A Clash of Heroes

Superheroes, philosophy, ethics, and politics



Review: Ragnarok Is Mostly Thrilling (And At Times Infuriating)

***Spoiler warning: I’m going to spoil the hell out of this movie.***

Ever since the Jotunheim scene early in the original Thor, I have lamented the fact that with the exception of that scene, Marvel has not seemed to know what to do do with the God of Thunder. He never seemed as powerful as he ought to be and never seemed to know what to do with Mjolnir except hit things.

So what I have hoped for in Thor: Ragnarok has been a movie that let Thor be the God of Thunder. And from the moment that I first heard Robert Plant’s unearthly “Immigrant Song” howl deep under Muspelheim, I knew that whatever else I’d have to say about Ragnarok, I’d at least be able to say that it finally gave us Thor as he should have been all along. This movie does for Odinson what Captain America: Winter Soldier did for Cap: it shows us what a badass Thor really is. Continue reading “Review: Ragnarok Is Mostly Thrilling (And At Times Infuriating)”


It Isn’t Your Job to Change the World: Detective Comics and Ideology

Polarization Leads to Ideology

The word “polarization” has been repeated in political discussions so much lately that it’s easy to get sick of hearing it. But we should be careful not to become numb to the problem. Americans (and much of the rest of the world) have become so radically polarized that it is hard to remember a time when we weren’t as divided as we are now. Everywhere we look––at football, movies, advertisements, comics, religion, Halloween costumes, and the list goes on––we see the evidence of our division. And we all lament the fighting, name-calling, and general incivility that results from our polarization. We all complain about the inability of a divided Congress to get anything done. But few of us notice perhaps the most dangerous consequence of our increasing polarization: the way in which it encourages ideological thinking.

As an English professor, I’m fascinated by the way in which we use words, and I’ve commented here before about the way in which we sometimes misuse words. We have a lot of words in English that can be easily misused and misunderstood, and “ideology” is one of them. So let me be clear about what I mean by “ideology.” When I say that polarization encourages “ideological thinking,” I don’t mean that it encourages people to be committed to a set of principles. What I mean by “ideology” is an unquestioning commitment to a theoretical view of the world. An ideologue has so deep a commitment to his theory that he conforms to it and promotes it even when the reality of the world contradicts that theory and even when it requires him to coerce others to that theory. For example, even though Leninism might work well on paper, it fails when it’s applied to real societies made up of flesh-and-blood people, and one can only maintain a Leninist system through coercion and totalitarianism. Continue reading “It Isn’t Your Job to Change the World: Detective Comics and Ideology”

Falcon #1: Great Issue, But What’s With Calling Steve A Traitor?

I hadn’t intended to pick up Falcon #1 because I already buy too many books. (Comics aren’t cheap, in case you didn’t know.) But I saw some good reviews of it, and I’m a sucker for both a good Alex Ross cover and for a good Sam Wilson story, so I picked it up.

Let me say at the outset that Falcon #1 is a good issue. It both takes Sam back to his urban roots and also continues to develop the themes that Nick Spencer began in Captain America: Sam Wilson. The book follows Sam and his new sidekick Rayshaun Lucas as they seek to broker a peace deal between warring Chicago gangs while corrupt forces in the city government try to inflame the violence. Along the way it raises questions about what it means to be a “true” black man, what it means to have heroes and look up to them, and other issues. Sam is in good hands with writer Rodney Barnes.

But there’s a problem. Continue reading “Falcon #1: Great Issue, But What’s With Calling Steve A Traitor?”

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”

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”

Daredevil #17: Getting the Problem of Evil Wrong

Daredevil was already one of the most interesting superheroes Marvel had created by the time Frank Miller took over his book in the 1980s. A blind vigilante with no superpowers except that the chemical that blinded him also rendered his other senses so acute that he can “see” without his eyes? The Man Without Fear is certainly one of Stan Lee’s more brilliant creations. But when Frank Miller wrote Born Again and The Man Without Fear, he left an indelible mark on Daredevil—and one of his most important contributions to the character is Matt Murdock’s Catholicism.

So when Daredevil #16 hit the stands last month, I was pleased to see that Charles Soule’s very good post-Secret Wars iteration of Daredevil would finally explore Matt’s faith (or perhaps “doubt” is a better word). That issue ends with Matt going to a church to meet with a priest, Father Jordan, to discuss the problem that drove him away from church in his earlier life: the problem of evil. Continue reading “Daredevil #17: Getting the Problem of Evil Wrong”

Alzheimer’s, Superheroes, and God Country

***Full spoilers for God Country #1 follow.***

If the first issue is a good indication, God Country by Donny Cates (with art by Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie, and John J. Hill) might be one of the most extraordinary superhero comics published in a long time. Continue reading “Alzheimer’s, Superheroes, and God Country”

Review: Doctor Strange

One exception (some would argue two) aside, 2016 has been a great year for superhero movies. Deadpool was a massive financial success (though I admit that I have no interest in seeing it), Civil War was probably the best superhero movie to date, and I am thrilled to see that Marvel has closed out the year with Doctor Strange, a movie that in many ways turns their universe on its head (both literally and figuratively). Continue reading “Review: Doctor Strange”

Bulletproof Black Man

This is how you do politics in a superhero story.

Luke Cage isn’t a perfect show. As some critics have pointed out, the show’s main villain, Diamondback, is weak compared to Cottonmouth, who is the primary antagonist in the first half of the season (and, along with Wilson Fisk from Daredevil, one of Marvel’s two best villains). It probably isn’t as good as the first season of Daredevil (though it’s close in my opinion), but it is worlds better than Jessica Jones in the ways that count.

Continue reading “Bulletproof Black Man”

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