Before Civil War: Ranking the Marvel Movies

Ranking the Marvel Movies
Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to begin with Captain America: Civil War. But first, let’s take a look back at the 12 existing films and rank the Marvel movies.
Before I begin, it should be noted that I’m a fan of all of the Marvel movies, and it would be disingenuous to call any one of them the “worst” as I enjoy even my least favourite of the bunch.

12. Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark WorldMy initial opinion of Thor: The Dark World was much higher than it is now, based on the fact that I had a very good time watching it at the movies. But as time went on, it slipped down the list.
Thor: The Dark World is a competent if unremarkable action adventure movie, and a fun way to spend a couple of hours. It’s not the kind of movie that would stay with you beyond those two hours, as it’s not exactly a very memorable film. It has the weakest villain out of all the Marvel movies, but its greatest strength is Tom Hiddleston’s ever-charismatic Loki, who has a legitimate arc and plenty of banter with his brother Thor.

11. The Incredible Hulk

Incredible HulkThe Incredible Hulk is a movie that I rewatched on Blu-ray more times than its placement on this list would indicate. Its entertainment value manages to outweigh its flaws and make it another solid action movie.
The Incredible Hulk follows the Marvel movies trend of having a unique first hour or so followed by a generic third act that’s just okay. For the most part, it’s a chase movie with a fugitive for a protagonist. This setup led to several great sequences, such as the chase in Rio de Janeiro and the battle at Culver University. The film’s climax, a decent monster brawl, fell short by comparison. The love story didn’t really work either, but Edward Norton gave a sincere performance, and Tim Roth made for a decent villain.

10. Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2Iron Man 2 is often criticized for being more of a Marvel Cinematic Universe setup than a film in its own right, and in many ways that is true. It is very light on plot, featuring a villain that, following a great introductory scene, spends far too much time offscreen and is dispatched quite easily in the end. And its central character arc, while solid, falls short of the “Demon in a Bottle” comic book storyline it was trying to evoke.
Still, the fact that it was tasked with so much worldbuilding and pulled it off while still being a solid and entertaining movie is no small feat. Robert Downey Jr.’s charm is ever-present, and he carries the movie almost singlehandedly, although Sam Rockwell does his fair share in an entertaining turn as Justin Hammer.

9. Thor

ThorRounding out the bottom four is a movie that, by all counts, should not have been as good as it is. It’s nothing spectacular, but Thor marks the point where Marvel leapt into the more “out there” parts of its comic mythology with surprising ease.
After the more sci-fi approach of the Iron Man films, Marvel had the difficult task of adapting a comic featuring a magic hammer-wielding Norse god from another dimension. And by injecting Thor a good dose of adventure and not letting it take itself too seriously, it succeeded. It wasn’t perfect; most notably, the scenes Thor spent on Earth going through his requisite humility arc got a bit plodding compared to the fantastical Asgard sequences. But director Kenneth Branagh—no stranger to Shakespearean films—managed the throneroom drama very well, and then-newcomer Tom Hiddleston made an immediate strong impression as Loki.

8. Ant-Man

Ant-ManThe middle third of this list is where things get much more even and interchangeable, and I spent a long time settling on an order for these next four entries.
It says a lot about the quality of the Marvel movies that an entry as good and beloved as Ant-Man is number 8 on the list. Ant-Man is a very likable movie, with a charismatic lead, plenty of humour, creative action sequences, and no shortage of the sort of self-awareness that any movie about an Ant-themed hero needs to have. But none of that would work without the genuine heart that Ant-Man possesses thanks to Scott’s relationship with his daughter Cassie, a parent-child theme that echoes throughout the movie between numerous characters. Ant-Man is also refreshingly small-scale (no pun intended), one of the factors that led many fans to prefer it over that same year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But it’s not without its flaws. The plot feels familiar and formulaic at times, even as it tries using the heist genre to separate itself from the crowd (a genre that inherently shares typical superhero story tropes like the training montage). There’s also a bit of tonal dissonance; the movie makes lighthearted jabs at its wacky premise, yet expects us to invest in serious scenes featuring Michael Douglas tearfully saying things like “she disabled her regulator and vanished into the quantum realm.” Not to mention the typically weak Marvel villain.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First AvengerWhat do you get when you cross a World War II film with a superhero origin story? A pretty great movie, actually!
Captain America: The First Avenger brought a good old-fashioned comic book character to life in a movie about good old-fashioned heroism, proving that, despite what the recent Superman films would have you believe, the morals of yesteryear can still resonate with modern audiences. Joe Johnston was unquestionably the right man for this job, and the stylish 40s setting and recognizable World War II scenery allow Captain America to stand apart from other films in its genre even as it goes through familiar plot points. This is a movie that has actually improved with age, the passage of time (and addition of sequels) allowing me to more clearly appreciate what it was trying to evoke.

6. Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3A lot of Marvel fans have mixed feelings about Iron Man 3, most notably its handling of the Mandarin and the low amount of time Tony spent in the Iron Man suit. You won’t hear any of that from me. I love this movie.
Shane Black takes the helm and instantly proves that his is the perfect style for a character like Tony Stark. Stark’s unique brand of humour is ever-present, keeping the film fun and energetic, even as he goes through a great and well-executed PTSD story arc following the events of The Avengers. The action scenes are very strong as well, from the ones where Tony is without his full suit and has to improvise to the airplane rescue and the fantastic climax with the armada of Iron Man suits. Not to mention the Lethal Weapon-like dynamic between Tony and Rhodey; this really is the first of the Marvel movies that made their friendship feel real and convincing.
As usual, the villain (Aldrich Killian) leaves a lot to be desired, his deadly powers making him enough of a threat but nothing more than that. As for the other “villain”, well, I don’t care what anyone says; I absolutely loved the Trevor Slattery twist.

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers Age of UltronAvengers: Age of Ultron had the daunting task of following in the wildly successful footsteps of The Avengers, and in many ways, it did not live up to the hype. It’s bloated, messy, and inconsistently paced. It relies way too hard on the Joss Whedon brand of humour that was so delightful in 2012 but that the Marvel movies had outgrown by 2015. And it’s crammed with setup for future movies, sometimes at the detriment of its own narrative.
But I’d be lying if I said any of that really bothers me when watching it. Because despite all of that, Age of Ultron works, and in its high points, it really works. Each action scene is more dazzling than the last, from the opening Hydra base assault to the Hulkbuster sequence. The new characters, especially Scarlet Witch and the Vision, are instantly memorable. And an existing but previously undercooked character, Hawkeye, gets plenty of development and the film’s best line. Ultron, despite being a different kind of villain than advertised, is a unique and enjoyable antagonist, thanks to James Spader’s magnetic performance.
The theme of legacy permeates Age of Ultron, tying together all of its leads’ character arcs—and they all get one (excellently outlined here). It might be too busy, but most of the material it tries to juggle is really great.

4. Iron Man

Iron ManKicking off the top third of this list where we jump from great to spectacular is the one that started it all. The whole miraculous endeavour that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe hinged entirely on the success of this first movie. Luckily, Iron Man knocked it out of the park.
Robert Downey Jr. was absolutely perfect, playing Tony Stark with wit and clever humour that would come to define not just his character, but the tone of the Marvel movies as a whole. Jon Favreau’s assured directing and complete trust in his cast is apparent throughout the film. The pacing is brisk, the dialogue sharp, the action exhilarating, and the whole ride is pure fun.
If there’s one thing to be said against it, it’s that the third act doesn’t quite live up to the first two. The villain is quickly inserted and a final confrontation worked in seemingly just to have one, because up until then the film was cruising along and enjoying itself. Despite that, Iron Man remains one of Marvel’s best films, and a worthy contender for the top spot.

