Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sons of Legacies

This is the second post in my series on “To Kill a Villain!” For the Introduction post go here!

The first factor we will be studying in our discussion of why some heroes kill their villains without angst while others don’t is the upbringing of our four superheroes. Our parents have a profound impact on all of us, even an orphan is strongly impacted by their lack of parents and any legacy their parents left behind. But while most of these four particular heroes were orphaned at some point in their life, most had parents long enough for them to deeply and profoundly impact their children directly with taught values, unspoken expectations, and parental example.

In today’s post we specifically look at our two billionaire superheroes, Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Both are men who have been deeply affected by their fathers and their fathers’ view of the world. While Bruce and Tony are very similar—since in many ways Iron Man was created to be Marvel’s version of Batman—we will see that their fathers were nearly polar opposites of each other. It’s no wonder that two heroes raised by men who believe such diametrically opposing things would grow up to view killing differently.

Bruce Wayne

Martha and Thomas Wayne
Bruce Wayne was born to Dr. Thomas Wayne and his wife, Martha. The movie Batman Begins unfortunately does not give us much insight into Martha Wayne, other than she was a woman who loved her husband and son, but it tells us quite about Bruce’s father, Thomas. Though he owned (or at least was the majority shareholder of) Wayne Enterprises, Thomas did not work there in any capacity. He left the running of the company to other men, and instead Thomas was a doctor. We also know that Thomas used his incredible wealth to build the public transport system that runs through all of Gotham, a city riddled with crime that Thomas still had hope could be saved. In fact, Ra's al Ghul later indicates that Thomas Wayne was the only thing standing between Gotham and complete destruction, that Thomas Wayne’s generosity and indefatigable belief in people countered the League of Shadow’s efforts to bankrupt Gotham.

Thomas Wayne was not a soldier. This was not a man who when confronted with a mugger could take him down. Instead Thomas Wayne was the sort of man who calmly confronted the man pointing a gun at him, and when that gun turned to point at his wife—instead of tackling the man or any other form of self-defense or attack—Thomas stepped in front of the gun. (Note: I will save talking about the effect the death of his parents had on Bruce for his origins post.)

Was Thomas Wayne a pacifist? In the macro-sense, I think we can safely say no, since the company he was majority shareholder of readily accepted DoD contracts. Though Thomas left the running of the company to “better men,” I would think if he was an outspoken, political pacifist, he would use his considerable leverage to direct his company away from accepting contracts that help war efforts. However, in the micro-sense, it’s clear that Thomas Wayne was not a man who ever resorted to violence, even in the face of death.

Thomas believed he had a responsibility to help Gotham. He was not satisfied to merely be rich and live off of his wealth—which he could have easily done. He could have become the playboy Bruce Wayne later pretended to be. Instead Thomas became a medical doctor, a career that devotes him to helping individuals. Most people would probably call their civic duty as done, but Thomas Wayne was not satisfied with that. Helping individuals wasn’t enough. He had to help all of Gotham, which he did through financing public works like building the train system.

Thomas having a moment with Bruce
It seems clear from Batman Begins that Thomas—despite his work and many civic projects—deeply cared about his son and spent a fair amount of time with him. Thomas and Bruce seem to have a close and loving relationship. Bruce isn’t afraid to cry in front of his father, isn’t afraid to ask for his father’s help, and when Bruce gets scared at the opera, Thomas covers for Bruce—telling Martha he needed a bit of air, instead of the truth that Bruce was frightened. Bruce’s trust and confidence was clearly very important to Thomas, and Bruce obviously adored his father.

If there is one clear lesson that Thomas teaches Bruce in Batman Begins, it’s that the reason why people fall is so they can learn to get back up. While this phrase is often used in the movie as Bruce’s motivation to continue—a catchphrase that encourages him to keep trying even as he fails—I don’t think we can underestimate it’s importance overall and how it affects how Bruce views the entire world.

Thomas carrying Bruce in (with Alfred) and reminding Bruce that it's okay to fall
The League of Shadows wants to destroy Gotham, because Gotham has fallen. But Bruce, ever his father’s son, believes that Gotham can rise from the ashes and become better than it was before—that Gotham can learn from its fall. It’s harder for Bruce to apply this lesson to villains, but it’s something that Rachel Dawes tries to teach him. While it is not and never will be okay that Joe Chill killed Bruce’s parents, that descent to the very bottom did allow Joe Chill to change his view on life and to want to testify against one of Gotham’s crime bosses. Joe Chill fell—a fall that hurt multiple people including Bruce Wayne—but he was learning to get back up.

Every villain has fallen. And like Gotham, every villain has the possibility of learning from that fall. 

With a worldview that claims anyone can rise from their fall, it is no wonder that Bruce is unwilling to kill anyone.

Tony Stark
In direct contrast to the Wayne family, we have the Starks.

Tony Stark was born to Howard and Maria Stark. We know next to nothing about MCU Maria Stark and have no canonical interactions with which to even speculate about Tony and Maria’s relationship. Howard Stark on the other hand we know a good deal about.

Howard Stark, piloting Cap and Peggy across enemy lines
Howard Stark was born in 1917, a few months after Bucky Barnes was born and nearly a year before Steve Rogers was born. This means that when we first meet Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger, he is merely 26 years old. I say “merely” because a 26-year-old Howard Stark was already the best mechanical engineer in the country (and he considers that a “modest” assessment of his intelligence), an extremely skilled pilot, the founder of his own company (Stark Industries), and the head engineer/contractor of the Strategic Science Reserve—the premier R&D division of the Allies (not just America). So though Howard Stark was not a soldier, this was a man devoted to the cause of the war, the man who built the machine that created Captain America. After the war, Howard Stark devoted all of his efforts to Stark Industries, which became the premier weapon’s manufacturer for the United States. Clearly Howard Stark believed that the world had many bad guys who needed to be killed.

