Jul 31, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #36

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36
Spider-Rama
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Spider-Man fights The Looter!


POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: I have a disproportionate level of fondness for this issue because it was the only Ditko Spider-Man comic I owned as a kid.
DUY: First Looter. As if that matters.

WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

DUY: Uh, so the Looter failed science in high school but is convinced he's a genius. There's actually a modern psychoanalytical story to be told here because he's clearly delusional. A good writer could really work with that, I'm not even being sarcastic. Also, Spider-Man closing his eyes and just following his spider-sense is always so cool, I have to wonder why he just never does it by default. And here's Peter's self-centeredness coming into play: "Why do I always get interested in girls that can't see me for dust?!!" He's already forgotten about Liz.

BEN: And Betty literally gave him eight more second-chances than he deserved

WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

BEN: The Looter's real name, Norman Fester. His facial hair. The only thing that keeps the Looter from being the worst Ditko Spider-Man villain is issue #38.

DUY: "Spidey as you like him! In college!" on the cover feels like blatant pandering to the new crowd.

BEN: And they depict it exactly like high school.

NITPICKS

BEN: Look, if a costumed criminal ever leapt into a room I was in, you better believe I’m running away as fast as possible. I know it’s part of his bad luck persona and all, but these other characters shouldn’t be holding it against Peter because he appears to flee.

DUY: First girl Peter ever hits on in high school is named Sally. First girl who ever hits on him in college is named Sally. And there is no way Peter Parker turns down a date just because the girl sees him as an egghead. Where the hell does the "Betty only liked me for my brains" thing come from? And did Norman Fester get powers and decided he needed to look younger and then dyed his hair brown? This entire issue is a nitpick!

FAVORITE PANEL

DUY:  I kinda like this. Spider-Man is so agile that he's even accurate when he's going through structures.



BEN: Mine:



WHO WON THE COMIC?

DUY:  I dunno, that's two duds in a row. I guess the Looter wins this one just because he's not Joe Smith.

BEN: Victory! But no, it's Gwen.

WHERE'S BETTY BRANT?

BEN: It would appear Betty is officially phased out of the comic for now. Why do you think they wanted to end the Peter and Betty relationship?

DUY: I would think it was just time. We're committed to this new direction (college, which surprises me a bit that Flash is still there). Writing Betty and Liz out actually foreshadows the fact that that's eventually gonna happen to Gwen.

BEN: Betty had fallen into a rut as a love interest. A rut that Gwen would ironically succumb to also. Flash was too important as a pain in the ass to lose.

DUY: Gwen eventually gets to the point where they can't break up because they're too in love. Betty.... I never really bought it.

BEN: It’s a pretty perfect rendition of puppy love to me.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Jul 29, 2019

The Five Most Horrific Scenes from Art Spiegelman's Maus

Art Spiegelman's Maus is legendary. Originally published in the magazine Raw between 1980 to 1991, its first volume came out in 1986 and is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns as part of a triumvirate that changed comics. In 1992, Maus won the Pulitzer Prize.

Maus is an biographical comic. It tells the story of Art Spiegelman's dad, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, and weaves in and out of the present and the past. Each chapter starts with Art visiting his father, and then goes into his father recounting his experience in the Holocaust. It's what's called a "frame tale," or a story within a story.

Spiegelman is, in his other works, incredibly experimental, playing with symbols, panels, and other constraints of the comic page to see what the medium can do. But in Maus, he uses exactly one conceit: each race is represented by a different animal (the main one: Jews are mice and Germans are cats). Other than that, the art style is straightforward and even quite crude, and it works perfectly. The diagrammatic, minimal lines really force you to focus on the content, so without further ado, here are, for me, the five most horrific scenes in Art Spiegelman's Maus.

5. Just bodies lying around

There's a scene towards the end of the war where the Jewish prisoners get taken on a train, and then the train just... stops. They start eating snow from the window just to stay hydrated, and if you fell, the prisoners would just step on you.


In the concentration camps, the Nazis wouldn't clear the place of dead bodies, so those who stayed alive just had to walk over corpses.

4. Every man for himself

If that sounded like compassion and empathy were in short supply in the camps, it was. Vladek Spiegelman mentions you'd even have to bribe family members just so they could help you out of a jam. The scene that struck me the most in this regard is this one, in which the camp guards wanted soup transported, knowing full well that a beating awaited any prisoner who would drop the soup and spill it. Spiegelman immediately found the strongest other prisoner he could get his hands on so that they wouldn't spill anything, leaving the weaker prisoners to be paired up with each other. And if they dropped the soup? Too bad.



3. They built their own gas chambers

And yes, the Nazis had the Jewish prisoners working on building the gas chambers that would be used to kill them.

It seems difficult to believe, as we're raised on a diet of fiction in which the underdog can overcome, but Vladek explains to Art, amidst Art's utter confusion, that there were many reasons the Jews didn't fight back:

  • There was a general state of disbelief at everything that was happening, and the Jews were too beaten and tired to fight.
  • The Jews lived in hope that someone would come to save them.
  • The Nazis had the weapons, so whether you fought them or not, you end up dead regardless.

I can't imagine living under such conditions. And neither should anyone reading this in 2019 be able to.

2. The callous killing of children

"Some kids were screaming and screaming, and they couldn't stop. So the Germans swinged them by the legs against a wall... and they never anymore screamed."


Jews were dehumanized so much that the callous murder of a child was not uncommon. And, horrifically, they were beaten down so much that the governess of Vladek's first child, thought it was okay to kill them, because at least this way they wouldn't be killed by Nazis.


Dehumanization and oppression bring out the worst in everyone, and this should not ever be a thing humanity should have to return to.

1. These three scenes in the present day

After a long day of hearing his dad talk about the Holocaust, Art Spiegelman finds out that his dad threw out his coat. He becomes fixated on this.
After hearing about the horrors his dad went through, all he can focus on is how his coat is gone.

I am not judging. I would react exactly the same way. But it does make me think about whether or not that reaction is appropriate in that context.

Worse, when Art and his wife, legendary comix editor Francoise Mouly, pick up a black hitchhiker, Vladek reveals himself to be a flat-out racist.




Francoise snaps, "How can you, of all people, be such a racist! You talk about blacks the way the Nazis talked about the Jews!", to which Vladek responds with "I thought really you are more smart than this, Francoise. It's not even to compare the shvartsers and the Jews!"

Despite everything that's happened to him as a result of bigotry and prejudice, Vladek gives in to the same thoughts, perhaps not to the same degree that he's calling for their deaths, but certainly in the same vein in that he wants nothing to do with them.

And that's scary. If someone who lived through something like the Holocaust still harbors basic prejudices, what hope does the rest of humanity have?

The third scene takes place when Art is talking to his therapist, also a Holocaust survivor.



"...Look at how many books have already been written about the Holocaust. What's the point? People haven't changed... maybe they need a newer, bigger Holocaust."

I dunno about you guys, but that disturbs me. And it's scary. And compared to when I first read this book in 2002, it feels all the more resonant.

Maus is a groundbreaking book and I would recommend that you all read it, because we should all be able to learn from history.

If only it were so.

Jul 24, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #35

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #35
Spider-Rama
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

The Molten Man returns!


POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: Villain appearance count:
  • Doctor Octopus: 5
  • Green Goblin: 5
  • Sandman: 4
  • The Vulture: 3
  • Mysterio: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • Kraven the Hunter: 3
  • The Chameleon: 2
  • Electro: 2
  • The Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime: 2
  • Scorpion: 2
  • Molten Man: 2

WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

DUY: I'm just going to use this section for favorite panel, because it's the only thing that ages well here.



BEN: He looks like Daredevil there.

WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

BEN: We just gave them credit for not doing villains getting paroled for good behavior anymore, and then they do it again.

DUY: Really? All the villains you could go back to the well with this quickly and you choose the Molten Man? Also, he's getting let off because he has "offered to pay for the damages".... with what money???

BEN: The money he stole, obviously. 

DUY: "Yogi Berra" as a reference obviously doesn't age well. Replace it with any contemporary sports star.

NITPICKS

BEN:  Molten Man has Spider-Man on the ropes and runs away because the jeweler is yelling.

