Month: May 2016

REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 4, “Start Line”

 

New episodes of My Hero Academia are on Funimation.com: episodes premiere Sundays at 5:00 AM, English-language dubs on a one-month delay Wednesdays at 9:00 PM.


“Start Line” points out why being a self-sacrificing superhero may be admirable but not without significant flaws. My Hero Academia also starts to turn to its ensemble cast, as the episode makes an important emphasis that superheroism depends on collaboration, not only the sole actions of one person.

Episode 4 of My Hero Academia has an apt opening, as Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner) thinks about taking his “first step” into the school for superheroes, U.A. “First step,” or “Hajime no Ippo” is a common phrase for anime, especially when you can easily make a pun on it: “ippo” can refer to “step” or be a person’s name, as with Ippo Makunouchi in the boxing manga and anime Hajime No Ippo (dubbed in English under the title Fighting Spirit). But Izuku’s flaw tends to be over-thinking and embarrassment by his seeming weaknesses. As someone who only recently gained a Quirk, he sees classmates like Iida (Japanese: Katio Ishikawa; English: J. MIchael Tatum) and others judging him as nervous, unprepared, and potentially slowing down their progress–or, in this competition, perhaps being someone who can be easily eliminated. Before Izuku can take his first step into the Battle City, he is distracted by peer pressure and late at starting the competition.

Then Izuku is too frightened to attack even a one-point robot. So he is too afraid to earn the points he needs to gain entrance in this competition–so what kind of a superhero is he if he is too afraid to face a threat?

Simple: because a superhero is not only about destroying a city in a superpower fistfight (unless you went to the Zack Snyder school of bad superhero writing). Being a superhero means doing the right thing, and that sometimes means saving someone else.

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Steve Rogers is not a Trump voter: On Marvel Comics and the dangers of neo-fascism in America

At a time when My Hero Academia brings such optimism to the superhero narrative, it is disappointing that today brings news that Marvel Comics will have Captain America Steve Rogers be revealed to have been a Hydra spy. Not only does this storyline borrow from the Winter Soldier film adaptation–years too late–only with Cap rather than SHIELD as having always been Hydra, but the article suggests Cap’s work within Hydra will be repeating the xenophobic talking points of Donald Trump.

While my colleague Keith Friedlander points out very well that Marvel actually could be using Rogers as representative of a divided America, with he and fellow Captain America Sam Wilson identifying two approaches to United States identity, I cannot stomach such a portrayal. I cannot accept a story that, rather than immediately and without equivocation condemn Donald Trump and his voters, instead gives them a voice.

Since he announced his presidential run–no, earlier, when he, solely out of the racism and xenophobia that is at his core, dared to doubt the citizenship of the first black president–Donald Trump’s xenophobia and fascism has deserved no voice. And yet this madman, thanks to a feckless cable news media thriving on sound bytes, fake controversy, and reducing politics into a goddamn horse race, already dominates television screens 24/7, as if interviewing an incoherent, ignorant buffoon will yield new understanding of his madness, hatred, and bigotry. And this madman will be the nominee for a Republican Party that has thrived on feeding such prejudice for decades, culminating with bigotry against our fellow human beings on the basis of their gender, not to mention unfettered misogyny. Such violence deserves no respect, and anyone who votes for Trump deserves to be mocked for their vote.

Regardless whatever sound goals Marvel’s team of creators had to make Rogers into a Hydra agent, and I see hardly any that are worthwhile at this time, the words of Donald Trump deserve no platform: his ideas must be knocked down as a part of dangerous movement and should be mocked as unrealistic, unpragmatic, and un-American. To have Steve Rogers speak for Trump, rather than speak against Trump, is a disservice to that character, to that comic’s legacy, and to all of us who do not want to see our nation further collapse into rightwing nonsense.

Shame on Marvel, shame on its Trump-fundraising CEO Ike Perlmutter–and God help this world should any of us vote for a fascist like Trump.

And if My Hero Academia reveals All Might to be a fellow Hydra sleeper agent, I’m snapping my Kindle in two.

REVIEW: The Flash, Season 2 Finale, “The Race of His Life”

After a disappointing season, the finale “The Race of His Life” concludes with Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) again trying to out-run his past–or, rather, run back to his past to change it. In light of numerous comic book continuity resets, I’m ambivalent. But at least the finale shows Barry’s attempts to address the traumas of his past cannot be solved by grand gestures and should require patience–something this speedster lacks.

