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Captain America: Civil War


Captain America: Civil War was probably my most anticipated Marvel movie ever.

I mean, that’s not a particularly difficult title to achieve. I only finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy about six months ago, enjoyed Ant Man more than most of their movies, and still haven’t seen the first Captain America, despite watching Agent Carter. But The Winter Soldier was fantastic — when I finally watched it, a year after everyone else — and I couldn’t wait for the clever plotting and high emotional stakes that Civil War promised to provide.

So, does it live up to all that hype and potential? The rest of the world seemed to think so, judging from its score on Rotten Tomatoes, but my response was far more muted. Not “omg best movie ever,” but that solid, “yeah, it was good” feeling you get when you don’t regret seeing a movie, but aren’t exactly going to be thinking about it much once you leave the theatre.

Which is a solid result for a superhero movie, but perhaps not what the movie wanted to be. Unfortunately, Civil War is never quite as philosophically interesting as it aspires to be.


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6 Female-Led Comic Books That Should Totally Become Movies

Comic book movies are big. Even obscure franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy are becoming huge successes, everyone’s talking about Batman v Superman, and Marvel are so sure of their dominance that they’ve announced their movie releases through 2020, and have planned through 2028. There are bound to be loads more comic book adaptations before the fever fades, and people are eager to guess which ones they might be.

But we’re still kind of lacking comic book movies about female protagonists. They crop up in ensemble movies, or as love interests (or both), but they don’t really get to lead the story.

And that doesn’t make sense. Not only has the comic book industry had lots of success with its new wave of female protagonists, from Ms Marvel to the new Thor, but many recent successful genre movies have also had female leads, from The Hunger Games to Star Wars to Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s clearly an audience for these stories. So where are they?

With that in mind, here are the comic books with female leads that I most want to see as movies in the not-too-distant future.



This is a bit of a gimme, since the movie rights have already been optioned (although I can’t find any news of progress on it since last June). But still. Nimona is a fantastic graphic novel/webseries about a fantasy world supervillain, his rival hero (who he’s totally not in love with), and the shapeshifting girl who shows up one day, insisting she needs to be his apprentice. It’s all very hilarious and adorable and tongue in cheek… at least until it gets all emotionally intense instead.

And it would make such a good movie. It’s one cohesive story, with a fairly straightforward main plot but lots of twists and turns too. It’s incredibly fun and genre savvy, has lots of action, lots of humor, and lots of great characters too. Animated or live-action, this would be completely fantastic to watch. Please?


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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl


I wouldn’t have chosen to read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl myself. I mean, it’s a Marvel comic about a girl with squirrel powers. What even are “squirrel powers”? Why would a superhero have them??

But I got a copy for Christmas, and I’m so glad I did. This comic is amazing. And hilarious. And amazing.

Doreen Green is the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl — unbeatable, because, through sheer skill (or ridiculous luck), she’s never been beaten in battle, not even by the Avengers’ most nefarious enemies. And Squirrel Girl because, well, she’s a squirrel girl. She has a tail. She can command a tiny squirrel army. It’s a whole big mutant-y thing. She and her best friend Tippy Toe the Adorable Squirrel have been living secretly in the attic of the Avengers Mansion, but now it’s time for her to improve her superhero-ing skills by going to college.

She composes and sings her own theme tune. She talks to squirrels. She’s a TOTALLY NORMAL COLLEGE STUDENT, you guys. It’s a shame her flawless secret identity is threatened by all those villainous villains showing up. And that Iron Man’s ignoring her despite totally saying she could be his fighting partner or whatever that one time. Guess she’ll have to save the world by herself.

Watch her face off against famous Marvel nemeses! Learn their weak points through her handy-dandy set of Deadpool-approved supervillain trading cards! See how she manages to steal Iron Man’s suit, cos she needs it right now and it’s not like he’s using it, jeez!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is so incredibly funny. It’s self-referential and genre aware, and it is absolutely unafraid to have some fun with the Marvel universe. The joke is never on Squirrel Girl or her powers — she’s just a really fun character in an innately hilarious world. And despite its references to Marvel canon, it’s also a great comic for “I’m not really that into comics” people like myself. I might have missed a couple of the jokes, but it was still laugh-out-loud funny and enjoyable from the first page. A little bit of Marvel Movie Universe knowledge helps, but otherwise, you can just pick it up and go, thanks, in part, to those super handy supervillain cards, courtesy of Deadpool, telling you everything you need to know.

