Tag: Marvel

The Ol’ Patriotic One Two

(Spoilers for this week’s release of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 to follow.)

It’s been a big month for Captain America. Steve Rogers, the kid from Brooklyn, had his third movie premiere earlier this month to great reviews and a billion dollar box office. In a smart, well-planned move, Marvel Comics has returned Steve Rogers to being Captain America just in time, granting him his own title, alongside Sam Wilson, who will also continue to bear the mantle. In anticipation of the many curious folks walking out of Captain America: Civil War and into a comic shop, looking for a good, accessible story about the titular hero, Marvel has crafted exactly that, giving us a Steve Rogers in his prime, wearing the red, white and blue, slinging his shield, and, of course, as years of comics history dictates, being an active sleeper agent of HYDRA, Marvel’s defacto Nazi stand-ins.

Wait. What?

Yes. Marvel is balancing their signature, flagship hero’s return to prominence on the ever-so-well thought out idea of “What if the good guy was really a BAD GUY all along?” To clarify things (because this is comics, after all), editor Tom Brevoort and writer Nick Spencer have doubled down on the fact that this is THE Steve Rogers–the original, the one true, accept no clones, alternate universe versions, or LMDs (Life Model Decoys–it’s a thing). In a USA Today interview, Brevoort essentially takes the tack of “all press is good press,” as he typically has in the past.

If the idea of Captain America, the symbol of freedom, being a villain–and worse, an actual Nazi–strikes you as wrong, well, congratulations, you probably have at least some sense. To make matters worse, this is the second time in two days that Captain America has been at the forefront of the collective consciousness–yesterday saw the rise of the hashtag #GiveCapABoyfriend on Twitter. The hashtag itself was a multifaceted thing; it spun out of a prior hashtag regarding the Frozen heroine called #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, and they both have the same aim; openly queer characters at the forefront of popular culture.

This was, unsurprisingly, quite the contentious subject. There was a lot of back-and-forth over the validity of the idea in the first place, and further skepticism and questioning over the motivations behind it. Comics colorist Nathan Fairbairn opined on the subject yesterday, good-naturedly asserting that Captain America is established as straight, and that queer rep IS a problem, but that that problem can easily be addressed by making Falcon, War Machine, or Bucky gay instead. After that good-natured assertion, he went on to question the legitimacy of reasoning going into the hashtag, and telling those who supported it to go fuck themselves, if they didn’t have the reasons he thought they should.

(There is not a ninth tweet that I can see.)

Several folks responded; making well-reasoned points, and Mr. Fairbairn doubled down on the idea of “Why Cap?”

Now, to be fair, he did argue his points well (click through any of those tweets to get an idea of the response; he had to conduct himself on multiple fronts at once, and he relented on several points), but the answer to the question he’s raising is multi-part.

First: Captain America just had a movie release bearing his name in large block letters only a few weeks ago. He is at the forefront of the public consciousness, and as much as Mr. Fairbairn may think so, it’s not disingenuous in the slightest for him to be the subject, just like it wouldn’t be disingenuous for the same to be true of Iron Man, were one of his movies freshly released. It’s not disingenuous to recontextualize something currently in the public eye as a means of generating discussion–we do that every day.

Second: More importantly, Captain America is the flagship character at Marvel Comics, and in its movies. In this most recent movie, he’s the main character. We don’t need a queer Bucky or Sam Wilson–we don’t need another queer sidekick or also ran. We need a queer LEAD. Since January, in the latter half of this year’s TV viewing season, sixteen lesbian or bisexual women were killed on screen. Sixteen–most of those within a two- or three-week period, and again, just from the latter half of the season. So, why Cap? Because he’s at the forefront. Because we have a reasonable expectation that he’ll survive the story. Sidekicks have a limited lifespan–more so if they’re queer, and even more than that if they’re queer POC.

