapestry of stories. Yet I can tell you that when it does, it will because it has stopped admitting its own fictional existence and started to own its vision of what a real world would look like with superheroes.

*This essay was adapted in part from a previously published essay by this author in this collection: September 11 in Popular Culture: A Guide. Sara E. Quay and Amy M. Damico, Eds. Greenwood Press (9/2010).


Lance Eaton is an instructional designer, adjunct instructor, part-time writer, and perpetual collector of degrees. He resides in Beverly, MA with his partner and two adorable cats and is currently working on a PhD. He writes about books, audiobooks, comics, popular culture, education, and anything else that crosses his mind on his blog: By Any Other Nerd (http://www.byanyothernerd.com)


Modern Superheroes: Where Myth Meets Reality

My very first comic was an issue of Superboy in the early nineties. It had to do with the Phantom Zone, and that’s all I remember about it. It wasn’t the story that hooked me into reading comics—it was the medium. My brain had no context for what I was looking at. The combination of images and narrative was new to my young brain and the brightly drawn covers at the comic store seemed like infinite windows into new and spectacular worlds.

More than twenty five years later, comics have changed almost unimaginably. The kinds of stories being told are more creative and original, spanning from crime tales like 100 Bullets to absurd fantasy based on biblical myth like East of West. Yet the core of the industry is formed from superheroes. Men and women in silly costumes trying to do the right thing.

Why? How does the concept of the man or woman in tights continue to endure after almost a century of publication and tens of thousands of iterations?

There are a lot of theories. Psychology professors teach elements of superhero mythology in their classes, and it’s impossible to touch on the subject without examining the appeal. Every take holds some kernel of truth. Some people will read them because they like the action, the appearance of a simple good/evil dichotomy. Some just enjoy the art and need no deeper reason.

But for many if not most, superheroes remain timelessly fascinating because they represent the modern expression of one of the oldest human drives: to mythologize. Look at religions through the ages, especially Greek mythology. The idea of a superman, flawed and fascinating, is rooted deeply in stories of Hercules. The prototypical idea of someone like Batman, human but at the absolute peak of his abilities, can be found in countless other stories of classical Greece. I use it only as an example—the same can be found in nearly every other culture throughout the world.

Superheroes are that mythology for us in a world so modern it allows very little room for true mythology. Religion and science have crowded our ability to collectively believe the folk tale or put our faith in culture heroes. So we create our own. We fictionalize and tell tales, but we do it better than any culture in the history of the world.

The modern superhero is complex. The serial nature of comic books and television shows, combined with ever-changing staffs of writers and artists, creates a constant influx of new ideas and fresh angles. When you look back at Hercules, he was an interesting character but didn’t come close the emotional complexity and depth we would expect from even a modestly popular man in tights gracing the pages of a new comic book.

A huge part of the appeal is how the genre itself allows us to explore the mythology from infinite angles. The kinds of stories we can tell—and project ourselves onto—span the entire spectrum of human experience.

Superman: a Kansas farm boy at his core, someone who puts on his superhero persona but remains that humble guy despite his godlike power. Many have written about the essential Otherness of Superman, how his origin and life parallel the problems faced by American Jews in the 20th century.

Batman: the human persona is a front. Bruce Wayne is a fictitious mask for Batman to hide behind. The entire history of the character is an extended study in what a damaged psyche can drive us to do, to become.

How about Ms. Marvel? A comic that explores what it’s like to be a teenage girl, a Muslim, and a superhero realizing that her powers don’t give her the ability to fix the very real problems that arise from who she is as a person.

Perhaps the X-Men, one of the more popular comic franchises in history. First an allegory exploring the brutality of living in a racist society, evolving over the last twenty years or so into a similar allegory for the LGBTQ community in the world today.

We love superheroes and go back to them time and again because they are made by us. Their stories change and grow to become expressions of the struggles we face. We don’t love them because the characters suddenly have the power to defeat the forces arrayed against us, but because they often fail. We are shown that even great power is often not enough to win against hate or fear or even personal demons. What matters is the fight.

Is there a better illustration of this truth than the ongoing nature of comics themselves? Do we shell out money week to week and month to month because we expect one final crescendo that ties everything up neatly?

No.

Many of us fall in and out of picking up books, but going back is never about hoping to have that decisive victory. It’s about finding the part of the myth that appeals to us and riding the wave. Identifying with the story and struggle, seeing a part of ourselves in the deeply flawed—or realistic, if you prefer—characters who populate those pages, is a powerful means of examining ourselves whether we realize it or not.