3. The Avengers

AvengersThis is it. The movie that proved the long experiment could work, and was very well worth it. The magnificent payoff for the shared universe that had been building for 4 years.
Unlike most Marvel movies, the third act is actually where The Avengers shines the brightest. In fact, the whole movie seems to be mostly a buildup to that final epic battle, one that left comic book fans agape with wonder and delight. That long, uninterrupted tracking shot that shows off all 6 heroes in battle exemplifies the kind of unapologetic superhero escapism this movie provides. The Avengers remains the ultimate superhero movie.
That’s not to say The Avengers is a bore for two hours until the climax. Watching the team slowly assemble, the different characters meeting and interacting, whether becoming instant friends, experiencing friction, or planting seeds for relationships that would develop in future movies, is just as enjoyable as witnessing them in action. And Joss Whedon keeps things light and snappy, punctuating the dialogue and exposition scenes with clever humour that doesn’t leave room for a single boring second.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the GalaxyGuardians of the Galaxy is the movie that introduced us to the vast cosmic side of the Marvel universe, a world with talking raccoons and sentient trees. It was a challenging endeavour, but writer/director James Gunn’s approach, essentially an intergalactic Dirty Dozen, made it all work. As a result, Guardians of the Galaxy might just be the most enjoyable Marvel movie to date.
Chris Pratt evolved to full-on action star for this film while using his well-honed comedic talents to maximum effect. His Peter Quill has the right mix of Han Solo-esque roguish charm, an underlying sense of vulnerability, and just a bit of dorkiness to make him instantly likable. The rest of the group is just as magnetic, from Zoe Saldana’s Gamora to Dave Bautista’s surprisingly hilarious performance as Drax. This ragtag group of heroes is the main reason the movie’s so good.
Another reason? It’s a rollicking space adventure that takes us through action setpieces and prison breaks to outlandish and visually stunning locales, set to the sounds of lively songs from the 70s and 80s. Sure, the villain is less than memorable, but it’s forgivable with all that’s going on.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier wins the Marvel movies rankingThe best of the Marvel movies yet in this fan’s book. Captain America: The Winter Soldier marks a welcome mature turn for Marvel, one that leaves the quippy humour and superhero tropes behind, substituting them for a gripping spy thriller approach, strong characterizations, and themes of liberty versus security that resonate all too well in the modern world.
This is the movie that made Captain America, an outdated bland archetype, into one of Marvel’s strongest characters, using instead of discarding his old-fashioned morality to make him relevant to today’s world. This is also the movie in which Black Widow acts most like the spy she was always meant to be, and her best characterization to date. The action scenes remain the most intense and engaging out of all of the Marvel films, and the Hydra twist is a genius use of comic book lore for social and political commentary that elevated Winter Soldier to the upper echelon of superhero films.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo take the wheel with confidence and determination, imbuing the Marvel universe with a much-needed dose of seriousness, all while keeping things fun and never too dour. This movie is the reason they are the caretakers of the Marvel movies going forward, and it’s easy to see why. Winter Soldier is what I had in mind when I mentioned that Marvel movies had outgrown the Joss Whedon approach in the Age of Ultron entry above, and the biggest step in the evolution that was Marvel’s Phase Two.
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Oscars: Forever out of Touch

Why This Year’s Snubs Actually Matter

Oscars 2015
I didn’t think I’d write this post. I’d mentioned before that I wasn’t as into this year’s awards season as I usually am, so I assumed I would only have a mere passing interest in yesterday’s Academy Award nominations. But the Academy dropped the ball so spectacularly this year that, oh boy, I had to say something. While yes, a lot of deserving films were nominated, it’s the omissions that not only stand out, but reveal a serious problem in the mentality of the Academy and, by extension, the film industry in general.

The Lego Movie

Before we get into the more serious issues, let’s take a minute to remember that, as proven by The Hollywood Reporter last year, the Academy doesn’t really care about animated movies. Some don’t even watch animated films, and many abstain from voting in that category. So it’s no surprise that The Lego Movie, a heartfelt, hilarious, and visually spectacular film, was left out. Perhaps the fact that it’s based on licensed toys had something to do with that? At least Phil Lord and Chris Miller were great sports about it.