And the characters themselves are fantastic. The incredibly confident, adorable, nigh-unfazeable Doreen Green. Her blunt, badass, cat-obsessed roommate Nancy. The cute if rather perplexed Resident Love Interest, Tomas. And, like, Iron Man and Galactus and stuff.

Plus there are tiny comments from the writers at the bottom of every page. And the art is really cute. And even the fight scenes are hilarious. And. And. And.

It’s honestly great. If you want a lighthearted pick-me-up, go grab a copy.

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Jessica Jones vs Supergirl


Jessica Jones is not what all female superhero stories have to be.

Since both Supergirl and Jessica Jones were announced for release this fall, people have been desperate to compare them. The two series have nothing in common, beyond the general superhero setup and the fact that they have female protagonists, and yet people have almost treated them as competing adaptations of the story, and rushed to decide which one was the best.

The winner, almost inevitably, seemed to be Jessica JonesJessica Jones, after all, is dark. It’s gritty. She’s a “brawling, whisky-chugging, self-destructive mess,” dealing with the darker side of Marvel’s superpowered world, a serious character in a serious story for serious and intelligent viewers. Contrast with the cheery, optimistic, rom-com esque world of Supergirl, with cutesy superhero costumes and an earnest desire to do and see good in the world, and it’s obvious why a world enamored with grimdark stories like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead might prefer Marvel’s take, or at least declare it a higher caliber of storytelling.

But moving from “Jessica Jones is good” or “Jessica Jones is the sort of superhero story I want to see” to “Jessica Jones is the only right way to do female superhero stories” or “other female superheroes aren’t Jessica Jones and therefore they suck” is based on the false assumption that a female superhero can only exist in one single way, or that we can only have one female superhero at a time. The assumption isn’t surprising, even if it is subconscious — most ensemble superhero movies only have one main female superhero, while most single-hero titles only have one (non heroic) female character at all. Of course the “only one!!” perspective has settled into our psyche. But it’s not true. Just as male superheroes can range from the dark grittiness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman to the lighthearted fun of the recent Antman to Spiderman‘s teen angst and quippiness, female superhero stories can be pretty much whatever they want to be. We don’t have to be tricked into believing that we have to choose one single female superhero to represent all female viewers in the world.

Yes, it’s great that we’re getting a female superhero who fits in with that trendy “darkness and nihilism and everybody dies” vibe. Gritty realism isn’t just for male characters, with female love interests merely existing to be threatened or killed and create a motive for revenge. It’s great that Jessica Jones is a complex and morally interesting protagonist, and is neither the clutzy aspiring journalist who’s unlucky in love or the femme fatale spy/assassin that we’re used to seeing.

But Jessica Jones is not a show for me. Not right now. I am completely burned out on grimdark stories, and just reading a description of the series’ backstory made me feel sick.

If I wanted to watch a female-led superhero story, or any superhero story, I’d want one like Supergirl. Something that skewed slightly younger perhaps. Something optimistic and fun. And if I was going to see myself in one of these protagonists, Kara Danvers would come a lot closer than Jessica Jones

And that’s fine, because we don’t have to be restricted to one type of story. Viewers can watch the “girlier” Supergirl. They can watch Jessica Jones stare darkness in the face and deal with incredibly difficult issues. They can step back to the 1940s for the perfect-lipstick world of Peggy Carter or grab a copy of Ms Marvel for some identity-searching teenage heroics. They can enjoy all of them, or some of them, or none at all. We can have optimistic heroines and pessimistic heroics, anti-hero heroines and Lawful Good heroines, reluctant heroines and heroines who throw themselves into their heroics headfirst. We don’t have to pick which version of “female superhero” we like best and have it represent all women forevermore. We can have as much variety as we see in male-led stories.

But only if we insist on it. So enough with the Supergirl OR Jessica Jones. It should be Supergirl AND Jessica Jones, and many more to come.

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Agent Carter: Sexism, Historical Accuracy, and Badass Female Characters


A couple of weeks ago, I fell in love with Peggy Carter.