Tonight’s Season 2 finale of The Flash was fanservice. Understanding that term in its widest and most literal denotation (and not its more prurient connotative definition), it’s about putting in as much content to appeal to hardcore’s fans basest interest, which in the case of this finale means mythology gags, references to the most popular parts of the original comics. In revealing the identity of the actual Jay Garrick, the Man in the Mask, confirmed to be Henry Allen’s Earth-3 doppelganger, has the character, as played by John Wesley Shipp, look like he came out of an Alex Ross illustration. Barry’s willingness to have his body disintegrate to prevent the destruction of the multiverse is taken from the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book story arc (1985-1986). And Barry going to the past to save his mother (Michele Harrison) from the Reverse Flash comes from the Flashpoint comic book story arc (2011).

And it is those last two references that bother me, because I have no idea what to do with this episode. (more…)

I’m probably skipping Beauty and the Beast; I’m going to see Ghostbusters

Today the trailer for Disney’s remake of Beauty and the Beast came out. And men on YouTube (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) continue to say they won’t see the upcoming remake of Ghostbusters. I think I can identify why a Beauty and the Beast remake seems less necessary than a Ghostbusters remake with leading female protagonists, while also addressing when a remake actually is necessary–and why I am going to see Ghostbusters when it comes out in theaters.

I was lucky enough to get to work with my colleague Emily Lauer on a conference session on failed adaptations from page to screen. And I keep talking about adaptations, largely from comics to TV and film, in ongoing reviews from DC Comics TV shows or My Hero Academia.

And I still have not talked about adapting content, not from page to screen, but from, well, screen to screen: remaking older films.

Two upcoming films that are remakes, Beauty and the Beast and Ghostbusters, have had their trailers come out. I’m not at all interested in seeing the former, and I realize far too late I have to see the latter.

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REVIEW: Legends of Tomorrow Season 1 Finale: “Legendary”

 

Legends of Tomorrow offers a serviceable finale. That’s damning with faint praise: there is nothing terrible about the finale, and I could list favorite moments (most of them involving dialogue by Mick) as the focus is on character more than plot. But when the team is facing such a conflict as an immortal like Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) attempting to destroy the Earth and all of time itself, the finale feels a little underwhelming.

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REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 3, “Roaring Muscles”

New episodes of My Hero Academia are on Funimation.com: episodes premiere Sundays at 5:00 AM, English-language dubs on a one-month delay Wednesdays at 9:00 PM.


Izuku finally gets his superpower, and while this episode focuses primarily on only him and All Might, the episode still emphasizes that to be a superhero depends on more than just yourself: it depends on mentorship, community, and teamwork. Plus, the series continues to raise some important questions about common tropes in the superhero genre, such as legacy characters, the dangers of training child sidekicks, and the dangers of the kind of body manipulation combine in superhero transformative origin stories.  

If there has been a moment of hesitation I have had approaching My Hero Academia, it has to do with its seeming solution for Izuku’s lack of a superpower. In a world where 80 percent of the world’s population has a superpower, or “Quirk,” Izuku (Japanese: Akeno Watanabe; English: Justin Briner) is in the minority, and the way he is bullied for his lack of such an ability seems allegorical to bullying surrounding disabilities. When the solution therefore becomes All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat) offering his power to Izuku, it seems like a process of modifying Izuku to have him fit into the norm in this world.

In Episode 3 of the series, “Roaring Muscles,” All Might tells Izuku that, while he may hide a lot, he never lies–which is, at best, a paradox, and, at worst, yet another lie. All Might has already been shown as someone with much to hide, not only his claim that his smile is simply a mask to project confidence despite his hidden disability, but as he reveals to Izuku, the fact that his superpower is not in-born but inherited. That fact reshapes some considerations in this series, in which antagonists like Izuku’s classroom bully Katsuki think they are superior due to having been born with Quirks while people like Izuku lack them.  At least the show does not let Izuku think less of All Might for not being naturally born a superhero, and at least this show has avoided the rather offensive almost eugenics approach to bestowing superpowers onto people as has occurred with Marvel’s the Inhumans since its comic book inception all the way up to its television adaptation on Agents of SHIELD.

