Vera Maven versus Wonder Woman

Meet Vera Maven

In which our Maven takes on the likes of Wonder Woman, Chris Sims, and 75 years of cultural iconography 

Vera! So good of you to come!

As long as one has want of me, I am his-or-hers completely. Darling, I’m positively shameless.

Have you seen this? Chris Sims of Comics Alliance takes on Wonder Woman. He talks about the problem of how she is one of three giant DC comics’ icons, but how no one knows, well, basically ANYTHING do with her character– be it for a movie, TV show, or even her own comics! “It comes down to,” he says “just not knowing what they want to do, and that comes from everyone looking at this character that has all these different conflicted things going on, and having their own idea how to get in there and fix it.”

Chris Sims gets things right a lot of the time. There, Chris. I’ll give you that one for free. Blurb away! Be sure to quote Vera Maven copyright 2014.

How do you feel about taking on the same “problem?”

A thing is never a problem when my own opinion is the solution. I have a marvelous and unapologetic subjectivity. And thus I willingly offer my own ideas “how to get in there and fix it,” as he says.

Mr. Sims points out that Wonder Woman — well, that she’s a Disney princess, or in his words “quite literally a magical princess that can talk to animals.” Well, on the face of it, why not? She’s a gutsy adventurous heroine with magical powers from a faraway land who wants to see the world. Simsy is right, why WOULDN’T this work?

The problem is, that only really works for ONE movie or story, which, as he admits, is prima face an origin story, with Wonder Woman NOT YET grown-up. I mean, of course Disney Princesses are usually pretty young, because they are by nature in the middle of their process of growing up. For another, Disney Princesses usually have the whole becoming a princess thing as the END RESULT of their heroic journey, and that’s even for those who start the movie as a princess in the first place.

But for the essence of Wonder Woman– the essence, mind you– it’s more confusing. Does her “story” start BEFORE or AFTER her arrival to Earth from her magical island? If her story starts BEFORE, then OK, sure. You can have her do her whole heroic journey thing like any Disney Princess– she can sing her “I Want” song, she can have some sidekicks help her realize her special place in the world, and she can overcome the villain who tries to be selfish. And then, Diana is awarded magical gifts and becomes Wonder Woman, a warrior and emissary to Outside World, and … then what? Her story, essentially, stops.

Because for her story AFTER her arrival, well, frankly, Wonder Woman is really just Generic Superhero #5: Paragon. “We want a superhero, but, you know, like a girl,” said someone, somewhere. Which is fine if you are a character yourself, like bystander in the comicbook world, looking up and seeing a hero punch a villain in the face. But when you want to follow that hero *as a reader,* outside that story, you need to know what she does AFTER, like where does she go home at night, how does she pay for her latte, what happens in-between punching the next villain in the face? You know, superhero tropes and all of that.

Which is a shame, because there are SO many possibilities for the stories AFTER her arrival. Just do the math. How many stories can take place BEFORE her arrival? One! Her origin. (Yes, yes, I’m sure you can have all kinds of TV shows with young Diana as Wonder Girl before she arrives on Earth, but these are arguably “spin-offs” of what everyone would consider the ONE story.) But how many could you have AFTER? It’s limitedness, darling!

So forget the analogy of Wonder Woman as a Disney Princess story. What you REALLY have, and what is SO MUCH better, is that Wonder Woman is a James Bond story.

Think about it– who really cares about James Bond’s origins? He’s an archetypical pulp action hero in the modern day– you don’t NEED to know any of that origin stuff to make an entertaining overcome-the-world-dominating-criminal-mastermind James Bond story. Nor do you need any part of that for a Wonder Woman story… the backdrop can be any mix of the Percy Jackson, Xena, Thor, the Little Mermaid, or whatever-you-like as long as it gives us an overcome-the-world-dominating-supervillain kind of story.

