The Strange Sense Of Elitism In Film Criticism

There was a debate all over my Twitter timeline a while ago about something Ethan Hawke said about how superhero movies get overpraised and that Logan is a fine superhero movie, but not a great movie. And regardless of my feelings towards Logan  specifically, I think this betrays the typical genre elitism that does more harm than good by preventing excellent works from being recognized as excellent and thus keeping standards from getting higher.

There are countless counterexamples to Hawke’s point. So instead of listing all of them, let’s focus on three main points: the literary merit of commercial entertainment, the dismissal of the superhero genre, and the pretentiousness behind the idea that literary fiction is its own category.

Meaningful Stories In Popular Media

If you pick out any member of the Animorphs fandom and ask them about the series, I doubt you’d find a single one that would argue that it isn’t kind of trashy sci fi aimed at children. Because it is. They were cheap paperbacks pushed out at a breakneck pace to sell toys to kids with a lot of lighthearted, funny scenes largely centred around fish-out-of-water comedy. No one will deny that. But that absolutely does not preclude them from having literary merit.

It’s a story about child soldiers and trauma and galaxy wide imperialism. Sure, there are moments where the lead characters argue over Teletubbies and an alien eats chocolate off the floor, but that doesn’t negate the themes of genocide, slavery, and depression. They coexist. They work together to build multifaceted characters. Anyone is free to not like it, or think it’s not well written, but if your argument for why it doesn’t have merit or why those themes aren’t meaningful is it’s about kids turning into animals, you’re not making a good case.

“It’s written in a simplistic style targeted at children and lacks the sophistication necessary to appeal to me” is a fair enough statement. I can’t say I’ve ever felt the same way about a novel – sure, I like things that sound good, pieces of literature that can flow over me where how it makes me feel is somewhat more important than what specifically is happening, but I’ve always felt that that is best suited for poetry and short stories than for a full length novel – but I can understand why someone would feel that way. I don’t agree, but it’s an infinitely better case than “it’s not a great book, it’s a fine adventure story, it’s still about kids turning into animals”.

I don’t have much use for media that doesn’t tell me a compelling story. Characters, plot, themes, and style all work together to create a story. No amount of interesting style or themes or both of them put together is enough to make up for boring characters or a nonexistent plot. Animorphs? It does a great job handling all of them together. The books take themselves just seriously enough. They’re a perfect example of how meaningful and pretentiousness don’t have to go hand in hand, how there doesn’t have to be a trade off between developed characters and a developed plot, how themes in children’s literature can be handled more subtly than by dropping an anvil over the reader’s head, how a blunt style isn’t inherently worse than anything else. Most of all, they demonstrate how it doesn’t even matter what the plot is – any plot can be the plot of a meaningful story.

Dismissal of Superheroes

I genuinely don’t understand this need to be all it’s not a superhero story, it’s a whatever story with superheroes! “Superhero” isn’t a genre, it’s an archetype. A wide range of stories can fall into the superhero category. It comes across as people trying to separate something they enjoy from other things with similar elements, not for the sake of describing what it is, but for the sake of making it sound more “high brow”. This extends far beyond superhero stories. Like, what does the phrase “genre fiction” even mean? Nothing. It means nothing.

It becomes a vicious cycle. People expect superhero movies to be straightforward, so people go watch them when they want some shallow entertainment. That results in those that try something new not doing as well, which in turn results in less creative movies, which solidifies people’s belief that superhero movies should be straightforward entertainment. Then you have Batman v Superman, which is a whole different thing altogether.

Never once does it shy away from being a superhero story, because there’s no denying that’s what it is. It’s based on a comic book. It’s about the most iconic superheroes of all time. But that doesn’t preclude it from being a layered story, filled with allusions and themes. It’s the most high budget arthouse movie ever made. All the political themes are interwoven into the story. It’s more than just pseudo-deep quotes, all the themes are rooted throughout the movie. That the characters are public figures and heroes mattersIt’s thoughtful and unique. But critics expected they didn’t have to pay much attention because it’s a superhero movie and didn’t get nearly as much out of it as people thought about what they were watching.

If our expectations for superhero movies included that they must mean something, and critics actually thought critically, the reaction to Batman v Superman would have been hugely different. If you took the same movie and didn’t tell them it was directed by Zack Snyder – because critics clearly have something against him – it would have just as much action and bombast, but critics would be more receptive to the themes and quiet drama of the whole movie. They’d call it – rightfully – a work of art and a political statement. They might even go so far as to make the mistake in saying it’s not a superhero movie, it’s a drama about our relationship with power. It is that. But it matters that it’s told using superheroes. Pretty much the only reason that critics didn’t analyze it through that lens is because it’s a superhero movie. This goes back to the “superhero movie” as compared to “movie with superheroes” issue. If you extend that further, you get the frequent argument that something is not part of a given genre, it just has elements of that genre. That takes us to the “literary fiction” debate.

Genre Fiction vs. Literary Fiction

Perhaps the reason a certain demographic claims “genre fiction” is a lesser art form than so-called “literary fiction” is that they’re constantly redefining the best works in any genre as something other than what it is – especially in retrospect. Consider – The Book Thief has beautiful characterization and striking prose. It’s a piece of historical fiction set in Nazi Germany, and it’s widely considered to be an excellent book. It’s also narrated by Death – that makes it a fantasy. But I’ve seen multiple critics ignore that fantasy aspect and focus solely on the historical setting. Similarly, I saw an article once about literary fiction that claimed All the Pretty Horses is not a Western and 1984 is not sci fi. I think most of us can agree those claims are absurd. Style doesn’t change the genre. Being well written or memorable or having literary merit for whatever reason doesn’t stop something from fitting the conventions of a given genre.

It especially irks me when it comes to the topic of science fiction, because some of the core tenants of sci fi have always been questioning the world and society. It’s a weird kind of self-importance to suggest that only literary fiction addresses those themes, and even weirder to pitch your work as literature, as if that’s something you or critics get to decide and not time. There are lots of movies and novels that have literary merit. But that doesn’t change the fact that they belong to different genres. It reminds me a bit of the way some Game of Thrones fans try to talk about how much it transcends a genreThere’s a line about it in Parks and Recreation that’s something along the lines of “they’re telling human stories in a fantasy world”. Is there something about fantasy which means fantasy writers don’t tell human stories? No, because that’s stupid. Everyone tells human stories. Saying that it’s not a fantasy story, it’s something else in a fantasy setting doesn’t actually mean anything.


Hawke had a very valid point in that when it comes to superhero movies, most aren’t very good, and they’re praised for being mindless entertainment. But the reason for that has nothing to do with what they are. It has nothing to do with “people wearing tights” or “having metal coming out of their hands”. I’ve been vocal about my issues with Logan as a movie, but something I will never say is that one of the problems with it is the fact it involves people with metal claws. You can make anything sound silly if you talk about it like that – Slaughterhouse-Five is about a man who gets put on display in an alien zoo.

With live action superhero movies, we’re talking about a fairly small sample size. Sure, that’s expanded a huge amount in the past fifteen years, but we’re not talking about anything so broad as “fantasy” or “science fiction”. So we can say things like most superhero movies are lazy without generalizing, because a lot of people have seen a significant percentage of the movies that fall into that category. If that’s what Hawke meant, that’s what he should have said. But what he did say was dismissive of entire genre based on what the genre is, rather than what it’s produced. We have to judge people’s statements for what they are, not bend over backwards trying to find a way to justify them as correct because we agree with something kind of relevant to what they’re talking about.

