Monday, May 30, 2016

Week of 05/30/2016

Marvel’s Traitor Turn
As longtime readers know, I am a big comic book fan.  I’ve been one since I was a child  Comic books gave me an escape when I needed one, and it was something that I could always turn back to at any time.  I didn’t know there was such a thing as a regular subscription when I was that age, so I had to rely on the local all-purpose store (Vality, just in case you were wondering) to have the latest comics on their shelves.  I had to save up on my allowance to get just one comic, so I had to make sure the comic I got was something I really wanted to read over and over again.
This was a time when the President of the United States stepped down for fear of being impeached.  When trust in government was almost non-existent.  When the Olympic Games were no longer safe.  When an outside organization from half-a-planet away named OPEC held our economy hostage for their naked greed.
Of course, none of this stuff didn’t enter into my mind at the time.  I was a kid, remember!  All I knew was that my parents weren’t happy about something, and some of it affected the things we used to enjoy.  All I knew was that if I was bored, there was my stack of comics on a shelf in a moldy and musty basement that hopefully didn’t get wet when the dehumidifier overflowed and the shelf fell apart.
I had two great superheroes at the time: Superman and Spider-Man.  Sometimes there was Batman, but I couldn’t really get into that character.  I’d mostly read his stuff if there was a team-up issue or if it’s a “Justice League of America” comic.
Because I loved reading comics, it got me to watching cartoons of the comics.  Between the Hanna-Barbera “Super-Friends” series and the older Filmation “The New Adventures of Superman” cartoons, I was happy.  I’d even watch the Filmation “Spider-Man” stuff.  This was my “drug”; my “Prozac” or “Ritalin”.  Sit me down in front of the TV with these on and I’d be lost in their world for the next hour or two.
As I got older, my appreciation of comics matured.  They still were my escape, but now I was more interested in the story than just the images.  And while my interests expanded from the mainstream DC to Marvel’s “X-Men” and – for a brief time – “Avengers”, and even to the independent comics from Valiant and Malibu and Dark Horse, I came to realize and accept that some things would remain eternal.
Superman was always the symbol of hope.  Batman was always the dark force for justice.  Spider-Man was always about responsibility.  And Captain America would always stand as a symbol of freedom and patriotism.
Superman died and came back from the dead.  He was pushed to the depths of despair, but he still persevered and inspired others.  Batman had his spine snapped, confined to a wheelchair, his very sense of self destroyed, his friends and family viciously attacked, his legacy perverted by the young men that he thought would be his successors, and yet he still managed to fight back from death itself and rebuild himself to ensure that justice prevailed.  Spider-Man made foolish and reckless decisions that cost him the lives of those he loved and a chance at a family, but he still eventually grasped the sense of responsibility that went with the power and costume he so loved to use.
And Captain America?  When Nixon ordered Cap to do something that went against his beliefs, he abandoned being Captain America and became “Nomad”.  When a committee tried to turn America’s super-soldier into their tool, he gave up his shield and costume and became simply “The Captain”.  When the federal government passed an all-encompassing registration act that ordered all heroes to unmask and submit to the will of government, Cap formed the resistance and started a Civil War that affected both heroes and villains.  Even when faced against a power-mad Titan with the almighty power of God in his hand, Cap stood tall for what he believed in and bravely faced his death.
And now we learned that this was all a lie.
In “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #1, the first issue published to help celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the character’s never-ending campaign for freedom and for America, we see a rejuvenated Steve Rogers resume the mantle of Captain America.  We see him fight those that threaten freedom in America, and to lead the new heroes that were inspired by his extended life-long crusade.
And then, in the very last pages, we see him betray everything that he stood for with two words.
That’s right folks... Steve Rogers, Captain America, the man that fought against evil and tyranny from all corners... the one that fought in World War II and punched Adolf Hitler in the jaw and stood up against the President of the United States and the United States Congress and S.H.I.E.L.D. and even against Islamic terrorists and American militiamen... is actually a member of Hydra, the very organization that he’s been fighting since he first put on his colorful uniform 75 years ago!
Not only that, but we learned in this issue that he was “groomed” for Hydra since he was a child in Brooklyn. That means that he’s been an agent of Hydra all this time!
That means that everything that he’s said and done since he was a child that we were supposed to take pride in has been a lie!
