Spider-Man: Homecoming Sticks Its Landing

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Spider-Man: Homecoming. I did really enjoy Tom Holland’s outing as Spidey in Captain America: Civil War, but I was kind of out of the loop for the pre-movie publicity (I barely even remember the trailers) and I felt going in more like I was seeing it out of MCU obligation than genuine hype. Plus, I still had some lingering resentment from the whole “pushing back the entire MCU production schedule to slot another white dude in” thing.

Coming out of Spider-Man: Homecoming, however, I had a big ol’ grin on my face. This movie was fantastically well-crafted and cast, and was loads of fun while also telling a heartfelt and complex story at its core.

Major plot spoilers after the cut! Please don’t read if you are planning to see it; it’s really worth going in unspoiled!

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Superheroes and Monsters in a Complex World

redskullglares

I know he’s a Nazi ghoul bent on world domination, but maybe there’s another side to this story?

The great joy of geek culture—whether it’s sci-fi, fantasy, or superheroes—is the ability to tell grand stories. Where else can we seriously consider the end of the world, or the responsibilities of ultimate power? These are the stories that always offer an escape from mundane reality, letting complexity fall away in favor of a clear mission.

In the past decade, these stories have dominated pop culture, from the way everything from Avengers to Game of Thrones has become inescapable—perhaps the public has grown weary of the multipolar diplomacy that has characterized the post-9/11 era. But these stories are letting us down. The relief offered by the simplicity of defeating comic book villains is no longer enough; we need to ask for more.

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Reconstruction for White Boys—Role Models in Comics

thankshawkeyeThe toxic masculinity at the heart of nerd culture has been exposed—most noisily through Gamergate, but via plenty of other incidents as well. While sexism has been the most obvious motivator for these reactionaries, spillover into racism, homophobia, and transphobia are par for the course. At a fundamental level, this burst of nastiness is a reaction to the first real challenge to the privileged position of white men in nerd culture.

Things have degenerated into something of a civil war in nerd culture, and while it rages on, it is becoming abundantly clear that the good guys are going to win this one. I’m not so optimistic as to say that hatred and oppression will disappear, in nerd culture or anywhere else, but there is at least a growing consensus that those things are wrong, and deserving of criticism.

The doors are open, and white men no can longer dominate. But this change comes only after generations of being told that those stories are universal and vitally important. For years, white men never needed to share the stage, and the tales of others were pushed away. As we finally start to knock down the worldview that so deeply privileges one identity, it becomes imperative to reconstruct whiteness and masculinity as something new. Before, the construction of these identities was deeply rooted in claiming entitlement to a supreme position. Now, we need a construction which both rejects that entitlement and recognizes what enormous privilege remains.

Terrorist organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan, forced Reconstruction to end in the American South before its time, leading to an enormous and destructive backslide for civil rights. White men in nerd culture are now threatening or executing political violence for the same purposes. We need reconstruction to make sure they do not succeed. Comics, so long at the forefront of everything toxic about nerd masculinity and exclusivity, have taken up the call, and are finally white, male characters into new roles which fit in a diverse world. With any luck, these are not just changing stories, they’re going to be changing readers.

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Spider-Gwen is Back and It’s Everything I Wanted

A while ago I wrote a post in which I complained about comic books. Well, specifically, I wrote a post complaining that, while alt-universe Gwen Stacy’s one-shot appearance as Spider-Woman in the Edge of Spider-Verse crossover event was cool as hell, there needed to be more comics with her in them, stat.

As Edge of Spider-Verse finally (finally) crept to a close, glorious news reached the starving masses: we would indeed be seeing more of alt-Gwen in her very own ongoing book, aptly titled Spider-Gwen. Spider-Gwen is kind of the greatest thing ever, and I will explain why in spoilery detail after the jump.

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Edge of Spider-Verse #2: How Awesome Is Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman?

In preparation for a big Spider-Man event later in the year, Marvel has been putting out comics dealing with Spider-Folk from alternate continuities. If you’ve heard anything about these books, designated Edge of Spider-Verse, then you probably know why I’m interested in them even though I don’t usually read Spider-Books. If you haven’t—and the title of this post didn’t give it away—I’ll let you know in five words: Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman.

