john-dee

Today marks the arrival of Marvel’s premier magic user, Doctor Strange, but you don’t need to look into the pages of a comic book to find examples of wizardry and magic. No, in fact one of the most famous sorcerers is a man you may have never heard of, and unlike the newest Marvel hero to be played by Benedict Eggs Cumberland Batch, this strange doctor actually existed. So join us as we delve into the wild, weird -and historical- world of John Dee, the royal magician of England.

An Ancient One
Dr. John Dee was born on July 13, 1527, and lived for 81 years. During that time he was a mathematician, a cartographer, a physician, an astronomer, and a philosopher, but he was also a man who dabbled heavily in astrology, alchemy, divination, and all matters of the occult. It has been speculated that Dee was the inspiration for Faust, the magician that made a deal with the devil, and even Shakespeare’s Prospero from The Tempest. Both tell of a man who sought occult knowledge and power at all personal costs, and though that is not a totally accurate assessment of John Dee, it is also not a completely unfair one either.

Firstly, the 16th century was generally not a great time to be a scientist to begin with and Dee was above all a scientist. It was a time of transition when the Catholic church still viewed things like math and science as possible heresy. So for Dee, dabbling in alchemy was just as dangerous as dabbling in algebra. In 1555, Dee was tapped to cast horoscopes for Queen Mary and her -then imprisoned- half-sister Elizabeth… because there was no psychic hotline back then. Dee predicted that Elizabeth would take the throne and have a long reign and Mary… not so much. As you might imagine the sitting queen at the time was not too pleased with that prognostication and had Dee immediately thrown in jail. He did eventually exonerate himself to the royal court and to the Catholic church, even earning a close friendship with the priest who administered his “religious examination,” which sounds worse that the SAT’s. In 1556, he even presented Queen Mary with a plan for a national library in order to preserve books. That plan was rejected, because… We don’t know why. Either way, he instead focused his attention on massing a personal library, which became the largest in England at the time.

In 1558, Queen Mary died and Elizabeth took the throne as Dee predicted. One of the new queen’s first acts was to name Dee the Royal Astrologer and basically gave him a royal pardon to conduct and work any sort of magic/science he might want to. Basically, anything he did was labeled as “white” magic and was considered sanctioned by the crown. In return, Dee became one of her most trusted advisors. His knowledge of cartography and navigation laid the groundwork for English voyages of expansion, and it is said he even coined the term, the “British Empire.” Dee became a celebrity scientist, -the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his day- a man whom everyone believed had all the knowledge of how the world and the cosmos worked. Only one person disagree, Dee himself, and it drove him further into the practices of witchcraft.

The Orb of Agamotto
It is speculated Dee became frustrated with his failure to grasp all the “secrets of nature,” and the definitive mechanisms of how the world and the universe worked. So he turned to a tome called the Steganographia, which is an infamous 15th century “black” magic manuscript that promised to help him finally accomplish his goals. Dee spent several years unsuccessfully trying to contact angels through a practice know as “scyring.” -Where he got to look at the top cards of his library, and then put any number of them on the bottom of his library and the rest on top in any order… Oh wait, that’s the wrong type of Magic– Eventually, he claimed that the angel Uriel appeared to him and gave him a crystal ball, which he could use to directly contact angelic beings, but doing so left him drained and unable to remember the conversations he had with the heavenly creatures. So he brought in another scryer who had greatly impressed him, Edward Kelley.

By all accounts Kelley was practiced at the art of conducting seances and other spiritual contacts. He was also a known counterfeiter, and very possibly a conman, but in a very short time he became Dee’s closest advisor and companion. Thus, Kelley would commune with the angels, while Dee recorded the sessions and the words that were spoken. Many of which were written in the “Enochian” language, which Dee claimed was an angelic language. Dee described hundreds of conversations with biblical angels, monstrous creatures, and divine women of grace and beauty. The scrying sessions became an obsession for Dee. He believed that with Kelley’s help he was unlocking the secrets of the universe for the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, Jane, Dee’s wife believed that Kelley’s intentions were not as pure.

During this time Dee and Kelley fell into favor with a Polish nobleman, Albert Laski, who was invited to sit in on some of these scrying sessions. This, unfortunately, also meant that the Elizabethan court began to suspect Dee of conspiring against the crown and dabbling in things that were unnatural. He was almost certainly being spied on by agents of Elizabeth. Laski, however, persuaded the pair of magicians to come to Poland. Dee was dubious of the trip, but through some “prompting” from the angels and Kelley, eventually convinced him to go. Unfortunately, what Laski had failed to mention was that he was broke and out of favor with the Polish court. There was no warm welcome for them in Poland and in 1583, Dee, Kelley, and their families began a nomadic life of traveling around Europe giving audiences and seances to various nobility, including the Holy Roman Emperor. However, Dee was never fully trusted by the aristocracy of Europe, especially the Pope who labeled him as a heretic. Others just believed -as some still do today- that Dee was a spy for Queen Elizabeth and thus the families were never truly welcome in any one place.

Return to the Sanctum Sanctorum
John Dee should have listened to the warnings of his young wife. In 1587, while in Bohemia, Kelley had a sudden “revelation” from one of the angels that proclaimed that Dee and Kelley needed to share all possessions, most importantly their wives. At this point Kelley, was the more trusted of the by the courts of Europe, especially by the Holy Roman Emperor. He had gained renown as a alchemist of some talent and worth and claimed to have the secret to the Philosopher’s Stone -or Sorcerers Stone as Rowling calls it for American audiences. Dee, on the other hand, was blinded by his belief in the scrying sessions and his overwhelming desire to gain the knowledge of the angels. He agreed almost without question to an act that -at the time- was an extreme form of sin and black occultism. Almost, intermediately after the wife-sharing incident Dee broke off his association with Kelley and returned to England, but nine months later a son was born. It was very likely the progeny of Edward Kelley and Jane Dee.

Things only got worse upon returning to England. There, Dee found his home of Mortlake in disarray. The estate was vandalized, his famous library was ruined, and most of his valuable scientific instruments were destroyed or stolen. Kelley continued on in Europe as an alchemist gaining further favor and fame in the Holy Roman Empire -and he was eventually made a Baron… before being imprisoned and executed some years later. Dee, however, found little fame, fortune, or even a quick death in England. Due to his occultism London and the royal court were no longer a hospitable place. Perhaps in recognition of all he did to help her secure her throne and establish the British Empire, Elizabeth did appoint Dee Warden of Christ’s College in Manchester, but he had little control or real renown in that position. After Elizabeth died, James I took over the throne and treated Dee with even more contempt and less support. Dee spent his last few years penniless and broke. He died in Mortlake in 1608.

Dr. Strange Tales
Dr. Stephen Strange, is the most powerful sorcerer in the Marvel Universe. He often consults occult books, spiritual powers, and casts all manner of spells that would have gotten him imprisoned or worse in 16th century England. In some ways he is the foil of Dr. John Dee. Strange’s hubris and lust for knowledge took him from a egotistical surgeon to the protector of the world. Dee’s journey for knowledge did nothing but pave his path to hell with golden intentions.