And in the end, the simplest explanation for the enduring popularity of the genre fits neatly within this framework: it’s escapism. Myths have always been a way for people to lose themselves in fantasy, in magic and might they know can never exist. The constant stream of new issues lets us submerge into worlds where the power to fight back is more tangible, even if we know it will never result in that one vital win.

In a world so firmly grounded in reality, superheroes remain the greatest way for us to forget for a little while and pretend that men can fly.


Joshua Guess is an independent author living and working in Kentucky. He writes books across genres, from zombie apocalypse stories to superhero tales, all of which can be found via Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Joshua-Guess/e/B004A5LKU0


The Resurrection of “Street-Level” Heroes

Batman’s perennial success is without question. Has there been a time when there hasn’t been a Batman comic in print, a television show or movie in development or showing? Bruce Wayne’s success in the cape and cowl bely his origins as a silver-spoon kid. The son of millionaires cum billionaires, their deaths allowed young Bruce to fund his psychotic war on crime and allow him to become the World’s Greatest Detective. Which brings us to what I think is Batman’s true appeal: a normal human being fighting crime with his mind and his fists. This bears out in the long history of wealthy masked crimefighters preceding the Dark Knight. When ol’ Bats takes off the cowl, however, he heads home to a mansion and a butler, his every need seemingly provided for. It is the mask, however, that has continued to inspire others to take up the mantle. As we marched into the 21st century, those inspired to fight crime have been less and less likely to be wealthy. Quite the opposite, in fact, as a more diverse roster of heroes, from a myriad of backgrounds, rose to some prominence in comics. Media powerhouses are starting to take notice. There is a rich history of untapped comic characters who are not wealthy loners or necessarily “white” or even masked. Too many of them were racist stereotypes, however, except the most recent. Still, they can provide the foundation for more interesting characters to come.

The success of Marvel’s Jessica Jones series on Netflix opened the door for all sorts of street-level shenanigans. Jones was an obscure character both by popularity and design. Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Gaydos, the comic, Alias, featured disillusioned, former super-hero and professional cynic Jessica Jones as well as other super-characters such as Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), Scott Lang (Ant-Man), and Luke Cage. I mention them in this way because to appear in a street-level comic—no matter how cosmic your powers—is to be less the mask and more the person behind the mask. It was rare for anyone other than Jones to leap into action. I wish the comic had run longer just to feature more street-level characters such as Shang-Chi or White Tiger. Instead, after a ridiculous turn going back to costumed super-antics, Jones “cleaned up,” had a child with Cage, and became more of a supporting wife/nag character in whatever Luke Cage happened to be starring in.

One of two things tends to make street-level characters great: sidelining their super-power or not having powers at all. Focusing on the personality and motivations of these characters tends to strip them of their stereotypical origins. Luke Cage is a fine example of this. It’s no problem that he’s from Harlem—lots of people are—but the jive talkin’ blaxploitation-era version is long gone. Who else is due for some updating?

How about “Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu”? Often referred to as “Marvel’s Bruce Lee,” Shang-Chi (created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin) has a crazy history inspired by the martial arts explosion of the 1970s. As a non-powered, street-level fighter whose narrative is pockmarked with ‘yellow peril’ antics, the comic had low and high points. Marvel tried to acquire the rights for an adaptation of the television show “Kung Fu,” but ended up with Sax Rohmer’s character, “Dr. Fu Manchu” instead. Shang-Chi is the son of Fu Manchu and trained his entire life in wushu and eventually became his father’s greatest nemesis. This led to all kinds of intrigue and conflict a-la Enter-the-Dragon and Fists-of-Fury meets 007 style. All of this winning history was ruined as Marvel toyed with the character in the twenty-first century, eventually having him join the Avengers after being exposed to cosmic radiation and developing super-powers. Stupid. Shang-Chi was most successful as a non-powered, skilled character with personal entanglements, successes and failures. The few times he’d go up against a powered character, he’d win using skill and his wits. What could be better? Shang-Chi is due an update similar to Luke Cage!

