blaxploitation

“Sweet Christmas.” If you haven’t yet streamed Luke Cage on Netflix than you are missing out. Marvel’s newest show is a hit, and a refreshing take on a character that was once more two-dimensional than the pulp pages he was printed on. Luke Cage first appeared in 1972’s Heroes for Hire. Originally the character of Cage was a man of unlimited violence and limited vocabulary that punched his way through Harlem encountering every situation and trope that the blaxploitation movement had to offer. Though Cage was a breakthrough for black comic characters, much like blaxploitation itself, the original Power Man comic was fought with missteps and offensive stereotypes.

Sweet Sweetback Badass History
Blaxploitation was a movement in the movie industry that began in the 1970’s. It was a direct reaction to several forces, but to understand the movement’s origins you need to go back to a much earlier time. At the start of the era of motion pictures the only roles available to African Americans were that of the slaves or buffoons. Even positive roles, such as the butler or the “mammy,” still emphasized the inherent idea that blacks were inferior to whites. Movies like Gone with the Wind put forth a world view that the proper place of a black man or woman was at a social position lower than a white man or woman. This idea continued well into the 1950’s and 1960’s, but then things started to change.

The Civil Rights movement ushered in a new racial landscape. All black casts began to put on productions of their own, financed on their own dime. This was how in 1971 Martin Van Peebles was able to put together a movie called Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song. It was the story of a black protagonist fighting against white power and the violent forces of ghetto life. It was all set to a soundtrack by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Van Peebles made the movie on a shoestring budget in two weeks, but it went on to gross 10 million dollars. It was an incredible success and black audiences found a hero who looked more like them and struggled with some of the same things they did. Much like Luke Cage it was a milestone for black protagonists, and it started a movement.

By the late 1960’s the movie industry was struggling. The Golden Era of cinema was over, and the rise of TV as well as several Justice Department lawsuits had broken up the monopolies of the the old major studios. Many places -like MGM- were struggling just break even with each movie they made. Yet, the success of Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song exposed Hollywood to a potentially new revenue stream, black people. So in 1971, MGM released Shaft. If Sweet Sweetback forged the genre of blaxploitation than Shaft sharpened and refined it down to a formula. It grossed 12 million dollars, won Isaac Hayes an Oscar for the soundtrack, and inspired every studio in Hollywood to make its own Shaft. Blaxploitation was born.

The Angry Black Power Man
Marvel -never one to be left behind- launched their own title in the genre of blaxploitation. Heroes for Hire -later re-titled to Power Man- was about Luke Cage, a tough talking, ass-beating, ex-con, with super powers. Like the cinema movement Luke Cage embodied all the elements of blaxploitation: violence, themes of anti-establishment, and negative stereotypes of inner cities and those that lived there. Many criticized the comic’s protagonist as nothing more than a jive-talking angry black man, and that original characterization is pretty spot on. He was nothing more than a caricature. After all, it is hard to forget that he was created by three white men, Archie Goodwin, John Romita, Sr. and George Tuska. However, if we are going to talk about the negatives of Cage’s original depiction and its roots we also need to examine the positives as well.

Luke Cage was the first African American to star in his own comic book. -At the time Black Panther was not American and the Falcon only played second-fiddle to Captain America- Cage, despite his initial flaws, was the first black American superhero to have his own book, and that is incredibly important. It is also worth noting that Cage’s struggles were real. He fought gangs, thugs, corrupt police, and a power structure designed to keep black men in “place.” Those were all themes explored in blaxploitation movies, and there is a reason they resonated with some African American audiences at the time. Cage and his writers often showed that the law is not equally applied to everyone, and though the comic and its depictions were often simplified and relied on stereotypes, they did -at least in part- reflect the struggle of many black Americans. Having someone like Luke Cage -who had the power to fight back and be a hero- was empowering, even if it wasn’t always the most flattering of depictions.

As the blaxplotiation movement faded in the mid to late 1970’s so did the popularity of Luke Cage, but he never went away. Later writers went on to fix a lot of the more questionable elements of his character. His vocabulary was expanded, the jive-talk was dropped, and he found a best friend in Danny Rand, Iron Fist, -who himself was initially an exploitation of the popularity of kung fu movies. Luke Cage eventually married Jessica Jones and they had a child together. He became a member of the Defenders and the Avengers and evolved into a much more nuanced and three-dimensional figure. All of this has culminated in the depiction we receive in the Netflix show, an intelligent and complicated character. Similarly, Harlem and its people are also depicted in various ways, not just criminals or victims, but as neighbors and friends. The world and Luke Cage have come a long way, but it is worth looking back and remembering those beginnings.

Getting the Shaft
Blaxploitation had its fair share of critics and supporters. The NAACP and the aptly named Coalition Against Blaxploitaiton lodged protests against the films, claiming they were centered around negative stereotypes, black men as violent and angry criminals. They also criticized the movies’ use of language and it depiction of life in inner cities populated only by drug dealers, hit men, and pimps. Thus, even while blaxploitation movies were breaking down barriers they were also reinforcing others, casting black men as thugs. It also didn’t help that movies like Shaft were written by white writers, most of which who had no real experience in inner city areas. In fact, Ernest Tidyman a white writer from Cleveland is the man who created Shaft. He also wrote the screenplay with the help of a man who most famously wrote for Star Trek. That’s hardly the “ghetto experience.” Blaxploitation was not exactly a shining moment in cinema history, but like Luke Cage, it wasn’t entirely without merit.

More than anything blaxploitation movies started a conversation in America about race and depictions of African Americans in stories. It also helped give black directors -such as Gordon Parks– a break they may not have ever received, and for the first time it gave audiences a chance to see non-white heroes in starring roles. We would also be remiss not to mention the memorable soundtracks and songs of these films, many of which came to define the 1970’s as a decade. Maybe, these are all things worth remembering, even amidst all the elements of exploitation and the overwhelming number of negative stereotypes. By the mid to late 1970’s Hollywood studios stopped producing blaxploitation movies under pressure from groups like the NAACP and CAB. They claimed that ultimately the movies did more harm than good through eroding positive black role models in favor of vengeful and violent depictions.

The movement ended as quickly as it began, but its legacy continued. It is possible that without these movies and heroes like Luke Cage, the mainstream black actors of the 1980’s would not have been possible, people like Eddie Murphy or Denzel Washington. Thanks to the movies of the 1970’s leading black men no longer seemed so impractical or unmarketable. Luke Cage’s roots will always lie in the era of blaxploitation, but as this most recent Netflix show proves they do not end there. Cage has evolved into a thoughtful and positive role model, much like how the modern movie business evolved from the 1970’s. Nobody is saying that either are perfect, but it is worth reflecting on how far we have come, even as we acknowledge how much is still left to accomplish.

Captain America

The Superhuman Registration Action was the main bill passed by the US Congress that caused the Marvel Civil War in the comic books. We here at The NYRD loved every minute of that comic crossover, and some of our best debates are still over whether or not registering super humans with the government is a good or bad idea. So with the arrival of Captain America: Civil War this weekend in theaters we thought now would be a good time to get together as a staff and lay out the arguments for this fictional government mandate in our two-part series. And remember to make sure to join the debate in the comments below and let us know where you stand, with Captain America or with Iron Man.

Registration Lists
The Superhuman Registration Act forces any super human to reveal their identity to the government, even if they are not openly working as a hero or villain. That means if you are just some individual with a job, a house, and a car payment -but you happen to glow in the dark- you still need to register your name with the United States government. People want to make the argument that forcing super powered individuals to surrender their identity is equivilant to registering handguns and firearms, but there is a difference. Owning a weapon a is choice, being born a weapon or accidentally being turned into one by the bite of a radioactive iguana is not. Creating a database of super humans is not a database of weapons but a database of individuals who will find themselves on a government watch-list, many of whom who have committed no crime or done anything other than exist.

Similarly, the argument could be made that there are many instances where individual citizens relinquish their rights for the betterment of the society as a whole, but those usually refer to criminals and terrorists. Monitoring and jailing super humans just for being super human or for refusing to have their name on a watch list should not be considered a criminal act. Terrorists and criminals made choices that led them to relinquish their rights, but -for the most part- anyone with super powers did not. You could make an allusion to mental patients being forced into hospitals for their own good, but even with that metaphor patients go into hospitals with the hope of getting better. Super humans have no such cure for being what they are, thus a registration act is a permanent jail sentence or a permanent life on a government list, always being forced to carry a special ID that marks them as different.

Superhero Arms Race
It would be too easy to make allusions to Nazis and other governments that have singled out a small minority for government-sanctioned exclusion or monitoring, so instead it might be better to address the issue as it affect heroes. These are the people who choose to put on a mask or cape and try to make the world a better place, and are suddenly told that they cannot continue in that line of work unless they reveal their identities to the government. Putting aside that in the Marvel Universe the government is regularly infiltrated by Hydra, Norman Osborn, and other villains, trusting them with the secret identities of heroes means creating a list of names and leverage that could be easily exploited by even your averagely corrupt politician.

Even more worrying, cosigning superheroes to government-backed worked -even domestically- leads to several other problems. How far is that from giving the government a cache of super weapons. After all, The United States Government spent years and billions of dollars trying to recreate the super soldier program that created Captain America. So what happens when they have a ready list of super humans on their payroll? Why would they not feel tempted to use those heroes and the leverage they have over them to turn them into soldiers on foreign soil instead of just peacekeepers on America soil? Someone once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” but it is one thing to have an individual hero carry the responsibility of his own powers. What happens when a President or a Congress get a hold of hundreds of super powered agents to use as they see fit?

Just as important, being a superhero means doing what is right. It means making tough decisions that may not always be politically savvy. Yet, under government control heroes will find themselves making decisions based upon the instructions and desires of those in power. If you start tying the hands of heroes with politics and bureaucracy, than it will be harder for them to make the tough calls they may have to make. After all, the government is not perfect. In fact, a lot of heroes get into the game because of the negligence or corruption found in local police forces. In the comics, people like Daredevil or the Falcon started their careers in order to protect their low income and minority neighborhoods, the kind of places that governments generally ignored or exploited. Yet, as government-sanctioned agents would they be allowed to continue protecting people from the corruption and ineptitude of the system they are now a part of?

What is Superhuman?
Another problem with creating definitions about people is that they are sometimes incomplete. After all, what do we consider superhuman? Are heroes like Hawkeye or Black Widow super powered or just skilled? What about Tony Stark, who has no innate powers. Maybe his power is that he is a brilliant engineer, capable of creating a mechanized suit that can do incredible things. Does that mean he is super human or not? Does he register based solely upon his Iron Man suits or upon his intellect, because if the latter is the case than we need to start giving IQ tests to everyone in America. If your IQ is above a certain amount than congratulations, you might have a super power, and you will need to register with the government and carry a special ID card. What about if you are an Olympic level runner or jumper? Suddenly, achieving mastery of a certain skill or quality might qualify you to land on a government watch list.

This has always been a classic problem whenever we try separating “us” from “them.” Where do we draw the line? And often times it is those gray areas where true problems begin. For example, in South Africa, during Apartheid, police officers would put pencils in children’s hair to check if they were “black” or “white.” If the pencil stuck then they were “black,” but if it fell out they were “white.” That meant an entire population of people was oppressed because they failed some arbitrary and ridiculous test. We do not want to make light of that terrible time in South Africa’s history by comparing it to the fictional discrimination against superheroes, but this argument is still worthy as a thought experiment. In fact, this entire scenerio was always meant to have real world equivalents.

The Patriot Act
Tragedy has a way of affecting us all. After 9/11 Congress implemented the Patriot Act, which began limiting the freedoms on all Americans. It led directly to increased airport security, internet surveillance, and even warrant-less wiretaps. These are the kind of things that would have been unfathomable even twenty years ago, but are now so commonplace we do not even recognize them anymore. It is no different with something like a Superhuman Registration Act, especially since super powered individuals are the minority. One of the reasons why the Patriot Act passed into law was because the majority of people collectively went, “It’s not going to affect me. It’s going to affect terrorists.” A superhuman registration would similarly cause the vast majority of Americans to say, “It’s not going to affect me. I’s going to affect super humans.” Yet, if we start oppressing people -any people- simply because of fear, regardless of whether it is because of their skin color or their laser eyes, where does it stop? Where can it stop? Restricting the rights of a “super human” is still restricting the rights of a “human.”

Any violation of the rights of a small and undeserving population is a violation of rights for everyone. Civil liberties are not selective. They cannot apply to one group and not another, or they are not “rights” at all. The real point of this argument is not so much about Captain America or the Marvel Civil War, but as a way to get us to talk about larger issues going on in our country and our world. Superhero Registraion may not actually affect us, but there are plenty of things that do, which we have ignored for far too long. Just remember that if the idea of a fictional government restricting the rights of people like Spider-man or Captain America is not unbelievable, than maybe it is also not unbelieveable that our real government could do it to others, immigrants, minorities, or anyone.

The Superhuman Registration Action was the main bill passed by the US Congress that caused the Marvel Civil War in the comic books. We here at The NYRD loved every minute of that comic crossover, and some of our best debates are still over whether or not registering super humans with the government is a good or bad idea. So with the arrival of Captain America: Civil War this weekend in theaters we thought now would be a good time to get together as a staff and lay out the arguments for this fictional government mandate in our two-part series. And remember to make sure to join the debate in the comments below and let us know where you stand, with Captain America or with Iron Man.

Unregistered Weapons
The Superhuman Registration Act forces any super human to reveal their identity to the government. Regardless of whether or not they operate as a costumed vigilante or otherwise they must register their names and their powers with the United States. Many may see that as a breach of privacy or liberty, but you cannot ignore the fact that there are super humans with enough firepower to blow up small cities or level mountains. That kind of power needs to be kept in check. After all, in the United States, anyone who owns a handgun or other firearm is expected to register that weapon with the Federal government. That is a law created for everyone’s safety and this should be no different. It is about creating a database of people who have the potential to hurt American citizens and threaten the American way of life.

Admittedly, the outcry over privacy and liberty is valid. However, in today’s world, and with today’s technology people are giving up more and more privacy each day. Every time you log onto a website or check your social media you sacrifice some of your secrets for convenience and safety. The Superhuman Registration Act is about asking a minority of people to give up a little privacy for the safety of everyone, themselves included. After all, untrained and under-prepared heroes can get themselves killed as easily as anyone else. It is also worth noting that the secret identities of heroes would be kept secret from the general public. This law is not about revealing anyone’s vaunted secret identities, but about making sure the government has a database of powered individuals in case of emergencies. That is not unreasonable.

Training and Guidance
Secondly, Under the Superhuman Registration Act, registered super humans would receive training for their powers. That means people with newly acquired super powers would not be alone in trying to get a handle on how to use them. This is no different than being made to complete a handgun safety course, except in this case a person would be learning how to switch on the safety for a weapon that could decimate half of Cleveland. This could save a lot of lives, especially when faced with under-aged or under-trained heroes who might accidentally find themselves in a situation that they cannot handle, such as the incident in Stamford, Connecticut.

In the comics, the Registration Act is triggered by a group of young heroes known as the New Warriors. While taping the second season of their reality show, they stumble across a group of super-villains hiding out in a small house in Stamford, Connecticut. Though the New Warriors even acknowledged that they were not up to the challenge of taking down the group of villains they tried to subdue them anyway, because they deemed it would be better for the show’s ratings. Unfortunately, among the villains was Nitro, a particularly dangerous foe with the power to explode his body with the force of a megaton bomb, and that is exactly what he did. The explosion killed six hundred people, including sixty children in the small Connecticut town. Most of the New Warriors themselves were also killed. If the New Warriors had received the proper training and the proper supervision they would have been more aware of the limits of their own powers and the dangers of  trying to engage Nitro and his fellow villains in a populated area.

Government Agents
It is also worth noting that once super humans receive training they will not be forced to become law enforcement agents of the Federal government, but they will have the option to join the Fifty States Initiative as government-backed superheroes. This has the added benefit of giving heroes legal backing when apprehending criminals. As deputized agents of the government they could make arrests and will be held accountable for any unlawful actions, such as unlawful seizures or searches. All of this means that superheroes will now be held to the same standard as any law enforcement official, the same as the police or any federal law enforcement agency.

However, this it is not just about holding powered individuals responsible. After all, as agents of the government, the United States has the resources and ability to help heroes guard their identities and even relocate if something goes wrong. It is no different than an FBI or CIA agent who has had their lives and their families threatened by a criminal organization or other threat. Witness protection for superheroes is a far more effective strategy than just putting on a mask and hoping that no one can match your cheek-bone-structure with that of the guy who is bagging groceries at the supermarket. Secret identities have always been flimsy and if heroes or super humans are truly worried about the well-being of their families they would rely on help from the government to keep them and their loved ones safe.

Second Amendment
The NYRD has argued before that the Second Amendment is not infallible, and the same goes for personal freedoms. We give up personal freedoms all the time in the name of security. If you don’t believe us just go to an airport or a sporting arena. Iron Man and his side in the Civil War are not advocating enslavement or dominance, just measured restrictions on those who are powerful enough to blow a hole in the moon. If you favor gun laws than there is no reason you should not favor Superhuman Registration. Both are designed to keep people safe, train them in the use of dangerous weapons, and even offer a government paycheck for a job most heroes were doing anyway. Why would a hero ever refuse the backing, resources, or a government sanction? After all, isn’t that exactly what Captain America did in World War II?

Utlimately, when looking at the Marvel Universe, even well-intentioned and experience heroes can be involved in incidents that result in city-wide destruction and loss of life. How often are cities like New York faced with super-villains or giant robots or other events of tragic property and life loss? Instead of having a Civil War, wouldn’t it make more sense for heroes to come together to want to mitigate those types of tragedies as much as they can be mitigated? We don’t live in the Wild West, where gunman solve problems on their own. No, in modern America we need to work together as a society, not to make an argument against personal liberty, but to make an argument for personal safety of heroes, villains, and citizens alike


Now check out the Anti-Registration Argument

Today marks the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Just Another Attempt at Cashing in on a Comic Franchise. In preparation for the upcoming movie we have been bracing for the worst, while also trying to stay quietly and irrationally optimistic. Unfortunately, this movie has a tall building to leap in a single bound, and much like Man of Steel and its jaded and sepia toned hero, everything we have been seeing so far does not actually give us any hope.

The New Shifty Too
We here at The NYRD want to have high expectations for this movie. For many of us DC Comics was our first Springtime love. It was our first nerdy kiss, and like a first kiss it probably seems better in retrospect. Yet, it has gotten harder for DC defenders over the years, and that is saying something. Advents like the New 52 and the DC Cinematic Universe are not quite matching up to their Marvel counterparts. Criticism against the parent company of the Justice League is nothing new, but these days it is getting harder and harder to disagree. People have always liked to say that Superman is too powerful, too perfect, and too boring, and we can take that. Yet, the current problem is that one of those people is apparently named Zack Synder.

DC Comics has done everything they could to “improve” the character of Clark Kent, both under the direction of Snyder and in the New 52 comic universe. They have made him angrier, more tragic, and with a super scowl that could melt steel. The bright colors are gone, and is it just us or does Superman look naked without those red briefs? By altering the classic and iconic appearance of the Last Son of Krypton in order to fit into darker sensibilities, DC and Snyder have altered the character, more than they realize. Yet, that is simply a symptom of the larger problem, because what we get in Man of Steel is a bastardized version of Superman who is striving to be nothing more than a Bizarro reflection that wants to hang its foreign frame on the skeleton of Nolan’s Batman. For Hollywood the philosophy of “rinse and repeat,” is often their only strategy. Opening weekend box office sales may have gone “up up and away,” but DC needs to decide if the product they are giving us is truly representative of their past standards or just a momentary knee-jerk reaction to grab some quick cash.