The Curious Case of the Crowded Best Actor Race

NightcrawlerWhen I saw Nightcrawler, I felt that it might be a bit too sombre for the Academy’s tastes, but there was no doubt in my mind that Jake Gyllenhaal, at least, would get an acting nomination. So imagine my surprise when he didn’t. This is, of course, a symptom of a year with so many great male performances (David Oyelowo and Ralph Fiennes also come to mind) that no list of five nominees could include them all.
But if we’re to imagine a dozen actors playing the Academy’s equivalent of musical chairs (only five seats, with a clear advantage for the white males in period pieces about science, love, and/or fighting Nazis), with Jake Gyllenhaal, David Oyelowo, and Bradley Cooper fighting over that last seat, the least likely person I’d imagine to emerge victorious is Bradley Cooper. And yet here we are: Bradley Cooper got a Best Actor nomination over Jake Gyllenhaal and David Oyelowo—his third Academy Award nomination in a row!
American SniperIt’s easy to say that it’s just happenstance—there’s no conspiracy here, the members of the Academy just have different opinions, and American Sniper campaigned really hard. But it can’t be ignored that a movie about a white American solider shooting people (an oversimplification, I know) was viewed more favourably than a Martin Luther King drama that highlights how far we still have to go in race relations and a movie about the dark nature of news media consumption. And if we’re going to talk about pure merit, I will note that I haven’t seen a fraction of the praise Gyllenhaal and Oyelowo have received directed at Bradley Cooper.
The crowded Best Actor race is also notable for being in stark contrast with a Best Actress (and Supporting Actress) category that is anything but crowded. There are four things to note here. First, a good chunk of the nominees (Julianne Moore, Marion Cotillard, Reese Witherspoon, and of course, Meryl Streep, among others) are Oscar “regulars”. Second, of all the Best Actress nominees, only one of them (Felicity Jones) was in a Best Picture nominated film—and she didn’t even play the central character, just his wife. Third, while three of the Best Supporting Actress nominees are in Best Picture nominated films, all of those films are also about men. Finally, in contrast to all of the above, four of the Best Actor nominees are in Best Picture nominated films as the central characters, and indeed, all eight Best Picture nominees are about men. All of this demonstrates just how few roles women can get, and how unrewarded those films that feature women are in the industry.
Which brings us to…

White Men. White Men Everywhere.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Of the fifteen nominees for writing and directing, none of them are women. Of the twenty nominees in the acting categories, none of them are people of colour.
Selma“Ah, but Louis,” some might say, “numbers without context don’t necessarily mean much.” OK, here’s some context: Selma, easily one of the best-reviewed films of the year, with a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic, stars a black man in a lauded performance and is directed and co-written by an equally praised black woman. Neither of them were nominated. Oh, the movie was nominated for Best Picture, sure, but it received no other nods—not for directing, writing, or acting—except Best Original Song. Literally all of the other Best Picture nominees had at least five nods. One thing of note here is that the lack of a nomination for Selma‘s director, Ava DuVernay, marks yet another instance of the Academy nominating a film for Best Picture but snubbing its female director—the ninth instance, as a matter of fact.
Speaking of women, let’s look at Gone Girl. Granted, it’s not the Academy’s cup of tea—I was not expecting a Best Picture nod—but there is no doubt in most people’s minds that Gillian Flynn deserved a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. She wrote an incredibly successful novel, and adapted it into an excellent, intelligent film herself. Her screenplay was nominated for a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a Writers Guild of America Award—but no Oscars.
The biggest problem here is in missed opportunities and implied messages. In nominating Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, and Gillian Flynn at the very least, the Academy had a chance to avoid those aforementioned appalling numbers, but they didn’t take it. In a year when gender and race issues were so prevalent in our culture, from Gamergate to Ferguson and everything in between, for the Academy to have their least diversified list of nominees in years not only is culturally deaf but feels politically charged.
Gone GirlNote that last year, 12 Years a Slave did win Best Picture—in fact, it performed rather well at the Oscars, giving us some hope that things were getting better. Which makes this year’s list even more troublesome. It’s like the Academy collectively thought, “We awarded a ‘black movie’ last year, what more do you want from us?!”, dusted off their hands, and went into full backlash mode.
And let’s be clear here, I’m not asking that any random movie be nominated just for the sake of diversity. Ava DuVernay, Gillian Flynn, and David Oyelowo genuinely deserve to be there, especially over a lot of the other nominees. It wasn’t a lack of inclusion—it was explicit omission. Race and gender diversity is an issue within the film industry, and we need the Academy to play their part in improving the situation by rewarding the films that deserve it, instead of acting as a roadblock. I mean, no offence to Morten Tyldum, but come on now.
In fact, when it comes to improving the situation, blockbuster movies, usually scoffed at by film enthusiasts, are in fact faring better than the well-regarded award season movies in terms of diversity. Frozen, Maleficent, Lucy, Gone Girl, and Mockingjay Part 1 were all among the top 25 grossing films of 2014. DC is finally working on a Wonder Woman movie and a Cyborg movie. Marvel is making Captain Marvel and Black Panther. Star Wars: The Force Awakens alone is more diverse than the entire list of Oscar nominees. Blockbusters are—admittedly slowly—listening to audience demands. But the “prestigious” awards films still hardly tell stories that are not by and about white males, and the ones that do are overlooked and unrewarded. It’s easy to say let it go, that the Oscars don’t matter, and that it’s not a big deal, but this is a representation of a problem within the film industry and culture in general, and it should be addressed.