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the first Captain America. So when I finally tuned into Agent Carter, I didn’t know much about what to expect, beyond the fact that everyone loves Peggy and she’s appeared briefly in some movies I’ve seen. It didn’t take long for me to realize that she’s a fantastic character. Smart, self-assured, resourceful, glamorous, kind, no-nonsense, talented, and completely badass — what’s not to love?

I then spent many hours watching her prove how awesome she is — and watching her get beat down, again and again, because she also happens to be a woman. Agent Carter deals heavily with post-war era sexism, and although at first I thought that was a good thing, the show made me wonder. Is there such a thing as too much realism? And what is the right balance between that and romanticizing the past?


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Hugo Nominees 2015 – Ms Marvel: No Normal


Ms Marvel is a really fun, adorable comic — yet another win for a reader who “didn’t like graphic novels” a few weeks ago, and who now is glaring at her library’s waiting list, eager for more.

It was hard to miss this reboot of Ms Marvel when it came out. A Muslim, Pakistani-American Ms Marvel? The internet went into fits of glee, and it was one of the best-selling comics of the year. And that’s no surprise, since not only is it refreshing diverse, it’s also incredibly fun to read.

Kamala Khan is a fantastic and refreshing female protagonist — a gaming expert, an Avenger fangirl, a fanfic-writer, and a little bit of a rebel. She’s undergoing something of an identity crisis, wishing she was more like the “beautiful” cool girls but not actually wanting to be like them, when a strange cloud smothers her and she wakes up with the ability to transform herself at will.

The result is a story full of diversity, family, friendship, and humor, with an interesting setup for stories to come.

Unsurprisingly, Ms Marvel explores a lot of common “superhero origin story” themes, and this is both a strength and a weakness. The first volume barrels through a lot of superhero-identity questions in one go, and a lot of the themes were dealt with so bluntly that they seemed to lack finesse. Kamala, for example, starts the books wishing she could be pretty and blonde like Captain Marvel, but realizes through her body-morphing powers that “being someone else isn’t liberating. It’s exhausting.” These themes are important and interesting, but this volume discussed every one of them head-on, and then quickly moved on to the next.

A lot of the plot-points are also fairly by-the-book for a teenage superhero’s origin story — most notably, perhaps, the fact that she hides her powers from her parents. At some points, this made the story feel a bit too predictable, and I was longing for the inventiveness in character to be reflected in the plot.

But perhaps that’s a good thing too. Ms Marvel‘s biggest strength point is its diversity, and the familiar teenage superhero story is familiar precisely because it rings true to the teenage experience. Cynical older readers might comment that they’ve seen all this before and want something new, but there are female readers, Muslim readers, Pakistani readers — many readers beyond the white male reader — who haven’t seen this before in a character that they can see themselves in. Ms Marvel doesn’t necessarily have to re-invent the wheel in superhero storytelling, because its characters are fresh and new, and provide representation to a lot of readers who’ve been sidelined or excluded before.

All in all, Ms Marvel is an exciting mix of classic superhero and refreshing diversity, with slightly predictable plotlines transformed by fresh, well-written characters and a gorgeous art style. I’m probably one of the last people to pick this one up, but if you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance. Even if you’re not usually a comic book person, it’s definitely worth a look.

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Ant Man and the Problem of Marvel’s Necessary Women

Over the weekend, I saw Marvel’s Ant Man, and, much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. It’s an incredibly fun movie, full of schemes and adventure that strike a great balance between dramatic and ridiculous. But, like many Marvel movies before it, it has a slight female character problem.

Yes, the movie has multiple named female characters. Yes, one of them is “kickass.” And no, it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. But the most significant thing was that it suddenly made clear to me a problem with Marvel movies, and with a lot of movies in general: the only characters that are female are those that have to be female.

At least, those that have to be female from a heteronormative Hollywood perspective.


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Beyond Love Interests


So, I’m a bit of a shipper. I love a good romantic subplot in a story, and that investment in a potential couple is often what pushes me from liking a series to all-out obsession.

But Black Widow’s role in Age of Ultron has once again got people talking about whether romance has a place in the plot arcs of “strong female characters,” and whether giving a character a love interest makes her somehow lesser or more cliche. In short, can a character have a love interest and also be feminist?

