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Graphic Novelty²

Month

July 2020

Pride of Baghdad

Pride of Baghdad was an absolutely riveting graphic novel that took the real-life story of how a pride of lions escaped the Baghdad Zoo in April of 2003 during an American raid of Iraq when it was under Saddam Hussian’s rule.

This anthropomorphic tale centers around four lions in the Baghdad Zoo- male leader Zill, older female Safa, younger Noor and her cub Ali. These four lions go on to characterize how different Iraqi citizens have coped with the cruel reign of Hussian, although truly the tale is universal in scope. In the beginning, Noor waxes poetic about life in the wild to her son, although captured very young she truly has little memory of it, with Zill adding in his memories of sunsets on the far horizon. But it is Safa who truly remembers that life in the wild was dangerous and unpredictable, as she remembers the hungry times and her attack by male lions that left her traumatized and blind in one eye.

Noor dreams of escape aided by the other zoo animals, but unexpectedly she is given her wish when a bombing destroys the barriers at the zoo and the lions and many other animals make their escape. With a mix of hope and trepidation, the lions enter the city and find out their new freedom comes at a heavy cost.

The three adults quarrel often, as they all have different expectations based on their previous experiences. Safa is the most hesitant, her past has led her to be more accepting of captivity and the safety it affords her. Radical but at times unrealistic Noor scoffs at Safa, but Safa’s practicality comes in handy at certain times. Zill, the fading leader holds on to the dreams of the past and isn’t always up to the task when troubles arise. All the while, Ali has loyalties to all three, and his innocence in the face of the true realities is heartbreaking to witness.

The artwork was perfect. I am amazed that I have not seen other work by Niko Henrichon, as his pencils and details elevated this story. The panels are well placed and guide you through the entire story, with some amazing one and two-page spreads. His animals are incredibly realistic, yet their expressions convey so much emotion. The colors aid in the story as they move from the earthen tones at the zoo and the lion’s memories of the wild, and then through the fiery orange colors of the war-torn streets of the city.

Author Brian K Vaughan, now famous for the Saga series, effectively raises questions about the various interpretations of liberation. Can freedom be given or does it need to be earned? Can one feel pride during their captivity or does it only come when you fight for freedom? Should we hold onto the supposed greatness of the past or realize that change comes with a cost? How many sacrifices need to be made? The four lions show aspects of all these questions and more, that a narrative with people wouldn’t have conveyed as well.

The conclusion, while expected, will tear you to pieces. I loved this graphic novel and it will absolutely be on my Best Of list this year. Its illuminating clarity will make you think for a long time on the perils of war.

-Nancy

To know more about the real-life incident read The Guardian article about the sad deaths of the lions and many of the other zoo animals.

 

Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth

Superman is trying to find his family. Lois and Jon are traveling the universe together, and Clark has lost contact with them. In the battle for Krypton against the peerless warmonger Rogol Zaar, his communication device was destroyed. Zaar was eventually banished to the Phantom Zone, where such villains such as General Zod are. It seems Superman has bigger problems, now that he’s discovered the entire Earth is somehow inside the Phantom Zone as well! Is this job too big for Superman, when he calls the Justice League for help? When Zaar and Zod meet inside the Phantom Zone, should Superman let them kill each other for their joint destruction of Krypton?

I was very confused upon my first read-through. I couldn’t place it in the continuity. Upon looking it up I see that Superman’s Rebirth run ended in 2018, and The Unity Saga picks up where it left off. As I’m not done reading Superman Rebirth, I spoiled myself for the ending =P

Brian Michael Bendis writes Superman well. We see Clark’s longing for his family, his optimism in the face of crushing odds and discord, and his fallibility. That he has to call for the Justice League to try and get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone shows that even Superman needs help sometimes. He is sorely tempted, and sees the benefits to, simply letting two of his greatest enemies kill each other for what they did to his home planet.

In writing Superman, there is a fine balance to walk between making him overpowered and making him human. Bendis walks it wonderfully.

The art is on an epic scale. The land- and space-scapes are sweeping, the monsters gargantuan, befitting the dilemmas in the story. Superman is larger than life, and the art depicts it.

