Justice League (and the esoteric meaning of the missing moustache)

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In the much anticipated or anxiously awaited or absolutely dreaded or naively heralded (please take your pick) third instalment of Zak Snyder’s DCU trilogy, Earth is under attack from an apocalyptic threat led by Steppenwolf and his search for Motherboxes…… (Yawn. Stop.).

Sorry, let’s start that again. Zak Snyder’s third part to his DCU trilogy begins with cellphone footage of Superman explaining the symbol on his suit. This brief clip is there to remind us that he is dead, having succumbed to the onslaught of Doomsday in the earlier Batman vs Superman, but also to remind us that all is not lost. However, while this is an attempt to set up the theme of hope that is supposed to be the subject of the film, it is jarringly noteworthy because Superman’s upper lip looks like something from the third Hobbit movie where seriously poor SFX have been put to work to hide a moustache. Yes, for some reason, best explained by Hunter Harris in Vulture, Henry Cavill was sporting a ‘tache at this point in the reshoots, and the film company he was then contracted to for his role in MI6 wouldn’t let him shave it off. The great idea, it transpires, was to CGI it away. So, as we sit and mourn the loss of the world’s greatest hero and prepare ourselves for his possible return, all we can think is what the fuck is wrong with his face.

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He actually looked like this, apparently.

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But that’s nothing new because Christopher reeve actually looked like this, so…

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Anyway, it turns out this attempt to hide something out of place, something incongruous and inappropriate, something that shouldn’t be there–specifically a big hairy moustache–becomes the key to understanding the film. Let me explain.

In his previous two DCU movies Zak Snyder asked us to wade knee deep through a pool of misery and nihilism that had the consistency of a jar of refrigerated molasses. We’ve had a Superman that’s happy to let the world burn in his personal fight with Zod, and then a really miserable Superman cruelly degraded by Batman who is shown to freely endorse torture. There was no light only darkness. Even Superman’s costume had lost all its vibrancy and colour as the world slowly turned into a grey and hopeless morass of Batman’s self-loathing and fear. Both critical and box office evidence suggested these two films missed the mark by some way.

Anyway, Snyder seems to have registered there was a problem with his earlier doom-laden offerings and this time was clearly trying to offer us something positive, and Superman’s appearance right at the beginning is a rather didactic attempt to tell us that hope is precisely what this film is going to try to give us. Whether this was an insertion requested by Joss Whedon rather than a central component to Snyder’s vision we will probably never know. Whatever the answer, the opening scene is a rather heavy-handed declaration that this film is about the return of hope in the face of total darkness ,threatened by Steppenwolf and his horde of undead cyber-locust (that’s right, cyber-locust … or techno-Wicked-Witch-of-the-East-monkeys. Whatever.).

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I don’t want to go into just how badly this evil threat is visualised in the film (it’s as bad as Superman’s non-moustache), but Steppenwolf is supposed to be the avatar of utter hopelessness that our merry band of Leaguers will overcome. To this effect, Batman calls on Wonder Woman, who is already aware of the invasion due to Steppenwolf’s assault on Themyscira, and the two of them set about recruiting Aquaman, The Flash–who functions as the cooky Spider-Man, laugh a minute guy, and is central to the film’s one excellent moment when he helps villagers escape their town that Steppenwolf is laying siege to–and Cyborg. Cyborg is actually quite an interesting character given current politics. A young black man struggling to attain control and autonomy over his body is a really interesting idea right now, but Aquaman is just a bit of tattooed eye-candy whose sole purpose is to enable Batman/Bruce Wayne to keep trying to make a joke about talking to fish funny (it never is, by the way).

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But I digress. The film is supposed to be about hope. We are told this at the beginning, in the middle, and then at the end when Lois Lane (who serves no purpose in the film, but does take time to explain how she can no longer work without her bf around) tells us explicitly that hope has won, and that we mustn’t give up on the idea that we can find the light. However, if you’re relying on your characters to literally deliver a lecture on what the film has been about you either think your audience is comprised of idiots or you’ve failed (again) as a film-maker. The problem is, the film is really just one more iteration of that utterly boring trope of global annihilation and “good” triumphing over “evil”, the story itself isn’t about hope. That’s a message that needs bolting on as an afterthought.