Wait a second, Vera. Isn’t James Bond, for all his iconic status and permanent place as cultural touchstone, really just Generic Superspy #1: Maverick? He’s got his own formula of tropes that make the actual character, as-a-character, kind of superfluous. Just like the problem of Wonder Woman!

Too true, darling! Wonder Woman exists as this very strange property– a cultural touchstone that is more powerful as an idea than as an actual story, like beginning-middle-end kind of story. She’s a great icon, as a symbol or as a lunchbox logo. She’s even a great character, with an inner strength, capacity for compassion, and warrior spirit with the skills to match. But as a STORY ENGINE? She is a complete cypher. At least James Bond has a story engine, however generic.

Thus, for superhero stories to work, there has to be something metaphorical at play. Heroes are never just heroes, they are thematic SYMBOLS that generate thematic STORIES. Think about Superman…

Hmm… Making the most of your potential.

Just so. And Batman?

Fighting back against the darkness.

Excellente. Spider-Man?

Well, power and responsibility, of COURSE.

Yes, and Wonder Woman? … Well? I’m waiting… See? No story engine.

I would LOVE to watch a Wonder Woman movie, and yes my darling, really ANY superhero movie, that shows a story-engine kind of understanding of its character. You can do that in an origin story, a sequel, a TV spinoff, whatever.

OK, so, what we need is a Story Engine that is the best expression of a uniquely Wonder Woman metaphorical theme.

Not so easy, I’m afraid.

There’s no, one, go-to story that helps define Wonder Woman’s thematic core, her very resonance. So let’s pick one and enhance it. For Wonder Woman, her theme is “Together, we are strong.” It’s about brother/sisterhood. Unity. Family. What’s so wonderful is that it stems from her defining characteristics of compassion and determination. It showcases her as a guardian, a leader, but one never far removed from community.

You see? Even very famous story arcs of Wonder Woman’s can be presented very nicely through this lens. In the War of the Gods (yes, it’s 1991, but still…) triumph is earned by all mythologies banding together with Wonder Woman, do they not? Ah! 20 year-old spoilers, pardon! In Paradise Lost (ten years later in 2001), she wins the day by dissolving the concept of the “royal family” of Paradise Island, unifying her mother and her people. In her current “New 52” version? She is brought into the family of Greek demigods, surviving her trials by standing up for others and banding together with her new family.

Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood (The New 52) trade paperback by Brian Azzarello  (Author), Cliff Chiang (Illustrator)

Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood (The New 52) trade paperback by Brian Azzarello (Author), Cliff Chiang (Illustrator) Available here

And then it’s only natural to see a string of villains and save-the-world plots happening. Obviously, her archenemy Ares would be opposed to the themes of unity, as would Circe. Other villains that represent selfishness, division, or subjugation, like, say, Cheetah, Eris/Discord, or Maxwell Lord or Dr. Psycho, have stories that practically beg to be told through this lens!

Wow! Okay, hold on. This all started from the idea of one movie! So what’s your pitch?

Ah! Well, I was getting to that, you impatient, little, chubby-cheek, you. Start with a cold open, like any good James Bond story, and Wonder Woman with a team of Amazons fight off some monster-headed creature things. But what seems like some exotic location is in fact South Dakota or something, and we learn how popular Wonder Woman is as an iconic, if somewhat distant, near-celebrity. Back on Paradise Island, Wonder Woman learns that one of the Amazon’s prisoners, Cheetah, has escaped during Diana’s excursion to Earth. Wonder Woman makes the choice to go after Cheetah, who’s trying to hunt down Steve Trevor, among other military agents. Trevor, you see, knows the location of a magical place of power, because a black ops that went bad, naturally. Wonder Woman and Trevor team up to investigate, and find Cheetah is connected to Circe, the sorceress with a penchant for transforming people into animals (movie origin alert!). The place of power would also allow Circe to sever Paradise Island’s connection to Earth, and Wonder Woman is stopped from an early victory by rebel Amazons who have pledged allegiance to Circe and would like nothing but to see such separation. Will Wonder Woman be forced to sacrifice Paradise Island and be trapped on Earth? What will the showdown between Diana and Circe look like? Will Circe show Wonder Woman’s “true face” of humanity, as beasts, opposed to Diana’s hopefulness and optimism? Don’t worry, mon chere, goodness and unity are victors in the end. Together we are strong, after all!

