Tagged: Peter Parker

Dennis O’Neil: Superman – What Do We Really Know?

lois_lane_1964_by_ shawn vanbriesen

“Someone has just thrown Lois Lane from an airplane and she’s plummeting Earthward. But today is Humtyglumf Day, the most sacred day in the Kryptonian calendar – a day on which it is absolutely forbidden to rescue falling females. But if I do nothing, in about a nanosecond Lois will squish…”

Full disclosure: I don’t really know if Kryptonians celebrate Humptyglumf Day. On the other hand, I don’t really know if they don’t. Superman seems to have a lot of information about his shattered home world – he seems to knows a lot more about Krypton than I know about, oh…McCausland Avenue where, I have it on reliable authority, I spend the first four years or so of my life. But nothing about politics or religion.

The profit motive partly explains this. I’m thinking of one of my favorite novelists, now deceased. His name was John D. MacDonald and his best known character was/is Travis McGee. McDonald and McGee were, for me, buy-immediately-upon-sighting as I checked out the fresh paperbacks. I don’t know how many McGee novels I read before I realized how little I really knew about our hero. McDonald gave us what seemed to be a heap of personal data about his creation – his friends, his houseboat, his car, his workouts, his opinions of certain cities, his party-timing, all this and more well covered. Yessir, after reading two or five of the books you knew ol’ Trav. But did you? Tell me about his parents, his siblings (isn’t a brother mentioned somewhere?), his home town, the schools he attended, his political preferences, where, if anywhere, he worships…You might be tight with Trav, but you couldn’t fill out his census questionnaire.

I think what McDonald was doing, consciously or not, was employing a bit of literary legerdemain – what Penn and Teller might call “misdirection.” He gives you lots of detail and maybe you don’t notice that he withholds anything that is crucial – anything that might prejudice you against the character. (You don’t like Presbyterians? Well, he’s no Presbyterian!) It’s fair to say that most, if not all, writers of mass-consumption worked a similar dodge. The radio programs and television shows and movies were populated by…well, Americans! Probably ate white bread. Probably went to church (though which church we didn’t have to know.) Probably voted. (But which lever they turned is really none of our concern.)

Comic books? Let’s see…there’s Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker and Tony Stark and Steve Rogers…Nope – not an ethnic name in a truckload. And none of these guys have lapel pins indicating political preference, either.

I can’t decide if this pop culture homogenization has been helpful or harmful to the general welfare. Maybe a bit of both? I have a hunch that its time is almost past, but that’s not today’s topic. Nor is Humptyglumf Day.

Art by Shawn Van Briesen

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #372


Ok, while it wasn’t enough to make him a threat or a menace, what Spider-Man did wasn’t very nice.

It was Mike Barr, a long-time friend and even longer-timed comic-book reader, who reminded me of this story. Mike’s a friend and comic-book reader of such long standing that when he said Spider-Man #4, I knew which comic he meant. When the long-timers say Spider-Man # 4, we only mean one book. We don’t need no steenkin’ adjectives. Or even volume numbers. For us the original The Amazing Spider-Man was Spider-Man and Spider-Man #4 can only mean what is now clumsily called: The Amazing Spider-Man v 1 #4.

In the middle of this story, the first appearance of the villain Sandman, said villain was running from the cops and decided to hide out in Midtown High School, which seems the perfect place to hide. Considering the level of intelligence Sandman’s shown over the years, I’m not sure anyone would ever think to look for him in a school. Unfortunately for Sandman, it wasn’t such a perfect hideout, after all.

If you’re a long-enough-time reader, such as Mike, or me and you get to call The Amazing Spider-Man # 4 by its nickname, you’ll remember that at this point in Spidey’s career he was still a high school student and Midtown High is the high school he attended. If you’re not, either read the Spider-Man wiki entry I’ve already linked to in this column or take my word for it.

Spider-Man and Sandman then had the story’s obligatory fight scene in the school. And – SPOILER ALERT! – Spider-Man won. Then Spider-Man remembered that he hadn’t taken any pictures of the fight scene, pictures for which Daily Bugle editor, J. Jonah Jameson would “pay a fortune.” That’s when Spider-Man decided to improvise.