Logan isn’t a great movie and most superhero movies are overpraised and carefully calculated to sell rather than actually make a point. Yeah. True. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the science fiction and fantasy elements of those stories.

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The Problem With Our Urge To Declare Any Representation Groundbreaking

“This movie is the first [insert overly narrow category] film. This is so important! Everyone go watch it!” People say things like that all the time. Not just about movies, even – about TV shows, about characters, about directors. We see it with which superheroes are brought to screen, we see it with who’s cast in what big budget movie, we see it with who’s directing an upcoming blockbuster. Right now, we’re seeing it with most of the discussion around  Crazy Rich Asians. And I get it. I do. But I also think it’s getting a little much.

I’m not talking just about the idea that it’s silly to go watch a movie you don’t like the look of just for the sake of representation with no other reason. I’m talking about the concept of hailing a movie as revolutionary just based on the diversity of the cast. Because here’s the thing: If we’re gonna act like Crazy Rich Asians is some kind of pioneer for depicting rich Singaporeans, by the same logic, you can argue that the Harold and Kumar movies are some of the most important and groundbreaking movies in years. Does that sound right to you?

Now, I’m probably not even close to the best person to talk about said movies. I literally could not watch the second movie because the first one was just over the top crass, and I do not do well with toilet humour. But these movies are buddy comedies with Asian leads. They challenge the idea that “Asian” means East Asian and nothing else. They counter the model minority myth, while also not going with the idea that their Asian lead characters are poor, uneducated taxi drivers or convenience store owners. They helped both John Cho and Kal Penn, who were both largely unknown at the time, become much more widely recognizable, to the point where both actors credited them with helping them land other roles. They made actual points about something. From that perspective, they’re far more groundbreaking than movies like Crazy Rich Asians, which is a kind of creepy wealth fantasy.

I don’t think the Harold and Kumar movies are actually groundbreaking. To suggest they are seems ridiculous to me. While all of what I said above about them is true, none of that changes the fact that they weren’t good movies; they didn’t make much at the box office; and while they helped Cho and Penn’s careers, they didn’t clearly lead to more movies centring around Asian characters. My point is that you can make the case that practically anything is groundbreaking.

Crazy Rich Asians matters in that it’s a fun, lighthearted rom-com with a predominantly Asian cast. That’s not a movie we see often, and it’s great. But I get uncomfortable with how much is being read into it. On Twitter, I’ve seen a lot of people say a movie can’t be everything when people point out the lack of representation of Singapore’s ethnic minorities, and, yeah, that’s kind of the point. It’s just a story about a group of people that don’t often get stories made about them. We’re celebrating movies that are perfectly fine and that do something valuable in bringing more Asians and Asian Americans to screen, but do we really think that that in itself is something revolutionary? A step forward, sure. But hardly something that’ll ~change Hollywood forever. It’s a romantic comedy about rich people starring several known entities – Constance Wu, well acknowledged as the absolutely hilarious breakout star of Fresh Off The Boat; Michelle Yeoh, with her career going back decades and including roles in works ranging from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Star Trek: Discovery; Ken Jeong, long recognized for his comedic roles; and more. It’s not tackling and difficult issues. It’s just a safe topic featuring Asians instead of white people.

I’m all for light movies starring people of colour that don’t involve drama or political statements, because existing isn’t one of those. There’s no reason why Crazy Rich Asians has to be anything other than what it is, which is a feel good romance. But taking a stand and drawing attention to serious world issues is what makes something revolutionary. How groundbreaking can something be when it’s a safe story that, while starring minorities, is about people that aren’t marginalized in the context of the setting and has no bold stances? It’s an escapist story set in Singapore that’s targeted at Americans. It tries to apply the Western perspective of racism to an entirely different cultural context through a combination of erasing ethnic minorities, ignoring the enormous wealth disparity, and glossing over the awful treatment of migrant workers by pretending it doesn’t exist. There’s not really anything fundamentally wrong with the movie. But I’m not going to call it groundbreaking.

Stories have enormous power. Philadelphia opened people’s eyes to the reality of AIDS. It’s almost certain that Blackfish was part of the reason SeaWorld agreed to stop breeding orcas and end their theatrical shows. Victim‘s sympathetic depiction of a gay man in the early 1960s helped change attitudes and maybe even pave the way towards the decriminalization of homosexuality. Those are what I call revolutionary. They made a profound and obvious impact. Crazy Rich Asians does what it does, and that’s fine, but I think it’s silly to act like that’s a bold and courageous action.

I love Constance Wu, so, yeah, I’m going to go watch this movie. She’s made so many episodes of Fresh Off The Boat worth it, which puts her in the small, distinguished category of actors that can draw me to the theatre. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. It looks like a movie that I’ll have a good time watching. But revolutionary? Nah. That’s a word I’m going to hold in reserve for works that earn it.

My Utterly Unsolicited Opinion On Dick Grayson as the Robin in ‘Batman v Superman’

Zack Snyder commented on a Vero post today. This is nothing unusual. He spends a lot of time on Vero, and he comments on a lot of posts. But this time, he was saying that the dead Robin in Batman v Superman – the one pretty much everyone assumed was Jason, even though I do remember some debate based on that one picture of a gravestone labelled Richard Grayson – was in fact Dick, not Jason. This prompted Twitter freaking out. I…think that’s an overreaction.

As I’ve pointed out countless times, I adore Dick Grayson. He’s my favourite comic book character of all time, and the very first comic I read was his miniseries from 1995. I love him as Robin, I love him as Nightwing, and I love him as Batman. So believe me when I say…what I’m going to say has absolutely nothing to do with me being a “Snyder fanboy”. I adore Zack Snyder. I think he’s an awesome storyteller. But my love for Dick Grayson goes back a long way. I’ve loved his character since the same year 300 came out. Like all my posts about him illustrate, I’m very protective of how he’s interpreted. So my defending Snyder’s creative choices – even ones that I’m unsure about – has nothing to do with being a blind follower and everything to do with how Snyder has given me reasons to trust him.

I saw several Tweets along the lines of “having Dick be the dead Robin would have been a terrible idea”. To those, I just have to laugh, because you know something? Snyder has demonstrated that he knows how to make something incredible out of “terrible ideas”.

I do not like Frank Miller. I think The Dark Knight Returns is a bad comic that really doesn’t have many redeeming qualities in it. My instinct would have been to say that adapting it would have been a terrible idea. But that’s what Snyder did when he made Batman v Superman, and that was awesome. I love that movie with all my heart. There is no comic book movie on that level of incredible. And that’s because Snyder thinks things through. He creates nuanced takes. He found the good in The Dark Knight Returns and turned it from something I consider kind of terrible to something beautiful. That he could do that is huge. As it is, it doesn’t really matter to whom the Robin suit in Batman v Superman belonged, just that a loss had a major impact on Bruce. But I absolutely believe Snyder could have made something unique and compelling out of making it explicitly Dick rather than Jason.