Marvel’s bullpen had quite a bit more success with street-level characters than DC. I’ll also note, that more of Marvel’s creations were non-white. And appeared to be more from happenstance than by design to fuel racist stereotypes. Like the White Tiger (created by Bill Mantlo and George Pérez). The character’s origins can be traced back to the “Sons of the Tiger” (created by Dick Giordano and Gerry Conway). A martial arts trio, each of them carried one part of a jade tiger necklace: two paws and the head. On the surface, they appear as a nod to diversity, but dig just a little deeper and their origins are painfully stereotypical. Simply put: there are three characters. Lin Sun, an indeterminate Asian character who’s origins are founded entirely in martial arts; Abe Brown, a “black” character from the streets of Harlem; and Bob Diamond, a Hollywood actor. If you can’t connect the dots here, I’ll spell it out: even their names evoke racist stereotypes. Together, the amulets mystically linked them and tripled their martial arts abilities. When they broke up, the amulets were discarded to be found by Hector Ayala. Ayala is Puerto Rican for no other reason than he happens to be from PR. Also created in the 1970s, the White Tiger’s ethnic background had nothing to do with the fact he put on magic amulets and fought crime. He wasn’t named Latin Tiger and didn’t fight exclusively in Spanish Harlem or interact with only Latinx characters. Which meant Ayala needed to suffer an unfortunate demise. Towards the end of his career, Ayala discovers that he’s addicted to the amulets and eventually kicks the habit after being nearly shot to death by a villain. He puts the amulets on again after recovering and getting on the wagon for a little while. Only to be framed for murder and sent to prison. From which he tries to escape and is gunned down. Again. This time for good. The character was then resurrected in the form of Ayala’s niece, Angela Del Toro (created by Brian Michael Bendis, followed by Tamora Pierce)—my favorite version of the White Tiger. She’s a former FBI agent and full of character complexities and conflicts that make her costumed shenanigans so much more interesting. And her costume was cooler. Which, of course, meant she had to die. Murdered by The Hand and resurrected as their evil puppet, Del Toro goes on to be freed of The Hand’s evil influence—but not really—and ends up in prison. Until Ayala’s sister, Ava, inherits the amulets. So far, Ava is faring well. We’ll see how Marvel goes about destroying this latest version. Still, I think White Tiger needs an update! I believe Del Toro would’ve been best under the mantle with her private life as an ex-FBI agent and professional entanglements to keep things interesting but, unfortunately, Del Toro currently serves as an example of female writers and characters being tossed under the bus by fans and management alike.

Since we’ve just wandered through a Latinx character and focused on Marvel, let’s take a dig at one of DC’s idiotic attempts at diversity in comics: Vibe (created by Gerry Conway and Chuck Patton). During one of the Justice League’s many ‘disbanded’ storylines, Francisco “Cisco” Ramone, leader of a Detroit street gang (naturally), decides to ditch that life to join the League. What? He subsequently gets the League into turf war with another gang (of course). Huh? Vibe is eventually killed (again: naturally) after he proves himself useful in one of DC’s many Crisis storylines. Because he’s the first Leaguer to die in action—well, duh—the Martian Manhunter puts his body into a cryogenic tube. Or something. Since that time, his body has been regularly resurrected to be a pain-in-the-ass and remind the Justice League how effed up their history is. I guess. Despite this utter nonsense, this character has undergone one of the best character resurrections via The Flash television show. The character himself, and the actor who portrays him (Carlos Valdes), are delightful, and a prime example of DC mining their schizophrenic, muddy history to update a racist-stereotype character for the better. Currently, Ramone’s character’s ethnic background is just that, his background. It’s not the the driving factor of his existence.

More, I say, more! Mine the jetsam and flotsam of a flawed past and scoop out the best parts of a rich and bizarre comic history! I want to know who else is out there, which other characters might be dredged out of the dustbin of stereotypes and brought up-to-date to be treated like the human beings they’re supposed to be?


Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Errick A. Nunnally served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school would be a safer—and more natural—pursuit. He strives to develop his strengths in storytelling and remains permanently distracted by art, comics, science fiction, history, and horror. Trained as a graphic designer, he has earned a black belt in Krav Maga with Muay Thai kickboxing after dark. Errick’s successes include: the novel, Blood For The Sun; a comic strip collection, Lost in Transition; and first prize in one hamburger contest. The following are short stories and their respective anthologies: Welcome to the D.I.V. (Wicked Witches); Harold At The Halfcourt (Inner Demons Out); Penny Incompatible (Eulogies IV); The Last Apology (A Dark World of Spirits and The Fey); You Call This An Apocalypse? (After The Fall); Recovery (Winter Animals: stories to benefit PROTECT.ORG); A Hundred Pearls: PROTECTORS 2  (stories to benefit PROTECT.ORG) and The Elevation of Oliver Black (Distant Dying Ember). He also has two lovely children and one beautiful wife.