Improvise, that is, if you mean by “improvise,” make stuff up. And seeing as how that’s what improvise means on Whose Line Is It Anyway? I guess I can mean that, too.

So Spider-Man set his camera up so that it would take pictures. Then he went to the fire bucket…

If you’re in the target Spider-Man age demographic that Marvel’s shooting for in 2015, you probably don’t remember fire buckets. Older buildings, of which schools are usually a subset, used to have fire buckets in them; buckets filled with sand. (Maybe they still have fire buckets in them. I haven’t seen one in quite a while, but I don’t know.) The intent was that someone could throw sand from the bucket on a small fire – particularly an oil fire upon which one shouldn’t throw water – and smother it with the sand.

…went to the fire bucket and grabbed a handful of sand. Spidey threw the sand into the air and dived through it, to make it look like he was fighting the sand. Then he threw another handful of sand into the air and punched it. I guess Spidey took it seriously when someone told him to go pound sand. Then Peter Parker sold the pictures of this “fight with Sandman” to Jameson for big bucks.

Wait, this was noted cheapskate J. Johan Jameson we’re talking about. Peter probably sold him the photos for chump change and a key to the employee wash room. And not even the executive washroom.

What Peter did when he sold Jameson those pictures was wrong. It was fraud. Don’t believe me. How about Noah Webster, would you believe him? He said fraud is an “intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right.”

So let’s see. Peter acted intentionally; I mean I don’t think he threw the sand into the air and punched it by accident. He perverted the truth by faking pictures of Spider-Man’s fight with Sandman and passing them off as the real thing. And he induced J. Jonah Jameson to part with something of value. Hey, chump change and a key to the employee washroom have some value. Even if it’s not the executive washroom.

Still don’t believe me? Then would you believe the New York State Assembly, which made what Peter did a crime? For the purposes of New York’s fraud prosecutions NY Penal Law 170.00 defines a “written instrument” as “any instrument or article … containing written or printed matter or the equivalent thereof used for the purpose of reciting, embodying, conveying or recording information.” A photograph would be an “instrument” containing “printed matter or the equivalent thereof” used to convey information. That takes care of the appetizer, let’s move to the main course, Forgery in the third degree. NY Penal Law 170.05 defines said crime as “falsely mak[ing] a “written instrument” with “intent to defraud, deceive or injury another.” Peter falsely made a written instrument – photographs – with the intent to deceive Jonah and injure him by taking his money. That’s close enough for government work. And considering the police and prosecutors do government work, it counts.

Finally, if you don’t believe me, would you believe Peter himself? Because, in The Amazing Spider-Man# 4, he justified what he was doing by thinking, “Since this really happened a few minutes ago, it can’t be unethical! It’s like shooting a re-take of a movie!” Methinks when a man doth protest to himself too much, he knows he’s doing something wrong. Trust me, anytime someone thinks, “this can’t be unethical,” it is.

After all, if what Peter did – faking news stories – wasn’t wrong, people such as Brian Williams, Stephen Glass, and Jayson Blair would still have their old jobs. They don’t, so you can draw your own conclusions.

Of course, that’s nothing to what Peter did to Jameson in The Amazing Spider-Man #9, but that’s, literally, another story. And, maybe another column.

Martha Thomases: Sidekicks

RobinOkay, I admit it. I like sidekicks. Sometimes, I like them than I like the hero.

According to the folks I know who are better at this than I am, sidekicks like Robin and Jimmy Olsen came into existence primarily as exposition aids. By talking to them, the hero tells us, the reader, what he is thinking. It also gives the reader someone with whom to identify.

Sidekicks are not limited to kids, nor are they appealing only to kids. Dr. Watson is a sidekick to Sherlock Holmes. These guys, among others, were sidekicks to David Letterman.

I’m thinking about this lately because I’ve recently read some interesting things about so-called alpha and beta males. The conventional wisdom has it that women prefer alpha males, who are dominant, strong and aggressive. Hal Jordan is a stereotypical alpha male, according to this definition. So is Conan the Barbarian.

A beta male is less imposing. He doesn’t give orders. He listens. Instead of throwing his weight around, he cooperates. To hear right-wing propagandists, beta males are the result of feminism. And, if you read further (but you might not want to, because the descriptions have no relationship to life as we know it), you’ll see that the assumption is that beta males never have sex.