Another comment I saw – that a lot of people were upset about – was about how it makes so much sense that it was Dick and not Jason that made Bruce so reclusive and angry in Batman v Superman. People often take comments about Bruce’s love for Dick being special as attacks on the other members of the Batfamily, but that’s not it. Of course Bruce has the capacity to love multiple people. He has room in his heart for all of his children and all of Gotham. That doesn’t mean that he and Dick don’t have a unique and beautiful relationship. Dick is his first son. His first partner. Dick saved Bruce from a dark path. Bruce once kept a whole universe from getting destroyed because Dick was in it. Dick has been there through everything. As a character, he predates Alfred, Barbara, Jason, Selina. He’s Bruce’s most valued partner and the one thing he did right. He’s utterly crucial.

One of the reasons Jason was so upset that Bruce didn’t kill the Joker was because he thought he would have done it had it been Dick who died. And there is some basis for that – Bruce completely flipped out and tried to strangle Lex during Forever Evil when he thought Lex had killed Dick. In Infinite Crisis, he grabbed a gun and threatened to shoot alternate universe Lex because of the same reason. The only reason he didn’t in both those cases was because Dick wasn’t actually dead. It’s a pattern of behaviour in the comics, carried through different writers, that Bruce probably would kill someone for Dick. So canonically, there could be that basis for why Snyder wanted it to be Dick and not Jason. But I don’t think that’s the real point. It’s not about what Dick’s place in the birth order means for his relationship with Bruce, but about what it means for the entire concept of the Batfamily.

Without Dick, there wouldn’t have been any other Robins. Tim could come after Jason because Dick already set the precedent for a success, for illustrating why Batman needs a Robin. But there’s no way in hell that Jason would have come along after Dick if Dick died instead. And without Jason – without the rest of the Batfamily – there would be no one to hold Bruce back and keep him from a dark path. So of course Bruce would be alone ten years after losing his partner. Of course he would be hugely more cynical and unwilling to work with other people. Of course feeling threatened by Superman could tip him into being ready to kill. That’s why Robin matters.

As someone that loves Dick, loves how he’s the gold standard that all his successors feel like they need to live up to, loves that he’s the member of the Batfamily most naturally suited to the job they all chose, and loves that Bruce considers him his greatest success, it upsets me to think that in the movies, that’s not the case and that he’s the Robin Bruce failed to save instead. But it also makes a huge amount of sense in this universe, even down to the simple matter of explaining where all the other members of the family were during the movie.

Is Jason best known for being killed by the Joker? Yeah. But we’re talking about superhero comics and their adaptations. Characters die and come back all the time. Killing a different Robin isn’t the same as taking something that’s fundamentally part of Jason’s story and not anyone else’s. And beyond that, movies are an adaptation. Changes are inevitable. It’s more important to me that they remain true to the spirit of the material than any particular storyline. And Zack Snyder has demonstrated that he has a lot of respect for the comics.

I wouldn’t want Dick to be the dead Robin, even though it does make a lot of sense and I know Snyder could make something awesome out of it that would, in all likelihood, respect Dick as a character, just because I love the Batfamily, I love Dick’s relationships with all kinds of different heroes, and I love how he’s the heart of the DCU. If he made a movie further exploring this, I’d go see it, and I’d be excited because it would be him making it, but I wouldn’t feel the same level of excitement as I do about other superhero movies, just because I get most excited about the other members of the Batfamily when they’re interacting with each other, especially with Dick. I wouldn’t be nearly excited to see any of them without that dynamic and a lot of emphasis on the importance of the Robin legacy and Bruce and Dick’s relationship. I really don’t care about Carrie Kelley, who Snyder said it a later comment, he’d have brought in (He said that Dick would have stayed dead until Carrie. I didn’t quite know what that meant – was that just referring to there being no Robin until Carrie, or was he saying that Dick himself would have come back to life after Carrie was introduced?).

And honestly, none of this really matters. It was left open ended at the time, presumably for the director of the Batsolo to decide how they want to handle it. For all we know, Matt Reeves won’t handle it at all. But I think it’s crazy to have such rigid opinions on how a movie that we probably won’t see would have been based on a one word comment. There are a million ways that story could go. I’m not saying I’d be thrilled about this deviation from the comics, and it might not have been what I wanted, but Zack Snyder has demonstrated that he makes purposeful changes. He doesn’t just change what’s in the source material for no reason. He cares about these characters. I trust that he’d give us an interesting story.

Adapting ‘Animorphs’

As anyone that has ever read anything I’ve written knows…I love Animorphs. And as anyone that knows anything about the Animorphs fandom knows, mocking the TV series is a time honoured tradition. That being said, the fandom is often discussing how great it would be to get a reboot, and there’s long been a debate as to the best way of adapting the series.

There are frequent claims that it should involve aging up the characters a few years. There are practical reasons for that – the entire series revolved around these six kids, and it’s a  safer bet that you’ll get a good performance out of slightly older actors. And “gritty reboots” are all but inevitable. But Animorphs would lose so much of what makes it awesome if there were changes made to appeal to adults. Aging the characters, adding sex or excessive cursing – all that would take away from the fact that this is a story about child soldiers. At the same time, if there was a completely faithful live action adaptation – for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s make it a movie – it would have to be rated R. Loss of limbs is just par for the course. The very first book essentially opens with involuntary cannibalism – an alien is eaten alive by his enslaved former mentor while five children hear him scream. At one point, a different alien is cut in two and, driven by uncontrollable hunger, one half starts to consume the other. There’s a reason fans frequently laugh about how weird it was that this series was approved for children.

And it is supposed to be for kids. Not just for kids, certainly, but what would it mean to take a series about kids and written for kids and fill it with so much blood and gore that, even if it’s accurate to the books, would stop the people in the demographic it’s for from getting to see it? Stories for adults are great. Movies that you probably shouldn’t take kids to are excellent. But even though the majority of today’s Animorphs fans are adults, it’s not fair to make an adaptation of it an adult one that kids can’t go to, because kids really deserve a chance to discover this world. Kids deserve great stories with nuanced and interesting characters, moral questions, action, and humour just as much as adults do. And nothing directed at children – hell, and few things directed at adults – combines all those things as well as Animorphs.

Even aside from the content, there’s a lot of disagreement as to what the best way to format an adaption would be. Some people want a series of movies, others say that that won’t capture the sense of a lot of time passing the same way the books did and want a show, yet others want it to be a cartoon (Applegate herself has said that when the original show was being made, she and Michael Grant, her husband and coauthor, had wanted it animated). Personally, I’m conflicted. I’m doubtful that a cartoon could properly capture the feel of the series, but I suspect that would be the only way to actually adapt it, because anything live action would be extremely expensive and likely inaccessible to the target audience of the books because of the sheer amount of violence. Both a live action TV series and live action films have similar positives and negatives.

While there are certainly filler books that, even if they do have interesting character moments or add something of value, aren’t strictly necessary, I’d argue that the majority of them contribute to elevating the work as a whole, especially as they help give the impression of a series that’s taking place over a long time and in which we don’t see everything that the characters do. In that regard, a TV show would be a great format. However, I suspect that if there was a reboot of the show, there would likely be a lot of filler in an attempt to drag out the story for more seasons. The interpersonal drama would shift from being about different philosophies as to how they should fight a war to more trite relationship drama and petty jealousies, things that really weren’t in the books at all.