Third: We need a queer lead in a story that is not explicitly about queerness. Those stories are absolutely necessary and fantastic, but the thing about them is this: Most straight people don’t watch them. Most straight people don’t care about them. We need action stories and thrillers and all sorts of stories with queer leads because we need to see that status normalized on the screen. To put it in perspective, let’s revisit that fourth tweet in Mr. Fairbairn’s diatribe there. “Captain America in the films is clearly straight. That’s been established in several films by now.” Oh, it has? We’ve seen him share a romance with Peggy Carter, and then fumble awkwardly with every other woman he’s encountered since–including a kiss with Peggy’s own niece that may just take the award for the least charismatic kiss committed to film this year.

No, what Mr. Fairbairn is putting forth is heteronormativity. We’ve only seen Cap be interested in girls, so obviously he’s only straight, right? Straight people can’t have boyfriends, so obviously the entire movement’s a wash! Except, oh wait. People can be bisexual. People can even not realize they’re queer until well into their adult life, and it’s especially likely that might be true if the person in question is so busy jumping from one combat zone to the next that he never has time to stop and take stock of his life.

Here’s where it gets personal, and I expound on something that I’ve only discussed with a few people in my life: Hi. I’m queer. I only figured it out recently–so recently that I’m still processing it and trying to undo some really screwed up mindsets. So recently that I still haven’t even figured out the right words to define it beyond simply, “queer.”  So when I put forth the idea that Captain America can and should have a male love interest, I’m putting forth the idea that I would like to see someone who represents, in broad strokes, the exact thing I have spent the last several months of my life going through.

From a straight point of view, does the idea seem desperate? Does it seem silly, that we’re pushing so hard for something to be attached to a lead character? Maybe. But, seriously, name one major queer lead in superhero fiction. Name one in a police procedural. Name one in anything that’s not explicitly a story about being queer.

Fourth (that’s right, I still have more points): Why Cap? Why not a different lead, like Iron Man? Mr. Fairbairn, Tony Stark is not Captain America. Tony Stark is not a representative of the very idea of Freedom. Tony Stark does not explicitly represent the ideals that the United States were founded on. Tony Stark does not definitively stand for the marginalized in the way that Steve Rogers does. That is the explicit point of Steve Rogers–he was created by two Jews during World War II to fight Nazis. He is explicitly the Nazi Party’s own Aryan ideals turned against against them; a Caucasian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed defender of the very people they were attempting to exterminate. So why Cap? Because standing for the marginalized is his role in fiction.

That fourth point brings us full circle to today’s news, and the idea that Captain America is now, and has always been, a sleeper agent of Hydra. Now, it’s not Marvel’s fault that this news is hitting today; comics take time to write, to make, to print, and to ship, and this release date has been in the cards for them for months now. There was no way that Marvel could have anticipated the rise of yesterday’s discussion, and so they can’t be held accountable in that capacity. However.

One day after the call for queer rep on the part of the character who is meant to represent the marginalized, Marvel announced that Captain America is, and has been, a secret Nazi all along. He is a member of an organization whose real-world, nonfiction counterpart actively persecuted gays and lesbians over the course of its campaign during World War II. Marvel literally presented a Captain America who is the antithetical opposite of the thing that was being asked for, and they did it for shock value.

The standard arguments are already cropping up: “Wait until the story’s finished!” “It’s just comics, it’ll change back, it doesn’t matter!” We’re told, in so many words, to have faith, that everything will turn out okay. While that might be true, that’s not really the issue here. People are not upset because this change is permanent; we know that it will not be. People are upset because for something that we know is not permanent, such a subversion is indicative of a shocking lack of awareness and sensitivity for its real-world ramifications. It undermines the moral compass on which the character is built. It undermines the moral compass of the entire franchise built on top of that. It insults the history and the legacy of his creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. It is, as Brevoort says in his interview, a “slap in the face.” When Brevoort says that, he seems to forget what a slap in the face is, and what it represents: An assault.