Tony Stark was born in 1970, when Howard was 53-years-old. The movies show little direct interaction between the two men, but we know a good deal about Tony’s perspective of Howard and their relationship. He thought Howard was a distant, cool, impossible to please man that a young Tony Stark nevertheless tried to please. We know that Howard often spoke about Captain America, that Tony was raised with this idea that Steve Rogers was the ideal human being, a good man, a role model, and a hero—someone Tony himself could never actually live up to.

Howard showing Steve Rogers the prototype shields
I don’t think we can underestimate how the generation gap affected Tony and Howard’s relationship. Howard had Tony very late in life. From the one scene of interaction we see between them in Iron Man 2 when Tony is a child, Howard often probably viewed Tony as a nuisance and in the way of his ambitions. And while it’s clearly stated that Howard loved Tony—viewed him as his greatest creation—I think it’s also very clear that Howard had no idea how to relate to his son. The only thing they had in common was engineering, and I think it’s fair to say that Howard pushed Tony into the career path.

Howard talking about Tony in Iron Man 2
Which isn’t to say that Tony doesn’t love engineering, because I think the movies make it very clear he does. He has a natural aptitude for it and love of it. But very few four-year-olds are asking to make circuit boards. Howard, in trying to share his passion with his son, clearly set his son’s path before him. Tony wanted to please his father, and engineering was all they had in common, so of course Tony dedicated himself to it. Howard probably didn’t even mean to push Tony to his career as fast as he did (Tony graduated from MIT at 17, which is obviously really young to graduate from college). But I doubt the 50-something Howard Stark knew how to talk to a child. He probably treated Tony as a lab assistant, and the incredibly bright, if incredibly young Tony probably raced to keep up.

After Howard and Maria Stark died in a car accident,* Tony continued his father’s legacy and became the leader of Stark Industries at the age of 21. And while Tony actually is the playboy Bruce Wayne pretends to be, I think it’s fair to say that before his capture by the Ten Rings—which we will discuss in detail in his “origins” post—Tony Stark not only thought it was okay to kill but that he was obligated to provide the weapons he did. Tony was following in the footsteps of his father. And while Howard Stark himself may have never killed anyone (we can only speculate), he provided weapons and technology for Captain America—who did. Howard raised Tony to believe that Captain America was the standard to which he should hold himself to. 

Tony is a man whose entire existence is shaped by a soldier and a weapons manufacture. It shouldn't shock anyone that he is okay with killing in battle or for a just cause. 

Note: Tomorrow we will continue this discussion of how our heroes were brought up, but this time we will discuss Marvel and DC’s pillars of morality: Steve Rogers and Clark Kent.

*We later learn in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that this accident wasn’t an accident at all, but since Tony didn’t know that (presumably) until Natasha Romanoff dumped all of SHIELD’s files on the internet—which takes place after all of Tony’s current movies, it is immaterial to the point of this discussion.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

To Kill A Villain: Introduction

I recently saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the fifth time. As I watched the Lemurian Star sequence—near the very beginning—I appreciated for the first time that Captain America straight up kills a lot of bad guys.

Admittedly most of these guys aren't dead, if any. Still a cool scene.

At the time I didn’t think much about it, other than to really appreciate it. Steve Rogers felt like a breath of fresh air among superheroes, someone who isn’t angsting over whether or not bad guys should die. Steve Rogers doesn’t worry about whether or not the Red Skull should be imprisoned. He worries about how many innocents the Red Skull will kill if he lives. (Yes, I know that’s from the first movie, but I didn’t want to open with spoilers for The Winter Soldier.)

Other than appreciating it, I didn’t think much more beyond it, until the other night when on tumblr when the-cellist-in-portland described Steve Rogers as “a precious, goofy, awkward death machine who no doubt makes the best waffles ever.”

I really enjoyed her comment. I still think it’s one of the greatest descriptions of Steve Rogers I have ever seen. And I have no doubt Steve makes fantastic waffles. It was also awesome to see someone else who appreciated that Steve Rogers is a killing machine. (Seriously, re-watch the Lemurian Star sequence sometime. There is no mercy there what so ever.)

So I responded with: “Speaking of Death Machine, it wasn’t until I saw CA: TWS for the fifth time this weekend, that I truly appreciated the fact that Steve just effing kills people. He doesn’t angst over it like Superman and Batman. He just does his freaking job and gets rid of the bad guys. If Steve Rogers was up against the Joker, that dude would be dead. None of this put him in jail just to have him escape in the next movie business. THANK GOODNESS FOR STEVE ROGERS.”

The-cellist-in-portland responded: He does get the job done. Damn yes, we need to let him loose in the DC Universe and let him host seminars on ‘How to Get Rid of the Bad Guy…Permanently and Without Angst’.”

At this point I was prepared to end the discussion with an “Amen, sister” and a fun gif, never to think about it again. But then a-long-way-from-here brought up the following, amazingly excellent point: “I feel like Steve Rogers doesn’t have to have all the angst about killing bad guys because y’know he is a soldier for a worldwide recognized government/institution. If Batman kills a guy he goes on trial for murder.”

My gut reaction was “Well, Batman is a vigilante. He’s already going to jail, what more is murder?” Then I realized all DC heroes are vigilantes and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) heroes are not. I started thinking if that was the difference on their views of killing people, and then I realized it was so much deeper than that.

In the end it comes down to three factors: how the person was raised (upbringing), what made the person a “hero” (origins), and whether or not the hero has a higher authority they’re answering to (vigilantism). To explore this idea, I’m going to use two examples from the Marvel movies and two examples from the DC movies: Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Clark Kent, and Bruce Wayne.