After all, now that you have built a darker world where Superman -a man who literally is supposed to wear hope on his chest- is monotone and brooding, than what is the role of Batman? The great thing about Bruce and Clark is not their similarities but how they balance one another. Similarly their best moments rarely come when they are fighting, but instead when they are working together. Naming a movie Batman v Superman is such a juvenile transparent corporate profit stunt that it is barely made less ludicrous by the fact that they couldn’t even take the time to spell out “versus” or even at least abbreviate it to “vs.” It feels like the movie equivalent of a 5 year old ramming two action figures together and calling it a day, but then again, what else can you do when you have created a universe where your two main characters have the same depressed and violent personality.

The Last Straw of Krypton
Let’s get the obvious complaint out of the way first: Superman kills Zod, and as egregious as that is, it is only the beginning of the problem. In fact, we are a little surprised that Snyder didn’t slow down the reel so we could revel in the violence just a little longer, like Leonidas hacking a Persian to bits. Mr. Synder, we understand  you want to make a grittier and darker version of Superman, but sometimes tarnishing something that is supposed to be shiny and spotless makes that thing into something else entirely. This isn’t Sparta, and Superman is not Batman.

The Man of Steel is meant to be a boy scout. Bruce calls him that all the time, and it is meant as a term of endearment. It’s part of what makes him who he is. You lost a lot of people with that particular head-snapping-stunt, including Mark Waid, who explains, “Some crazy guy in front of us was muttering ‘Don’t do it…don’t do it…DON’T DO IT…’ and then Superman snapped Zod’s neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, ‘THAT’S IT, YOU LOST ME, I’M OUT,’ and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out, and that crazy guy was me. That crazy guy was me, and I barely even remember doing that, I had to be told afterward that I’d done that, that’s how caught up in betrayal I felt. And after the neck-snapping, even though I stuck it out, I didn’t give a damn about the rest of the movie.”

Snyder defends his position saying that this act will be the origin for why Superman doesn’t kill, but that’s not really the point.  That one final act just neatly crystallizes a larger problem. This Superman shows very little regard for human life throughout the entirety of the first movie. Yes, he saves people, but those are all scripted moments. They felt like peace-token offerings meant to placate audiences so that Snyder had an excuse to blow up buildings in the third act, because when the shazbot really does hits the fan we find a Superman who not only ignores the plight of innocent bystanders, but actively disregards the consequences of his destructive battle on the people caught in its path. We can understand the impracticality of stopping mid-fight with the major villain of the movie to try and save bystanders, but it would have been good to see Superman attempt it, despite the impracticality, maybe even because of the impracticality. If we had more examples of Superman trying to hold up a falling structure as people fled, only to be thwarted by a Zod counter-attack, then we might even have felt a little more urgency and even understanding when it came time for Superman’s fateful and final decision.

Superman: Birth Defect
In a non-Synder universe Clark becomes Superman to protect people. He wears a big goofy and bright outfit so people won’t be afraid of him. He does it because he feels this need to make the world a better place and because he is tired of hiding who he is. He does it to bring hope to people and to make his parents proud. In Man of Steel, Clark Kent becomes Superman because Zod forces him into the decision. He doesn’t begin his career as a savior, he begins it as a flying alien who would rather punch things, than stop a few fighter jets from crashing into the downtown area of Smallville.

Ultimately, that is people’s biggest problem with Snyder-man. The Man of Steel that we know and love from comics, cartoons, video games, and Richard Donner movies is a protector, not a warrior. That’s Wonder Woman’s job. Superman should be a beacon of hope who catches falling planes, not a dark avenger who hunts criminals. That’s Batman’s job. That is why the three of them work so well together, they are different shades of the same idea, but if Man of Steel taught us anything it is that DC believes their cinematic universe can only have one bleak and washed out shade of color. Superman shouldn’t need a reason for not killing. He knows how strong he is and how easy he can break things and break the people around him. The real Superman always understood that his powers gave him the responsibility to not do harm, but maybe in Snyder’s universe we can blame this particular flaw on the parents.

In Man of Steel Jonathon Ken expressed a real concern about his son exposing himself to the world, and any parent can understand that. However, you tend to lose audiences when he starts telling Clark that maybe he should let people die. More than the ending, that moment is the biggest let down of the movie. It was a metaphorical neck-snap of the entire Superman mythos. Pa Kent, a man who Clark always admired and revered and wanted to make proud, is reduced to a damned coward. As an aside, it is also worth mentioning that Clark Kent could have easily saved that dog from the tornado while walking at normal human speed. There was absolutely no reason Jonathon Kent had to sacrifice himself, especially because… again… Superman is not Batman. The Man of Steel never needed dead parents to motivate him, if anything it has always been his living parents that kept him grounded and happy.

We cannot be sure what Batman v Superman will add to the mistakes of Man of Steel. It is possible that this movie will hit the mark in ways we cannot even fathom and retroactively justify every decision made in the first movie. Unfortunately, with what we have been reading lately, that hope may be as long gone as Krypton itself. Despite the fact that DC still has award winning cartoons and enjoyable -if not a little campy- TV shows, heroes like Superman have always been easy targets for critics, but this time around we DC apologists may find ourselves facing another indefensible pile of CGI, jumbled plot lines, and frustratingly missed opportunities. For now, we’ll just have to console ourselves over a pint of ice cream and settle for rereading Superman: Birthright and watching old episodes of Justice League Unlimited.

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” The comic books would have us believe that this quote was spoken by the Joker, but what if that was not truly the case. In fact, what if the Joker never existed, or the Penguin, or the Riddler, or any of them? Each of Batman’s most prominent villains has a strong correlation to part of Batman’s psyche, maybe too strong of a connection. What if that was all they were, the fractured parts of a broken mind created by a young boy in the wake of a horrible tragedy? What if Bruce Wayne never became Batman, and instead his mind broke apart and each piece became a villain we now know.

The Id of Gotham
In this theory, we need to look at the fractured mind of Bruce Wayne in terms of Freudian personality factors: The Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. The villains of Batman represent the Id, each can be described as a type of desire or subconscious urge that a young boy might feel as he grows up in a large lonely mansion after the tragic death of his parents. Each villain contains an aspect of Bruce’s own personality that he is fighting against and may even be based upon people in his own life.

Poison Ivy is a creature of pure desire. Her powers include pheromones that drive men wild, an ability to communicate with plants, and being a red head. Ivy represents Bruce’s budding sexual urges, but with the advent of a hidden danger. Ivy is beautiful -and sometimes barely clothed- but she only uses her abilities to gain control of men. She uses them for her own ends, and despite the fact that lust is a natural urge -natural like plants- Batman fights against her, afraid of the power she could gain over him. In reality, Ivy could be any girl Bruce interacts with, but if it is a specific one she might be older and more experienced.

Mr. Freeze is cold, incredibly cold. The loss of his wife and the experiment that turned him into a creature of sub-zero temperatures gave him powers, but it also left him encased in a giant metal barrier, forever cut off from the world. Before the accident, Victor Fries was a kind and gentle man, as warm-hearted and loving as they come. Freeze represents Bruce’s heart, it is cold and sealed away from the world after the tragedy he endured. Batman fights against him, but he can never cure Freeze. The Dark Knight is never able to warm the frozen heart. In the real world, Dr. Fries may be a medical doctor, cold an methodical in his methods and lacking a bedside manner. Thomas Wayne would have been Bruce’s initial doctor, but now he is gone forever.

The Penguin is Oswald Cobblepot, a wealthy yet deformed “business” man. The Penguin differs from the other villains in that he is not physically imposing. Instead he runs a criminal empire while posing as a legitimate entrepreneur and club owner. His refined sensibilities place him above other Gotham criminals, and to the young Bruce Wayne -heir to family fortune and business- the Penguin represents his familial responsibilities. He is everything Bruce fears about the world he must eventually step into now that his father is gone. Batman fights the Penguin because he fears what he is being forced into becoming. It is very likely that Cobblepot may even be an unflattering representation of Alfred. Both -usually tend to- have British accents, and Cobblepot has the same syllables as Pennyworth. More to the point, Alfred would be the person most pushing Bruce into fulfilling his family obligations.

Catwoman is the one villain that Batman comes closest to accepting. There are even several “What If” scenarios where they do eventually fall in love and get married. A resourceful and thrill-seeking cat-burglar. Selina Kyle has very little responsibilities, preferring to live like one of her cats, free to come and go as she pleases. She represents Bruce’s fear of forgetting his pain and guilt. To accept Selina is to move on with his life and leave his parents behind. Whereas Bruce fears becoming like Penguin, he also refuses Catwoman, no matter how bad he sometimes wants her. Batman still fights Selina because that would mean growing up, getting married, starting a family, and letting go of the past. In real life, she is probably his only friend, a kindred spirit that Bruce enjoy but refuses to open up to.

The Riddler is a criminal mastermind. He is probably the most brilliant of any of Batman’s adversaries and yet he is also one of the craziest. Riddler’s compulsion to leave clues and puzzles at the scene of his crime are often his undoing. Riddler represents Bruce’s intelligence and his logic. Yet, it is a flawed intelligence, one that gets in its own way more often than not. Bruce knows he is a smart kid, and being smart and logical one often wants to feel in control of their own life. He blames himself for the death of his parents. Bruce was the one who asked to go to the theater. He was the one who put his parents in that situation. Much like the Riddler, he was the master of his own undoing and all the intelligence in the world couldn’t stop it. In real life, Edward Nygma might be a teacher who is always giving the class problems to solve.

Bane is an intelligent and tactical thinker who becomes a raging punch monster when hooked on Venom. If the Riddler represents Bruce’s logic, than Bane is his rage. Going through the kind of tragedy that Bruce suffered leaves a lot of people with issues of anger, and Bruce Wayne is no different. The drug, Venom, affects the usually articulate and smart Bane in much the same way Bruce’s rage can turn the well-spoken and intelligent boy into a monster. Moreover, rage can be addicting and dangerous, just like the Venom drug. Batman faces many savage enemies -Man-Bat, Killer Croc, and more- and though they all represent part of his savagery or anger, there is no better representative of the potential for his ongoing rage than Bane. He is the only villain who ever succeeds in breaking the Batman. Bane, may not be a real person, but someone Bruce watches on TV, maybe even a Mexican wrestler.

Scarecrow is fear, plain and simple. Having your parents killed in front of you is traumatizing, and we would be amazed if it didn’t leave young Bruce Wayne living in a state of unadulterated and irrational fear. It is also telling that Dr. Crane is a psychologist. In the real world Scarecrow may represent Bruce’s therapist. In talking about the trauma of his tradgedy Bruce is probably often forced to relive the terror and fear of that fateful night in his discussions with the real Dr. Crane. Thus, to the young boy’s mind going to the psychologist is linked instinctively with fear. So when Batman fights the Scarecrow he is really fighting against that fear, and maybe even against the advice of his therapist.

Two-Face was once the celebrated district attorney, Harvey Dent, now he is a killer and a crime-boss. To Bruce he represents a sort of dual identity, and we’re not talking about as Batman. “Stiff upper lip,” is something you can hear Alfred saying to young “Master Bruce.” As a Wayne, the small boy is the last heir to the family business and fortune. Bruce must often be forced to put on an appropriate media friendly mask whenever in public, even when he probably just wants to cry and collapse in his bed. Such a strain can tax even the brightest of children and Bruce must feel as if he is being pulled apart, forced to choke down emotions and smile in public. It is probably no coincidence that Batman also despises his public persona. Dent represents the attorney who prosecuted his parents’ killer. He must have put Bruce on the stand, but not before prepping the boy on how to act -over and over again- as he was the key witness in the case. Because unlike in Bruce’s fictional world, in real life the police caught the killer.

The Joker is by far the most iconic and most dangerous Batman villain of all time. The Clown Prince of Crime is a force of utter chaos and inhumanity, completely irredeemable by any standards. Both comedian and killer, you never know what will come out the barrel of his gun, a punching bag or a bullet. For Bruce Wayne, who lost his parents and sits on the brink of his own sanity, the Joker does not represent any one aspect of himself, instead he represents the enemy, the biggest threat of them all. The Joker is chaos incarnate, a faceless and nameless man without a backstory whose only job is to make Batman’s life a living hell. The Joker is the fictional representation of the man who killed Bruce’s parents, the man who shattered Bruce’s mind.

Many of Batman’s minor villains could also be taken as other and lesser impulses. The Mad Hatter represents living in a delusional world. The Calendar Man represents a fear of growing older. Soloman Grundy represents unstoppable grief, and the list could go on. Ultimately, this theory helps makes more than a fictional comic book world. Gotham City is nothing more than the mind of a scared and mentally damaged child. Even the character’s names sound like things a child would create, Oswald Cobblepot, Edward E. Nygma, Pamela Isely, but what about Batman. What does he represent in this shattered world?

The Ego of Batman
Taking this idea one step further, we find Bruce Wayne, a boy of ten or eleven who just lost his parents. His mind fractures at the trauma, inventing monsters and criminals that threaten to tear apart Gotham, the city that represents his mind. So being a prepubescent boy, Bruce invents a caped crusader to fight them. He invents Batman as his ego, the part of his mind that tries to suppress the Id and find a balance with the Super Ego. The Super-Ego is best represented by Alfred, Bruce’s surrogate father figure. In any Batman story the loyal butler is often the rock of reason, but Bruce rarely listens to his pleas for normalcy. Thus, Batman may help keep these nastier forces and impulses in check for Bruce, but he also does not allow the young boy to get past them either.

Batman is constantly fighting villains, none of which he is able to kill or keep locked up for long. The impulses are always escaping and always wreaking havoc on Gotham. Batman eventually beats them, represses them behind the bars of Arkham. Yet, Gotham never improves. No matter how hard Batman fights to clean up the crime, the corruption, or the villainy, Gotham remains as dirty and broken as ever. Bruce fights against these aspects of his mind, but never allows them to heal. He never gets past them. There is often evidence that when Thomas and Martha Wayne were alive Gotham was friendly and cleaner, but that all that falls apart after they die. Bruce’s mind crumbles into the Gotham City we know today and Batman is part of the problem. He is not really an agent of change so much as he is an agent of the status quo, a never ending cycle that keeps everything exactly as it is.

So, regardless of whether you buy into this theory or not, you have to admit that it fits well within the world of Batman. There has always been a psychological darkness that pervades the adventures of the Dark Knight, and it speaks to us all in a whispered voice that says, “All it takes is one bad day…”

The world of DC Comics is full of fantastic heroes and heroines, but even they had heroes of their own, both on and off the gridiron. Every city in the DC Universe has its own flair and feeling, and their own sport’s franchises that captured the imagination of prepubescent superheroes. Now you can be like young Clark, Bruce, Barry, and Hal, and purchase one of four vintage shirts from the Detective Comics Football League. Choose whether you want to support the Metropolis Metros, the Gotham City Wildcats, the Central City Cougars, or the Coast City Sharks. All four teams are from the New Earth timeline of DC comics. So now you can show your colors and support the hometown of your choice. These are the shirts that your favorite heroes wore as they played catch with their fathers in the backyard… except for Bruce… and Hal… Actually, come to think of it, father’s don’t tend to last long in comics.

Long ago, our ancestors gazed up to the stars to find the meaning and guidance that was hidden in the sparkly goodness of the zodiac. For in those celestial shapes they found wisdom and stories of great heroes and deeds. We are no different than our stargazing forefathers, as we too tell stories of heroes and sepia toned supermen, and those stars still hold many truths for us, as well, which are just waiting to be discovered.

Much like the standard zodiac the signs of the nerd zodiac or Nerdiac can give us great insights into our day to day living as well as the many talents and special qualities we posses as both people and geeks. Many ancient nerds believed that you could discover a great deal of relevant information about yourself through reading about your Nerdiac sign. So we at The NYRD invite you to find your sign and your destiny.

Archaeologist
March 21 to April 19
AcherologistThe Archaeologist is a desert sign and those born under it are regarded as adventurous, active, and outgoing. It won’t matter where you go or how remote or unusual it is. From the Outback to the Antarctic, you can be sure that an Archaeologist has been there before you. Although they are independent, outgoing and assertive they are also surprisingly trusting, and at times will innocently walk into a temple of doom with no thought for their own safety. They love to discover new things, and very much believe these things should be shared with the world, because sometimes it really does belong in a museum. Yet, no matter what upheaval, challenge, or triumph that confronts them, Archaeologists have a wonderful ability to find their way through. Their faith in life and the future remains untouched by hardship, and their gift is such that with every new discovery the world is still a magical place (and there are sometimes aliens, but we try not to think about that one.)

The Archaeologist is considered the most masculine sign of the nerd zodiac, with females born under the sign sometimes called Crofts and men sometimes called Jones. In romance, Archaeologists are forceful, dynamic, and aggressive, and can often intimidate potential partners. For true happiness a person born under the Archaeologist sign needs a partner that balances their component traits (their true mirror reflection side). This balance can often be referred to as The O’Connells. Archaeologists are doers rather than talkers. They are the impulsive. They act first and doubt later. Their ability to live life close to the edge provides them with a wealth of real experience to call upon. Being active people Archaeologists cannot adapt to any kind of restriction, particularly possessive relationships. They often travel to escape any feelings of being stuck or possessed, even have been know to jump out of their own office windows on occasion.

Vulcan
April 20 to May 20
VulcanUnderneath their cool, calm, and logical exterior, Vulcans differ greatly from all the other signs of the nerd zodiac. Often times they will let others get close, but only so close as they want them. Some claim that trying to connect with a Vulcan on an emotional level is similar to trying to break through a Tholian Web, but that is not true at all. There is no such thing as an open-book Vulcan, but their feelings, fears, and desires often run far deeper than anyone around them would guess. In some ways, of all the souls you may encounter a Vulcan’s will be the most human. Their true spirit often remains hidden behind a veneer of day-to-day activities, which is why those born under the Vulcan sign can sometimes be perceived as withdrawn, boring, or even cold. In terms of the future, Vulcans hate the unknown and often strive to create tomorrow in advance, rather than leave it to fate. They do not normally seek adventure or the unknown, instead preferring a life where they can live long and prosper in other realms.

In love, they are regarded as extremely sensual beings, but ones which only mate on an average of once every seven years. For most people, a relationship with a Vulcan will be defined by intellectual pursuits and based in cold hard reality, but when a Vulcan mates, they mate for life. It is the rare and lucky person, (friend or lover) for which a Vulcan will reveal his true inner self, because he or she has and always shall be your friend.

Timelord
May 21 to June 20
TimelordThose born under the sign of Timelord are always on the move; thirsty for knowledge and new experiences. Terminally curious and sometimes even mischievous, Timelords are multi-faceted souls who enjoy knowing a little bit of everything. Those born under the sign of Timelord have also gained the reputation of being the incessant talkers, and have a special interest in anything foreign or unique in the universe. Their comfort zone has almost no boundaries, and as such when things often look their worse a Timelord will be in their prime. In love, they look for a companion who can keep up with them mentally and physically. Among the many signs of the nerd zodiac, they are the sign that is often discussed, dissected, and sometimes even put down most by the other Nerdiac signs. This is sometimes a subtle form of jealousy by others, because Timelords lead very unique and unusual lives. Those born under this sign are lovers of adventure and game playing that involves out-thinking other people.

Their personality usually appears mysterious or detached to others and therefore they are often misunderstood and unappreciated for the talents they offer to the world at large, but this does not mean they do not feel, for in fact they have two hearts. Most members of this sign simply hide their feelings behind their jovial and verbose natures. It is rare and often scary when a Timelord chooses to reveal any hurt, pain, or sacrifice they bear. That is called going a little Capaldi. It is has been said, that even demons run when a Timelord goes to war.