We get enough of that.

 

Hasbro’s Problem With Women: Part Seven

Over the course of this series, I’ve really given Hasbro a hard time. What I want to stress, though, is that I’m doing so because I like what Hasbro does. I like the product they do put out–I’ve bought virtually every Marvel Legend release this year despite the problems that I’ve stated with the line. But that doesn’t mean the problems shouldn’t be stated. The gender disparity issue is real, and it is a significant problem. It’s easy to be dismissive of it: “These are just toys!”

True, they are. That’s exactly why the issue’s important. These are the things that we’re subjecting our children to. These are the lessons we’re teaching them, without saying a word. The problem is in every aisle divide, every character choice, every design choice for those characters, but it is also not solely those things. It creates a system of rules for What Boys And Girls Should Do. It does so with symbols and shapes, with color choices, reinforcing stereotypes about what’s acceptable behavior, and it does so before they’re even able to articulate what they might personally want. It’s a complex, multifaceted problem with a simple summary: Toy Companies Need To Treat Women Better.

The IAmElemental figures.

The IAmElemental figures.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good examples–Mattel unveiled a new line aimed specifically at girls this NYCC, called DC Superhero Girls. The designs mirror the big-headed aesthetic of other lines, like Monster High or Brats, but feature more athletic designs and articulation on par with action figures traditionally marketed at boys. Elsewhere, enterprising mothers have formed their own company using a Kickstarter campaign and released the IAmElemental line, with specific themes that blend emotional intelligence with Super Sentai aesthetics; like DC’s variously colored Lanterns fused with the Power Rangers (or Captain Planet), only all of them are girls, and none of them look the way DC’s female Lantern characters look.

DC's Star Sapphire and Green Lantern. While the Star Sapphire designs have gotten better in recent years, they still operate on the concept of Love as a power being the province of women, and the Star Sapphire Corps is the only one in which women are the majority

DC’s Star Sapphire and Green Lantern. While the Star Sapphire designs have gotten better in recent years, they still operate on the concept of Love as a power being the province of women, and the Star Sapphire Corps is the only one in which women are the majority. Coincidentally, they’ve also never had their own book, unlike most of the other Lantern Corps.

The thing is, Hasbro is not one of those examples. Hasbro has continued marketing toys the same way, year in and year out, despite the changing attitudes in their customer base. I promised an overview of their upcoming 2016 product line, so let’s get into that. I’ve discussed already the upcoming Spider-Gwen figure; as is custom, Marvel Legends remains primarily divided into Spider-Man and Avengers series. Here’s the breakdown of announced figures so far:

The asterisk for Rogue is due to the fact that she's shown with an alternate Onslaught head, but announced as not yet slotted into a series.

The asterisk for Rogue is due to the fact that she’s shown with an alternate Onslaught head, but announced as not yet slotted into a series.

So far, that’s a 5:13 ratio, which is slightly better, although it’s still only about a third as many female characters being produced. If the Rogue figure is indeed included in the Onslaught series, that’ll be the first series since 2007 to include three female figures–and that 2007 series only counted on a technicality, as the Build-A-Figure was a female insectoid matriarch. It’s still not an especially promising look; two women for every six men to a series is incredibly unbalanced. Also of note is the presentation issue I mentioned in the last piece–of the five female characters presented, only one is a woman of color–the half-Dominican Beetle. She’s also the only one who remains entirely masked, without an alternate head. Three of the other four are white and blonde.

2016women

Left to right: Sharon Carter, Beetle, Mockingbird, Rogue, and the as-yet-unpainted Gwen Stacy unmasked head.