In our world the life of a historical magic user is often less glamorous and less magical than a comic book character, but Dr. John Dee was a scientist without limits. His study of the occult was not so much occultism as it was about furthering his scientific interests and inquires. He did not see himself as practicing magic, but conducting research into the science of angels, astrology, and alchemy. Over the centuries, since his death, John Dee has become somewhat of a legendary figure in the occult circles of modern life and writers from Marlowe to Shakespeare have taken his example to use as cautionary tales of great men who seek unsafe knowledge. Yet, the life of John Dee was more than an allegory of power. He was a brilliant man, a scientist, and one of the chief architects of the Elizabethan era. But then again, who knows?

By the Mystic Moons of Munnopor, maybe out there in the multiverse John Dee still exists and laughs from his hallowed sanctuary as some sort of real-world Sorcerer Supreme.

superhero-movies

This week will see the release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange, the second film in the movie/comic juggernaut’s Phase 3. The beginning of Marvel’s rise to stardom and America’s obsession with superhero movies began back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man starring Tony Downey Stark Jr. and it has been going strong ever since, breaking blockbuster records and blowing the minds of everyone between the ages of 8 and 46, but especially in China. However, this is not the first time a movie genre has surged forth to capture our imaginations. Remember westerns? Well, even if you don’t you should, because the rise and fall of the western movie genre is a good precursor to what may one day happen to superhero movies…

Yippee Ki Up Up and Away
The American western genre was the premiere movie genre for much of the 20th century, starting way back in 1903 with the silent film, The Great Train Robbery. In a way it makes sense too. At the time the western defined what it meant to be American, rugged, good, and independent. It is also no coincidence that the genre changed over the decades, along with the American identity. During the World Wars cowboys were heroes taking the good fight to the frontiers. During the Cold War the cowboy became more complicated, often blurring the lines between hero and criminal, and by the time of Vietnam most cowboys had gone full anti-hero. The west changed from a pastoral landscape to a brutal and complicated place that could not be tamed. Still, by the late 1960’s the genre of the western had mostly fallen out of fashion. America had had its fill of white hats and black hats and gunfights, and the kids of those later eras moved on to admire different types of heroes.

Similarly, comic books have been around since before World War II, and have always had a steady if not stereotyped following, but starting in the early 21st century their popularity and the popularity of superhero movies exploded into major blockbuster bucks. Now every studio trying to make a name for itself is jumping on the cape and tights band wagon. Yet, before we get to that we need to look at the factors of the early and mid-2000’s and why superheroes came into mainstream popularity at all. It certainly has something to do with the rise of CGI and special effects, as well as the Millennial generation that came into adulthood about the time Sam Rami slapped a spider-man outfit on Toby McGuire, but there are other factors that contribute as well.

We cannot forget the events of 2001. 9/11 had an incredible impact on our culture and our American identity, with full ramifications that we are only starting to become fully aware of now. After those horrific events and the decade after it we were left feeling vulnerable. So we retreated to stories about heroes with extraordinary powers and noble intentions that saved us from the unthinkable things in the world. Watching heroes soar through the sky reminded us that there was good in the world, and that one person could make a difference and be the hero. In that way, superhero movies are not dissimilar to the esterns of the 1920’s and 1930’s. They are both about a lone hero bringing the good fight to the chaotic and uncivilized world of the frontier, often working outside the confines of the law. During World War I, America watched the major European powers descend into savage madness, creating no man’s lands of mines and trenches and blood. At the time westerns reminded Americans that the lone hero could go into that wilderness and come out victorious and that governments were not always better at keeping the peace than a solitary hero.

Shootout at the OK… Whatever
During their run Westerns changed as audiences changed. Tales of good vs bad or stories of the “civilized” white man vs. the “uncivilized” native gave way to stories about gritty heroes or even outright outlaws. The western genre fractured into dozens of sub-genres, including Noir Westerns, Martial Arts Westerns, Space Westerns, Spaghetti Westerns, and many more. These differences arose due to a combination of natural cultural pressures, an influx of new directors and talents from all over the world, and the ever changing face of the American audience. Cowboys became a symbol for the American dream and like that dream they grew with each new generation. Superhero movies are now moving in that direction.

Think of the superhero movies that have come out over the past six years. Ant-Man, was a Heist movie. Captain America: Winter Soldier was a Spy movie. Guardians of the Galaxy was a Space Opera. Doctor Strange will be a Magic/Fantasy movie, and Batman v. Superman was a Crap movie. Maybe it is the nature of the beast, but these tent pole genres cannot sustain the same old stories over and over again. If they want to continue being relevant to our lives and our tastes they must continue to change to suite our whims. After all, we may have started the genre of the super-powered hero because of our desire to see the good and just hero, but 15 years down the line we have changed and our need for heroes has changed. Thus, superhero movies -like the western genre before it- will change to fit those needs. Unfortunately, there is only so much the genre can bend and stretch before it eventually runs out of steam.

Phase Too Many
Marvel Phase 3 will come to an end with the maybe two-parter Infinity War in 2019, but after that, the slate is open to any possibilities that Marvel may have in store for its multiple franchises. Quite frankly, we find ourselves being a little skeptical about the future of the genre beyond that. From the outsider’s perspective it seems as if Marvel planned this far and then had a good laugh about it, as if never expecting to reach a seemingly unbelievable goal. Now that the finish line is very much within reach we have to wonder what the comic giant will do as the contracts for its biggest budget heroes expire. They are not going to quit. There is still money left on the table to grab, but as DC has shown us: the simple act of just putting people in capes on a screen only to pull in box office money is a surefire way to kill the enthusiasm of moviegoers, and maybe the genre as a whole. We want to have faith in Marvel and its ability to sustain the ever growing Jenga tower that it has created, but we are also students of history and have seen how this has turned out in the past.

We still get westerns every now and then, though they never tend to do well at the box office, even when they have Johnny Depp being culturally insensitive. The best westerns today are the ones we barely even think of as westerns, such as Firefly or Westworld. Yet, for the most part the western died because it became bloated and ultimately irrelevant to modern audiences at the time. As more Americans moved to the suburbs and cities, the frontier no longer represented the American landscape. The idea of the lone man with the gun died a slow death with the rise of hippies and free love. The audiences of the 60’s and 70’s grew apart from the western because it stopped being able to give them what they were looking for. Those ideas of the American persistence and the underdog are now expressed in sports stories; stories about the little man versus the system are better suited to political thrillers; and the idea of the American hero is now accomplished by a man holding a red-white-and-blue shield, instead of a six-shooter.

In the end, we have to remember that the superhero genre was born from the western genre. The may not wear white hats, but the heroes of superhero movies are closer to the lone ranger than we sometimes admit. This also means that the superhero genre has many of the same frailties and shortcomings as its predecessor. The field of caped heroes is becoming bloated and we are heading for a bubble bursting. It may not be today or tomorrow or even in ten years, but it will happen. We are not hoping for the end of this golden age of comic book heroes, but we must also be prepared for it as well. The attention span of audiences are fickle, and even more so now that we have social media and the Internet over-saturating everything we touch. We do not know what the next big genre will be, but our children or our grandchildren will eventually find it to be a better representation of their heroes and dreams, and then like the lone ranger, superheroes will ride off into that wild blue yonder of obscurity.