Why these four characters? I chose them because they are counterparts to each other in the different universes. Steve Rogers and Clark Kent are both the virtuous leaders of their respective superhero organizations, and while it’s true that Steve cannot match Clark’s power, they both stand for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are almost perfectly matched in every way, except in how they go about their superheroing. Both are men whose only super powers are their wealth and intelligence. Comparing such similar characters will hopefully allow us to understand how Marvel and DC have ended up with such incredibly different views on whether it’s okay for a hero to kill a villain.

For the sake of simplifying this discussion, I am going to limit my discussion of the characters mainly to movie canon. For Batman I am going to specifically reference Christopher Nolan’s Trilogy. For Superman, I will reference Man of Steel. For any Marvel characters, I will stick to the MCU. But basically, for the sake of this argument, the true Steve Rogers is movie Steve Rogers. 

Let me be clear about something. This is not a discussion of whether it is actually the correct action for a hero to kill a villain. This is not a discussion on whether we want our superheroes killing villains. Clearly I have already expressed my admiration for Steve Rogers for doing so, but my feelings are neither here nor there. This is ultimately going to be a discussion on how these different characters feel about killing and why they feel that way. And if we’re lucky we perhaps might be able to draw some conclusions about the differences between Marvel and DC, and why these movies appeal to the people they do.

Note: Read the next installment here! It's a study of the upbringings of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, specifically focusing on how deeply their fathers impacted them!

Comments? Anyone have any opening thoughts? Or do you think there are more than three factors that affect whether or not a superhero is okay with killing a villain? Also since I already expressed my opinion on admiring Steve Rogers for his willingness to kill, what do you guys think about that? Are you okay with superheroes killing their villains?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Agent Carter

Please forgive any typos. I literally wrote this while eating breakfast this morning before work. I'll proofread it later today and correct anything I find. :)

If you follow me on any social media site, you undoubtedly noticed my intense excitement last night. Yesterday, Marvel announced Agents of SHIELD would be getting a second season AND that we would be getting an entirely new show entitled: Agent Carter.

I love Agents of SHIELD, I really do, but it was this second announcement that had me flailing. It's come to my attention that not everyone may understand why, they may not truly comprehend the awesomeness of an Agent Carter show, or even understand what it would be about. So, let me explain.

What is it?

On every Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) DVD (so Thor, Captain America, the Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World), Marvel has released a short film. They call these short films One-Shots. If you have not seen them, you must go find someone with the DVDs (and/or blu-rays) and watch them now. 

The first two One-Shots where entitled The Consultant and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer and were both about Agent Phil Coulson. It was through these One-Shots that fans learned of Agent Coulson's sheer awesomeness. And it's mostly these One-Shots that caused fans to latch onto his character (that and his smirk when dealing with Tony Stark) and start the #coulsonlives movement. This movement--an outright denial of the events that occurred to Coulson in the Avengers--is the reason why Agent Coulson is alive in MCU canon today. This insane popularity of a mere secondary character is what led us to have the Agents of SHIELD show we now all know and love. 
Agent Peggy Carter

But not all of the One-Shots are about Coulson. If you watch the Iron Man 3 DVD, there is a Marvel One-Shot entitled "Agent Carter." It's a short film about Peggy Carter after the war. She's still trying to work for the SSR, but because it's post-war time and she's a woman, her superiors refuse to take her seriously. They view her as nothing more than Captain America's grieving girlfriend who should be pitied but not actually trusted as a real agent. 

The short deals with a sequence of events where Peggy Carter shows them how truly wrong they are, and ends with Howard Stark calling to inform her she will be founding SHIELD with him. 

AND THAT is what our Agent Carter television show will most likely be about. Hayley Atwell, the actress who plays Peggy Carter, is on board to reprise her character of Peggy Carter. Dominic Cooper, who played Howard Stark in Captain America and in the short, is thrilled about the idea. And I'm betting we'll see at least a handfull of the Howling Commandos. (I would bet at least Dum Dum Dugan.)
Howard Stark & Dum Dum Dugan
This will be a show about Carter and Stark founding SHIELD. Imagine the shenigans (you always have shenanigans any time a Stark is involved). Imagine the missions and adventures! IMAGINE THE INEVITABLE BETRAYALS. SERIOUSLY. JUST THINK ABOUT THE LATEST MARVEL MOVIE AND HOW IT WILL AFFECT THIS SERIES.

Basically in short, this will be an action adventure spy show, like Agents of SHIELD but set in the late 1940s/early 1950s. So all those fun gadgets we had in the last episode of Agents of SHIELD? Expect more of that.

Why should you care?

Clearly you should care because it's going to be GREAT TELEVISION. But more than that, you should care because this is a female led Marvel property written and produced by females. 

Look, I'm not here to argue representation with you. That's a matter for a different post on a different day. What I am here to tell you is that Marvel and other big Hollywood names are often scared to produce stories led by women.

That probably seems silly to you--what with the popularity of The Hunger Games and the like--but it's long standing Hollywood "fact" that movies led by females don't do well. Neither are we here to talk about how this fact is mostly bogus--just look at the Alien and Terminator franchises--but needless to say Hollywood believes this to be true whether it is or not. And this is why we have yet to get a female superhero movie, from either Marvel or DC. 
So  many ladies, yet so few movies
Since I'm not here to argue the importance of representation to you, you may wonder why I even bring this up. The answer: representation or not, because of this "fact" we are missing out on some truly fantastic movies. You are being deprived, dear readers. You are being deprived of Wonder Woman. You are being deprived of a Black Widow movie. You are being deprived of Captain Marvel. You are being deprived of some truly great, awesome, and complex characters that aren't being given movies merely because of their gender.

Captain Marvel
I want a movie about an Air Force colonel who accidentally gains the powers of an alien race and becomes a superhero. I want the story of the child who is trained and brainwashed by the country that was supposed to protect her. I WANT THE STORY OF AN AMAZONIAN PRINCESS WHO COMES TO OUR COUNTRY AND KICKS BUTT. 