It is not that Izuku has ignoble reasons for desiring a superpower: it can be offputting to hear him say that it is “cool” to save other people, but the previous episode made it apparent that he meant it, that he has the intention to help as many people as he can, with or without powers. Like a lot of the best superhero stories I see in serialized format, they tend to benefit by acknowledging important questions–even if they defer answers until later. Thank goodness this show has such optimism, energy, and joy to make the journey to those answer entertaining. (more…)

REVIEW: The Flash, Season 2, Episode 22, “Invincible”

 

There are things that can’t be out-runned, there are things that show people aren’t invincible–and loss and trauma are two of them. The Flash takes trauma a lot more seriously this time around, although a death of a character leaves me ambivalent whether it had a strong emotional register. (Spoilers for this episode below)

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is a character who knows his future: he’s seen it from time travel. He is within a universe that has repeatedly shown the future to characters, like in Legends of Tomorrow, or to viewers, as in the timeskip this season on Arrow to learn that someone will die. (Spoiler: It’s Laurel Lance [Katie Cassidy], whose Earth-2 villainous doppelganger Black Siren pops up in this episode.)

It is therefore oddly thematic that, in my approach to seeing a show like this, where time travel meets police procedural, I keep looking for the clues set up that something tragic is going to occur. And the impetus for that examination was the commercial last week for this episode, which ends with Barry screaming “No!” in horror at something happening.

So, I took a tally of which moments hinted that someone would die or turned against Barry against their will, and the potential victims of Zoom in this episode were:

  • Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp): Brought back after being out in the wilderness (so his re-introduction is simply a setup to kill him off); last week said he was moving back for good (which of course someone would say before they are killed off–to make it a lost opportunity); finally gets his meeting with Dr. McGee, reuniting her actor Amanda Pays with Shipp, whose characters in the 1990s CBS The Flash had a romantic relationship (hence the actor allusion is done and we can kill off Henry already)
  • Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker): She’s experiencing intense trauma from Zoom’s kidnapping and psychological torture, and there is enough mad science in this universe that still could mutate her–so, you have the character motivation and the science-fiction means to turn her into the Earth-1 Killer Frost
  • Joe West (Jesse Martin): Like Henry, he’s another father figure whose death would set back Barry’s progress and shatter his confidence just before the finale; it would hurt like hell given the joy Martin brings to the role in just a laugh or a snarky retort; he actually talks about the prospect of having grandchildren in this episode (“They’ll call me Paw-Paw”)

With Barry so idealistic after his encounter with the Speed Force, thinking karma is on his side, of course he was going to face a reality that said just because the universe has a plan doesn’t mean it is one he will like, and just because he will be victorious in Zoom (Teddy Sears) does not mean he will not experience more suffering. As the Reverse Flash told him, via a video will, at the beginning of this season, just because Barry frees his father from prison doesn’t mean he will automatically obtain happiness.

And sure enough, the Reverse Flash’s words were the first bookend to this season, with the second bookend arriving here:

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Reminder: Call for papers for “Can The Subaltern Be A Superhero?” (Abstracts due May 30)

With the CFP posted here, to H-Net, to CFP List, and to numerous list servs, Rafael Ponce-Cordero and I have been receiving helpful feedback regarding the focus to our volume Can The Subaltern Be A Superhero? The Politics of Non-Hegemonic Superheroism. We also have been receiving abstracts and inquiries of interest: thanks to everyone who is writing to us!

There is still time before the May 30 deadline. We are interested in abstracts that consider what happens when the superhero is not male, heterosexual, white, or American. Topics fitting this call for papers may include, but are not limited to, female superheroes, LGBTQ superheroes, minority superheroes in the United States and elsewhere, and superheroes from the Global South.

If you have questions about potential topics that you are considering, please email Rafael (rponcecordero@keene.edu) and me (derek.s.mcgrath@gmail.com).

And please share the CFP below with anyone you know who may be interested in this volume. Thanks for your consideration!


Can the Subaltern Be a Superhero?
The Politics of Non-Hegemonic Superheroism

Send 300-word abstracts and short bios to Rafael Ponce-Cordero at rponcecordero@keene.edu with subject line “CFP – Can the Subaltern Be a Superhero?” by May 30, 2016.

Superheroes are, by definition, guardians of law and order, i.e. of the status quo. Not coincidentally, the majority of them—and certainly the most famous ones—are male, straight, and white. Yet there are costumed crime-fighters who do not conform to that tacit rule and serve, in this sense, as examples of what we can call alternative superheroism. Those are the ones this collection of essays will examine.

