She-Hulk

It ain’t easy being green, but Jennifer Walters certainly pulls it off with considerable style and grace.

A Harvard law graduate and prestigious attorney, Jen in her human form was already an undoubtedly powerful force in the Marvel Universe.  However, following a shooting by notorious gangster Nick Trask’s goons, Walters needed an urgent blood-transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner.  This procedure was not only life-saving, but life-changing.  Now infused with gamma-radiated blood, Jennifer Walters became She-Hulk!
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Whilst it would be nice to think Jen’s character emerged from the public outcry for a powerful She-Hulk, she was originally created following the success of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ live action television series of the ‘70s.  In an ownership-of-rights race between Marvel and CBS, Stan Lee rushed to create a female Hulk character and, in February 1980, The Savage She-Hulk #1 hit the comics’ stands.

Unlike Bruce, Jennifer learned to maintain her personality and control her rage (to a degree), particularly once Morbius the Living Vampire helped her to develop a serum which allowed her a greater sense of control over her hulk transformations.  This ultimately turns Jen from the ‘Savage’ She-Hulk into the ‘sassy’, as she finds her confidence in her new lean, green alter-ego; using it to unleash her unruly wild side.

To a female reader, this is perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of She-Hulk comics; Jennifer Walters completely rocks her She-Hulk persona.  In a society where so much – perhaps too much – pressure is put on women by magazines, commercials, film, and television to try and achieve that “ideal” look of a perfect, beautiful woman, it’s great to see a character completely embrace their identity.  She has no intent of hiding her green skin and unruly mess of hair; what she’s got, she flaunts!  Walters also stands out, particularly in recent years, for being depicted with an athletic body form.  Yes, there’s the purple-lycra leotard, however, Shulkie definitely looks like she’s clocked in the hours at the gym.  It’s such a refreshing take in the comics world, where many of the female characters still look like they have a tiny waist and ballooned chests thanks to the magic of plastic surgery and eating disorders (looking at you, Wonder Girl, Starfire – the list goes on!).  Walters has been put through the paces throughout the years regarding her transformation; her initial change understandably caused distress, but whenever her ability to turn into her green alter-ego is taken away from her, she is devastated.  It’s apparent that Walters chooses and enjoys spending most of her time in her liberating She-Hulk form.  So ladies, next time your hair’s out of place, or your make-up’s run, or you’ve got a spot that ONE day you needed to look great – just think What Would She-Hulk Do?  You’re right – she’d own it.

Confidence isn’t the only admirable aspect of Walter’s personality.  She’s hugely intelligent, working as a successful lawyer, even being approached by the magistrates of the universe to work on a case.  But she’s also compassionate, aiding minorities in their cases, helping to rebuild towns she may have destroyed, as well as specialising in Superhuman Law (let’s face it, the collateral damage has to be fixed somewhere!).  Her position as a lawyer has been skilfully examined in Charles Soules’ latest take on She-Hulk in the Marvel Now relaunch.  In Issue 4 (out yesterday!), we see Walter’s internal conflict in agreeing to take on a case for Dr Doom: we all know he’s a big bad in the Marvel Universe, but even they need help sometimes.  Her conversation with Matt Murdock highlights the moral difficulties superheroes as lawyers face: their heroics need to stretch further than the average vigilante’s.

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Shulkie also has a fantastic sense of fun and wit about her.  This is particularly evident through her breaking of the fourth wall.  She’s very aware that she is a comic character, often approaching the audience, as well as jumping out of panels and across pages of adverts.  This tongue-in-cheek style really compliments the other aspects of She-Hulks character.  While she can be taken seriously in big story events, her She-Hulk persona is all about embracing the wild side.  She-Hulk comics are bright and colourful, and usually one of the most fun ones on offer.

So, there we have it.  A character who embraces her flaws, ultimately realising that they are her real strengths.  She is potentially one of the most realistic female superhero characters around; okay, the green complexion, superhuman strength, and height probably won’t be achievable for everyone, but with a bit of self-confidence, anyone can channel their inner-Shulkie.  She’s also incredibly intelligent and respected in the Marvel universe, proving anything can be done with a bit of hard work.  By acknowledging both her human and superhuman personas are a part of her, Walters is able to be the strongest person she can be; herself.

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My Week in Comics: Secret Wars – Tidying Up the Multi-Verse.

Secret Wars

With Marvel’s Secret Wars event in full swing, the entire universe is slowly beginning to pull together, with whole new #1’s tying up loose ends and planting new seeds. These multi-crossover titles add extra depth to the Secret Wars scenario, but are they worth jumping on board with?