River
June 21 to July 22
RiverThose born under the sign of River, are one of the Nerdiac’s enigmas. It is fair to say that most are a bundle of contradictions and mysteries. One moment, a River can seem like a child, scared and alone, the next that same person can be capable of slaying a hundred Reavers. They invoke strong family ties, especially those between siblings. Those born under this sign are also incredibly intuitive to the point of being psychic. They can be compassionate and caring with friends and family, yet find a weakness that will cut you to your bone. The mood of a River is ever changing, making them endearingly eccentric and insecure. They are often described as an albatross, both lucky and unlucky depending on how they are handled. Rivers go through many phases of experience. Life doesn’t stand still for this sign of the nerd zodiac, and even if they remain in one place or on one ship, they live as much in their internal ocean of emotions as they do among reality.

They flow both up and down, like a leaf on the wind. Most Rivers feel one way one minute, then sometimes totally different the next. With their changeable natures Rivers are fascinating, mysterious, stimulating, and extremely alluring. This sign is one of the most alluring of all and once their touch has reached you, they can be the most beguiling partners and co-pilots you can hope to find out there in the black.

Kingslayer
July 23 to August 22
KingslayerKingslayers are said to be born fortunate. Charismatic and ambitious, they attract not only an abundance of friends and opportunities, but manage to survive life’s stormy times with style and good humor. Once a Kinglsayer is committed to a relationship, no matter how incestuous it may be, they are totally devoted and faithful. Any born under this nerdy zodiac sign are often considered honorable, though others may find their honor to be a twisted sort of one. Much like their namesake who slew the mad king, Kingslayers will often taken measures that may seem extreme, but are entirely justifiable to themselves. In love, should their heart or trust be broken they will never forgive or forget. When a relationship breaks down -even a long standing one- they can disappear into the South without a backwards look. For a Kingslayer, when a relationship is over, really over, it is over for good. They will move on, sometimes finding solace in new and larger companions.

Above all Kingslayers are trendsetters, leaders, and adventurers. Their weakness is their pride, and sometimes their golden hand. Some sayings associated with those born under the Kingslayer are, “flattery will get you everything,” and a “Kingslayer always repays his debts,” in coin as well as in blood.

Samwise
August 23 to September 22
SamwiseSamwise are often put down by many and perceived as being soft and provincial. But when this sign of the nerd zodiac shines, there is practically no stopping their inner light. When a person born under the Samwise sign is confident within themselves they are the most successful, structured, and creative of all the Nerdiac signs. Many Samwise can be found working in the service to others, such as teachers, gardeners, and fellowship companions. One of the most magical characteristics of the Samewise is no matter how many times life turns sour on them, they still manage to maintain faith in others, refusing to become cynical. There is an genuineness around this sign, a kind-heartedness, which unfortunately is sometimes played upon by others for their advantage. Samwise can often become victims of relationship power-games, where they are mistreated. Creative and sensitive, people born under Samwise are delicate, like rare and special orchids that often require individual treatment to fully blossom into their true unique beauty.

Shy at times, they are content to allow others to take center-stage and often generate their time and energy into making those they love happy or successful. They are givers and when the chips are down and you need someone to help you bear your burden to a mountain of fire, you want a Samwise. With them in your life, you will always have someone who understands and cares, and any romance or friendship based upon these qualities is certain to be mutually rewarding.

Link
September 23 to October 22
LinkIt is the fantasy of every adolescent born under the Link sign to rescue the prince or princess of their dreams. As their lives unfold and the Song of Time is played, the experiences, false starts, dramas, broken heart pieces and disillusionment they encounter while seeking this personal quest, often shapes their futures in the most extraordinary manner. Love and love-lost (especially when lost to evil wizards) makes a big difference to someone born under this sign of the nerd zodiac, although the happy-go-lucky appearance they present -against all kinds of odds- may not reveal this as fact. Links can switch off from the world, as easily as turning off a video game. Many who fall under the sign of Link can be difficult to fathom, but that is because many born under this Nerdiac sign often don’t express the more diverse sides to their personalities. When applied their charm can win jobs and provide powerful friends, whether Zora or Goron.

It is a sad fact that many Links fair far better in both personal and professional ventures if they remain alone, but for those who do find their secret dream and rescue their prince or princess, that is another story. A Link must always remember that when they are looking to fulfill their dreams they should never undermine their own integrity, or anger the chickens. Life for a person born under this sign is a true quest, and if they stick to it long enough, not only will they find their Master Sword, but reach their goals, no matter the adversity.

Skywalker
October 23 to November 21
SkywalkerReputed to be one of the most powerful signs of the nerd zodiac and the Jedi, Skywalkers lead fate-filled lives and have intense and dramatic personal relationships. Even as children on Tatoonie, Skywalkers are often found to be wise beyond their years, and gifted pod-racers. Those born under this sign often know all the answers, but they have difficulty finding what they need to develop their own happiness. Passion, desire, and power go hand in hand for those born under this sign. This often leads to many challenges and temptations, and a Skywalker’s biggest test in life is choosing between the power of love and the love of power. Coming to grips with their extraordinary emotional depths and sensitivity isn’t easy for those around them. They are different from all other Nerdiac signs and this difference has them following a different path to their destiny. Others can often live with a Skywalker partner for years -and for many horribly acted scenes- but not really know them. Their eyes often blaze with feelings that words never express, and beware on the days or nights they hide their feelings behind dark helmets, as there is likely to be a force storm brewing.

When you deal with a Skywalker you have to always deal with them on an intuitive level. They often wear a mask and occasionally a respirator, and too often say no when they really mean yes. Once they find true love they can be the most faithful and dedicated of all partners, but fall out badly with a Skywalker and you are likely to find your windpipe being crushed. They never forgive or forget. Most born under Skywalker are winners. The main thing they have to worry about is their attitudes, which influence their mind powers and can either make or break them for the dark or the lightside. When they are negative about something or someone, or critical of themselves, they can tend to get in their own way, because sometimes the only thing found inside the Cave of the Darkside is what you take with you.

Airbender
November 22 to December 21
AirbenderAirbenders possess a natural exuberance, sense of adventure, and love of life that makes them one of the most optimistic  signs of all. Like their element of choice, those born under this Nerdiac sign tend to blow toward whatever it is they find alluring -a love partner, dream job, vacation, etc- and make it their own. Airbenders believe that anything is possible, and because of this belief system, they are adept at seeking out their own destiny. They are not blown by the winds of change, instead they control them and bend them to their will. Sometimes trying to tie down these free-spirited individuals is frustrating for those around them. Airbenders are happiest on the move, exploring new cultures and ideas and many are attracted to occupations related to travel, outdoor work, begin the avatar, and philosophical pursuits. In love, they often shy away from being fenced in, but once they find a partner who understands their needs to retain their own sense of self and identity, Airbenders can be the most big-hearted, generous and fun-loving companions of all.

Although people born under this nerd zodiac sign are often intellectually and spiritually advanced, they are notorious for their directness, which can sometimes be seen by others as a lack of tact. However, they are freedom loving, optimistic, and honest. Those born under Airbender are ruled by a wisdom all their own, and have an inherent need to develop their own unique philosophy of life.

Ironman
December 22 to January 19
IronmanThe sign of the high roller, Ironman is regarded as the Nerdiac’s top in life and business achievers. Often the most hard-shelled and stubborn of the signs, it can be difficult to get an Ironman to concede on any point, whether it be physically, mentally, or politically, especially when it comes to superhero registration. Those born under this nerd zodiac sign are often never content till they reach the top of whatever endeavor they are involved with. However, with their stubborn nature also comes patience, an iron will, and repulsor cannons. They reach their goals because they know the longest journey commences with a single step and that the first step is always the most difficult. However, the one thing an Ironman must always try to do is balance work with play; otherwise they can become too one-sided, sacrificing one aspect for the other. Ironmen often do rise to the occasion when faced with a new task or deadline, even if it sometimes takes them a while.yet, if things go wrong, their ambition to reach the ultimate keeps them moving forever onward and upwards.

They are also innovators who are willing to think outside the box and try unusual approaches on their road to success in business or in love. Romantically, they desire a permanent relationship with someone who will give them the affection they crave and often neglect to give themselves, but finding that person will be a road of trial and error, even if he or she have been staring them in the face -getting coffee, fetching dry-cleaning, being an under appreciated personal assistant, etc- all along. Although many Ironmen are borderline workaholics, this does not necessarily make them dull or gloomy. They have an offbeat sense of humor, which seems to erupt at the most unexpected moments. Their motivating force in life is success, money, status, authority and, -although many might not admit it- love.

Batman
January 20 to February 18
BatmanThose born under the sign of Batman have a high focus on intellect and perfectionism. Others may view them as eccentric or misunderstood. Many inventors, explorers, and caped crusaders are born under this Nerdiac sign, and with such a high level of focus, Batmen succeed in almost any area they devote themselves to, whether it be physical or mental. This trait is often a boon and a bane, as this level of focus also means that a person born under the Batman sign may have trouble letting go of past hurts and are often haunted by the things about their life they cannot change. Many extremes surround this sign, and these extremes can take them to heaven or hell. In everyday terms, most Batmen are humanitarian in nature and often devote themselves to helping others. They can also be objective in judgement, as they have a unique talent for burying their emotions in an inner cave. Men and women born under this nerd zodiac are happiest when they are useful and they often have a strong sense of right and wrong. However, their single-minded obsessions can sometimes lead to a life of insomnia, as those born under the Batman are the most likely to suffer from sleeplessness.

In romance, the Batman is unlucky. The extremes of their life often lead to quick and shallow relationships, as many partners will not see beyond the mask of the billionaire playboy. Those lovers who are able to pierce the veneer will often be another Batman, -also sometimes called a Catwoman, for a female born under this sign- and the relationship, though deep, will never be smooth.

Snape
February 19 to March 20
SnapeMysterious and alluring individuals, most Snapes are gifted in many ways, but still manage to spend most of their lives battling confusing conditions. Snapes are frequently torn between two pathways in life, often mirroring their own conflicting desires to serve or rule. This can lead to an almost dual life as villain and hero. This nerd zodiac sign is acknowledged as being the Saint and the Sinner rolled into one. Snape is the sign of the lost soul, the philosopher, the psychotic, and the visionary. As a credit to them, and considering their many vulnerable characteristics, those born under this sign are incredibly adaptable and resilient. Many Snapes can be amongst the top wizards of the world, but many can also be found in places such as Azkaban. One thing that plays havoc with the life of a member of this Snape sign is romance. They often replace fantasy for reality and this is especially true when it comes to relationships.

Most born under this Nerdiac are more likely to pine for a person from a distance, unable to act on their feelings and yet equally unable to let them go. This can sometimes result in situations were a person born under the sign of Snape may be forced to help the offspring of a long lost love defeat a dark wizard, despite the conflicting emotions of hate and love they may feel for that child. Snapes are the nerd zodiac’s most sensitive sign, and should take extra special care, as nobody can beat them up as much as they can beat themselves up -with maybe with the exception of those kids from Gryffindor.

“I don’t know,” said the big doorman. “Are you sure you’re a villain?” he squinted, his face bent down to scrutinize me.

“I am wearing a mask,” I said pointing to the black domino mask on my face, “and I have this black trench-coat and hat.”

“JJ gets mad when I let the wrong people in, and I don’t know you?” The giant muscular man leaned back and scrunched up his forehead, looking more and more like one of my students at the community college after a particularly hard question.

“Well, would a superhero be carrying one of these?” My hand plunged into the depths of my coat, as a chill shot up my arm. It was always the same sensation, but putting your appendage into a limitless pocket dimension was bound to have some side effects.

When I pulled my hand back I was clutching a raccoon by the tail. It was swinging frantically, hissing and spitting. “Damnit, how do these things always manage to get in…” The rest of my words were cut off by my scream as the creature bit me square on the wrist. I dropped the animal and it scurried off down the alley. My magic pockets allows me to find almost anything imaginable inside my coat. Unfortunately, I am never quite sure what will come out.

The man named Edward laughed. “You’re funny. Okay, you can go in.”

I clutched my wrist. It was not the first time I’d been bitten by something from my pockets and it probably wouldn’t be the last. My name is The Answer and, despite what I told the mound of muscle guarding the door, I am a superhero. I just needed to get inside Friday’s Bar if I had any hope of finding what I was looking for.

The door banged open to a dim and dingy drinking establishment. There was a faint odor of something musky. I would not have called it dark, it was better lit than some places I have been, but with all the wood paneling, small windows, and burnt green trimming Friday’s radiated a certain claustrophobic feeling. Of course, the sensation wasn’t helped by knowing that the walls were probably lined in lead, tritium, and a whole slew of other materials meant to render the place near invulnerable and undetectable by any passing hero with super sight, hearing, smelling, or even telepathy. Not that the place was exactly a secret in the superhero community, but it was also not the kind of bar any one hero stumbled into blindly, well unless you had some kind of death wish.

I coughed as a cloud of smoke wafted into my face but I couldn’t be sure if it was from a cigarette or just fumes rising off of Monsieur Blight. Pollution centered villains were always some of the most inconsiderate people, especially when they were French. A mustached man stood behind the bar filling glasses from a tap. He was talking to a guy dressed as a crocodile, whom I didn’t recognize. The bartender, on the other hand, had to be Joe Friday, a B-list villain from the old days. I had read about some of his crimes in the archived news database at the public library.

“Take a seat wherever ya find one, sugah,” said the shapely bar maid as she passed me with a tray full of beer and bubbling drinks. I realized I was standing in the middle of the room and people were starting to notice. I retreated to a table in the far corner and opened a tab with a credit card that only took an impressive two tries for me to fish from my coat pocket. It wasn’t mine but it seemed to work all the same. The beer was tasteless, but passable so I settled in for a long stakeout.

Despite it only being mid-day Friday’s was crowded. I saw a few familiar faces, Friar Freeze, Dr. Zirconium, The Marginalizer, Band Stand, Womanslaughter, as well a half-dozen or so I couldn’t name. Thankfully, I had never had any direct conflict with any of them so there was little danger of being identified. It was just one of the benefits of being a relatively unknown hero who doesn’t have his own social media following. Half-Life or Ionic Storm could never just waltz into a bar and go unnoticed. The latter especially. He had more than 1.2 million followers, but then again he had always been addicted to the limelight.

I was nursing my second drink about an hour later when the front door swung open to reveal a man made of metal and flesh, covered in a garish yellow and maroon costume. A small robot assistant floated next to him. I had to pull my hat down over my eyes and slump back into the shadows before he looked my way. Mandroid and I had a history. I once hit him with a bucket of paint during a bank robbery, and he’s never let it go.

Thankfully the man had always been more than oblivious. As he walked past, blathering on to the ball-shaped robot that hovered alongside him, he never once glanced my way. I watched as he took a bar stool and started regaling those around him with a story about the time he nearly convinced the city to replace all the police with robots, which he had created through a shell corporation.

The story was before my time, but I knew it all the same, just as I knew he was conveniently omitting the part where he spent three hours cowering in a dumpster before the police found him. I almost chimed in to remind him, but then the door opened again and in walked Quetzalcoatl. If I hadn’t already been trying to hide my face he would have spotted me. Dressed in snake skin and feathers he strolled into Friday’s surveying it with a hawk-like stare. Unlike Mandroid there was no talk or foolish bravado. He simply took a booth in the far corner and ordered a steaming drink of something I couldn’t identify.

One of the most powerful villains I had ever faced, old Quet was an expert on ancient magic, and I had the bruises to prove it. He stole an artifact from the Coeus Museum of Antiquities. I would have stopped him in the act, but instead of pulling out a rocket launcher I instead pulled out an old shoe. When I finally woke up from my daze there were police lights blaring through the window and I thought it best not be caught at the scene of a crime. So I fled.

The trail went cold until one of my contacts told me that Quet enjoyed the mage’s brew on Wednesdays at Friday’s Bar, but now that I was faced with the villain himself I wasn’t quite sure of my next move. In truth, I was beginning to question why I had come at all. What was I going to do, fight him right then and there? I was surrounded by more costumed weirdos than a Halloween party, and none of them would hesitate to put me in the ground.

Panic began to well up inside. It was only a matter of time before his bronze-aged gaze found me. I reached into my pocket, as deep as I could. Half my arm disappeared before pulling out a rubber ducky, then a can of hairspray, a flash bulb, a kitchen knife, and then finally a rubber mask. It was the kind of scary molded-head mask that you would find in a bad monster movie, but I didn’t hesitate. Taking off my hat I yanked the sweaty rubber facade over my face. It was surprisingly snug, and I could even continue to drink my beer through the small mouth hole.

No one in the bar looked at me twice. I even watched the gaze of the Mesoamerican sorcerer pass right by. I breathed a sigh of relief, or at least as much of a breath as I could exhale inside the suffocating and bad-smelling mask. The eye holes limited my vision but I could see well enough to keep my attention on Quet. He was nursing his steaming drink while examining something small in his hands. I couldn’t make it out, but I bet dollars to dinosaur fossils that it was the Coatlicue Statue.

A small headless wood carving that was made to resemble the Aztec’s mother goddess, the statue was said to hold the power to control the moon. More practically, and after some research, it seemed more plausible that the artifact actually harnessed lunar light for a variety of uses, all of which in Quetzalcoatl’s hands would be nefarious. The man had enough natural magic at his disposal, but he was always looking for more. Both as a hero and an adjunct professor of archaeology -and sometimes freshman history 101- I knew I had to stop him, but how?

After my third beer I resolved to wait till he he left Friday’s Bar and was well away from the other villains that populated it. Unfortunately, by my fourth beer I had lost my nerve again, and by my fifth beer I realized that not only was my mask beginning to chafe, but that my quarry had no intention of leaving till was it dark, till he could use the statue for whatever plot he had cooked up in his feathered-serpentine head. That meant if I waited, it could be too late. He’d be able to use the artifact.

While drinking my sixth beer, I started watching Mandroid talk up a C-list villainess called Honey Badger, and the beginnings of a plan started to come together. Quet was busy tinkering with the statue, his drink barely touched. The big guy at the door, Edward, was staring at his hands as if trying to understand how such meaty paws could ever have come to be. The southern waitress was chatting up a sharp smiling wolfman in a dark red suit. JJ, was pouring out drinks and the kid he had running around cleaning tables had disappeared out the side door. No one was paying attention to me. It was then or never.

I pictured the object I was trying to find in my mind, it doesn’t always work, but sometimes I could control what I pulled from my coat. I reached into the pocket, the tingling sensations making the hairs on my arm stand straight up. It was a long moment before I came back with a hissing, snapping snake, and for once I had the creature’s head. It could do nothing to bite me, even as I released it onto the ground. The five foot snake quietly slipped from my jacket, slithering its way across the floor.

Honey Badger was the first to see the creature, and she lost it. In her mad dash to stomp it dead Mandroid went flailing backward landing awkwardly in the lap of Jacqueline Ripper, the British hitwoman. She was not happy with the man who was suddenly looking up at her from her thighs, and she expressed that anger by doing her damn best to try and rip his appendages free from his torso.

I stood up and “accidentally,” bumped into Honey Badger as she was trying to stomp out the now frantic serpent. She tripped into the southern speaking waitress who dumped her tray onto Dr. Zirconium. Dr. Zee never being one for level headed discussion started swinging. “The snake came from that guy,” I yelled while trying to disguise my voice and pointing at Quet.

By that time the bar was quickly breaking down into disarray as three separate melees erupted around the room. Tables were overturned, beer bottles were broken, a laser blast exploded against the back wall, doing surprisingly little damage, and for some reason a few of the patrons were being pinned to the ceiling by, what I could only guess, was telekinesis or magic. I caught a glimpse of Friar Freeze trying to ice over the giant bouncer, which proved to be a mistake on his part. Amid all the confusion, I made my way to Quetzalcoatl. He was engaged in a shouting match with Band Stand, well at least Quet was shouting. The other man was blaring a trumpet at him.