On the other end of the  spectrum, a single movie wouldn’t do the series justice, because of just how much there is. I’ve said before that I’d love for a movie to be directed by Zack Snyder, largely because I’d love for him to direct anything and I think that, while the main series is more suited for an episodic series, the Chronicles would need movies to do them justice, and I also think Guillermo del Toro would be a perfect fit for the type of work Animorphs is. But would be extremely expensive to do right, and a faithful adaptation would be extremely difficult.

None of this even gets into the fact that all the books are told in first person, with a lot of the appeal being the characters’ internal narration – something that doesn’t translate very well from text. Of course, all of this is entirely hypothetical, seeing as there’s been no indication of any Animorphs adaptation plans. But I kind of really want to see one done justice, because it would be hard to overstate how crucial Animorphs was to me. They set the bar for character development. They’re the reason my reaction to so many characters arcs is, “this is good, but it’s no Jake from Animorphs”. Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan won a Newbery Medal. It’s getting an animated movie with an a majorly all-star cast. That’s all well and good, but I will always maintain that her best work was Animorphs. I need that adaptation, good or bad, if only because it will inevitably result in more people being introduced to the books.

An Easy Guide To Identifying the White Male Comics Geek

Fact: there are white male comics fans, and there are White Male Comics FansTM. The latter are a pain. But worry not, friends! For I can help. If you look out for these warning signs, you may well be able to get the hell out of there before some loser starts demanding you prove your geek cred through answering some test.

  1. Their favourite X-Man is Wolverine.
    Look, Wolverine is fine. I might have several different posts in the works explaining my problems with him as a character, but those issues don’t have much to do with him. They’re more about the audience reaction to him. And they’re why it’s generally a red flag to me if someone says they love him.

    Unfortunately, White Male Comics Fans gravitate towards Wolverine, because he’s “cool”. They think because he stabs people and isn’t cautious, he should lead teams and be the main character, regardless of his absurd hypocrisy and terrible judgment. It makes no sense, but it is what it is. I generally take a love for him as a sign I should avoid the person expressing it and move on.

  2.  They think Robin is stupid.
    Interestingly enough, Robin was both the first kid sidekick and the last. Robin has become a legacy character and the mantle has endured while others haven’t because a younger Robin to an older Batman is crucial to the dynamic. We see again and again why Batman needs a Robin and how important Bruce’s children are to him, but the Robins – mostly while they’re Robins, not after they take up other mantles – are dismissed as unnecessary sidekicks.

    …quite frankly, this one is a sign of people that don’t actually know anything about Batman, but try to claim they do. God, I hate fake geek boys.

  3. They hate Scott Summers.
    Look, Scott has gotten a lot of hate over the years for stupid reasons. People that think he’s boring; people that think he’s not good enough for Jean; people that think he’s a bad leader; people that make statements about him that are technically true, but so far taken out of context or distorted to make him look bad, they’re not accurate to the text anymore. The list goes on. I disagree with all these assessments. But mostly, I can just ignore them as people that don’t actually think about the text and that are instead relying on the pop culture osmosis and the say so of writers that hate him. What I can’t deal with is when they go all “Cyclops was a terrorist” on me.

    If someone claims that “Cyclops Was A Terrorist”, they clearly don’t know jackshit about what terrorism is, because what Scott did was mind his own business, give mutants a safe place to go, and warn people that if they continued to attack innocent people, he’d have no choice but to retaliate. Then he destroyed a gas cloud that was killing mutants, that’s not terrorism, that’s retaliating against oppressors. The people that think that’s a bad thing? Those are the pseudo-intellectual, “if you fight back against your violent oppressors, doesn’t that make you just as bad as them, hmmm? Check and mate” idiots. Those aren’t people I’m interested in talking to, and are pretty clearly people that don’t get what the X-Men – and mutants in general – represent to minorities. However, seeing as you usually can’t tell the Cyclops hater that is operating on misinformation from the Cyclops hater that thinks minorities should just sit back and ask politely for people to stop killing them…I find the safest option is just to avoid.

  4. “The Nolan Batman movies are the best!”
    I like Nolan. I have a lot of respect for his directorial skills. And I think there’s a lot to enjoy from his Batman trilogy. But it would be a total lie to say that parts of them don’t set my teeth on edge – primarily, their depiction of Bruce and the way they propagated the idea that Batman is a loner that doesn’t need other people.

    Nolan didn’t understand why Robin matters. That much is obvious. If he did, he’d have gotten why having the character killed by the Joker be a love interest instead of a son isn’t true to the story. He’d have gotten why some random adult that Bruce met five minutes before doesn’t fill the same role in Bruce’s life as the child he raised into an adult that he’s called “the one thing I ever did right”, the one that Alfred has described as Bruce’s optimism. The Nolan movies are fine. They’re well-crafted, well-written movies with compelling performances. But as far as I’m concerned, they miss the mark when it comes to Bruce.

    Batman isn’t a loner and he shouldn’t be. Robin is one of the oldest mantles in superhero comics, and Dick Grayson has existed nearly as long as Bruce himself. He even predates Wonder Woman. Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl – because we are absolutely not getting into the Batgirl Bat-Girl distinction here – was created in the sixties. Bruce has more family and allies than just about any other DC character. The Nolan movies might be good, but they didn’t respect that. As such, I’m never going to be able to consider them the best anything.

  5. “Hahahaha, Batman v Superman is so bad, they stopped fighting because their moms had the same name!”
    If they think this, well…there’s probably no helping them. Just get out of there. I wrote a whole post on why that moment was awesome, and I still got people complaining about how I was wrong and it was stupid. There’s no helping some people.
  6. “Superman has to smile all the time and never have doubts or fail at anything.”
    For me, a major part of the appeal of BvS is Clark’s reactions to the world and the world’s reactions to him. I find Superman far more interesting when he’s real, when he has actual emotions. He’s not a god, he’s a person that grew up knowing he was different. Presenting him as an always happy optimist that thinks the world is perfect even though he’s being told that he doesn’t belong on the only planet he’s ever known would be disingenuous.

    Like the Robin issue, this warning sign tends to highlight people that think they know more about the comics than they actually do – that or people that are so fixated on their nostalgic memory that they forget what actually happens in comics. Or both. Minorities recognize the immigrant story in BvS and appreciate it. The White Male Comic GeekTM, on the other hand, wants Superman to be a escapist fantasy that’s just for him with no grounding in real world political issues.

    I totally get not reading comics. I’m not passing any judgement on that. Watching cartoons or movies or whatever is a perfectly acceptable way to engage with the material. But you can’t say something is wrong or a bad adaptation if you’re only getting your understanding of the “right” way to make a Superman movie from the Donner movies.

I know, I know – most of these don’t so much help you avoid the annoying white boys so much as give you signs to watch for so that you can hightail it out of there before they start saying racist, sexist things. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to avoid all annoying fanboys without cutting off all interaction with comics fans in general. I don’t want to do that, because talking about comics is fun, and for all I know, that dude that wearing a Wolverine shirt actually has interesting opinions and isn’t going to start lecturing me on comics. In order to be sure if the person in front of you is a White Male Comic GeekTM, you’re going to have to talk to them, for at least a while (or don’t bother trying to figure it out and leave. That’s usually what I do).