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Completely bewildered by the events of Secret Wars so far? Join the club! Lucky for us, all begins to become clear in issue three of the eight-part series.  Universes are colliding, and the past is starting to resurface for the characters under Doom’s rule. Having re-read the first three issues together, it’s obvious that by the time Secret Wars finishes, it will be epic in scale. Now that the multi-verses are undergoing huge upheaval, I cannot wait to see how and where things end, and where new beginnings lie for so many beloved characters.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1

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With our Secret Wars heroes facing little but destruction and devastation at the moment, Peter Parker has a tough choice to make. Now a husband and father, he begins to question his duty as Spider-Man. Is risking his life to aid the Avengers worth it if it means possibly losing MJ and Annie? In an event which is primarily an examination of survival, it’s an interesting perspective to see Parker struggle with this choice. Either way, he is heroic. He can actively save lives by being in the Avengers, or he can hang up the suit and save his family. It will be interesting to see how his final choice affects him, and everyone around him, in upcoming issues.

Is it worth picking up as a Secret Wars tie-in?: Absolutely. A completely new take on the complexities of being a superhero during huge events, where we’re reminded that they’re also human. It’s a question of priorities, and the flux of what great responsibilities really are as heroes grow older and their lives begin to change.

Armour Wars #1

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You’ve probably guessed it already, but Armour Wars is centred on the Starks. Set in Technopolis, we see a world which relies primarily on technology for advancement. Opening with Albert Einstein’s quote, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. The human spirit must prevail” is a powerful sentiment which echoes throughout the whole book. In a completely armoured world, where humanity and technology appear to have merged into one, and memories of running free without being encased in metal are distant and melancholic, it’s a haunting examination of how reliant humanity has become on technology. It’s also disturbing to imagine a world which feels it needs to be encased in a world of armour.

Is it worth picking up as a Secret Wars tie-in?: It’s a very interesting idea, and sets up for a much larger storyline. Establishing a feud within the ever turbulent Stark family, it’s raised a number of questions which are yet to be answered. A fun tie-in for Iron Man fans, or those with a particular interest in the human relationship and reliance on technology.

Giant Size Little Marvel: AvX #1

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Skottie Young strikes gold again with his adorable and hilarious take on the characters of the Marvel Universe. Giant Size Little Marvel plays exactly to Young’s strengths: his unique artwork and tongue-in-cheek writing style makes a comic about tiny avengers and x-men appealing to audiences of all ages. Filled with quick-quips, subtle jokes which make you linger over every panel, and over-the-top references, there’s something in this book that every Marvel reader of all ages will enjoy.

Is it worth picking up as a Secret Wars tie-in?: If you’re looking for light relief from all the fighting and universe upheaval, Giant Size Little Marvel is the book for you. Any Skottie Young fan will be delighted with his latest work, and its self-aware silliness only adds to its appeal. Full-on fun!

Old Man Logan #1

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Alongside creating brand new stories, Marvel are revisiting some of their older renowned stories to see how their universes are coping under the stress of Secret Wars. Old Man Logan is one of these titles. With Bendis picking up the powerful pen which Mark Millar once wielded, we return to the gritty world of Old Man Logan. Much darker than most of the titles on offer from the Secret Wars range, it was a fascinating read which enthrals and entices the reader. Exploring a desolate wasteland after the heroes are gone, Logan is determined to discover more of what’s going on. With the tone of a dark Western Gangster movie, with absolutely stunning art and colours from Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo, it’s a welcomed return to the comics-verse for the old man.

Is it worth picking up as a Secret Wars tie-in?: Yes. Dark and gritty, not only is it stunning to look at, but it’s a compelling read which carries the tone of a Japanese vengeance movie in the grim underworld of the wild west. Bendis is a worthy successor, offering a much more personal view of how Secret Wars is impacting the multi-verse.

Years of Future Past #1

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The mutants are never going to have an easy time of it, and alongside the death of so many during the Secret Wars, it’s inevitable that humans have once again pointed their finger-of-judgement towards those they fear for being different: mutant-kind. This time, we follow Christina Pryde, Kitty’s daughter, in the struggles against the Sentinels that are hunting the few remaining mutants. It’s a very powerful book, which brings the haunting history of the holocaust crashing into the modern era. Yes, it retraces a lot of Days of Future Past’s steps, but seeing it through new eyes, it’s an interesting examination of right and wrong, and what makes people “human”.