Journey into History: Batman and the DC Universe, Part 1

World’s Finest Origins

Batman Superman
Welcome to the first entry in Journey into History, the blog series in which I chronicle my foray into the world of comics! If you missed the prelude post explaining the idea behind this blog series, check it out here. In this inaugural post, I will dive into the first chronological chapter of the post-Crisis DC Universe, focusing on the origin stories of Superman and Batman.

Superman: Birthright

Superman-BirthrightThe story of the DC Universe must always begin with Superman, and so it was in my reading. I had a lot of choices for the man of steel’s post-Crisis origin, as there have been several retellings of debatable canonicity. In the end, I decided to read the one with the best word of mouth: Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright.
Superman was never one of my favourite comic book heroes, for the reasons one would expect: he’s an overpowered do-gooder with very little weaknesses and morally grey areas, and he tends to come off as somewhat aloof in many depictions. In fact, I always preferred and related to his Clark Kent persona—the shy and socially awkward goofball (remind you of anyone?)—over the distant and god-like Superman, and lamented the fact that Superman was his real self and Kent was the ‘disguise’—sort of a reverse Spider-Man. Birthright doesn’t exactly flip the tables in that regard, but it does succeed in bringing to the forefront a side of Clark that is neither the bumbling reporter nor the unrelatable superhero, a ‘real self’ that is warm and caring but also vulnerable, which ultimately makes him feel human and likable.
Another thing I liked in this story was the absence of a Marlon Brando-inspired Jor-El scene. You know the one I’m talking about: Superman finds an interactive recording of his father that explains to Clark who he is and what he must do and offers some inspirational guidance. Some version of this now-classic scene appears in almost every retelling of Superman’s origin story, down to the rebooted Man of Steel film. In Birthright, however, Superman’s journey to becoming a hero, his self-discovery, is purely his own doing, and that strengthens the character greatly in my eyes. In fact, he doesn’t see Jor-El at all in this story until the very end, which—without spoiling it too much—results in a very cathartic moment.
Finally, I really enjoyed this story’s depiction of Lex Luthor. I don’t know how far back in Superman lore the idea of Lex being in Smallville originated, but its inclusion here makes for an interesting development, and his characterization, especially as an adolescent, is a highlight. Making him around Clark’s age while maintaining his superior intellect and air of menace allows him to stand apart from the Gene Hackman/Kevin Spacey versions and closer to what I imagine Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation will feel like. His grand scheme to discredit Superman is a great overarching plot, because it reflects the very real xenophobia that still exists in today’s society, and shows that Superman wasn’t necessarily hailed as a saviour from the very start but had to work around humans’ fear and earn their trust. This is an idea that Man of Steel also tackled and was one of the more successful elements of that film.