Granted, this probably won't lead directly to a Wonder Woman movie, since that's DC comics' problem. BUT if the Agent Carter television show does amazingly well, it will give Marvel the confidence that viewers will watch their stuff even if the stories are led by a mere female. (sarcasm, sarcasm of course.) And then Marvel might give us the Black Widow movie we deserve. It might give us the Captain Marvel movie we desperately need.

If Marvel starts producing female-led movies that do well, we could change the face of Hollywood.

And that is something you should care about.

Have more questions about Agent Carter? Let me know! I'll answer what I can!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Issues, Trades, and Volumes! OH MY!

Like any medium, comics come with it's own terminology, and it can be confusing. You might have heard people talking about their "pull lists" or distinguishing between Young Avengers volume 1 vs. volume 2, and maybe you have no idea what those things mean. Well, never fear! I am here for you!

new 52 Batgirl #1
Issue: This is the term that most people are probably familiar with. Issues are the flimsy, magazine like books that are numbered, like Tales of Suspense #57 (the first appearance of Hawkeye in a Marvel comic). In this case, Tales of Suspense is the "title" or "series," and #57 is the issue number (i.e. up to that point there had been 56 other individual magazines). Issues are what comic fans are buying on Wednesday--the day that new comics are released to the public.

Pull List: Speaking of comics coming out on Wednesdays, you might often hear comic fans refer to their "pull list." A pull list is something you can set up at your local comic book shop. Basically, it's a way to guarantee you get the issues you want. If you want to read Hawkeye and Nova, and you want each new issue when it's released, you go to your local comic bookstore, and you tell the people who run the store that. You list all the titles you want. Then they'll have the new issues waiting for you on that day. Otherwise, they may not order your comic (especially if you like something obscure) or they may run out before you get there (like Hawkeye). So it's basically a form of pre-order for issues.

Comic store owners use these pull lists to know which issues they should order. And then publishers use these pre-orders to determine how well a comic title is doing. It's a system that depends on people buying hard copies of issues, and it's slowly evolving to take electronic comic sales into account.

Trades for Hawkeye, Avengers Assemble & Young Avengers
Trade: You may on occasion hear comic fans say something like "I'm interested in that title, but I'm going to wait until the trade comes out." What the heck does this mean?

A trade is a collection of six-ish issues. It can be more or less, but six is usually the average number. These collections are then published in a book that you can often buy at places like Barnes and Noble. 

I find it helps to think about trades and issues like this: 

Imagine each issue is a segment of an episode of a TV show, the breaks between issues are where the commercials would go. The trades combine all the segments into one whole episode.

Run: When a certain creator writes several issues in a row, those issues collected are referred to as a "run." I myself have referred to Keiron Gillen's run on Journey Into Mystery here on this blog. Keiron Gillen's run is all the issues of Journey Into Mystery that he wrote, which happen to be issues #622-645.

Volume: I wish I could say that volumes were a collection of a set number of trades or issues or even that a volume was defined by a run. But none of these things are true. As far as I can tell, volumes are completely arbitrary and a volume can be anything from twelve issues to 100. Sometimes issue numbers are re-started when a new volume is created, and sometimes they're not. Really as far as I can tell there is no rhyme or reason. (If you know the rhyme or reason or rule, please share in the comments and I will update this post accordingly.)

But volumes are important, especially in cases of re-numbering situations. For example, the current Hawkeye comic, which is Matt Fraction and David Aja's brilliant run, is Hawkeye volume 4. So if someone refers to Hawkeye vol. 4 issue #1, you know they mean the Matt Fraction/David Aja run, and not any of the previous Hawkeye comics.

 All these volumes are in Volume 1. Cuz they're really trades.
Because volumes are so vague, I don't pay that much attention to them. I tend to pay more attention to creators and their runs. But they can be very useful when talking about titles where a creator spent many years writing the comic. Ed Brubaker wrote Captain America for 8 years, so his "run" is very long. But Captain America vol. 5, which he wrote, is the groundbreaking "The Winter Soldier" storyline, that the upcoming movie of the same name is based off of.

It's important not to confuse volumes with trades. Sometimes trades are numbered, and sometimes they are referred to as "volumes." But trades and volumes are not the same thing. Volumes are (most of the time) collections of trades. But this is why you'll occasionally see, when a trade is released (especially in e-form), that you'll be looking at Runaways Volume 1, vol. 1. They'll publish a trade and call it volume 1 when really it's just the first trade of volume 1.

I hope that wasn't too confusing for you, but if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask them in the comments!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Read Comics

As I wrote about on Tuesday, we're going to be spending the next few weeks on this blog talking about how to get into comics. Hope you enjoy today's post, where I do something a little different. 

Learning to decipher the comics medium was my number one road block to reading comics. I don't want this to be a roadblock for you. I kept trying to write a blogpost about the basic rules in comics, but the more I worked on it, the more I realized this would make more sense to tackle as a presentation. So below is a 48 minute video tutorial on the basics of reading comics. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.

How to Read Comics from Mandy P. on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where to Start: Comics: Introduction

I have failed you, my dear readers.

If this was the TV show Arrow and this blog was Starling City, the Hood would have hunted me down in first season and declared I failed this city.

How have I failed you?

Well earlier today, I was online and I saw someone ask, "I've never read a comic book before, but I want to, and I don't know what to do. Help me?"

And I started to answer and then realized....

I have an answer to this question now.


Mea culpa, readers. Please forgive me.

It's strange to think that less than two years ago, I had never read a graphic novel--that the closest I had come to comics was Calvin and Hobbes. That two years ago, I knew who Iron Man and Captain America were--barely--but still thought of little gray aliens first when you mentioned the names Thor and Loki. (And that Loki always made me think of Colonel O'Neill being cloned.)