My mask felt like a sauna. I don’t know how heroes who wear helmets or full face coverings could do it all day. I was barely able to see in the confusion and I wanted nothing more than to rip it off, but I resisted. Then I saw it, the Coatlicue Statue. It was just sitting on the table, forgotten in the heat of the yelling/trumpet argument that was going on not more than two feet away. All I had to do was reach out and grab it.

A hand with the surprising strength of a vice grip locked around my wrist as I started for the artifact. When it spun me around I was face to face with none other than Joe Friday himself. Despite his age and his walking cane, I worried for a moment that he was going to break my arm with his bare hands, but I was wrong. The next thing I knew he was dragging me out the side door, my back slamming against the alley wall.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, boy?” Before I could respond he ripped the mask from my head. “Do you think I am blind, dumb, or just senile?”

“I… don’t…” I felt at a loss for words. It was like I had become one of my students that had been caught cheating, and I felt just as guilty.

“It was a rhetorical question.” JJ finally let go of my wrist and hobbled back a few steps, his cane clicking on the uneven pavement. “It’s always the same. You upstart young heroes come wandering into my bar looking for the evil Dr. So-And-So or your sworn arch-nemesis or whatever, but more than not I am the one that has to pull your butts out of trouble, or scrape your remains off the wall. This isn’t some fool game, you know, and you’re not the first masked moron to try something like this. Those men and women in there will kill you if they find out who you are, absurd mask or not.”

“Wait. You run a bar for villains and you’re going to lecture me?” I said finding some of my courage.

JJ looked me dead in the eye. “That lot is full of thieves, murderers, psychopaths, and would be tinpot-dictators, but everyone needs a place where they feel accepted, where they can be themselves. Can you imagine what would happen to this city if they didn’t have this place? How much worse would things be if the men and women in there, some with powers that could level a city block, didn’t have a place where they could unwind?”

“So you’re doing a civil service?” I said rubbing my wrist.

“Hell no. I’m trying to run a business, son. Saving your sorry hide is my only good deed for the day, but didn’t it ever occur to you why my joint is allowed to stay open?” As he spoke Edward emerged from the door behind him and tossed out two men dressed in matching crisscross patterned outfits. The owner of Friday’s Bar never once looked back, he kept his gaze on me.

“I guess I never really considered it.” I put my eyes down, suddenly feeling as if the man towered over me, even though he was more than a foot shorter.

“I pay the cops to stay away. I scare the mafia off, but groups like Eternal Vigilance and other heroes usually know enough to let me run my bar in peace, because they know it does more good than harm. That little riot you started in there, could you imagine if that was happening right now in the Iron Sides district, or at the corner of Apollo and 4th? They’d be ripping up half of downtown. My bar can take it and no innocent bystander has to get hurt.”

“If you care about innocents than you would have let me get that statue back from Quetzalcoatl. He’s going to use it tonight and a lot of people are going to get hurt. I have to stop him.”

The old man’s mouth was a hard-set line. He watched me for another moment before muttering “Wait here.” With an uneven gait he disappeared back into the bar, the sound of the fray momentarily escaping the sealed environment of the bar before the door slammed shut again.

I was unsure of what to do. Part of my mind was screaming at me to run for my life. The game was up. It was the part of me that was certain that JJ was about to come back with a brute squad of villains, all more powerful than me and my magic coat by any stretch of the imagination. Still, I couldn’t move. The old man had an authority about him. A strange power to inspire and simultaneously make me feel like a five-year old boy again. So I waited, because what else could I have done?

The door swung open and JJ hobbled out. The faint odor of sulfur followed him, but the bar fight sounded like it was quieting down. “Here.” He handed over my hat and inside it was the small wooden Coatlicue Statue. “I got your Mayan whats-it.”

“Actually it’s Aztec,” I said, but trailed off as he gave me another look. “I mean, thank you. How did you get it?”

“That wizard of a snake-bird hasn’t paid his bar tab in a few weeks. I gave him two choices. He either handed over the Mayan thing… excuse me, the Aztec thing as payment, or he’d be banned from the bar. He chose the first option, they usually do.

I took the statue out of the hat along with a small paper card. “And what’s this?”

“It’s my number. The next time you plan on doing something this stupid just call first, like the other heroes do, and maybe we can avoid more unpleasantness.” He put a thumb back toward the bar just as Jacqueline Ripper came running out, blood streaming from a broken nose.

The southern waitress watched her as she ran. “Yeah you best be gettin’ gone, ya hear?”

“Sorry about that.” My eyes fell to the pavement.

JJ waved his hands as if to say forget it. “Like I said, my bar is built to take it, and Edward will have them calmed down soon enough. That’s why I pay him, but it would be best if you don’t show your face around here again, understood?”

I nodded, unsure of what to say.

Finally, JJ turned back to his bar and walked slowly toward the door as if it was just another day for him. Maybe it was. I have to admit I went in not knowing what to expect, but I don’t think I could ever have expected what I found in Joe Friday. I tucked the statue close to my body and headed out down the alley to find the first bus to the museum.

As I walked, I looked again at the small white card he had handed me before slipping it into my pocket, not my magic one, but my ordinary pants’ pocket. Something told me this was a number I was going to want to have handy.


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

We here at The NYRD have been doing a lot of soul searching. Any loss of innocent lives is worth a pause and a prayer, but being New Yorkers we feel a kinship with those who have lived through the events of cowardly and horrific acts of terror. Our hearts and our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic, in the Middle East, and everywhere else there is suffering. In situations such as these it is always the “what ifs” that cause the most pain. What if someone had gone left instead of right? What if that person had decided not to go out that night? What if an attack could have been predicted and stopped? What if we had the power to never let something like this happen again?

When Gods Watch the News
So it is in these times that we often find ourselves marveling at the Man of Steel. Superman, has more power than any person could ever dream to have. His speed and strength are matched only by his heart. The boy in blue has a true desire to protect the innocent and save the world, and yet for all his power, he is a failure. Sure he will stop the schemes of Lex Luthor or the machinations of the Legion of Doom, but no one will ever be 100% safe. Crime, poverty, death, and fear will never go away even with the entire Justice League patrolling the skies of our world. Yet, it is in times of tragedy that we all wish we were Superman, if only because we want to stop the pain and the suffering, but could we really?

If we were the Last Son of Krypton, enjoying a hot cup of coffee at home in our small Metropolis apartment and we turned on the news to see the chaos of the terrorism, the poverty, and the general state of the world, what would we feel? Sure, maybe we spent the morning punching an asteroid out of a collision course with the planet, but that kind of problem is easy. How do you solve deeper systemic issues of hatred, of terror, and of greed? What would a near-god feel when he saw the state of our world? Would he feel sadness, pity, anger, or maybe frustration?

Terrorism and extremism are not things you can just punch or heat vision away. The chaos that exists, exists because we are human and because we are different and because we have the freedom to be so. Most sane people know to voice their differences in the debate rooms or sporting arenas, but there will always be that small minority -of any religion- who will try to solve it with hatred and violence. The Man of Steel can survive bullets and bomb blasts, but what can he do when he is not there to help those who cannot?

Justifying the End
It is perhaps no small wonder that most Superman comics are not about Clark Kent taking over the world and declaring himself its protector-king. It would be an almost small task for him to accomplish, global domination for the sake of saving the world. It almost sounds noble. It almost sounds sane. It is wonder that there are not more stories about superheroes going all “Ozymandias” on the world. Sure there are always alternate timeline stories, but those are portrayed as unrealistic. Maybe the truth is that they are the most realistic. After all, if Superman really cared about saving everybody in the world he would accept the burden that dictatorship brought. If he really cared he would bring the corruption, the terrorism, the death, and violence to heel, by force if necessary. He must want to sometimes. He must look at the world and have that thought cross his mind when he sees dying children and when he hears the calls of starving families.

How does the most powerful man on the planet sit in his apartment on nights where every news stations plays footage of bomb blasts, starving children, and systemic genocide? How does Ka-El of Krypton feel when he arrives too late to do anything more than help with clean up? He must sometimes think about taking control and ending it. All he would need to do is reach out his hand and the world could be his to hold and squeeze. It may not be pretty, or heroic, but it would be effective. Taking away the freedom to be different and imposing his will would ensure peace and security. It would ensure that no innocent man, woman, or child ever had to feel unsafe in the streets of their homes or cower in fear of what the morning would bring. Under the steel rule of Superman, things like hunger, war, terrorism, and even global warming could all be erased. Is that not worth any cost, even freedom?

It Means Hope
We admire the restraint of Superman, because when we watch the news we question if we could exercise it. Yet, maybe the Man of Steel knows something we don’t. Maybe Clark Kent is a reporter not to find places he is needed, but to remind himself why he can never stop trying and never stop being Superman. We like to think that he sees the truth in it all, because these acts of butchery and cowardice are not committed by the majority, but a small small minority. Giving up our freedom in the name of security is no different than surrendering to the terror that these villains seek to impose. Clark knows that the world does not need an all-powerful emperor, but a symbol of all the things that can be good about humanity. The real power of Superman is not in his strength or flight, but his ability to inspire us to be better, to make the world better. He gives us the example we strive to live up to, because he knows that the vast majority of people aren’t the bad guys and together we are stronger.

That is why we love superheroes, not because of the capes or the explosions, but because they remind us about the best of what we are. It is why we invoke their symbols and their imagery in times of tragedy and it is their examples that  give us strength to be a little stronger, a little faster, and a little better when surrounded by chaos. They are also not alone, because with any tragedy you may find very few villains but a hell of a lot more heroes. Police, firefighters, soldiers, brothers, sisters, regular people who do the right thing. Like the people of Paris who opened their doors to strangers in need on the scariest night of their lives. People like that help, not because they are superhuman but because none of us are.

Superman is not real. He can’t take over the world and fix our problems for us, but the example he gives us is real, and it is only one of thousands of examples we see everyday from good and real people. We all need to be the heroes we want to see in our lives, because maybe one day, we can save the world, together. Until then, we hold all those who have been affected by violence and terror in our thoughts.

The small beams of light tickle as they hit me. I laugh, but the little man just keeps pointing his gun and firing like it’s going to do something. When I reach him, that’s when the fun begins. I grab the small space weapon and I feel it crunch under my fist along with his fingers.

I let go. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I never want to hurt anyone, but I always do. It’s just part of being who I am. You get used to it, I guess, but the guy just keeps crying and screaming about his broken hand. The rest of the bar is starting to look now and the tiny man is on his knees begging me not to kill him.

I don’t do that, at least not anymore.

I reach down and pick him up by his silvery backpack and toss him through the front door of the bar. I wouldn’t want JJ getting mad for annoying his other customers. Of course, JJ never gets mad at me. He just gets disappointed, and that’s always worse.

I walk outside and the spaceman is slumped up against the wall of the building across the alley. I hadn’t meant to throw him that hard. He doesn’t look like he’s moving.

I bend down next to him and I hear the door open behind me. “Leave him, sugah. He’ll be fine.”

“He’s not moving,” I say in that lumbering way that seems too slow, even to myself.

Georgia kneels down next to me. When she leans forward to unhook the man’s space helmet, I notice I can see down the front part of her shirt. I look away. I don’t want to be rude.

“He’s only stunned,” says Georgia. She has her fingers on the man’s neck. “He’s still breathing.” She stands up. “For heaven’s sake, Edward, you got to learn to worry less about good-for-nothing-scum like Retro Rocket, here. He deserves a lot worse than this.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt him…” I say, feeling frustrated.

“Don’t give me none of that bull. You used to run for the Atello crime family. I’m sure you hurt plenty of people worse than this back in the bygone days.”

“That was a long time ago. I was just doing what I was told to do.”

“Oh, now there, there, don’t get all defensive,” she pats me on the shoulder like a child, but it does feel nice. “I only meant we’ve all done things in the past we regret. Trust me I got enough regrets to fill a grain silo the size of Arkansas. Now, come back inside, sugah.”

I look back at the spaceman.

“He’ll be fine,” she leads me back into the bar by the hand. “He just needs to sleep it off.”

Georgia was right, because when I went out later to check on him, he was gone. He must have flown off using that stupid jetpack of his. She was always right, and she was always nice to me. I like Georgia, but she didn’t seem to like that spaceman. After we went back inside the bar, she said something about how he liked small boys a bit too much. That seemed strange to me. I mean, I like boys and girls and puppies, though they tend to not like me. I guess I am kind of scary looking.

Georgia was right about something else too. I did used to hurt people, a lot. That was when they called me Two-Ton. I hate that name, but my brother gave it to me. Well, he wasn’t really my brother but we grew up together in the orphanage. We stuck together because we were both born “different.” His real name was Carlos, but most people called him Stone, on account he could turn his body to rock.

Carlos was the smart one. He watched out for me, and told me what to do. We made a group together, that we called The Heavies. We worked for a lot of people and did a lot of bad things, but Carlos always said it was for the best. “We were just earning a living,” he’d tell me, but then he up and died. So, I had to go to work for the Atello family.

Mr. Atello -he liked it when people called him Don but that wasn’t his name- said Carlos was killed by a rival crime family because he was late. At the time I didn’t know what he meant, because I was always late to get to places, and Carlos was always the one waiting on me. I’m very slow. I understood later that Mr. Atello meant Carlos had been killed because he owed some very bad people a lot of money.

So, with my brother gone I had nowhere to go. Mr. Atello gave me a job, but it wasn’t like working with Carlos. The Atelloes didn’t treat me nicely at all. They always called me names, just like the kids in the orphanage used to do. They always wanted me to hurt people too, even to kill people. I did it, but I didn’t like it. Mr. Atello’s favorite was when he had me squeeze people till they didn’t move anymore.

It was the only life I knew till I met JJ. The Atello family wanted him to pay something called protection, for his bar, but JJ refused. Mr. Atello said I needed to teach him a lesson, but it was JJ who taught me the lesson. He showed me a better way. I know it sounds kind of sappy, but it’s true. Then he offered me a job. I still have to hurt people sometimes, but usually they deserve it.

I always thought that it’s kind of funny how you get reminded of a thing and then it keeps popping up over and over again in one day. It was like the time when I was telling JJ how much I liked peanut butter and on that same day I found half a peanut butter sandwich waiting for me in the backroom. JJ called it good luck, but today it wasn’t good at all. It was bad, very bad luck.

It happened when I was outside checking people waiting to get into the bar. I have a list of people I am supposed to watch out for. Most of the time I am looking for any villains that have been banned by JJ, but sometimes I have to make sure no one is a superhero or some kind of cop. JJ says letting them in will make the customers nervous, “and when these customers get nervous that’s when things go bad,” but I’ve messed up a few times. I’m fine with admitting that.

One time I let this gumshoe in because he was dressed up like a giant honey bee with a mask. He started taking pictures for some court case, and when the other customers figured out who he was, they almost killed him. I was able to stop them, but not before they had beat him up bad. I had to carry him to the hospital and leave him in the emergency room. I felt bad about just leaving him, but JJ said it was for the best.

Now the list JJ gives me has pictures of the people I am not supposed to let in. It helps. A lot of people try to disguise themselves to look like something else, but I’m really good at recognizing faces. I hardly ever let the wrong people in these days.

One of those people I’m not supposed to let in is Antonio “The Painter,” Atello. He’s Mr. Atello’s son and he’s a certifiable psychopath. Someone once told me they call him Painter because he likes to paint walls red.

“Well if it isn’t Too-Dumb,” says Painter as he walks up to the door. The two men standing behind him in suits start laughing as if it is the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I hate that name even more than Two-Ton.

“I’m not supposed to let you in. JJ wouldn’t like it.”

“Forget that old has-been, Eddie. I’ve come to talk to you. My old man’s not feeling too well these days, you know.”

“Mr. Atello is sick?”

“Not sick enough,” says Painter. “I’m next in line to take over the family business…”

“Not if Vinnie the Octopus has anything to say about it,” says one of the men behind him.

“Would ya shut-up,” says Painter. It looks like he is going to hit the man, but instead he puts his arm around me, well as much as he can reach. “Listen, Eddie, I know you and me haven’t always been pals, but I could use a man like you in my new operation. You have a particular set of talents that I always valued. Who knows you might even become a made-man one day, if you play your cards right.”

“I work for JJ now,” I say proud of my new job, but Painter stills make me nervous. Most people call him unpredictable. Sometimes he’d be your best pal, then sometimes he’d be your worst nightmare. You never knew what mood he was going to be in.

“C’mon, it’ll be just you and me, Eddie, all the way to the top, once my old man is out of the picture. In fact, I was hoping you could help with that too. Dear old dad isn’t feeling quite himself, but the doctors say there is a chance he might recover. Now if a certain old disgruntled ex-employee were to pick this moment to exact his revenge…” he put his finger to my chest. “Such an occurrence might all but ensure my place at the top. Once I’m there, I’ll make sure you’ll be there right with me. I promise.”

“I’m done with that kind of work. I don’t hurt people like that anymore…”

“Suddenly you’re going soft on me? Who cares about the old man? Think about it, Eddie, my father’s not a very nice person. He deserves this. Then it’ll be just you and me.”

I hesitate. “I don’t know, Painter…”

“I thought I told you never to come around here.” The door to the bar swings shut and JJ is standing there looking angry. He’s using his cane today because he said the cold weather was making his leg stiffen up.

“Beat it, pops.” Painter laughs. “This is between me and my old friend, here.”

“Edward, I need your help bringing a new keg out from back. Gill broke the handcart again.” JJ looks at me as if he expects me to come inside with him.

I start to move, but Painter puts his arm in front of me. I obediently stop and put my head down. I can’t look at JJ.

“You want to spend the rest of your life working as some sort of glorified doorman in a dive bar that caters to lunatics in costumes or do you want to make something of yourself.” He rubs his fingers together. “I’m talking big cash, Eddie. Stick with me and you can afford the finer things in life.”

“There’s nothing fine about where that life leads. I’m not going to let you bring him back down this path again.”

“What’re you going to do about it, throw a calendar at me?” Painter shakes as if he’s scared, but I think he’s just pretending. Then he starts laughing at JJ. I want to say something, but I’ve never been able to stand up to Painter. He was always so scary.

“You’re a spoiled child who cares more about getting his own way then the consequences of his actions. One way or another that will catch up to you, and I won’t let you drag Edward down with you,” says JJ quietly. His eyes have this look like I’ve never seen before. It makes me feel cold inside.

“Choose your words carefully, old man. I don’t take no disrespect from anyone, especially senior citizens such as yourself. You don’t want to see what I do to guys who cross me. They say I’m crazy, you know.”

“I’ve known plenty of people like you in my day. You claim to like the mayhem, the chaos of it all, but it’s a cover. The truth is that you’d rather burn the world than face it. You’d rather kill your own father than confront him. When you come right down to it, you’re nothing but a coward.”

Painter is suddenly angry, so angry that he turns red. “Teach this has-been a lesson.”

One of Painter’s guys takes out a small club and laughs as he walks toward JJ, but he stops laughing when JJ’s cane breaks his teeth. Then even as he’s cursing, JJ uses his cane to knock him from his feet. He places the end of it on the man’s chest and presses some kind of button. Painter’s goon screams again, like he’s being shocked by electricity.

“I had this cane built special for…” The gunshot is so loud in the alley that it hurts my ears.

JJ falls to ground, and blood is starting to stain the sleeve of his flannel shirt. I move toward him to check if he is okay, but Painter’s voice stops me.

“Stay right where you are, Too-Dumb.” He’s still pointing his gun at JJ. “Actually take a few steps back.”

I don’t know what to do. I wish Georgia would come outside, she would know what to do, but she doesn’t. JJ once told me he had the walls of the bar soundproofed so no one outside would be able to hear what was going on inside. I guess it works the other way around too. No one inside heard the gun shot.