Golden Age of Comic Book Movies

When did the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies start? How long will this trend of superhero movies last? Why is it so popular? Seems like nowadays we can’t go three months without a new superhero movie releasing in theaters. When nerds like me start seeing trends, we typically want to know how. Is it popularity that keeps superhero movies coming back, year after year, month after month? If that was simply the case, wouldn’t this trend have been said and done with back in 1978 with the release of Richard Donner’s Superman, staring late great Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando? Superman was widely loved by critics and fans alike and spawned four sequels and a spin-off movie, Supergirl in 1984. Or was it the Tim Burton directed Batman films? Certainly darker and more gritty than the bright colored 1966 TV series starring Adam West, but more popular? Well, that begs the question. Honestly, I think the popularity has always been there, even in the early days of The Shadow, Zorro, The Green Hornet, and even The Lone Ranger all the way into the cowabunga years of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Around the mid-90s is when, according to movie listings, we begin to see superhero flicks picking up, instead of the typically two-three a year quota, now we’re getting four or five, and this is despite low-quality production, which is another argument altogether. CGI alone has a short life span. Consider 1994’s Judge Dread or 1997’s Spawn, both widely loved by fans but now universally loathed as being both cheesy and unwatchable. If anything, we can say the quality in movies has improved, but not just graphics and effects, but also storytelling.

Let’s slow things down here and take a closer look.

While some of the past superhero movies had a gem or two regarding the art of story, for the most part, it was cut and paste motivations. Bad guy kidnaps so and so, evil genius threatens world domination, Hero must overcome some negating characteristic and win the day, blah blah blah. Spawn is a great example. One of my more beloved comic book storylines, it was very dark but also very in-depth, pitting a man who was never really that good, to begin with, but is in love and wants to be a better man is killed and returns as a Spawn, basically a demon with powers, yet at one point ends up giving said powers and ending his life to save “the other guy” his estranged wife married. There’s way more there, I kinda had to skip from comics one to fifty, but you get the idea. Complex characters with deep motivations. In the movie variation, we get the jest of the gov’t assassin who wants out so he can be with his wife. But after that, things get stuck one-dimensionally. Bag guy has a “doomsday” device. Hell works on releasing said doomsday device. The hero must learn to use his powers and save the world. In the comics, Spawn wouldn’t give two shits about the world.

More and more of these all most wonders were coming out, and then…

1998’s Blade is when the superhero movies started taking themselves a little more seriously and not just “for kids.” Certainly not Blade, which boasted an R-rating. I think Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 Punisher flick was the first of comic book movies to brave an R-rating. The issue with the 80s Punisher variation, among a majority of early superhero movies, is the omission of certain aspects of the characters that made them more compelling, giving realism to motivations, and letting us audience types to give a crap about them. Now Blade, some may say had issues. They wouldn’t be wrong. However, 1998 was the first time I actually cared about a superhero, other than Blankman, but no one was going to take Blankman seriously. People still don’t. But Blade. Oh my, Blade was a badass. I saw it in theaters in 98’ with my friends. Loved it then. Still, do. Even if the “cheesiness” in the CGI is starting to show. Yup. That’s right. I’m picking Blade over the Michael Keaton Batman flicks. Yes, those Bat-films were fun and awesome, but Batman is a very complex character and Tim Burton did nothing with exploring that. Burton is a great visual director. But his characters have always been 2-D. There’s room for argument, I’m sure. But while Blade may have had similar qualities as Batman, i.e. moody grumpy badass loner type, there are moments we see more. Blade has a twisted sense of humor, sadistic some might say. And when it comes to Whistler, there’s a father-son dynamic that adds just enough flavor to the Blade persona to make viewers care.

This is not when the Golden Age began, this is only a foreshadowing.

Trust me. While Blade is not a definitive moment when the Golden Age of Superhero Movies clock started, it is certainly the start of what made the Golden Age possible. It wasn’t a perfect start, by all means. But Blade marked the moment when hero flicks took themselves more seriously. And the popularity from there rose, not immediately, but steadily, climbing into a near explosion of movies based on Marvel, DC, Image, and other more obscure comic book label characters. Seriously, who outside of obscure comic book readers ever heard of Guardians of the Galaxy? Not many, I can assure you. Yet, despite said obscurity, Guardians of the Galaxy became one of the more successful superhero movies for Marvel to come out of 2014. And now fans eagerly await the release of Vol 2.