Now, I know the Marvel character roster has a lot of these WASPy types. Similarly, I also know that they have plenty who fall outside that category, and that they’re actively working to improve this sort of thing. So why is Hasbro, as their licensed merchandising arm, not following suit? Why is Marvel, focused on improving representation as they seem to be, not ensuring that Hasbro does this? Beetle’s one example, but why is it so hard to produce a figure of a woman of color? Why is it even harder to do so when that woman is unmasked? Where is the Kamala Khan figure? Or America Chavez? Colleen Wing? Monet St. Croix? Faiza Hussain, wielder of Excalibur? Where is Monica Rambeau, the first female Captain Marvel? Or Tamara Devoux, Captain Universe?

Given that we’re not yet through 2015, it’s understandable that Hasbro likely has plenty more product to announce for the next year; I imagine the two currently announced series will both be out before the end of the first quarter of 2016. That said, I can’t help but be a little worried for the year’s prospects. Two women to a series is not enough. It’s not adequate, fair, or even accurate, and while it might be an improvement over years past, the measurement here isn’t relative to those years, but in how they’re serving the needs of their consumer base.

Hasbro needs to do better.

Hurt So Good: The Best Punisher Book You Never Read

This week marked the conclusion of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil run, which has been beautiful, glorious, and heartbreaking. Brett White over at CBR penned a piece about it that truly encapsulates the level of craft on display through the entirety of that book. He’s done a fantastic job of saying exactly what I think about Daredevil, so I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about another book that started at the same time: The criminally slept-on Punisher book, by Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto. Today, we’re going to talk about the first issue of that book.

Punisher#1

Cover art for The Punisher (Vol. 9) #1, by Bryan Hitch

Just about everyone is familiar with the Punisher these days. He’s had three(!) feature films and fifteen different solo books, each of those iterations–film and comics both–a differing take on the character. If that seems excessive, well, it is, but consider: in itself, it’s a statement on the character, the way that he works. Frank Castle as a character is a good idea, pure and simple. He’s vengeance, revenge. He’s the hurt we all feel, and that we want others to understand. He’s cathartic, relentless justice in primal terms.

He is not good, though. He’s not a role model. He is violent, uncompromising. He has no faith in man to improve, to do or be better. There is a cynicism to him that feels almost infectious; a disease that has taken root, caused by trauma and loss. If the Hulk as a character is a demonstration of the dangers of uncontrollable rage, then Punisher is a lesson on how much more dangerous, how much more toxic rage can be when channeled–both to the carrier and its victims. Rage infects, it destroys. It’s not a thing that lasts; when it has no target, it only eats itself.

Frankly, that’s why the Punisher has had so many series–as good a concept as he is, his books don’t last because sustaining that rage over a prolonged period of time is difficult, if not impossible[1]. Protracted rage gives way to exhaustion. In a comic book, that’s a death knell. So, multiple volumes, with low issue runs. Short, staccato bursts. Which brings me to what is easily the best of those many volumes–Punisher Volume 9, by the aforementioned Rucka and Checchetto.

From the very start of their run, Frank Castle is a ghost in his own book. He barely says a thing throughout the first issue; in fact, he doesn’t appear in the book at all until page thirteen. When he is finally present, the ghost analogy holds; he haunts the shadows and the edges–we don’t see his face until further on, on page twenty.

Instead, the story is about a Marine named Rachel Alves. It opens on the day of her wedding, in a scene that feels like a love letter to Kill Bill, albeit filtered through a very different lens. For Rachel, unlike The Bride, the ceremony is complete, and the reception has begun. During the party, a fleeing man bursts in through the doors, chased by others. All of them are heavily armed. The men doing the chasing open fire; they kill their target, then, presumably to silence witnesses, proceed to murder the guests in attendance, not to mention the wedding party itself. The bloodstain on Mrs. Alve’s dress blossoms like a flower; we see her fall. There is an exceptional cruelty, an unnecessary act that cements the evil of these men; they hold the bride and groom, make them face each other as they’re murdered. Rachel is the last to be shot, and the final panel of the scene has her laying next to her already deceased husband, staring up at the camera. It’s grisly and disturbing, in exactly the way a crime story is meant to be. You cannot help but feel the tragedy of the moment, the quickness with which the joy of the day turns to heartbreak. There’s a caption in that same panel; one of the officers investigating the scene later informs us that Rachel does not die. She must bear the trauma of what’s been done to her, and to the people around her.

