A Clash of Heroes

Superheroes, philosophy, ethics, and politics



Marvel’s Legacy and The Legacy of America

***Some spoilers for Marvel Legacy.***

Unsurprisingly, Marvel Legacy is a solid book. It’s pretty to look at, and Jason Aaron is a talented writer. Legacy teases some interesting new directions for Marvel, promising to honor the legacy of the Marvel Universe without undermining the newer characters.

It’s hampered a little by the shadow of DC’s Rebirth one-shot, which delivered more story and more text in a book that was half the price of Legacy. As I read Legacy for the first time, I couldn’t help thinking that it felt a little thinner than Rebirth, that it isn’t just shorter and more expensive than Rebirth, but that it spreads its story more thinly than Rebirth does. (Of course, it might have felt this way to me because I know the history of the Marvel Universe much better than I do the history of the DC Universe. Rebirth feels dense to me in part because it deals with history and a few characters that I don’t know that well.) Continue reading “Marvel’s Legacy and The Legacy of America”


Talk: The Killing Joke and Censorship

***The following post is the text of a talk that I gave at the college where I work. This lecture was part of a series celebrating Banned Books Week.***

Welcome and Introduction

Thank you for coming. I want to preface this by saying that in this talk I’m going to discuss topics and show you images that some people might find disturbing or offensive. Many people have the mistaken impression that comic books are primarily for kids, and they’re often shocked to find that some comics deal with very mature themes. My topic for today certainly does.

The book that I’m going to discuss is a comic book called Batman: The Killing Joke, and its author, Alan Moore, is no stranger to banned books. Moore is most famous for writing a graphic novel called Watchmen, which has been banned more than once. Other books by Moore have been challenged or banned, as well. Continue reading “Talk: The Killing Joke and Censorship”

iPhones and Cosmic Cubes: Building A World Where Reality Can Be Altered By Anybody

Yesterday, Apple introduced their new lineup of iPhones, and while everybody seems to be focusing on poop Animojis, the new iPhone X has more serious implications to think about. (And yes, I’m going to bring this post back around to comics; just give me a minute or two).

Search for “iPhone X” on Twitter and you’ll find a lot of oohs and aahs, but you’ll also find a lot of people making fun of the phone’s new “Animoji” feature, which lets users animate emojis using their own faces. The phone uses its forward-facing camera to read the user’s facial expressions and movements and animate an emoji to mimic those expressions and movements.

It’s a neat feature, but it’s admittedly hard to take poop emojis seriously. After Tim Cook introduced the new phone at their event on Tuesday with Apple’s famous “One More Thing,” it must have felt a little silly and anticlimactic for folks in the audience to watch someone animate a poop emoji with his face. But the silliness of Animojis hides both how revolutionary it is for regular people to be able to own that kind of technology––and also just how frightening the pace of technological advance has become. Continue reading “iPhones and Cosmic Cubes: Building A World Where Reality Can Be Altered By Anybody”

Iron Man & Ironheart: Technology Will Never Perfect Us or the World

I’ve been looking forward to Marvel’s Generations series since it was first teased with the Alex Ross promotional art back in the Spring. Billed as a series of stories that would bring together new generations of heroes with their progenitors, Generations promised a welcome relief from the darkness that has permeated the Marvel Universe for the last year and a half.

So far I’ve only read three of the six Generations issues: The Unworthy Thor & The Mighty Thor; Banner Hulk & The Totally Awesome Hulk; and Iron Man and Ironheart. I was a little disappointed in the Hulk issue, but I enjoyed the Thor issue, which was fun and ended with a pretty big revelation about Odin’s history.

But for my money, Brian Michael Bendis’ entry is the best of the three that I’ve read: it’s a pleasure to read and look at; it provides some fascinating tidbits about the future of the Marvel Universe as well as what’s in store for Tony and Riri; and it provides enough fodder for philosophy nerds like myself to chew on without overwhelming fans who just want a good superhero story.