Is it worth picking up as a Secret Wars tie-in?: All fans of X-Men will undoubtedly enjoy this tie-in, and it’s a good one for anyone not keeping up with Secret Wars. Although there are a few references, it’s easy enough to follow without having to know the entire back story. With the style and tone of its predecessor, Years of Future Past is a great read with a lot of potential.

Outside of Secret Wars

It’s not all one big Marvel mish-mash of stories tying into one – many of our favourites are still continuing as usual, as well as a few new additions!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #6

If you hadn’t already guessed, I adore Squirrel Girl, and it’s only getting better. This issue, we meet some new characters, our narrator is wittier than ever, and there’s a Girl Squirrel talking chiit to people. Charming as ever, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl goes from strength to strength! You’d be nuts to miss it!

Princess Leia #4

Princess Leia also seems to be finding its stride, and with astonishing sales figures each month, it’s great to see so many people invested in following her solo adventure. I cannot get over how gorgeous the art in this book is, and each issue I continue to admire Leia’s strong will. There’s an interesting parallel between Leia and women in comics and sci-fi, in that she is constantly being underestimated by everyone. Yet, she knows her own power and continues to fight to do the right thing. A new hope in comics!

Groot #1

On the back of Rocket Raccoon’s solo story success, the loveable tree-rogue, Groot, now has his very own series. It’s very sweet, and an interesting idea which will undoubtedly face challenges. How do you keep a character who only speaks three words from becoming boring? Surely the novelty will wear off? Yet, for having limited vocabulary, Groot is astonishingly expressive and emotion-filled in this first issue. There’s character beneath the bark. It will be fascinating to see if Groot’s roots can plant itself firmly in the comics’ universe.

The First Rule of Fight Club…

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The long awaited sequel to Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club has arrived! Being an overly-obsessive Palahniuk fan, I was excited yet wary to see how the sequel to his smash hit novel (although, apparently more people disappointingly recognise it from the Fincher movie) would work in comics form. It’s fantastic that Palahniuk is penning the story himself. We are not forced into an adaptation, but to the natural continuation of the story by the man who knows it best. What happened once we closed the final chapter of Fight Club?

We return to the life of our unnamed narrator (now named Sebastian). He is now on multiple medications for his ‘mental-illness’; is married to Marla and is father to a child; and is unhappy as hell. His life is falling apart. Palahniuk confronts the return to ‘normalcy’ as bluntly as possible: Sebastian’s life is crap – he’s unappreciated at a dead-end job, he feels very little, and he’s very aware that his wife is in love (or lust…) with his alter-ego. Tyler Durden is both the best and worst thing about himself.

Not all authors can transition their work from book to comic, but Chuck Palahniuk’s writing suits the comic structure perfectly. The timing, tone and tension are masterfully crafted. This is only enhanced by Cameron Stewart’s fantastic artwork. Combined, each panel is carefully and cleverly structured to add depth to the undoubtedly unravelling mind of Sebastian/Tyler. The distortion and disruption of panels by pills and petals demonstrate a sense of disarray in everyday life. Clever and gripping, Fight Club 2 looks to be a promising work of art, in both the literary and visual sense.

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Mad Max: Furiosa’s Road

Since first seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, I have not been able to get it out of my mind. Now, after multiple viewings, a week of blaring nothing but the soundtrack, and raving about it with anyone that will listen, I’ve talked myself out of shaving my head and driving a war rig across the desert, and have finally been able to put my thoughts into coherent words. Spoilers lie ahead!

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What a lovely day!

The latest Mad Max sequel/reboot is a full-throttle triumph, kicking into high gear and keeping its foot on the accelerator until the credits roll two hours later. A beautiful piece of cinema which is only heightened by breath-taking live-action stunts and a rocking soundtrack, Fury Road hits you like a sudden adrenaline rush, becoming everything you want in a summer popcorn movie, and then some. Behind the fast cars, the stunning scenery, the outlandish explosions and high-flying stunts is real depth. After two viewings, I still barely feel as if I have scratched the surface. But what I can tell you is there are lessons to be learned from this blockbuster.

Who killed the world?

Mad Max: Fury Road would surely have served better being titled Furiosa’s Road, because that’s exactly what it is. George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the future is Imperator Furiosa’s story – Mad Max is merely along for the ride. In fact, his one big heroic action scene in which he confronts and kills the Bullet Farmer happens off-screen as the audience stays with Furiosa and the girls.

Charlize Theron steals the show as Imperator Furiosa: the one-armed badass on a mission of redemption. Lesson One: George Miller knows how to write women – like they’re people. Usually in action movies, the heroine is either hyper-feminised: running in heels and firing weapons without a hair out of place; or masculinised until it may as well be a guy in drag. Not in Fury Road. Instead we have a whole host of amazing characters who are surprisingly fleshed out in a movie with such a lack of dialogue.