While I enjoyed this first volume in The Unity Saga, I think I’ll wait to finish Rebirth before I read more!

-Kathleen

Bendis, Brian Michael, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Oclair Albert. Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth. 2019.

Black Widow: Bad Blood

I belong to the Goodread’s group, I Read Comic Books, and entered a contest to win a free podcast about the Black Widow. I was pleased to find out I won a free subscription to the premium digital audio and reading platform Serial Box for the fourteen episode series Black Widow: Bad Blood. While I am familiar with her through the Avenger movies and am looking forward to the delayed solo movie about her, I actually have not read any graphic novels about just her.

Warning- some spoilers

Episode One: Blackout Protocol

We are introduced to Natasha Romanoff, who as a freelance spy, is wrapping up a job in Chicago in which she was tasked with catching online espionage. She fights a modified villain Viscose, contacts Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D. to report in, and then plans how to disengage from her undercover job that had lasted months. During her time as a mild-mannered IT employee, she had made friends with several other women and heads out for the last night out with them, as she has told them she is moving for another job opportunity.  But the night ends badly…

Episode Two: Something Stolen, Something Red

Waking up from her mysterious attack, Natasha is weak and unclear as to what happened. She barely remembers what happened or how she escaped, but she knows she needs answers. She makes her way to Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, a scientist who she hopes will help her discover what was done to her. There she finds out her blood was removed for some sinister reason. But why?

Episode Three: Bury Me Face Down

Natasha realizes that if she is being targeted, another enhanced human would be too- Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier. She has a history with Barnes, as he was loaned out from Hydra to trains future widows in the Red Room. She heads to Albania where Barnes is hiding out and tracks him down.

Episode Four: Sleep When I’m Dead

Natasha finds Barnes’s hideout, but not him, but clues lead her to believe he was attacked. Banner lets her know there have been other thefts of biological data, and she heads to the VECTOR Institute for more answers.

Episode Five: Flashback City

Novosibirsk, Russia, is her next location and it brings back memories of her training in the Red Room. On the outskirts of the Institute, she encounters Barnes and he attacks her. But he seems off, as he seems not to remember her and physically he isn’t in top form, which allows her to escape him. She is able to bring him back to reality and convinces him to partner with her so they find out what happened to them both.

Episode Six: A Trap with a View

Natasha relives her shared experiences with Barnes, as they both deal with the trauma of their training and the guilt they carry for their past actions when they were part of evil organizations. She decides not to let S.H.I.E.L.D. in on her plan and starts to pull together the threads of her Chicago job together with what is happened to her and Barnes now. Are they being led towards something?

Episode Seven: Of Monsters and Men

Leaving Barnes briefly to recuperate from his ongoing illness, Natasha explores the area and is disappointed with herself when she falls prey to two thugs. But she quickly turns the table on them, and during her interrogation of them is pointed to a female scientist from VECTOR who might have some answers she is looking for.

Episode Eight: Old Friends

Utilizing several costume changes to gain access to the VECTOR compound, Natasha infiltrates the government building. But she doesn’t get all the answers she is looking from, despite finding the scientist she was clued into by the thugs from the previous episode.

Episode Nine: Black Tie

This was a bit of a filler episode- Natasha and Barnes head to Geneva, Switzerland, to infiltrate a black-tie event that the philanthropist that might be behind the stolen blood will be at. They get fancy duds, look great and the chemistry between the two is obvious. That’s it.

Episode Ten: White Nights

This episode made up for the last one, with Natasha and Barnes meeting Holt, who was waiting for them despite all their precautions. Turns out he has been leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow so he could meet them, along with a certain associate that Natasha had dealt with earlier. A second wave of sickness prevents her from learning more.

Episode Eleven: The Carrot and the Stick

Scheduled to meet with Holt the next day, Natasha recovers enough for her and Barnes to head to his laboratory. Holt’s pleasant demeanor masks his ulterior methods as he leads them deep into his bunker to reveal his reason for taking these two soldier’s blood. Although they are wary, Natasha and Barnes want answers, but are they putting themselves at the mercy of Holt?

