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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Doctor Who, “Can You Hear Me?,” and the Nightmares of (More) Pandemic Teaching

A little over a year ago I wrote a piece reflecting on the seemingly unbearable struggles of pandemic teaching.  At the time, I used Tony Stark’s journey through Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame as my frame to help me understand what I was going through and all I was feeling.  Writing it was very personal and deeply cathartic.  In the end, I survived last year!  I didn’t quit!  I even managed to find incredible beauty in all the struggle, too.  Now I’m a month and a half into a new school year and, well, I thought it would be easier.  Yet I find myself pulled down in this dispiriting emotional mire once more.  This time Doctor Who offers a more apt lens to frame my experience.  Given today is World Mental Health Day – and we’re all struggling in our own ways and we all deserve to be heard and validated in those struggles – sharing this seemed appropriate.  When the school year returned, I needed the Doctor.  I still do.  I think we all do.

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Is the DCEU’s Harley Quinn an Antihero or Superhero?

While Harley Quinn is often framed as an antihero in the comics, she most certainly isn’t.  She is as much a superhero as anyone in the DC Universe and, being a survivor of abuse, she is stronger than just about any hero DC has, too.  Since falling in love with her character (thanks Harley Quinn on HBO Max!) I’ve read every Harley comic from 2013 to the present and she’s not done anything remotely antihero-ish in any of them.  Yes, Harley’s wild, a little chaotic, and has an impulse control problem (all of which she admits) but being a free spirit isn’t the same as being morally ambivalent.  Her actions in the comics, again and again, are remarkably heroic.  And I will die on this hill ;D.  Since seeing The Suicide Squad I’ve been wondering if the same holds true in the movies.  In the comics, Harley Quinn is a true superhero and the type of character we should all aspire to be like – as compassionate, loving, and open as she is brave.  But what about the DCEU (DC Extended Universe)?  Is Harley an antihero in the films or, like the comics, is she a superhero lacking the recognition she deserves?

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The Fantastic Four and the Science of Soul Mates

Perhaps the most oft repeated observation about the Fantastic Four is they are a family first, superheroes second.  This piece of their identity has been their cornerstone since Stan Lee ushered in the “Marvel Age of Comics” with their creation in 1961.  With the FF poised to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dan Slott was given the reins of  “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” in 2018.  Understanding the nature of the FF – a family of explorers and travelers who save the day when needed – he uses it to examine a captivating concept which seems uniquely suited to the Fantastic Four.  When their explorations take them to the planet Spyre, Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm/the Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm/the Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/the Thing meet the Overseer, the leader of the Spyricans, a people who have technology they claim will show you your Soul Mate with absolute certainty.  Families are born in the bonds of love and there’s no love like a Soul Mate…should such a thing exist.  What better place to drop explorers defined by their family than the questions raised at the intersection of loving communion and a technology that can predict the mystical movements of the heart?!!?

As readers we can’t help but take this journey with the Fantastic Four and wonder are Soul Mates real?  And if they are, would we want to know?

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