Yep, in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, we’re presented with an alternate universe where it was Gwen and not Peter who got the bite, and Peter, not Gwen, who tragically died, and Gwen, not Peter, who has to keep her abilities and activities hidden from her police chief father.

I’ve been desperate for this issue to come out, not half because the promotional art for the issue looked so. Damn. Cool. There hasn’t been a more badass costume redesign for a female character since Carol Danvers lost the bathing suit. But did the issue stand up to the admittedly massive hype?

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Show Some Skin! Or, When Will We Actually See Some Black Characters?

This post comes from a thought-storm that’s been brewing since I re-watched The Princess and the Frog a few months ago. Such a fun film! After re-watching it, I found some commentaries and criticisms that stuck out to me, namely this one—a quote from a British critic: “Disney may wish to reach out to people of colour—but the colour green wasn’t what we had in mind.” The fact that Tiana spends more time in frog form than human form is a little unsettling if compared to other Disney Princesses who, well, get to retain their natural skin color for the duration of their films. The next catalyst for this post was the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/the Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, a character who, no matter his racial background, will frequently appear shrouded completely in flames, a state which renders his human features practically negligible. Why does it seem so difficult to find genre media creators/producers willing to create media with Black characters who get to show they are Black?

Some of the highest profile Black characters in pop culture media?

Some of the highest profile Black characters in pop culture media?

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Fanfiction Fridays: Maggie Fitzgerald and the Saltwater Drip by antistar_e

Gwen sees it happening, everything at once, like she had when Philip plummeted, like she had when that basketball shot at the back of Penelope’s head: there’s … something that flashes across Kessa’s face as she registers him reaching for her, a weariness, a resignation, a kind of dejection that comes with knowing that there’s this man who isn’t going to be deflected and now she’s going to have to tolerate being stroked without her consent, like this is something that happens to her a lot.

And Gwen snaps:

Coffee in hand, she lifts one foot and drives her heel into the back of Neckbeard’s knee, collapsing it so that he falls obligingly backwards into her spare hand. She grabs him by the meat of his neck and pirouettes, bending at the waist so that he lifts effortlessly over her shoulder, sending him crashing down to the floor. Silverware rattles at the impact, and Miles makes a high, startled squeak between his teeth.

Neckbeard groans in shock and pain and rolls over, splayed spread-eagle, and Gwen plants a foot on his chest like she’s going to stick a flag in him and claim him conquered.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: antistar_e has been one of my favorite fanfic writers ever since I discovered her The Social Network fanfiction one cold 2011 evening and devoured every single last one. Later on, one of my friends and I were trying to one-up each other with awesome fic recs until we realized both of us were just reccing her fics at each other. What I mean is, basically, we want to start an antistar_e fanclub. I’ll be president. And when you read today’s rec, hopefully you’ll understand why.

Maggie Fitzgerald and the Saltwater Drip was written for the Heroine Big Bang in 2013. “What if Gwen Stacy were Spider-Man instead of Peter Parker?” antistar_e asks. And thus begins a fantastic adventure. Because why should white guys be the only ones to have an adventure, right? Even our current incarnation of Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, understands that Spider-Man is meant to be a marginalized everyman, and a white, cishet, middle-class nerd is no longer the best representation of that. Emma Stone could be so much more than what the movie role of Gwen Stacy was (she’s already called out Garfield on sexism like a pro), and she would fit seamlessly into this fic’s interpretation of Gwen.

Although the fic generally follows the plot of the first movie, the New York that Gwen encounters and the crime she fights is far from what one might find in a Hollywood movie. This is the New York City that Hollywood won’t give us, the one that’s legitimately filled with people of color, the one where Gwen protects girls walking home by themselves at night, disrupts racial profiling, and defends religious minorities. Gwen isn’t respected because of her rich white girl privilege, either—she’s prominently called out on it. “How about you start listening?” one man demands of her, and Gwen listens and Gwen corrects, just as movie Peter Parker was never given the chance to do.

If it sounds like pure wish fulfillment, that’s because it is. That’s what all fanfiction is—what if they’d done this? Or that? What if someone had meticulously researched the dynamics of gender inequality and intercultural relations in the microcosm that is NYC, sprinkled it with a liberal dash of social media, and framed it through the point of view of a girl with great powers and great responsibility? What if indeed. You can read that story here. At 80k, it’s a long, but enjoyable, enriching, enlightening use of your day.


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