A Clash of Heroes

Superheroes, philosophy, ethics, and politics



Catching Up: Mister Miracle, Captain America, and rediscovering America

Disconnecting for a bit

So this won’t be as heavy a post as I usually write.

I haven’t been writing much this week for a lot of reasons. Part of it is sheer exhaustion. Last week was finals week, and since I taught six classes this semester, I had a hell of a lot of grading to do. Another reason is that after I turned in final grades, I decided that I needed to disconnect for a little while. On Sunday, I put my phone on Airplane Mode and turned off my iPad––and I have to tell you, it’s been one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. Forcing myself to fast from electronics in general (and from social media in particular) has allowed me to focus on the important things in my life in a way that I haven’t been able to do in a long time. It’s been wonderful.

One of those important things, of course, has been reading. Earlier this week I finished a Friedrich Hayek book that I began a few weeks ago and just couldn’t find the time to read, and now I’ve moved on to Cicero. I’ve read several good comics this week, too. By the end of the semester, I had fallen behind on both Detective Comics and Batman, so I took a couple of hours earlier this week and caught up. Both Tynion and King continue to amaze me.

ComicsGallery_DC_20171213__MisterMiracle_5_cover_copy_5a04b5b63af772.77427851And speaking of Tom King, Mister Miracle came out yesterday. It doesn’t matter how busy I am––when that book comes out, I make the time to read it as soon as possible. Like last year’s Vision, Mister Miracle is transcendent. Continue reading “Catching Up: Mister Miracle, Captain America, and rediscovering America”


“The Batman Who Laughs”: The Monsters That We Could Be

In the Dark Nights: Metal tie-in “The Batman Who Laughs,” we learn the origin of perhaps the worst villain imaginable in the DC multiverse: a Batman who lacks all morality––or, more precisely, a Batman who has the amorality of the Joker.

img_0848“The Batman Who Laughs” opens in the past of Earth-22 (for those unfamiliar with the DC multiverse, it is composed of multiple universes designated by their Earths). The Joker has managed to pull off the murder of nearly everyone in Gotham, and he has Batman drugged and tied to a chair. He taunts Batman about the Dark Knight’s “one rule”––the rule not to kill––and with a gruesome description of Jim Gordon’s death. Enraged, Batman breaks free of his bonds and attacks the Joker, who promises that he will “never stop.” Batman breaks the Clown Prince’s neck––only to discover that doing so releases a poison gas from the Joker’s mouth, a poison that is specifically designed to target the parts of his mind that determine his morality while leaving his exceptional intellect intact.

In other words, it combines Batman’s most dangerous characteristics with those of the Joker. Continue reading ““The Batman Who Laughs”: The Monsters That We Could Be”

There Is No “Them”: A Lesson from Civil War About Political Diversity

We all hear a lot about “us” and “them” these days. Donald Trump Tweets something vile or stupid, and this becomes evidence that “they” are also vile and stupid. “We” are the enlightened ones, and we can’t understand why “they” can’t see things our way—or maybe we can. After all, we’ve just said that they’re vile and stupid, right?

Or to put it another way, Roy Moore or Matt Lauer get accused of vile and reprehensible things, and suddenly we feel vindicated. This proves it, we think. They’re a bunch of lying hypocrites.

We like labels and categories in our culture, and for good reason. Labels and categories allow us to make sense of the chaos. Calling someone conservative or liberal can convey a lot of information about her very quickly, and since politics is so complicated and touches so many different issues, being able to quickly make sense of things by use of labels can be helpful.

But our culture is also increasingly diverse and divided, and not just in the obvious ways that the word “diverse” connotes in most conversations these days. Continue reading “There Is No “Them”: A Lesson from Civil War About Political Diversity”

What is The Punisher’s Place in Superhero Myth?

Frank Castle is one of the most challenging characters in comics. He touches on some of the most difficult subjects in American society and politics––damaged war veterans and guns––and he ought to make us truly uncomfortable. That’s what makes him such an enduring and compelling  character: he forces us to think about things that most of us would rather not think about.

Our reluctance to think about the issues that the Punisher raises perhaps makes it all the more important that we think about them. Continue reading “What is The Punisher’s Place in Superhero Myth?”

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?”

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”

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