Episode Twelve: A Rock and a Hard Place

Bleh, it was the typical crap villain plot in which an evil leader wants to create a master race just minus the race and religion aspect of it. But then another villain gets into the action and chaos erupts.

Episode Thirteen: Fast and Dirty

Natasha and Barnes escape and use Holt’s state-of-the-art helicopter to chase down the parasite from being unleashed on the world. Of course, they know how to fly the helicopter- don’t all good spies and assassins know how to?  They grudgingly agree to let Nick Fury in on the details and ask for his help.

Episode Fourteen: Friends in High Places

Natasha and Barnes locate the two trucks carrying the parasite in the Alps, and fight Viscose to prevent the parasite from being released into the world. While dealing with a realistic recovery afterward, the ending hints at further adventures…

This was a highly enjoyable podcast that was wonderfully voiced by Sarah Natochenny and  I looked forward to weekly, as new episodes dropped. Natasha was fleshed out, she wasn’t just some unrealistic superhero hottie who could win any battle and had a quip for every comment. Barnes was as much an unknown character to me as Natasha, so his involvement gave me some additional insight into him too. One thing that I very much appreciated in this story was the emphasis on Natasha’s friends in Chicago. Typically a loner because of her spy status she had allowed herself to make friends during her undercover job and missed them. A problem with so many books and movies is the lack of authentic female friendships, so their inclusion in the story was indeed refreshing (although the depth of their friendship in just two months was unrealistic). That these friendships were brought up in the last minutes, make me wonder what is in store for them, if and when a second season is produced.

-Nancy

Written by Lindsay Smith, Margaret Dunlap, Mikki Kendall, L.L. McKinney, and Taylor Stevens. Edited by Taylor Stevens. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Narrated by Sarah Natochenny.

Estranged (Vol. 2): The Changeling King

After the events of Estranged Volume 1, Ed and Cinder are both back in their rightful places. The changeling formerly known as Edmund Carter has now ascended the throne as Cinder. The human Edmund is back in the World Above with his human family. Though they are both back where they belong, they are each struggling to assimilate. Cinder is facing big problems as the magic in the World Below is fading unexpectedly. It’s revealed that the royal family needs to do a secret ritual at the Root of All Magic periodically, and it’s about that time again. Cinder invites the Carters to come down from the World Above to help him with his journey. Of course, Ed and Alexis know all about the World Below, and are excited to be going back, but their parents aren’t so sure. Can the Carters stick together through all the perils and unknowns?

There’s a bit of a time skip that happens between the first and second volumes. It’s not specified how much (unless I missed it when skimming again), but I’d say it’s within a few months, less than a year at least. There is enough time for Ed and Cinder to settle down in their new homes, but not enough for them to grow fully confident in their newfound roles. The main themes of this series, continuing from the first volume, are of identity, family, and finding one’s place.

The dynamic between the Carter family is very sweet. Sure, it’s true that Alexis, Ed, and Cinder bicker as siblings will, but they stand true to each other. Though their parents may not totally understand everything that’s going on, they love all their children very much, and accept and support them no matter what. This is a family that’s proven throughout the course of the story to stay together through thick and thin out of love and respect for one another.

My favorite thing about this series continues to be the art. The darkly whimsical feel is carried over from the first volume. I can’t get enough of the orderly chaotic lineart and muted watercolors. The ending seemed to be open for another adventure; I sorely hope this series is continued so I can continue gobbling it up 😉

-Kathleen

Aldridge, Ethan M. Estranged (Vol. 2): The Changeling King. 2019.

Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

Author and illustrator Joel Christian Gill shares nine short stories of blacks from American history that you are probably not aware of. His title refers to the song made famous by Billie Holiday about blacks being lynched and hanging from trees, so the title immediately signifies the seriousness of the narrative. Gill’s opening message “For all those who freed themselves by cutting the rope” further amplifies this message.

Out of the Box Thinking: Henry “Box” Brown- Slave Henry Brown was desperate to escape slavery, so with help, he hid in a box and was shipped to freedom in a daring and unique way in 1849.

Harry “Bucky” Lew: Orginal Baller- Was the first black man to integrate professional basketball in 1902.

Richard Potter’s Great Illusion- Potter was a famous magician, who toured worldwide, but only revealed on his deathbed his origins.