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.

“Mankind has always feared what it doesn’t understand,” at least according to Magento, and as much as we want to disagree sometimes the hopeless cynicism of the Master of Magentism just tends to properly illustrate the plight of humanity. In the Marvel universe mutants are feared and hated because of their differences. They are unfairly labeled as different, dangerous, and categorically stereotyped as being menaces to decent society. In that universe, mutants often face harsh discrimination, often finding themselves barred from even the most common of places, like public bathrooms. At least on that point, Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, and all the X-Men seem to have a lot in common with the transgender population of many US States.

You Homo-Sapiens and Your Laws
The issue currently being discussed around the country is over whether transgender and other people who associate themselves with a gender identity other than their biological gender, can use bathrooms that better fit their identity as opposed to their biological gender. Perhaps, the most notable anti-non-discrimination bathroom law has taken place in North Carolina. In a special session, North Carolina legislators created a bill aimed at specifically barring transgender people from using public bathrooms that did not befit their biological parts. This bill, created in response to an anti-discrimination ordinance put in place by the city of Charlotte, was put up for vote even before some lawmakers had a chance to read it. However, it is worth noting that North Carolina is not alone. Battles over similar bills have taken off across many southern and western states including Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and others. In fairness, many of those bills were ultimately defeated. Meanwhile states like Colorado, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware already have laws that protect the members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination, though not always specifically when it comes to bathroom use.

President Obama added his voice to the argument by issuing a directive to schools for LGBTQ children to be allowed to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity rather than their biological gender. This of course, was countered by a fair share of backlash from more conservative members of the educational community, including 11 States that have now filed a lawsuit against the POTUS. Yet, the laws and legal battles are really just a reflection of something deeper. After all, the bathroom has always been a battleground for societal changes and discrimination. It’s like the Savage Land of social change. Whether it be women, African-Americans, or the differently-abled, bathrooms seem to be the places where our culture and our country go to argue over what it means to be human, and maybe there is something humbling and embarrassing about that. Or maybe it is just because, -to quote our favorite book- “Everyone poops.”

Brother(Sister)hood of Evil Mutants
In the Marvel Universe mutants are literally an offshoot of normal humans. They are the actual “other.” More to the point, an argument can also be made that they are dangerous. Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants certainly demonstrate as much. We mean, c’mon, they even  have the word “evil” in their name. That would be like the if the Westboro Baptist Church called themselves the Westboro Hate Group. It’s a little on the nose. However, transgender people are 100% human and 99% not dangerous -because, unfortunately, every group has some bad eggs.

However, a minuscule percentage should never be used to represent the majority. That is why despite anecdotal evidence, there are no transgender or imposter-gender people sneaking into bathrooms to sexually assault anyone. According to FBI statistics, in 2014 there were about 84,000 reported cases of rapes in the United States. First off… Holy crap people. That is 84,000 too much… Secondly, none were committed by people exploiting gender identities to sneak into bathrooms. 0 reported cases of rape in 2014 in the USA were committed by people of a transgender identity in a bathroom or by people pretending to be of a transgender identity in a bathroom. In comparison, during that same time frame, 2 people were shot… by dogs. Rape culture in America is a huge problem -and a topic for another article- but no serious proposal for preventing rape in the US even comes close to mentioning banning transgender people from bathrooms.

That is why it is absurd to see these “preventative measure” bills cropping in so many states. They are legislation constructed from ignorance and fear. The greatest irony is that many Republican controlled state legislatures are going against their own conservative beliefs to pass sweeping laws to preempt local ordinances that would protect LGBTQ members from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity. The party who is often terrified of government laws infringing on civil liberties -especially when it comes to the right for dogs to bear arms- is using the very tactic they fear to infringe on the civil liberties of others. This is all in despite of the fact that when a person enters a bathroom to sexually harass, sexual assault or rape, it is already illegal. People who commit these crimes are going to do them anyway. It’s not like the perverts, rapists, and pedophiles of the world have been sitting back waiting for non-discrimination bathroom laws. Sexual assault and rape are always illegal, but people using a bathroom that makes them feel safe and accepted should never be.

X-(Wo)Men United
In a way it is often easier to relate to the plight of the X-Men. We know their names and their stories. To anyone who has seen a good or bad X-Men movie over the past decade and half, you know who they are. They are not statistics in a book or nebulous unnamed bogeymen being flaunted by politicians as the “enemy of decency.” That also means we get to understand their struggles and we get a glimpse of the world from their perspective, a perspective of the persecuted and feared. In essence, that is the viewpoint of today’s transgender and cisgender people. Yet, in the real-world we don’t always know there names, or their stories. Sometimes what politicians forget is that those Americans are also their constituency, and are the people who need protecting more than any other hypothetical peeing person.

Maybe that is why biggest irony of this situation, is that it is transgender people whom face the highest threat of being harassed or physically assaulted. In fact, in 2015 the rate of murdered transgender women -especially women of color- climbed at a worrying rate. Transgender people often face discrimination even when not in a bathroom, and trans-women especially often face physical beatings. When it comes to deciding between which bathroom to use, transgender citizens must face the decision between going into the bathroom that fits their gender identity and being yelled at, or going into the bathroom that fits their biological gender and being beaten up. It’s even worse for transgender students. In fact, discrimination like this has led to a increased risk of suicide for transgender people. 46% of trans-men, 42% of trans-women, and even 41% of cross-dressers have attempted suicide according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Gender neutral bathrooms are not entirely a solution either. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 53% of 6,450 transgender people surveyed have reported being harassed or made to feel unsafe in a gender neutral bathrooms.

We as people and as a country must do better. We cannot be ruled and legislated by fear. Remember, at the end of the day, the X-Men are heroes. They are mutants that fight for a society that discriminates and hates them. The politicians and the voting public of the Marvel Universe can’t always understand that, but our society needs to be more than two-dimensional ink blots on a pulp page. After all, we are all complex individuals with thoughts, hopes, and fears, and that includes transgender people. This issue can be hard for some to understand, in part because there are only around 700,000 transgender people in the USA. In comparison, at its height the Marvel mutant population numbered at more than 33 million worldwide. However, 700,000 people -though only about .03% of the population- still have the right to be protected and feel as safe as everyone else, especially in the bathroom. Transgender people try to be true to themselves, but that struggle can be made much harder when they find themselves made out be mutant villains or a sexual predators.

So, let’s try to remember that public restrooms should be reserved for awkward urinal talk, questionable toilet hygiene, and frustratingly inefficient hand-dryers, but never hate crimes. As Charles Xavier would say, “We have it in us to be better men [women, and cisgender people]”

superhuman

Occasionally, we here at The NYRD like to bring in experienced and knowledgeable people to go deeper into topics we can only begin to touch on. So with the success of Captain America: Civil War and our own pros and cons article on superhuman registration we thought now would be a good time to introduce our resident expert on superhumans, Lieutenant General (ret.) Walter “Skip” Overaard PhD. Skip is a professor of Homo-Preculma Studies at Wyndham Hall University and currently resides in the Marvel Universe -though he has been known to move around.