DUY: So Molten Man thinks he can take Spider-Man, but not the cops. Right.

BEN: Look, he’s clearly the dumbest villain Spider-Man has had yet.

DUY: The worst part of the Marvel Method, exhibit 1: I'm pretty sure that's not a kick.


BEN: Between the Irving Forbush and sound effects gags, it felt like Stan mailed this one in.

DUY: The worst part of the Marvel Method, exhibit 2: "Can't even tell you his name" or "We don't even have a name for him yet"?


BEN: Definitely a case of “I got nothing” at the deadline.

FAVORITE PANEL

BEN: For some reason this dude looks so corny to me here. He runs away prematurely, without the loot, and sits in his room and smokes like he’s an ad agent from the ‘50s. Worst villain ever.



DUY: I also can't see him as not Liz Allan's stepbrother, so every time I see him requires a bit of mental adjustment from me.

BEN: Same here. Why is that so prominent?

DUY: Because otherwise he's just an idiot with superstrength.

BEN: A golden idiot.

DUY: Why is he always naked?

BEN: Does he still have a penis?

DUY: How does he have sex?

BEN: How does he pee? Is he stuck with that haircut forever?

DUY: I've never seen him with another haircut.

BEN: No wonder he's so angry.

WHO WON THE COMIC?

DUY: Stan Lee won this issue. How much time and effort did he spend on that fight scene? That's the life, man.



BEN: I hear your Stan Lee and counter with Gwen Stacy.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Jul 22, 2019

Who Should Lead the DC Extended Universe?

With superhero movie season basically over  (yes, we know The Joker is coming up in October, but since it looks like a movie that started out as a non-superhero film that Warner Brothers decided to slap "The Joker" label on for marketability purposes, I've elected to ignore it), and with Marvel clearly again owning the year — and it looks like the next two years — it's time to look at counterprogramming. And the company with the best assets for it is, obviously, DC Comics. Though the DCEU started out with the questionable and much-maligned reboots of Superman and Batman that absolutely no one needed, it's bounced back (kinda) and has put together a string of impressive, if not game-changing, solo movies, in Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam, and we're also gonna mention Harley Quinn's performance in Suicide Squad since she shined through in that movie despite it being objectively and critically not-at-all-good.



So the question for DC is, who takes the lead? The Marvel Cinematic Universe had Robert Downey Jr., followed by Chris Evans, as their figureheads. (For those thinking, where's Chris Hemsworth?, the answer is off to the side, being the perfect #3 guy, rounding everything out. If you watch basketball, you'll know what I mean.) Moving forward, they will have, in some order, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brie Larson. (My vote is on Boseman to take the lead.) So for DC, who's their equivalent of Robert Downey Jr.? Who can carry this universe in such a way that we'd be interested in their character arcs and overall progression, but we'd also connect with them offscreen? When Endgame hit, RDJ's social media feed was flooded with "I love you 3000." Which current DC actor can give us that type of reaction?

It's possible that that character/actor hasn't been introduced yet (ahem The Rock as Black Adam ahem), but we'll work with who we've got. We're  going to look at the four characters pictured above — Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and Zachary Levi as Shazam — through a variety of categories, and we're gonna assign points to each.

BOX OFFICE

A seemingly objective metric for how fans would flock to see a certain character/actor is just pure box office, so let's look at how each of their previous DC movies have done in that regard internationally:
  • Aquaman: $1,147,761,807
  • Wonder Woman:  $821,847,012
  • Suicide Squad: $746,846,894
  • Shazam:$362,764,530 (and counting)
It doesn't really look like Shazam is gonna reach the level of Suicide Squad, so there's a clear hierarchy of winners here:

4 points: Jason Momoa/Aquaman
3 points: Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman
2 points: Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn
1 point: Zachary Levi/Shazam

CRITICAL ACCLAIM

This is important, because we need to see how well an actor's ability can carry through an arc across a series of movies. We're gonna use a two-point scoring system here because actors are certainly talented enough individually, but sometimes there are actors who are great but make terrible choices in terms of movies they star in. My favorite actor of all time is Val Kilmer, and I think he's pretty amazing in virtually anything he's in. Unfortunately, he's starred in all of maybe five good movies despite his actual performance. So there is some correlation in that sense to an actor and the quality of the movie.

So here's what we're gonna do. First, we're gonna take each individual actor and look at their nominations and wins for the three major American movie awards (The Oscars, the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild). Each win gets them two points and each additional nomination is one point.

With that metric, neither Jason Momoa nor Gal Gadot has any nominations or wins. Zachary Levi has one Screen Actors Guild Award, for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series, for The Marvelous Mrs. Aisel. Margot Robbie has no wins but four nominations, three for I, Tonya. So Margot Robbie wins this one, followed by Levi, with the other two tied for third/fourth. If there has to be a tiebreaker, it goes to Gadot, because she's been nominated and won other awards.

Second, we're gonna take their Rotten Tomatoes scores (yes, I know the problem with using a review aggregator, but until you have a method of putting together reviews in an easier way, I will be using this) and taking the average out of all of their fictional movies (Levi has a couple of documentaries). Here's how that breaks down:
  • Jason Momoa: 42%
  • Gal Gadot: 54%
  • Zachary Levi: 56% (this already includes Thor: The Dark World, where he was a bit player, and Psych: The Movie, a two-hour TV special, which scored at 66% and 100%, respectively. Without them he'd go down to 51%.)
  • Margot Robbie: 63%
The winner is clear here, whichever metric you choose to run with.

4 points: Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn
3 points: Zachary Levi/Shazam
2 points: Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman
1 point: Jason Momoa/Aquaman

NICHE FACTOR

For true counterprogramming, you have to offer something the other company isn't. So which of these characters are the most unlike anything Marvel has to offer?

Let's see, Shazam has the whole "little boy turns into an adult superhero" thing, which of course no one in the MCU has. He is, however, a teenager in a superhero's body, so in that sense he does get some of the vibe of Spider-Man while his humor can even be matched by Ant-Man. Shazam does have a superhero family, however, and unless Cassie Lang turns into Stature to accompany Ant-Man and the Wasp, that's not gonna be matched for a while. Finally, Shazam is powered by magic lightning, and Marvel has Thor, who wields magic lightning.

Aquaman is set in Atlantis and until Namor the Sub-Mariner finally shows up in the MCU, that's a pretty great setting. Aquaman is also played by Jason Momoa, who guys wanna drink with and girls wanna be with, so that's a huge plus. Unfortunately, in the big scheme of things, I'm not sure how much Momoa can offer in addition to what he's already given, and I'm also not convinced Aquaman's trappings offer much that Marvel doesn't already have. It's basically a hidden kingdom. Marvel has already had two of those. One of them was Asgard, where Thor was. Thor was played by Chris Hemsworth, who guys wanna drink with and girls wanna be with.

Wonder Woman has a pretty big offering that Marvel can't match in one go: she's Wonder Woman, comics' primary female icon, the woman on the first-ever cover of Gloria Steinem's feminist Ms. Magazine, creation of the inventor of the lie detector, wielder of iconic weapons such as bullet-deflecting bracelets and a magic lasso. Unfortunately, the way she's been presented thus far hasn't been particularly unique. She hails from an island of warrior women, which Marvel has somewhat matched with the Dora Milaje in Wakanda. She makes her debut in World War I; Captain America made his debut in World War II. Captain America is named Steve Rogers and he had his Howling Commandos, a racially diverse group of soldiers; Wonder Woman has a boyfriend named Steve Trevor and they have their unnamed group of racially stereotypical soldiers. She also can be compared to Captain Marvel, as being the most powerful woman in their respective universes, and Diana of course plays heavily into mythology, as does — you guessed it — Thor.

Thor has shown up in all three comparisons, so can he make it a four for four? Well, like Thor, Harley Quinn has long luxurious hair... and that's it. The fact is, there is no character in the MCU that's even remotely like Harley Quinn. Hell, there's no character in Marvel or the rest of DC who's anything like Harley Quinn. The closest comparison is Deadpool, and that's... not really the same.

Harley Quinn wins this one. Obviously.