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In the end, the film is still one that is weighed down by darkness, fear and hostility. Even when Superman returns we have to sit through a scene in which he headbutts Wonder Woman in the face. I mean, c’mon! So the film still drags us through the misery and the nihilism of existential demise, and despite the (flat) jokes, despite the presence of Wonder Woman, this film only just manages to drag itself out of the hole dug for it in the previous films. The darkness of those two movies sits there like Henry Cavill’s big, black, hairy, unwelcome moustache, and they can’t get rid of it no matter how much they try to cover it up, or airbrush it away. Despite the noticeable return of colour in the closing scene of Wonder Woman rounding up some bank robbers, the opening minute of Superman’s monologue in which we’re asked to forget about the moustache that isn’t there but still manages to distort his face is everything you need to know about this film.

 

 

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Thor: Ragnarok

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After the first Thor film, infused with Shakespearean dramatic tension by Kenneth Branagh, and a sadly forgettable second feature, Thor: The Dark World, comes the highly anticipated Thor: Ragnarok, as told by Māori director Taika Waititi, whose previous films Boy, What We Do In The Shadows, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople received both critical acclaim and box office success. Known for both his humour and his sense of place, the tone of Waititi’s Thor was set as soon as the first trailer was released. Keen eyed viewers quickly discovered the “Skux Life” grafitto on the wall behind Thor as he throws his hammer at Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death and now, upon Odin’s demise, the rightful Queen of Asgard.

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If you were hoping for a quirky, funny Thor film as a result of Waititi being at the helm, you won’t be disappointed. The film is a blast from start to finish. It is hilarious in parts, but what is done so well is that even where the humour is slapstick (wait for Thor throwing a ball at a window) the humour never gets in the way of the story, which still manages to tell an epic tale of good triumphing over evil. What interested me, though, was the fact that the film doesn’t end with the sort of closure normally compulsory in these films, but with a displacement of a people who need to re-establish themselves anew. This for me, is what makes this a really fascinating film, and reading backwards from that displacement Thor: Ragnarok becomes quite an unexpected and, I think, quite brilliant story of imperialism, colonialism and resistance.

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When Hela, Odin’s first born, returns to Asgard to claim the throne she immediately starts to radically redecorate the place by destroying the friezes that guild the golden halls of the royal city. As she knocks down walls and ceilings she doesn’t so much renovate as strip the building back to reveal Asgard’s dark past, one in which Odin and Hela took control of the nine realms through invasion, violence and the suppression of the other nations. It is a fascinating image where beneath the veneer of a kindly, caring, paternal, peaceful, “liberal” Asgard it is unveiled as ruthless, murderous and greedy. As Hela looks upon the old paintings of imperial Asgard she declares she wants Asgard to not only return to its position of supremacy, but act as if that supremacy is a right. In the context of contemporary politics, this language is clearly designed to resonate.

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What made this reading stand out for me, though, was the fact that Valkyrie, as played by Tessa Thompson, is key to the narrative of colonialism and resistance that is central to this film. For a start, Tessa Thompson is a woman of colour, and as such she is positioned very deliberately in opposition to the very white, Cate Blanchett, whose performance as Hela is fantastic, by the way. Valkyrie is assumed to be the last of the Asgardian warriors that tried to stop Hela many years back. They were decimated, and Valkyrie now lives as a trash collector for the Grand Master (another excellent performance from Jeff Goldblum) on a planet called Sakaar, which comics readers will know was the setting for the brilliant Planet Hulk story, and which also evokes images of imperial Rome through the spectacle of gladiator-style fights in the giant circus of Sakaar. So, Valkyrie is here, and so are Thor and the Hulk, both of whom, having been lost in space, were drawn to this planet that acts like a giant, cosmic vacuum cleaner of space debris. Importantly, though, when we first see Valkyrie her space she is painted (coded) in the colours of the Māori flag: the red, black and white of the Tino Rangatiratanga.