Theophilus Thompson: From Slave to Chess Master- Thompson proved that blacks are intelligent as whites when he became a master of chess and won many championships. That he disappeared at the peak of his career points to the theory that he was killed by those who felt threatened by what he represented.

The Shame- In the late 1800s a small modest seaside village was established on Malaga Island by a mixed-race community that had been founded by a freed slave years ago. But in 1912 the nearby white community decided that the Malaga village had to go and swept in and destroyed the village, sending many of the inhabitants to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. The judgments that the whites passed on the community were shameful and is a stain on Maine history.

The Noyes Academy- An elderly black gentleman shares his story of studying to be a minister as a young man at the Noyes Academy in New Hampshire. But in 1835 the academy was destroyed by whites who opposed that the school was racially integrated.

Marshall “Major” Taylor: The Black Cyclone- Taylor was an amazing athlete, especially known for his cycling triumphs. Unfortunately, as he aged he lost his money and died in obscurity.

Two Letters, As Written by Spottswood Rice- Rice was an escaped slave who fought for the North, and was determined to free his daughter from his former master. The juxtaposition of the two letters poignantly showed his deep love for his child, and his determination to be reunited with her.

Bass Reeves: Lawman- Reeves was a former slave who had moved west after the Civil War. He later became a respected lawman who was known for his shooting skills and morality in bringing in fugitives from justice.

Gill’s illustrations are very cartoony, which I felt did not mesh with the seriousness of the stories. He used an earthen color palette and a standard panel layout, with an attempt to recreate the era of each story.  His tone and storytelling began to improve with the later tales, and he used large black birds effectively to symbolize Jim Crow in the last few stories. Despite my not being a fan of the illustration style, I did find the stories interesting for they certainly highlighted individuals that most people will not have heard of before. I think this book could be effectively used in classrooms with middle school and high school students. I was pleased to read this story for this month’s book selection from I Read Comic Books and I will check out volume two that came out a few years after this graphic novel. I feel it is important to know more about black history than the little that is found in history books and who whites feel are deemed worthy.

-Nancy

Green Lantern: Legacy

When his grandmother passes away, aspiring comic artist Tai Pham inherits her old jade ring. Turns out, it’s a lot more than it appears! Tai finds himself inducted into the Green Lantern Space Corps, with veteran Lantern John Stewart as his new mentor. Tai is very confused. It appears that there was much his grandmother didn’t tell him while she was still alive. In the wake of her death, vandalism against her beloved shop, the Jade Market, has gotten worse, and there is talk of it being torn down to make room for new development called The Gold Coast. A young businessman named Xander Griffin is the one who offered to buy the shop. He seems nice enough, but can Tai trust him? Is he a mentor too, like John, or does he just want to get close to Tai to get what he wants and destroy the Pham legacy?

It’s surprising that this is a middle-grade graphic novel. It was written so beautifully and eloquently about many issues: death of a loved one, accepting responsibility, and listening to your own instincts even in the face of adversity. While these issues can be very heavy, Minh Lê’s writing is heartwarming and compassionate, never talking down to his audience.

We also see here an age-appropriate look at what it means to be a person of color, in this case Asian, in America. Readers see Tai’s grandmother’s journey to America and her dogged pursuit of building her dream from the ground up. We see the Pham family struggle to decide whether to sell the Jade Market in the name of “progress” or to fight for what they love. This gentle look at gentrification is presented in a way that the target audience will understand, and will make for a great talking point in class or family discussions.

Andie Tong’s art is lovely. The lineart fluctuated depending on the setting, which was a cool design choice that subtly let us know of a paradigm shift. The lineart is messier, a little more chaotic, in the real world; in Tai’s imagination and in the realm of the Green Lanterns, it’s a little cleaner and more focused. There are also a couple of fun Easter eggs for long-term GL fans sprinkled in.

This heartfelt tale, of a welcome new POC in the superhero genre, will be beloved by fans both young and old.

-Kathleen

Lê, Minh, and Andie Tong. Green Lantern: Legacy. 2020.