The science doesn’t support this, but what else is new? Neither, it turns out, are the stereotypes. Alpha males in the animal kingdom are, in fact, nurturing. Beta males are, in fact (or at least in the opinions of many women) really sexy.

Maybe that’s why I like the sidekicks. They seem more approachable and easier to engage in conversations.

Let’s look at an example from the comics, because that’s what this website is about. I’ve always preferred the Elongated Man to Mr. Fantastic. Same super-powers, but one is kind of aloof (or was when I was reading the series) and one is an excitable goofball sleuth.

It shows an actor’s range if he can convincingly play both alpha and beta. My favorite current example is Corey Stoll. He’s a totally douchebag alpha in Ant-Man and an uncertain beta in The Stain, where, even with that horrible wig they force him to wear, he’s still much more attractive.

So, is Dick Grayson an alpha or a beta? I would argue he’s a beta, and I would argue he’s one of the most attractive fictional characters in the medium, right alongside Peter Parker (another non-alpha) and Matt Murdock.

With more women and girls in the marketplace, it’s my hope that we’ll see more good stories about the sidekicks. Especially the cute ones.


John Ostrander: Stripping Down

Suicide Squad Viola Davis

Okay, I saw the Suicide Squad trailer that was “leaked” from SDCC and then the HD version a day or so later. I loved what I saw – particularly Amanda Waller. Viola Davis has the look, the sound, and most important, the attitude. Much of what she says at the start of the trailer sounds like it was taken from my proposal or one of my scripts. Yeah, I’m very happy.

As for the rest of the Squad, I can’t really say yet but if the whole thing mirrors their use of Waller, I think we’re going to get as close to the comic version of the Squad as a movie can get.

Mind you, I’m anticipating there will be changes. Comics and movies are different media with different needs and demands and so they will interpret the material differently. My main question for the Squad and any other comic book movie is will they get the essentials right?

When I say “essentials,” what do I mean? It’s not necessarily the costume or even the powers. It’s what defines them, what makes them different from other characters. When Tom Mandrake and I took on DC’s Martian Manhunter, we had to determine what made him different from Superman. They shared many of the same powers; in fact J’onn J’onnz had a few that Kal-El was missing. What was the essential difference? Tom and I determined it was that Kal-El came to earth as a baby and was raised in Kansas; he was raised human. J’onn was raised among his own kind on Mars and came to Earth as an adult. He is an alien from an alien culture. That was a fundamental difference in the two characters; something that was essential.

And something unique.

Stan Lee was recently asked about whether or not Peter Parker could be gay or if some minority could become Spider-Man. “There’s no reason not to,” he replied. “The only thing I don’t like doing is changing the characters we already have. For example, I’d like Spider-Man to stay as he is, but I have no problem creating a superhero who’s homosexual.” That, I think, is a reasonable answer. When Static was created, Milestone had their own Peter Parker who was not at all Peter Parker. Just as good but different, yet in the same mold.

What about the Green Lantern Corps? How are they unique? Everyone has the same ring, roughly the same uniform, and all take orders from the same little blue men. Again, it’s not the weapon or the uniform that makes someone unique. It is essentially who they are. It’s like a good war movie; they are all soldiers but each member of the squad is different. That’s their essence.

We’ve seen a lot of shuffled identities lately. Sam Wilson is now Captain America and not Steve Rogers. Before that, Bucky Barnes was Captain America instead of Steve Rogers. I think that’s a mistake. It’s not the uniform and the shield that define Captain America; it’s who Steve Rogers is. It’s who he is that makes Captain America and that’s what the films have gotten. Steve Rogers is the essence of Captain America.

I’m not saying never create new versions of old characters. I’ve done it. But the characters were moribund or dead. When Tom and I created a new version of Mister Terrific, we kept very close to the origin of he first Mister Terrific. We were true to the myth.

As Tom and I work on Kros: Hallowed Ground, we’re dealing with vampires and what we are exploring is what is essential to a good vampire story. Our basic take – they’re monsters. Not misunderstood gothic romantic figures or a different species just trying to co-exist on the planet. They’re monsters. So also might be our protagonist – Kros.

