The Importance of Superheroes

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It’s easy to write off superhero movies as being all the same. It’s easy to get cynical about comic book movies, especially ones that are dark and angsty (*sideglances at Batfleck and Man of Steel*). But the genre of adaptations based on comic books has come a long way from how they started in the early 2000s and despite what some people may think, it’s not a rinse-and-repeat formula. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if there’s one thing that the current lineup of superheros has shown us, it’s that there are many ways to be a hero, just as there are many ways to be a saint.

WARNING: I’ll be making references to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe AND the DC shows currently on TV, so if you’re one of those people who wants me to pick a side between Marvel and DC, this post is not for you. Also, I’m more familiar with the current lineup of movies and TV shows and not with the comics themselves, so apologies to you diehard comic book fans.

I’m gonna start out with what is being called the “Arrowverse,” AKA the current lineup of shows created by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. Arrow is the series most similar to the dark and gritty DC movies we’ve been seeing in recent years. It’s not a perfect show, especially with its soap-opera worthy levels of poor communications and misunderstandings, but my brother, who is a huge fan of the show, loves Arrow because of the characters. He says that the Green Arrow represents “the idea of a ray of light to combat a dark town. I think that things may always get worse before they get better, but you shouldn’t stop when it gets either way.”

Similarly, the protagonists in Daredevil and Jessica Jones are more like anti-heroes because these heroes don’t try to do the right thing for the sake of being good, but for other reasons. Matt Murdock wants to reform Hell’s Kitchen and Jessica Jones wants to believe that she can be a hero, even though she doesn’t think that she’s good. Neither of them realize it, but they are being heroes just by being selfless and putting other people before their own personal happiness. Maybe it’s my Catholic bias, but I liked that (so far) Matt incorporated the advice that Fr. Lantom gives him. And while I still have problems with Jessica Jones, I love that Jessica’s motivations throughout the show are for Hope’s safety as well as protecting humanity from Kilgrave.

In contrast, The Flash and Supergirl both have a more optimistic and idealistic view on heroism. Neither of the titular heroes resort to killing their adversaries. Instead, Flash gets help from his friends and mentors and come up with a smarter plan of action. The best example of this was during the Christmas special “Running to Stand Still.” Facing off against two of his deadliest opponents, Flash works together with his friends at S.T.A.R. labs to prevent a mass bombing. He also helps out a police officer who had a grudge against one of the bad guys. Another example can be seen in the crossover episode with Arrow “The Brave and The Bold” (Arrow Season 3) in which Flash’s team worked together with Green Arrow’s team to stop five bombs in the city from going off all at once.

Supergirl relies on her empathy and willingness to believe in the best in people in order to save the day and her optimism and compassion compel most people to imitate her. A recent example was shown in “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” in which Supergirl helped changed the mind of an anti-alien senator simply by saving her from the Monster (or rather White Martian) of the Week. She also helped her mentor take another step in dealing with his personal grief. (I’m applying this to both Hank Henshaw and Cat Grant.)

One other thing I also like about the latest crop of heroes is that they allow for original conflicts and concepts. Movies with superhero teams such as Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, and Big Hero 6 show that while heroes may not always get along or agree, they will come together and be heroes when the situation calls for it.

What’s even better is that there are even shows out there that center on people who don’t have any superpowers, but are still considered heroes because their actions go beyond the ordinary. Agent Carter is an awesome show for many reasons, but one thing I love is that none of the protagonists (Peggy, Jarvis, or Howard) have any standard comic book superpowers. Instead, Peggy relies on her intuition and quick thinking in order to save the day. Jarvis trains in martial arts and is always willing to lend a hand. And the only superpowers Howard has are his genius mind and his charm.

The most interesting thing I’ve been seeing in the superhero genre, however, is that every character is given the opportunity to be good. Most of the time, villains are too selfish or sociopathic to want to be good. However, there are more complex villains that have a moral. Legends of Tomorrow and Suicide Squad show that even bad guys have the potential to be heroic under the right circumstances.

In Legends of Tomorrow, there are three characters who are morally ambiguous: Captain Cold, Heatwave, and White Canary. In my honest opinion, these guys have been the most interesting characters to watch. I love their snark, but I also like that they’re trying to figure out their own purpose in a team where most of the characters tend towards following rules or morals. While they don’t consider themselves to be good, Captain Cold is more than willing to help out a “crewmember” in need. Back in The Flash, he establishes his own code of honor with the main hero and goes out of his way to protect his sister. And while I’m on the fence about White Canary partaking in cannabis, she’s efficient in battle and wants to be more than just an assassin. Even the characters with typical morals, such as Martin Stein, are becoming more aware of their flaws as people and are making efforts to change in order to become better heroes.

In short, we need comic book superheroes. Why? Because we all have the potential to be heroes, even without the ability to gain superpowers. Superheroes, in the end, are people who have “an increased capacity to act and exert power and to demonstrate agency.” And as David Bowie said: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”

So go be heroes, people!

The Dubsmash War of the Summer

In case you missed it…

I’m a fan of Marvel, especially Agent Carter.

I’m also a fan of Clark Gregg. During Comic-Con Weekend, I found videos of what everyone is calling the “Dubsmash Wars.”

 

This video is a compilation of everything that’s happened so far between #TeamCarter (Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy) and #TeamAOS (Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet).

There’s also some special guests towards the end.

I really hope this never stops. It’s some lighthearted fun that I really needed for this summer!

The Five Stages of Grief in Agent Carter

I love shows with well-written characters. What makes Agent Carter amazing was that it wrote amazing characters. The show can get heavy-handed at times about how sexist the 1940s were, but it got better as the show went along. But sexism wasn’t the only theme that Agent Carter had going on. Throughout the show, the characters, both heroes and villains, showed examples of the five stages of grief.