Batman: Year One

Batman Year OneWith Superman’s origin out of the way, it’s time to move on to the comic that has been hailed by many as the very best Batman story of all time—which, when you think about it, is saying a whole lot! But having read it twice so far, there is little doubt in my mind that its status as an eternal classic is well-deserved.
One of the most noticeable things about this story is how dense it is. In a mere four issues, it tells just as much story as Superman: Birthright does in twelve, without any part of it feeling rushed or underdeveloped in the slightest. It chronicles Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham, the early days of his crusade, the reason he chose to dress up like a giant bat, and his rise from a mere vigilante to a veritable hero. It tells the story of Jim Gordon’s struggle not just within the rotten city of Gotham, but also against a corrupt police department, while also fleshing out his personal life. It even manages to squeeze in a pseudo-origin story for Catwoman, as well as a quick Harvey Dent cameo that plants the seeds for the Dent/Gordon/Batman friendship to be fleshed out in future stories. The story is told from both Gordon and Batman’s points of view, alternating between them but focusing mainly on Gordon. This grants us an intimate look at Gordon’s life and thought process while keeping Batman at something of a distance and maintaining his mystique, making Gordon feel more like the protagonist. This was a wise choice for the setting, a time when Batman was mostly just a whisper, an urban legend.
These four issues also have a great feel to them. The artwork, the bleak, washed-out colours, and the writing style evoke an atmosphere that sucks the reader right into Gotham in its darkest days, when only a distant glimmer of hope shone in the horizon. It’s clear in retrospect how much of this mood Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins film managed to capture. It’s a very grim and down-to-earth story, greatly contrasting with the Superman story I’d just read in every way: the decadent, dirty Gotham versus the shiny, futuristic Metropolis, the dark, ninja-like Batman versus the colourful, fanfare-accompanied Superman, the slimy old Falcone, straight of The Godfather, representing a dying breed of criminals, versus the young, intelligent Lex Luthor, almost a Bond villain, the first of many such Superman foes, etc. Even the climaxes couldn’t be more different, with Superman battling a city-wide alien invasion, while Batman has a very intimate, almost understated showdown with a couple of mobsters that is nevertheless far more emotionally charged. It’s almost hard to believe they exist in a shared universe, but the differences really are what make the two such a unique pair when they do cross paths.
Needless to say, Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One was a superb read. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most influential Batman comics of all time, with its effects felt in most of the stories to follow. I almost worried that by going in chronological order I got through the best Batman story first, but I know there’s really no shortage of other incredible tales to come.