And yet now, in the present, I am sitting here, typing this while wearing a Kate Bishop t-shirt and a Hawkguy beanie. (Because this is how I normally dress. Not because I dressed especially to write this blogpost.) And I've spent more money on comics than novels so far in the year 2014. And that a lot of people on twitter, tumblr, and facebook view me as their friend who is a comic book expert.

Which is kind of scary when you think about it.

I blogged a lot of my angst about getting into comics here: everything from finding the medium itself difficult to trying to figure out where to start in Marvel comics. I occasionally blogged about finding something I liked, but for the most part, once I settled into comics, I stopped blogging about it here. Since last February I have not ONCE blogged about comics.

As I said, I have failed you. 

But as of today, that failure is no more. I am going to once and for all give you my definitive--current--answer on where to start in comics. 

The problem with comics, unlike my many other "Where to Start" posts is that there is no one answer. This isn't one complicated series that needs to be parsed. This is multiple series across multiple publishers, with multiple genres, characters, and things. This is a WHOLE MEDIUM I'm trying to guide you into.

Hawkeye, Matt Fraction & David Aja
And my answer isn't going to cover all bases. It's only going to cover the bases I know--the bases I used to break in. I'm also going to assess a few of the generally recommended starting points and whether I think they are actually good places to start or not.

So for the next little while here on this site, we're going to be talking about comics. I'm sure other topics will occasionally also be discussed, but mostly comics.

Prepare yourselves, my friends, it's going to be a fun ride. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cheating the Redemptive Story-Arc

Let's talk about Loki.

I don't just mean movie (MCU) Loki--though we will be talking about him. I mean Marvel Loki in general. This discussion will include spoilers for Thor: The Dark World, the end of the comic Siege, issues #622-645 of Journey Into Mystery, and Volume 2 of Young Avengers, and slight vague thematic spoilers for issue #1 of Loki: Agent of Asgard. Proceed at your own risk.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Introduction to Fan Fiction

In all this talk of shipping, I've kept mentioning Fan Fiction, also lovingly known as fanfic. It's possible that you may have no idea what fan fiction is.

Ms. Marvel, Issue #1
At its most basic definition fanfic is fiction (short stories, novels, and everything in between) written using characters and worlds from already existing fiction--so not original to the writer.

Mostly when people think of fan fiction, they think of unpublished, poorly written works. Some people might think of Fifty Shades of Gray, recalling that originally it was a popular piece of Twilight fan fiction. I myself have neither read Twilight nor Fifty Shades of Gray so I can not attest to how good either is, and therefore, will not be talking about them here.

Fan Fiction should not be synonymous with poorly written and bad. I know I've succumbed to this connotation at times, but its simply not true.

The best and saddest piece of epistle fiction I've ever read was fan fiction. If you know me well, you know I don't read a lot of romance novels, but I will admit, the one romance story I re-read the most is fan fiction. And of course, one of my favorite television shows is fan fiction.

That's right, my definition of fan fiction--fiction written about characters/worlds not owned by the writer--includes things like Sherlock and Elementary. (In fan fiction terms, Sherlock is a Modern AU--alternate universe--and Elementary is a Modern AU + fem!Watson.) My definition would also include things like Wicked, (heck, Wicked is two layers of fanfic deep, since the musical is basically a fan fiction of a fan fiction) and the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Look, if it's not canon--it's fan fiction. Plain and simple.

So why do people write fan fiction?

Out of love.

As much as I rant and rave against Moffat--and boy, do I rant and rave--the man LOVES Sherlock Holmes. He loves him. And Sherlock is nothing but a labor of love, an ode to one of his favorite characters of all time.

It's also written with a mentality of "What if." What if Sherlock Holmes lived in the modern era? How would that be different? How would it be the same? And Moffat does a lovely job of exploring that.

But point of fact, Moffat did not invent Sherlock Holmes. Nothing he writes is Sherlock Holmes canon. Nothing he writes changes or has any bearing on the original stories. It is not canon. It is fan fiction.

Beautiful fan fiction that he's getting paid for, but fan fiction nonetheless.

And it is no different in the works that fill the different fan fiction sites of the internet. People write Avengers fan fiction because they love the Avengers and they want to explore the questions, problems, and situations that the comics and movies either can't or won't.

"Can't?" you gasp. "What kind of problems can't they cover?"

A lot of times it's the mundane ones. A published story has certain expectations of plot and appealing to a massive audience associated with it. It doesn't have time to answer the question "How does Steve Rogers react to a microwave the first time he sees one?" There just isn't time to answer that question in a movie or a comic. But a fan fiction writer can write a 1,000 word amazing short story on the topic. (I actually don't have an example for this, BUT I AM SURE it exists. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've read one, I just can't find it. I'm sorry.)

Loki: Agent of Asgard, Issue #1
But sometimes it's not the mundane problems. Sometimes it's questions of "what if" that leads to Alternative Universes--like Sherlock. What if Sherlock Holmes lived in the modern era? What if Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were dating? What if the Avengers were in high school? What if Loki had taken Coulson instead of Hawkeye in The Avengers? (Answer: Loki would have taken over the world quickly and efficiently. Seriously, read this fic. It's good.) What if Coulson wasn't dead? WAIT! THAT'S RIGHT! FANDOM WON THAT ONE. COULSON LIVES! And then you get these amazing, often well written stories that are just as plot and characterization heavy as any published novel.

So yes, I read fan fiction. Mostly Avengers fan fiction: full of shenanigans, crazy super villains, team building, and roombas. Yes, I said roombas. (Seriously, read the Toasterverse. I cannot express enough how awesome it is. Also I can never look at a roomba the same way again.)

If you have a fandom you love that you're curious to check out fan fiction for, I recommend Archive of Our Own. The stories are free, the writers are very good at tagging* their fiction appropriately, and the system is very searchable. Whatever you're looking for, you can find it. Also let me recommend--especially if you're new to fan fiction--a good way to figure out if something is good, is to look at the number of kudos. My usual rule of thumb is that if the kudos to hits ratio is around 10% than it's probably a good read. Anything better is of course better!