A Measured Approach to the Superhuman

Overaard
Dr. Walter Skip Overaard

I have ordered the sons and daughters of America to pull weapons on our superhuman brethren in the past. Some may recall the brief period of time wherein the President enacted martial law in response to a growing concern of the perceived threat of our homo-superior[1] citizens. I was a 57 year old combat-proven leader with over 35 years of experience at that time and yet nothing up until that point had shaken me so thoroughly to the core of my essence than to draw a weapon on a person who was saving lives.

I have seen, firsthand, the impact and effects that fear had on the American public and government and realized that I, a two star general, did not have the power to influence it positively. This operation was my last in the US Army and was ultimately responsible for my retirement. I knew I needed to do something to improve the attitudes of the American public, the livelihood of the homo-superior community, and the safety of the US government. I decided to study, in depth, our relationship with the superhuman population and to become an ambassador to their community.

I am currently a professor of homo-superior studies and I am pro-registration. This may be highly surprising. How could one seeking to serve as a scholar and ambassador to homo-superiors be pro-registration? I admit that my support comes with a great deal of stipulations and cautions that the larger community must discuss before we hastily employ any such law. But, I am supportive of the concept.

Registration at the Core
There is a powerful argument that circulates whenever a group discusses the reasons ‘for’ or ‘against’ superhuman registration. Some posit: ‘If I have to register a weapon then a superhuman should register their powers.’ The same can be said of a library card, a car, or a digital copy of a downloaded video game. This is generally unhinged by the counterargument that owning each of these things, and thus being mandated to register it, is a choice and therefore cannot be compared to something with which a person is born.

Here is where we must be careful. There is a supposition that simply because someone is born with a difference the government cannot enforce a registration for that variance in birth. I do not wish to alarm anyone with fragile sensibilities, but the US government already makes members of the population register based on (1) what they are or (2) the genetic differences with which they are born. I speak as an expert in this area as I am one who meets the criteria. The Military Selective Service Act mandates all men between the ages of 18 and 26 to register with the federal government in the event a draft is enacted for war. Noncompliance is punishable by jail time. Sound familiar?

Congress is currently debating if this should be extended to women now that all military occupational specialties are open to women within the Armed Services. However, the fact remains that we have established a requirement for a cross section of the population to register based on nothing more than the way they are genetically composed. In fact, we have had this in effect since May 18th of 1917. It was established to support and defend the constitution and the inherent freedoms provided by that document. Why must we view superhuman registration any differently than this?

However, the current bill for superhuman registration does not function in the same capacity as our Selective Service Act. The current bill is more of an ‘active’ summons for the homo-superior community rather than the more ‘passive’ Selective Service. Instead of filling out a registration card at a US Post office, mailing it to the government, and then waiting for a draft to be enacted, the homo-superior will be required to be actively checked. This is the aspect on which the public must truly evaluate registration. Not the fact that there is registration but the manner in which it is enforced and how it differs from so many other types of registration.

Active Testing
A superhuman would need to register their powers at a verified test site established by the Department of Defense. The basic information (like name, social security number, etc) is input into a database along with more complicated information related to the person’s powers. For instance, the government will be copying energy signatures, codifying power levels, and assessing other factors like intelligence, stamina, and physical strength.

This is projected to be a week long process for most, but I suspect that it could be longer for some of our truly talented homo-superior brethren. Imagine attempting to codify the sheer intellect of someone like Reed Richards. One may argue that we do not have tests that would capture the relative genius hidden inside his brain housing group, as we often struggle to assess and codify homo-sapien intellect with most metrics being imperfect and overly rigid.

Furthermore, think of how we would assess powers. I will stay on the example of Dr. Richards. The elasticity of his body and the extent he can stretch would be tested. But how far will the testing go in order to satisfy the researchers and to meet the criteria of the testing? Do we push Mr. Richards to the absolute limits? Imagine that I, as a federal agent, called you up and told you that in two weeks’ time you will report to a closed facility to do push-ups, running, lifting, jumping, climbing, and whatever else to test your physical capacity until you vomit. I doubt many readers would willingly sign up. When one envisions this scenario it becomes clear that this is not just registration but a highly invasive evaluation that the majority of the public would fight if enforced upon them.

Active Tracking
And yet the testing may not even be as invasive as the suggested tracking measures. The government would require superhuman individuals to provide their home of record. Not too harsh of a requirement. However, they must inform the government, federal and local, if they plan on moving, and whenever they arrive in a new state they have 72 hours to inform the same agencies of their whereabouts. In the event a registered person does not report in within the stipulated time, he or she can be arrested for ‘willful negligence in providing accurate and timely information on personal whereabouts.’ This is akin to the requirements placed on convicted sex offenders, not American citizens that have committed no crime.

But I think the most troublesome part of this section are the bevy of details outlining when it applies: who needs to be contacted, how the government agency will be notified, ramifications for failure to notify that agency within a certain time and so many exceptions to each rule that you need to be a genius to understand and remember it all. And though many of our homo-superior citizens have genius level intellect, it does not mean they all do. Furthermore, this law also applies to our homo-sapien citizens with homo-superior offspring. This section exceeds the level of confusion found in some variable annuity plans, and is dangerous and irresponsible to the extreme because it has the potential to put our citizen’s at risk of breaking the law without them knowing why or how they have done so.

Federalization
Last and most tantamount to the reticence of the active portions of the bill is ‘federalization.’ This term means that there would be opportunities for the homo-superior that register to be ‘federalized’ or commissioned into federal service. Plainly this means that you enter public service for the federal government (military, civil, or constabulary) which comes with training, pay, insurance, and other benefits. This is no different than joining the Marines or Air Force. Homo-superior with certain abilities could be researchers with the Food and Drug Administration or other agencies within the federal government.

This may cause chafing within the general public and our masked superhero community as it sounds like this public service is mandatory. Let me set the record straight and state that it is not mandatory to be ‘federalized.’ This is optional. However, if heroes wish to continue fighting crime then federalization is mandatory. This is tied heavily to the next core argument in the registration debate.

Unmasking
The concept of unmasking is extremely unappealing to many of our nation’s greatest heroes. There is a perception that operating with no anonymity places you and your loved ones at risk of attack from your enemies. That is somewhat understandable from a perspective of safety. But it is counter to the way this nation operates for two reasons. First, it affords the masked person anonymity that other citizens do not receive in similar professions that contain inherent risk. Secondly, it diminishes all accountability by allowing that individual to operate outside the professions or governing bodies that require training, certification, and self-policing.

The individuals that currently protect the US constitution and the citizens of this great nation do not wear masks to protect their identities. They do it openly so the citizenry knows who they are and so that the governing body can hold them accountable. This ensures they are working within the scope of that agency, be it a city police force or a federal branch of the military. Do these people run risks of having their families targeted by enemies of the state in the form of criminals or terrorists? Yes, that risk exists. So what makes a superhero more vulnerable?

