A Clash of Heroes

Superheroes, philosophy, ethics, and politics



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”

An Unconventional Mother’s Day Post: Alfred Pennyworth and the Dignity of Unsung Work

It’s an odd connection to make, but with Mother’s Day this weekend (and Father’s Day coming up in about a month), I find myself thinking about Alfred Pennyworth and his daughter, Julia. (Hopefully, I’ll make that connection clear by the end of this post.)

One of my favorite scenes in Batman Eternal, the 2014 limited series by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and others, is the conversation between Alfred and Julia in issue #12. Julia, an agent of the British Special Air Service, was injured in a fight with Shen Fang, and Batman has brought her back to Gotham to convalesce at Wayne Manor. Julia and Alfred haven’t seen each other in years, and Julia has no idea that Bruce is Batman or that her father spends his evenings helping the Dark Knight fight crime. She thinks of her father (who was once a medic in the British Army as well as a celebrated stage actor) is now little more than a manservant to a spoiled billionaire: Continue reading “An Unconventional Mother’s Day Post: Alfred Pennyworth and the Dignity of Unsung Work”

The MCU Has a Language Problem

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a language problem.

Let me preface this by saying two things:

First, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to think about movies, if you’re the kind of person says, “But it’s just entertainment!” or “It’s just a movie!” or “You think too much!”––well, this post isn’t directed at you. You might as well move on to the next blog.

Second, this is not in any way an attack on the MCU. I LOVE the MCU. If I’m going to spend my increasingly-rare free time on a movie, nine times out of ten it’s going to be a Marvel movie. I’ve seen every MCU movie opening night since The AvengersI was there for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 opening night in IMAX, and I loved it.

But it’s true: the MCU has a language problem. Continue reading “The MCU Has a Language Problem”

Michael Keaton’s Vulture and “The Forgotten”

It has become a cliche to point out that the rich have most of the political power. It has also become a cliche to say that the recent election in America was the result of forgotten people standing up for themselves against the “establishment” (whatever that means). To a certain extent, this revolt of “the forgotten” against the “establishment” is the story that we’re seeing not only in the U.S., but also around the world. The surprising popularity of Marine le Pen in France’s presidential race is an example of this. While there are more moderate (and some would argue more sensible) candidates on the right and the left, le Pen’s surge in the polls seems to represent a loud statement by “the forgotten” that they’re no longer willing to accept politics as usual.

Though populism has its dangers, one can understand why people who feel forgotten would resent those who have a larger voice in society than they do. Mass media constantly barrage us with new political pontifications from the rich and powerful. Entertainers, businesspeople, technocrats, and others have a voice and influence that the average person could never dream of. Sure, the internet promised to radically level the playing field, giving bloggers (like me) and others an equal shot at being heard, but in many ways it has had the opposite effect. When the average person competes with the rich for a voice, we all know who is most likely to win.  Continue reading “Michael Keaton’s Vulture and “The Forgotten””

The Unworthy Thor: Humility and Worthiness

“I’ll bet the Hulk could lift Thor’s hammer.”

My oldest son said this several years ago when I first introduced him to superheroes. (It’s a fairly common mistake, thinking that Mjolnir is so heavy that only the very strongest can lift it.) I explained to him that no, the Hulk can’t lift Mjolnir because he isn’t worthy of lifting it.

“What makes you worthy?” he asked.
Continue reading at . . . And Philosophy.

Iron Fist and Suffering

It’s an understatement to say that Iron Fist hasn’t done well with critics, and in many ways the critics are right. There are a number of problems with it, most notably a weak lead character and fight-choreography that falls far below the standard established by Daredevil. But the show has several redeeming qualities: a good supporting cast (whose performances are better than Jones’, for the most part); an interesting villain; and some compelling subplots, especially those involving the Meachams. But one of the most interesting things about Iron Fist is the way in which it explores the meaning of suffering—the role that suffering plays in shaping who we are, how we relate to the people around us, and especially how we relate to our home and our environment. Continue reading “Iron Fist and Suffering”

Logan, Human Dignity, and the Integrity of the Body

[Some spoilers for Logan follow.]

Who would have imagined that a movie full of brutal violence would turn out to make a persuasive plea for human dignity and the integrity of the body?

Logan might have more graphic violence and death in it than most other superhero movies combined. Set in a dark near-future in which mutants have been nearly wiped out by genocide, the movie depicts a Wolverine who has been reduced from superhero to chauffeur and struggles to keep an elderly Charles Xavier hidden from the U.S. government, which has classified Xavier as a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a world of ugliness, debauchery, greed, and hatred—a world that has carried the fear of mutants to its seemingly logical conclusion: they’re all but eradicated. Continue reading “Logan, Human Dignity, and the Integrity of the Body”

Superheroes Aren’t Inherently Fascist (And We Should Probably Stop Misusing That Word)

It probably doesn’t bode well that these days, the word “fascism” hangs in the air and forms the backdrop to so many conversations.

It doesn’t bode well because the fact that we’re all so worried about fascism says a lot about our political mood. We see the specter of fascism lurking especially in the Trump administration. We see it in what seems to be a rise in anti-Semitism. We see it in the apparent rise of extremism on both sides of the political divide. The president says something foolishly antagonistic toward the press and celebrities tweet that “fascists hated the press, too.”

But our preoccupation with fascism doesn’t bode well for another reason, as well. After World War II, the words “fascist” and “fascism” became part of a class of words that were once terms of description but have become terms that express the speaker’s attitude toward something. English is full of such words. One innocuous example is the word “epic.” It used to describe a particular genre of literature, but now it more commonly gets used to describe the speaker’s attitude toward something (as in, “That movie was epic!” or “Watch John Doe Give This Racist An EPIC Takedown!).  Continue reading “Superheroes Aren’t Inherently Fascist (And We Should Probably Stop Misusing That Word)”

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