The other week, I went to Steel City Con, the Pittsburgh Area’s valiant attempt at a comic con. Lots of vendors, bunch of B- and C-list TV celebs, usually two or three A-listers (last year I got autographs from Shannen Doherty AND Holly Marie Combs!!!), and of course: tons of passionate, weird, lovable pop culture junkies, God love ’em. As I went through through my loot, I realized I had had a gay ol’ time. My two biggest gems? Action figures of Willow and Tara, and All New X-Men #17: aka newly-out Iceman’s first, big (I’m talking full-page panel) gay kiss. This is exceptional, you guys: Iceman has been part of the X-Verse since its very beginnings in 1963, one of the original five X-Men. So how did we get to this place 54 years later? It’s the long line of the quirkiest comic team family expanding its inherent diversity. Let’s take a look.
I’ve been a Marvel fan over DC since I started reading comics—the first single issues I ever bought were the starts of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. Marvel continues to put out some amazing, progressive, and inclusive stories from its B-list characters, but at the same time it’s also putting out some of the most tone-deaf unpleasantness I’ve ever seen from a major media company in its flagship titles. What’s most frustrating in this whole complex fiasco is that, in making these terrible writing choices, Marvel is not just being problematic and offensive, but is actually dramatically undermining the entire history of the characters they’re messing with.
So I have this problem.
This is the problem: a younger, more naïve Saika was so, so excited for the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. The trailers were so good; it was a different and new premise from the typical Marvel formula… and then she was massively disappointed by the movie itself.
An older, wiser Saika then sat down to watch this trailer. And found, to her great surprise, that she was once again interested in the shenanigans of these space-faring assholes. Is it too much to ask for that this movie will be the GotG we deserve and not the fratsplosion we got last time?
My fingers are Pollyanna-optimistically crossed.
After the roaring success of Netflix’s many Marvel shows, Hulu has finally thrown their lot in with the comic book crowd and ordered a Runaways live-action series. The Runaways are a team of kids and teenagers who joined up to strike out on their own after they all found out that their parents were supervillains. They didn’t exactly set out to be a superhero team, but because so many of them inherited superpowers or impressive technology from their evil parents, trouble kind of finds them. They are definitely amongst Marvel’s most underrated and under-utilized teams, so it’s great that they’re getting an opportunity to shine in a new series. Personally, if we were going to have a Marvel teen superheroes series I was gunning for my little babes the Young Avengers, but hey, it’s not like I’m bitter or anything. The Runaways and the Young Avengers did have a lackluster team-up once, so I can dream.
There are a lot of important aspects of the Runaways that make them unique, so I have a lot of expectations about this Hulu series. The comics set a high bar for diversity back in 2003, so I have a couple of points that I consider perfectly attainable and also very important for the show to be progressive, inclusive, and true to the comics.
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’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.