First, there can be an argument made that it is an issue of scale and importance. In terms of scale the number of police officers and military personnel is overwhelming and so they are viewed as a mass and not necessarily as single entities that can be targeted. Heroes are a smaller subsection and inherently seem easier to target. In terms of importance, some might say that a beat cop or a US Marine private does not garner the same media attention and would thus not be targeted as aggressively as a powerful superhuman. The gain is greater for those who target important people.

However, I find the latter argument particular insulting, as it assumes the lives of the less powerful are not as important OR at risk as ‘superheroes.’ I scoff at this, but will address it nonetheless to place some perspective on the matter. As a Division commander in my former life, I held a Top Secret clearance, had more than 13,000 Soldiers under my command, and was accountable for billions of dollars of military grade equipment. I did not wear a mask. More to the point, in an age of active terrorism with threats abroad and within our country, we know there are people seeking to exploit men and women that are in similar situations to the one which I described. Do they operate in masks to protect themselves and their families? Plainly, they do not. They must accept the risks inherent with the responsibility of upholding the law, defending the constitution, and protecting the citizens of their community.

Accountability
For all the discussion about and outrage over establishing new standards for a group of people, most have yet to discuss that the different standards already exist. We have masked heroes acting outside the law with impunity. Registration seeks to correct this. We do not allow people to practice medicine, fight in wars, fight crime, or practice law without the training, certification, and accountability associated with those professions. It is illegal to do so and common sense for why we require this training and management by a profession or agency.

Let me present two scenarios:

A)First, a person in a mask chases after an alleged criminal, acting in the name of the law, and tackles that man in order to subdue him. Is he helping society? Possibly. This person, though he may be stopping a criminal, is acting outside of the law and committing a number of crimes.

B)Second, a masked woman conducts surgery on a man that requires a life-saving treatment. She is successful and the man lives. Is this person helping society? Yes. Is she breaking the law? In most instances, yes.

Let us suppose in both instances that the masked person made mistakes. The masked crime fighter destroys property in his chase and the masked surgeon leaves something in his patient and causes harm. Was this an honest mistake or was this person never properly instructed? We aren’t sure because we don’t know how this person was trained, let alone certified to act within this profession. Who is accountable? Nobody. We have no idea who those personnel are. Furthermore, there is no overarching body that regulates them.

For both of these scenarios we have trained personnel that already conduct these functions and who are managed by a governing body. The police officer is mandated to uphold the law by the city, state, or county and the doctor has a responsibility to his or her patients and is given a license by their state medical board. Each has been trained in the procedures of their profession and held accountable if they do not conduct themselves accordingly. The superhero whom registers can then work under an agency like the US Navy, the FDA, SHILED, or the Department of Homeland Security. The American public knows who the person is, knows that they have received training from that institution, and can hold that person and the agency for which he or she works accountable.

Final Thoughts
I urge the American public, which includes our superhuman citizens, to think very carefully about registration. It can protect both homo-sapiens and homo-superiors if drafted and executed properly. Yet, if we rush to pass a failed law we may rush to failure. If we support a bill constructed from haste and fear, we may establish a system which overreaches and hurts our relations with our neighbors. We cannot be reactionary. This is a deliberate process that requires a great deal of reflection and planning.

I am pro-registration but I understand that in order to make this work properly, we must come together as a body of law makers, homo-superiors, superheroes, and American citizens to find an equitable and wise answer for how to implement the bill.


[1] The author prefers the term homo-preculma (‘pre-final man’) when describing the relatively broad and diverse population most media has labeled as ‘homo-superior.’ First, the term diminishes the perception of a weak vs powerful, and thus adversarial, relationship between the two groups. Furthermore, it creates an implication that this new group in the evolutionary progression of ‘man’ is the last stage (albeit a long one that may take centuries) prior to the final evolution of ‘man’ into a perfect being. For more on this philosophy see Dr. Overaard’s book ‘Path to Perfection: The Hope in Mutations and the Awakening DNA.’
Box Office

What does Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and the Avengers have in common… besides Samuel L. Jackson? Each franchise has had one movie score over $200,000 in box office sales during their opening weekends. In Hollywood circles that is a big deal and a big indicator of a movie’s success, but is it? Is it really? You see box office numbers can be deceiving and it should go without saying that some of Hollywood’s biggest “successes” are also some of audiences’ worst movie-going experiences.

Spider-Man that’s a Lot of Money
Captain America: Civil War, debuted this past weekend with 181.8 million in opening weekend sales. That’s a pretty big deal, but those figures are not exactly a surprise to anyone. Superhero moves are hot these days, sequels usually tend to do better than their predecessors, and of course Marvel and Disney have perfected the art of the “hype.” Spider-Man, the original Sam Rami franchise -pre-emo Peter Parker- was the first movie to break the $100 million ceiling in opening box office weekend sales. This was back in 2002. Ten years later, another Marvel product, The Avengers, broke the vaunted $200 million ceiling setting the bar even higher, and studios have no intention to slow down. Everything from trailers to posters to viral internet videos are meant solely to put butts in seats. In fact, you non-nerds out there -we call you normies- may not even know it but this past Saturday was Free Comic Book Day. Guess, what comics Marvel gave out as part of their promotions? If you guessed Captain America and Civil War comics, you would be correct, and they’re not alone. DC was not far behind with a Suicide Squad comic featuring Harley Quinn, because that’s how you get big box office sales, but why do we care so much about box office sales?

The answer is actually two-fold. First, as Americans we always tend to have a winner mentality. Hollywood knows this better than most -they exploit it with every sports’ movie they have ever made. So, by declaring a movie as having the “biggest” opening weekend, or being the “first” in sales for the weekend, they are driving more people to the theaters for the second and third weekends. We all want to be part of “winning” and we don’t want to be left out of something other people are enjoying. Hollywood is very proactive in promoting their numbers, because they understand that we subconsciously take box office sales as an indicator of quality, or at least acceptability.

Secondly, the world is changing, and it has been changing since Toby McGuire swung after Willem Dafoe through the streets of New York. Think about how the entertainment industry has mutated in the past decade and a half -like a teenage boy bitten by a radioactive executive producer- and how this has affected the movie industry. In the bygone days of DVD and VHS, homes sales used to make up half of a movie’s revenue stream. Between 2012 and 2014 DVD sales saw an almost 10% drop and that number has been steadily declining ever since, while streaming service revenues increased by 32% during the same time frame. Now studios are left to rely solely on box office sales as their home release profits rapidly decline. Unfortunately, what that also means is that movies no longer has to withstand the test of time. All the major money is increasingly being made on the front end. Movies are becoming more and more about spectacle and hype than about quality and sustainability, and that means Hollywood is starting to care less and less about plot and more about using every trick in the book to get your butt in that seat on a Friday or Saturday night, especially if you happen to live in China.