Journey into History

Prelude

journey-into-history
I’m reading 50 years’ worth of comic books, because apparently I’m crazy. And I would like to share that experience and discuss it here. But here’s some background first.
I have always considered myself a comic book fan, but for the longest time there was a major problem: I had not read a single comic book in my life. I had watched and, in many cases, rewatched most superhero movies, and I was familiar with a decent amount of comic book lore thanks to the Internet, but I had yet to dive into the comic book medium. That all changed in April 2013, when Marvel offered #1 issues of over 700 of its digital titles for free. At the time, I was already starting to feel like I was missing out on a lot, so I decided that that was as good a time as any to begin reading comics.
But… where to start? At first, I spent a long time doing research, trying to find the best jumping-in point. Of course, Marvel had just relaunched all of its current titles as part of the “Marvel NOW!” initiative, which hoped to attract new readers, so I could have just picked up Superior Spider-Man #1 or Uncanny Avengers #1 and started there. But I didn’t. Comic book history, I felt, was far too rich to simply skip over. Even recent arcs like House of M and Civil War had generated too much buzz during my adolescence for me to not want to read them.
The problem was, even if I were to limit myself to the best-ofs of the post-2000s era, it would still be too costly an endeavour. And that’s where Marvel Unlimited came in. It’s a subscription service that provides digital access to a wealth of Marvel comics—almost every issue ever published. With virtually the entirety of Marvel history available to me, my research turned from selective to comprehensive, at which point I thought, “what the hell,” and decided to read from the very beginning.
After thorough (and still ongoing) research, from sources like the wonderfully comprehensive Comics Back Issues and the Comic Book Resources Greatest Stories Every Told series among others, I came up with a list of essential and/or acclaimed storylines from Marvel’s history, from 1961’s Fantastic Four #1 to this day, arranged in chronological order, even including a rough estimate of in-universe time span. For organization purposes, I divided the Marvel list into chunks based on eras, like so:
  • Year 1-4, the Marvel Silver Age (mostly comprising comics from 1961-1970)
  • Year 4-8, the Marvel Bronze Age (1970-1984)
  • Year 8-10, the Marvel Dark Age (1985-1996)
  • Year 10-11, the Marvel Knights Era (1996-2004)
  • Year 11-13, the Marvel Event Era (2004-2010)
  • Year 13, the Marvel Heroic Age (2010-2013)
  • Year 13-14, Marvel NOW! and Beyond (2013-)
DC Comics, on the other hand, is a different story. It doesn’t have a subscription service, so I could not afford to be nearly as comprehensive. Again, I could have jumped in after the last reboot (New 52) and started with the superbly-received Batman: The Court of Owls story arc, but I did not want to miss so much history. Thus I compiled another, much shorter list, this one for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC universe, at first limited exclusively to the bare minimum essential Batman stories, but eventually branching out bit by bit to include other stories I discovered along the way (such as Green Arrow, after I got hooked on the Arrow TV series).
So why am I telling you all this? Well, after about a year of reading comics, I decided to introduce a new blog series called Journey into History (Journey into Mystery being a popular Marvel title in which Thor made his first appearance—yay for the pun!), in which I will chronicle my foray into the world of comics and share my thoughts and opinions, mostly in broad strokes, about all that I read. I will also include a more detailed list of the comics I read (and their specific order), in case anyone wants to read along. As a newbie reader basically binge-reading decades’ worth of comics, I’m in need of an outlet.
The first official post in this series will be up soon. I hope you’ll find this experiment as interesting and enjoyable as I have.

HeForShe: A Discussion on Feminism

HeForShe
Last week, Emma Watson, one of the most beloved celebrities on the Internet and a Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, got up on stage at the UN headquarters and said that she identified as a feminist. In a beautiful and inspiring speech, she laid out the challenges that face women as well as men as a result of the gender divide. She addressed the misconception that feminism means man-hating, and she encouraged men to join the feminist movement via the HeForShe campaign, so that both genders could fight for equality together. Sounds great, right?
What should have been an uncontroversial announcement, given that this is supposed to be 2014, became one of the most debated topics over the past week. The majority of the responses to Emma’s speech were positive and supportive, which is always heartening. But her speech drew its fair share of criticism, whether in the form of polite disagreements, less-than-polite Internet comments, or outright atrocious behaviour ranging from fake nude photo threats to an actual death hoax. I had hoped that having a such a well-liked and respected celebrity embrace feminism would make other people see the movement in a more positive light, but that hasn’t been the case.
One thing I did notice in many of the negative responses is how much misinformation there is and how mistaken a lot of people’s views on the matter are. After seeing so many people get it so wrong, I felt compelled to write a post in response to some of the more recurrent criticisms and misconceptions of feminism that seem to be at the root of many of these disagreements.

“Feminism Is Anti-Men!”

Emma Watson SpeechOne of the most common—and therefore most damaging—misinterpretations of feminism is that it is about hating men, or at the very least about stripping men of their power and giving it to women. It’s funny to me that people keep saying that even in response to the very speech in which Emma actually singles out and disputes that idea, but that’s exactly why it’s worth bringing up.
I’m not sure where the strawman idea of a man-hating “feminazi” first originated, but this caricaturish hyperbole (satirized in this funny comic) is sadly perpetuated so much that it mistakenly represents the entire movement in many people’s eyes. Similarly, the idea that feminism is about empowering women at the expense of men is ridiculous. Since when were female and male empowerment mutually exclusive?
These misconceptions are both disheartening, because they take a movement that aims to do good and cast it as something malicious, and harmful, because they are far too common and keep many people—women included—away from feminism for the wrong reasons. Even celebrities have fallen prey to these myths. While I wouldn’t vilify them for being victims of a common mistake, the fact remains that every time someone perpetuates a fallacy about feminism, especially in the case of influential celebrities, others buy into it, and it becomes more and more difficult for this inherently good movement to achieve its goals.