Fan Art of FanFic. It's a thing. By KeesdemonSource
Though if you are new to fanfic, and like the Avengers, I really am going to have to recommend you start with the Toasterverse. The first story is Some Things Shouldn't Be a Chore by scifigrl47, in which Steve makes a chore chart for the Avengers and Tony makes a roomba army. It's rated teen, it doesn't really have a romance (just some background relationships and a little bit of pining if you read it with the right frame of mind, but that could be ignored if you're not a fan of romance), and it has a sentient toaster. What more could you want?

*Tagging: On the one level I mean "rating" like G, PG-13, R, etc (though Archive of Our Own uses "Gen", "Teen", "Mature" and "Explicit"). On another level I mean the tags that let people know what the story is about. If something is tagged Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, you know that ship is in the story. If it's in addition tagged "Established Relationship," you know that they're already an item when the story starts. If it's tagged "Get Together" you know they're not together when the story starts but will be at the end. If it's tagged "pre-slash," you know they don't actually get together at all, there is just some pining and maybe hints at it. But it's not all relationship tags. Sometimes it's types of stories (fix-it), sometimes its warnings (if the story contains violence/rape/abuse, etc), and sometimes it's silly things like angst, cookies, or shenanigans. But the moral of the story is that reading the tags can give you a very good idea of what a story contains, and that the writers on Archive of Our Own are very good at tagging their fiction.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Ship It

Happy Valentine's Day!!! On this day of "luv...twoo luv" I felt it only appropriate that we talk some more about shipping, this time digging into some of the ships I actually ship! So enjoy!

Nine times out of ten, when I say "I ship it" what I'm saying is "I could see that" or "that makes sense." (Heck, I've used the phrase "I ship it" to mean "that makes sense" in situations where shipping was not actually being discussed.) So when I say "I ship it" it's not exactly a resounding level of "YES THIS IS TRUE LOVE THESE PEOPLE MUST GET TOGETHER." That doesn't mean I don't have fictional couples I feel that way about, it just means there are levels to this shipping business.

Your levels of shipping may vary, but these are mine.

I'm going to use examples to explain these levels, so please remember my rules of discussing ships. Keep it civil people.

First of all, just to be clear by "canon" I mean the stories (whether they be books, movies, or radio broadcasts) that are considered "official." Canon is a whole discussion in and of itself, and maybe one day I'll write a blog post on it, but if you have any questions about it, feel free to shoot them my way.

by Airinn (source)
I ship almost all of canon. Not necessarily with a passion, not necessarily with strong feelings, but on some level I ship it. A lot of the times it's just quiet acceptance (who am I to say Harry and Ginny couldn't be together) and sometimes it's with a stronger passion (CECILOS) but if two people end up together forever in canon, I probably ship it. There are a few exceptions--there always are--but in any geeky conversation or discussion of fan fiction, canon ships are in my mind and real.

These are ships that I'm not heavily emotionally invested in, but I legitimately forget that they're not canon. And when I read/watch/discuss the stories they are a part of, in my mind they were/are in a relationship. The perfect example of this is Sirius Black/Remus Lupin.

I've legitimately had this conversation:

Me: When Sirius and Lupin dated during the Marauders era...
Friend: What?
Me: What?
Friend: Sirius and Lupin dated? In what book did JKR say that?
Me: ....oh bad....

I don't remember who first pointed this ship out to me, but it is a very common Harry Potter ship. In my headcanon, it's not that they are in a relationship during the events of the Harry Potter series, but that they were when they were students at Hogwarts. I'm not emotionally invested in this idea. Disagreeing with it isn't going to upset me. I'm completely willing to entertain other ships. But every time I read the books or discuss the series, it's colored by this head canon, my mental knowledge that these two characters totally dated at some point.

Other examples of headcanon ships: Dean Winchester/Castiel (Destiel)

OTP means One True Pair in shipper terms, and basically these are the couples I am extremely emotionally invested in the idea of. When I think about these two people together I'm just like "BUT HOW COULD IT BE ANY OTHER WAY! THEY'RE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER." Sometimes my OTP is canon (or becomes canon, as was the case for Ron/Hermoine) and sometimes it's not (PHLINT).

by flatbear (source)
Clint Barton/Phil Coulson (aka Phlint) was probably the most insidious ship I've ever been introduced to. The first time someone mentioned it, I was like "What? Huh? How does that make sense?" Then they explained themselves, and I was like "huh, okay, I see that." It was not an OTP, just a nod to the logic of it. But the more it came up (on tumblr and in fan fiction and in conversations), the more I realized it made COMPLETE sense. And the more I realized they would be PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER. And then suddenly, I was reading every piece of Clint/Coulson fan fiction I could find.*

by xxjust-a-nobodyxx (source)
So yes, Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) and Agent Phil Coulson are my OTP. Clint is a somewhat bad boy, but more of a person who just makes terrible life choices. Not because he's a bad guy, but because his entire life has been awful. (Abusive parents who then died in a car crash, so he and his brother went to live at the orphanage, which sucked, so they ran away to the circus, where Clint learned all his archery skills but also learned some more...nefarious skills, and then his brother left him, and Clint was a bad guy for a while, and then he became the Avenger we all know and love. So yeah, tragic backstory.) Phil Coulson is a stable, straight laced kind of guy, who always makes the right decision, but could use some loosening up. THESE TWO ARE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER, I TELL YOU. PERFECT.

And that level of vehemence is pretty much the definition of an OTP.

My other OTPs**: Tenel Ka Djo/Jacen Solo, Mara Jade/Luke Skywalker, Ron Weasley/Hermione Granger, Oliver Queen/Felicity Smoak

This is OTP but bromance variety. These are characters that I think are perfect for each other--but as best friends, friends with an epic bromance. We're talking JD & Turk (Scrubs) levels of bromance.