Transformers: Age of External Market Growth
What does Battleship, Transformers, and Johnny Depp have in common… besides Samuel L. Jackson? In the United States each of those things has become box office poison, but scored big overseas. The shift in the entertainment industry has lead to a greater emphasis on foreign markets, especially in Asia and China where more and more Chinese people are finding themselves with disposable income and a taste for Michael Bay explosions. Johnny “Screw you Australia” Depp is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Have you wondered why in the name of the Carousal of Progress Disney is making another Pirates of the Caribbean movie? It’s because A-List celebrities still mean a lot with foreign markets. 2014’s Transcendence, the Depp helmed sci-fi flop only made $24 million in the States, but garnered over $80 million at global box offices. That still didn’t make it a hit, but it proved that Jack Sparrow could turn a profit. Disney is well aware of the power of the foreign markets, considering 54% of Star Wars: The Force Awakens$2 billion total box office came from foreign markets.

Take a look at Transformers: Age of Extinction, the movie no one was asking for. If you watched the latest Transformers abomination you would have noticed that the last half of the movie takes place in China… for no real reason whatsoever. This was done to appeal to Chinese audience. You may also have noticed a trend where movies seem to go out of their way to not offend and even pay tribute to the efficiency and honor of the Chinese government, because any movie that does criticize the Chinese Communist party stands no chance of making it past their censors. In fact, if you saw Iron Man 3 in a theater in Hong Kong, you would have been treated to an additional subplot starring two loyal Chinese scientists that never made it to American screens. The terrible remake of the movie Red Dawn, originally had Chinese villains, but when word reached the studio that the movie would not be shown in China the studio digitally altered the film in post production to make the enemies North Korean.

Why does Hollywood do this? Simply put, money. According to a recent study by the Motion Picture Association of America, almost 70% of a movie’s revenue now comes form overseas ticket sales. America may be still setting the trend for movies, be we are no longer the target audience. What’s even worse is that things like storytelling and nuanced humor go out the window with foreign targeted films. American humor doesn’t translate well into other languages, because concepts of humor are different across cultures, the same with many elements of emotional and subtle storytelling. However, what does translate well is explosions, and if you wonder why we are seeing more movies with CGI and big things blowing-up its because a fiery ball of death is truly our world’s universal language. This new emphasis is also one of the reasons why Marvel has begun releasing their movies one week earlier in overseas theaters. America is slowly becoming the second market to a lot of these big budget movies, because thanks to box office sales, Hollywood is now more eager to get into theaters in Beijing than New York.

Avatar Exemplar
This is all leading to a lopsided system. You see, the problem is that box office earnings -and especially opening weekend earnings- is that they are a bad indicator of a movie’s quality. Batman v Superman made $166.1 million in its opening weekend, despite sitting at a lousy 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s true that the movie had a significant drop-off in sales after the first weekend, but not before the studio raked in the cash both domestically and globally, enough to keep the DC train of pain going for a few more movies. Look at Avatar. When it opened it made over $77 million in its first weekend and ultimately grossed more than $2.8 billion. Unfortunately, that means we are now getting three more Avatar squeals coming up in the next few years, despite that fact that no one seems willing to tell James Cameron that people saw the movie for the 3D effects, and not the hackneyed soft-core blue alien Pocahontas story. In Hollywood, box office determines everything from what movies get made to the skin color of the actors that are cast, but is it even a reliable indicator of success?

Actually, there may not be a worse indicator of success, because the numbers can be deceptive. In fact, most opening weekend box office sales tend to be estimates, as the numbers are usually calculated on Saturday night with Sunday ticket sales extrapolated from past data. Also, these raw figures do not take into account things like budget or marketing expenses. So Avatar may have broken records with a $2.8 billion gross income in ticket sales, but if you take into account a $300 million budget, the movie only made a 933% return on investment. That’s really good, but if you look at a move like 1980’s Mad Max, which made $99.7 million on a $200,000 budget, it got a return of 24,837%. Yet, how many “Top Ten Box Office” lists is Mad Max on? In fact, you can break it down further and determine how much money was spent by studios per ticket sold. In 2011, the top three biggest movies were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II, ($381 million), Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($352.4 million), and the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 ($280.5 million)… Geez, that was a banner year for movies… Yet, if you break down sales by how much each studio spent per ticket sold you find out that Hangover 2 -yes, it truly was a banner year for movies- only cost the studios $2.50 per ticket sold to produce, whereas Transformers cost the studio $4.40 per ticket. Harry Potter and Twilight were able to keep the costs down at $2.61 and $3.12, respectively, because they shot two movies back to back and spread the cost out, but they were still not as profitable as a story about four drunk idiots making the same jokes they did two years earlier in a better movie.

Ultimately, this kind of ranking system says more about us than it does about the movies themselves. We put too much emphasis on which movie made more money, or who had a better opening weekend. Hollywood knows we are influenced by this sort of thing. They know that we all want to jump on the “bandwagon” and see what all the “hype” is about, and maybe the saddest part is that we no longer matter. Sp, even when America “votes with its wallets” against movies like Battleship and Transformers: Age of Extinction, all we do is prove how irrelevant we really are when compared with Asia and other places. These trends show no signs of slowing, so you had best get ready for more Avatars, more Pirates of the Caribbean, more Transformers, and more and more contests between studios to see who has the biggest box office in the boys’ locker room…

But if we can make one suggestion: Someone should really pull James Cameron aside and just tell him the truth already.

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

A movement on the rooftop. Soft running footsteps, and then suddenly he’s there, a man dressed in red, like the devil himself, Daredevil to be more exact. The guardian of Hell’s Kitchen cannot see, at least not like you or we can, but that does not stop him from defending the neighborhood he loves and fighting for justice in a world full of gods and super soldiers. With the hit Netflix Marvel series returning this weekend for its second season, we here at The NYRD thought it would be a good time to blindly dive into the science of Daredevil and the differently-abled -pun intended.

The Man Without Fear (or Sight)
The accident that left Matt Murdock blind also gave him heightened senses, but Daredevil is not alone in this phenomena and most blind people don’t need chemical waste to sharpen their other senses. It comes down to simple brain chemistry. Our brains are magnificent pieces of equipment that adapt and change to help us survive. It is not so much that blind people learn to use their other senses better, but that the brain actually rewires itself to compensate for the loss. This is called cross-modal neuroplasticity, but that’s just a fancy way of saying that your brain finds ways to use your other senses  more efficiently. In some ways it is similar to the condition known as synesthesia, which is when the input from one sense triggers another sense automatically, such as how some people can hear a color, or taste a sound.

Tests conducted in Canada found that blindfolded individuals could identify more layers of harmonicity in music notes than their non-blindfolded counterparts, even only after a few minutes without vision. Another study recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, gives functional MRI evidence that people who are born deaf still use the parts of their brain that normally process sounds, called Heschl’s gyrus. Instead of processing sound, however, they use those areas to instead process other stimuli like taste or touch, almost literally hearing the world through another sense. Blind people like Daredevil also experience the world differently. Their visual cortex is still active only it becomes used to process information from things like sound and even smells. . All of this amounts to what many might a real-life superpower, but don’t crack open the mask and devil horns just yet.