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She is also shown to be someone who has completely lost her way, her spirit and her hope. Represented as someone dependent on alcohol, the use of this intoxicant to both pacify and placate indigenous people, especially in Australia, means that Valkyrie’s dependance on it in the film is also no accident. As a result of her trauma she finds it very difficult to imagine an alternative to her life on Sakaar, so she drinks herself into oblivion. Gradually, however, she is persuaded to resist by the two “slaves”, Thor and the Hulk, that she has delivered to the Grand Master of Sakaar. Along with other slaves, one of whom, Korg, is brilliantly voiced by Waititi himself (and is also especially keen to start a revolution), Valkyrie makes the move that enables the escape from Sakaar and makes possible the defence of Asgard.

In the final battle against Hela, we see Valkyrie in a ship of different colours, but this time it is coded to represent another indigenous group, the First Peoples of Australia. As she walks out, now dressed in her traditional Valkyrie clothes the ship that she escaped in lies behind her with the red, black and gold of the Aboriginal flag clearly visible.

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I would like to say more about this fabulous, funny, joyful, brilliant film, but I’d give away too many spoilers. However, as I said at the start, the film ends with the displacement of people in a bid to reassert the violence of imperial supremacy, and the whole film can be read backwards from that event as a call to challenge such supremacy; to resist, stand up and be proud. I bloody loved it!

PS, for a proper take on the issue of indigeneity, you can now read Dan Taipua’s excellent piece in The Spinoff.

 

 

Wonder Woman

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The good news is that Warner Brothers/DC have managed to make a good superhero film again! Yay! The last decent one was probably The Dark Knight, and before that Batman Returns, all the way back in 1992. Anyway, in short, this film is really good. For a start, and because we still live in Man’s World–the risk of a female director, the risk of a female lead–the pressure on this film was immense, and threatened future projects of its kind. In Man’s World, of course, men get the chance to make loads of shitty superhero movies, but women just get one shot, and Patty Jenkins took it, driving a sword through the black heart of patriarchy’s ill-will.

With so much riding on this film I was anxious, but this wasn’t simply because I wanted the film to work, it was because I believe Wonder Woman is such an extraordinary character and has so much to say today. This seems odd when talking about mythological figures from ancient Greece, but she was created as an icon for equality and women’s liberation. As a member of a marginalised tribe living in proximity to the Middle East and North Africa she also has the capacity to address questions of colonialism and subjugation. As a hero from an all-female society she has the potential to challenge dominant sexualities. As an Amazon devoted to a struggle against violence she epitomises an alternative politics that eschews the chauvinisms of race and nation. As someone committed to truth she is a potential antidote to our world of lies, deception and “alternative facts”.

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Early promotional images from the film (like the one above) were troubling in the apparent lack of diversity, and yet it seemed the issue of representation was absolutely central to the film. This is most clearly signalled when, aside from Diana’s narration, the first Amazon to speak is a black woman. From that point on, Jenkins’s direction suggests she is keen to show how diverse the Amazons are.

A more direct statement on this issue could have been made (and a stronger, more broadly intersectional politics could have been presented), but in numerous other parts of the film Jenkins’ camera can be seen to reveal hidden ethnicities, such as the many crowd scenes of British soldiers where she lingers on the faces of men drawn from across the British Empire to fight. The issue of representation is also evident in the rag-tag group of people that Steve Trevor puts together, which includes a war-traumatised Scotsman, a “homeless” Native American (who points out his people were all killed by Steve Trevor’s people), and a man named Samir, who explains to Diana how he really wants to be an actor, but his “skin is the wrong colour”.

WW gay1The film also touches on the topic of sexuality, and Diana’s (and Amazons’) lesbianism, during a brief and awkward exchange between her and Steve Trevor as they try to get some sleep on a boat. Diana’s sexual confidence is expressed when she explains to Steve that her sexual knowledge is derived from studying all twelve volumes of the Themscyrian treatise on sex, which concludes that men are essential for reproduction, but for the purposes of pleasure are near useless. This theme of female empowerment is also followed through to areas of work and public life. In numerous instances Diana challenges patriarchal norms that exclude women from public office or render them silent, and there is the lovely exchange with Etta where she likens her role as a secretary to slavery. The fact that Etta sees a kindred spirit in Diana, no matter how different they might appear to be, was the one thing I would have loved to see developed further, but let’s hope something along those lines can happen in the sequel. Unfortunately, the “realism” of the film might not afford the kind of fantasy in the comics that allowed her and Etta to travel through time or even inter-dimensionally, so Etta’s mortality might be a hindrance there.

