“We Are Venom” – Bonding with My Favorite Monster

This week Kalie guest lectured for my MARVELous Justice course, my class which uses comic books and comic book movies to examine social justice issues and the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concerns in particular.  Kalie is getting her PhD in literary criticism, with her focus on the mad monster.  I’ve asked her to come in a few times to give my students an introduction to Monster Theory so they can add it to the avenues of analysis we use for the comics and films we explore.  As part of her presentation, Kalie always asks my class what their favorite childhood monster was and why they liked it.  The first time I heard her ask this question, I found myself lost in thought.  What was my favorite monster as a kid?  Did I even have one?  I never liked being scared, that’s for sure.  The answer hit in a bolt of clarity!  What an easy question!  It’s no contest!  My favorite monster was Venom.  As soon as Eddie Brock bonded with the symbiote, I was hooked.  I love Venom!  I adore Venom!  Looking at my relationship with this monster as I followed along with Kalie’s lesson taught me a lot about myself, too.

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Harley Quinn and Chaos for Christmas! – A “What Christmas Means To Me” Reflection

It’s Christmastime again, so ‘tis the season for me to read and watch a buncha Christmas specials and use them to reflect on what Christmas means to me just like Stevie Wonder does in the very song which inspired this series.  And, just like Stevie Wonder sings about, “All these things and more, darling (all these things and more) / That’s what Christmas means to me, my love,” Christmas means a lot of things to me, too.  This time Harley Quinn, the Clown Princess of Coney Island, provides my avenue for reflection as I ponder what Christmas means to me (my love!) care of Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1!  Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Mauricet (“Bad Toy”), Brandt Peters (“Get Yer Cheer Outta My Ear”), and Darwyn Cook (“K!llin’ T!me”), Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1 was originally published on 10 December 2014.  I love Harley Quinn!  I love Christmas!  And I’d say, “I love them together even more than I expected” but I absolutely expected to love Harley Quinn at Christmas a lot so I was very correct in my assumption!

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Spider-Man and Anna Maria Marconi: The Healing Power of Love

Welcome to the fifteenth installment in my series using only Spider-Man comics to explore the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life)!  This time we’re looking at one of the most prominent themes around romantic love – how love heals, how the right person’s love can save us.  When I began this series I made myself a promise.  No alternate reality Peter Parkers.  No movies.  No TV shows.  No other comic universes.  I’d explore Peter Parker’s romantic exploits in Marvel’s main 616 universe and when I had exhausted those relationships, the series would end.  Anna Maria Marconi will date Peter Parker in the 616 universe…but she dates “Peter” when he’s dead and his archenemy Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus is controlling his body.  So she dated Doc Ock even though she thought she was dating Peter.  I’m including their relationship as a) it’s a significant one in the 616, b) the reader alone knows it isn’t Peter, and c) most important of all, their relationship illustrates something about love Peter Parker himself isn’t yet mature enough to find on his own.  It’s a trope that can’t be ignored when writing about love so here we are.  Otto’s time as the Superior Spider-Man is one of comics’ greatest redemption stories.  Reflecting on the role romantic love plays in his salvation helps us consider the role such love plays in our own healing and growth, too.  

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The Ol’ Parker Luck – OR – Why It’s Good to Have a Friend Like Spider-Man

With Fall 2022 having officially arrived just days ago, I find myself a little over a month into the new school year, my twelfth year teaching.  Over the last decade I’ve gathered a few traditions to accompany the start of each new year.  One of my favorites (and most helpful!) is a Spider-Man binge-reading session.  Each year I pick a particular author and era (or two (or three or four)) and dive into the world of The Amazing Spider-Man.  Teaching can be stressful and exhausting so, as summer falls away and work resumes, I find comfort in the familiar.  I’ve had a longer relationship with Spider-Man than any other fictional character, getting my first Spidey comic when I was three-years-old and still loving him now.  Plus, it’s nice to spend my night laughing when my days get harder and few characters have a better q.p.a average (quips-per-adventure, obvs.) than Peter Parker/Spider-Man.  But I’ve realized there’s more to it than that.  One of the most important reasons I turn to Spidey when school resumes is because of the ol’ Parker Luck.

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Harley & Ivy’s Lessons in Life, Love, and Unburdening c/o the “Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour”

I adore HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series.  It fundamentally shifted my relationship with the character.  Before I watched the show, I enjoyed Harley Quinn.  After watching it, I began tracking down every Harley comic I could find!  In the process, she became a very important character to me.  Naturally, I was excited when I heard of Tee Franklin (writer) and Max Sarin (artist)’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour, billed as Season 2.5.  The comic captures everything I love about the show and features serious character development for both Harley and Poison Ivy, something all too rare in stories set between films in a series or seasons of a TV show.  This development, woven through a story with all the profanity, insanity, and hilarity you’d expect from Harley Quinn: The Animated Series, enriches the characters and serves as a beautiful model for readers.  Any comic which can do all that while also including the line “Piss cakes of a dick” is a true gift :D.