Furiosa is not held back by her femininity. Instead, it pushes her forward: it is her source of power. In a world where everything has died, where warlords rule the roads, she cares about making a change; about pursuing a non-barbaric life. Her mission to rescue Immortan Joe’s wives and take them to the fabled Green Place is not only a maternal drive, but it is one which longs to create new life.

This is true of all the women in the movie. Their hope and capability to start again keeps them driven under extreme circumstances. It’s a responsibility. From their ability to have children – which “will not be warlords” – to their carrying of seeds. New life lies within these women, and they’re capable of making it happen. They just need to win the world back from the warlords.

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It’s repeatedly asked throughout the movie: “who killed the world?” The answer? Toxic masculinity. (That is: a harmful patriarchy which is violent, unemotional, and sexually aggressive). This is clear from the nature of the movie itself: the thrill the warboys get from brutal kills, the excessive violence, the extreme explosions. Joe’s son, Rictus, expresses anger by firing bullets repeatedly into the air rather than communicating. Indeed, it’s interesting that male characters, including Max, are muzzled during the movie, and many communicate in little more than grunts. Perhaps a comment on the modern day approach of attacking first and asking questions later. Max himself recognises his place in this new world. At the end of the movie, Max doesn’t stay with the girls at the citadel. Why? Because he knows he doesn’t belong in their new world of creation, growth, and renewal. His “world is one of fire. Of blood.”

It’s incredibly refreshing for a movie to portray a variety of women, each representing different things, but are definitely more than just a body to ogle at. When the wives are originally revealed, unclipping their belts, freeing themselves from Joe’s ownership, an unnerving sense of ‘here we go’ settled over the room. Eye-rolling ensued. Max is going to have to save them there bimbos. But no. Fury Road gives a big middle finger to typical action movie tropes before darting off in the opposite direction. We know the terrible circumstances these women are running from without having to be shown. You don’t need to abuse women on screen for entertainment: the idea should be – and is – bad enough. There’s no relationships or romance, only compassion and respect. These girls are completely competent in handling themselves, stepping up when it’s needed. Because that’s what Fury Road is about: survival.

Just as the stereotypical roles of women in action movies veers into the unexpected, the tropes of the male action hero are also confronted. Max is not the lone soldier, punching his way through a world alone. He can’t be. His solo escape attempt failed. In this world, survival is the only objective. Gender, race, class, sexuality – none of it matters. Instead, it’s people helping other people escape from unthinkable circumstances. If Furiosa needs to use Max’s shoulder to steady her gun, so be it. Get the job done, no matter what.

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The Anti-Seed: “Plant it and watch something die.”

In a post-apocalyptic world, where little but sand and salt are left on the earth, bullets are in ample supply. The destructive nature of humanity takes hold, and the power-hungry thrive. Fury Road acts as a warning. Who killed the world? We did.

It’s no surprise the higher up the power-chain you see in Fury Road, the more grotesque people are. The literal fat cats. War destroys beauty. But it also makes beauty valuable, hence Immortan Joe’s pride in his wives. These girls will help him father healthy male heirs whilst being his prized possessions – one even has all of her teeth!  Their value is particularly well demonstrated when Splendid uses her pregnant body as a human shield. She knows Joe will not sacrifice his favourite wife, particularly as she is carrying an heir. This idea is paralleled in the warboys, who are portrayed as being ultimately disposable. As one anonymous warboy dives in front of a bullet to save Immortan Joe, his body is shaken from the car, and his sacrifice goes seemingly unnoticed. He is deemed less valuable than Splendid, or any of the other wives.

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I cannot fully express my admiration and adoration for Mad Max: Fury Road, but I do believe it has opened doors for a new wave of action movie, and that’s a great thing. We may now see the rise of the realistic female action hero; a new portrayal of how men and women can work side by side, no matter their gender, for a common goal. Fury Road has blasted right through the expectations that men won’t go and see female-fronted action movies, or that they’d hate every second of it. And it disproves that women just don’t like that kind of thing. Well, Hollywood, I for one would much rather sit through Mad Max: Fury Road multiple times a day than Pitch Perfect 2 just once (I imagine it’s just more laughing at the fat one, but it’s okay, cause she laughs at her being fat as well, right?!). Who killed the world? We might. But there’s still time to save it.