Vera, I thought you would go bigger budget than that!

I see. Well, you could have Circe release the Titans of myth upon the world, I suppose. That worked for Disney’s Hercules. But, really, darling, such monies would be better spent on putting some young ingenue in Cheetah body-painting makeup.

Come to think of that, show that to the movie executives, and that might be all you need to get a Wonder Woman movie in development.

Hmm. How droll. C’est le Hollywood, I suppose!

Thanks, Vera, for keeping it real.

I’m ever as real, as real can ever be.

Cheers.

Vera Maven versus Grimm

Meet Vera Maven

“Ms. Maven, do you ever think about television?”

I think about everything, I’m afraid.

“Maybe you can tell me about NBC’s Grimm?”

Oh, my dear! This is finishing it’s third season, and just a few weeks ago announced a fourth! This is positively ancient by nightly drama standards, isn’t it? Thankfully, TV drama tends to develop with age, and believe me, that is doubly, triply, quadruply thankful in the case of Grimm.

“So you weren’t a fan of the first season, I take it?”

I am a critic by nature, darling; I can never be a fan of anything. Such is my blessing and my curse. And even though this is the internet, let’s be honest, shall we? There were some serious problems with the first season.

The show dressed itself as a police procedural with a supernatural twist, one based on a mythology inspired from European fairy tales. As for the first part, the whole “procedural” outfit? There was nothing special, just basic formula. A cold open with a scary monster, a hero who discovered clues the audience already knew, and a fight scene to capture or kill the brutes. If the hero found a problem, oops! No worries! Just look in the Big Book That’s Never Wrong or ask his friend, Monroe, of whom I believe it will finally be revealed has the last name “Exposition.”

But, hey, even the trappings of a horrible outfit can look good on the runway with a brilliant model– it’s all about the people inside, n’est ce pas? Character counts? And, yes, I think we can all agree that our hero Nick, David Giuntoli, is a brilliant model of manhood. Did you know he was considered for Man of Steel? Indeed.

Grimm (2011-present) NBC Universal Television Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf

Grimm (2011-present) NBC Universal Television
Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf

But as good as poor, adorable Giuntoli is, it’s really Nick who I’m disappointed in. Can you honestly tell me why Nick is a hero? What’s his motivation? I can understand if, in the first season, he may be acting out his role as a “Grimm” simply because he has been flung into a brave new world by his dying Aunt, and he must find a way to survive. But what has happened instead is that Nick is merely fulfilling his role as Grimm at night the same way he fulfils his role as police officer by day– he’s basically punching a card and following the job description someone gave him. Having a sense of duty is nice, isn’t it? But WHY should someone have a sense of duty? It’s not all about duty, because he tries to balance it with a “normal” life with his family, by which I mean of course basically just one person, Juliette.

So it was a great decision to name the show Grimm, as it was really all the Great Nick Show in those first seasons, really. His job partner, his life partner, his were-partner, everyone really was there just so Nick could move through the plot. So here’s the “thankfully” part– the show runners have finally realised that it’s better for Nick to have all such partners be fully aware of his nature as a Grimm. There’s actually a supporting cast that can interact more freely! Hooray!

Especially for Juliette. In the beginning, she’s a perfect example of a problem character for characters with a secret identity. She’s someone who has to exist to support Her Man, but by definition she never can, because she can never know him fully. Passivity is so passé.

“Come on, Vera! At least she is over that season-long subplot of losing her memory…”

Shush! Shush! Shhhhhhh! There are some things we never speak of, my dear.