Superman Smashes the Klan

Superman Smashes the Klan is a wonderful graphic novel geared for young adults, yet will appeal to all ages. Author Gene Luen Yang deftly combines the mythology of Superman with timely topics of immigration and battling prejudice.

When you hear the word Klan, you will automatically think of the hate group that seems to targets blacks the most. But instead, Yang sets the story in 1946 and centers on the Lee family who are Chinese-Americans who have recently moved to Metropolis for their father’s new job as a scientist. Brother and sister Tommy and Roberta begin to assimilate into their new community after leaving Chinatown, but Roberta struggles more than her brother who is soon befriended by boys in the neighborhood when he shows a gift for pitching.

But soon the family is targeted by the Klan of the Fiery Kross, which is obviously a stand-in for the Ku Klux Klan. The chants they use and their justification of their actions are sadly a commentary on what is going on in America right now. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen befriend the Lee’s but Roberta picks up on clues about Superman’s abilities and helps him confront his own issues regarding his own assimilation. This story is set early into Superman’s career, and he is shown as not able to fly, as he is suppressing his alien powers. This runs parallel to the Lee’s journey of embracing who they are and not being ashamed of their background. This narrative not only makes Superman more relatable to younger new readers, who might only view him as a demi-god, not a young boy who even in later years as an adult struggles with his identity.

The artwork by Gurihiru (actually a Japanese illustration team, consisting of Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) is a fun throwback to the 90s style of comic animation. The illustrations are deceptively simple and will appeal to readers of all ages. The story flowed beautifully from panel to panel, with some outstanding one and two-page spreads. The colors are bold, with the primary colors of red, blue and yellow taking center stage. That these colors are found in Superman’s costume is a natural tie-in.

I was very impressed with this story. Yang wrote a nuanced story about the struggles of fighting adversity, calling out hate, maintaining cultural traditions while balancing fitting into a new home and battling back against preconceived notions.  An afterword by the author clarifies his message in which he shares how racism against any race is unacceptable and shares his story along with his personal connection to the iconic Superman. This strong story may very well inspire readers to take stands against hate and racism they run across, and should be a welcome beacon for all Superman fans.

-Nancy

Wonder Woman² – With a Comparison to Captain Marvel

***There are spoilers for both movies ahead***

Check out Nancy’s take on Captain Marvel, which she wrote shortly after it came out in theaters.

On our quarantine weekends, Fiancé and I have been marathoning movies. We pull out the couch (it doubles as a futon), sprawl out with pillows and snacks, and go to town. So far we’ve marathoned Lord of the Rings (extended editions, obvs), Batman (pre-Nolan and Nolan directed), Christopher Reeves’ Superman saga, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, bounced around between some DC animated movies we haven’t seen yet, and now we’re working on the DC Cinematic Universe that started with Man of Steel.

I’m sure this has been done, because how could it not have been, but I couldn’t help thinking while watching Captain Marvel of the comparisons it drew to Wonder Woman. Watching Wonder Woman again only threw the differences into greater relief.

Wonder Woman is the DCU’s take on Diana’s origins. Set during World War I, Diana leaves her home, Themyscira, when she rescues a pilot named Steve Trevor. He carries important information that could end the course of the war. Believing that Ares, the god of war, is behind the rampant destruction, Diana spirits Steve off the island and pursues Ares to fulfill the Amazon’s sacred duty of protecting the world from the vengeful god.

Captain Marvel follows the story of Vers/Carol Danvers, a Kree Starforce member/human fighter pilot. After absorbing a vast amount of energy from an experimental engine, she gains incredible powers but loses the memory of her life on Earth. What she does remember comes back to her in dreams and short flashes. In 1995 she winds up back on Earth, escaping from the Skrull (with whom the Kree are at war), and instead of trying to get back to Kree, decides to team up with a man named Nick Fury to find out more about her past.

The simplest way to explain the plots of both movies is perhaps: flagship female superhero finds herself out of her element, and must find a way to save the world while simultaneously working within the confines of a setting she’s unfamiliar with.

Wonder Woman did this SO much better than Captain Marvel did, and here’s why.

