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.
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.
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.
Sometimes I’m surprised I’ve not written of Daredevil before. I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about the intersection of comic books and theology and teach theology at a Catholic Mercy school and am a lifelong Catholic. So Matt Murdock/Daredevil feels like a character made for me. A lawyer by day who lost his sight as a child, Matt uses the radar sense he gained, along with his extensive martial arts training, to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil. As Marvel’s most prominent Catholic character, his faith and his relationship with God influence all areas of his life, superheroing included. He attends Mass. He goes to confession. His parish priest and nuns are trusted natural supports. But I never “got” Daredevil. My brother David loved him but I wasn’t interested. He felt like a bargain basement Spider-Man (when quippy) or bargain basement Batman (when dour). Then I began reading Chip Zdarsky (writer) and Marco Checchetto (main artist on the run)’s Daredevil and OH. MY. GOSH. I get it now! Twenty-seven issues in and I love it! A major story beat is Matt discerning God’s will in his life and, naturally, I was excited to explore this myself. Is Daredevil’s vocation divinely ordained or an example of someone trying to sanctify their all-too-human violence in God’s name?
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.
I try to guard myself against the “it’s newest so it’s the best EVER” reaction that often permeates fandoms. We can tend to live and breathe a movie or a show as soon as it premieres, reworking our rank lists to show how this is the best ever…until the next new movie or show in that universe comes out. I get the excitement. I often share it myself! But I’m always cautious about saying “best” when reflecting on a new movie or show. Yet it’s impossible to deny the sheer beauty and joy of Disney+’s Ms. Marvel show. Each episode fills my heart in a way nothing else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has. As far as I’m concerned, it is easily the most joyful entry in the MCU. I think it’s far and away the most important show Disney+ has done so far, too. And it may well be the best. We’ll see ;D. So I want to explore these emotions through the lens of how Kamala’s powers changed for the Disney+ show…in a way that’s far closer to her comic roots than I first realized.
That’s right, dear reader, you read that correctly. I wrote a book! A year ago I announced I had signed a contract with Claremont Press to write a volume for their Religion and Comics Series. I promised to update you all with more information when I had it and when I could and…(drum roll please)…that time has come! Ahhhhhhhh, I wrote a book AND I get to tell you about it. It’s a super exciting day :D. So read on, dear reader, and I can tell you all about my upcoming book. YAY!
This month marks the 80th Anniversary of Wonder Woman!!! I didn’t read her comics as a kid but Diana of Themyscria is a character who’s come to mean very much to me. As Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) was my gateway to Diana and her world, it felt apropos to mark this occasion by (finally) posting the piece I wrote after seeing Wonder Woman 1984. I LOVE the movies. Since I got my driver’s license, rarely more than a week went by in between trips to the theatre. However, after a 10:05 pm showing of Brahms: The Boy 2 on 7 March 2020, lockdown hit. So when I saw Wonder Woman 1984, it’d been over TEN MONTHS since I’d went to the movies. I wanted my return to be special and WW84 was the logical choice. I wasn’t disappointed! Wonder Woman 1984 was a worthy successor to the masterpiece that was Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot did it again! They captured lightning in a bottle twice…at least as far as I was concerned. I was stunned when I began talking to friends – close friends who often share my opinion of films – and learned not everyone felt the same. Some did, but some didn’t. Granting all art is subjective, I still became curious, wondering what they saw in this film. Many conversations followed and this piece was born of my side of those conversations. This is an exploration of all I see in WW84.
Which comics go in my file/pull list is a decision I ponder regularly. What must be read monthly in single issues? Which stories/characters/creators can’t wait? I ask myself this whenever I consider juggling the comics in my file because, well, money’s a thing and I only have so much for comics before they turn off my electricity and water and I use those all the time. Despite Spider-Man being the fictional character I’ve had the longest running relationship with, The Amazing Spider-Man is rarely on my pull list simply because I favor newer characters (or characters new to me). Miles Morales/Spider-Man or Cindy Moon/Silk or America Chavez or Jane Foster/Valkyrie don’t yet have as bedrock a status quo to reset to so their characters feel more dynamic and thus, with more potential for lasting change, there’s a greater sense of urgency to read those stories each month instead of waiting for them to pop up on Marvel Unlimited or be collected in a trade paperback. However, last night I learned Ben Reilly was donning the webs once more so today I went to my local comic shop to add The Amazing Spider-Man to my file for the first time in years!
Jessica Jones was one of the genre-redefining characters born during my hiatus from regular comic reading. Created by Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Michael Gaydos (artist), she first appeared in Alias #1, released in November 2001. Coincidentally enough, I spent that fall falling for another Alias – J.J. Abrams’ cliffhanger and slow-mo running loving spy show starring Jennifer Garner. At the time, I had no idea another Alias existed. Once I saw (and enjoyed!) Jessica Jones on Netflix, I kept my eyes peeled for her comics. Alias isn’t on Marvel Unlimited and I’d never seen the collected trades below $25.99 apiece (which I’ll spend but it’s a risky move without reading a single issue). But then magic struck! I found Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1, 3, and 4 (of four!!!) as I strolled Ollie’s Bargain Outlet last week! I tracked down Vol. 2 as well, and then…well, you know how some books are overhyped? It turns out, even after the endless praise I’ve heard about Jessica Jones as a character and Alias as a comic, it ended up being better than I imagined.