Representation is weird, readers. Since some people that enjoy a level of privilege also contend with marginalization, it’s difficult to say where we need to get better in our media. Despite men enjoying incredible amounts of privilege, we still have the task of dismantling toxic masculinity. While we are slowly but surely destroying the “no homo, bro” narrative of friendship, I would like to see more well formed male friendships in media that actually explore friendship and aren’t just used as passive plot traits.
I love it when any piece of pop culture incorporates some kind of religion that isn’t Christianity, because despite the fact that Christian themes are everywhere in Western media, not everyone is Christian. It’s nice to see media embrace themes from other faiths and show more religious diversity. However, sadly this tends to be a very exotified, watered down, and often inaccurate depiction, especially when it comes to Eastern religions.
Marvel’s latest hit, Doctor Strange, is based on a comic that relies heavily on Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism. However, the orientalism displayed in the comics, as well as the culturally appropriative nature of the comics in general, means that the portrayal of Buddhism in the movie tends to be a rather problematic one.
Gnosticism—a heretical branch of early Christianity—faded almost entirely from view after its founders were edged out of the Church by what would become orthodoxy. With most of their works lost or destroyed, their ideas survived only in the denunciations from the likes of Tertullian and Irenaeus. The Gnostic focus on secrecy didn’t ensure a broad legacy, either—early leaders such as Valentinius and Marcion privileged access to the deeper nature of the universe for initiates and other worthies. Modern Gnostics avoid the secrecy, and as with many aspects of Gnosticism which may seem troubling, the marginalization of Gnosticism limited our understanding to unfriendly characterizations by their orthodox contemporaries.
But in the 20th century, a treasure trove of Gnostic texts was discovered by a couple of Egyptian farmers at Nag Hammadi in a sealed jar. Ever since, their ideas—which seem stunningly modern in some ways—have started to permeate back into the world, gaining influence well beyond what would be expected from their obscurity, particularly since the texts themselves are rarely read by anyone besides scholars.
Still, the ideas in these texts are starting to make their way into pop culture, directly or indirectly, and Gnostic ideas are fascinating enough to be talked about far away from their original sources. They feature prominently in the His Dark Materials series, and some concepts pop up in such unexpected places as Young Avengers, Final Fantasy, and even Futurama.
Way back at SDCC when Marvel announced Black Panther: World of Wakanda, a comic spinning off of the popular and critically acclaimed new Black Panther ongoing comic, I was immediately pretty hyped. Then it was revealed that the major focus of the comic would be the history of Ayo and Aneka, the badass former Dora Milaje duo who fell in love and rebelled against what they saw as T’Challa’s misguided rule. Then it was announced that the series would be penned by queer Black feminist Roxane Gay, and my hype levels skyrocketed to unchartable levels. Add in an additional story co-written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Pittsburgh poet Yona Harvey, and you have a recipe for my money.
The first issue in the new ongoing series was finally released last week, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
Spoilers for the first issue below!
I’ve been a fan of the Marvel movies for some time now; they’re usually, at worst, a great visual spectacle. But for me, this never really translated into reading the comics. Superhero comics don’t exactly jump out at me visually, and even when socially inclusive, they typically have borderline impenetrable lore. So when I heard there was a standalone graphic novel for Squirrel Girl, I knew I had to pick it up: even though my knowledge of the character is very limited, I did know she is one of the funnier heroes and has a far above average success rate at defeating the universe’s villains. I had been interested in Squirrel Girl for a while, but wasn’t sure where a good jumping on point would be. Additionally, who wouldn’t want to see one character (other than Thanos) beat up the whole Marvel Universe? I was not let down.
Minor/early story spoilers for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe ahead.
Plenty has already been said about heroes and anti-heroes. Superman was created over seventy-five years ago, and yet America today prefers its heroes to have a bit more grit, like Tony Stark. What’s undeniable is that a dichotomy exists between light heroes and dark heroes. It’s a way of looking at protagonists that has ancient roots, but manifests differently in male and female characters.
The light and dark dichotomy is very old and very ingrained in our storytelling traditions. On the surface, “light” stereotypes give the character traits that are traditionally associated with positive ideas and symbolism. More often than not these characters will wear white or light colors, have light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. “Dark” characters tend to have dark hair, skin, eyes, and clothing. This color dichotomy is associated with good and evil, for religious and historical reasons. If you don’t have electricity you can be more productive when the sun’s out, while it’s easier for robbers and rule-breakers to hide in the cover of night. White is associated with purity and goodness, especially in Christianity, while black is associated with evil and the consequences of evil (like sin and death).
While light heroes cling to a traditional morality, dark heroes have a more subversive attitude. There’s something bad or wrong or broken with a dark character, which is usually the source of their darkness. Men tend to be gallant, chivalrous heroes or troubled rogues, while women tend to be virginal maidens or seductive vamps. It’s taken generations to move beyond this rigid dichotomy, giving the light and dark new and interesting implications. But if we really care about smashing gender stereotypes, we need to move beyond the light and dark gender axis. Both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones from Marvel’s respective Netflix series take the light and dark dichotomies and smash them to bits.
Spoilers for all of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones below.
The [locker] door bursts open with a metallic clatter, and an innocuous piece of paper flutters to the ground. Kamala reaches down and snatches it up, eyes already burning with righteous anger.
“Don’t people get sick of sticking mean crap in your locker because you decided to wear hijab? It’s been over a year, I wish they’d get over it already,” Kamla says, unfolding the piece of paper and scanning it.
“Some people have nothing better to do,” Nakia replies, turning to empty her book bag into her locker. “It doesn’t bother me, you know.” It does, of course it does, but Nakia has always had a thick skin, so she doesn’t let it show.
Kamala lets out a strangled noise of death in response. “Nakia,” she whispers reverently. “Kiki. Read this. Please.”
Nakia faces Kamala, but her retort dies on her lips at the expression on Kamala’s face. It’s two-fifths mischief and three-fifths unrestrained glee, which is a combination that Nakia’s afraid of, at least when it comes to Kamala. She reaches out and takes the paper from Kamala’s outstretched hand carefully, like it’s dangerous.
If the look on Kamala’s face is any judge, it might as well be.
Nakia sighs and begins to read what appears to be a letter.
And stops abruptly, eyes going wide, face flushing with heat, gaze flickering between the letter and Kamala’s face. “What.”
Kamala nods, bouncing up and down in place. “Yes. Yes, it is. “
“This is–” Nakia can’t say it. She can’t say it aloud, but Kamala evidently can.
“It’s a love letter,” she says with relish. “From some mystery admirer to you.” Kamala grins again, shutting Nakia’s locker for her and grabbing her arm to drag Nakia down the hallway to the open door beyond. “This is going to require a sleepover.”
The Marvel Universe has been a bit of a mess lately thanks to yet another all-encompassing event, but even Civil War II hasn’t been enough to drag Ms. Marvel‘s quality down below “pure awesomeness”. And yet, despite its protagonist’s love of fanfiction, I don’t often find myself reading fanfiction set in her Jersey City-shaped corner of the Marvel Universe. After a (semi-)recent reveal in Kamala’s series, however, I found myself racing to AO3 to see what fanfic I could find supporting my new Ms. Marvel OTP.
Spoilers through issue #9 of Ms. Marvel below the jump.