“Why Not Egalitarianism?”

The most often repeated response to anything related to feminism is the egalitarianism argument. “Feminism focuses on women’s issues, but men face issues too,” they would say. “Since feminism is only about helping women, it isn’t about true equality. Otherwise it would be egalitarianism.”
This response frustrates me to no end, because it is an entirely meaningless argument, based on fallacy and pedantry, that pops up everywhere and derails the entire conversation every time. I know I should be more patient—after all, misconceptions aren’t always intentional or malicious on the part of the people who believe them—but I can’t tell you how tired I am of having to read this same argument over and over again, especially this past week.
So, once and for all, let me clear this up: feminism is not anti-men nor is it anti-equality. Feminism is a branch of the equality struggle that focuses on women’s issues. It has the same end goal as egalitarianism—true equality between all people. Its focus is on equality for women, just like other movements focus on other marginalized or oppressed groups.
Egalitarianism isn’t enough because it implies that both men and women face issues in equal amounts, and that men’s issues and women’s issues are similar enough that there is a “one size fits all” solution to all gender-related problems. But that’s not the case. Women have it worse in today’s society, and most of the problems they face are very gender-specific. That’s why feminism is needed.
Look at it this way: all medicine aims to cure the body from illness and pain. But there is a specific treatment for a stomach ache, or a broken leg, or a migraine. Sure, you can give someone a painkiller, an all-encompassing treatment that dulls the pain, but you can’t fix the problem unless you have specialized medication that targets specific ailments. Some treatments are more aggressive than others based on the severity of the problem, but they all work together towards the same goal.

“Do Women Still Face Issues, Though?”

There are people who believe that equality has already been achieved in today’s society. “Feminism may have been necessary back when women couldn’t vote,” they would say, “but there’s no need for it in today’s world.” It’s easy for people who don’t experience oppression to assume it doesn’t exist and to mistake the current status quo as true equality. Thus, when confronted with a movement that aims to improve the present situation, those people would mistakenly see it as an attempt to disrupt what they perceive as equality in that movement’s favour.
Emma SpeechUnfortunately, even in 2014, women still face issues too numerous to list. Several months ago I discussed the problem of sexism in the geek and comic book world, from lack of representation and excessive objectification in media to outright abuse in the real and professional world. Less than a month ago, “CelebGate” demonstrated the culture of victim-blaming, and “GamerGate” resulted in violent threats against a woman just because she criticized some sexist video game tropes. If you’re still not convinced, watch this brilliant Daily Show clip and let the talented Jessica Williams demonstrate yet another of the many ways in which women have it worse.
In fact, it’s worth noting, as Emma did in her speech, that some of the problems that plague women also have a secondary damaging effect on men. Young boys are bullied if they like pink, or if they prefer to watch Powerpuff Girls over Digimon (I’m showing my age here). Men are put down for being sensitive or exhibiting any traits that are deemed effeminate. On the surface, these could be mistaken as purely men’s rights issues, but the main reason men are discouraged from anything “feminine” is because society doesn’t like that which is feminine (you don’t have to take my word for it, just watch this excellent video). Note that conversely, nobody condemns a woman when she acts in a masculine way—in fact, they often praise her. But a woman is likely to be criticized even when she conforms to those predefined feminine traits, to the point that “I’m not like other girls” has become such a common thing for young women to say that it’s now basically shorthand for wanting to be accepted.
Yes, feminism still has a place in the world—in fact, it’s desperately needed. And no amount of myths, fallacies, or misguided arguments can change that reality. All they do is derail a much-needed conversation and slow down any real positive progress. So kudos to Emma Watson for using her influence to do some real good, and to the celebrities who have declared their support. With her open invitation for men to join the movement, hopefully many others will follow suit. I support HeForShe, and I encourage you to do the same.