I was once caught in a situation where I was forced to choose between making it clear that I knew Nathan Summers’s biological mother was Madelyne Pryor and saying that he was Scott’s son with Jean because she raised him. I said the latter, already braced for the “well, actually…”, so I could swiftly add on that I knew about Madelyne. More recently, someone started Tweeting at me about how I was totally wrong for saying Scott was acting in self defence during Avengers vs X-Men, and, like an idiot, I was baited into responding. Lesson learned: when in a situation where you have to decide how to respond to an annoying White Male Comic GeekTM, think, what would Keya do? Then, your safe bet is to do the opposite.

The Problem With Fanboys Running the Asylum and the Importance of Critical Nostalgia

I will absolutely never say that nostalgia is a bad thing. It’s a major part of why we continue to love things as we get older, even as our tastes evolve. It’s what leads us to revisit works we enjoyed as children and, if we’re lucky, get something new out of them. To an extent, it’s why a lot of us love superhero comics. It’s why those characters survive.

The problem arises when the nostalgia filter makes us blind to the flaws of a work in the past and closed off to any changes. It’s common in sci fi, and it’s common in comics. I’ve noticed that when start talking about when a piece of media was at its best, they’re often not talking about the original themes of a work. What they’re usually talking about is the way they remember it – often inaccurately – before someone decided to take a different approach or introduce new characters and concepts. They don’t want characters to develop because they prefer archetypes rather than actual characters with arcs.

These forms of media have become an echo chamber, filled with writers addressing people like themselves. It’s a vicious, endless cycle. A vocal minority of white male fans jealously guard something they consider theirs by right. They’re the root of a lot of backlash against anything that dares to be different. This includes – but is by no means limited to – new characters, new interpretations of old ones, and challenges to the status quo. It further propagates the idea that comics are for white men and alienates other people that would enjoy it and that could contribute to bettering the genre.

Star Trek

The Original Series is seemingly paradoxical. It’s mired in the 60s at the same time as it was ahead of its time. It defined modern science fiction and influenced countless other pieces of media at the same time as its fans were considered the geekiest of geeks. It was Fair For Its Day and still is adored for it, while also standing as an example of something out of date that should be adapted to better suit our more evolved society, and appreciating the show requires the modern viewer to remember the historical context of when it was made.

Yes, at times, Uhura was basically a glorified secretary and she didn’t get an official first name until long after the series first aired. Yes, all the women were wearing short skirts with most of them seeming only to be around to look pretty. Yes, Chekov was a bit of a caricature. But Uhura was – still is – an icon. She was a Lieutenant that repeatedly demonstrated her ability to man other posts besides her own. She was involved in what wasn’t the first interracial kiss on television, but certainly the most remembered. She inspired Mae Jemison, Whoopi Goldberg! The actresses wanted the miniskirts. They liked showing off their legs, and besides, the miniskirt was a trademark of that second wave feminism. According to George Takei, every Asian actor of the time was clamouring to play Sulu because he wasn’t a stereotype. There was no call for a heavy accent. He was a pilot, a botanist, a fencer – he was at heart, a Renaissance Man. Chekov wasn’t any kind of villain, he was there to appeal to teenage girls. The Original Series presented a black woman in a major role during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a Japanese man twenty years after the US had stuck all Japanese people in internment camps, a Russian character that wasn’t a villain played by the son of Russian Jewish immigrants during the Cold War. It was imperfect – especially the treatment of women – but that doesn’t change the fact it was revolutionary.

I didn’t mind Star Trek (2009). I thought it was a decent movie. But, like others have pointed out, it felt like the work of someone that would have much preferred to be making a Star Wars movie – which, five years later, he’d be doing. I got the feeling that the people involved had a general understanding of the source material, a vague knowledge of what a Star Trek movie should be…but that knowledge is so coloured by the way Star Trek is perceived in popular culture, it didn’t feel authentic.

The macho womanizer Kirk was depicted as in the 2009 film, that he’s remembered as, really doesn’t have much basis in canon. In TOS, he was the balance between Spock’s logic and McCoy’s emotion. He wasn’t nearly as rash as some would have you believe. And the claims that he was a womanizer takes away a lot of the agency these women have. He was a charmer, and he flirted with a lot of women, but there really isn’t much canonical evidence for him having the degree of chauvinism required for him to be an actual womanizer. Kirk was attracted to smart, driven women that he usually developed genuine feelings for. I seem to recall an episode where a character mentioned that they tried to distract him from a class he taught by orchestrating a meeting between him and some technician that he wound up nearly marrying. He respected the women on his crew and fell in love easily. The idea that he just slept his way through the galaxy because every woman fell for him came more from people that wanted to live vicariously through him than the actual character.

In some ways, the 2009 movie is a step up from the misogyny of TOS. But it wasn’t done thoughtfully. Uhura got to do more than just answer the phones, which was great. Both Kirk and Spock were far more demonstrative of toxic masculinity in the 2009 movie than in TOS. Reboot Kirk was prone to violent confrontations and with much less respect for women. He got into a bar fight, ignoring Uhura when she told him to stop. He hid under Gaila’s bed while Uhura undressed. There was more focus on Spock’s anger at the claim he’d never lost his mother than on his grief for her passing. It felt as if J.J. Abrams had known enough to keep the Star Trek trappings…but not the soul.

To me, it felt like kind of a homogenization of Star Trek and Star Wars. Those stories are so different, trying to blend them together results in something utterly generic that doesn’t have what makes either of them good. Star Trek (2009) was missing something special. It was missing some of the heart. It lacked the social messages, the pacifist ideals, the recurring idea that we can build a better tomorrow. And in terms of the diversity themes…Society has caught up with Star Trek as it was when it first aired. As such, the alternate origin movies just aren’t the same kind of progressive. Sure, Uhura and Sulu are still there, and Uhura has a more important role than she did in The Original Series, but that’s no longer revolutionary. Chekov was still there – though Abrams saying they won’t recast after Anton Yelchin’s tragic death means he won’t be there in future movies – but without the real world backdrop of the Cold War, the fact that he’s Russian no longer means as much. Star Trek: Discovery is lacking in some departments – the core of idealism that is absolutely integral to the franchise doesn’t exist to nearly the same degree – but is doing more to further the diversity at the heart of Star Trek than the movies have.

The Original Series was, in part, about the wonder of the world. It painted an image of a future worth dreaming about, worth fighting for, worth building. I don’t see much of the point in making a Star Trek movie if you’re not a fan of that message. You can study it, delve deeper into it, deconstruct it…but if that kind of thing bores you, you should be making something else. Nostalgia matters a great deal when it comes to Star Trek. Star Trek Beyond managed to strike what I thought was a good balance between nostalgic respect for what Star Trek: The Original Series represented and making critical changes that updates the concepts to become better suited for today. It did a good job of translating the spirit of Star Trek. It stands as a pretty clear example of how future instalments in the franchise can honour that long legacy. To be true to what Star Trek has always represented, the Star Trek movies, books, and shows of today must keep pushing. They need to become more inclusive. They need to normalize diversity and push for a better tomorrow at the same time as they respect the core ideals of TOS. There’s no place for either creators who don’t respect the franchise history nor those that are determined to keep things precisely as they were in the 60s.

X-Men

We really, really need more diversity in comics. Like I said at the beginning, comics fans aren’t just white men, but that’s who comics are perceived to be for, because that’s who most of the writers are and to whom they’re talking. One of the consequences of that is how it results in a lot of characters that don’t appeal to that demographic being underused and poorly treated.