And look, she is still Ms. Problem! What can she really do, I mean, REALLY? She is a veterinarian, so that is somewhat, kind of, tangentially, if-you-squint related to the Wesen creatures Nick encounters? She is good at using Google? She can also read from the Big Book That Knows Everything?

If you are starting to think that this show is not necessarily meant for a female audience, I’m starting to think you are right. There really are no female leads, only support– Juliette and Rosalie– both defined only by their support of Nick. Oh? You will argue about Rosalie’s relationship with Monroe? Still defining by relationship and support of a man, dearie. Notice the other women who appear? All villains or creatures of the night who must be destroyed. And yes, I am raising my eyebrows in a knowing way right now.

“But Vera, the world they’ve created is much bigger than just Nick and the Monsters of Portland.”

I was going to subtitle it this way– Grimm: Nick and his Walking Talking Resources. But you are right to some extent. Must be those sharp, twinkling blue eyes of yours! There is a lot of world-building going on here. Too bad it’s so schizophrenic! The writers here seem to want to wrap a chiffon around the dungarees. But that’s just too separate to mesh well!

This has really been a problem in this recent season. Just look at the way they have A Plot and B Plot attempt to share space in the same episode, and yet have such separate tone, plot, and pacing that they might as well be different TV shows entirely. And when there is world-building in the Monster-of-the-Week of Portland world, it’s pretty much the same formula that we’ve been following from the beginning. “Oh, look! It’s dungarees again! But this time, they are made in Bangladesh, so it’s different.”

And that’s at best. At worst, they introduce a plot element simply to describe what we’ve been taking for granted for three years now. “Oh! So Wesen can recognise Grimms by their eyes. Good thing that took an episode to work through! Here’s some sunglasses.”

Yes, it’s a wonderful world of drawn-out B Plots and wedding plans.

But let’s leave with something good to say, yes? I’m such a positive person by nature, you know. Let’s see… Whoever Nick and Juliette hire to do their innumerable home repairs will certainly be able to afford a nice university for his children.

“Before Grimm leaves the runway, what’s your final assessment, Vera?”

 

It’s less on the “Must Watch” end of the scale and more on the “Watch If You Must.”

“Insightful as always, Ms. Maven.”

 

Charmed, my dear.

Vera Maven versus the Fantastic Four

Meet Vera MavenIn which Vera Maven tries to find something new to say about a comic 50 years old.

Vera! So nice to see you again!

Likewise, Darling. Like and wise.

Two words for you: Fantastic Four.

Ooh! Three more for you: Fan. TAS. Tic!

I hear you can critique this comic book property and have noticed something that *everyone* has failed to see. Does this mean you actually like them?

Well, I like the *idea* of them. What a wonderful property, you know. “In one corner, someone invents a wonderful machine that goes horribly wrong, while in the other corner, two others prank themselves over sandwiches, and in-between the insanity, someone has to keep the peace… BOOM! Instant adventures! Just add exotic lands, miraculous science, strange aliens, et cetera et cetera.

Most people point out how ground-breaking this comic book was– how it has a legacy of literally re-inventing a genre and launching the Marvel comics’ “universe.” But what more can be done with them?

Legacy? I wave that away with my hand. Shoo! Legacies are for aging ball players who can’t let go of that Last Big Game. Why are you defining something in the present by how important it was in the past? If the Foursome REALLY are all about legacy, you might as well put them on the shelf next to the marbles and pogs. Because what you are really saying is that the Fanta-Four have nothing more to add to our conversation anymore! If you don’t have something to say, then really you should stop talking. (Fortunately, this has never been a problem por moi.)

So, then, what DO they say? What is this comic really ABOUT? Isn’t it just about “family” or maybe “exploration?”