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On the topic of women’s rights, though, the film did explain her appearance in the “wrong” war, so to speak. She was a World War II superhero, but here she is fighting in World War I, and yet the setting is perfect due to the struggle for women’s right to vote that was going on at the same time, and Etta on at least one occasion makes a direct reference to that fight. The war also provides THE image of the film as Diana fearlessly drives her way across “No-Man’s Land” (literally the place where men can’t go) to take down a German gun-post. Watching her alone in this space deflecting a barrage of bullets on her shield, I couldn’t help but think about what this would mean for the women in the audience, and just how amazing that scene would have been in a women-only viewing. The fight scene that follows is one of the best I’ve seen in a superhero film, and look out for the way the men support her in that fight by emulating Amazon battlefield tactics. If only men could be allies more often and not lose their shit because women occasionally want to hang out without them.

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So what’s the downside? Personally, I thought Gal Gadot was great in the role, but I couldn’t help but find it difficult to reconcile the performance with her now infamous Facebook celebration of the IDF when Israel was bombing the refugee camp also known as the Gaza Strip in 2014. Hence, when Wonder Woman complains about the killing of children, this dissonance was really unwelcome and disruptive. But that has nothing to do with the film itself. In relation to the film alone, the really disheartening, in fact the really maddening thing was the way Warner Brothers/DC appear to have locked in the dreadful Azzarello origin revision, that I have written about in another post, and which in the film sadly links Diana’s power to a paternal rather than maternal lineage. The film could have maintained fidelity to her proper origins quite easily. Being brought to life by a number of goddesses (especially when that included Athena) would easily have given her enough power to defeat Ares, and what a wonderful political statement that would have been, but it seems you still have to bend your knee to patriarchy in some way.

But let’s finish on a high note. This is a hero that believes in truth and love. Love is her mission, her goal, and truth (along with lots of awesome ass-kicking) is her method. As such the thrust of the film cuts through contemporary politics and offers us an alternative vision for our relations with each other. In the end Diana chooses empathy and compassion over revenge and retribution, which is why she’s still the best. x

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2

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The second volume of Guardians of the Galaxy had a lot to live up to. The first film was bright, brash and bold, primarily because it was the first comedy-science-fantasy-superhero film, and showed what might be possible in the transition of stories and characters from comics to film. Volume 2 continues with the 1980s nostalgia, and is full of references to old computer games like Asteroids and Pac-man, as well as a species of intergalactic aristocrats whose weaponry is piloted remotely with what look like old ride-on arcade games. There is talk of the inspirational David Hasselhoff, and a continuation of the ’80s soundtrack (Awesome Mix vol. 2), while other references include the kitsch aesthetics of Jeff Koons that seems to have influenced the models we see on the sentient planet Ego, but I’ll leave you to spot your own bit of ’80s memorabilia for yourself.

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Anyway, the film is a hoot. It is colourful, funny and a genuine tribute to the great storytelling and wonderful imagination that can be found in the pages of Marvel’s cosmic comics. There is the obligatory galaxy saving battle at the end, but all the while the film sticks to its mix of gags and drama and never lets itself slip into the dull spectacle of the endless fight scene that has spoiled other films. What I found so captivating about the film, then, was this ability it has to play as a non-stop comedy romp, yet also find space for genuine drama between Peter Quill and his father, who we find out is actually the planet Ego itself; Gamora and her sister; and in the relations between other characters. These include Drax and Mantis, Yondu and Rocket, and Yondu and Peter. For the comics aficionados there is also an interesting relationship played out between Yondu and a member of a version of the 31st century team, Stakar Ogord aka Starhawk.

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As a fun-filled space frolic, Guardians 2 is definitely a family film, but these varied relationships make this a family film in a very specific sense, and this is where I believe it contains a brilliantly timely and wonderfully positive message about kinship and affinity. The central theme is Peter finally coming face-to-face with his father, a Celestial, and therefore a god, who has formed himself into the sentient planet called Ego. In keeping with the early comic stories (the entity first appeared in Thor #132 in 1966) we find that this planet has discovered that its purpose is to extend itself across the entire universe. As the name suggests, Ego wants to see itself wherever it goes, and in this instance has recruited Peter, his “biological” child, to help in this endeavour. Throughout the film we are also continually reminded how this loose collection of bandits and cosmic wastrels that call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy are also discovering they are family.