I look at Painter. Part of me want’s to rip his head from his shoulders. Instead, I step away from him and JJ. I can’t stand up to Painter. No one ever could.

“That’s a good monster,” he says. “Now here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to pay my father a visit, and afterwards I better hear that he ain’t breathing no more. I don’t care if you shoot him or hug him to death, but I want him dead, because if he ain’t…” Painter motions with his gun at JJ. “He will be. Coppice?”

“No…”

“I’m not playing.” He takes a step toward JJ and cocks the gun. “That first bullet just grazed him. I won’t miss a second time. You know I don’t miss, or at least your old friend knows I don’t miss… What was his name, Juan?”

“Carlos?”

“That’s it. He was in some heavy debt to us. Normally we’d just break a guy’s legs if he owed us that much money, but with your buddy’s powers my father thought it was just better to cut our losses and make an example out of him.”

“You killed Carlos?” I look at JJ still lying on the pavement and I think about what it felt like to lose my brother. I don’t want to lose JJ too. They say I’m slow to do most things and that includes getting angry, but not this time. I feel my fists tighten so hard that they’re shaking. Suddenly, it starts to get hard to see anything else but Painter, and I don’t feel afraid of him anymore.

I don’t think he even noticed as he keeps talking. “My first shot took your friend in the head. He never even saw me. I couldn’t give him the chance to turn into that rock form of his, now could I? Now, I’m going to do the same to your new boss, unless…”

I run at Painter and now it’s his turn to be scared. He points his gun at me and starts firing. The bullets tickle as they hit me. I ignore them. I am usually so slow, but now I move faster than even I thought I could. I grab the gun and most of Painter’s hand. I squeeze till I hear something break and he starts screaming. It’s the second time I’ve broken someone’s hand today, but this time I don’t feel so bad. I toss him against the alley wall with a yell. Part of the brick crumbles when he hits.

His last goon in the suit drops his own gun and holds up his hands. “I weren’t thinking of doing nothing,” he says as he helps up the man JJ took down. Together they run off down the alley leaving Painter where he is.

“Are you okay, JJ?” I ask as he stands up.

“It’s a scratch.” He picks up his cane. “Take your friend over there and put him in the dumpster behind Constantine’s Bakery on the corner of 8th and Helios. It’s owned by Vinnie the Octopus. I’m sure he’ll be very interested in the discovery one of his employees makes tonight when they go out back to dump the stale bagels.”

“Okay, JJ.”

“And, Edward,” he hesitates as he opens the bar door, “hurry back. I still need help with that keg.”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

If you say, “Marc Spector” to your average person they will have no idea who you are talking about, but with the success of Daredevil and early positive reviews for Jessica Jones, Marvel may soon look to add Moon Knight to their Netflix line-up.

The rumor comes from Umberto Gonzalez of Heroic Hollywood. He dropped a hint on the televised fate of Spector while guest starring on Collider Heroes on YouTube. “The hot rumor is that Moon Knight is actually being developed for Netflix since he is a divergence of Bruce Wayne,” said Gonzalez. “So like the way they’re back-door piloting Punisher in ‘Daredevil’ season two, if it works out, same thing with Moon Knight.”

Unfortunately, not much more is mentioned after that, and there have been rumors about Moon Knight coming to the MCU for a long time. So it is entirely possible this all coming off an old rumor that has since been debunked, but we here at The NYRD remain hopeful.

Marc Spector is Marvel’s answer for Bruce Wayne, with a dark tone and history to match. For example, unlike Batman, Moon Knight earned his fortune through mercenary work, but he is an expert combatant with peak strength and agility. He would not be out of place at all in the world that Daredevil created. His storylines tend to get violent, making him a much better match for Netflix than the more colorful and kid-friendly big screen MCU. He has also been a member of The Defenders, which helps strengthen these rumors.

There has been talk for sometime that all the Marvel Netflix shows will converge into one, becoming the superhero team The Defenders. Though, like the Avengers, The Defenders have had many line-ups in the past, including everyone from Daredevil to Moon Knight to Doctor Strange and the Hulk.


Photo courtesy: http://www.comicvine.com/forums/battles-7/saiko-vs-moon-knight-688898/

New York Comic Con has come and gone. We here at The NYRD enjoyed every moment. Check out all the pictures taken by our resident photographer. We want to thank everyone we met and mingled with at the show. This truly was one of the greatest collection of nerds on the east coast. There were some great panels, some big news, some awesome previews, and more than a fair share of excellent displays to keep us busy. Most importantly we got to meet some amazing people and dedicated fans, but that was our experience.

Share your experiences with us in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to like, share, and tweet to us with all your great pictures and moments from this year’s New York Comic Con. For more, remember to keep checking back with The NYRD to stay up to date with all our news, in-depth articles, artwork, and more. Don’t forget to subscribe and contribute. We are always looking for the most excellent of nerds to help our little community grow.

For now enjoy the gallery below and watch our weekend-long adventure as we met, mingled, and geeked our way through New York Comic Con 2015. What more can a NYRD ask for?

It is that time of the year again. The month of October where people dress up in scary and sexy costumes to celebrate the most important event of the year, New York Comic Con. What else would we have been talking about? However, if you don’t have tickets to this premiere New York nerd event, fear not. There is still plenty of geeky/nerdy activities you can take part in that don’t involve talking to that guy scalping tickets on 10th Ave. New York Super Week is a plethora of events happening all over the city, but where to go and what to do? Have no fear The NYRD has you covered with some of the best and greatest things to do after hours this week.

Jump to: TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY, THURSDAY, FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY, FREE T-SHIRT.

TUESDAY

Body Worlds: Pulse Exhibit and Live Sketch – Oct 06, 2015, 6:00 PM – Discovery Times Square
Fans will experience Body Worlds in a whole new way.  In addition to walking through the exhibit, visitors will watch two of the world’s foremost artists live sketch the bodies.  Russ Braun (DC Comics and Disney Animation Studios), Alex Maleev (Daredevil), and Cory Smith, will sketch a few of the bodies while conversing with the crowd and guiding them through the intricacies and techniques used to sketch human anatomy.
Tickets are $27.00 for adult, $23.50 for seniors, and $19.50 for kids 3-11. Buy your ticket now.

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast – Oct 06, 2015, 7:00 PM – Littlefield
It’s a New York Super Week LIVE edition of “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast” as Gilbert and co-host Frank Santopadre are joined by outspoken and outrageous comedian, SiriusXM radio host and bestselling author Jim Norton.
Tickets are $5.00. Buy your ticket now.

This Week in Marvel Live Podcast – Oct 06, 2015, 7:30 PM – Discovery Times Square
his Week in Marvel delivers all the Marvel info on news and new releases — comics, video games, toys, TV, film and beyond! Co-hosted by Marvel.com Editorial Director Ryan “”Agent M”” Penagos, Editor Ben Morse and featuring special guests. Tweet questions with the hashtag #ThisWeekinMarvel.
This event is FREE. Space limited.

Running Late with Scott Rogowsky – Oct 06, 2015, 9:00 PM – Littlefield
Featuring special guest Horatio Sanz, Impractical Jokers’ “Sal” Vulcano & Brian “Q” Quinn, along with NY1’s Budd Mishkin. Drawing on the late-night tradition from Carson to Cavett to Conan, host Scott Rogowsky and his sidekick/dad Marty welcome an eclectic mix of comedians, musicians, authors, actors, and local celebs to the couch for a unique live talk show experience that needs to be experienced to be experienced.
Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 day-of show. Buy your ticket now.

WEDNESDAY

GeekFest Film Fest Day One – Oct 07, 2015, 6:00 PM – Gotham West Market (Club Room)
The world’s 1st and largest traveling geek film festival, showcasing the best in indie science fiction, horror, fantasy, fan films, and pop culture films. GeekFest Film Fests tours the United States and screens amazing genre and high concept indie films that comic con audiences will love.
Tickets are $10 per screening or $25 for all 4 screenings per night. Or full pass for $40 for all screenings both nights. Buy your tickets now.

Comics and Jews: Panel and Auction – Oct 07, 2015, 6:30 PM – Center for Jewish History
Join us for a meet&greet with the key Jewish figures of the comic industry, a panel on history of Jews and their formative contribution to the establishment of the comic books industry in the US, and a special silent art auction. The panel will feature Karen Green, Danny Fingerhoff, Arie Kaplan, and Paul Levitz.
Tickets are $10 general, $7 members/seniors/students. Buy your ticket now.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Spelling Bee – Oct 07, 2015, 7:15 PM – Benzaquen Hall at the DiMenna Center
Join us for a spelling bee featuring words from Klingon to Na’vi, from Middle earth to Westeros. Study hard, but you won’t find these words in the dictionary, unless your dictionary was written by JK Rowling or Frank Herbert. This interactive show features awesome prizes and is hosted by Saad Sarwana.
Tickets are $12 advance or $15 at the door. Buy Your ticket now.

FanBros Present the Crossplay Cosplay Contest – Oct 07, 2015, 8:00 PM – Latitude
The cosplay event that everyone has been waiting for, finally an event that celebrates diversity and difference in the cosplay world! The Crossplay Cosplay Contest is centered around the idea of switching races & genders for the ultimate in cosplay change ups.
Tickets are $10 or only $5 if you wear a costume. Buy your ticket now.

Indie Comic Performance with Mindy Indy & Friends! – Oct 07, 2015, 9:00 PM – Gotham City Lounge
Mindy Indy & Friends will be reading Mindy’s latest comic “”Apartment Hunt,”” based on a true story of crazy apartment hunting in NYC – two girls struggling to find a decent place for cheap is harder than it seems.  Comic pages will be projected in an awesome comics-themed bar with cheap hero-themed drinks.  Q&A will follow the reading, including any questions about apartment hunting tips!  Feel free to share your own crazy hunting experiences too.
This event is FREE.

THURSDAY

GeekFest Film Fest Day Two – Oct 08, 2015, 5:00 PM – Gotham West Market (Club Room)
The world’s 1st and largest traveling geek film festival, showcasing the best in indie science fiction, horror, fantasy, fan films, and pop culture films. GeekFest Film Fests tours the United States and screens amazing genre and high concept indie films that comic con audiences will love.
Tickets are $10 per screening or $25 for all 4 screenings per night. Or full pass for $40 for all screenings both nights. Buy your tickets now.

Robot Chicken Season 8 Party – Oct 08, 2015, 6:00 PM – Brooklyn Bowl
Join Robot Chicken co-creators Seth Green & Matthew Senreich for an early look at Season 8 and the world premiere of Robot Chicken DC Comics Special III: Magical Friendship. You’ll also be treated to an evening of free bowling, prizes, a DJ set by The Rub, and good company. Must by 21+.
You must reserve your spot. Click here to reserve your spot now.

Rock Band 4 New York Super Week Super Party – Oct 08, 2015, 7:00 PM – Hard Rock Cafe
he team at Harmonix Music Systems, Inc. will be celebrating the launch of Rock Band 4. This is open to all fans  as a New York Super Week event so come party & play Rock Band 4 with the devs that made the game!  Guests will be entered into a raffle upon entrance at the party for a chance to win one of four Rock Band 4 guitars signed by Harmonix developers. Must be 18+.
Tickers are $5. Buy your ticket now.

Muppet Vault – Oct 08, 2015, 7:15 PM – Benzaquen Hall at the DiMenna Center
ToughPigs.com presents The Muppet Vault: Geeky Stuff, a celebration of all the times the Muppets got a bit geeky.  The evening will include screenings of classic and rare clips hand-picked by Muppet experts. The Muppets have done countless pop culture parodies (The Muppet Show’s Pigs in Space, Sesame Street’s recent hilarious Cookie Monster movie spoofs) and worked with tons of geek-friendly guest stars.
Tickets are $10. Buy your ticket now.

Rock N’ Comix – Oct 08, 2015, 7:30 PM – Rock Bar
Oni Press presents Rock N’ Comix 2015, featuring live comix readings and musical performances by the industry’s top talents! Enjoy your favorite creators reading their work as projected large to screen, while musicians perform a live score beneath, followed by an all out comic book rock show! Special guests include Charles Soule, Ted Naifeh, Dean Haspiel, Antony Johnson, Jeffrey Burandt and Americans UK, a live performance by Run by the Gun.
Tickets are $5. Buy your ticket now.

Uptown Showdown: Superheroes vs. Villains – Oct 08, 2015, 8:00 PM – Symphony Space
You never know what to expect at this debate series that brings together two teams of comedians, writers and performers to face-off on a chosen topic. In this special New York Super Week edition, the defenders of justice battle it out with the criminal masterminds. Which are more badass? Those characters we love, or love to hate? Debaters are Janeane Garofalo, Mike Drucker, Michael Hartney (I Love Superman at UCB), Travon Free (The Daily Show), Jessica Delfino (New York Funny Songs Festival), Joe Garden, and Nick Turner.
Tickets are $15. Buy your ticket now.

Star Wars Minute – Oct 08, 2015, 9:00 PM – Benzaquen Hall at the DiMenna Center
Join the co-hosts of the famous Star Wars Minute podcast and their special guests as they analyze, scrutinize and celebrate the virtually-forgotten 1984 TV movie An Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage.
Tickets are $7. Buy your ticket now.

FRIDAY

The Big Superheroes Quiz Thing – Oct 09, 2015, 6:00 PM – New York Historical Society
Join us for a viewing of the New-York Historical Society’s special exhibition, Superheroes in Gotham, followed by NYC’s premier live trivia company presenting a special themed edition of its multimedia game show spectacular. The Superhero Edition features the world’s greatest multimedia team trivia on the past, present and future of costumed crime fighters — comics, movies, sci-fi, TV and all that other stuff you know so well. Win big prizes and big glory.
This event is FREE. Reserve your seat by calling 212-485-9268.

BBQ Films Blade Rave – Oct 09, 2015, 7:30 PM – Terminal 5
Step into 1998’s BLADE film at the first big Halloween party of 2015. Electronic musicians The Crystal Method headline BLADE RAVE with support from Pictureplane, and more. While the crowd dances to blood-pumping dance tracks, we’ll bring the movie to life as only BBQ Films can.
Tickets are $56. Buy your ticket now.

Aaahh!! Real Trivia: Nickelodeon Trivia Night – Oct 09, 2015, 8:00 PM – Toshi’s Living Room
Can you name all the teams from Legends of the Hidden Temple? What about Helga Pataki’s middle initial?  We double dare you join us for this all-Nickelodeon trivia night to win prizes, gifts, and so much more.
This event is FREE. Reserve your seat now.

Trivia AD Presents: Star Wars Trivia – Oct 09, 2015, 9:00 PM – Discovery Times Square
Prove your Star Wars knowledge in this, the only official Star Wars trivia event of New York Super Week 2015, hosted by Trivia AD.  The city will be crawling with scum and villainy of all kinds this week, so this is your chance to put them in their places.
Tickets are $5. Buy your ticket now.

SATURDAY

Batkid Begins – Oct 10, 2015, 7:00 PM – IFC Center
BATKID BEGINS is a documentary that takes you back to November 15th, 2013, the day San Francisco turned into Gotham City, and the day the internet was nice. More than a billion people took to social media to cheer on BatKid, even President Obama! In all, the #SfBatKid and #BatKid hashtags reached more than 1.84 Billion people on Twitter and Instagram.
Tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for kids. Buy your ticket now.

Hollywood Babble On Live! – Oct 10, 2015, 7:30 PM – Hammerstein Ballroom
Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman take a twisted look at showbiz news and bite the Hollywood hand that feeds them. Sometimes, they feel bad and give Hollywood a tetanus shot and some Neosporin, but, even then, they usually just turn around and bite Hollywood’s other hand.
Tickets are $60 VIP Opera Boxes with autographed pic, $40 floor, $30 first balcony, $20 top balcony. Buy your ticket now.

Adult Swim Tyrannic: Second Maiden Voyage – Oct 10, 2015, 8:00 PM – Pier 81
Join a 3 hour cruise along the Hudson, featuring a night of NY views & city sights, an up close look at Lady Liberty, a live performance from a secret musical guest, and the company of your Adult Swim Friends & Family. Must be 21+.
This event is FREE. First come, first serve. Reserve your spot now.

Comic Con Vixens II – Oct 10, 2015, 10:00 PM – Hard Rock Cafe
Multi-award winning mega nerd DANGRRR DOLL brings you one show to rule them all with another epic installment of COMIC CON VIXENS, celebrating the sexy side of New York Super Week and New York Comic Con. Starring some of NYC’s most gorgeous geeks and cosplay burlesque. No fandom is safe from the sexy, crazy brains of the Comic Con Vixens. Must be 21+.
Tickets are $75 VIP, $45 preferred seating, $25 general admission. Buy your ticket now.

SUNDAY

PressPlayNYC – Oct 11, 2015, 12:00 PM – Hammerstein Ballroom
Want to meet many of your favorite social media personalities?  Want to take selfies and get autographs with the hottest all-stars on Twitter and Vine today? CLICK HERE for times, guests and prices.

We Got This Live! – Oct 11, 2015, 8:00 PM – Le Poisson Rouge
Featuring special guest John Hodgman for the first ever live We Got This podcast in New York City! Every week on the Maximum Fun Network, Mark Gagliardi and Hal Lublin take the dumb issues in life that people care too much about and settle the argument once and for all. No topic is too small or insignificant for them to dissect and decide. Must be 21+.
Tickets are $15. Buy your ticket now.

THE NYRD T-SHIRT OFFER

LoveNYRDSThough we at The NYRD are not running an event this year we do not want you to miss out on getting your free NYRD t-shirt. If you see anyone at NYCC dressed in the “I love NYRDS” t-shirt just come up to them and say the secret password, “Hey, can I have a T-shirt?” and they will give you a free T-shirt… It’s that simple. (Supplies are limited.)

We will see you all at NYCC and around the town at all the great events. Have a safe and wonderful Comic Con.

As anyone who reads comic books know, heroes never stay dead for long, and the same can now be said of the Tick. According to Rolling Stone the short-lived but cult classic sitcom starring Patrick Warburton is being brought to Amazon. The streaming TV service has only purchased a pilot for the show, and it will be up to viewers if the show is once again picked up for a new season.

The Tick’s creator Ben Edlund is slated to as writer and producer, as well as Patrick Warburton, but there is no news whether the rest of the cast will be returning. At the very least we hope to see  David Burke reprise his role as Arthur, the Tick’s sidekick/partner/nursemaid. However we would, of course, also like to see the return of Liz Vassey as Captain Liberty and Nestor Carbonell as Batmanuel. We here at The NYRD are huge fans of the TV series dating back to when it was originally on the air with the Fox Network.

The Tick was another unfortunate causality at a time when Fox was canceling everything from Family Guy to Firefly, and much like those better know shows, The Tick was canceled after only nien  episodes, even though it received high critical acclaim. Though the outcry and cult fanbase may never have rose to Whedon-esque levels the show has always had a dedicated following. This move by Amazon is just the latest in their strategy to up the prestige of their streaming service in an attempt to compete with services like Netflix, whose grab of Arrested Development, another canceled cult comedy show, help propel their revenue stream and jumpstart their Netflix Originals TV shows.

In the Spring, Amazon signed a contract with HBO, to stream popular HBO shows like The Sopranos, and The Wire. They have also been movie forward with their own original content such as Jeffrey Tambor’s Transparent. The will be offering the rebooted Tick pilot for free and will then pay attention to how many fans and others check out the show. Much like any comic book character, the life of The Tick, very much remains in the hands of the fans. We know we will be tuning in to check it out and we hope you will be too.