Oh, my boy. Sit down, sit down. We’ve all heard ALL the TIME about the Big Themes of Family and Exploration. Very true, but very droll. I mean, those are both so SIMPLE, really. What? Just because these characters ARE, after all and in fact, a family, so the Big Theme must be … family? Mr. Fantastic’s “job” is a scientist/inventor, so the Big Theme must be … exploring science? But then, my dear, by that same token, Batman is a man, so his big theme is … “A Man?”

Actually, that’s kind of interesting. Batman’s quest could be seen as a kind of attempt to search for masculinity, as he acts upon whatever ideas he has of protectorship, mentorship–

Okay, okay. Don’t critique the critique, dear. What I MEAN is, one can’t just point to a wacky invention in a comic panel that turns into a portal for a new world and cry “exploration!” That’s just a plot set-up! Just *doing* exploration isn’t *enough,* in and of itself. In the same way, one can’t yell out “family!” and wave a page of plot around and expect a story to resonate with readers. This label of “family” isn’t a theme so much as it is a topic. So DON’T just have Mr F and the I-Woman kiss and hug to say the comic is all about “Family.” How about instead have plots and characters coming together and falling apart and intertwining with all KINDS of stuff in order to say something LARGER– like “family can be made of different kinds of people” or “family unity helps us overcome our challenges.” It’s a subtle difference, but one necessary to tell a good intellectual property from the bad.

And you are all about subtlety, aren’t you, Vera?

Don’t insinuate, dear boy. It’s unbecoming.

So… what are left with, then? A family who explores things? I thought you said you had something new to offer?

Not new, per se. To my pretty little eye everyone seems to be forgetting one very important detail. Think back. After all, even YOU have noticed the “legacy,” n’êtes-vous pas? What is the one feature of the team’s stories BESIDES family or exploration, something that was part and parcel of the book from the beginning? It seems we have all forgotten one of the Fantastic Four’s key themes is… Celebrity.

Fantastic Four #2 (1962)

Fantastic Four #2 (1962)

Fact: By the second page of the second issue, this is 1962, mind you, the FF are household names that every citizen knows. In “one of America’s most expensive jewelry stores,” Susan Storm is let inside and allowed to sample a “ten million dollars” worth diamond by virtue of her presence alone. So it’s more than just family or exploration that’s on display here– I mean yes there are aliens but the plot set-up depends on the Foursome’s celebrity. Issue Three features Miracle Man (calling our heroes celebrities!), whose whole purpose for turning to villainy is to try to trump the Fantastic Ones (a la the Wizard, in Strange Tales.)

Fantastic Four #3 (1962)

Fantastic Four #3 (1962)

It also features the the first appearance of their very own skyscraper and flying car. By Issue Six, the characters spend a whole page or so to answering fan mail, thereafter a recurring element, and by Issue Seven, they’re even invited to Congressional dinners! And can you guess? Their celebrity status grew and grew. And the characters kind of liked it.

Fantastic Four 24

Fantastic Four #24 (1963)

Yes, the big wedding Annual issue is about family, of course, but it’s just as much about celebrity, as the event becomes a media frenzy that would rival any royal wedding (or reality TV show, for that matter.)

Fantastic Four Annual 3

Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965)

Perhaps it’s a SUBTLE thing, because it doesn’t drive the plots as much as the family or invention/exploration thingees, but there is a drive or a force of tone because of the celebrity element that’s in the background. These aren’t just the efforts of some work-a-day hero or even a hard-luck hero, whose efforts are noble but ultimately under the radar, but these are top-of-their-game, larger-than-life archetypical heroes with the whole world watching! So then, notice– there are two extremes at work here. One: a familiar family with quibbles and foibles like any family’s. And two: celebrities with fan mail, a lofty skyscraper house, and friends of kings and queens and alien Watchers.