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Agent Carter

I was rather sceptical about watching Marvel’s Agent Carter, given that it was heavily promoted as ‘Peggy’s life after Cap’. Perhaps I was afraid I was going to be offered 8 episodes of sulking and crying, with some other soldier swooping in and showing her it’s okay: there’s still a fella out there for her! But with all the Age of Ultron backlash, I was determined to find something out there that Marvel had gotten “right”. And boy, have they got Agent Carter right!

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I instantly fell in love with the series. Instead of being everything I feared it would be, it was everything I was hoping it would be – and then some! Yes, we pick up Peggy right where Cap left her, and of course she’s upset. But this dame ain’t got no time for wallowing, see. We’re whirled straight into post-war 1940s America, where the boys are returning home and the women are being pushed out of their jobs. The one and only left clinging onto the SSR, in hope of making some kind of difference, is Agent Peggy Carter.

Agent Carter tackles a lot of the issues post-war America faced, particularly focusing on how the people were effected: everyone, not just the women. Injuries merely scratch the surface in this show, as Marvel delves deeper into the impact of emotional trauma and mental stress that soldiers faced in the warzone: seeing their friends die, killing – and all for what? It’s brave for a television show, particularly one led by a female, to focus on men being afraid, or startled, or upset by their experiences. But it only adds to the power of the show. It’s okay for boys to be upset, to feel frightened, or to need help. It’s not weak – it’s human.

Similarly, the show focuses heavily on the consequential return of women to the home as men return from war looking for work.  As Peggy continues to boldly walk into work every day, she not only faces the challenges of being an agent, but being a woman in the workplace. Instead of being given assignments, she’s told to make the coffee or get the lunch order; to do the paperwork and maintain the files. She’s reduced to little more than a secretary despite her capabilities. But it’s not only in the workplace that we see these changes – it’s also demonstrated in post-war accommodation for single women who no longer lived with family in women’s hotel, The Griffith. The ‘independent’ women living within these walls were anything but. Governed by an old crone who dictated their visitors, commanded their eating hours, kept a close eye on all of their actions and comings-and-goings, it was incredibly difficult to be your own woman in the 1940s. Luckily, the girls in Agent Carter have that fun rebellious side, mimicking the naughty adolescent behaviour you’d likely see in a classroom as children sneak sweets in class as their headmistress’ back is turned.

“No man will ever consider you as an equal… It’s sad, but it’s true.”

My biggest admiration in regards to Agent Carter was how apt, appropriate and relative it was. Despite being set in the 1940s, much of the message felt rather familiar. As Peggy battled daily to be taken seriously, to do something right, and to live her own life, she was continually undermined and ridiculed. Despite her amazing abilities as an agent, she just could not break that glass ceiling.

One episode I found to be particularly poignant in subtly reflecting the portrayal of women was in the second episode, throughout which the popular radio show: The Captain America Adventure Program was frequently ‘aired’. In it, Betty Carver (Peggy’s pop-culture portrayal) was a weak, whimpering woman: the damsel in distress the media so often enjoys portraying ladies as being. However, during one broadcast, as Captain America beats up the Nazis to save Betty, Peggy is busy beating up the real bad guys in real time to save the world. The parallel yet paradoxical nature of this scene was incredibly effective. We see the real woman pitted against what the media wants us, the audience, to perceive as real. And it’s through this power the media holds over us that our preconceptions of gender are born. But here we see the reality, head on confronting and contradicting what we’re supposed to believe – and it’s amazing.

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“There’s a difference between being an independent woman and a spinster.”

There is no love interest for Agent Carter. Her heart belongs completely to Steve Rogers, and he’s sadly on ice. But that means Peggy is not driven by love, or trying to impress a boy. And how refreshing that is! Instead, she’s determined, driven by her desire to honour Captain America’s memory, do the right thing, and uphold democracy. That’s not to say heroines don’t need a partner to be awesome. Let’s just look at Black Widow in Age of Ultron (yes, I went there. And I think the above quote is particularly apt in that argument!). But to not be solely driven by the desire to impress a mate is so rarely seen in film and television, particularly those targeted at a female audience, that it added a whole new dimension to Agent Carter.

Any hints of objectification are also absent. The show is so classy, I could see my face in its neatly polished shoes. Hayley Atwell is absolutely stunning, and it’s amazing to see that she has a figure. Not just a stick in a dress, there are actual curves which accentuates the gorgeous style of the 1940s. I aspire to one day pull off wearing a skirt suit like her! In the one scene where Peggy is caught changing, there’s no creepy lingering on her body, or a close up of her backside, or anything remotely sexualised. Instead, it focuses on her battlescars. Women can be beautiful with ‘imperfections’, and they don’t need to parade around half naked! So many healthy life-lessons!