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The Monsters and the Doctor: Reframing That Which Scares Us

One of my favorite marks of the Doctor’s character is the way they respond to meeting all manner of monsters.  When I first began watching Doctor Who this was one of the earliest signs of how different a hero they were than I was used to.  Time and again – no matter how scary or threatening or unapproachable whatever the Doctor finds in the universe may appear – their first reaction is never one of fear or judgment.  They certainly never attack.  Rather, they marvel at its beauty.  They are overcome with joy and excitement at seeing something they’ve never seen before.  And, if what they encounter appears frightened or injured, they are moved by compassion and offer help.  In all this they are a beautifully important model for us, too.  As Steven Moffatt, the Doctor Who showrunner for Series 5-10, rightly observed, “There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.”[1]

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Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy – Fiction’s Fearless Females

It’s International Women’s Day and for the fourth year in a row I’ve teamed up with some fellow bloggers – Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2 – to celebrate some of our favorite female characters in all of fiction.  This year I was having trouble deciding on who to write about.  I wanted to rewatch Harley Quinn on HBO Max and read Tee Franklin’s Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour but should I write about Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy?  Then it hit me!  The entire show (and comic which serves as Season 2.5) is anchored in their relationship.  I would be hard pressed to write about one without writing about the other.  Plus, for a series celebrating “fearlessness,” it’s within their friendship where Harley and Ivy find and demonstrate the most incredible courage.  Standing beside each other, they (ultimately) own and face their greatest fears.  So I’m writing about Harley and Ivy and the type of friendship we should all be so lucky to have.

Given the focus of this piece it’ll have major spoilers for S1&2 of Harley Quinn as well as light spoilers for Tee Franklin’s (as brilliant as it is beautiful) Harley Quinn the Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour.

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Spider-Man and Debra Whitman: Substitute People and Surrogate Relationships

It’s time once more to talk about relationships and who doesn’t love that?  Clearly I do as this is the twelfth installment in my series using only Spider-Man comics to explore the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature, illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we have in life.  While I knew nothing of Debra Whitman as a character before I began researching this piece, I found great affection for her by the end.  In the relationship she shares with Peter Parker we find an openness and vulnerability which, if received and reciprocated, would prove a beautiful foundation for a relationship.  Instead, Debra’s time with Peter becomes a cautionary tale about the importance of setting, articulating, and maintaining our boundaries and having our needs met within a relationship.

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The Hulk Deserves Better: Considering How Horrible the Avengers are to Bruce Banner

I’ve been deep into writing my book (yay!) so I’ve not posted a new piece for over a month.  To help fill the quiet during the book writing process, here’s a piece I wrote but never had the chance to post.  Enjoy!

As a character, that Hulk has always fascinated me.  When I was a kid he wasn’t a Spider-Man-level favorite nor was he quite at the level of Thor.  But he was a strong (heh heh, no pun intended) contender for that third favorite spot, alongside characters like Wolverine or Venom.  And if we look at the sheer number of their comics I read, Hulk totally blew Wolverine and Venom out of the water (obviously we’re excluding team comics here because why should my opening anecdote become needlessly complicated with nostalgic rankings?).  I began reading The Incredible Hulk amidst Peter David’s legendary eleven year run on the title (1987-1998).  While I’d read forwards and backwards from this point, my first Hulk comics were during the period Doc Samson had successfully merged all of Bruce Banner/the Hulk’s personalities.  Banner’s intellect was paired with the Grey Hulk’s confidence (and eyes/hairstyle) in a body carrying the Green Hulk’s size, color, and power.  It was a good time to be a Hulk fan…because this incarnation of the Hulk skirted a lot of the things about the Hulk that always made me sad. 

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Why Black Widow is the Best Marvel Movie of All-Time

As soon as I saw Black Widow last summer I felt this thought wiggling around in my brain.  Is it…?  Could it be…?  Is…is Black Widow now my favorite Marvel movie?!  Because I’m me, I certainly couldn’t say definitively.  First, I’m not the type of person who can throw a term like “favorite” around lightly.  To say I like or love something is one thing.  But to say it’s “my favorite” or “the best” or “the greatest” of all-time?  That requires a lot of thoughtful discernment for me.  Second, there’s this odd reaction/habit within our culture, especially within our fandom cultures, where whatever is newest is automatically the best.  It’s new!  It’s shiny!  It’s the best ever!!!  So, while that’s never been me, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t having that sort of reaction when I first saw Black Widow on July 8th.  I said I loved it.  I said it was easily one of the best films the MCU has to offer.  And I said it may be my all-time favorite movie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Still, I needed time before I could say that with any certainty.  Now I know.  Black Widow is the best Marvel movie of all-time!  And here’s why…

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