The road hasn’t been without its bumps. While 2000 gave us the first of many Bryan Singer directed X-Men movies, giving what fans had been dreaming about for years, Wolverine on the big screen, the early 2000’s also gave us the not-so-great Affleck flick Daredevil. That being said, we did get X-2 and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, which wowed audiences back in 2002. There was a hiccup somewhere in the mid-2000s, between Daredevil and Catwoman and Fantastic Four that fell due to campy forced storytelling. But the good ones were starting to outnumber the bad, V for Vendetta being one of the best to come out of 2006.

Okay. I’ve been blabbing on and on here. I hope some of this has made sense. But here’s the meat. Let me say first though that this article is an opinion piece based on my own personal analysis of movie and story trends. People more learned than I may have a different opinion, you may have a different opinion. BUT… I believe 2008 was the start of the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies. In 2008 alone, nine different comic book movies released to theaters. Some of those, not so good. But among them started a decade-spanning series that is still ongoing. That’s right, I’m talking about the Jon Favreau-directed Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., an actor who up until that point was slipping into obscurity, somehow beat the odds and helped launch a multi-million dollar franchise.

But not just that, since Iron Man’s release, the number of crummy, 2-D storytelling superhero movies has exponentially (nice big word there) decreased. For example, while in 2009, Wolverine’s Origins movie may have been questionable, we did get Watchmen, which I thought was very in-depth and developed. In 2011, while The Green Hornet failed miserably, we got both Thor and one of my all-time favorite superhero movies, Captain America: The First Avenger. In 2012, some asshole released Ghost Rider 2, but…we did get The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Dark Knight Rises, AND Dredd, which I feel is an overlooked movie. Superman returned in Man of Steele in a not too shabby 2013 new flick, as did Thor in an even better sequel to his first film. In 2014, we got THE WINTER FREAKING SOLDIER, not to mention Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy, huge films that overshadowed some lesser greats with the return of TMNT in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And last year, 2016…oh my. Even the TMNT upped their ante with Out of the Shadows, giving longtime fans what they’ve been wanting since the 1990s, Bebop and Rocksteady on the big screen, and a relaxing breather to go with the more serious toned superhero films like Captain America: Civil War, Apocalypse, and Batman V Superman. But not just those, we also got the surprise hit Doctor Strange, which blew my freaking mind, and lastly but not least, Deadpool, the next in hopefully a long series of R-rated superhero movies. I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard as I did at a movie before, other than maybe South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.

Why are we in a Golden Age of Superhero Movies? Seriously? I don’t know!!! That’s not what this post is about, but I thought I should mention the why since I explained the how. For me, the how is obvious. Back in 1998, Blade showed us what a good superhero movie was or could be. And over time we showed our expectations at the box office. And now we’re at a point when quality versus quantity seems mute. We’re getting quality movies and we’re getting a lot of them. And the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing. In 2017, we’re expecting Power Rangers, which BTW actually looks interesting and worthwhile (we’ll see), Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2., Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Justice League.

There are movies projected, as from what I’ve been able to find, through 2020.

Will the Golden Age of Superhero Movies come to an end? Maybe eventually. But right now they’re offering a mode of storytelling that has become very appealing to audiences worldwide. This thirst of seeing the “best of us,” heroes more or less. Not just “super powered,” but human, regardless of superpowers or not. And that’s also why I titled this post as “Golden Age” instead of “Golden Era.” An era is typically confined to a decade. An Age can last, well…for reference, the Bronze Age, which is bronze weaponry, lasted for over 1700 years… Just saying, this can be awhile.


Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.


Extraordinary Assaults

What responsibility do you have as a creator, when it comes to depicting rape? Mileage will vary, but here’s my take.

One evening last summer, as my family and I were renting a lakefront place in northern Vermont, I rewatched the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. It was, just as I remembered from the early aughts, some interesting ideas buried under a mound of stupid. This was, after all, best known as the movie that made Sean Connery quit acting.

But I found myself wanting to go back and read the source material, to see how the ideas were originally explored. It was such an interesting concept: 19th-century literary figures brought together into one story as a superhero team. Surely Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, had to have done a better job with the comics. I recalled that Moore had refused to watch the movie version (well, he refuses to watch any movie based on his works).