Unfortunately -and despite the incredible capabilities of the human brain- there are limits to our brain plasticity. Being born deaf or blind, or becoming differently-abled at an early age -like Matt Murdock- gives a person their best chance of adapting to the condition. Brains are more pliable in youth, especially during particularly sensitive periods of development, like language acquisition. However, adults have a harder time adapting. Certain pathways have already been formed and experiences have already been learned. The truth is that neuroplasticity only goes so far, and the enhanced senses of Daredevil are still well beyond the capability of any human brain. His “sight” is very much an invention of comic books, but that does not mean that many real-life differently-abled individuals are not extraordinary in their own ways.

Blind as a Batfleck
Daniel Kish, has been blind since he was a baby, but that has not stopped him from doing things like hiking and even riding a bike. If we are looking for a real-world equivilant of Daredevil than Daniel might fit the bill. Through a technique of clicking his tongue, Daniel is able to use a process of echolocation that is similair to that of a bat. This kind of power was portrayed poorly by Ben Affleck in the 2004 flop, Daredevil, where Murdock is able to bang objects or use the rain to “see” the world around him. Daniel, however, does not throw pots at the wall every time he needs to find a doorway.

There are two types of echolocation, active and passive, and even sighted people employ its use in their day to day lives. Hearing footsteps growing louder, or sensing that there is a wall in front of you in a darkened room can all be forms of passive echolocation. The human brain is wired to interpret sound vibrations spatially. It is part of the reason why we have two ears placed on different sides of our head. Our brains naturally take in the sound around us, and then use the information from each ear to determine certain factors, like location, proximity and even size of the object we are hearing. In other words, if a car is coming at us on our left side, our left ear will hear it at a slightly louder volume than our right ear. Due to the Doppler effect, the car will sound progressively higher-pitched as it approaches and then lower-pitched as it travels further away from the observer. The brain then uses all that information to place the object in our mental landscape. People like Daniel Kish and Matt Murdock use this technique, except they don’t always wait for the world to give them a passive sound to do so. Instead, they make their own.

Human echolocation has been formally studied since at least the 1950s, and those that employ it have the ability to detect objects in their environment by sensing the echoes which bounce back to them, often by tapping a cane or making clicking noises with their mouths, as is the case with Daniel Kish. Differently-abled people with this ability have likely rewired their brains to actually interpret sound waves reflected by nearby objects, allowing them to orient themselves in a world they cannot see through typical human means. It has been inferred, and even outright stated, over the years that Daredevil “sees” very similiar to this technique, whether it be the sonar of Ben Affleck or the “world on fire” explanation that we get in the new Netflix series.

The Kingpin of Perception
A lot of this comes down to our own personal perceptions of the world. As sighted humans we put a lot of emphasis on out ability to see, sometimes at the determent of our other senses. “Seeing is believe,” “eye witness,” and “stop looking while I use the urinal,” are all common sayings that we hear daily at The NYRD office. When we think about the world we often do it through visual terms, even memories are often “visualized” in our minds as pictures or moving images, but human sight is remarkably limited. Only a miniscule fraction of light waves are perceptible to our eyes. For instance, snakes are capable of seeing infrared spectrum light, and many game animals can see ultraviolet light. Going beyond sight, there are many creatures that experience the world -or even more of it- than your average human.

A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than our own, but their eyesight is weaker. They are animals that experience the world through their nostrils, and in many cases often more sharply than us and our eyes. According to James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well. As humans we like to prioritize our own experiences over the experiences of others -which also explains politics. We tend to extrapolate that the way we “perceive” the world is the universal way -that it is the “normal” way- to experience the world around us. Yet, that is so far from the truth it is almost laughable. Human eyesight isn’t even that great, just ask anyone who has to wear glasses. We can’t see into extreme spectrums of light, and there are literally colors that exist that we have never seen and will never see.

This brings us back to Daredevil. We often call what he experiences a superpower, but the truth is that it is just another way to experience the world. His perception of reality may not be the same as Daniel Kish’s or even yours, but it is no less or more limiting. In fact, Matt Murdock’s true superpower is not so much his ability to “see” differently, but his dedication to not allowing his lost visual sense to get him down. Instead, of giving up he trained himself to peak human condition through perseverance and crazy martial arts.

As superheroes in the Marvel Universe go, he is not a thunder god, or a raging green hulk monster. He does not get his powers from a robotic suit or a super soldier serum. His superpower only lets him see the world around him differently. Daredevil is a hero because he dedicates himself to being one. He didn’t give up, even when the world told him that he was different or “broken,” and in our opinion, there is no better analogy for what it truly means to live as a differently-abled person.


We would like to thank our expert consultant, Dr. Douglas Smith, MD, for his help on writing this article.

Winter is coming and you know what means, the holidays. Now is the time to check out The NYRD’s newest line of geeky and fun shirts from The NYRD Shop. For this holiday season get you and your loved ones an array of Game of Thrones/Avengers shirts. This marvelous mash-up features  the Westerosi houses of your favorite heroes. So get yours today, because if we can’t protect the Seven Kingdoms, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge them.

HRogHSHOHBanHRHBHWHFN-Shirt

Marvel previewed it’s trailer for season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil at New York Comic Con over the weekend. Footage of the trailer leaked online, because of course it did. However, the comic book, movie, and entertainment giant has now released the official trailer for the viewing enjoyment of online audience.

The first half of the trailer is mostly just a reminder that Season 1 was a thing. It doesn’t really get good till about 30 seconds from the end when we start to see new footage and it is exciting. It all takes place under the voice-over of Father Lantom, the priest we met in season 1. We see Matt, Foggy, and Karen, but the real surprises come from the brief glimpse we get of Elektra as she covers her face, and the hints of Jon Bernthal’s Punisher. In one scene, Karen holds up what looks like an X-ray with the familiar looking skull symbol on it. We also get a look at the back of the Bernthal’s head and a weapon clutched in his shadowy hand. The last line of the trailer, “bang,” we also assume belongs to him.

Marvel is hyping this coming season as Daredevil vs. The Punisher, because thanks to DC everyone needs to “vs.” each other now. However there is plenty of precedence for this showdown in the comics, and it is most likely that season 2 will look to explore the extremist attitudes of a vigilante like Punisher versus the more standard ethics of a superhero like Daredevil. After all, Matt came to a big decision at the end of season 1 about whether or not to kill the Kingpin. The Punisher is going to be testing that chosen path in a big way. We can’t wait.


Image courtesy: http://marvel.com/characters/11/daredevil
Video courtesy: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYCEK7i8Uq-XtFtWolofxFg

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

This weekend marked the annual D23 Expo, one of the biggest Disney Conventions dating back to 2009. D23 is the official name of the Disney Fan Club, named because 1923 is the year that Walt Disney left Kansas for California and begin his domination of the planet. Over the past few years, and thanks in no small part to the Disney Corporation’s need to buy major brands from the Muppets to Pixar to Marvel to Star Wars, D23 has become one of the biggest places for Geek-related news, rivaling even San Diego Comic Con. In fact this year D23 even had more Marvel related news than SDCC.