The answer to that question, of course, is an obvious yes. There’s nothing anti-feminist about love. A character isn’t weaker because she has a romantic plotline. But these romantic plotlines can be representative of a much bigger problem, where a female character only exists in relation to her male love interest. In these scenarios, it’s easy for people to roll their eyes and claim that the romance itself is the problem, but there is nothing wrong with a romantic plotline in and of itself — it’s all in how it’s treated, and how the female character is portrayed outside it.

Basically: does the character have a love interest, or are they nothing but a love interest? Are they a character who has a romantic subplot as part of their own rich story, or are they defined by their romantic connection to another?

1. Does the character have goals and ambitions of her own?

Finding true love excluded, of course.

2. Does she deal with conflicts that aren’t just about true love?

Anything, really. Career problems. Family tension. Fighting Ultron to save the world. Whatever. Is she struggling with something in the story other than her relationship?

3. Does she actually talk about or address these conflicts or ambitions? Are they mentioned even vaguely as much as their love troubles?

Aka does she actually have ambitions and conflicts, or are they just name-dropped in order to make her look more rounded out than she is?

4. If she’s part of an ensemble cast, does she have concerns of her own, beyond a vague connection to the big plot?

“Stopping the big bad” isn’t really motivation enough if everyone else shares the same story.

5. If the answer to all the above questions is “no,” are the other characters in the story similarly preoccupied with romance?

I’m not sure the result would be a particularly good movie, but if Jane Foster cares about absolutely nothing but Thor, and Thor cares about absolutely nothing but Jane Foster, then it’s not a problem of sexism, because each character is equally wrapped up in the other.

So let’s talk about Black Widow in Age of Ultron again. Although her out-of-nowhere romance with Bruce Banner was frustrating, it’s not a problem, in and of itself. She’s allowed to have a romantic subplot as part of her character. It only becomes a problem if all of Black Widow’s other characteristics vanish in the face of this romance.

And, unfortunately, I think her ability to pass the test is debatable here. Yes, she has a goal and a conflict beyond her romance — she wants to stop Ultron and save the world — but that’s a shared goal, not unique to her, and most of her screentime, when not in battle, is spent talking about her potential relationship. Bruce Banner, on the other hand, wants to stop Ultron AND deals with his relationship with Black Widow AND struggles with the question of whether he’s a monster or a hero and whether it’s safe for him to continue to fight. His problems come up in relation to himself, while Black Widow’s problems (like the infamous “I’m a monster too” scene) come up in relation to her love interest and what he needs.

It’s not an obvious fail, because Black Widow is an already established character and so automatically has more depth, and there are hints of development in her flashbacks, but it’s enough to raise questions. Whether it’s a problem just with Black Widow or with the writing in general, or even whether it’s a problem at all, is definitely up for debate. And that debate is complicated by the fact that it’s a new movie, and people can only judge it based on the emotional memories that it left them.

But no. Contrary to the tone of some recent discussions around Age of Ultron, there is nothing wrong with a female character having a love interest. She just needs to have other characteristics too.

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How to be a female superhero, according to Age of Ultron


Another spring, another blockbuster Marvel movie, another conversation about women in superhero stories.

Overall, Age of Ultron was a pretty fun movie, although I thought it suffered from an overflow of undeveloped ideas and an insistence on Whedon-esque witty dialogue over consistent tone. But several moments unsettled me as I watched it, and that feeling of disquiet grew the more I thought about it after the movie ended. By the time I’d finished making my notes on the movie, I realized I wasn’t lukewarm about the movie any more: I was angry.

Because although Age of Ultron had more female characters than we might have grown to expect from a Marvel movie, it had some serious issues with those female character’s plot arcs, especially when it came to Black Widow. And it had some very worrying implications about what a female character should be.

And so, without further ado, I present to you the Age of Ultron guide to being a female superhero.


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Marvel So Far: Iron Man 2


Why does the world seem to hate Iron Man 2?

Sure, its superhero vs supervillain plot isn’t the best, but the movie is a lot of fun, and has a lot of great character stuff to boot. Perhaps it’s not particularly thrilling as a standalone comic book movie, but as an instalment in the growing Marvel universe, seen after Iron Man 1, it’s pretty great.

And — shock of shocks — it actually has two significant female characters. One of whom is a hero in her own right. If only she wasn’t standing in an almost anatomically impossible way on the promo poster.


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