There are things to be said about the nature of violence toward women and way it’s used as a storytelling device; those things are for another piece (which I certainly will write). For this article and this story, it’s enough to describe these events and understand that they are crucial, pivotal to this story in a way that this type of violence often is not. This story is about pain. It’s about trauma, how it affects us, how we deal with it, and how much harder that is without a support network. It’s a story, despite the title of the book, about Rachel Alves.

From Punisher (Vol. 9) #2. Art by Marco Checchetto.

From Punisher (Vol. 9) #2. Art by Marco Checchetto.

Two policemen are introduced; Detectives Clemons and Bolt. They are our viewpoint for this arc of the story; they are the ones detached from the immediate action, viewing it analytically. They are there with a job to do. When we’re finally introduced to the titular character, it’s through a text message; he’s contacting Bolt, in search of information for his war on organized crime. His specific target is The Exchange; we find out that they’re behind the massacre at the reception. This information is not especially relevant to the Punisher; it’s another crime, another atrocity to him, something that justifies–or rather, necessitates–his actions. He stages a hit on a nightclub populated with criminals that is an interesting inversion to the first few pages; like the Exchange, the Punisher leaves alive only one individual. Unlike that organization, however, his choice is deliberate. It’s then that we see his face–he holds a gun to the man’s head, then smiles and walks away. His choice is not immediately explained.

Instead, his relationship with Detective Bolt is established; while doing routine surveillance of a suspected mobster, Bolt and his then-partner are caught unprepared by a meet that goes sideways. Being in public, there is also a class of school students present. As Bolt is only just beginning to react, the Punisher is there, holding him quiet. The Punisher pulls a fire alarm, alerting the class and getting them out of the way just in time, as a firefight begins. When his shooting hand is wounded, he loses his gun, and takes Bolt’s, finishing the job. Later, Bolt, unwilling to admit that the Punisher had taken his weapon and saved those children, takes the credit for both the fire alarm and the expert shooting. He’s given a promotion; the Punisher begins using him for information.

It’s only during this event that we finally see the Punisher in full; firing the shots that Bolt takes credit for. He’s a very different creature than the cover art shows us; much of that is due to the difference between the artists. Hitch is a much more mainstream type of penciller; his lines are clean and neat, and he draws the Punisher on the cover as we expect to see him; former military, close cropped hair, body armor, and a cold, grimacing look. When Checchetto’s Punisher first appears, it’s something else entirely.

ChecchettoPunisher

From Punisher (Vol. 9) #1. Art by Marco Checchetto.

His hair is loose, he hasn’t shaved in days. Instead of armor with a neatly designed skull emblem, he wears a shirt with an impressionistic feel; this skull is bleeding its color down the front of his chest. His coat flows and moves around him; we can see the injury in his primary hand, but he’s just as good firing with his left. That grimace is gone; his face bears the years of pain, but the knit brow is focus, the lines of his mouth are utterly impassive. It’s almost a worse kind of coldness; these men are already dead to him. Marco Checchetto draws the Punisher as a man riding his rage to the edge of his own ability to function. He is barely holding it together; not just in this moment, but as a human being. Fortunately, because this is a Greg Rucka book, everything will be okay and Frank Castle will finally find peahahahaHAHAHAHA.

No. This is a story about pain. One you should absolutely start reading.

[1]The two aberrations are the series which ran through the late 80s and early 90s. Consider that these series ran in the heyday of Marvel’s guns-and-pouches aesthetic, and it’s easy to see why they maintained as long as they did.

The Punisher (Vol. 9) is available in its entirety on Comixology, or you can read it on Marvel’s Digital Unlimited service.