This seems to be an important element to distinguish the Fantastic Four, but where is it lately? I sigh. Sigh! The stories (and they are some GREAT stories of course) take place entirely in the lofty, other-wordly skyscrapery castle for these larger-than-life figures. Contrast this to another famous super hero property all about “family” — The Incredibles. Their setting? The house next door. Where the bubble gum kid is wowed every day by the, well, incredible people around him. Occasionally, we’d see some citizens in New York reacting in a very bubble-gum-kid kind of way in those early FF issues, but I’d have a hard time remembering a similar scene in today’s pages.

You might have better luck with the recent book FF, featured in Fantastic Four: New Departures, New Arrivals and FF: Fantastic Faux (Kindle editions)

FFnewarrivalsFFfantasticfaux

Here, an alternative Fantastic Four take up the roles of our original foursome, and while the emphasis is on the “extended family” of a school of gifted youngsters, there’s a nice undercurrent of public spectacle running throughout.

It’s been a while since we had an Avengers Day parade, even.

Perhaps that’s the thing– the celebrity angle has been co-opted by a certain Iron Man. Certainly his movies have allowed him a degree of celebrity that the Fantastic Four’s cinematic offerings have yet to rival. For that reason Tony Stark is the Marvel Universe’s go-to guy for hi-tech hijinks. He’s the Marvel’s Apple products to Mr. Fantastic’s Sony.

So what’s the final word?

Ah! Claps all around, I say, but only small little golf claps, five in total. As a core concept, the Fantastic Four is a brilliant property ripe for adventures as well as comedy and complex interaction. They are primed for imagination and exploration. But as vibrant as the colors are, the truth is only the same picture is being painted over and over, and a key ingredient of being “celebrity” is too often overlooked, failing to give context to the remaining elements. Until we can get more momentum and change of status quo, and more commentary on the nature of celebrity in a heroic age, I can only give them three out of five flying bathtubs.

That’s still better than one!

And more than I will ever have, I’m afraid.

Vera Maven versus Captain America

Meet Vera MavenTo Review a Hero

“Vera! How are you?”

Darling, I am wonderful as you well know. All my imperfections are exactly in the right place.

“Well, I will leave that for others to judge. You are gaining quite a reputation as a critic yourself.”

Oh, I am not a critic, love. I *critique.*

“Fair enough. You know there is a Captain America sequel to be released in theaters next month.”

Mmm.

“I enjoy movies, as you know, but my first love will always be the comic books themselves. There’s something about superheroes that captivates my imagination. So maybe we can talk about the character of Captain America itself? Here’s the cover of the first Captain America I ever read.”

Captain_America_Vol_1_323

Oh, that’s special. But you are fibbing, surely?

“Ok, you caught me. But Captain America has nearly always been a member of the Avengers, and THOSE guys are my go-to comic heroes. Like this, one of my first Avengers’ tales I ever read. See? Cap. There he is.”

Avengers_Vol_1_277

Ah, but of course! Notice how you’ve captured something realllly interesting, here. One really must distinguish the use and purpose of Captain America BY HIMSELF and Captain America as a team member.

I can see it in that strong chin of yours, my dear. You never liked Captain America when you were younger. You liked the teams, mostly. I mean, of course, sure, you liked the Spider-Man, maybe even a Batman here or there. But there was something about the Captain by himself that just didn’t SPEAK to you, n’est ce pas?

For you, Captain America, as a solo hero, could never just BE a hero fighting for himself– because he always represented something LARGER. You thought he MUST be fighting always because of something else, yes? Look at him! Dressed with patriotic colors, holding a powerful round shield, often seen in the company of flags, stars, and stripes? How could he NOT be a soldier for some “agenda” of The Man? A super-soldier, of course, but a soldier nonetheless. Whereas the BEST heroes were vigilantes, outliers, the MAVericks. By definition, OUTside the system.

Ah! But you were young and so beautifully superficial! Just looking at surface details.