Topics fitting this call for papers may include, but are not limited to, the following general themes:

  • Female superheroes
  • LGBTQ superheroes
  • Minority superheroes in the US and elsewhere
  • Superheroes from the Global South

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REVIEW: Legends of Tomorrow, Episode 15, “Destiny”

For an episode to be about how much exertion humans have over their lives, “Destiny” does not hit this well-worn but rich topic in as many exciting ways as it could. Part of the problem owes to too much telling and not enough showing. And another part of it owes to a last-minute introduction of new technology that supposedly imagines the entire season as inevitable and fated, not by time itself but by the guiding hand of the Time Masters.

Legends of Tomorrow has been built on the idea of whether people can affect the world. Can Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) save his wife and his son from Vandal Savage (Caspar Crump)? Can this team, told by Rip to have had no significant impact on the future, make a positive difference in the world, even at the cost of their lives? The first question is going to have a disappointing answer: either Rip does save them, so his team is competent and negates the second question, or he does not save them, which may make the journey seem pointless. The second question can still be interesting, as just about every teammate has a different goal in mind for what it means to have an influence on the world (Snart: steal everything; Mick: burn everything; Stein: expand human knowledge; Sara: atone for the past; Ray: help people), hence each character provides the potential for exciting stories.

But with such a large cast, that accomplishment has been deferred so many times this season that it feels like trolling: for example, having Snart now become a reluctant hero is less interesting than a reluctant hero who also happens to steal a lot while he’s on the job.

The problem is when you set up an object to explain away inconsistencies earlier in the series, that object being the Oculus, a device that shows the future as it is preordained to exist. (more…)

REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 2, “What It Takes to Be a Hero”

New episodes of My Hero Academia are on Funimation.com: episodes premiere Sundays at 5:00 AM, English-language dubs on a one-month delay Wednesdays at 9:00 PM.


Writing about Episode 1 of My Hero Academia, I pointed out how subsequent episodes would address issues of ability and disability in superhero tales. Those topics start getting attention here, as Izuku’s lack of a superpower is compared to the injury All Might has that will lead to the loss of his own superpower.

 

“Dreams can become reality. By the way, I forgot to mention that this is the story of how I became the greatest hero.” 

Those are the last lines of “What It Takes to Be a Hero,” the second episode of My Hero Academia. I did not notice the past tense used in the narration for My Hero Academia. The episodes are spoiling the ending before we get there. Given that the lines come from the non-superpowered Izuku (Japanese: Akeno Watanabe; English: Justin Briner), it is indicative of this series’s intense idealism surrounding the superhero story. The benefit that this episode has, similar to its first outing, is, first, that it doesn’t lose sight of just how depressing the feeling of powerlessness is for Izuku, so that his closing statement loses any implicit arrogance and concludes this episode with hope; and second, that it is a statement in an episode that does not overlook realistic physical limitations for superpowered individuals, even approaching questions about disability and prejudice, that allows the story to resonate well beyond narrow-minded assumptions about the superhero genre.  

The series is about a world in which people with superpowers are in the majority–80 percent of the global population–while characters like Izuku are in the minority. These superpowers, or “Quirks,” allow characters to come in all shapes, sizes, and appearances, emphasized by the rapid-fire images shown of the supporting cast in the opening title sequence, whether featuring the large and burly All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat), or even characters who are invisible, have amphibian features, or have birdheads. When the physical variety in appearance is obviously accepted in this world (and where such abilities are given far more accessibility options than our own, with larger doors and smaller doors to accommodate superheroes of all sizes), then it becomes those without Quirks, whom we would call “normal” in our world, are actually not the norm and in fact ostracized, as when Katsuki (Japanese: Hobuhiko Okamoto; English: Clifford Chapin) repeatedly bullies his classmate Izuku.

The episode begins with a recap of Episode 1, in which Izuku, as a child, admires All Might’s superheroism. “It’s alright,” All Might tells the people he rescues, “because I am here.” In answer to the question posed by this episode’s title, “What It Takes to Be a Hero,” it is not the presence of a superhero mentor like All Might. Rather, and without the irony this phrase can take, everyone’s a hero in their own way, and for Izuku’s origin story, it shows that his heroism starts not with a superpower but with courage.

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