You can often get a pretty good idea of who a writer’s favourite characters are if you think about how old they are and what characters were popular around the time they were about ten. Nostalgia makes it a pretty safe bet that those characters will be treated well in the writer’s issues. A good character stands on their own without needing propping up. Fanboy writers, though, feel the need to completely disregard characters that aren’t their favourite in favour of trying to make their favourite look better. This can include writing characters they dislike badly in an attempt to make readers hate them, characters getting derailed to make the writer’s favourite look better, and more. The most obvious example of this I can think of is the eternal white boy favourite: Wolverine.

There’s something so…white dude about the fact that so many writers are determined to make Wolverine look better. Which is weird. Not all white dude characters lead to the same feeling of, oh, dear god, this is too much white male for one issue. Like, take, I don’t know, Colossus. He is white and he is a dude, but he doesn’t come across as nearly as much of a white dude as Wolverine does. That’s largely because Colossus is a genuinely good guy, not a designated hero who can only be viewed as a good guy because of major Protagonist Centred Morality. But Wolverine? Oh, boy.

When he’s written well – preferably in a more minor role – Wolverine is fine. He was fine back when he was first introduced and used as more of a Lancer, or just the guy whose impulsive running off and insistence upon doing things his way landed him in trouble that had to learn how to follow orders. The problem arose when people that read about him and thought he was cool when they were kids grew up and became writers themselves. Unfortunately, that’s most of today’s writers.

Because Logan is considered “cool”, he gets to be a huge hypocrite. He does any number of terrible things without facing consequences for them. He’s a self righteous jerk. And he’s straight up over exposed. Wolverine fans complain every time he demonstrates interesting flaws. So none of his myriad of character defects ever gets portrayed as a bad thing. He ends up winning every fight, even against opponents that should, by all logic, defeat him. He gets to lead teams and head the school despite his character being utterly unsuited for the job. He promptly forgets every lesson he’s ever learned. He very rarely has any lasting development. It’s incredibly irritating.

Beyond my issues with fanboys writing Wolverine, a lot of writers seem to be kind of missing the point of the X-Men – that or not really understanding the mutant metaphor, because again, most of them are white men. The introduction of the timeshifted original X-Men seems kind of like the result of writers longing for the version of Scott before all his years of character development, because that’s the version of the character they first got to know. That feels wrong to me on a visceral level. Scott becoming angrier and more driven to fight for a place for mutants is immensely relatable. He’s been told for years that what he has to do is play respectability politics and show repeatedly that he means humans no harm, only to learn from hard experience that that doesn’t work.

Nostalgia is all well and good. Longing for that more innocent version of the character is understandable. But to suggest that it would be better for Scott to go back to that version of himself is an affront to all those people that see themselves in the X-Men and in Scott’s growing cynicism and persistent idealism.

DC

Infinite Crisis is pretty much my favourite crisis story. And mostly, that’s for shallow reasons – Dick Grayson is pretty much my all time favourite comic book character; his relationship with Bruce is amazing; and the “what about Dick Grayson?” scene where Bruce is on the verge of giving up but believes that any universe with his son in it is worth fighting for and where thinking about how good a man Dick is makes Earth-1 Superman question what he’s doing is one of my favourite scenes ever. But it’s also for a deeper reason, and that’s that it’s critical of looking at things through the nostalgia filter. It’s critical of the idea that the Golden Age was fundamentally better. Which is why I find it all the stranger that it was written by Geoff Johns. Johns weirds me out, because he stands both as an example of the positive and negative aspects of nostalgia. That results in some of his stuff really working, and others…not.

The Good: respect for the past and existing characters, like the importance of Dick Grayson and Barry Allen, without denigrating them to make newer creations look better; creating some great characters, like Kate Kane and Jessica Cruz.

The Bad: his sense of nostalgia and love for old characters resulted in him doing dumb things, like erasing legacy characters for the sake of bringing back his old favourites and, well…Justice League. I think that movie shows off the flaws in his approach pretty well.

Geoff Johns is, in a sense, the opposite of Grant Morrison. As I said in this post, Morrison is completely unafraid of making big changes, regardless of how far from convention they be. His Batman and Robin took place without Bruce, the character that even people like me, who loved Dick as Batman, recognize as The BatmanTM. He introduces new characters and concepts, blows up the status quo. He makes his own world without ever looking back. And while that sometimes works, it sometimes really doesn’t. Everyone draws the line somewhere different, and for me, Morrison crosses it – he doesn’t have as much respect for the work of others even as he operates under the idea that everything that’s ever happened is in continuity. Johns, on the other hand, goes back to what’s familiar, when concerning characters he didn’t create. To what’s safe. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No, of course not. There’s a reason there’s so much love for his Green Lantern, his Aquaman. He likes the classics and is very much a fan. But his love for the classics involves doing things like kicking Wally West out of continuity to bring back Barry Allen, who at that point hadn’t been the Flash for over two decades.

This is similar to what happened with Cassandra Cain, Bruce Wayne’s only daughter and the second Batgirl. The New 52 erased her, a move comics still haven’t fully reversed. While Cass exists again, and while she’s loosely affiliated with the the Bats, she’s not a member of the family in the same sense as she used to be. She’s not being used as one of Bruce’s children, which was made painstakingly obvious by the fact she – like Tim, actually – didn’t get an issue of her facing off against a member of the Batman Rogues Gallery during Prelude to the Wedding. Her identity just rubs salt in the wound, because it wasn’t enough to strip her of her Black Bat mantle, wasn’t enough to make her the only member of the family without a bird or bat motif in either her code name or costume. No, they had to rename her Orphan. That’s adding insult to injury – before the New 52, she was happily adopted with a family that loved her.

While I can’t be certain as to why Cass and Steph were temporarily removed from continuity, the only reason I can think of is that it was about making it easier to return Barbara to the Batgirl mantle. In that one fell swoop, the writers took away the only Asian member of the Batfamily and one of the most popular disabled characters in all of comics. Which…thanks, I hate it. Barbara has outgrown Batgirl, but the writers are so nostalgic and change-averse, they don’t want to believe it. They don’t care about the close to thirty years she’s spent as Oracle and all the character development since her paralysis. They just immediately associate Batgirl with Barbara and because of that, are willing to toss aside years of content to go back to that without regard for what it’ll say to the readers. It’s unthinking nostalgia that does nothing to better the genre.


Works are best when they both respect the past and look to the future. Writers in shared mediums need to hold on to some level of nostalgia and respect the worlds built by others, but they can’t let it hold them back from trying new things and pushing boundaries. I want all writers in these mediums are fans – I just hope they aren’t fanboys about it, unable to let go of what they love for long enough to make changes.

Lorna Dane, Ororo Munroe, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, and Rachel Summers: Marvel, Treat the X-Women Better

I’ve whined about Marvel’s treatment of Jean Grey before. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the myriad of other ways in which she’s been mistreated outside of the Dark Phoenix saga, in terms of comics, cartoons, and movies alike. But as poorly as she gets treated, there’s something to be said about the fact that people at least remember she exists and know to include her. I’ll admit, as a Jean fan, that isn’t much of a comfort, when it involves so much of her getting treated as just an object in someone else’s story with no agency of her own, to the point of her role in The Wolverine being “a figment of Logan’s imagination that he apparently forgot he’d only known a week during which she wasn’t into him”. But it’s something, and compared to the other X-Women? It’s kind of a big deal.