What is important, though, is the way the film continually returns to this explicit theme. The characters constantly talk about being family, where they come from and where they belong, as we discover each one of them has come from a broken family or endured a loss within it. There is Drax and his daughter; Garmora and Nebula (who have lost each other as sisters due to the tyranny and sadism of their father Thanos); Rocket who was made by a cruel scientist; and Yondu who was abandoned and abused. In this affinity Yondu finds “brotherhood” with Rocket, a scene that in my opinion is the very heart (and it’s a huge heart) of the film.

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If we add to this the fact that Mantis was abandoned and adopted by Ego we can see how the relationships that Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim calls “elective affinities”, or the relations of kinship we choose, are privileged over biological progeny. Peter’s attachment to his dead mother remains a very prominent feature of the story, but it is the elective affinities and the way the characters effectively adopt each other that is so important here. When Ego engages in adoption, though, his tyrannical impulse results in Mantis becoming his slave, only to be helped to escape through an unlikely and bizarre (and funny, too) relationship with Drax.

Ultimately the characters all discover just how much they belong to each other and how much they are family. However, aside from Gamora and Nebula none of these relations are biological. In the end, what we have is a vision of Ego as tyrannical biological father looking to extend himself everywhere so that nothing exists but him. It is a vision of totalitarian politics based on identity and the exclusive vision that everything should be the same. Coming at a time when nationalism and fascism are on the rise, based on an exclusion of the “other” (foreigner, migrant, refugee, poor), this is not an accidental message. In contrast to this, we have the awesome mix of the Guardians, a bunch of messed up and lost people, all radically, racially different, who come together in support of those differences to offer us a vision of solidarity that is messy, mongrel and radically diverse. This central theme is reinforced by the role the Ravagers play in the film, another loose but tight affiliation of outcasts who are dear to Yondu, and whose coming together at the end shows the ultimate victory of our rag-tag collective. And although there are issues around the persistence of hetero-normativity in these films, I still believe this is important storytelling in our current political context.

One other recurring motif in the film is the way Baby Groot is passed around and lovingly protected by the team, each of whom have a chance to co-parent and cradle the little fella. So, you know, if Drax can look after Groot, I’m sure we can all do a lot better…

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Logan and the American Monomyth

**********No real spoilers, but there is one big meta-narrative spoiler**********

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Logan appeared in cinemas only yesterday, but I’m afraid I couldn’t wait to write this post. However, due to the fact few people will have had the chance to see it yet I will say very little about it, focusing only on a fascinating aspect of the narrative that I found incredibly exciting. The film is really good for lots of reasons (four out of five stars for me), but I’ll leave everyone else to talk about the details. Here, I just want to pick up on its direct and explicit engagement with what John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett call the “American monomyth” in their book The Myth of the American Superhero. I will try to avoid spoilers, but this is a meta-spoiler that I hope will only add to the enjoyment of a film that gets cinematic superhero stories back on track.

A central and persistent criticism of superheroes has been that they are conservative or right-wing fantasy figures acting out our revenge fantasies. In this respect they are often unfairly reduced to vigilantes operating outside the law. In keeping with this is a criticism they are anti-social. It is true that superheroes are often portrayed as outsiders and loners, but this ignores the regular appearance in teams and families, with these families often going well beyond what we usually think of as the nuclear family. This anti-social behaviour is also said to be evident in their vigilantism that supposedly by-passes the social institutions set up to try criminals and set legal precedents in the pursuit of justice. Wolverine, aka Logan, aka James Howlett is a very good example of this complex issue at work in the comics.

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On one level Wolverine ticks all the boxes of the left-wing critique of superheroes. He pursues individual acts of violent retribution on wrong doers without any oversight, and as such encapsulates the proto-fascist tendencies that Frederic Wertham had been writing about since the early 1950s. He was introduced in 1974 by Len Wein and Roy Thomas at a time when superheroes were beginning their so-called drift towards the dark side, exemplified, perhaps in The Punisher’s method of “intercession” who also appeared that year. Contrary to this, however, Wolverine stories, especially in the X-Men comics have been about his betterment within a team and a family and the social institution of Prof. Xavier’s School for the Gifted. In fact, it is quite easy to argue the message behind Wolverine is that social institutions and the relations that hold them together is the goal.