The first reason is in the portrayal of the heroines by their actresses, and how they interact with their mentor of the world they are unaccustomed to. Gal Gadot’s performance of Diana suggested naive innocence and idealism. Diana is doggedly determined to rid Man’s World of Aries’ influence and stop the war, but she has very different ideas of how to do it than everyone else. She doesn’t understand all the hoops and red tape Steve knows they need to navigate, and gets frustrated with the inconveniences. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is cynical, world-weary, yet focused and determined to do something too – and he’s willing to indulge Diana’s seemingly crazy ideas if she’ll help.

Watching these two – it’s magical. There’s real chemistry between these characters. Half the fun of watching this movie is watching Steve’s exaggerated, exasperated patience with Diana asking a million questions a minute, like a petulant child. Yet, you can’t help but love them each for it. Their relationship progressed organically from mentor/student to friends to lovers, all while remaining mostly equals, making it seem more real and believable.

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Steve Trevor and Diana Prince after saving the village of Veld.

Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol was, to put it nicely, unemotional to the point of being flat. I suppose it was to show how the Kree are generally in strict control of their emotions… but Carol is human and not Kree, right? So despite her thinking she was Kree for most of the movie, it would stand to reason that we would see some excess of emotion from her at some point, right? Even if it was on accident?? Even in moments where it’s completely warranted and expected, such as her reuniting with her best friend, Maria – right???

The vibe I got from Carol and Nick Fury’s interactions were more of almost a buddy cop dynamic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s just less of that mentor-ship that we see going on with Diana and Steve. It’s clear both Carol and Nick have been around the block, albeit in different ways and in different galaxies. However, their connection seemed a bit forced to me; yes, they teamed up out of necessity, but if I felt Carol was feeling anything at all, it was smug arrogance, solely through her interactions with Fury. More on this in a moment.

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Nick Fury and Carol Danvers infiltrating a U.S. Air Force Base.

Though both Diana and Carol are superhuman beings, and warriors to boot, Diana is shown to be more well-rounded in the emotions department. There was never any point in Captain Marvel where I felt emotionally connected to Carol. I think this is more the fault of the writing more than it is Larson’s portrayal, which leads me to my second point:

The way misogyny is handled in both movies is VASTLY different, and makes a HUGE impact on the way the titular characters interact with their environments, and the emotional weight of each story.

You ever wonder why the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman is so powerful? Why you cry like a baby every time you watch it? Admit it, you know it’s not just me 😉

It’s because, for the entire movie up until that point, we see Diana being told “no.”

  • No, you can’t be a warrior
  • No, you can’t leave home
  • No, you can’t dress that way
  • No, you can’t come into this war council
  • No, you can’t go to the front

Now, no one says these things in so many words, and it’s not always that obvious. It may be only on your second or third viewing that you REALLY pick up on all the subtle ways that Diana is being restricted – which mirrors what happens in real-life with instances of misogyny. It’s not always being told “no” exactly, more often it’s being dismissed or sidebarred – which we see Diana go through. When we get to the No Man’s Land scene, and Steve tells Diana they are not going to help the village of Veld, Diana has heard her last “no.”

It’s so powerful because Diana is FINALLY standing up for herself, what she believes in, her mission, and she is going to do it no matter what anyone says. It’s so powerful because she has tried to assimilate into Man’s World and to their ways, but she finally realizes that their ways don’t work, and she carves herself a new path, her own way. It’s so powerful because she is embracing her feminine power to save the world, and her ultimate superpower: not her brute strength, but her ability to provide hope in a completely hopeless situation.

The brilliancy and beauty of this scene is in the movie’s moves up until this point to try and hem Diana in, so subtle that it’s nearly subconscious. When you see her finally break free in this scene, the movie has earned all the ugly tears you shed over it, and then some.

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Yup, it’s right about here that I always start sobbing

Captain Marvel didn’t have an equivalent scene, though it tried to. Near the end of the movie, Carol confronts the Supreme Intelligence and breaks her inhibitor chip. It also gave us a slew of flashbacks to Carol’s childhood in which we are shown in quick succession how Carol has been told “no,” and that’s what’s allows her to break free and come into her full power, which we then see in the next scene: the “I’m Just a Girl” scene, where Carol fights her former Kree squadron for the Tesseract.