Sometimes you have to strip away the barnacles and crap that’s built up and get back to the essence of a character or a concept. That’s my approach when I’m given a character to write – what is their essence, why do we want to read about this character as opposed to another?

For me, that’s the job.


Martha Thomases: Understanding Scott McCloud

If you haven’t read The Sculptor, stop reading this and go get yourself a copy immediately,

Need more persuasion? Okay, but you’re missing out on valuable time that could be spent reading this awesome book. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s since Zot because it was funny and human and had a villain named Art Deco. More people became fans when he published the brilliant Understanding Comics. There is no one who uses the graphic story medium to better effect than Scott McCloud.

The Sculptor showcases McCloud’s mastery of technique. His use of color is impeccable. The book is black and white with blue tones, giving the different scenes a variety of moods and weights. The way he uses overlapping word balloons reminds me of an Altman movie. The panel arrangements speed up time and slow it down, depending on the needs of the character.

All of this is in service to the story: David Smith is a frustrated artist trying to make it in New York. He makes a deal with Death (not the cute girl but an old Jewish man who reminds me of my mom’s Uncle Harry) to have 200 days when he create whatever art he wants, in exchange for dying at the end of the deal.

Then he falls in love.

Meg isn’t anyone’s dream girl. A struggling actress, she has serious emotional problems including, I think, a variation of bi-polar disorder (Note: I am not a doctor). Still, her energy and her compassion strike a chord with David. It’s not an easy relationship for either of them. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to believe it.

I’ve seen people compare the story to Faust, and I guess I get that analogy, but it doesn’t really hold up. David doesn’t ask for fame or power – he just wants to make his art the way he wants to make his art. He doesn’t even negotiate for a gallery show where people can see his work.

It’s all about the art.

A major character in this book is New York City. Not the New York of Friends or Sex and the City or even Peter Parker, this is the New York of cheap rent, scummy landlords, tight money and brilliant, artistic friends. It’s the New York I wanted to live in when I came here nearly 40 years ago. So much so that I almost thought the story took place at that time, until I noticed everyone had cell phones.

I thought that New York was gone. Maybe I’m just too old for it. I’m grateful to The Sculptor for letting me live there again, for at least as long as it took to read.

And another thing! It’s bugged me lately that critics seem to think that superhero movies are the root of all evil. It’s a genre that gets sneers from everyone, even though it’s relatively new (I would say it started with Superman in 1978).

Okay, we can discuss whether or not Thor: The Dark World was as good a film as The Imitation Game. I don’t think it was. Still, it brought happiness to millions. I think that’s a good thing.

And it gives a lot of people a chance to make a living in a field they love. Or, as Marvel writer Gerry Duggan said on Twitter Sunday night after J. K. Simmons won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, “J Jonah Jameson beat two Hulks to win an Oscar, then Ra’s al Ghul said there are too many comic adaptations. #Oscars2015”


Emily S. Whitten: Spider-Man & Marvel’s REAL Civil War!

Wait, what? You guys, what?? Is it…is it true? Did the magical wish-granting fairy grant my (second biggest, after the upcoming Deadpool movie) Marvel movie wish? Is Spider-Man really coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in time for Civil War? Or am I hallucinating due to lack of sleep?

Nope, it’s real, and what’s more, I’m not the only one speculating that Spider-Man’s first appearance in the MCU may be in the Civil War storyline, which is something I’ve been wishin’ and hopin’ for ever since the possibility of Civil War on the big screen was even a glimmer of a speculative thought. It’s no secret that I love the Civil War crossover storyline, and if you don’t know why, just read those two links for plenty of reasons (and, uh, SPOILER WARNING and all that, both for those links and below).

But in brief: the Civil War crossover, though complicated in many ways, can be distilled down to the introduction of the Superhuman Registration Act into the Marvel universe, and the two sides distilled down to those who decide to register and reveal their secret identities, and those who fight registration to retain their personal privacy and freedom. It was a brilliant concept when introduced, because not only can readers identify with it via the analogies that can be drawn to various real-world issues (like surveillance and invasion of privacy and personal freedom, and the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D., which is supposed to be a governing force for good, ends up being a brutal enforcer of the Act), but it’s a fight that every main character in the MCU has a stake in, merely by dint of being a superpowered or vigilante fighter.