Lorna Dane, 1968. Ororo Munroe, 1975. Kitty Pryde, 1980. Emma Frost, also 1980. Rachel Summers, 1981. None of these are new characters. The youngest of them has still existed for more than thirty five years. But they still don’t get treated with as much respect as they should. So, in the order of their first appearance, an explanation of why they all deserve more.

Lorna

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Let’s make a list of characters Lorna has been around longer than, shall we? Wolverine, of course. Nightcrawler. X-23. The list goes on. Nightcrawler has been in cartoons, in movies, and had lots of his own storylines. Wolverine is literally everywhere and I’m sick of him. X-23 was one of the main characters in Logan and has had plenty of issues about her and even a solo title, despite only being introduced in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon in 2006. For the most part, Polaris only exists in the background.

Lorna’s profile has risen due to The Gifted. Sure. That’s to be expected – generally speaking, adaptations have a wider audience than comics and people become aware of different characters through movies and shows. But despite how long Lorna has existed, she’s never had a solo title. Never appeared in the movies. Only briefly appeared in the animated series. She did play a pretty big role in Wolverine and the X-Men, but that one is known for being so stuffed with characters, that it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to claim just about every character that had more than one appearance in the comics got at least a cameo. It’s kind of weird – there really aren’t many characters like that, that are that old but so underused. It comes across feeling like people at Marvel have something against her.

Lorna was the second X-Woman. This year is her fiftieth anniversary. You’d think that would mean something special happening – whether that be a miniseries, a one off, or a merch release. As far as I know, there isn’t. Now, I’m a DC fan at heart, and I don’t follow Marvel accounts on social media, so for all I know, Marvel isn’t about that “celebrate characters’ birthdays” life – though I think I remember Spider-Man getting something when he turned 50. But DC does make a point to commemorate its characters. For Superman’s 75th anniversary, we got an animated short of the character through the years. That year also had Man of Steel come out. A similar thing happened with Batman – the year he turned 75, there was an animated short released. The first season of Gotham started to airProduction on Batman v Superman started. There were variant covers. Wonder Woman made her silver screen debut on her 75th anniversary and got a special issue with new stories and art. It’s not at all unprecedented to celebrate.

Of course Lorna doesn’t have a profile as high as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or the like. So naturally, her fiftieth isn’t going to be as big a deal as them turning 75. And to be fair, as far as I know, Havok isn’t getting a celebration either. He was introduced the same year she was, and for quite a while, she’s been treated as…like…his pet girlfriend, thinking about him and focused on him even when she has much more important things to worry about, so I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if this year was advertised as his fiftieth anniversary without any mention of her. It hasn’t been. But even so, most characters get something special happening on major anniversaries. A comic, a rerelease, even a Tweet, acknowledging that it’s their birthday. It doesn’t look like that’ll be the case. Sure, Lorna still might get something in October acknowledging that she’s a great looking fifty year old. But she’s spent decades consistently treated as a perpetual second stringer with none of the same attempts made at pushing her into the A-List that other characters get. I’m not expecting anything.

One thing we can often count on when it comes to the X-Men is writers latching on to a specific character, whether that be a new kid or a little used character that they want to get to create the defining version  of, and trying to make them popular. Kitty, of course – she was the first of those and by far the most successful. But also Jubilee, Quentin Quire, and the like. Despite the long stretches of time in which Lorna doesn’t get much to do, or where she just disappears because people forget about her, I can’t think of any writer that latched on to her.

Lorna’s stories often revolve around her being Havok’s girlfriend/ex/whatever their status is now or Magneto’s daughter. And yes, those things do matter for who she is. But I’m still looking forward to the day where we get more exploration as to who she is and why she matters outside of the men in her life.

Ororo

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Storm is one of the most iconic X-Men characters. That much is indisputable. To the general public, she’s more recognizable than many characters that have existed longer. I’d be willing to bet that more people recognize Storm than they do Angel, Iceman, or Polaris. Be that as it may, Storm is more an icon than she is a character to a lot of people. She’s a symbol. Look at the reaction after Black Panther came out – how many people were jumping up and down about how Storm needs to be in the sequel because they were married in the comics? A lot. But either these people haven’t actually read any of the comics or don’t care about Ororo as a character, because that relationship ended terribly, T’challa never deserved her, and it was written poorly from the get go.

Storm is a mutant. That’s important to who she is as a character. She is not an accessory to T’challa, she’s one of the X-Men. T’challa? He’s aligned with the Avengers. And for a long time now, the Avengers have treated the mutants terribly. It would be hugely offensive to her long history as an independent character to have her be okay with that. In concept, there’s nothing wrong with their relationship – it could actually be really good – but the divorce was bad, she was used more as a prop in the comics during their relationship than a character in her own right, and there’s something gross about how they were on different sides of a war where the Avengers brought an army to try to destroy the Phoenix Force and a country for mutants.

The reason most of the people want them together in the movies is that they recognize the name Storm, know she’s one of the X-Men, and think they would be an awesome power couple. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about that, but it’s got very little to do with her as a character. While I can’t really blame comic writers for how Storm is perceived by the general public, I can criticize the people behind the movies and cartoons. A lot of the time, she’s there for a combination of reasons: to make whatever the adaptation in question is less white, to fill out a roster, because she’s supposed to be there. It’s not about actually contributing anything to the story or getting interesting development, it’s about putting her there for the sake of putting her there. She deserves to have an actually fleshed out role and character development, rather than just being around to throw lightning and look cool.

Kitty

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Kitty is a weird case because she was a childhood favourite of so many people that are today running the asylum. So in general, she gets treated pretty decently in the comics. But outside of that? It’s been years, and I’m still mad about how Kitty was treated in Days of Future Past adaptations. This applies to both the movie of the same name and the animated series. Let’s start with the movie.

The Days of Future Past comic was Kitty’s first major story. It’s very highly regarded and pretty much the most well known story featuring her in a major role. So of course, the movie shoved her out of her own role and pushed her into Rachel’s so that Wolverine could take her spot. Let’s set aside the fact that that didn’t even make sense, and focus on the ludicrous reasoning given for why she didn’t get to be the central character. The claim was that it couldn’t be her because of the way it was the mind that went back and not the body and only Logan was alive then, but that’s clearly nonsense. They were okay with completely changing the story, but not with changing the time travel rules, or even just time to which someone had to go? Everyone involved did a whole lot of mental gymnastics to justify removing Kitty from the story.

She wasn’t used in the cartoon adaptation, either. I think she was one of the only then X-Men to not make a single appearance in the entire show, which in itself demonstrates why she deserves better. In terms of the Days of Future Past arc specifically, Bishop took her role. That bothered me quite a bit less than the movie, actually, even though it was basically the same concept. Partially, that’s because of all the simplification that went into adapting the story, but more so, because Kitty wasn’t in the animated series. It wasn’t that she was there and they weren’t using her, she was just not present, which was bad for a different reason. And they wanted to use their recently introduced and pretty popular character. I get that. What I found more frustrating about the show was that Kitty was in general replaced by Jubilee – AKA, the Kitty of the 90s. It didn’t usually bother me, because the similarities seemed mostly at the surface level, but the episode “Jubilee’s Fairytale Theatre” was obviously an adaptation of a comic about Kitty. Now, I have nothing against Jubilee, and but the way to popularize a character can’t just be to try and mimic a different one.