The problem with this scene – and with the movie in general – is Carol is explicitly told “no,” in so many words, in those flashbacks. We are beaten over the head with scenes like this:

  • Carol and Maria getting hit on by a sleazy guy at a bar
  • Carol and Maria can’t become fighter pilots
  • Carol needs to control her emotions
  • Carol can’t play baseball
  • Carol can’t go that fast on a go-kart track
  • … All because they are girls or women.

Carol, and the audience, are explicitly told these things, instead of being shown them. The subtlety that worked so well in Wonder Woman is missing altogether from Captain Marvel. The obviousness of the misogyny in this movie strip much of the meaning away from the instances in which they occur, or their motivation for Carol.

I mentioned above that I felt Carol to be a cold, arrogant presence throughout this movie – this is why. It felt as if she was so hell-bent on proving her worth, despite her being a woman, that that’s all her character became. This crippled her relationship with Fury. Instead of Fury becoming a guide to Carol when she returns to Earth, he became the receiving end of the superiority she picked up from her time as a Kree. It felt as if he was reduced to a comic relief sidekick alongside Carol, instead of the force of nature we had previously seen and known him to be. Though this is a prequel movie for Fury, and he arguably doesn’t quite have the experience to be a mentor yet as he’s early in his career, the fact remains that as far as she knows, he is still Carol’s bridge between Kree and Earth – and to me it felt like Carol knew better than he did.

Now, I know Carol was brainwashed to believe she was really a Kree. It seemed as if all the flashbacks from Carol’s former life on Earth shown in the movie were instances like these: blatant misogyny. What it really needed was more of Carol being a badass like Maria talked about during the kitchen scene. The Carol Maria talked about sounded awesome! She was a pain in her best friend’s butt! She was an amazing pilot! She loved to go out and dance and do kareoke! She was an aunt figure to Maria’s daughter, Monica! THAT’S the Carol we needed to see – the truly human Carol!!!

In fact, the one thing Captain Marvel did better than Wonder Woman was the inclusion of Maria’s character. What little we saw of Maria and Carol’s friendship was AMAZING!!! They had such a great friendship, of two women (one of them of color!!!) LOVING AND SUPPORTING EACH OTHER UNCONDITIONALLY!!! There wasn’t enough time spent on any female characters other than Diana in Wonder Woman for us to see any friendships form between her and another woman (though I am hopeful we see this between Diana and Barbara Ann Minerva in WW84, coming out in October at time of posting).

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What Captain Marvel really needed: more Maria

The movie needed more of this truly human Carol. The pre-brainwashed Carol as seen through Maria and Monica’s eyes, to make the audience care about her, and to make us believe that she is more than a single dimension: that of being a woman with something to prove. It’s otherwise difficult for the audience to remember that she IS supposed to be human, and therefore it’s difficult for the audience to emotionally connect with her.

The heavy-handed misogyny in Captain Marvel also strips away any and all emotional impact we are supposed to feel from anything – especially the final fight scenes, after Carol finally comes into her full power. The movie tried SO HARD to show us Carol’s girl power that that’s all her character was reduced to. When we finally get to the “I’m Just a Girl” fight scene, we just roll our eyes at yet ANOTHER in-your-face instance of Carol’s femininity. Captain Marvel hamstrung itself on its’ own feminism.

The dynamic of each movie within its’ respective universe is also interesting to think about. The DCEU was okay at best until Wonder Woman (the 4th installment) finally helped them to find their stride. While no DCEU movie they create afterward will come close to being on the same level, their subsequent movies have become overall lighter and more fun in tone than their predecessors – and more like the MCU.

The DCEU tried too hard in their beginnings to become what the MCU was in their middle that they rushed into a huge crossover with no other basis than Man of Steel, and failed at it.