The secret identity angle is such an integral part of most super-folk that it pulls most of them in to some extent or another – but also, the backstory and personality of a particular character do a lot to determine what side they choose. And some of the choices are surprising. The Civil War storyline allowed writers to delve into the heart of why the heroes make the choices they do (although I always wish they’d done even more with them). And it gives us a legit reason for more badass scenes like that one in The Avengers where Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America duke it out full force, even while they remain (more or less) the sympathetic heroes that we love.

But despite all of the reasons I’d be excited to see any version of Civil War onscreen, if it turns out that Spider-Man’s first MCU appearance is in Civil War I’ll be doubly excited because Peter Parker’s heartbreaking journey during that storyline really gave it a focus and a character’s path to follow, even in the midst of all the rest. The choice he made to support the Act for both logical and personal reasons, and to work with a man he looked up to, Tony Stark; the consequences of that choice in both the short term and the long; the manipulation and betrayal by Tony even while they both thought they were doing the right thing; and the decision that Peter made to turn his back on his original choice, despite it almost being the death of him, make for a compelling story that pulls the rest of the characters’ journeys together; and any Civil War without Peter’s story will be severely lacking. Not to mention that the visual and emotional impact of some of Peter’s scenes would be amazing on the big screen, as would the Iron Spider suit that plays a big part in Tony’s betrayal.

Really, I could go on for hours about why Spider-Man is, in some ways, the heart of the Civil War tale, and it just wouldn’t be the same without him; but instead I’ll just take this moment to rejoice in his return to the fold of the Marvel family on the big screen, and to hope with all my little comic-book-loving heart that he takes his rightful place there in a well-told story during Civil War.

And until next time, cross your fingers with me and Servo Lectio!


John Ostrander: Choice, Character, and Freedom

GandhiWhich would you trust more – what a person says or what a person does? Almost anyone with life experience would say they’d trust what a person does more. Mind you, although we know better we often go with what a person says: con men, politicians and advertisers (that may be redundant) count on that.

It’s what we do with story – character is built upon choices, good or bad, which the individual makes. That’s why the writer puts them in difficult and even life-threatening situations. My late wife Kim used to ask me how I might react in a given situation. My response invariably was, “I don’t know. Ask me when I get there.” I know how I’d like to think I would act but the reality is, until faced with the given situation, I don’t really know. Nobody does.

I don’t believe it when someone says “I could never kill someone.” I think Gandhi was capable of killing given certain circumstances. The likelihood of him killing might be small, but he was human and any human is capable of the act. It’s part of our common humanity; a dark side of it, I grant you, but still part of it.

It’s not only big choices that we make that proclaim who we are (or who a character is); it’s the small ones as well. The artist in a graphic narrative, for example, must decide what a given character might wear. What we choose to wear projects how we want to present ourselves.

“Hold on there, Horsestrangler,” some of you might be saying. “I don’t care what I wear. I just throw something – possibly clean – on and go.” (Guys are more likely to say this than gals who, as usual, know better.) My response is doing so is a choice of its own and makes it own statement; it says “I don’t think that sort of thing is important. It’s shallow and trivial and doesn’t represent who I am.”

Except it does. It rejects certain values and/or it says you want to look like everyone else and blend in. Do you dress for a job interview the same way you dress for hanging with your homies? If so, good luck getting the job. If you’re going on a date with someone for the first time, how do you dress? How do you present yourself? If you had to go to a funeral, what would you choose to wear?

Different characters in comics will dress differently. Peter Parker shouldn’t dress like Tony Stark. Clark Kent shouldn’t dress like Bruce Wayne. I remember that in an early episode of The Sopranos, the producers dressed Tony in shorts and flip-flops for a backyard party to suggest more strongly the underlying suburban setting. Advisers to the show said that Tony would never dress like that – and he never did again.

Why do people wear clothing emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo or the name of their favorite sports team and turn themselves into walking billboards for that product? Because it suggests a certain tribal affiliation the same way that inner city gangs wear certain colors. It proclaims us and marks us as part of a greater, possibly stronger, whole. At least, we may think it does.