So that fall I began ambling through the graphic novel series, and found that, at least initially, the comics really were better. Mina, a character relegated to a support role in the movie, is actually the leader of the Extraordinary Gentlemen. She’s not a superpowered, immortal vampire. Her only superpower is her cool-headed rationality and intelligence. She pulls Allan Quatermain out of a drug-addicted haze and recruits him to the team. Whereas in the movie Quatermain is the team leader, Connery playing Connery the whole time.

Wonder why Mina couldn’t be the leader in the movie? Perhaps the decision was made by the same people who decided to make Mina into basically a pair of boobs on the movie poster? (No, really, look at it again. Her chest is bigger than Mr. Hyde.) Perhaps the same people who decided they needed to add a fucking Tom Sawyer character to the movie — thus making the story fundamentally about a father-son dynamic between Quatermain and Sawyer and further eclipsing Mina?

So. No Tom Sawyer in the comics. A lot more character development for our one female “gentleman.” So far, so good. There was some troubling stuff with the Invisible Man raping and impregnating teenage girls at a school devoted to spanking, but otherwise . . . no, actually, that was pretty creepy. But on balance I thought Volume 1 of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was awesome. So many interesting references to the whole canon of 19th-century British lit (you could play around in here for hours).

Then Volume 2 featured the Invisible Man graphically beating and possibly raping Mina. And Mr. Hyde raping the Invisible Man to death in retaliation, and then being regarded as a hero by the end of the story. And I started to think, “What am I reading?”

Volume 3 (which finished just a few years ago) got even worse, somehow. As the story jumped ahead by decades, sexual assault became featured more and more often. Captain Nemo’s daughter gets raped as character motivation to become a badass pirate. Mina’s breasts are fondled by Voldemort (!) while her astrally projected self is nearly raped by a penis demon thing.

Meanwhile, I was also reading Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which (spoiler alert?) features gratuitous sexual violence against the female main characters, but nothing of the sort for the male characters. And Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for U.S. president, reveled in misogyny and openly advocated for sexual assault (while many women stepped forward to claim that he had assaulted them). I just ended up feeling disgusted by it all.

Now Trump is just weeks away from beginning his presidency. His ascent is a powerful normalization of sexual violence and misogyny. And we as creators need to ask ourselves whether our work speaks out against that message — or bolsters and perpetuates it.

I’m not going to call Alan Moore a misogynist based on his work. I believe in absolute freedom of expression for artists, and I would hate to see people shy away from depicting rape altogether (while continuing to depict murder, torture, etc.). We can’t infer a creator’s strength of character solely from their work. And creators need the latitude to explore all dimensions of the human experience, in whichever ways they choose.

But we have to admit that, sometimes, we are really not helping things. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. What we create joins a larger conversation. And what we say, for our little piece of the conversation, affects real people in the real world.

Here’s one way to look at it. Nothing is stopping you from painting a beautiful picture of Hitler, nor should it. You have the freedom to depict the Fuhrer lounging in a pastoral landscape. But is it really a good idea? When there are people still alive who lost relatives to the Holocaust, how do you think they would react to it?

Now think of the millions of sexual assault survivors in the U.S. Think of their experience reduced not just to a boast by the president-elect, but also to a plot point in pop culture. Over and over and over again. Think of how that looks through their eyes.

You have the freedom as a creator to wield rape as a plot device. But do you really want to boost that signal, in the real world in 2017?

My hope for the New Year is to see a powerful outpouring of creative work, from artists in all media, that joins the larger resistance against normalizing misogyny, sexual assault, and racism. As creators, we have a role to play that is suited to our skills — and can make a real difference in influencing the cultural conversation with our own values.

Finally, if you need any additional motivation, as a creator, to be a little more respectful toward your female characters, consider this. Someday, we’ll view careless and exploitative depictions of rape in stories to be as antiquated as characters in blackface. Those stories will largely be left behind. No disrespect to Mr. Moore, but someday nobody will be able to read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen without cringing in embarrassment. Do you want your own work to suffer the same fate?


Jeff Deck is a Today Show-featured author who lives in Maine with his wife, Jane, and their silly dog, Burleigh. Deck writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, dark fantasy, and whatever else goes under the umbrella of speculative fiction. Deck’s new book is the supernatural thriller novel The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley. His previous book is the sci-fi gaming adventure novel Player Choice. Deck is also the author, with Benjamin D. Herson, of the nonfiction book The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time (Crown/Random House). Deck is also a freelance writer/editor and has contributed content to a couple of video games.


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