After revisiting the adorable Doctor Strange of the Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comic last week, I found myself craving more Strange stuff. And while I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to watch the MCU movie, I do own a few trades’ worth of Doctor Strange comics. I remembered enjoying them well enough when I first read them, so I figured the time was nigh to revisit one and see if older, woker Saika still thought they were any good. And that’s how I ended up rereading the 2007 comic Doctor Strange: The Oath, by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin. Turns out, while it’s a good standalone story to read if you’re interested in the good Doctor, it’s also full of some tired tropes and isms.
The recently concluded arc of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, “The Smartest There Is”, opened on nine-year-old protagonist Lunella Lafayette learning that, thanks to her results on a test created by Bruce Banner, she is the smartest person. Not the smartest kid, or the smartest girl, or the smartest human, or the smartest being on Earth; she’s flat out “the smartest there is”, hence the name of the arc. The other people on the list (mostly adult men) are a bit salty about a little Black girl from the Lower East Side stealing their thunder, but none more so than one Victor Von Doom.
Doom sends robots to attack Lunella, and they’re unlike anything she’s fought before. Namely, they’re powered by Doom’s magic rather than by some kind of quantifiable science. So what does the smartest there is do when faced with something that defies scientific understanding? Attempt to explain it scientifically anyway.
I was recently watching Movie Bob’s review of the Doctor Strange movie, and in it, he lamented the fact that all comic book movies are action movies. Which got me thinking: do all genre fiction movies, in general, really have to be action movies? Especially when it might not entirely serve the narrative? Are we missing out on a ton of interesting movies just because writers are afraid to take science fiction and fantasy outside of the action box?
With this in mind, there are some recent movies whose plot and character development would definitely have benefited from not being action movies.
I would never claim to be the biggest Marvel fangirl, but as someone who somehow developed a passing interest in the MCU I found myself, alongside my group of friends, in the theater opening week for Civil War. Watching the previews for the upcoming movies was an experience I could only describe as “tired groaning interspersed with slight approval for Rogue One”, but the thing that stuck with me longest was just how much of a goddamned hot mess Doctor Strange is going to be. Oh sure, I’ve heard all the justified cries of whitewashing, not doubting them for a second, but it wasn’t until I saw the trailer for myself on the big screen that I knew my quip of “ah yes, there he is; the only white man in Nepal” was merely masking my absolute disgust at how far Marvel was willing to go to exclude actual non-Black characters of color from their films.
This, however, wasn’t even what prompted me to write this post. A couple days ago on my Facebook wall, I saw someone drop a link that Little Door Gods was getting an English release. As happy as I was to hear that, the casting seemed to be doing everything in its power to knock the wind out of my sails. Meryl Streep? Nicole Kidman? Mel Brooks? All talented in their own right, but seriously: what the fuck is this shit? (Though according to a recent tweet by fellow reported vocal talent Zendaya, this could be untrue. Not that this excludes the problem.)
We need to do better.
Much ado has been made in the last few days about Tilda Swinton being in talks for the Doctor Strange movie, making her the second surreally-visaged actor to potentially claim a role in said film. At first blush, this could be cool; Tilda Swinton is weird and wonderful, she’d be a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Except for one thing: she’s apparently set to play Doc Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One—a traditionally Tibetan (and male) role. While on one hand, it’s nice to see that Marvel is finally thinking out of the box in regards to casting, it’s also pretty dang racist to whitewash a role that’s traditionally filled by a person of color.
This leads me to ask: when should a character not have a certain set of powers? Are there certain kinds of magic that are tied enough to specific cultures that it’s not right for someone outside that culture to have them?