Spoilers for Agent Carter ensue. You were warned.

Denial

The male members of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) spend most of the season in a constant state of denial over issues in their lives and the denial is partially to blame for their mistreatment of Agent Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell).

Chief Roger Dooley (played by Shea Whigham) has a strained marriage, in part because his wife cheated on him. This makes Dooley vulnerable to a hypnosis that one of the series’ villains puts him under. More on the villains later.

Agent Jack Thompson (played by Chad Michael Murray) is my least favorite character on the show, mostly because he’s a sexist jerk, even if he was a good agent. In “The Iron Ceiling,” however, it was revealed that Thompson has feelings for Peggy and that he made a bad call in relation to an encounter with enemy soldiers in Japan. Even though he received great reward, he felt like it was undeserved, which is why he constantly seeks approval and accolades by his peers. While I gained sympathy for the dog, I do not ship him with Carter.

Daniel Sousa (played by Dollhouse’s Enver Gjokaj) is an injured war veteran who has a crush on Peggy and the guy I ship Carter with. Even though he’s the only one in the SSR that supports Peggy, it’s shown that he has this idealistic, unrealistic view of her in the form of a Madonna-Whore Complex. When he eventually finds out about Peggy working with Howard Stark, he automatically assumes that she’s sleeping with him. Thankfully, he was able to listen to reason.

Anger

The two major villains, Dr. Ivchenko AKA Dr. Fennhoff (played by Ralph Brown) and Dorothy “Dottie” Underwood (played by Bridget Regan), are motivated by anger. Dr. Fennhoff holds a grudge against Howard Stark for creating a gas that ended up killing his brother and comrades in a Russian town called Finow. When Peggy fights Dottie in the season finale, Dottie confesses that she always wanted to be like Peggy. An earlier episode shows Dottie stealing Peggy’s lipstick and imitating a British accent while looking at herself in a mirror. It’s an anger born of envy, but it’s anger nevertheless.

 

Bargaining

Peggy Carter constantly bargains for some kind of approval throughout the series. She wants people to take her seriously. She also tries to cut herself off from her allies in the hopes that they don’t get caught in the crossfire. And when she finds out that one of the items that Howard Stark sent her to retrieve contained a vial of Steve Roger’s blood, she chastises him for lying to her and for planning to use the blood for future projects.

However, throughout the series, Peggy’s bargaining chips slowly get taken away from her. It’s not until she gets to the point that she has nothing left to lose (losing her new apartment, potentially losing contact with her new friend, losing her job at the SSR) that she starts transitioning into the stage of acceptance. Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (played by James D’Arcy) points out to Peggy that Captain America relied as much on her as much as she relied on him, so she didn’t have to do everything on her own. And eventually, Peggy’s friend, Angie (played by  Lyndsy Fonesca) covers for Peggy when the SSR comes looking for her.

 

Depression

Howard Stark has 2 major character flaws that make me have this love-hate relationship with him. I hate him for being such a womanizer. (Do you not know of a concept called self-control?) But I also love him because I see so much of Tony Stark in him and his guilt he has over what he created and the consequences from his inventions going wrong tugs at my heart because he has no idea of the awesomeness that his son would become. Creating Captain America wasn’t the only good deed he did. Creating Tony Stark was another one.

Howard Stark is absent for most of the show, but he exhibits signs of depression over Captain America’s death in the season finale. When Doctor Fennhoff hypnotizes Howard Stark into remembering the moment of his greatest guilt, he doesn’t think about Finow, but of the Arctic, where Steve Rogers crashed his plane.

 

Acceptance

Many of the characters eventually get to the stage of acceptance as the series drew closer to its end. Chief Dooley found acceptance in “SNAFU” when he woke up with the 1940s equivalent of a suicide bomb vest, recognized Carter for the valuable agent she was, and chose to save the Agency by throwing himself out of a window. In doing so, he also accepted that he wasn’t going to be able to fix his marriage and asked his agents to apologize to his wife on his behalf.

Thompson accepted his actions in the war by confessing them to Peggy in “The Iron Curtain.” He also eventually accepted Peggy’s worth when Dottie’s true colors were revealed. He was ready to face against Dottie, knowing that he was going to face someone capable of killing him.

In the season finale, there are three major scenes that show Peggy Carter going from bargaining to acceptance.

Peggy gets on the radio at Howard Stark’s private hanger, pleading to Howard Stark to snap out of the hypnosis that Dr. Fennhoff put him under. At this point, Howard Stark believes that he is flying over the Arctic, about to rescue Captain America, when he is really flying to Manhattan, about to unleash a dangerous gas over the city. Tears stream down her face as she leans over the intercom.

Howard, I know you loved him. I loved him, too. But this won’t bring him back. Howard, you are the one person on this earth who believes in me. I cannot lose you. Steve is gone. We have to move on, all of us. As impossible as that may sound, we have to let him go.”

Then, when she arrives at the SSR Headquarters to pick up her paycheck, Peggy is greeted with applause from her coworkers. Men from Washington DC arrive to congratulate Thompson on his investigation and Peggy says that she doesn’t need to take the credit in spite of Sousa stating otherwise. She said “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” This prompts Sousa to finally get the courage to ask Peggy out in the season finale and wasn’t deterred when she turned him down.

After settling down in one of Howard Stark’s residences with Angie, Peggy was given Steve Roger’s blood to keep since, according to Jarvis, she’s the only one who would truly know what to do with it. Instead of wearing it around her neck or keeping it in a vault, Peggy goes out to the Brooklyn Bridge and pours the blood into the water as she says “Goodbye, my darling.” I started tearing up at this scene, but I also felt proud at Peggy for finally being able to move on. I know that she’ll find love again, if she so needs to.

Let’s just hope the show gets a second season!

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