4 points: Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn
3 points: Zachary Levi/Shazam
2 points: Jason Momoa/Aquaman (he's getting the nod over Diana because of Atlantis.)
1 point: Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman

LONG-TERM SUSTAINABILITY

Another factor is, how long can one stretch out an arc? Robert Downey Jr. has a complete redemption arc in all the Iron Man and Avengers movies, and that spanned 10 years. Chris Hemsworth's Thor has one giant arc about learning how to deal with failure and humility from Thor all the way to Avengers: Endgame. Chris Evans' Captain America had virtually no character arc, but he was the perfect example of the type of character that could hold no arc and just have the world change around him. (For more info on this subject, please watch this interesting video by Just Write.)

How long can the DCEU heroes sustain their current arcs? One way is to look at the source material and see if we think the actors and the studio have the time and ability to pull off some key story beats. We don't have to get the exact story (Infinity War/Endgame isn't like Infinity Gauntlet, for example), just the essence and the overall atmosphere.

There's a clear loser here, and unfortunately it's Shazam. It's unfortunate because if we were to just look at the peak of the source material, his is actually the richest, a rogues' gallery that would rival Batman's, and ideas that would be great to see in a live action CGI-heavy movie. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a modern-day Shazam story that's had a long drawn-out saga with a full-on arc, nor has there ever been a version where Billy Batson, his human host, is an adult... which Asher Angel, who plays Billy Batson, will be in two movies' time. Renditions were the host body is an adult tend to be darker takes, such as Miracleman and Kingdom Come. That might be an interesting trajectory if done well, but Black Adam's imminent arrival makes me very doubtful that the focus will be kept on Shazam for very long, even in his own franchise.

Likely Aquaman's most famous story is the one where his son, Arthur Jr., is killed by Black Manta. There are other famous stories, notably ones where he loses his hand and it's replaced by a hook, or stories where Mera becomes a Red Lantern. The question is, does Jason Momoa have the range to pull off a long, drawn-out arc with multiple emotional shifts? Or is he content with making Aquaman the coolest dude in town? Time will tell.

Wonder Woman has the most landmark stories in her repertoire, dating back to 1941, and also an impressive rogues' gallery. She's got the George Perez run ("Challenge of the Gods", anyone?), the Greg Rucka run, the Phil Jimenez run, the Gail Simone run, the Brian Azzarrello/Cliff Chiang run... she's got a lot of mileage, and almost a century of backstory to fill in. Not to mention, with Superman and Batman gone, assuming the plan is still to build up the Justice League, Wonder Woman is the most natural figurehead, again, like a certain Spar-Spangled Man with a Plan over on the other side.

Then there's Harley Quinn, the only one of these characters created after 1991... and after 1941. As the newest member of the DC catalog of characters, you'd think she'd have the least in terms of source material. But Harley Quinn has already had a whole mythos built up around her, from being the Joker's abused girlfriend to her whole friendship with Poison Ivy to her whole romantic relationship with Poison Ivy, to her being a member of the Suicide Squad and the Gotham City Sirens... Batman may be off the table as far as the DCEU goes outside of a solo movie starring Twilight guy that everyone is freaking out over, but the gates to Gotham and its entire cast of characters remain open as long as Harley Quinn is around.

4 points: Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman
3 points: Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn
2 points: Jason Momoa/Aquaman 
1 point: Zachary Levi/Shazam

CROSSOVER APPEAL

In an effort to measure crossover appeal objectively, I wanted to not count merchandise or merchandise sales because a huge part of that is an internal push by DC Entertainment. Obviously Wonder Woman will have more merchandise than Shazam. So I turned to the most objective measure of casual audience interest/curiosity: Google Trends, which shows how certain search terms trend over time.

Limiting it only to the past 5 years means we start on June 2014, two years before the release of Suicide Squad. The graph below shows the Web Search index, meaning how well they performed in relation to each other, for each superhero search term from June 2014 to June 2019. Wonder Woman is blue, Harley Quinn is red, Aquaman is yellow, and Shazam is green.

Web Search

Wonder Woman and Aquaman obviously had the highest peaks, followed by Shazam, with Harley coming in last. But look at their averages in that five-year span. Wonder Woman clearly leads, followed by Harley, then Aquaman and Shazam are tied. So while Wonder Woman is the clear winner in terms of people doing searches, it seems that both Aquaman and Shazam's movies spiked them to a point where their average still couldn't match up with Harley's.

Look at their YouTube Search Index:

YouTube Search Index

Harley once again comes in dead last in terms of peak, but is again second in terms of average. The takeaway is clear: the movies Aquaman and Shazam got more views than Suicide Squad, but on a long, sustainable level where there are no movies out, people are interested in Harley Quinn. (Also, Aquaman beats Shazam here.)

Now I know I said I wouldn't mention merchandise sales, and I won't mention sales per se, but how do these guys trend in terms of people wanting to buy stuff? We're looking here at Google Shopping, an aggregator of various marketplaces, annnnd....

Google Shopping Search Index


Harley clearly wins it. The highest point being right after Suicide Squad, but it's important to note that even down her next two peaks can't be matched by any of the others, even after Wonder Woman and Aquaman were released in theaters.

And finally, you know what, we're just gonna look at the Image Search Index:

Image Search Index

That's not even close.

And now we're going to look at the Web Search Index just for the actors. So now Gal Gadot is blue, Margot Robbie is red, Jason Momoa is yellow, and Zachary Levi is green.


Web Search Index

And once again, Gadot wins the peak, Robbie wins the average.

Now wait a minute, you say. Surely this is a flawed metric because it might just be the same people searching "Margot Robbie" again and again. That's true, but until we figure out how to deduplicate the people doing these search terms, we're pretty much stuck with this.

But how does it break down? Maybe the people searching for Harley Quinn and Margot Robbie are all repressed males in their mothers' basements? You might think that, given that Harley is a hypersexualized female character, but let's look at what happens when we add the word "cosplay" into each web search term.

Web search index

Once again, Harley is the runaway winner. And I think there's evidence in the real world here. I went to the outside of San Diego Comic-Con in 2015, and there were two characters I saw cosplayed by far and away ahead of every other character: Harley Quinn and Deadpool. Let's look at it the next year too:



Not bad for a movie that bombed, huh? As a fun aside, here's Tara Strong, voice of Harley in the Arkham games,  that same year:



I'm also gonna turn my attention over to a superhero-adjacent show, the WWE, where wrestlers are required to come up with their own gimmicks. While we've seen some wrestlers dress up in superhero-inspired gear from time to time, I don't think I've ever seen two women blatantly pattern their looks and characters after the same comic book character, until I saw Alexa Bliss (left) and Liv Morgan (right).



Wonder Woman is an icon and there's no question about what she means to women. She's aspirational, like Superman and Captain America. But it'd be a mistake to say Harley Quinn doesn't resonate with fans, including — and perhaps especially — women. There's something about her. It's not enough to put her over Wonder Woman here, but it's enough to justify putting her at number 2.

4 points: Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman
3 points: Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn
2 points: Jason Momoa/Aquaman 
1 point: Zachary Levi/Shazam

CULTURAL RESONANCE AND SOCIAL RELEVANCE

Warren Ellis once said:
“Any idiot could have wandered onto the Disney lot and said, ‘You’re not going to run John Carter against The Hunger Games. You’re insane, and let me explain to you why.’ […] If you’re taking something out as what they conceive a ‘four quadrant film’, and your plot is as follows: ‘white soldier wanders into a cave, falls asleep, wakes up on Mars, gets superpowers through putting out no effort of his own, beats leagues of strangely-colored monsters, gets the girl, wins, the end’ — if you think that’s going to play up against The Hunger Games, which is ‘poor girl from massively underprivileged society is threatened, coerced, menaced, and ultimately betrayed by authority while she fights for the right of her people to eat’ . . . it’s easier to find relevance in the present day.”
"I feel most of the more successful Marvel movies are the ones that have, whether overt or subtle, more sociocultural commentary riding along their waves. Iron Man was the perfect superhero for 2008, a weapons manufacturer having second thoughts in a post-9/11 world; a technological genius at a time when technology was moving faster than ever. Captain America: Winter Soldier was about freedom vs. security; Civil War, really, about the same thing. Thor: Ragnarok was about imperialism, and Black Panther was about a lot of sociocultural issues. Infinity War was the trolley problem brought to life full force, and Thanos was kind of an avatar for a lot of the reactionary politics going on today. Captain Marvel was an allegory for abuse. I could be wrong, but I don't feel there is any of that type of commentary in Endgame. Rather, the entirety of the movie is a big metacommentary on the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself. Marvel itself is the sociocultural event."
Why do I bring this up? It's because you can't isolate a piece of art from the times in which it's created. It'll resonate, however consciously or subconsciously that it does. Superman the Movie came at a time after Watergate, when the world was looking for heroes again. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns captured the zeitgeist of that era, the paranoia of living at the end of The Cold War. Iron Man was the perfect superhero for 2008, a time of fast-moving technological advancement, and now that we're at an age where we're more and more skeptical of technology, Iron Man is out of the picture. Even the success of Aquaman, I believe, can't be extricated from the climate of the times. It's pure escapist fantasy at a time when the world is desperately looking for escapism.