One of my favourite aspects was the stereotype-swaps in the series. Two of our leading male protagonists, Howard Stark and Jarvis, donned the typical roles of women in TV series. In Howard, we found the damsel – the man needing to be saved. Of course, he also embodies the ‘slut’, but that’s the Starks for you. And in Jarvis, we have the whipped house-wife with a strict routine of cooking and cleaning for his wife before they settle down and listen to their radio shows before a prompt bedtime. He even knows how to sew buttons. The bumbling butler stereotype has been done before, but Jarvis in Agent Carter presents something truly different. And although he may take on the guise of the ‘weak’ house-wife figure, he also emerges a hero, empowered by his adventures with Peggy, proving anyone can be a hero as long as they’re fighting for the right thing.

I would urge every person reading this to please watch Agent Carter. Watch it yourselves, pass it to your friends and family, show it to your children. Only eight episodes long, with a second series on the way, it is vital this show gains and maintains the support it deserves. Not only is it a thrilling adventure series about spies and secret agents, but it’s potentially the strongest piece of work Marvel has created for the television or movie theatres so far. A charming show with class, style, and sophistication, its characters are more than punching bags: they’re complex – the men and women – showing the difficulties and trauma caused by war. What this show does for everyone is open doors. It’s okay to be upset, or need help. It’s okay to be a man, and it’s okay to be a woman.  There’s been a lot of outcry online recently about how poorly represented women are in the Marvel cinematic universe. Well, here she is. Agent Carter is right at the other end of your remote control. A woman who is strong, in control, and a role model to anyone: I’d say Marvel have got this totally right.

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My Week in Comics: Thor Almighty!

“Raise Hel, Goddess of Thunder. And let the rest be damned.”

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The big reveal has happened! Through the twists and turns of Thor #8, we finally learn who now wields Thor’s hammer – and she’s more than worthy!

The opening panel of issue 8 is astonishing: breathtakingly beautiful as Marvel’s army of females strike their battle poses as they attempt to destroy the Destroyer. I’ve really loved the depiction of women in this female-led Thor run. Never are the superheroes posed in an awkwardly sexualised manner or as skinny stick-figures, but as strong warriors. You can really believe that Thor is Thor, because she has the arms to hold Mjolnir. Athletic, not anorexic.

The story has also been consistently strong, and the anticipation building in the panels leading up to Thor’s true identity makes the reveal all the more powerful. The good news: the first trade collection of Thor: Goddess of Thunder is out NOW! The bad news: you won’t get far on the internet without the reveal being spoiled, so catch up soon!

Heroes in the Modern World

One of my favourite things about modern comics is seeing them fit into the modern world. Many of these superhero characters have been around for decades, so it’s always fun to see them adapt to the modern world. One example of this was found in Silk #4, where we see Peter Parker and Johnny Storm playing video games together. However, as Silk goes on to prove, we sometimes you can’t beat a good ol’ fashioned superhero hang-out as she and Johnny get their flame on during their first date by beating up bad guys.

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Perhaps this is what is so appealing about the new Howard the Duck series (with #3 being released this week). Howard the Duck is the modern approach to the idea of the “funny book” – a comedy adventure story which really does not take itself seriously. But its constant tip-of-hat to various pop-culture references both inside and outside the Marvel universe makes it all the more entertaining. The Spiderman joke in #3 had me laughing like a lunatic, whilst I nodded in appreciation at a Scott Pilgrim reference. It’s things like this that keeps comics fresh, and adds that extra connection with the audience.

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The Walking Dead #141

The twist between leadership styles was cleverly portrayed this issue: but who’s got it right?

“Lad culture is based upon the unscientific premise that women are genetically identical to Kleenex. It’s like creationism.”

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The first issue of Giant Days, I was unsure. Issue 2, I was willing to keep going. Issue 3: I am totally on board! This issue confronts lad-culture (and the usual female response) head on, and it is fantastic. It’s a popular trend these days for young men, or “lads”, to shame others they don’t see as being quite up to their standards on the internet. For example, girls are usually “sluts”; homosexuals are usually “fags”; and obese people are, well, usually the butt of all their jokes. And lads are usually the young men who sleep with as many “sluts” as possible, and make amazing jokes about minorities which they call “banter”. I don’t think I need to go much further in explaining how disgusting and derogatory “lad-culture” is. Luckily, Giant Days #3 does this for us!