Photo courtesy: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/30/amazon-the-tick-warburton_n_5741254.html

Being a superhero is a tough and sometimes thankless job: fighting crime, battling super-villains, and constantly updating the look of your costume for every new movie. It’s even worse for LGBTQ heroes and heroines who we have yet to be featured in any of the blockbuster movies that have graced the screen in the recent decade. The small screen of television has been only a little better about featuring bisexual heroes, mostly women, but certainly not as progressive as many might like. There is a definite job discrimination going on in Hollywood against superheroes of the LGBTQ community, but maybe that just means that they are following the trends set by the rest of the country.

It is important to portray a diverse range of superheroes in blockbuster movies, not just minority or positive women heroes, but LGBTQ as well. Why is that important- which we hear you ask with our super-hearing? Because according to the Harvard Political Review, superhero movies promote and enforce social norms and roles. Due to their prominence in our cultural these modern myths consciously and subconsciously dictate the way we see ourselves and the world. Diversity among our heroes is important, and Marvel, DC, and all the rest have begun to get better about positively portraying racial and gender diversity, and Aquaman. -He has long been a target for ridicule and discrimination, but that is for another article.- However, even as LGBTQ characters are on the rise in other media and films, they are still curiously absent from the superhero movie genre. In fact, more often than not, the entire idea of homosexuality is glanced over or ignored, much like LGBTQ issues in the non-pulp fiction world.

The Unambiguously Gay Discrimination
Now we, here at The NYRD, have talked about gender identity and sexuality before, but we did not get to cover some of the legal issues and challenges that face members of the LGBTQ community. You see, even as marriage discrimination in the United States is finally at an end for gay and lesbian couples, their struggle for equality is far from over. Much like a super-villain that refuses to stay dead -even after we clearly saw him fall into that vat of acid,- discrimination always seems to return in new and different ways. The sad part is that even though same-sex couples can now legally get married, they can also still be legally fired from their place of employment due to their sexuality. Only 19 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based upon gender identity and sexuality. Other states have executive orders or bans on sexual discrimination, but they are not always enough. Additionally, according to the ACLU 31 states have no explicit employment protections for transgender people. If an LGBTQ person is fired in one of those state they have no recourse fight back, save for vigilantism, but we don’t endorse that.

Last year, President Obama signed an executive order that gave employment protection to LGBTQ employees of Federal contractors, and the EEOC helps protect the rights of Federal employees, but those rights do not always extend to private sector or public state-level workers. Even worse the order could be easily overturned by President Lex Luthor or whoever will be sitting in the chair next. A federal law to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes would be the most effective in preserving LGBTQ civil rights, but any attempts to do so or create laws that protect LGBTQ workplace employment, housing, credit, education, federal financial assistance, jury service, and/or public accommodations usually ends up deader than Uncle Ben on a bad night.

This is a surprising statistic considering 69% of Americans favor laws to protect LGBTQ civil rights, and 75% of Americans currently -and incorrectly- believe that it is illegal nationwide to fire someone based upon their sexuality or gender identity. Yet, in Congress laws like the 2007 Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or the more recent 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act, have either been killed in the Senate or refused to be heard in the House, respectively. This means that Senators and Representatives have actively ignored or struck down modern laws which would keep actual human beings from being fired or discriminated against due to biological urges and factors they have no control over. We are going to hum the old Batman theme song while we let that idea sink in for you… Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da… Batman…

Extra…ño
A lot of the resistance by Republican Senators and Congressmen comes from the fact that they are beholden to a small religious subset of people who mistakenly believe that granting LGBTQ members their civil rights will somehow impinge on religious rights and freedoms. This sort of backwards argument can be seen most recently when Ellen Page interviewed Presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, all while he his holding someone’s meat.

The interview -as frustrating as it seems- actually illuminates the thought process of a lot of the ultra-religious right. There is a victim mentality, as if people who are religious believe they will lose their freedom to fire an employee or refuse to sell services or goods to customers based upon their religion. Ted Cruz tried turning the infamous case of the Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple on it’s head. However, the main argument of that case is less valid than Clark Kent’s birth certificate. It tends to focus on the wrong elements, as if it exists in a vacuum. Even more importantly, a Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that “the act of designing and selling a wedding cake to all customers, free of discrimination, does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by [a reasonable observer.]”

That is really the crux of the argument against this supposed religious persecution of Christians by the LGBTQ community. After all, what if that Christian baker refused to make a bar mitzvah cake or a cake for Ramadan? -Also, yes we know that Ramadan is a month of fasting, but they can still have cake after sunset. Ms. Marvel would.- The Colorado court’s ruling basically says that offering your goods, services and/or employment opportunities to another human being, is not the same as participating or even endorsing that person’s lifestyle or religion. A reasonable observer would conclude that a business that bakes cakes for all occasions, would reasonably bake a cake for a wedding, gay or otherwise.

Now, some will always try to argue the extremes, but there are extremes for every circumstance. Maybe a Jewish baker should not be forced to make a swastika cake for a the Red Skull’s birthday party. Maybe you can fire someone for dangerous sexual behavior, but the problem with applying those arguments in this situation is that you are equating an LGBTQ person with extreme or deviant behavior. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is not any of those things, and most people, even many religious ones, agree with that stance. According to the Public Religion Research Institute 60% of all American believes that businesses cannot deny service to gay or lesbian people. In fact, even 42% of white Evangelical Protestants believe that gay and lesbian people have a right to be provided professional services, by Christian businesses regardless of religious idolatry, but in the end it still comes down to perception.

Midnighter at the Apollo
In some ways we have come far from the old stigma of gay and lesbian stereotypes. However, there is always more work to do. Being lesbian or gay still holds a connotation of being something other than normal. For a man it is equated with being effeminate, or for a woman it means being butch or manly. Our cultural norms, on the other hand, still lend themselves toward the ideals of the knight and the princess. Popular culture, in particular, still likes its “men to be men” and “women to be princesses-in-need-of-recusing-by-men-who-are-men,” and a lot of LGBTQ issues and heroes suffer because of that.

For example, when notable bisexual hero John Constantine, appeared in his own short-lived -though well regarded- network series, the decision was made to make the character straight, because it was believed a bisexual titular hero on TV might be too hard to handle for viewing audiences. As opposed to all the black occult magic and demon killing, which they thought we could handle just fine. The sad part is that Constantine’s sexuality was never a big part of the hero’s identity in the comics. It is barely touched upon, and it would have been too easy for NBC to not even confirm or deny it on the show. Instead, they “straight-washed” him much to the dismay of many LGBTQ nerds and geeks, and the problem is even worse on the big screen.

In the world of superhero films, gay heroes simply do not exist, but a one would go a long way to further normalizing LGBTQ issues in the public arena. Additionally, this obvious omission in superhero diversity is puzzling, because comics have already stepped up to the plate and tackled -sometimes very poorly- issues of gay, lesbian, and transgender characters. Northstar, was Marvel’s first superhero to come out of the closet, and despite his flaws -he’s Canadian- he is still considered to be one of the most respectable representations of a gay hero in comic history. He was even recently married in a ceremony in Central Park, and has faced a number of real and believable issues due to his homosexuality. His status as a member of the LGBTQ community does not define him as a hero, but it is a part of who he is. Also, Northstar is not alone. There are more and more LGBTQ superheroes in comics. So, how long will it be until we see one in theaters?

Bad News for Batwoman
Unfortunately, there is no hope on the horizon. Kevin Feige, in a very roundabout way, basically confirmed that there could be a gay superhero one day in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but probably not anytime soon. Iceman of the X-Men has been confirmed as being gay in several alternate alliterations in the comics, but it seems like his movie counterpart is straight and crushing on Sookie Stackhouse. Thus, barring some kind of extreme bromance situation at the end of Batman V. Superman, it seems unlikely they we will be seeing an LGBTQ superhero soon, which is a missed opportunity. Tackling these sorts of issues will be what helps move the superhero genre from frivolous popcorn movie to a forum for lasting impact.

Life and art always imitate one another, and if we are not willing to see gay as heroic than it is no wonder that they are still being discriminated against in the workplace and in our communities. Imagine how empowering it would be for a thirteen year old boy or girl, dealing with issues of sexuality, to be able to look up to a superhero and realize that being gay or lesbian does not mean you can’t be the hero, or a real man, a real woman, or anything you want to be in this world. After all, if we can’t get an LGBTQ person a job saving the world, than how can we ever expect them to get fair employment anywhere else?


Video courtesy: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8p1vwvWtl6T73JiExfWs1g

With the flop of last week’s Fant4stic Four movie it may be time to start asking ourselves if superhero movies are starting to go more stale than that loaf of bread that has been sitting on top of our office refrigerator since April? -We’re not actually sure where the bread came from. It is actually a bit of concerning mystery.- Then again, maybe this new Fantastic Four movie was a fluke made by a lazy production company scrambling to keep the rights to Marvel’s first family, but what if it speak to a larger formulaic problem in the superhero genre itself? What if we are reaching critical mass of superhero movies? Well, much like the shadowy origins of that loaf of bread, we here at The NYRD can only speculate, but what we do know is that maybe it is time for our beloved movies to start shaking things up again, before we all get a little moldy.

The Thing About Movies
In all fairness, Marvel and other studios have begun branching out superhero films, to include elements from other genres. Ant-Man was a super-powered heist movie, Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera about the fat guy on Parks and Recreation, and with its upcoming release of Deadpool, Sony is going to give us a hyper-violent and comedic tale about Ryan Reynolds trying to prove he can be in a good superhero movie. However, studios can be fickle when it comes to these sorts of things. They will always try to stick to tried and true methods in a hope that they can get as many golden eggs from their goose as possible before it dies a slow, humiliating, and painful death, which they will then try to sell to us as the next big summer blockbuster. So how do we fix superhero movies? Maybe with another superhero movie, but not about any ordinary heroes.

For anyone who does not have our level of comic knowledge, charisma, or devastatingly good looks, you have probably never heard of The Great Lakes Avengers. They are a superhero team in the Marvel universe, but they are less Iron Man and more ironing board. Less Captain America and more Captain Kangaroo. They are less Thor the Marvel hero and more Thor the crappy SyFy original movie. You get the picture, but they might also just be what the world needs right now, a vehicle to really shake up the genre and remind everyone why they thought superheroes were so fun in the first place. With all the snark of Tony Stark, the snappy one-liners of Starlord, and all the wit and charm of Paul Rudd already enshrined in the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe, it could be the perfect place to introduce audiences to the first superhero comedy.

Obviously, all of this is hypothetical, and we are not talking about a comedy like Superhero Movie or some other terrible parody movie that may or may not involve the Wayans brothers. We would picture The Great Lakes Avengers, to be more clever than that, perhaps something in the line with 21 Jump Street, Ghostbusters, or Men in Black. It would be a comedy with heart, but still very much one that prioritizes the humor. For a real good idea of what we are talking about go watch the underrated by enjoyable superhero movie, Mystery Men. We can wait… Seriously, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Ben Stiller, it is a classic, and like Mystery Men a movie involving the Great Lakes Avengers would have to rely on a subtle sort of humor that plays with and pokes fun at the conventions already established in comic books and the existing MCU.

In essence, this movie could offer Marvel a chance to hang a lantern on their own world and shake up the genre even more. Of course, we are not saying the comedy/superhero line would be an easy one to walk, but if anyone can do it would be Marvel. The time is right and the source material is rich with things that can really be turned into a smart and hilariously fresh take on the MCU.

The Fantastic Mister Immortal
The movie would start with Craig Hollis, who dubs himself Mr. Immortal, because he cannot die. That is his only power, and it would offer some great jokes for Marvel to poke fun at itself, as the MCU cannot seem to let even Phil Coulson stay dead. He starts a superhero team in Milwaukee, which is not exactly a hub of super-villain activity, but would make for an interesting and clever contrast to New York, DC, LA or any of the other major metropolitan areas where most superhero movies have taken place.

Through a series of events and Internet advertisements he would eventually recruit Dinah Soar, who is half woman and half pterodactyl. She cannot speak English and the only one who can understand her is Mr. Immortal. She would also be his love interest. Next is Ashley Crawford, known as Big Bertha who is a supermodel with the ability to become obese. When she does, she gains superhuman strength and durability. Even better Big Bertha prefers her obese form compared to her supermodel size and there could be some good comedy and moments about commenting on the unspoken standards of attractiveness of superheroes. Dr. Val Ventura or Flatman is most definitely a parody of Reed Richards, except that his doctorate is highly questionable. No one is really sure what he has a degree in and he is usually pretty cagey about it. His body is two-dimensional and can stretch and form to fit under doorways or be folded up like origami. He would also be the first openly gay superhero we get to see on the movie screen. The next member is DeMarr Davis. Doorman is one of the most powerful of the group. He can use his body to open an inter-dimensional door, but only to the next room. He is also the only African America in the group, and with a name like Doorman it is a pretty good chance for Marvel to make some pointed observations about how they have been treating superheroes of color.

Of course, the last and most popular member of the team is Doreen Green. Squirrel Girl, is somewhat of a cult favorite among comic nerds. She can talk and direct squirrels, similar to how Ant Man can control ants, only these are squirrels. She is also the most successful and well known of the group. In the comics, she has defeated Dr. Doom, Thanos, and even Wolverine. She even stops Galactus from destroying the world, through the power of friendship. Her cult status would offer some great moments of comedy, and maybe even a few reflective comments on geek culture itself. Basically she is Felicia Day with superpowers.

The point of the movie would be that you don’t need to be an Avenger to be a hero, and that you do not always need to take yourself too seriously. Some new threat would arise in Wisconsin and since it is not New York or Chicago or any other typical place, the Avengers would miss it. So it would fall to the newly formed and struggling Great Lake Avengers to take care of the problem, while still trying to fight low-level crime in the 31st most populated city in the continental United States. There can even be some great cameos. We can already see a stinger where Tony Stark walks into Great Lakes Avengers HQ, makes some quips, admires their work, and then hands them a cease and desist order to stop calling themselves Avengers.

The Human Torch and Disappearing Woman
Right now the superhero genre is burning bright, but if we are not careful that spark is going to diminish and vanish. A heartfelt, clever comedy could be the kind of movie that would offer Marvel and the genre, in general, a lot of opportunities to shake some of the dust off itself and laugh at its own flaws. It would not be about cheap humor or low-hanging jokes, though those things may not be off the table, entirely. Instead, it would be about bringing back some of the campy fun and self-parody that is missing from new superhero movies. After all, a world of superheroes offers more than enough weird, interesting, and funny opportunities to make for a good comedy.

Robert Frost once said, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane,” and that is as true for our movies as it is for us. Look at the newest version of the Fantastic Four. The original movie from the 2000’s was deemed to be too campy and colorful. It tried to hard to be humorous, so they went dark and realistic. Well the original Fantastic Four was a commercial success. This new Fant4stic Four is heading toward financial ruin. There is a lesson to be learned there, and a funny one at that. Now with the arrival of DC’s grittier monotone universe we can look forward to even more seriousness from men and women who fly around in capes and hang out with bats all day. A Great Lake Avengers movie could go a long way to remind people why they fell in love with Marvel, Iron Man, and superheroes in the first place, while letting us all laugh at their flaws and our own.

The real truth of the matter is that if studios keep pumping out generic and senselessly “dark” superhero movies then the genre as a whole will move quickly from stale to moldy. If the formula for success in these movies does not have the room to expand than the genre will start collapsing in on themselves, quicker than the Fant4stic Four‘s plot did. Marvel has already proved they can blend comedy and action effectively, so we know they could certainly do justice to Squirrel Girl. After all, if they can get Rocket Racoon to become a box office success, than we would have high hopes for what they could do with a comedy about a team of superhero wannabes and rejects.

“Why don’t you let me take you away from here,” says the man as he rolls a coin across his fingers. His pressed suit is unbuttoned and it flaps open as he leans back in his chair. “You and me can be so happy together?”

“Com’on, sugah, you know that line ain’t never worked on me,” I say as I pick up the empty glass from his table and put it on my tray.

“And yet I am compelled by your beauty to say it every time,” he winks and the coin in his hand disappears in a flash of fire and sulfur.

“Zagan, darling, you may have been a king in hell, but up here ya just another bar fly, and this month’s tab is due.”

He smiles his wicked smile and for moment I get a glance at the demon underneath. One moment his hands are empty the next he is holding several hundred dollars of crisp green bills.

“Now, sugah, JJ done warned you about using that funny money in here. We don’t accept no bad bills.”

His face is suddenly all innocent as if he has no idea what I am talking about. “Georgia, darling,” he says with his best smile, which only serves to remind me of some of the men I’ve dated in my life. All of them were no good neither, just like Zagan. “You think I would dare swindle good Mr. Friday, or you, my delicious pomegranate?”

He takes my hand to kiss, but I’m faster than he thinks. In one swift jerk I not only manage to slap some sense into him but I come back with his money square in my grip. All I need do is squeeze and the bills turn to ash, like year-old burnt paper. I watch the little bits of them float to the ground, nothing more than soot and lies. I know what’s coming next. I’ve done this dance before.

“You dare strike me,” he thunders. He’s up faster than my old dog, Bush, when he used to hear the cats scratching around out back. His chair clatters to the ground and he has a sort of red glowing flame about him. “I am a Lord of Hell,” he continues. “I have killed scores of angels and men. Both the good and the wicked whisper my name in fear and awe. I am the Lord Zagan, and I will not be treated…”

He’s too busy doing the old monologue to really see my fist until its lands square in his jaw. He staggers back in surprise and that red glowing aura of his is no where to be seen. He’s cradling his mouth as if I’ve broken it. I haven’t. I know how to break a man’s jaw and what I gave him weren’t anything more than a friendly tap. In the background I see Edward perk up from his place near the front, but I shake my head at him. I don’t need no help with the likes of men like Zagan.

“Don’t give me that ol’ speech, sugah. Everyone knows you were thrown out of hell faster than a priest from a whore house. Now best git from here before I do the same.”

“You bitc…” He rounds on me his fist coming like he intends to do some harm. Its a big mistake. I’ve been trained by the best and even if Zagan is immortal he still bleeds like the rest us. His punch finds nothing but air, but my roundhouse on the other hand, connects squarely with his chest. He gives off a noise like a deflating balloon before he impacts with the wall a few feet behind him. He keeps his feet for a moment but soon enough collapses like a dog on a summer’s day.

Edward is already there, bless his simple heart. He doesn’t even say a word as he picks up the fallen demon and throws him into the side alley with the trash. The rest of the villains in the bar barely notice what happened. Things often get rough in here, but I don’t much mind. Back in my day I was one of the most feared martial artists in all of Dixie, back when I was known as Southern Bedlam, but those days were ages ago.

Now I’m just plain old Georgia Atlanta, bar waitress and mom. I smile at the thought of Owen, my son. He’s the only man in my life now and as much as I miss the thrill of it all, I would gladly give it all up again. I’d do anything for that boy. I already have.

“That was really great, Miss Atlanta,” says Gil. He’s whipping up the beer and blood from the floor as I finish clearing Zagan’s table.

“Sugah, how many times do I have to tell you, call me Georgia. Last time I was Miss Atlanta it was during my beauty pageant days, back when I was sixteen goin on thirty, and I haven’t been sixteen in… well a while.”

“Sure,” says Gil as he stands from up off the ground. “Whatever you say.”

I can tell the boy is sweet on me, but I try not to encourage it. He’s a nice enough kid, but as wet behind the ears as a tadpole. JJ took a special interest in him, but I don’t have time to be playing nursemaid to some wonder struck youngin’. I have my own concerns in life. Even as I think it, I glance at the dirty clock on the wall, and realize that I have to be at daycare to pick up Owen at quarter past.

“Gil, I gots to get going. You can finish up for me here, right?” I don’t even wait for an answer I just shove the tray and empty bottles into the boy’s hand. I turn toward the back of the bar and begin to undo my apron. “And tell JJ…”

“Hello, Southern,” the voice is strong yet scratchy. Like it hasn’t been used in a long while. I had not heard it in years, but all the same it is still unmistakable.