I'm not so sure that Aquaman has anything to offer past pure escapism, least of all anything to offer that Marvel hasn't already covered (for example, tackling postcolonialism in Thor: Ragnarok or the idea of inaction vs. action at the risk of your people in Black Panther), and for that matter, I'm not so sure about Shazam either. I like Shazam's racially diverse family and cast, but feel like Black Adam can tap more into a culturally potent minefield for material.

Which leads us to the two women. Two icons that have, in some camps, been deemed as feminist role models, and in some other camps, been deemed as detrimental to feminism. My take on the whole thing, and completely checking my male privilege at the door: it's important for everyone to have their picks of role models. Some people find heroism in Captain America (aspirational); some find it in Iron Man (relatable). Some people find heroism in Superman (aspirational); some find it in Batman (those people are just nuts). And at first glance, you would think Wonder Woman wins this, because Harley Quinn is a villain... but is it really that cut and dried? Let's see. 

I'm fascinated at how many women love Harley Quinn, because she would seem to be the poster child for the exact opposite. Many times she's presented as a male fantasy. But she's by far the most cosplayed character I've seen for women in the past 10 or so years, and I wonder what exactly goes into that. I don't think it's just one thing.  My friend Kat has a point of view:

"I would think part of it is probably her ability to be unapologetically herself - whoever that might be on any given day. She feels completely free to be totally weird and crazy without giving a shit what society thinks. I think that idea of being totally unencumbered by society's expectations is, especially for a woman, empowering."

And my friend Matt also mentions, "She's also in a very abusive relationship, but also (in BTAS) gets to break free of that cycle for a little bit (with some minor kidnapping/shacking up with Poison Ivy)."

Back Issue Ben sums it up nicely: "You can see her in the video games or the movie and just want to be crazy sexy cool too. If you look at her origin as the bravery to break free of society and live as the truest version of yourself."

Wonder Woman is a role model for what one can aspire to be, and that's kind of intimidating sometimes, in a society where women are always told they should be one thing over another. But Harley Quinn — an LGBT+ woman in STEM who was trapped in an abusive relationship, with mental issues, who at least in the comics got out of it by moving on to Poison Ivy, someone who appreciated and truly cared for her — is a role model for those of us at our worst, showing that you can move past your worst and into something better. She's there to remind us of what things are, and that they can get better.

Now the difference between the two is that Harley's arc requires really deft execution, a redemption arc that ends with her completely independent and empowered, something that I think the Suicide Squad movie tried to do but failed at. Wonder Woman's arc or lack thereof just needs competent execution.

Still, you know what? I'm bold enough for this. I'm going here:

4 points: Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn
3 points: Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman
2 points: Jason Momoa/Aquaman 
1 point: Zachary Levi/Shazam

WHO LEADS THE DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE?

With all that, here's how the scores break down:

Zachary Levi/Shazam: 10 points
Jason Momoa/Aquaman: 13 points
Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman: 17 points
Margot Robbie/Harley Quinn: 20 points

Before anyone thinks I rigged this, keep in mind that I have never written about Harley Quinn. The Comics Cube has been around nine years, and it's just never happened. I'm not a fan of Batman; I'm not a fan of Harley Quinn. I have, in contrast, written a lot about Wonder Woman and Shazam.

I tried to do this as objectively as possible. Harley wins.


And it makes sense. Look, in 2008, Iron Man was in a questionable spot in the comics, to the point where at some turns he was acting villainous. He was a risk. A wild card. When his movie starts, he's an arms dealer, not caring much about the ethics of his actions. What followed was a ten-year redemption arc played by Robert Downey Jr., the MCU's best actor. In sports terms, he was the best player, and the best player gets the ball. And the best parts of his run, I would argue, came whenever he and Chris Evans' Captain America had a conflict, because they were such ideological opposites. And Evans didn't lack for screen time or presence either, because RDJ would constantly pass the ball back to him, because he trusted him.

Margot Robbie is the DCEU's best actor. In sports terms, she's their best player, and the best player gets the ball. The films are their own beast, inspired by but distinct from the comics, so can you imagine Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman playing a similar ideological conflict against Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn? I think that would be such a potent combination, with the potential to say so much about society and the world at large.

For the DCEU, it seems that the future is definitely female. Wonder Woman can be the leader of the Justice League, the character that the ones in-universe look up to. But in terms of who carries this universe for the audience watching, as unlikely as it may be, the ball should be in the hands of Margot Robbie, their best player, and Harley Quinn, their wild card.

Jul 17, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #34

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #34
Spider-Rama
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Kraven the Hunter returns, impersonating Spider-Man!


POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: Villain appearance count:
  • Doctor Octopus: 5
  • Green Goblin: 5
  • Sandman: 4
  • The Vulture: 3
  • Mysterio: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • Kraven the Hunter: 3
  • The Chameleon: 2
  • Electro: 2
  • The Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime: 2
  • Scorpion: 2
DUY: First appearance of Simba.



WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

BEN: Kraven dressing up as Spider-Man is even more interesting many years later.

DUY: Kraven dressing up as Spider-Man, much like Ock using the word Superior, or any scene involving the Brooklyn Bridge, is kind of the mark that a story was a milestone. If you can't read a previous story without being reminded of that story that came afterwards, it's a landmark.

BEN: Really, any time Gwen appears it’s sort of like the specter of death is hanging over her. Sorry, spoilers. 47-year-old spoilers. Another milestone is whenever Mary Jane shows up in the shadows, you think of when she finally doesn't.

DUY: Peter thinking he wasn't at fault for looking like a snob to his peers is interesting. Because of course you were at fault. Being preoccupied doesn't mean you're blameless.

BEN: Especially when you just have to tell them your aunt is sick.

WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

DUY: Peter can't have really been in love with Betty, right? He was eyeing Liz every chance he got and now he intends to move in on Gwen.

BEN: Yeah, it’s the way you think you love your eighth grade girlfriend.

NITPICKS

BEN:  Kraven supposedly negates Spider-Man’s spider-sense, but then it’s visibly working for the next three pages in a row.

DUY: Kraven is supposedly "as good as he says," but he's still clearly not a match for Spider-Man. A huge letdown from the prior three issues.

BEN: He’s probably the only villain that has given it his all in every matchup and not really come close.

FAVORITE PANEL

DUY: In the show, don't tell department, here's Gwen Stacy expressing interest in Peter.


DUY: You know what, we only have a handful of Ditkos here before he's gone forever, so I will just say I kind of love when he draws Spider-Man swinging straight-bodied, because it makes no sense.


BEN: I assumed that was him stretching out at the end of his swing before he descends and fires another web.

DUY: And this sequence has always had some impact on me . I think I saw it reprinted in one of those books about comics, and it looked so modern, so cinematic.



WHO WON THE COMIC?

BEN: Let’s assume I’m giving this to Gwen Stacy every time for the foreseeable future.

DUY: Yeah, probably Gwen by default. This issue isn't great for this category.

SEASON OPENER

BEN: To go with your television season analogy, this definitely feels like a season premiere episode. I’m calling it season three, with two running from #23 to #33. Season one was much more episodic and shall be known as “the season where the Human Torch guest-starred way too often.”.