That’s a choice that people make and it’s something that writer and artists working in the graphic medium have to keep in mind. There are hundreds, thousands, of ways of communicating to the reader who this character is, what the setting is, what’s at stake and what’s going on.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Yep. Sure are. There are situations when you have no choice to make. You can’t choose which shoes to wear when you can’t afford any shoes. Choice exists only if there is more than one thing from which to choose. Otherwise, you have to take what is given.

There is no freedom where there is no freedom of choice.


Marc Alan Fishman: Wanted, Dead or Alive … Not Both.

Wolverine Potato HeadSo I guess when the AV Club is reporting on the future death of Wolverine, the cat is out of the bag, eh? In yet another PR stunt, the mainstream comic houses show their full hand in hopes mega media attention will somehow garner a boost in pulp sales. I’m reminded of that saying concerning the definition of insanity. And surely this is a topic we, the snarky columnists of any number of media outlets, have covered… well… to death. It’s still worth another look though, so indulge me, kiddos. It’s time to beat a dead horse.

Isn’t it a shame when the knee-jerk reaction of your most dedicated fan-base upon hearing about the death of a beloved character comes with an audible snicker and eye roll? Suffice to say when I’d read the newswire piece it didn’t come as a shock, as much as a continual reminder that my favorite medium was often regarded as kitsch. And truly, no other medium comes to mind – save perhaps for soap operas or pro wrestling– where the announcement of a significant loss bares no bitter fruit as much as it comes complete with scoffs from the peanut gallery.

Wolverine to be stripped of his healing factor and killed. Peter Parker’s mind is destroyed, only to be inhabited by Otto Octavius. Batman banished forever in time by the impact of some Omega beams. Superman dead. Thor dead. Professor X dead. Steve Rogers dead. Jean Grey dead. Colossus dead. Hell… Bucky Barnes dead. Phil Coulson dead.

Feh, I say. Feh! In each instance of the leaked announcement, I immediately retort “…until sales drop, or a movie comes out.” And if you’re a betting man, you’d be smart to go all in each time. I think though, that ranting and railing against something you could count on as easily as the tide coming in, is a waste of negative feelings.

What sits at the root of all of these stabs into the mainstream ether is the soul-crushing realization that our beloved cape-and-cowl crowd are all for-profit entities, each built to harness the dollars and cents of a loyal customer base that has proven more often than not to continually purchase product even while loudly protesting it. Simply put, one need not sweat the wrath of the fanboys and girls until they leave you high and dry at the checkout counter. And as attendance at comic conventions continue to swell, and the multiplex becomes choked annually with blockbuster after blockbuster… there’s little need to fear that our ink-and-paper rags are going away while the licenses need to be coddled.

And what would you do if you were the EIC of a major comic book publisher? You’d keep hitting your cash piñatas until they stop dropping Tootsie Rolls. One can’t simply let their comic character live and die with the times. They must constantly be in a cycle or dramatic repartee with one another. They must converge on mighty battlegrounds. They must make odd alliances. They must recalibrate, reinvent, and redefine their very being every few months. The moment they stop, the attention is drawn elsewhere. Even to let a mortal man, like Frank Castle – a character whose very mission is clearly drawn in severe black and white terms – die a hero’s death, is really just another way to bookmark him for a new series later. One cannot simply let a comic character die… not when there’s a bloodstone to find and money left on the table.

To learn of Wolverine’s impending dirt map should not actually be met with a scoff, and an upturned nose. As in nearly all my aforementioned examples of re-re-retconned demises… in their immediate wake came some of the best stories I’d ever read concerning that character! When Batman was time-bulleted away, Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics gave me the Dick Grayson I’ve always wanted to read. When Dan Slott took the leap to let Otto drive as the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, he opened up a fantastic object lesson in proactive versus reactive heroism. And when Wolverine bites the big one, it will be less about ending his story as it is opening up a new chapter in the plethora of X-books that will no doubt be touched by the loss. Death, as it were, is then less about the loss specifically of the character in question, rather, it’s about the aftermath that needs to be considered.