Kitty was the ultimate escapist character. She was wish fulfillment. She was the naive newcomer that readers of the time watched grow up and rooted for as she went from sidekick to hero in her own right. She was essentially the X-Men equivalent of Robin. But we’ve never gotten to see that outside the comics. Obviously, adaptations aren’t the be all end all. Comics are not a lesser form of art, I love reading them, and characters can still be treated well without adaptations. How else would we get all those lists of characters we want to get a solo movie? And I don’t especially want Kitty to get one. The movie she allegedly has (had?) in development doesn’t excite me. But the fact remains that she’s perceived as important enough to merit appearing, but not so much that she gets to keep her most famous storylines to herself, and even in the comics themselves, she spends so much time hooking up with writers’ author avatars that it actively detracts from her individual story.

Emma

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Oh, Emma. The queen of inconsistent writing.

Yes, different interpretations are inevitable when it comes to comic book characters. Of course. Comics are a collaborative medium, with lots of different writers and artists working together to create each character over a long period of time. And at some point, it would probably get boring if we only saw the same aspects of a character explored and handled in the same way. But even so, there has to be some level of continuity, some consistent character traits that hold throughout. Emma doesn’t really have those. Not really.

I have very complicated feelings about Emma. When she’s written well, I do like her. In the hands of a competent writer, she’s interesting and entertaining and complicated. Her ambition and brilliance made her manipulative, but she still cared deeply for her students, and losing them turned her into someone that spent years trying to make up for what she’d done. But her years of character development have been thrown away repeatedly by different writers. Look away for a second and she swings from flawed woman that cares about mutants and is trying to do better to spoiled brat villain whose intelligence and qualifications are ignored in favour of painting her as the “sexy, evil teammate”. To an extent, that character derailment happens with every character, but it’s frustratingly and glaringly obvious with Emma.

The “ice queen” thing, or the fire ice contrast with Jean, the “Frost” vs “Summers” contrast with Scott – none of that existed until Morrison. Frost was just her name with nothing to do with her personality until he decided it did. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s helps demonstrate the way writers change aspects of her at a whim. She’s existed since 1980. She’s been the atoner for most of that time now. She’s hasn’t been a real villain since Generation X in, what, 1994? After that, she became pretty much a textbook example of Good Is Not Nice. She has always cared about her students and been fiercely protective of them. Grant Morrison…made her a sex therapist whose “telepathic affair” with Scott felt uncomfortably rapey and whose treatment of him was handwaved because she was in love with him. How he handled Emma is in large part why I have such mixed feelings about his writing. All Star Superman is absolutely incredible, and I adore Batman and Robin, but dear God, his X-Men work is…something. It involved the character assassination of every vertex of the Scott Emma Jean love triangle, and that doesn’t even touch what he did to Magneto. She was derailed even further in the whole  Inhumans vs X-Men arc.

Emma is treated as an object more often than not. She’s used as eye candy. Her intelligence is discounted. She’s both put in revealing costumes for the fanservice and mocked for them. She’s written so inconsistently, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s mostly good or not. Emma needs more women writing her. Maybe it won’t help with all the issues with her writing, but it would at least help in making everything about her feel less exploitative. I don’t know if I’d be as interested in Emma or care so much about well written versions of the character if she didn’t get mistreated so often, but I would love to find out. She deserves enough good writing that people can actually tell if they care about reading her stories.

Rachel

rachel summers

Rachel’s not a new character. She’s only a year younger than Kitty – a year is nothing in comics – but unlike Kitty, she’s never showed up in an adaptation (unless you count a brief cameo with no lines. I don’t). People responsible for adaptations clearly love Rachel’s stories. And yet she keeps getting adapted out.

She wasn’t in the Days of Future Past movie. I seem to recall someone saying they introducing her would have taken too much time away from the story. My response to that is why? Yes, I’ll admit, I’d probably have grumbles about it had she gotten no attention and just maybe a brief, hey, this is Rachel, she can send you back, but far less than I’m complaining now. And even if they did properly introduce her, it wouldn’t have taken that long. Days of Future Past isn’t her story. It didn’t have to be a huge thing.

While one could argue that they couldn’t use her because Jean and Scott both died in The Last Stand with no kids, I would respond by pointing out that they didn’t have to name her, leaving her as just a cool cameo for the fans. There were plenty of characters that had cameos that didn’t get named in the movie. And Rachel’s last name wasn’t revealed in her first comic appearance anyway. They could have behaved as if she was a new character that was just an expy of Rachel. They could have done any number of things, because it’s not like they care about the timeline anyway. First Class was supposed to be the start of a soft reboot, but that, combined with Days of Future Past, resulted in such a messy and nonsensical continuity, that the general rule has become don’t think about it. They were wiling to go with any number of contrived coincidences to get Patrick Stewart’s Xavier back for the movie. They gave Logan back his adamantium claws after he lost them in The Wolverine with no explanation. But Rachel was the deal breaker? I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.

The villain of her backstory was the central villain of the first season of The Gifted. Ahab and the Hound program weren’t just mentioned in passing, they were deeply involved in the story, to the point when I figured more than once we were about to meet Rachel. I remember at least two for sure – 1) when everyone’s powers stopped working, and I doubted they were going to use Leech, and 2) just before the first episode with Esme aired and all we knew about Skyler Samuels’s character was that she was a telepathic refugee. But we never did. While I know it probably wasn’t intentionally misleading, it felt that way.

Matt Nix said something about not wanting to step into movie territory when explaining why they never use Magneto’s name, and I was talking to someone a while back that speculated that was why Rachel didn’t show up – they’re saving her for the movies. We had a whole debate over who counts as an important character”and how that pertains to who gets what rights – operating on the basic idea, of course, that the biggest names might go to the movies, while the lesser known ones go to the shows. But the thing is, the X-Men aren’t like the Justice League. They can’t be separated into different cities and only meet up for big crossover events. They’re a team, all connected by the fact they’re mutants, or through the mess that is the Summers family tree. They work because of their relationships with each other. And continuing this idea that the major characters should go to movies is a further propagation of the idea that television is lesser than film. Separating the universe into “major” and “minor” characters doesn’t work, and even trying to do that will inevitably leave characters like Rachel in Limbo – she’s a “major” character, so the shows won’t use her, but the people behind the movies have spent the past two decades demonstrating that they don’t care about anyone in her family by not properly using any of them.


Comics can be frustrating, because they’re full of writers that write a character they personally hate badly to try to make other people feel the same way, resulting in a vicious cycle of a character being hated for the worst writing they’ve had. Readers deserve better than to have characters they’re interested in derailed and mistreated with no regard for their development over the years. It’s disrespectful to them, the characters themselves, and writers alike.

When it comes to the X-Men, appealing to the white male demographic means that the women get some of the worst of it. Polaris, Storm, Shadowcat, Emma, and Prestige all deserve way more than what they get. They deserve to be treated as more than just disposable objects whose long character histories don’t matter. They deserve to be written by writers that actually care about them. I doubt that’ll start happening any time soon. But when it does, I’ll stop catching up on comics five years after the fact.