However, when superheroes are accused of being anti-social by Lawrence and Jewett they are referring to a very specific type of story-telling, one based in the epics of ancient Greece, but one that has been given a very specific American character in the great films that make up the genre of the Western. These films often involve a scenario in which society is shown to be decadent or in chaos, or collapsing beneath the law’s inability to contain violence. These “impotent communities” then require a heroic individual to ride into town, sort everything out in a moment of “redemptive violence” and leave again. The departure–the final shot of the hero riding off into the sunset–is a recurring trope and is key to the message that society is weak and somehow insufficient or unsatisfying for the true American hero, who according to Lawrence and Jewett eschews any “permanent social responsibility”.

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Logan does, of course, fit this bill perfectly, and despite a number of relationships with team mates and a series of Japanese lovers, a central motif of Logan’s character is the difficulty he has with social and affective bonds. This is written into numerous story arcs in the comics and has become a defining feature of the character in the part of the Marvel/20C Fox Cinematic Universe. This is why it is so interesting that in this film a central scene, and one that unlocks the entire film, involves a seriously ill Professor Xavier watching and explaining the importance of the movie Shane to X-23, who Prof. Xavier has persuaded Logan to protect and transport to a safe haven for young mutants over the border in Canada. In the clip of Shane that we are party to we see the titular character making ready to leave town while a young boy called Joey cries and asks him why he has to go. Shane famously replies: “A man has to be what he is, Joey. You can’t break the mould. I tried it and it didn’t work for me”. Throughout Logan we are reminded of all the times Logan/Wolverine has tried to change and how many times he believes he has failed, or how many times he has tried to make a bond with someone only for him to lose that person. Logan is what he is, and nothing is going to change that.

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And yet, at the end of the film when the scene between Shane and Joey is replayed, this time between Logan and X-23, the change does take place. Logan finally understands his place and the power of the social bond, and this is a social bond because while he might be X-23’s genetic father he has no obligation to her other than a pro-social one based on empathy, commonality and love. Over the course of the film, as he moves from mercenary to protector to adoptive father, Logan does understand, but unlike Shane he does break the mould. In this twist on the most classic of Western stories, Logan disrupts the monomyth and reveals the superhero desire to build a better world and share in that society. Despite what critics of superheroes have said, this has always been a cornerstone of X-Men comics in particular, but it is a desire that has been with us since a certain social justice warrior burst into our culture in 1938. This is a great film. Go and see it.

The Unstoppable Wasp #1 by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier

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I’ve had to interrupt what I’m doing to write this because I’m the most excited I’ve been for some time. That might be an indicator of the rather dull and sheltered life I lead, but hey, I’m an academic, so give me a break. Anyway, this is sort of a tale of two comics. I also read Hulk #1 today, and I have a related word or two to say on that, but first things first.

I’m a little suspicious of all the new #1s Marvel is currently putting out. It seems like everything’s a first issue. Even #7s are now packaged as #1s simply because they start a new arc. I seem to have developed an allergy that stops me buying them. Anyway, a new title starring The Wasp looked like it was worth a punt not least because this founding member of The Avengers has always had to take such a back seat while the boys talk most, if not all of the glory. However, this Wasp, it transpires, isn’t Janet Van Dyne (Pym), but a young woman called Nadia who–we find out when she visits the immigration office to apply for citizenship [Fuck you, Trump]–has no surname, but does know she is the daughter of Hank Pym, original Ant-Man and Avenger. Without giving away her back story, being something of a brilliant scientist herself, she was able to reproduce the technique that created the Pym particles and assume the role of The Wasp.

ant-man-and-the-wasp-profileI should also point out early on that the artwork by Elsa Charretier is excellent. The style speaks to the youth and naivety of Nadia. While also being a major contribution to the sheer fun and enjoyment of the comic the pages are very carefully crafted to keep the story moving at a perfect pace, while using some really good page layouts for both story-telling and action purposes. The costuming of the new Wasp is also a delightful nod towards the 1963 original (left). Aside from the art, the joy of the comic is also to be found in her friendship with Ms Marvel–suggesting she could at some stage become one of the new Champions–and their encounter with Mockingbird when they help her in a fight with Monica Rappaccini in a giant robot suit (an allusion to both Giant Man and Ultron, perhaps), a woman best known for stealing lots of experiments from Bruce Banner.