It is sad to me that we must accept this as fate; that our heroes and villains are merely pawns in a never ending churn and burn of story arcs and universe resets. In the time since its inception, the Marvel Universe (the 616), and the DCU (whatever we call current continuity since it’s neither new, nor 52) have relegated themselves to reinvention at every turn of the corner. Unlike a soap or the WWE, where fictional characters can eventually die in real life… or even Doctor Who, who remains the same alien in spirit, but purposefully reimagined to coincide with the times – mainstream comic books must remain forever in Neverland. While DC tried hard to create legacies with a few of their major heroes (The Flash and Green Lantern, most of all), they too eventually succumbed to a massive PR stunt (the still-absolutely-unbearable Flashpoint), in order to move the zeitgeist back into its clutches.

So mourn not for James Howlett, folks. Let no tears stain your mutton-chopped cheeks for his once robust form. For now, he will join any number of other X-Men at the famed Marvel Island. He’ll enjoy the umbrella drinks, and free bacon… as the 616 spins out of control.

Because let’s face it, a world with Wolverine leaves a roster spot open on at least 1,246 different teams. And that is why we mourn.

Jen Krueger: Mass, er, Mask Appeal

Jen Krueger: Mass, er, Mask Appeal

A couple weeks ago, I tweeted the rankings I’d give recent comic book movie baddies when it comes to how alluring I find them. Bane took a solid first place, but the gap between the Winter Soldier in second and Loki in third was miniscule. I jokingly added the conclusion to be drawn is that I’m attracted to men with their faces covered or long dark hair (which often obscures a face in its own right), but the thought of masked villains versus unmasked villains kept popping into my mind days later. I realized that the joke I’d made stemmed out of a true preference for bad guys wearing masks, and started to wonder why I like my antagonists so much more when I can see so much less of their face.

The easy answer, of course, is that wearing a mask makes someone mysterious, and anyone from teenage girls to pickup artists could tell you being mysterious is an age-old way to attract others. It’s just human nature to be curious about what someone is thinking, and the more difficult it is to deduce what that might be, the more curious about it we become. Sure, I still like the Winter Soldier in the scenes where he has no mask on in the latest Captain America movie, but in comparison to his masked scenes, my interest in him was almost halved.

By this logic, popping a mask on a character should be a surefire way to get me more invested in him. I thought about other comic book movies and realized that logic does indeed hold…except when it comes to heroes. Give me a scene of Iron Man in his full suit, and a scene of Iron Man either with his face shield down or the camera POV inside the suit with him, and I’ll enjoy the latter option more every time. I find it much more difficult to care about Spider-Man when he’s in his full costume than I do when he’s not wearing his mask. And as much as I like Captain America in his latest movie, put on his mask and I find him downright silly. But if I love masks on villains, why is my response to masks on heroes the polar opposite?

Probably because I need something much different from a hero than I do from a villain. Ideally I should be rooting for the hero of a comic book movie, and it might seem like this is a pretty easy thing to get the audience to do since protagonists in this kind of film tend to be on an irrefutably “good” mission that more or less amounts to saving the world. But with goals that usually boil down to the same altruistic point, I find the mission of any individual comic book movie protagonist rarely varies enough from other works in the genre to get me invested in the achievement of the hero’s goal. It’s enticing me to care about the individual emotional journey of a hero that will get me truly rooting for a protagonist, and to care about what Tony Stark or Peter Parker or Steve Rogers are going through, I need to be able to empathize with them. Their faces are a gateway to their emotions, so connecting with their internal struggle is infinitely easier when they’re not wearing a mask. It makes them more real, and thus makes it more likely I’ll be able to put myself in their shoes.

And that’s exactly what I don’t want when it comes to a comic book movie antagonist. I want the baddie swearing to burn the world down to seem like he could really do it, but with every piece of emotional information revealed about a villain, he becomes more of a real person and less of a threatening force. If I can put myself into the baddie’s shoes, it’s easier to sense not only what he’s going to do, but also what the limits of his capabilities are. Throwing up a wall between me and a villain’s emotional state in the form of a mask, though, helps to keep the baddie mysterious and unpredictable. Sure, this mysteriousness may often translate into me finding a villain physically attractive, but more importantly it means I find the role narratively attractive.

Narrative attractiveness is much harder to rank, though. I’d definitely need more than 140 characters for that.