The MCU is a carefully-crafted, decades-long cinematic event. I may be a die-hard DC fan, but even I can admit that Marvel’s movies FAR outstrip DC’s in scope, continuity, and storytelling. Captain Marvel was the third to last installment in the Phase 3 of the MCU saga – between Ant Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame (technically, but I personally consider it the second to last because I don’t count Spiderman: Far from Home as being part of Phase 3, but that’s a post for another day). My point being, this movie is smack dab between a hilarious, high-stakes heist, and the epic ending to one of the greatest cinematic sagas in all of film history, and introduces a character VITAL to that ending, just one movie before. And it unfortunately feels like a slog to get through. It feels like forced required reading just before that cinematic climax that only serves two purposes: to explain the Carol-Ex-Machina moment in Endgame (disappointing), and how Fury lost his eye (even more disappointing).

The MCU tried to recreate with Captain Marvel what the DCEU did with Wonder Woman – a first movie for a female hero in their camp – and failed at it.

– Kathleen

… Okay, now that I got my nice, objective views out of the way, I’m sorry I can’t hold it in anymore I need to say it the very biased way I said it to a friend: Captain Marvel??? More like Captain Knockoff: Superman Without Any of His Likeable Qualities Wearing a Chinese Bootleg Wonder Woman Costume

Y’all KNOW they PURPOSELY created CM’s costume to look TOO SIMILAR TO WW’S like JUST LOOK AT IT AND TRY TO TELL ME I’M WRONG

I think y’all knew which camp I was in to begin with, but I hope I explained the important differences between these two movies, and why those differences had a significant impact on each movie, sufficiently!

Devolution

After my love affair with the book World War Z, (especially the audio edition), I was excited to learn that author Max Brooks had a book about “a firsthand account of the Rainer Sasquatch Massacre”. From Zombies to Sasquatch? Yes, please!

The conceit of the story is that Brooks is a journalist reporting the story of a supposed Sasquatch massacre and that the narrative is from several viewpoints. The journal of the main character, Kate Holland, tells the bulk of the story as her therapist had suggested she keep a journal to process some issues she was working on. She had no idea that the journal would morph into a survival account of the massacre to come. In addition, Kate’s brother Frank, rangers and scientists share their thoughts, in regards to figuring out what happened to the small community of Greenloop.

Greenloop was designed to be a utopia, combining the best of modern-day technology with the wonders of nature. Six homes with an additional Common House were built near Mt. Rainer in Washington State for people who wanted to get away from the rat race, yet have the latest tech at their fingertips. Kate and her husband Dan agree to house sit for her brother for a few months, and soon meets the other inhabitants of the community. Unsure of her marriage, Kate is on edge but soon the surrounding nature has a calming effect on her. But Mt. Rainer erupts a few weeks later, leaving them isolated with no chance of a rescue in the near future. Facing that they will be stranded through the winter, with very limited technology and no supplies able to be delivered, they begin to plan on how to manage. The former leaders of the community break down and retreat while other Greenloop members begin to show leadership skills, including Kate.

But we readers know the eruption is the least of their worries, as Kate begins to suspect they are not alone in the woods after all. Indeed, things go from bad to worse once the Sasquatch tribe is discovered, and the skirmishes between the two begin. I don’t want to reveal too much more, but it becomes a war of who will survive. The conclusion is left somewhat open-ended and you will wonder what Kate did and where she is. I thought for awhile Kate and the others would think the Sasquatch’s were gentle giants and must be saved at all costs, but that’s not the road the story takes you on, and I actually liked that. War is hell, and it was kill or be killed.

You obviously must have suspension disbelief with this story, but after Brook’s zombie book, I don’t think anyone is expecting reality here. However, there were some issues that I found completely mind-boggling in regards to how this community was planned. The entire story takes place in less than two months, and some characters change too completely to be realistic. We had Kate, Dan and artist Mostar becoming hardy survivalists in a just a few weeks, while the former alpha-couple crumble within days when faced with challenges. While the quote “Adversary does not build character, it reveals it” was very apropos, the character arcs were too extreme.

However, the novel is a fun romp, for Brooks deftly combines elements of fantasy with science, plus writes a strong survival tale with elements of horror. Although I had loved the audio edition of WWZ, I read the print edition of this book first, I had no access to an audio edition through my library yet, but when I do I will be certain to listen to it. I heard it has an amazing voice cast, so I hope it is as strong as the WWZ audio edition. If you are looking for an escapist book and think that you would shine in the face of adversary and would kick-ass if necessary, then this book is for you.

-Nancy

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