You see, what really makes Captain America work as a hero is NOT any kind of red-white-and-blue conformity. That turns out to be irrelevant! No, his story is all about one theme– STRIVE FORWARD. Now, obviously, this theme absoLUTEly thrives in context of a super-soldier– just throw in some World War II, or even some classical “American Dream” mythos in general. BOOM! INstant story– but one in danger of not just being a metaphor but an allegory that is so punch-Hitler-in-the-face that the READER sees stars and stripes. No wonder young little fanboys like yourself think that’s all there really is to Captain America!

Luckily, you are so smart in your biggie little head, so you DID recognize that when he’s in a group setting like the Avengers, this theme gets to be juxtaposed in all KINDS of other contexts. Now, the whole “to strive” thing gets to play off of Iron Man, who’s more about simply “forward” than “strive forward,” or Hawkeye, who’s theme is more like …

“Uh, ‘Don’t mess up’?”

Hmm, that works.

“So, as long as you play to his strengths, the powerful theme of “Strive Forward,” then Captain America is a success?”

Let’s not be so hasty, dear. There are some clear problems, here, OB-viously. What good is this theme without a steady way to highlight it? Cap has no *regularly*-featured supporting cast. Sure, you may have Falcon or some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents here or there, but there is no ensemble cast for him to be compared/contrasted against or to offer some plot springboards, et cetera et cetera. No wonder this central theme is lost!

For Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, even Hulk (well, SOMEtimes) have what we call whole *franchises* surrounding them. The good Cap has a few of these, in a pinch, but is nowhere near the same level. Is there no wonder that he has a hard time resonating with readers *as a property,* when all the trappings of a property are either superficial or essentially non-existent? Would Superman be as iconic as a property without having the same amount of shared history with Lois Lane, the Daily Planet, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, et cetera et cetera? Instead, with Cap, one has a hero that works best in an ensemble but is never given time to actually DEVELOP with a supporting cast?

(And really, is there something in the zeitgeist or something? Captain used to be a solo hero, on the sidelines, fighting to support American ideals but never REALLY identifying with the government per se. Now? He’s leading whole organizations, on the front lines of a capital-I Institution like SHIELD so much so that he’s practically a punch-the-clock company man. For shame.)

Oh, and please tell me you consider villains every time you’re considering heroes, yes? I mean, REALLY iconic heroes have also villains that can *specifically* highlight their themes, too. And where’s Captain America’s? Ah, ah, ah! I know! You are about to say “Red Skull,” aren’t you? Yes, yes, yes, a FABulous villain, yes. But really THINK. Is the Skull as a villain REALLY able to show what Captain America is all about? The Skull’s just, well, EVIL. Where’s the nuance? Where’s the thematic resonance? There’s no contrast in the same way Spider-Man/Dr. Octopus play off one another, to say nothing of Batman/Joker.

(In fact, I’d say a kind of “Joker” is what Cap really needs. He *should* be paired with a villain who’s theme is all about selfish play. So bring back Madcap, Jester, Screwball, or even, heaven’s forfend, Deadpool!) Try pairing him also against villains like Flagsmasher, Nekra, Black Mamba, or maybe crime cartels like Count Nefarius or Madame Masque. One “classic” villain used well in this regard recently was Arnim Zola under Rick Remender’s pen (Captain America #1, Nov. 2012 – Captain America #10, July 2013; collected in Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z Book 1 and Book 2) As a bonus, Cap was given a sidekick, first his “son” and then Zola’s “daughter” Jet Black. Could it be that the good Captain has a chance to really show his STRIVE FORWARD theme for the first time in ages?

Captain_America_Bk1

“Final verdict?”

Oh, such a classic hero, with dramatic imagery? He’s near the top of the scale, surely, but points have to be taken for such dangerously superficial trappings and a lack of driving story devices. Also, the current portrayal in the comics is just so leathery-strappy, like they are forced to draw some hyper-realistic version from the movies instead of a clean line of comic booky graphic design. So I’m thinking… a 7. Solidly.

“You are a wonder, Vera Maven.”

One does one’s best.