I never finish what I am about to say to Gil. I freeze mid-step, my hands still fumbling with the strings of my short apron. It takes a moment to find the fellow I am looking for, but sure enough he’s right there sitting at a table not three feet in front of me. He must have come in when I weren’t looking. The man was older than I remember, with a shaggy growth of hair that covers him chin to nose. One of those brimmed hats is covering his face, but as he talks he takes it off I see his once beautiful blonde hair is showing patches of gray.

“Albert,” I hear myself exclaim. I take a step back from him before I even know what I am doing.

The man stands and now the whole room is paying attention. His frame is thin, thinner than I can remember, but I know that his wiry body does not do justice to the power the man has. As he comes to his feet his brown coat comes open and I see the symbol adorning the tattered suit hidden beneath, it is the symbol of a fist orbited by four stars. Some of the other patrons see it too and suddenly I hear his name being whispered all about me like crickets on a spring night.

“General Relativity,” I hear them say. “I thought he was dead?” asks one man. “Nah, I heard he was doing time is some government max-pen,” responds another. All the voices are lost to me as I find myself falling back into old memories.

The world knows him and fears him as General Relativity, one of the most powerful super-villains to walk this here planet or any other for that matter, but I knew him as the man he was, Albert Issacs. To them he was destruction incarnate, to me he was the man who brought me flowers and fumbled over his words like a wide-eyed schoolboy. I suppose that for all his power, even old Albert was powerless when it came to love. For my part, I can’t be sure if it was love or just awe. The most powerful man in the world had fallen for pretty little me, who was I to refuse.

Our lives were fun at first. With my skills as an assassin and his power we were unstoppable. We did what we wanted, went where we wanted, and no one with a badge or cape could tell us otherwise, though they sure as hell tried. Yet, after a while it got to be too much. Albert was too destructive. He enjoyed killing too much, and he wanted it too much. All the things that had so attracted me to him in the first place were suddenly what scared me the most about him. After I found I was pregnant with Owen, I knew it had to stop, but how do you tell the most powerful man in the world no? Where could I even run that he couldn’t follow?

So I did the only thing I saw fit to do. I sold poor Albert out. I watched from the shadows as the Feds gassed the motel where we had been sleeping. My former lover never saw it coming. He was too busy, passed out from all the beers I had been feeding him all night long. I watched as they carried him out of the room, all unconscious, knowing that the next time he woke he would be staring up at the inside of some government holding facility. I hoped that would be the end of it.

“Five years,” says Albert bringing me back to the present. “The government kept me alive, but I couldn’t move, could barely think. They fed me through a tube, and I was kept in complete darkness, to keep me disoriented. I was alive, but everyday I wanted to die. I couldn’t feel, couldn’t hear, couldn’t see. I forgot the taste of food and the smell of fresh air.” As he’s talking he’s taking steps closer to me. I want to move, but my training has kicked in now and I refuse to show fear even in the face of him.

Edward seeing that I was in trouble comes charging out of no where. Normally, people know to steer clear of the big galute. He’s near-indestructible and weighs more than a house full of mack trucks, but I know even that won’t be enough this time. With a wave of Albert’s hand, Edward just stops in place. He is suddenly under the pressure of a gravity more than thirty-times that of Earth, but the big moron keeps trying to move. He keeps trying to get at Albert. I try to tell him to stop but Edward always had more muscle than sense about him. General Relativity just laughs.

The bull of a man finally falls to his knees at about fifty-times normal gravity, and at a hundred-times he is laying flat on the ground. The wooden planks around him begin to shatter under the pressure and even the concrete foundation below groans and cracks with the weight of it all.

“Albert,” I call frantically, “stop this! Albert, stop!” Edward can’t even breath. Albert once explained it to me that with gravity that high even oxygen weighs as much as my old Chevy. “Albert!”

With another laugh he lowers his hand and I can see Edward’s chest begin to expand and collapse again. The big galute is passed out but at least he’s alive. Most of the patrons, I notice, have decided to do the smart thing and make themselves gone. A few still stand around caught between their head and some morbid curiosity which will probably be their death.

“Now wait a minute,” I hear JJ say as he hobbles out from the back. He had been doing inventory. “Nobody causes trouble in my bar…” He stops. I can tell he is taking in the destruction around him. JJ was always clever and cagey, but even he seems at a loss for what to do when he sees Edward passed out only a stone’s throw away.

“Stay out of this, old man,” says Albert. “This is between me and Southern here.” He rounds on me like a mountain cat. “You took a lot from me, Georgia. You took five years of my life. You took my heart, but most importantly, you took my son. Before I kill you for what you did, I want to know where he is.”

I begin to figure how long it would take for me to make a move, but as wild as Albert’s acting, he’s no one’s fool. He’s staying out of reach and anything I can think to do would take at least a second’s worth of time. Albert’s power works at the speed of thought and as fast as I am, I ain’t that fast.

“Now just calm down there, son,” I hear JJ say. “I know you think you have been wronged, but there is no need to do anything rash.”

“Rash?” says Albert and as he turns his head to stare at JJ all the tables around us begin to float up to the air as if they were balloons at a carnival.

“I just mean to say that you’re free now. There’s no reason to go and jeopardize that. You start throwing fits and you’ll have everyone from the FBI to every blasted member of Eternal Vigilance here. No one wants that.”

“I had to bust my way out of that government facility. They forgot I used to be military. They forgot that they were the ones who did this to me. I know how they think, and now they’re not thinking anymore. What I did to them, I’ll do to anyone who tries to stand between me and my son, including the woman I love.”

Suddenly, I get that feeling you get on roller coasters or when you are in a plane and even though I leave my stomach standing where I was I feel my back land hard against the far wall. I can see JJ is similarly pinned to the wall near the dartboard. Next, Albert starts in on the pressure and I can feel it build on my chest. At first it’s like a small stone but soon enough it’s the weight of a boulder.

“Where is my son? Where is Albert Junior?” He is screaming now. The tables are doing slow orbits around him and everything else in the bar is rattling like hell. Any straggling patrons are nowhere to be seen, which is good because Albert is losing it. I only ever saw him like that once before, and Lincoln City was never the same after that.

“His name is Owen,” I managed to squeeze the words out as the pressure on me doubles. Somewhere far off I register the sound of one of my ribs snapping, but I was trained to ignore such trifles.

Then suddenly its over. I fall to the floor like a sack of beans. JJ and the tables too come crashing down around me. The bar is strangely silent and when the bells in my head stop ringing long enough for me to pull myself upright all I can see is Albert in a heap. Standing over him is Gil a dented carrying tray in his hands. The boy’s eyes are popped open so wide I think they might fall out his head to land next to the unconscious Albert.

I’m not sure how the boy got close enough to him do it, but he just stopped one of the most feared super-villains of all time, and all he could do was stand there and try not to wet himself. If right then and there it hadn’t hurt so much to do so, I would have laughed. I guess even tadpoles grow up eventually.


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

Marvel never quite knew what to do with Hank Pym in the comics. The man changed alter-egos more often than the Hulk changed purple pants. So maybe it is not a surprise that for the movie version they went with petty-thief, Scott Lang, to be the cinematic universe’s Ant-Man. After all, he is a sympathetic character who has yet to show any history of spousal abuse. Yet regardless of who is under the helmet, the powers of Ant-Man remain the same, and if you think the ability to shrink and talk with ants is weird now, hold onto your thorax because the science gets a whole lot weirder.

Since we here at NYRD Labs have yet to see what explanation the movie has to offer for the miraculous powers of Paul Rudd, and we mean besides the spell he casts on us with those dreamy eyes, we have to rely on the comic book source material to start our fantastic voyage into the science of miniaturization. By the way, that last sentence was a pun, ask you parent to explain it.

Size-Shifting
In the comics, Pym and Lang shrink and grow due to their exposure to Pym particles. This is a fictional particle that basically shunts the mass of an object from one dimension of space to another. Thus, when Ant-Man wants to shrink down he moves his mass to a different dimension, decreasing his physicality in this one, and maybe creating some kind of freaky ball of headless mass in the other. When Pym becomes Giant Man or Goliath or Yellow Jacket -he has had some identity issues over the years- he takes mass from this extra dimension to increase his size.

Surprisingly, there is a force that might be used to help humans gain or lose mass. You may have heard of it. It’s called the Higgs-Boson particle. Jim Kakalios explains the physics behind this idea much better than we can at NYRD Laboratories, but the cliff note version goes like this: The Higgs-Boson is an elementary particle that was discovered back in 2012, and allows scientists to explore the Higgs Field. Think of this field like a tasty wall of Jello. Some particles are able to pass through it, and come out the other side with very little gelatin residue, if none at all. Thus, they would have less mass. However, other particles get stuck in the Jello, and move slowly through it, coming out encased in goo. They would have more mass. However, even this example is a bit simplistic and misleading -insert Bill Cosby joke. Just because a particle has more mass does not mean that it is larger, just denser.

We can think of a Pym particle like the Higgs-Boson, but for some reason the Pym Field is able to reduce the physical size of particles that passes through it, not the mass. Really, that is an important distinction, because part of Ant-Man’s power is his increased strength relative to his size. If Pym or Lang were to lose mass as they shrank they would be even more fragile than their insect namesakes. So, Ant-Man would need to be able to shrink in size but not lose too much mass, and that would help explain how he keeps the strength of a normal human, even when he is an inch and a half high.

Unfortunately, most atoms are uniformed in size. They are governed by a set of constants such as the mass and charge of the electron and Planck’s constant. Dr. Pym would need to find a way to overcome these restrictions if he really wanted to shrink all his atoms down to the size of a dime. Nerdist sat down with Dr. Spiros Michalakis, a quantum physicist at Caltech, and science adviser to the movie Ant-Man. Dr. Michalakis seemed reluctant to give too much away but he did hint that we should think of it like satellites above Earth, some of which probably say Stark Enterprises on them. Since the electron cloud and the atom nucleus are one system, you could increase the mass of the electrons and decrease their orbits, or what is called their Bohr’s radius. This would shrink the atom, but allow it to keep the same relative potential energy. What we are really saying is that it would be theoretically possible, but let’s just say for right now, in comparison, Thor is looking less farfetched.

That is mainly because there are a multitude of problems that come along with this idea of quantum shrinking. First of all, Pym and Lang would not be able to breathe. Just because their own atoms have shrunk down, does not mean that the atoms in the air particles have. In essence the oxygen around them would be too big to breathe. They physically could not fit it in their lungs. Lungs at such small sizes are impractical. In fact, ants themselves breathe through openings in their abdomens called spiracles, which is much more efficient at smaller sizes.

Ant-Man would also have a problem with overheating. When we do activity and sweat, our bodies heat up. Thankfully our skin is a large organ spread out over our entire body. If you were to stretch out the skin of the average adult, it be about 22 square feet and weigh 8 pounds. Blood vessels all over your body are constricting and opening to regulate your temperature and because your skin is so massive it has a lot of surface area to work with in terms of heat dissipation. Heat can be distributed and removed more efficiently over the large area of your skin. When you shrink, you lose a lot of space for that excess heat to go. It’s probably why you don’t see ants running sprint races. At ant-like sizes poor Paul Rudd might get overheated even after only one lovable but zany antic.

Lastly, but most importantly, When Pym and Lang shrink their density increases. Shrinking down to their size would mean they would have the equivalent density of a dwarf star, which is a lot of matter compacted into a small area. Essentially, Ant-Man would become so heavy he would literally fall through the Earth, pavement, dirt, the Earth’s crust, etc. They planet not be able to physically hold the weight, let alone whatever poor ant Lang choses to ride on. Gravity would pull him down quicker than the box office ratings of Green Lantern.

The movie will explain these problems away by saying that the suit that Lang wears is able to provide oxygen, regulate body heat, and who knows what else. Mostly, because a movie of Paul Rudd making cute comments as he slides further and further down through the Earth would probably make for a dull movie, or at the very least an Adam Sandler movie.

Talking with Ants
Even more interesting is the potential ways Lang and Pym could communicate with the ants. Again, we at NYRD Labs are not sure how the movie will explain this power, but we can take a few guesses. Ironically, of all of Paul Rudd’s new found powers, including how he can keep his hair so smooth and silky looking even during action scenes, this is one is the least farfetched.

Ants do talk to each other. In fact, they follow orders just like good little soldiers. Ants scrape their legs across their abdomens to create sounds which they use to communicate with other ants. British and Spanish scientists placed 4mm microphones inside the nest of 400 red ants, because in Europe ants have no right to privacy. What they discovered was that the sounds created varied depending on what was going on. The scientists were even able to play sounds back to the ants and watch them respond. Any sound made by the queen usually caused an en masse reaction: march, attack, etc.

All Lang would have to do would be to reproduce the queen’s sounds to get armies of ants to obey his commands. Unfortunately, he would also need a full vocabulary of commands and words, and we have been experimenting on ants for years and we still don’t know how you tell an ant to fly in formation or spin a coin. Admittedly, we have not moved very far pass the magnifying glass/sun test, but we are applying for more funding.

Additionally, Ant-Man would need to create chemical pheromones in order to identify himself to any ants he would like to control. Each colony uses different chemicals to mark themselves, like flags on a battlefield. We are not being cute with that analogy either, that’s Paul Rudd’s job, ants literally have wars between themselves, much like humans. That is why it would be so important for Ant-Man to mark himself with the correct pheromones before trying to communicate with an unknown colony of ants. They might mistake him for an enemy soldier and attack him rather than help him.

Our Findings
All and all, Ant-Man may not be the best known member of the Avengers, but he is no less formidable. His size shifting powers along with his increased strength and agility mean that he can walk right up to people and sock them in the nose before they even realize he is there. It is only a bonus he can talk with ants and use their own flight and tunneling abilities to move quickly though heavily guarded areas. Shrinking to smaller and smaller sizes means that Ant-Man might even have to potential to reach the quantum level where he could potentially mess with the laws of the universe, and then things would get really freaky, but we are personally hoping the movie is not going to go in that direction.

Sufficed to say, we here at NYRD Laboratories cannot wait to see this superhero portrayed on the big screen. We will be there on opening night, even if the theater is sold out. We have ways of sneaking into places. So, if you feel a slight tickle on your shoulder while in the theater, please do not swat at it. It might be once of our scientists just trying to get a better view of the screen.

It looks like the people in Hall H are no longer the only ones who get to put their peepers on the new Suicide Squad trailer. Fresh from SDCC, now you too can revel in the struggle of “Bad versus Evil.” Check it out below, and check out our breakdown further down.

Breakdown:

The first shot is of Amanda Waller, well known DC power player basically bragging how she has captured. “the worst of the worst” to two high ranking military officials, possibly a meeting of Checkmate, the Agency, or one of the other hundred shadowy government organizations that have existed in the DC Universe over the years, so take your pick. They talk about the squad as they are still in prison, claiming that the events of Man of Steel may have acted like a beacon to attract other metahumans to come out of the woodwork.

The rest of the conversation seems to talk about why the squad is formed.

“They are bad guys.”

“We have built-in deniability.”

Then we get a montage of the squad starting with Harley Quinn, the person everyone has been waiting to see. We are a big fans of the jester diamond tattoos on her wrist. From the looks of the trailer, Margot Robbie is going to play Harley with the right amount of sweetness, innocence and craziness to make the character work. Unfortunately, from the few lines we get, it seems as if they have dropped the iconic Staten Island accent, which means we may not get to hear the iconic, “Mistah Jay.”

Other than a line from Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, Will Smith’s Deadshot is the only other character to get in some lines, because of course. It’s Will Smith. His lines are fairly generic, basically giving the movie’s title in a off-comment and confirming how the squad is patsies for the US Government.

Of course the trailer ends with what everyone has been waiting for, Jared Leto as the Joker. It seems as if we are going to get a tatted up silver toothed version of the character. Leto even channels a little Ledger in his voice choice. Yet, this may be a good direction for the character. After all, it looks like Batman V Superman is going to establish that Batman has been around for a while, and that he may even have lost a Robin or two to his ultimate nemesis. So on the same token, the new Joker needs to be menacing, larger than life, but also feel a bit worn. We need to see that hehas spent years battling the Caped Crusader in the streets of Gotham.

It is still too early know how much of the footage shown is actual movie footage or shot exclusively for the trailer and comic con. All the dialogue we hear, especially the lengthy opening scene between Amanda Waller and the military officers could very well be footage shot exclusively for the trailer. They spend a lot of time explaining the concept of Suicide Squad, as if in hopes of interesting the non-comic readers in the movie’s concept.

Well, mission accomplished, because we here at The NYRD are more excited to see the team of villains on the screen than we are to see Superman and Batman duke it out. This is going to be the movie that really deepens the DC movie universe, and now we await 2016 with baited breath.


Photo credit: Courtesy of @DavidAyersMovies

“Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist. ”

That’s Tony Stark in his own words, a man who never shies away from immodesty. With one statement he basically claims that he has hit every mark of modern-day American success. He’s smart, wealthy, has a rock star-like sexual prowess, and is a humanitarian, but is that all he really stands for? With the conclusion of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the building anticipation of Captain America: Civil War, it seems like as good of a time as any to try and understand who really is the man behind the iron armor.

CEO America?
When people think of a superhero that best represents America, Iron Man is not always at the top of the list, but the truth is that Stark and his alter ego represent aspects of this country as much as anyone else carrying a star-spangled shield. First and foremost, Tony Stark is a capitalist, and there is nothing quite so American as that.

A billionaire industrialist, Anthony Edward Stark and his family made their money from weapons’ manufacturing and technology. Even once Tony made the move away from arms dealing he never lost his company or his wealth. In fact, the first Iron Man debuted in 2008 during the American recession, when over 7% of Americans were out of work and floundering for money. Yet, we cheered on the wealthy Stark all the same, because that first movie is basically a tale about how Tony must make himself worthy of his family’s company and wealth in order to prove that he is more than just a genius trust fund screw-up. It is like a version of the American dream, the self-constructed superhero. At a time when so many of America’s wealthy were practicing immoral acts against the public, it was nice to see a fictional one who was trying to do good. Iron Man was an idealized capitalist, but that has always been a basic fact of the character.

The best comic heroes are icons of something greater. For Tony Stark, his comic came along at a time when the “First World” was struggling against the evils of the “Second World,” the Cold War. Stan Lee designed Iron Man in 1963 to be the “quintessential capitalist.” He was designed to be a businessman and a weapons manufacturer. At the time capitalism was in direct opposition to communism, and Tony came to represent everything that struggle had to offer. Stark fought villains like the Mandarin and the Red Dynamo, using his wealth, and his technology to save the world, but if Captain America is a symbol of American ideals, than Iron Man has become a symbol of America’s pragmatic reality.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, our favorite shellhead has found himself floundering for villains to fight and most of the time he ends up being his own worst enemy, whether through alcoholism or blind ambition. If that sounds familiar, then congratulations you have been paying attention over the last thirty years of global politics. In modern times, Iron Man now represents more than just capitalism. He represents an America that is continually falling toward unfettered security. Of all the Marvel heroes we have seen on the big screen, Tony Stark has been the most dynamic. Captain America is a good guy, Bruce Banner had rage issues, Thor is a god with family problems, but Tony has shown the most growth, and not always for the best.

An Armored Allegory
As stated earlier, Iron Man was about Stark proving his worth. By the beginning of Iron Man 2 Tony was flying high. People loved him like a celebrity, and his enemies hated him like a devil, but most were too powerless to do anything about it. Technologically, he was so far beyond them that none of them could even begin to challenge Iron Man. The CEO of Stark Industries even gave the finger to Congress in a cinematic scene that would have made Ayn Rand stand up and cheer. The movie ended with Stark defeating some personal problems and some soviet sins from his family’s past, but Iron Man was still on top of the world. He was literally the world’s only superpower, like America after the Cold War. Times were good.