We here at The NYRD are going to give you some of the highlights that came out of Anaheim this weekend.

Jump to: Disney Live Action, Disney Animation, Marvel, Star Wars


Disney Live Action:
Perhaps the two biggest properties announced were the two movies no one expected or even really believed we would ever see again. They also have one eye-liner heavy character in common, Johnny Depp. Disney will be producing Alice Through the Looking Glass in 2016, which isn’t being directed by Tim Burton, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales in 2017, because surely those were the movies that everyone had been clamoring for. Depp will step back into his roles of the Mad Hatter and Jack Sparrow respectively, and even more interesting Orlando Bloom will also be reprising his role as Will Turner, because Hobbit cameo money doesn’t last forever. If there is one thing you have to hand to Disney, they are more than ready, and able, to squeeze blood from a dry stone, and we can only wait and see to how much money these two properties have yet to make the House of Mouse.

In other news, a live action remake of the Jungle Book is also set for 2016, staring Bill Murray as Baloo, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and Christopher Walken as himself in the role King Louie. There will also be a live-action/CGI remake of Beauty and the Beast, staring Emma Watson as Belle, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, and Ian McKellen among others. That movie is set for 2016. Lastly, there will be a remake of Pete’s Dragon, staring Bryce Dallas Howard also in 2016, because that is certainly a 1977 classic everyone was clamoring for.

alice-through-the-looking-glass-poster-1bjpg-4352a3 JBPoster-720x1066

It seems that Disney is putting all their eggs in the live-action remake/sequel basket. Other than Chris Pine’s new Finest Hour there was not one original live action movie announced under the Disney title for next year.  This is a bit disheartening, especially since, for better or worse, Disney is a large trend setter for the entertainment industry. They have the resources, the money, and the time to burn and experiment on new projects, but perhaps after the middling response to this year’s Tomorrow Land, the corporation giant has backed off on taking risks for a while.


Disney Animation/Pixar:
On the animation side of things, there is some hope, other than the announcement of Toy Story 4, where Buzz and Woody go on an adventure to find Bo Peep, because why let a movie trilogy end gracefully and on that right bittersweet note when you can just keep pumping it for more cash? The Pixar movie is set for 2017. Disney and Pixar also announced Finding Dory, which will be hitting theaters in 2016, staring Ellen DeGeneres. They also premiered an Inside Out short entitled, Riley’s First Date.

In other news, Disney will also be producing a 2017 animated cartoon called Coco, based upon the Dias de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. The Rock himself then took stage to promote his new 2016 musical animated movie, Moana, which is based in South Pacific mythology, and will be about a young girl who teams up with a legendary demi-god named Maui, played by the Rock to figure out why people have stopped exploring. Disney is definitely trying to reach more diverse audiences with these two movies, which is a good thing.

Clips were shown from 2016’s Zootopia, which is a buddy cop movie that takes place in a city made up of anthropomorphic animals, staring Once Upon a Times’ Ginnifer Goodwin. Lastly, Disney will be producing Gigantic, the supposedly “definitive” Jack and the Beanstalk story for the big screen. This movie very much seems to be aiming to be in the tradition of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, to become another Disney animated musical classic.

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Marvel:
Perhaps one of the most anticipated panels of the Expo, Kevin Feige took to the stage to introduce the first trailer for Captain America: Civil War. The trailer is not currently released for public consumption, except in leaked form. Please note that we will not show you that trailer, because we at The NYRD do not support leaked footage. Also, why would you want to watch some grainy, shaky-cam footage that some jerk took on his phone from the 103rd row? Disney and Marvel will release the trailer on their own schedule and we are sure it will turn plenty of heads when it finally hits YouTube and movie screens. Until then, we are content to wait for all the Civil War goodness.

Marvel also premiered a small movie showing concept art from Doctor Strange, along with a video love letter from Sir Benedict Eggs Over Easy Cumbersome Batching. He has the best, most British name. Unfortunately we have no footage of those pictures, either. really we are saying we have nothing visual to show for Marvel. However, it was announced that Tilda Swinton will be playing Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One, though she admits that she is yet uncertain if she will be playing the part as a man or as a woman.


Star Wars:
Last but not least, it was Star Wars again that shook down the house. The panel had everything, complete with a show stopping appearance by Han Solo himself. Well, it had everything except for a new Star Wars trailer, which JJ Abrams said would not be out till the Fall. The audience also got to hear from Gareth Edwards who will be directing the first Star Wars spinoff, Rogue One. The movie is set to be a gritty war drama that takes place during the Rebellion Against the Empire, and possibly involves the stealing of the Death Star plans. In other words, forget everything you learned while playing Dark Forces, Kyle Katarn forgive us. We did get the first cast photo. This movie stands out as a interesting concept, though we are still unclear as why they called it Rogue One. After all, that would have been Luke or Wedge Antilles’ callsign during the Rebellion, but then again, who really knows what is canon anymore, Wes Janson forgive us. The movie began principal photography this month.

RogueOne

Finally, and perhaps the biggest announcement was the fact that Disney World and Disneyland will both be opening new Star Wars-theme parks. The new parks will be based around two signature rides, including one where you will be able to pilot the Millennium Falcon. The second one will give guests the chance to be in the midst of a battle between the First Order and The Resistance. Both will be based in the lore of the new trilogy, because why base rides on classic Star Wars. When will we get Admiral Ackbar’s Crazy Trap Ride?

Despite our snark and our disbelief, we will ultimately end up going to the parks and seeing the movies, because of course we will. No matter what your opinion of the mouse-led entertainment behemoth, there is one thing that you have to admit is for certain, Disney stands to make all the money… like all of it.


Photos and video courtesy: https://d23.com/

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.

With the start of the Television Critics Association Summer Press tour for Netflix, Marvel and Netflix talked about their plans moving forward. The goal of the two comic and streaming giants is to release a new Marvel Netflix property every six months. Some of these will be new seasons of continuously running programs, while others will be new properties altogether, such their newest show AKA Jessica Jones.

All of this is leading up to a Netflix Crossover Event, The Defenders. It seems to be that Marvel is going to do for Netflix and streaming TV what they have already done in movies. Unfortunately, no actual schedule was released and they seemed to be hinting at the fact that only certain series would receive multiple seasons, while others would work more as stand-alones. That determination will probably be made on a basis of how well each individual series is received.

There is still a lot of vagueness circling the Internet about what is going on. For instance, there still no set launch date for Jessica Jones or what the next series after that will be. There is very little confirmation of any type for anything, right now. However, Variety did report that Jessica Jones will debut in 2015, but no exact date was given. That means we could be waiting until December for our next small screen return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We do know that Daredevil is currently filming its second season, and with Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal playing the Punisher.

There are even rumors that Frank Castle could receive his own stand-along series, but all of that seems little more than speculation by Hitflix. Only time will tell, but for right now, all we at The NYRD can do is bide our time with baited breath until AKA Jessica Jones, and the return of Daredevil.


Photo courtesy: http://tennantnews.blogspot.com/2015/04/photos-david-tennant-filming-aka.html