In this issue, Esther has been on a night out, got a bit hammered, and ended up in a top-ten list on a University ‘lad/banter’ website. Humiliated, she understandably wants to crawl in a hole and die. Who wouldn’t?! And when her reports are ignored by the University as ‘harmless fun’ (which actually happens in real life – really, it’s a thing. Google it!), she loses all hope of ever regaining dignity.

Not only does Giant Days highlight the absolutely disgusting and objectifying nature of lad-behaviour, it also goes on to question that ‘fine line’ between feminism and misandry. Susan, in hope of avenging her friend, goes on a man-hating rampage, canvasing the campus about how terrible all men are because of this lad-culture.

Ultimately, Giant Days is a funny, but eye-openingly aware look at our modern society. All too easily is this newfound ‘lad-culture’ dismissed as ‘banter’, when in the harsh light of day, it’s bullying. It’s a free pass to objectify women and humiliate anyone who doesn’t fit into the ‘lad’ club – one I won’t be applying for membership for anytime soon. The fact that Universities and education systems tend to dismiss this kind of behaviour is awful: why let discriminatory behaviour go unpunished when it can lead to quite devastating effects for its victims? “It’s just a bit of fun” is exactly what Giant Days calls it out as: “Bad explanation!” But similarly, to combat this kind of behaviour, us ladies can’t go around pointing the finger at every male on the planet. It’s everyone’s problem.

The CW Sneak Peeks

The trailers for The CW’s Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow have been released, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about each of them! Admittedly, when Supergirl was originally announced, I had many reservations: they’d need to get it just right since it’s Supergirl – and that’s a big deal. Plus, how will an alien story fit in with all the very human (or meta-human) groundwork Arrow and The Flash have already established? Will it fit?

But the trailer looks promising, rom-com soundtrack aside. The work the CW has done on Arrow and the Flash has been brilliant, so I look forward to seeing how they handle Supergirl. Provided it stays more “I can stop the bad guys, lift aeroplanes over my head, and stop Earth from being destroyed” rather than “Golly, how do I juggle work, clothes, saving the planet, and boys?!”, we’ll be onto a winner. I’m on board for the pilot, at least!

As for Legends of Tomorrow: it may have a ridiculous name, but it looks anything but! A ton of fun bundled up into a TV series! A gigantic team-up on a small team! Because “sometimes the world needs a team” – or as close as it can get to one. And, Hawkgirl has landed– yay! Our heroes (of sorts) are teaming up to take on Savage. I can see a lot of bumps in the road to a smooth team-work approach, but I really can’t wait to see the story unfold, even if miniaturised Atom does look a little like a Lego man…

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Fiona Staples

This week let’s take a look at Fiona Staples, the multi-award winning artist best known for her ground-breaking work on Saga.

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Penciller, Inker, Colourist.  Staples has been actively involved in every aspect of comics’ art since 2005, where her project Amphibious Nightmare was published in an anthology collecting the very best of 24 hour comic day.  Her back-catalogue has since grown to an impressive collection.  After meeting Andrew Foley through Maple Ink Comics’ message board in 2006, she worked on her first series, Done to Death, a clash between vampire and hunter, published just as she was graduating from art school.  Staples also became part of the illustrator team behind the Trick r Treat graphic novel adaptation, as well as working on The Secret History of Authority: Hawksmoor with Mike Costa, and Button Man for 2000AD.  Finally, Staples has worked on North 40 with Aaron Williams and on Mystery Society with renowned horror writer Steve Niles.

Staples’ background in these sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and adventure stories undoubtedly set her in good standing for her most notable work to date; Saga.  Niles introduced Staples to Brian K Vaughan, which sparked the beginning of a hugely successful creative relationship, beginning with issue 1’s release in March 2012.  Co-owning the series, Staples was granted the opportunity to design all the characters, spaceships, and alien races, providing a huge sense of creative freedom in the comic.

An advocate for digital production, Staples has mastered the blend of traditional and digital techniques, hand-inking her characters before finishing the image on screen.  Her full-colour images are greatly inspired by anime and the worlds portrayed in video games.  And with the vast, detailed environments created in Saga, it’s no surprise she finds colouring digitally preferable!  However, Staples hand-letters her narration and paints the cover of each issue, creating a unique sense of freedom and elegance for each comic.  It is not only the covers and narration which escape the use of modern technology; we can see in the book itself Staples’ attempt to steer clear of traditional sci-fi tropes, as our protagonists travel in a wooden rocket ship, and much of the resemblance of traditional architecture and buildings in her scenery is certainly not accidental.  By mixing the traditional with the technological, Staples’ artistic style has helped to create a completely new fantastical world which defies the usual genre stereotypes; ultimately adding weight to why ‘Saga’ is one of the most popular sci-fi comic series today.