DUY:  So Season 2 is the one where it really reaches another level?
.
BEN: Yes.

DUY: So Amazing Fantasy #15 is the pilot, then Season 1 is from that onto before the Green Goblin/Crime Master War, more episodic, quite formulaic. Then Season 2 opens with the Green Goblin/Crime Master War and ends with the Master Planner Saga, which means it peaks there. I'm fine with that.

BEN: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

DUY: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

BEN: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Jul 15, 2019

Roundtable: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home came out this on July 2nd, and you guys know what that means. It's time for The Comics Cube MCU Roundtable!

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home opened to $93 million dollars domestic, and as of this writing, has made $622 million .



INITIAL REACTIONS

BEN: Far From Home is by far the best live-action Spider-Man movie, and I don’t want to fall prey to recency bias, but it might be my favorite MCU movie. I had no nitpicks or criticisms, it’s perfect.

MIGS: I love the movie as a whole. It was action packed, well written and the characters are very relatable. Not to mention several twists and turns. Peter and MJ have a great chemistry so does Ganke... errr Ned and Betty. It was a great superhero chick flick!

BEN: Homecoming wanted to be a superhero John Hughes teen comedy, and I don’t think it quite got there, but this did. It’s the only Spider-Man movie where the Peter Parker parts aren’t boring.

MICHAEL: I actually think Homecoming nailed the teen comedy/drama better.

DUY: I liked Homecoming, but I didn't really see anything special about it other than one truly great scene. It was, for my money, a by the numbers Spider-Man movie, which may make it better than every live action Spider-Man movie prior, but that bar was low. Far From Home felt like a direct sequel to Homecoming for the first half, and then when the big Mysterio twist happens, it reaches another level. The stakes go up. The idea of great power coming with great responsibility is foremost, even when it's never even mentioned. And I feel it's when Spider-Man really comes into his own.

MICHAEL: Just going to for the record disagree with the assertion that Homecoming was by-the-numbers, just for truth and justice's sake.

KARA: Overall thoughts: absolutely my favorite Spidey movie to date, and possibly my favorite MCU movie to date as well. It truly had some classic Peter Parker story elements that kept things interesting outside of the Spider-Man scenes, and I always love when we get scenes that remember to feature how incredibly smart Peter is.

DUY: Favorite even over Into the Spider-Verse?

THE BEST SPIDER-MAN MOVIE EVER?

KARA: Woof, that is hard to call. Spider-Verse is such a different kind of movie and that one is really more Miles's journey than Peter's. So I guess it's my favorite Peter Parker movie.

MIGS: I love 'em both.

DUY: The second half of Far From Home is better than any Peter Parker sequence in Spider-Verse, but I will admit that Peter B. Parker is closer to my ideal vision of Peter than Tom is.

BEN: Far From Home is a perfect Peter Parker Spider-Man movie while Spider-Verse is a perfect Spider-Man movie.

DUY: The thing I keep saying is, if I wanted to watch the best Spider-Man movie ever, I'm really glad Into the Spider-Verse is on Netflix, because otherwise I'd have to drop 10 bucks for a ticket.

MICHAEL: I don't really compare the two since they're different mediums. Now Far From Home versus Raimi's Spider-Man 2...

BEN: Easy choice for me. The superhero quitting or getting depowered trope is not something I find compelling in a movie.

DUY: Easy choice for me too, because I hate Tobey and Kirsten.

BEN: And yes, Tobey and Kirsten are terrible.

DUY: And I did love Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, but I never really thought he was the gold standard that people made him out to be? I loved the PS2 game though.

BEN: He was the gold standard in 2004

DUY: This is gonna go off-topic, but I actually thought Defoe's Osborn was better. The Goblin suit was terrible, but I'd take Defoe as Norman over Molina's Ock.

BEN: He was good, but the armor was so bad.

MICHAEL: Raimi's Spider-Man 2 is still the quintessential Spider-Man film for me (in spite of Tobey) but the last 3 Spider-Man films we've gotten have been so close to taking that throne.

DUY: It's just the last two for me. Homecoming, as I've mentioned, never quite clicked for me, and I don't really know why. I think a big part of it is I was resistant to the idea of Spider-Man being a protege. But now, he has no choice but to not be.

BEN: It usually takes until the second one to get over the differences from the comics. Or if you’re a weirdo, you never do.

DUY: Also, this movie felt more like a coming of age movie than Homecoming to me. Homecoming focused on him trying to get with Liz, and the villain was Liz's dad. This still has him prioritizing getting together with a girl, but it's the moment where he realizes he screws up and has to set everything right that made me feel like he really came of age.

MICHAEL: I'd have to disagree just because the setting of Homecoming is a lot more relatable and it hits more of the teenage "rites-of-passage" - awkwardness of fitting in, first big crush, first big dance, first time you're almost crushed to death under tonnes of concrete and cement - all with the finale stripping him back to his base elements.

DUY: I see where you're coming from, so I think the distinction for me is that while Homecoming is a rite-of-passage for me, Far From Home is where he becomes an adult, or close to one anyway.

KATHERINE: I agree with Michael that to me, Homecoming feels like such a classic John Hughes-style teen movie in its themes (cliques, popularity, girl problems, figuring out your identity / self worth, even though they turn some of those things on their heads in really interesting ways, and with a superhero twist) and even in its basic construction that's all leading up to a big homecoming dance. I adore the teen movie genre, so I loved that about it! I think this one managed to feel distinctly different in a great way (which may simply have a lot to do with almost none of it taking place in an actual high school). This didn't feel as much like a "teen movie" to me, it felt more like a barely-coming-of-age/young adult dealing with real shit for the first time kind of story... like the ones that are told about that period between high school and college where people are in limbo. Less Breakfast Club, more Reality Bites. But with world-ending stakes!

PETER PARKER

BEN: One part I enjoyed was that Peter really messed up big in this one. The movies always get the money problems and the girl problems, the “I don’t want to do this” aspect, but they don’t always show how he messes up and has to fix it.

MAX: 100% this.

KARA: I agree. People do tend to forget that he's a teenager and is of course going to be prone to insecurity and bouts of selfishness, but the great thing about Peter is that he always gets up and fixes his mistakes and steps up to bat in a big way.

DUY: His most classic stories start with him really messing up. The Hobgoblin, for example, only happens because he (once again) lets a burglar go.

KARA: Yep, which is also what makes him so relatable to people. We can't all be Captain America perfect; we can only strive to be the best versions of ourselves. And I think that's something that has really been done well with Tom Holland's Spidey.

DUY: That's exactly why the stakes go up, and Holland really sold it.

BEN: Homecoming was almost too low stakes for me. While this had big enough stakes that they made sure to note that no Avengers were going to be able to interfere.

MICHAEL: I think Peter almost being buried and Vulture knowing his identity and threatening him during the car ride were pretty serious stakes on a personal level, but your mileage may vary.

DUY: I will say that as much as I felt skeptical about Tom Holland's Spider-Man taking on a more prominent role in the MCU, I do think this movie has brushed that skepticism away.

BEN: My problem was less about Holland and more about Spider-Man being the center of a team.

DUY: I think he can play him perfectly now as the outsider of the team who they have to turn to for genius stuff. You know, classic Spider-Man.

KARA: He's kicking ass, man. I'm so excited for what comes next.

PETER AND MJ

BEN: MCU MJ is better comic book MJ.

DUY: To that point, it's refreshing to see Tom and Zendaya acting like actual teenagers, right down to their super duper awkward first kiss, as opposed to 30 year olds acting like teenagers.

BEN: Are you suggesting a teenage girl wouldn’t pull down a stranger’s mask and give him a super passionate upside down kiss?

DUY: I keep thinking why Tobey and Kirsten annoy me so much, and Katherine pointed out to me that it's probably because they're adults. They're adults who are overdramatic and whiny. And yeah, if Tom and Zendaya played Peter and MJ as adults, I probably would find them annoying, what with Peter's neurotic overthinking and MJ's Daria-ness (which, apparently, was her main direction for the character), but that's the thing, they're not adults. They played them as teenagers. And they played them perfectly.