***Full spoilers for Generations: Ironman & Ironheart follow.*** Continue reading “Iron Man & Ironheart: Technology Will Never Perfect Us or the World”

Luke Cage and Danny Rand: A Lesson in Humility and Empathy

***Some spoilers for The Defenders follow.***

Most of the complaints about Iron Fist had to do with the title character: Marvel should have made Danny Rand Asian to avoid the White Savior trope; Danny comes across as the epitome of “white privilege”; Finn Jones’ acting was stiff and uncomfortable; he’s clearly not as skilled a martial artist as his costars.

Marvel seems to have addressed most of those complaints pretty well in The Defenders (I say that after having seen only the first four episodes). Finn Jones seems much more comfortable in the role. In part I think that this is a result of being part of an ensemble cast. And though there isn’t a whole lot of fighting in the first four episodes, this show makes it easier to believe that Danny is The Living Weapon.

One of the show’s most striking scenes is the episode in which Danny and Luke Cage meet at Colleen Wing’s dojo after having fought in an alley the night before. As you might expect, their first conversation doesn’t go so well. Their personalities naturally clash. Luke is a reluctant hero who just wants to help the people of his neighborhood. Having been wrongfully imprisoned, he is deeply aware of society’s injustice and predisposed to be suspicious of people with power. Danny, on the other hand, comes from a life of privilege. He spent his childhood living in penthouse apartments and flying in jets. And now he uses his vast fortune to travel the world in search of The Hand. Continue reading “Luke Cage and Danny Rand: A Lesson in Humility and Empathy”

Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity: Why It’s One of Marvel’s Best Events

The Cull Obsidian and Avengers: Infinity War

Last weekend at the Disney Expo, Marvel revealed that the Cull Obsidian will appear in Avengers: Infinity War (they’re also called The Black Order; apparently in the movie they’re going to be called the Children of Thanos). We also got our first glimpse of the Order, and it’s exciting to see that the Russos have nailed the look of the characters. Continue reading “Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity: Why It’s One of Marvel’s Best Events”

Batman #24: The Freedom to Do What We Have to Do

***Spoilers for Batman #24 follow.***

No doubt the most shocking thing to happen in Batman #24 is what happens on the last page. Well, “shocking” probably isn’t the right word. King has clearly been leading up to this moment for most of his run. Anyway, the last page certainly marks a change in Batman’s story. But it’s the philosophical ideas in the issue that interest me most. Continue reading “Batman #24: The Freedom to Do What We Have to Do”

Wonder Woman #23 and the Meaning of Love

We all have a bad habit of tossing around important words without thinking about what those words really mean. One of the most carelessly used words in English (and probably in a lot of other languages, too) is “love.” We inject “love” into our conversations—personal, religious, political, whatever—and speak of it with vague reverence, but what we seem to mean is something like “nice feelings.” This kind of “love” is offered up as the silver bullet for ending war, hatred, prejudice, sexism, and any number of other evils in the world. But we’re fools if we think that nice feelings could stop ISIS or hatred or human trafficking.

In other conversations “love” seems to mean just sexual attraction, as if wanting to sleep with someone badly enough means that we love that person.

Kindness, good feelings, romantic attraction—they’re are all good things, but love has to be more. When we talk about love in a way that treats it as mere kindness or sexual attraction, we cheapen it, turning it into something that happens to us instead of something that we choose, something that we do. Continue reading “Wonder Woman #23 and the Meaning of Love”

I Hope That They See What Makes Her Special

My wife and my daughter saw Wonder Woman on Friday, and my oldest two sons saw it on Saturday. (Our youngest is a toddler, so we can’t go to movies together right now.) Before the boys and I went to the theater, I took my daughter to our local comic shop for some free comics and to have her picture made with a Wonder Woman cosplayer.

After I snapped the pic, the cosplayer smiled at my daughter and told her, “Go protect your family!” It’s what you’d expect a superhero cosplayer to say to a kid, but the admonition struck me as odd and stuck with me for the rest of the day. Continue reading “I Hope That They See What Makes Her Special”

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