The Avengers changed all that. Tony was no longer alone and suddenly he faced a tragedy in New York City that completely shook his world view and his faith in himself. In the end, he saved the day, but he was never quite the same again. Iron Man 3, was about a new Tony Stark who suffered from panic attacks and became so obsessed with security that he built several dozen new Iron Man armors, new security systems, and even automated his suits to protect his home. Yet, when threatened by an enemy carrying out terrorist attacks, he blindly and immediately jumped to a stance of false bravado and strength. He paid the price for it as his technology failed him, and we learned that the terrorist he thought was his enemy was in fact nothing more than smoke and mirrors to hide the real threat presented by a fellow CEO of a powerful corporation that had been pulling the strings on both sides of the war.

In a way, this country has built more suits of armor than anyone else. Since 9/11 The United States has spent nearly 800 billion dollars on homeland security. Our own tragedy in New York has changed us, and given us justification to do as much harm to ourselves as anyone else. Stark has mirrored the American journey from the Cold War to the present almost precisely, the bravado, the fear, the heroism, the celebrity, and the wealth.

However, he is also coming to represent what the future of what America might become, if we keep on our current path. If Tony in Iron Man 3 represented the USA in modern times, than his role in Avengers: Age of Ultron represented what we could be in danger of becoming. Tony creates the Ultron Project to “put a suit of armor around the world.” He shows a favoritism toward security rather than freedom, and unsurprisingly it is an initiative that ends less than stellar for the Avengers and one small European country. This is a trajectory that promised to only increase in captain America: Civil War, where Tony’s fear and pragmatism will directly conflict with the old American idealism of Captain America.

Iron man Chart

Great Iron Men of History
Part of Mr. Stark’s problem is his capitalistic tendencies. We would not go so far as to say that he fits the bill of Ayn Rand’s ideal hero, but he does seem to prescribe to the Great Man Theory of history and culture, where all the world’s history is nothing more than the biographies of great men, one of which is Tony himself. He sees himself as the savior of the world, and that is something we cannot always fault him for. We have watched the struggles of Iron Man for more than five movies, and each step he has taken is incremental and almost understandable considering what he has faced.

America has taken a similar journey, and so often we see it as our duty to be the world’s policeman, but our power is fading and paranoia is starting to take hold. Like Tony Stark we have gone from an invincible technological superpower to a country willing to sacrifice freedom for safety. It is also worth mentioning that at the end of Iron Man 3, Tony literally had his heart removed, the very heart that made him Iron Man in the first place. The symbolism of that is about as heavy-handed as you can get.

Thus, the stage is set for this greater conflict of Civil War, but also for some real-world tensions that have sat at the core of our nation. The issue of this coming conflict will be between more than just two titans of Marvel comics. Is our modern system mutually exclusive to a idealistic belief in total personal freedom and equality? Have we allowed our own fears and ego to drive us to become something we no longer recognize? We are not the villain, but we may need to confront the fact that we may no longer be the hero either, at least not a hero like Steve Rogers.

Captain Idealism and Iron Reality
Calling Captain America an allegory for anything is almost an understatement less subtle than taking a red, white, and blue shield to the face. Yet, what a lot of people do not understand is that Cap is not really a representation of America as a whole, but a representation of an idealized America. He doesn’t represent the government, or the Army, or even democracy. Instead, we should look at Steve Rogers as a walking Bill of Rights: freedom, liberty, and equality.  He is not a cynic, nor is he a satirized symbol. Captain America is genuine, at least as genuine as his own belief that all men are truly created equal, regardless of race, color, religion, or even nationality. It is a trait he demonstrates in both comic and movie form, most notably by dismantling SHIELD when he sees them as having too much power over the ordinary citizen. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, it is Cap that first lends a voice of understanding to the Maximoff twins, even when he still thinks of them as his enemy. He does not revel in war, but understands its necessity.

Civil War will not just be a battle between two friends, but a battle between ideals: order versus freedom, safety versus privacy, and our new American reality versus our most sacred beliefs. Each side will have a point, and if done right each side will not be entirely wrong. If nothing else, we hope it is a movie that will spark debate among audiences, and not a debate about who is stronger physically, but who is right in their judgment.

It will be easy to paint Stark and his arguments as the villains, after all Captain America represents the best of us, the ideal we want to live up to, but should we always live our lives in a world of ideals? Iron Man would probably say that he sees people as they truly are, and he believes he is doing the best he can for the world as it stands, not as he hopes it will be. Is that wrong? There are no easy answers, and we each must struggle with them for ourselves.

Both Stark and Rogers represent different Americas, but the current conflict will be as much about their disagreements as it is about what our country will chose to become. The United States is still a young nation, and its role both domestically and in global politics is always changing. We live in a time of turmoil where technology moves faster than moral progress, we strive between our ideals and our fears. We are a country founded on opposing forces, liberal and conservative, security and liberty, democracy and capitalism. They all pull at each other like an arc reactor fighting to pull shrapnel from a wound, but much like that arc reactor these forces also act at the heart of our nation. They keeps us going and force us to continually confront the future with new and evolving ideas.

We can all picture the iconic scene of when Clark Kent takes off his glasses or when Peter Parker puts on his mask. Secret identities are a part of superhero lore, as much as capes and snappy one-liners, but is the concept of a dual-life quickly becoming something that is too fantastic to believe, even for stories about men who can fly?

In a modern era where, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 58% of all adults 18 and older are on Facebook and 87% of all Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Facebook, is the concept of keeping anything secret becoming as outdated as the concept of the Daily Planet? After all, you can look up any two words on the Internet and get some kind of hit. How hard would it be to Google “Peter Parker” and “Spider-Man” and have two-thousand entries appear? He is always taking all those pictures. Even worse, the majority of people in 2015 would probably scoff at the idea that organizations like the CIA or SHIELD would have no idea of the links between heroes and their civilian counterparts. How long would it take the NSA to trace the search history of “How to build a web-shooter?”

Nick Fury is Watching
Thanks in no small part to Edward Snowden we know that organizations like the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ have been logging the Internet searches, keystrokes, text messages, and phone calls of literally millions of people around the world. According to the NSA’s own April 2013 slideshow for their PRISM program, the government surveillance organization had been collecting data including emails, chats, videos, photos, file transfers and more, from major providers including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and others. Though much of the activity was aimed at foreign communications using American telecommunication networks the truth is that there is no real way to decipher the emails of American citizens versus foreign extremists. Yet, despite the epic level of this Lex Luthor-esque system of surveillance, perhaps, even scarier was the fact that that these 1,984 violations barely registered a low roar of surprise from the American populace. Maybe it is because the evidence only verified everyone’s already suspected fears, we have no more secrets.

Another Pew Research study found that only 42% of Americans were willing to discuss the topics of the Snowden-NSA story on Facebook or Twitter, despite the fact that 80% of American adults agree or strongly agree that we should be concerned about the government monitoring phone calls and Internet conversations. The kind of picture that these types of statistics paint is of a population who fears speaking out of turn on the Internet, because Big Brother might be watching. This also comes from people who openly share their food, workout habits, and embarrassing drunk pictures. Maybe we have no true expectation of online privacy, either from the government and from one another. Maybe we willingly gave it up in the name of convenience and ego. After all, federal organizations are not the only ones collecting data on us.

Lex Luthor is Watching
Major corporations from Google to Walmart are following our digital footprints in order to better target their marketing. Companies use behavioral tracking in order to promote their products directly to consumers who match their target profiles. This data includes your location, your spending habits, and even your health and life situations. Your computer and your phone are constantly sending out information about you. Certain apps on your phone are even programed to send out updates to companies whenever you connect to wifi locations. Businesses can predict when you are getting married, having kids, going to college, and even getting a divorce. Consumer data companies make trillions of dollars selling personal information and histories to major brands around the world. In other words, if Bruce Wayne started buying batarangs or cowls in bulk online, chances are that Target would figure out who Batman was before the Joker ever did.

All of this means is that maybe there are no masks left to hide behind. Maybe this is a surveillance state of our own making. After all, teens are sharing more personal information about themselves today than ever. In a survey conducted in 2012 compared to one conducted in 2006, 91% of teens in 2012 posted photos of themselves, opposed to 79% in 2006. Teens also proved more willing to share their school name, hometown, and email address online. 20% of teens surveyed in 2012 were even willing to share their cell phone number, as opposed to just 2% in the 2006 survey.

The eighteen year olds entering college this year were seven when Facebook was first invented. The fourteen year olds entering high school this year were three. To them email is something that they use to answer messages from their grandparents, and even Facebook is a tool of their parent’s generation. Yet, they still use it, and the typical teen has 300 friends and 79 Twitter followers. They are constantly connected, they live in the digital world as much as the real one. Everything they do in one world is reflected in the other, and to them that is normal. On the other side, if someone is not on a social network, they might as well not exist. Even Facebook has a Twitter account and Twitter a Facebook page. Does that mean that the next generation just has no expectation of privacy, no understanding of the importance of a secret identity?

Losing the Mask
In the golden age of comic books, secret identities were more believable, but today, in the golden age of social media and digital intelligence gathering, the idea is become has less and less so. Marvel has all but abandoned the concept in their cinematic universe. It all started with Tony Stark’s declaration, “I am Iron Man.” In fact the Daredevil Netflix series is the first time the audience gets to meet a hero who has to worry about his dual identity. Even the DC movie universe has begun to flounder on the idea. It takes Lois Lane all but ten minutes to figure out Clark Kent’s identity in Man of Steel, and we don’t question it. In fact, of all the sins committed by that movie, that was not one of them. Lois Lane is a crack investigative reporter, and it has always been completely unbelievable that she was never able to connect the dots on the biggest story of Metropolis, considering the clues were right under her nose. Yet ditching the idea of secret identities is both a little worrying and a little sad.

In a way the Internet has given everyone a mask to wear, a new face to present to the world, but now our lives, our bank accounts, our nude bodies, and even our innermost opinions can all be Googled. With cameras attached to the hips of every man woman and child, with facial recognition software so common that Facebook uses it to identify your friends in photographs, and with a youth culture who is growing up with their dirty laundry forever memorialized on the Internet, are we heading for a future where the most any of us will be able to hope for is 15 minutes of anonymity?

The real truth of the matter is not that the general public has not given up on their privacy. In fact, 93% of adults want to be in control of who receives their information. Even the younger generations are not blind to issues of privacy. 57% of teenagers surveyed reported that they did not put something online for fear of negative repercussions, and 60% of teens have their Facebooks set to private. As a population we do still care about maintaining our own secret identities, but we keep seeing a world where it is easier and easier to fall into the traps of convenience and data tracking programs, corporations, and even the government. People have not stopped caring, so much as resigned themselves to the inevitable. It is understandable. In a world where every celebrity has a leaked photo of their genitals, 1 in 5 Americans will have their ID’s stolen, and where Goggle and our phones begin to predict our daily schedule, it is understandable if we feel powerless.

A World Without Heroes?
Maybe that is why our only heroes are the ones left on the silver screen and in comic books. Without any masks our society has lost a belief in heroes. Anyone who does something good and noble today, will ultimately have their dirty laundry aired for all to see tomorrow. It is as inevitable as Aunt May’s next trip to the hospital, and that is the worst part of all this.  We forget that the purpose of secret identities in comic books for people like Batman and Superman was to ensure that they were seen as symbols of justice and hope, rather than as normal men. Our society needs heroes. We need symbols and when you pull away the mask the human underneath can never live up to our expectations.

Even worse, for people like Spider-Man a mask helps protect those he loves from reprisals from super-villains and other elements of the criminal underworld. In a world where Internet commentators are hacked and threatened, with alarming frequency, maybe that does not seem like such a crazy idea. We are not saying that everyone who wears a mask is good. After all, for every activist there is a troll lurking. For every anonymous donor there is a flame war brewing, but for every comment of hate and cyber bullying there is also a message of hope and pictures of kittens, and people willing to do what it right for one another. For every Green Goblin there is a Spider-Man. Oscar Wilde once famously said that, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth,” and that is true for both heroes and villains, but that is a choice everyone should be free to make for themselves.

Privacy, both online and IRL is one of the backbones of our freedoms. Secret identities give us the ability to be something more than human. We can become a symbol and a voice for change. Once we lose our digital mask, that ability to transcend ourselves, we may never get it back. However, if the Internet does finally strip us of our masks, whose face will we bear for all the world to see? Are we really Bruce Wayne or Batman, and can either exist without the other?

Regardless, we need to take great care to guard what little identities we have left. Once you stand up and declare, “I am Iron Man,” you can never take it back. Just ask Tony Stark.

Bruce Wayne is a racist, there is no easy way to say that. Now before you run to the comment section below, let us start by saying that we are not indicating that Batman participates in active racism. He does not go around and beat down African Americans in between solving the Riddler’s puzzles. No, we are talking about how Bruce Wayne has enjoyed a certain level of privilege all his life. As a member of the Wayne family he was born wealthy. Even as Batman he enjoys the fruits of his family’s position. Yet, more to the point he is a white male, and there are more than a few perks to falling under that classification.

A Two-Faced Perspective
A lot of people will want to immediately protest that last statement. After all, when a real conversation about race starts the majority of Americans tend to shut down or shut out the facts. Thus, a white kid living in poverty is not going to instinctively see the inherent bias in our system, because of his own personal struggles and perspective. We experience the world through our own lens, whether you are Gotham’s billionaire son, a British manservant, or the black guy who makes all of Batman’s technology. Statistics rarely convince detractors, but we are going to hit you with some of them right now anyway. According to a recent 2014 poll, 40% of white Americans still believe that race relations in America are ‘good,’ as opposed to 35% black Americans. This statistic is down over the previous year, because of obvious recent events, but it still shows that a portion of America is unaware of the divide that exists even today in our nation.

The problem is that most Americans think of racism as something that happened in black and white photos in their history books, and fail to recognize that it is still reflected in the inherent inequalities within the system we live in. Thus, even if the caped crusader is not be an active racist, he still enjoys a level of comfort and position built upon the backs of institutional racism and prejudice that stretch back before the Civil War. Racism exists, not always in the actions of one race toward another, but as a historical ghosts that echoes through the halls of our schools, jobs, Arkham Asylums, and even government. It even clouds our perceptions and subconsciously directs our actions and feelings, like some long remembered childhood trauma that happened one night in a dark alleyway outside a theater.

For instance, Marvel has been taking a lot of flak about its lack of diversity in casting. Among the major discussions happening is the absence of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Instead, Marvel is once again going with the white male role of Peter Parker. It is great that people are clamoring to see the racial diverse Morales take the place of Peter Parker, but what is not so great is that there is no talk about doing the same for Batman. Spider-Man and Batman are being rebooted into larger universes, and both on the heels of previously solo franchises. So why don’t the arguments being made for the racially diverse version of Spider-Man apply for an African American Batman? Is it because DC has no idea what they are doing? Yes, but it might also be because Spider-Man is a poor kid from Queens while Batman is a rich socialite from Gotham City. Of those two, which do we naturally assume to be a minority?

The Riddle of Racism?
Racism, is a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement. More to the point, it is a belief that has informed the way our society has been constructed. An often used complaint among white culture is that Black Americans receive the entire month of February for their history, but white people do not receive a similar month. That is true, but it is also a very limited perspective born from a lack of historical context and the fact that our fleshy bodies only last about eighty years. As humans we have a very small window to view the world, so for some it can become harder to take a more universal approach. People who see things such as Black History Month or affirmative action, are only seeing a small part of the story, devoid of context. It is like watching Batman punch the Joker without having any prior knowledge of the two characters, and getting angry that, “a crazy man in the bat outfit is punching a defenseless clown.” The truth is that we need to recognize that most of our history has been written from the white male perspective, and that perspective has become part of our instinctive understanding of our culture and ourselves operate, and that is the underpinning of the problem.

The practice of colonialism meant that white Europeans spread their dominance over most parts of the world and actively usurped local history and accomplishments with those of their own race. It helped remind locals who was in charge and made them feel inferior so as to not challenge the rule of the colonizers. In America, white culture and history was made superior to that of blacks, first to justify the economical system of slavery than to further the prejudicial system and non-integration. In modern times, those systems, set in place so long ago, still exist today. Our lives, our actions, and our nation does not exist in a bubble that is separated from history. Those past systems still inform the way our culture and society works.

There are plenty of statistics that confirm this. According to the APA, Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black college graduates are twice as likely as white college graduates to struggle to find a job. The sentencing project found that on the New Jersey Turnpike black drivers make up 15 percent of drivers and more than 40 percent of traffic stops and 73 percent of arrests, but that they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites.

Success is built on success. Bruce Wayne inherited his wealth from Thomas and Martha Wayne. White people have had the power since colonial times, and they have passed that power down to their sons and their grandsons. Laws and systems were put into place to strengthen the ability of white people to subtly profit over minorities. Neighborhoods arose as did ghettos, segregated by race, by wealth, and by choice. With those neighborhoods arose adequate and inadequate school systems, gang violence, and extracurricular activities. People grew up different, with different attitudes and different ideas about the world. Some felt repressed and came to believe that they deserved to be, because society confirmed it. Others rose to acquire wealth and prosperity, which they passed on to their children, even after they were gunned down in an alleyway. Bruce Wayne is not prejudiced, but he did benefit from a system of racism. After all, how many parents are gunned down in minority neighborhoods, and of those, how many of those children grow up with the means to become Batman?

A Bane to Real Discussion
This is an incredibly hard topic to talk about, especially lately. It polarizes people on both sides. White people do not want to be seen as racist, and so instinctively they will flat out deny the problem and often shift blame to others. In New York, Hispanics and blacks are three times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police. Many white people will look at that statistic and say, “those people should not be doing what they are doing or walking where they are walking or acting how they act and they won’t get stopped.” Or they say that those particular police officers were racist, but that is not the whole story, because passive racism can be just as pervasive and even more damaging. It is old ideas informing not our thoughts but our subconscious understandings, until they become so pervasive we accept them as normal.

The human mind makes associations, it was how we evolved to survive in the wild, but we are no longer a tribal society hunting elk for food. So those prejudices have come to inform our government, our businesses, and the way we treat one another. Yet, because we want to see ourselves as evolved and enlightened we tend to reject those actions or mark them as isolated incidents. In a sense we become Two-Face and our brain literally goes to war with itself over the concept of racism. When that happens we don’t flip a coin to solve it. Instead, many of us just shut down on the subject all together. We say, “it’s not our problem,” “or that we aren’t racists,” or that “we didn’t cause it.”

A Signal in the Sky
Bruce Wayne is a racist, but he is also Batman. The Dark Knight knows something that a lot of other people do not. Just because you are not directly responsible for something, does not mean that you are not responsible for cleaning it up. Bruce did not create the crime and the poverty and corruption of Gotham, but he understands that he is responsible to be part of the solution to it. He could just as easily go on living a privileged playboy lifestyle,  but instead he becomes Batman because he has a responsibility to use his wealth and power to help those around him make the world a better place.

For white people, you have never owned a slave, at least we assume you never did. You probably never participated in active discrimination, you may never even have made a racial joke, but you are still a racist, not because you did something but because you refuse to do anything. You did not create this problem, but you have the power, the position, and therefore the responsibility to help fix it, because it needs fixing.

Racism still exists. We have come a long way, but the journey is not done. Everyone born now, was born closer to that proverbial mountain top, and it is human nature for us to look back at the long and rocky road and say, “look how far we have come. We have succeeded,” but the truth is that we have not yet reached that fabled peak. There is still more to climb. There is still a lot of difficult road ahead, and we are all responsible for getting there. Racism is not an issue for just minorities, it is an issue for all us. No one who lives today started this problem, but, like Bruce Wayne, we are all responsible for cleaning up the streets of our own personal Gotham City. It is up to us, because we are all Bruce Wayne, and that means we are also all Batman.