BEN: And most importantly, they don’t look their age, much less look 30

MICHAEL: MJ is actually a likable and believable girl here, unlike in the comics where she's a cipher for a reward trophy. Sorry Mary Jane fans.

DUY: She also reminded me of Mai, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, so that's a plus.

BEN: In that vein, I like how she hated web-swinging, because anybody would.

DUY: Yeah, I like that as weird as MJ was and how she liked depressing things, broken things, and whatnot, that she hated web swinging and had a strong reaction to it. It really rounds out her character.

MICHAEL: Yeah, that was perfect. Also draws a clear line between this MJ and Kirsten Dunst's one.

DUY: I also like how her red hair that she posted a week ago never showed up in the movie, because I'm sure the MJ fans are going nuts about it.

MICHAEL: Even better was how she was trolling people's reactions about it. I'm a fan.

BEN: They all love the romantic shots of him and MJ standing on top of a skyscraper, even though no one would ever want to do that.

BEN: I like that between Liz and MJ, MCU Peter has a type.

MICHAEL: Nerdy-smart and attractive?

DUY: The best thing about MCU Peter's type is that when he and Shuri finally meet each other, sparks will definitely fly.

THE SPECTRE OF TONY STARK

BEN: It was pointed out to me that the suitcase he takes and eventually gets destroyed was Uncle Ben’s.

DUY: Yeah, it says BFP on the handle.

BEN: He let go of all his Ben baggage.

DUY: Literally so. The movie was about him in fact letting go of the baggage of losing his father figure. I have seen the criticism — and I get it — that the movie relied too much on Tony Stark. It's personal between Beck and Stark. Spider-Man gets in the way. And I get it, but I think it works, thematically, and by the end of the movie, it is absolutely personal between Beck and Peter.

MICHAEL: I mean, how are you not going to have the spectre of Tony loom large over the film? They played it just the right amount, in my opinion.

DUY: That too, it's literally the first movie after Tony's death.

BEN: "Even dead I’m the hero."

MAX: I like the Tony stuff. The MCU is cohesive, and if you leave out all the reverence for the source material, it just makes sense to build it this way. Peter’s search for a replacement father figure from Tony to Beck to (fleetingly) Happy...works.

KATHERINE: I loved the Tony stuff! And it's not just about following Endgame. Even for people who don't care about the rest of the MCU at large (who are those people??), Tony Stark was a huge presence in Spidey's first movie and his origin story, it makes sense even within his mini-universe that his death would be affecting him deeply. Tony crawling out of his grave in the Mysterio sequence was both terrifying and heartbreaking. And Mysterio saying that maybe if Peter had been better, Tony would still be alive. My god. Bullet through the heart. Also, I cried during the conversation between Happy and Peter on the plane, and even more when they played "Back in Black" while Peter was working on his own suit.

BEN: A traumatized hero following an Avengers movie, a guy pretending to be in a flying suit when he isn’t, a guy pretending to be something he’s not. Iron Man 3 is underrated!

MICHAEL: A villain created by Tony Stark's more abrasive qualities...

MYSTERIO

KATHERINE: I loved Mysterio and I can see his performance gaining a Loki fan fave type of status. I honestly don't think I've enjoyed Jake Gyllenhaal more. I knew he had to be a bad guy, but he really got me trusting him! I originally thought it might end up being more of an earnest turn to the dark side, but his cheeky theatrical reveal was so good.

BEN: Apparently Jake Gyllenhaal was channeling David Fincher in his performance.

MAX: The director stuff? The scene with the choreography deffo felt like he was playing out a lived experience on set.

DUY: The Mysterio scene was perfect. It's the kind of visual experimentation in service of the storytelling I wish the MCU would do more of, and this movie delivered.

BEN: It was straight out of a Mysterio comic book, and it was the scene where I thought to myself “they got everything right”

DUY: I'm also going to add here that it's pretty much exactly what I want from a Dr. Strange movie.

MICHAEL: I actually wish they saved more of that big illusion set-piece for the last battle. It was a brilliant in itself; I just wanted more of that and was a little bit disappointed by comparison with the illusions Mysterio mustered up in their final confrontation. You can argue that it was on-the-spot improv on his part, though.

MAX: I feel like Mysterio has been used at just the right time in cinema, not only SFX-wise (could have been way wonkier in 2000s) but thematically. His words about fooling people who are fooling themselves and truth being dead are very current.

MICHAEL: Spidey going The Raid on the hallway of drones was the first time he's actually looked menacing.

DUY: Spider-Man is a badass, the way he should be if he decides to cut loose. Spider-Man closing his eyes and relying on his Spider-sense to beat Mysterio is such an old trick, dating all the way back to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and it gets me every time they do it. Once I realized that's what he was going to do (I caught myself yelling "CLOSE YOUR EYES!" during the Mysterio scene), I could not wait to see it. And of course it comes right after he uses a Captain America/Thor combo to get to Mysterio, and the fight is over right away. Spider-Man's rogues cannot take him hand to hand, and after just barely surviving the Vulture in the last movie, the decisiveness of this climax made the Spider-fan in me very happy.


KARA: I totally kept saying that too! CLOSE YOUR EYES, PETER. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.

KARA: We did watch this interesting video last night that talked about how Peter was likely afraid to trust his Spidey senses due to the trauma of having felt the Snapping before anybody else did. Like he purposely decided to turn it off. Which is a totally legitimate reaction for a teenager, I think. So he has to learn to trust that instinct again.

DUY: That would explain why he didn't sense Mysterio. Though I do think it wouldn't go off for the banana.

KARA: Yeah that banana ain't no threat!

DUY: Actually, I want to ask the longtime Spider-Man fans, Ben and I were talking about how beat for beat, this was pretty much exactly how you'd write a Mysterio story, to the point where it could be considered predictable for longtime fans. Did you also see everything coming? And did it matter?

BEN: The broad strokes of the plot are exactly what you would expect them to be.

MICHAEL: I think anyone who's familiar with the comics expected Mysterio would turn. Personally, I had speculated that the Elementals were grand illusions created to ingratiate himself as a hero from the first trailer. But I was still a bit surprised by the methodology, ie: that he wasn't actually in a suit, the specific drone tech he was using, and that part of it was a long-con to get his hands on Stark's AI defense system. The wider cast of disgruntled lackies he was using was a great unexpected touch too, which went well with his theatrical side, as if they were putting on a live play.

DUY: Speaking of, it was nice seeing that one random guy from the first Iron Man show up.

MICHAEL: And no, it didn't matter much at all - it was still great to see play out. But between figuring out the gist of a film and being surprised by some great subversion ala Mandarin in Iron Man 3, I'd prefer the latter.

MIGS: My coworkers and I kinda predicted that they were illusions made by Mysterio. We had a theory about it but then came the idea of the multiverse.

BEN: I figured the multiverse was a massive red herring.

DUY: I figured the multiverse was a red herring, but I thought it would play into the credits scene, to the point where I actually thought Tobey and/or Andrew and/or Shameik and/or Nick Miller would show up.

MIGS: There was an image of Tobey/Andrew/Tom together that is floating around the internet. I was hoping it was true.

KARA: I absolutely had it called from the trailers. But the way they executed it was absolutely perfect. I personally think the reveal happened early enough that old Spidey fans wouldn't continue to get frustrated at the deception and could just enjoy it for what it was. I did spend some time wondering if they were gonna pull a Captain Marvel Skrull turn on us, since Mysterio isn't generally one of Spidey's harder villains and twisting it that way could've worked. But I'm also glad that they kept him a villain and even boosted his motivation as being a psycho spurned Stark employee. And also using the hydroman molten man sandman and cyclone names in the marketing materials was smart; kept the public thinking that they were real villains that they would be going up against. Tricksy hobbitses!!

BEN: I want to say I called Hydro Man and Molten Man as illusions from the very first trailer. It’s really the best case scenario for Molten Man.

DUY: Ironically, he was one of the Spider-Rama guys on the week the movie debuted.

BEN: In which we briefly discussed his awfulness.

MICHAEL: I dunno, we've had Liz Allan already introduced into the universe so it seems like a waste of a villain character to slap the name on such a non-entity (along with Hydro-Man). The earth one definitely better not have been Sandman.

BEN: I hear you, and my counter is that Molten Man is the worst.