By the lovely and wonderful flatbear
I have a lot of BroTPs but I think the one I feel most fervently about is Clint Barton & Natasha Romanoff. (A brief note: "/" is used to denote romance and "&" is used to denote friendship. So Clint/Natasha is a very different thing from Clint & Natasha.)

In mainstream Marvel comics (616, for the comic savvy), Clint and Natasha were totally an item at one time. The two are intrinsically entwined in their back story. Even the MCU was sure to tie them together. (What's the one thing that brings Widow in from a mission? Name dropping Clint. And it's heavily implied that Clint is the one who brought her into SHIELD.) These are two broken people with nefarious pasts, it's easy to see why they would be soulmates.
From Loki: Agent of Asgard Issue #1

But I much prefer my Clint and Natasha as platonic soul mates. Sure, it's easy to say that's just me writing off Nat romantically so I can have my OTP, but I honestly think that with her backstory, Natasha is the sort of woman who has used romance and sex as a weapon. She needs someone in her life who doesn't want anything from her--sex or otherwise--and I think that person is Clint. I like to think they have such a deep level of understanding and trust that they can just cuddle up on the couch without expectations. 

I think they both need that and I think they are that for each other: platonic soulmates, bros, besties. Our in the words of Clint himself (in Hawkeye), Natasha is his "work wife."

My other BroTPs: Arthur & Merlin (from Merlin), Sherlock & Watson (specifically, but not limited to Sherlock), Harry Potter & Hermione Granger, Tony Stark & Bruce Banner (Science Bros!), Steve Rogers & Tony Stark, Steve Rogers & Clint Barton, Steve Rogers & Bucky Barnes...Steve with everyone. STEVE SHOULD BE BROS WITH EVERY AVENGER.

This level only applies to non-canon ships, and most often it applies to ships that *could have* become canon, but slowly, over the process of new canon being released, you realize your ship is not going to be the one that comes to be. And you don't care. You don't care that canon just revealed your ship is not true, because you know these two characters are MEANT TO BE. 

The perfect example of this, for me, is Harry Potter/Luna Lovegood. 

I always felt that it was obvious that JKR was going for Harry/Ginny, but I also knew that she had and did change her original designs as characters developed and the books were written, so I always had this hope that maybe she would forgo the obvious Harry/Ginny and give us Harry/Luna. I loved those two together. Luna is an intensely loyal friend, and perhaps one of the few people who can relate to Harry's feelings of being outside of society. 

And I went down with this ship. I still don't care--nearly seven years later--that Ginny/Harry is canon. If we're talking theoreticals, this is the couple I think should've happened. If I'm reading fan fiction, this is the couple I want to read about. I still ship Harry/Luna, and nothing is going to change that.

Other "I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP": Tenel Ka Djo/Jacen Solo***

A NoTP is something that I don't ship--under any circumstances. Other people may ship them and that's their right and prerogative, but I just can't see it and /or I'm disturbed by the entire concept. Usually if I see a fan fic contains this ship--even if it's primary ship is my OTP--I will not read that piece of fan fiction.

Probably my biggest NoTP is MCU Loki/ANYONE EVER ****. Look, it's not that I'm opposed to Loki having love. It's that Loki is in a very, very, very, very, very unhealthy state of mind. He's so full of self hatred that he pretty much does everything in his power to sabotage his relationships, and even when he starts building them back up and fixing them again in Thor 2, he has to go and do something stupid once again so that no one--possibly not even Thor--will forgive him this time. (I'm not saying Loki is not redeemable, NOT AT ALL, in fact I have a whole separate post written on this subject that I'll be posting next week. I'm saying that Loki goes out of his way to do things to burn bridges between himself and other people.) 

I just can't support anyone being in a romantic relationship with someone like that. Not even a fictional character.

But as I've said, it is your right to ship Loki with whoever you please. And that's fine. Just don't expect me to read the fan fiction about it or support your side in a geeky argument.

My NoTPs: Anything to do with incest (looking at you Wincest and Thorki). I can't even support canonical incest (LOOKING AT YOU, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE). As I said, you can ship what you want, but I just can't. I can't. 

There are a lot of ships in this world. A LOT. People ship nearly everyone with everyone else. Basically if two characters exist, they are shipped. And most of them I don't hate. They're not NoTPs. But they don't fall anywhere on my "OMG I LOVE THEM" scale and neither are they headcanons that I've just accepted.

From Avengers Prime Issue #5
The biggest example of this is probably Steve Rogers/Tony Stark. I don't really ship it. I prefer them as a BroTP. But I get why people do ship it, and I don't find the idea disturbing. And it's a very, very popular ship. So it's background in a lot of Clint/Coulson fanfiction. I'm still going to read that story--heck, I've even read Steve Rogers/Tony Stark fan fiction (the Toasterverse is amazing, you guys). I really have no feelings about it one way or the other. It can be, it doesn't have to be, and frankly, I just don't really care. 

Other examples of meh: Natasha Romanoff/Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes, Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley, and A WHOLE LOT OF SHIPS

So those are my seven levels of shipping and some examples of my ships and NoTPs. Who do you ship? Where do they fall on this scale? Love/hate any of my ships? Just remember, keep it civil. FOLLOW THE RULES.