This distinction has not gone unnoticed.  Staples, Vaughan and ‘Saga’ have received huge critical acclaim, and been nominated for many awards.  In 2013 alone, ‘Saga’ won nine awards ranging from Eisner’s to Harvey’s to Hugo’s; two of which were awarded directly to Staples for Best Artist and Best Colourist.   And the nominations continue to roll in, with Staples being nominated for Eisner awards yet again this year.  The competition is tough, but my fingers are crossed for her!

Consequently, Staples is now one of the most recognised and respected artistic names in the comics industry, and rightly so.  Her constant hard work has allowed her to participate in a variety of projects.  Her variant cover art for the big companies like DC and Marvel are highly sought after, and her participation in the new Kickstarter Archie Comics series has been hotly anticipated by fans.  Her distinct style has ultimately led to her being part of a creator team producing one of the most popular fantasy comics of our generation, and this undoubtedly is due to the presence of her own creative voice.

So there we have it; a talented woman who has made a strong name within the comics industry; recognised by both fans and critics.  Who say’s girls can’t like comics too?!

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The Brilliance of Birdman

Subtitled The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Alejandro G Iñárritu’s Birdman is anything but. A fully self-aware work of art, Birdman is an astounding black comedy which resonates strongly in our modern culture. Birdman follows Riggan Thompson, a has-been superhero movie-star who has put everything on the line to pursuit ‘real’ art and prove his true talent as an actor, desperate to leave his life as Birdman firmly behind.

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It’s rather odd that leading actor Michael Keaton delivered the best performance of his career in a movie where he depicts a man desperate to give the best performance of his career and prove his worth as an artist. Keaton delivers a very honest role, embodying the frantic determination of a man who has dedicated his entire being to proving he is worth more than a bird suit as he struggles to shake the feathers of his past from his shoulders.

His supporting cast is just as powerful in their individual roles. Edward Norton’s portrayal of an egotistical broadway actor with an increasingly unpredictable temperament acts as a dark mirror for Riggan: Mike is everything Riggan hopes to become with his broadway success story – relevant, talented, a ‘true artist’. But the harsh reality is Mike’s celebrated artistic status comes at a cost: his true self can only be found onstage. This becomes increasingly complicated when you begin to think about the many roles an actor may take in his or her lifetime. Does this mean Mike can never really be his true self? Similarly, Emma Stone perfectly personifies our disinterested generation, pretending they don’t care when they really do. Disconnected from reality by living through viral videos and social media, it’s no wonder people feel increasingly smaller every day.

Birdman is beautifully shot, seemingly in a single take, which gives the movie the fast-flowing pace of reality. We follow characters from one scene to the next, rarely stopping for breath. Indeed, we’re literally following these characters on their journey, observing in ‘real time’. The decision to film in this manner added to the film’s unique sense of oddity. It revelled in seeming a little too close to home, trying to be as real as possible whilst being completely aware that it’s a story. This is only added to by the bizarre jazz drum soundtrack, which occasionally falls off-beat.

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What struck me most about Birdman is its relevance, and how haunting an echo of modern society it is. The movie presents an interesting paradox: power no longer lies in art. It lies in the viral videos, the Kim Kardashians and Miley Cyruses of the world. It’s about controversy and money; ridiculing and belittling; franchises over substance. Today’s audiences: “They love blood – the love action.” We no longer pay the overpriced cinema tickets to see an independent art movie: we want the big, the bold, the obnoxious exploding onto our screens. Yet, to make this point, Birdman is everything modern audiences shouldn’t love. The very thing that cannot thrive within the movie’s universe is the thing that holds the power in our own, which drives home the message that art is not dead.

Riggan’s struggle is relatable on many levels, but most importantly, the fear that we will be forgotten. When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Stone’s passionate outburst directly – or indirectly – tells us what we all dread to hear: “You don’t matter.” In a world as fickle as ours, it’s hard to believe that that’s not true. It’s so compelling that Riggan continues his battle to complete his play, to get a good review, to mean something more than the birdsuit. And in the end, is he defeated? Well, that’s open to personal interpretation.

Birdman is a triumph, and deserves every ounce of praise it has received. It’s passionate, funny, moving and intelligent, with layers upon layers of connotations and deeper meaning than purely a black comedy about a failing actor. And what has become of Riggan, we don’t know. The ambiguous ending parallels the ambiguity of the artist: do they live on after their life is complete, or are they simply forgotten in the next wave of cinema history?

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