MAX: Best part was sitting with my partner who had no idea Mysterio was a villain and watching her be completely floored by the reveal, partly due to jake’s selling of his heroism. But then having her think back and piece together the little clues after the fact (meeting in the pub with masks off, “Don’t apologise for being the smartest person in the room”, etc). The interesting thing though, is that villains in both films have been disgruntled workers who have been unfairly displaced by the corporate machine. they have legitimate grievances even if they go about it the wrong way. it’s kinda...a mixed message.

DUY: It's very much the "I get you, but this isn't how you do it" train.

MAX: yeah, are there any examples on “how you do it right”? honest question, I’m having trouble thinking of one. so far, it’s been Peter stepping up to inherit the system in Tony’s absence and beating down those that have risen up to challenge tony’s hostile corporate actions. Which is a way of saying “the system is fine as long as a good person running it” and these exploited people are bound to turn bad.

MICHAEL: Vulture felt more menacing in a grounded way and actually elevated the villain for me (who's always been a bit of a knockover in the comics). Mysterio was just a great villain represented slightly differently but perfectly realised. Both great in their own ways.

DUY: I want to mention that I've never thought of comic or cartoon Mysterio as a great villain, ever. Rather, he more provides for opportunities for great visuals. The movie gave his character a believable motivation and actually made him compelling as a character.

BEN: I thought he was doing a bad job of acting at first, until I realized the character was doing a bad job of acting.

DUY: And yes, I hope his death is a fakeout.

BEN: Hopefully the comics adopt his illusion tech, because half his problem has been getting hung up on the former practical special effects background.

MICHAEL: I think Mysterio's last big reappearance at the beginning of Spencer's run actually him using drone/illusion tech to fake a city wide alien invasion. He gets whooped in short order though.

DUY: I thought the reveal that Mysterio didn't actually have any powers would disappoint people since it might be seen as lowering the stakes, but that's not the case at all; that's exactly where the stakes go up.

MICHAEL: I kind of wish he had a proper suit at least - I mean, it's not a huge leap that a former Stark employee also steals his suit tech - but that didn't take much away from the threat he posed. He was "just a guy", but also an incredibly devious mastermind, and that made the final confrontation both different and a bit more personal.


THE SUPPORTING CAST

MICHAEL: The thing I generally like about both films is just how fun the school cast can be and how deep that bench is.

DUY: So deep. It might actually be too deep because it felt like some characters were underexplored.

MICHAEL: And for me that some characters maybe ate up too much time. I like Martin Starr and all but I'm not sure if we needed his teacher character in as many scenes, while Flash somehow was less in less scenes. I generally feel the last film had a great balance with those characters, while this one was just a little uneven.

BEN: I don’t necessarily disagree about the teacher, but I’d also like to point out that JB Smoove rocks.

MICHAEL: I liked Betty Brant getting a larger role though.

DUY: I loved Ned and Betty, which, you'd think it would be obvious they'd get together at some point, but since he's actually Ganke, the thought never crossed my mind until it happened.

BEN: It didn’t even click with me until they broke up, because I think of him as Ganke.

DUY: I assume like you all, like me, lost it at the Whitney Houston tribute video. Which, by the way, Captain America is in it, so I assume the Avengers have made a public announcement by then that Sam is the new Cap.

KARA: We had an awesome audience that laughed and cheered so hard at the tribute. It was a beautiful thing to behold, complete with the comic sans text and watermarked stock images.

MICHAEL: That was so perfect. I generally just love the awkward school news show Betty runs with her co-anchor that always gets low-key dunked on.

BEN: I think we all forget Vision died too, but I love her co-anchor getting lost in the thought his younger brother is older than him now.

DUY: I love how her co-anchor is an actual comic book character, Jason Ionello, and none of you Spider-fans can be bothered to write his name.

BEN: I also appreciated how they immediately answered the five-year gap questions, if only so I don’t have to hear Duy whine about it.

DUY: I did too, because I didn't want to whine about it. But seriously, I love how Spider-Man is the civilian look at how superheroes change the world. I kinda wish they'd dropped by New Asgard...

KARA: They're clearly hinting at some future shit with Flash, and I'm really curious to see where they go with that. He sort of feels like an amalgamation of classic Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, so who knows what's going on in there. But also Brad was the real villain. #fubrad

DUY: Yeah Brad, what a dick.

KATHERINE: It might be mean but I laughed when Peter was scanning everyone’s phones and Flash’s showed a text that said something like “have not heard from you or father in days.” Other funniest / meanest supporting cast moment was Mr. Harrington talking about how his wife pretended to blip but really just ran away with another man. Savage.

BEN: They may make Flash a goblin, but it would be stupid to make one of Peter’s friends a hero or villain... wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it!

MICHAEL: That ending part with Flash was intriguing. It didn't feel like a gag at all, more hinting at how his home life may dictate his shitty attitude, but it kinda just ended there. I said it elsewhere but I loved all the moments with the various classmates and faculty in Homecoming and in this film that scope was more contracted since it the plot just focuses on a small group of them, and yet it feels like some get too much time and some too little.

BEN: I think the reason it worked better in this one was because they weren’t as prominent. And MJ is more interesting than Liz was in Homecoming. Michael is probably right in that Homecoming was more of a teen comedy, but I preferred the balance more in this one.

DUY: It's been too long since high school, but Flash Thompson being a nerd and a bully feels so genuine to me in today's day and age.

BEN: A meme bully.

MAX: This version of Flash is the most interesting to me by far. It really feels like a Spider-Man created in the 2010s instead of a transplanted 20th century story.

DUY: Yeah, this franchise involves at least three race bends, which of course gets hate from a certain contingent of the internet. But because Spider-Man was created in 1962 and it's now 2019, it's only realistic that a high school in New York would be this diverse. It does feel they started from scratch rather than try to transplant what was there decades ago.

BEN: I wonder at what point May found out his identity.

DUY: The end credits of Homecoming

BEN: Really? Have I completely forgotten this?

MICHAEL: Yes.

DUY: Homecoming ends with May going "What the f-" and then blacking out.

MICHAEL: I like that we're 2 for 2 now with characters ending a post credits sequence with "what the fu-"

DUY: Speaking of May, I completely ship her and Happy.

MICHAEL: I don't because Happy is a putz, but it was fun for what it was. I love that May was immediately "nah it's a fling" while Happy was talking about connections.

BEN: That saved it for me.

THE MID-CREDITS

MIGS: The mid-credits took me by surprise. I never expected Spidey's identity to be revealed to the world that soon. Nice to see JK Simmons back as J. Jonah Jameson. One of the best midcredits scene of the MCU.

BEN: JK being back makes me wonder why they ever let him “leave.” Batman used the same Alfred for four movies, Simmons should always be Jameson. It also got the biggest pop from the audience of the entire movie.

DUY: I honestly can't remember the last time when the credits scene by itself has made me want to watch the next movie immediately.

BEN: I kept thinking “are they going to do it, are they going to show his face? Oh, they did it.”

DUY: And it really does feel like it sets up the third movie as super-classic Spider-Man. The quintessential New York hero that New York hates.

MICHAEL: I liked that JJJ was familiar (due to J.K. Simmons) and yet slightly different in this iteration: bald on top, now a shock jock online radio show host/anchor evoking a certain far right conspiracy theorist rather than a newspaper publisher.

DUY: I'm really glad he's not a newspaper publisher, because it's 2019.

BEN: Like the PS4 game.

KARA: They had that in the Ultimate universe as well. they had the daily bugle start as a newspaper that's just starting to transition into an online format and Peter became their web designer rather than a photographer. Makes me think that if they try to sneak Peter into the Bugle to help clear his name, that would be the angle they go in from. BUT I literally. Screamed. I screamed YES when they showed JK Simmons because HELL YES. And also when they actually not only said his name but put in a picture of him I just turned to Katherine like OH GOD WHAT NOW.

MAX: I like that they’re happy to mess with the status quo.

DUY: On Spider-Rama the week before with Mysterio, we discussed how he makes for great visuals and a perfect match for JJJ.