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Nadia’s accidental meeting with Mockingbird then becomes the heart of the issue–and it is a very, very big heart–as Nadia discovers that Bobbi is actually one her heroes. After the injustice that was done to Mockingbird when Chelsea Cain’s incredible run was cancelled, this is a truly wonderful way for her to reappear, because Nadia cannot stop hugging her and telling Mockingbird how excited she is to meet one of her all-time favourite adventuring scientists. Bobbi is shown to be genuinely overcome by the recognition and respect shown to her by this young woman, and in turn inspires her to find more girl geniuses by explaining how much the existing S.H.I.E.L.D. list of the most intelligent people on the planet (that, of course, contains the name of Nadia’s father) is compiled by and dominated by men.

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Like many other current female-led titles it clearly has an avowedly feminist message. With a colleague, I have recently tried to write an article about the success third wave feminism has had in effecting change in the superhero genre, and this is another absolutely wonderful example. While the specific context of current feminist engagement with the superhero genre gives it a particular character, the idea of “waves” is, however, a problematic one because in reality current feminist practice is deeply indebted to and mindful of the past. This comic, then, encapsulates both the attitude of contemporary feminism while also drawing out the link between older characters (feminisms) and how those histories add support and legitimacy to the new heroes. As such, it is a wonderful illustration of the way the continuity of feminist struggle is portrayed in so many of these comics, which leads me on to the first issue of the new Hulk title in which Jennifer Waters has pretty inexplicably lost her “She”. “Shulky” is sadly no more.

Recovering from her near death experience at the hands of Thanos in Civil War II she has lost the ability to control her body and no longer confidently carries her “monstrosity” in public. This was an incredibly important aspect of She-Hulk’s development. The fact that she was proud of who she was and actually chose to present her true identity rather than try to hide it because of what others might think, was a fantastic example of how empowering superheroes can be for others deemed different or “abnormal”. In this comic she is traumatised, and although she is not a broken woman, like the original Hulk (disposed of in that same story) she now struggles to control the raging thing inside her, which consequently appears to need holding back, hiding and repressing. In recent years, Dan Slott presented She-Hulk as a woman totally aligned with who she is (even if those around her didn’t like it). Charles Soule’s run also gave us the confident and collegial, even at times camp She-Hulk (with all the potential she has for deforming expected gender performance), while the A-Force title variously penned by DeConnick, Wilson and Thompson presented her as an amazing mother figure who focussed and directed the strength of all the younger members of the team, Nico and Singularity in particular. She-Hulk has been immense, but this has all been taken away.

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So, while this is an intriguing study of a woman who has survived a violent assault, and reminded me of Gail Simone’s treatment of Barbara Gordon under the umbrella of the New 52, what troubles me most about this is that Marvel yet again put an incredibly strong female character through a serious case of fridging just because they want her to replace a character they’ve killed off, presumably for no better reason than some men fighting over film licences. The positive thing, however, is that Mariko Tamaki is clearly a good writer. The comic is full of suspense and the fragility of Jennifer’s recovery is handled very well, and will no doubt speak to lots of readers who are themselves trying to deal with a traumatic experience. Aside from a minor error in continuity involving the height of a mirror, the artwork is also pretty good, as you can see from the page on the right. I’m also confident that Tamaki’s qualities as a writer enable her to dig herself out of the hole that Marvel have put her in, so this is probably one to watch.

On the subject of The Unstoppable Wasp, though, just go out, buy it and revel in the sheer delight of its totally positive message. This is a comic that every parent should read to every child, and if you’re a dad with a daughter that counts double for you!

Suicide Squad (the movie)

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It is miserable, and ultimately pointless. Don’t go.

Moment of social note: Deadshot tells Rick Flag he’s not talking to him, but his boss, Amanda Waller, so nice critique of white privilege.

Moment of aesthetic note: The Joker and Harley in a vat of acid. Nice swirly reds and blues.

The end

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