*I should say every piece of Clint/Coulson fan fiction that was rated PG-13 or less. I don't read the explicit stuff.  I generally stick to the "Teen" and lower tags on Archive of our Own.
**I have been very lucky that so many of my OTPs have become canon. This is not always the case. You may think Luke/Mara was always going to happen, but that is not true. There was a time where the Powers that Be in the EU that Callista was Luke's One True Love. And I never shipped that business. I was always hardcore Luke/Mara, and I'm so thankful it came to be, even if I'm not grateful for how it came to end. (Honestly, let's just pretend that everything from the New Jedi Order on didn't happen, okay?)
***You might say "but they are canon!" to which I say if that's your idea of true love coming to its fruition...we need to have a long talk. 
****We're just talking Movie Loki here. (MCU = Marvel Cinematic Universe). Comic Loki and his various incarnations are an entirely different bag of cats, as is mythological Loki. Myth Loki/Sigyn is probably one of the best relationships ever. Kid Loki/Leah are completely adorable. But MCU Loki...he needs to pull himself together.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Rules for Discussing Ships

Shipping Wars get vitriolic fast. Nothing brings out the angry hoards faster than proposing a theoretical yet unpopular ship.

As I’ve said before, I think this is silly. All ships can and should coexist peacefully.

But I get why this happens. People get very emotionally invested in ideas—and especially in ships. And when you’re invested in a non-canonical ship, odds are that people in real life have probably looked at you like you were crazy when you mentioned it. And it’s hard to stand up for yourself in a real life situation, when your parents, friends, or classmates are staring at you like you’re insane because you see the homosexual subtext in Supernatural.*

So you transfer all that pent up frustration with your real life friends to the internet, and suddenly you’re lambasting everyone who thinks that maybe Dean and Castiel aren’t meant to be together.

Look, we’ve all been there. I know I’ve been emotionally invested in ships. I grew up in the Harry Potter era, and let me tell you, Luna/Harry was never the most popular ship. Most people fell in the Harry/Hermione and Harry/Ginny camps.

But shipping wars—aka huge, hate filled arguments about which ships are more valid—are not the answer. And to avoid them, I abide by a few simple rules when dealing with online (and real life) discussions about ships.

1. NEVER use the word “canon” like it’s the ultimate end to any discussion. I guarantee the shipper you are arguing with knows what is and is not canon. But the joy of shipping is the joy of thinking beyond canon, thinking beyond the page—even if it is in support of a canonical ship. Ultimately shipping is about critical thinking. So if you want to argue in support of your canon ship, you need a better excuse than “it’s canon.” I want to hear: “Hermione & Ron make sense together because of these reasons.” Think about why you support a ship. Don’t just support it because an author told you to. Support it because it makes sense!

2. LISTEN FIRST. Look, you don’t have to agree with me that Sirius and Lupin were totally an item back in their Hogwarts days. That’s fine. But remember this is a theoretical discussion where most of the fun is pulling apart clues from the text and psychoanalyzing characters. We may not agree, but it’s still fun to see what the other person’s rationale and reasons are. You might learn something about one of your favorite characters from it. But the key here is: don’t start yelling as soon as you hear “Sirius/Lupin” cross my lips. Listen first. Then prepare your counterarguments or questions. Or maybe just say “Yeah, in that context, that makes sense” and then explain to me why you think Sirius/Snape makes more sense.

3. Do not insult a person’s ship. You may think it’s the dumbest pairing you’ve ever heard—that there is no way in Hell that Crowley and Sam Winchester would get together (get it? No way in HELL…sorry, is that just me laughing over here?**)—it doesn’t matter. Insulting a person’s ship is like insulting…a person’s actual naval and/or space vessel. You just don’t do it, or else Captain Kirk is probably going to punch you in the face. So instead of saying “That’s dumb” or “That’s stupid” just say “I don’t really see that, but if you do that’s cool.”

4. Sexual orientation is always malleable. Remember this is an exercise BEYOND canon, and remember that we live in a world that has very few gay and lesbian characters. Also, very rarely is a character’s actual sexual orientation called out. Yes, Clint Barton had a relationship with Natasha Romanoff and Bobbi Morse in the past, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t bisexual. Yes, Harry dated Cho Chang, but he wouldn’t be the first teen to discover he was gay at a later date. And you know what—I don’t remember Draco explicitly dating anyone. Which isn’t to say that your straight ships aren’t equally valid. Just accept that you can ship someone who might seem canonically straight as anywhere on the QUILTBAG spectrum. And vice versa. You want to ship Dumbledore/McGonagall? Go ahead, my friend. Ship to your heart’s content.***

5. Remember it’s supposed to be FUN. Any time we’re discussing a theoretical geeky topic, it’s because IT’S FUN. If you find yourself getting angry or upset, you’re doing it wrong. So step away from the computer and take a deep breath.

6. Ships ARE NOT mutually exclusive. This is the big one, and the part that most fans get hung up on. For some reason, people think that my believing in Clint/Coulson impinges on their right to believe in Clint/Natasha. This is simply not true. All ships can and should coexist in peace. I can simultaneously ship Clint/Coulson, Coulson/the Cellist, and Clint/Natasha. AND THAT’S OKAY. It’s not mutually exclusive. Heck, the Avengers exist in different forms in like five canonical universes. Make up your own separate universes in your head. IT’S OK. And just accept that someone else’s ship exists in their universe. Remember rule #5. It’s about fun. Not about who has the canon-ground or who has the best psychological profiles to match two people up. IT’S ABOUT FUN.

7. DON’T FEED THE TROLLS. This is always a good rule to abide be when dealing with the internet. If someone is attacking your ship from an angry place, just don’t respond. No one is making you interact with anyone here. And in real life, just remind them of rule #5 and then walk away from the conversation.

And that’s it! My seven rules on avoiding a shipping war. If you have any additional rules or thoughts, please share them in the comments!

*”Subtext?” you cry. “That’s not subtext. THAT’S TEXT.” And I agree. But not everyone sees it, and you know what? That's okay.

**You still don’t get it? You must not watch Supernatural, so brief explanation—Crowley is a demon and the King of Hell. Look, it’s funny. Just trust me.

***Though remember that things can get sticky in this sort of situation. People might accuse you of straightening a character because you’re homophobic. In these cases, just remind them POLITELY that you are shipping based on chemistry and remember the other rules of shipping.