MICHAEL: They do make a good match but there wasn't much of a connection between that in this film. More of a segueway, or baton passing. Mysterio was all about how easily people could be deceived and mislead by media (similar to Aldrich Killian's sentiments in a way), fittingly having his 'last moments' covered by J Jonah Jameson - who appears to be an Alex Jones-esque pastiche, the height of actual "fake news".

DUY: I didn't expect Jameson at all, so what we got was perfect enough. (Plus as cool as it'd have been, I don't think there was enough time.)

BEN: Mysterio and Jameson are the ideal conduits for a “fake news” theme.

THE END CREDITS

BEN: I was spoiled on this weeks before, but it was reported as being a sinister scene, setting up a Secret Invasion type of storyline, but it was mainly a joke. So I was a bit disappointed.

DUY: My big question is, where is Fury going? I want to say he's going to Vormir. Talos-as-Fury at one point says "No one gets left behind," and Widow is the number 1 SHIELD agent.

MICHAEL: It was nice seeing Talos again, I guess? I liked him in Captain Marvel but I don't know if I needed to see him again so soon. It's whatever.

BEN: I suppose they could still be working up to Secret Invasion, the Marvel event where it's revealed that the Skrulls have been infiltrating for a long time. They get mad about failing to find them a home.

MICHAEL: I'd like to think Fury being in space has something to do with forming SWORD, but who knows. "Fury" and "Maria Hill" do have an offhand line about Kree sleeper cells during the film, though.

MAX: i just love aliens with Aussie accents.

KATHERINE: When he said that it was time to get back to work, I figured he was going to get back to forming whatever the new Avengers are going to be... which maybe starts with recruiting people from space?

BEN: Adam Warlock!

KATHERINE: But is everyone assuming that the real Nick Fury has only been on vacation since Endgame or does anyone else think he may have been up there for much longer? I'm feeling like a conspiracy theorist thinking that he's been up there since he "retired" at the end of Winter Soldier, since he cut his toast diagonally in Age of Ultron. It's such a random piece of information he shared in Captain Marvel that it feels like it must mean something.

BEN: That’s what I was wondering, how long has he been gone?

DUY: We've only last seen him in Ultron, really, before Infinity War... so it's either Ultron or Endgame and I guess it doesn't really make that much of a difference.

THE FUTURE

DUY: They're apparently contracted for nine Spider-Man movies.  So we have a lot of time to get to the Sinister Six, Doc Ock, AND the Green Goblin. And he doesn't even need to be front and center for this next phase, or even phases. Also, due to his age, Spider-Man is really the one character you can go this long with. But also, he's freaking Spider-Man. Even after the last 10 years, he's still their biggest brand, their most recognizable, and even if he'd taken a backseat in the past decade, I think this movie has shown that you can easily put Spider-Man front and center any time you want.

BEN: It helps that Holland might look 16 forever. So what's next?

KARA: If we assume Miles Morales didn't get blipped than he'd be in the right age range now!! It sounded like he was really young in Homecoming, in the extended scene of Aaron stuck to the car trunk.

DUY: A part of me actually wants Miles (and Gwen) to come from different Earths...

KARA: I'd love if they did that, honestly. I mean they probably wouldn't be able to pull him in for a long time if Sony plans on doing any sequels to Spider-Verse.

MICHAEL: I would have loved to see a more faithful take on Scorpion now that I think about it, but they already introduced him in Homecoming.

BEN:  Maybe they have Jameson help turn him into the Scorpion to hunt down a fugitive Peter in the next one.

KARA: Homecoming did also introduce the Tinkerer. Curious to see where they take that, if they do anything with it.

BEN: I look forward to hopefully getting a good Green Goblin on screen.

MICHAEL: They'll definitely do Norman Osborn and that opens up a whole corner of Goblins.

DUY: I really wanna see Harry Goblin done right, but that takes up so much time.

KARA: They've been doing a great job of picking some of the lesser known villains from Spidey's rogues gallery, and I hope that keeps up. It's been awesome seeing these new takes on them and really elevating them into proper threats. It really makes me wonder who they're going to go with next!

DUY: Actually that brings up a good point. Mysterio is the best Spider-Man villain from a visual standpoint. Who would we go to next for someone who would look great in cinema? I would think that means someone like the Rhino is out... Would be cool to see someone like Speed Demon on screen, or even Boomerang.

MICHAEL: Boomerang would be a great Sinister Six/Seven/Syndicate addition. Rhino really needs to be done right but I think he'd be one of the hardest to translate on screen. I Wouldn't mind seeing a conglomerate of C list villains - think of all the organized crime types that have yet to be tapped in live action like Hammerhead, Silvermane, Owl, Tombstone... not prime villain material but neither was Shocker in Homecoming and yet he was still pretty fun on screen. I'd dig seeing Martin Li show up as a supporting cast member in May's orbit since she's doing FEAST stuff basically, slow burn his turn over a few films.

DUY: I wonder if they can use the Kingpin.

KARA: I wonder if they could find an excuse to get Kraven the Hunter in there!

MICHAEL: Kraven would be great for a slightly older Spidey. And that's the great thing — if Holland is in it for the long haul, we could.be planning out villains for most of his 20s.

DUY: So if you want to continue with the keeping secrets/ telling lies/ fake news theme, the obvious answer is the Chameleon.

KARA: I was thinking of him too.

MICHAEL: Chameleon and Kraven are kind of like a double act, so you could have one lead into then other.

DUY: But yeah I was thinking you do Chameleon and the credits scene introduces Kraven?

KARA: I think that would make sense for either of those two.

DUY: Not as a main villain but more of a nuisance to the theme of celebrity, I'd love to see Screwball. And Electro with his real costume? Please?

MICHAEL: Smythe and the Spider-Slayers could make sense for the next movie. Like a task force getting organized to catch him for "murdering Mysterio". You could also introduce the Jackal.

DUY: I think I would avoid the Clone Saga. That might be a little too much for the casual audience.

KARA: Clone saga is a mindfuck that is best left to comics. It's way too involved and crazy, whichever angle you look at it.

MICHAEL: Hate the Clone Saga, but Jackal is a worthy foe.

DUY: Spider-Man has so many options it's easier to name the ones I wouldn't go for.

KARA: Trying to dig way back through his rogues gallery right now and like... There are just so many. Enough material to last for as long as film can handle!

DUY: It's interesting that Peter doesn't really have that many A-level villains that the movies can really just pick one and cut loose. Like if they said, hey, let's make a big thing out of The Spot, we'd see it happen.

KARA: His A-lister has been done to death, so... Yeah, kind of leaves just the huge swath of B- and C-grade villains. To quote an old Spidey novel I have, "You threaten the world, you get the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. Rob a bank, you get Spider-Man."

DUY: And if they introduce the FF soon we can get Peter and Johnny...

KARA: Please please please please please.

MICHAEL: No one would have said Vulture was an A-level Spidey foe (despite being one of his first) but they made it work. I think the things they're looking at is a) who's a classic foe that has tenure and hasn't been done yet? b) is there a fresh way to make them work on screen? If they wanted, to I'm sure they'd have a great Vermin script to be honest.

DUY: Yeah it almost feels like they get more creative freedom this way.

MICHAEL: The more I think about it, the more I want a Gang War. I reckon Tombstone could even carry a film. He's basically freaky Kingpin. Have Black Cat be an ally/foil to Spidey. Print money.

DUY: Unfortunately i think Felicia and Sable are stuck with Sony proper.

MICHAEL: They got lucky with Venom. I hope it's not a case of them keeping them off the table for the MCU proper.

BEN: I’d like to see a better Lizard.

DUY: Also, the movie changes so much on the surface but feels so true to classic Spider-Man, and I actually think that helps the movie because while the major beats are predictable, all the smaller changes are a surprise.

MICHAEL: Gwen Stacy?

DUY: Spider-Gwen has changed Gwen's stock so much (for the better) that I wouldn't be surprised if we never see a version of Gwen from this Earth.

KARA: True true. I'd love to see her eventually, but who even knows.

DUY: What if the ninth movie is a live action Spider Verse???

KARA: DON'T TEASE ME WITH SUCH A CONCEPT.

DUY: All you really need is Peter and Gwen and Miles. And Andrew. Okay, that last one is just for me.