Every time he stood up to a bully and encouraged others to take a stand against bullies has been a lie!  Every time he told us to stand up for what we believe in, even if means being hurt, even if it means being fired, even if it means you have to give up what you love doing, even if it means going to prison for it, even if it means dying for it... all of that... has been a lie!
And I know what some of you are thinking... you’re thinking this is an alternate universe Cap, or some evil clone of Steve Rogers, or an imposter, or a Life Model Decoy of Cap, or maybe it’s one of their infamous “What If” stories.  No, it’s not any of those things according to writer Nick Spencer or Executive Editor Tom Brevoort.  According to them, Steve Rogers has always been a sleeper agent for Hydra since before he became Captain America.
Now I want you to consider the significance of this shocking revelation.  The character of Captain America was created by two Jewish boys in America at a time when the overriding sentiment in the United States was to do nothing against the global three-pronged threat of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.  (Or four if you count the communistic Soviet Union.)  Hydra itself is supposed to be some super-fascist organization that transcended Nazi Germany on a level that even Hitler’s ideals couldn’t match up to. 
So to have it come out that Steven Rogers, the weak and sickly young man that epitomized the helplessness of Americans transformed into a living icon of American ideals, was actually a part of that great evil is not just a slap in the face of 75 years of history and the countless readers of Marvel publications.  Let’s get brutally honest here... it’s a brutal stab in the back of those two young Jewish boys in New York who came up with the character.  Would you be the one to tell Joe Simon and Jack Kirby that their most iconic hero would become a hypocritical traitor?  I guess it’s a good thing they’re already dead, because I think this would have killed them.
Even worse is that this is coming out at the start of Memorial Day weekend.  It’s a time when we remember those that sacrificed their lives in the service of America.  It’s also the beginning of the season of faux patriotism, when politicians, Fox News media personalities, and talk radio listeners all wear the American flag on their sleeves.  Stores have been putting up red-white-and-blue decorations and American flags.  The TV is loaded with memories of wars past and present.  The movie theaters still are running “Captain America: Civil War”, the fifth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise featuring the super-soldier.
All of that is now stained.  “Hail Hydra!”
It probably should be noted that this came at a time when some people were asking for Cap to have a “Brokeback Mountain” relationship with his longtime friend Bucky, but I suspect this was just a red herring for the real shocker.  And I have to seriously question the idea of making two same-sex friends “Brokeback friends” that otherwise wouldn’t be.  Cap has Sharon Carter.  Bucky has Black Widow.  Let it be.  If you want an LGBT hero, then make one.  Stop trying to take them from already-established characters.  Enough of that crap!
Of course, as a comic book creator myself, I know there are a few ways out of this whole Hydra mess.  Cap’s youth and strength was returned because of a reality-changing plot device called a cosmic cube.  They could just as easily say this was part of that great cosmic meddling.  Mephisto, Marvel’s devil, could easily say this was one of his jobs.  After all, he got Spider-Man to give up his marriage to Mary Jane.  The Infinity Stones, another plot device in the Marvel Universe, could also change things in the wrong hands.  Or they could just as easily say that Cap’s childhood flashbacks were just programmed by S.H.I.E.L.D. as part of some deep cover and that he was never really a double-agent. Oh, and Jack Flag’s death at Cap’s hands?  That could be staged.  We never really did see him die.
Much like what the legendary comic creator Stan Lee said this past weekend, I agree that it’s a hell of an idea.  And at any other time, it would probably be an interesting twist to get and retain readers.  But not now.  Not on Memorial Day weekend, not during the period of faux patriotism, not during the 75th Anniversary of the character, and not during the time when that character is riding high in both TV and the theaters.
Being a symbol to move and inspire the masses is a form of power, and, as young Peter Parker was told from his late uncle, with great power comes great responsibility.  It’s sad to see that the folks at Marvel have betrayed that saying and their fans with this turn of events.  Indeed, they appear to be adhering to the saying exhibited by large publications of late: with great publicity comes great profit.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Week of 05/23/2016

Academic Whining
Here in the Atlanta area, one of our local news stations does a one-minute commentary segment called “Just A Minute”, which usually has the same collection of media personalities rambling on about something either in the news or just something on their mind.  Some of them have a jovial and comical tone to their voices.  Others just appear to be whining for the sake of whining.
Recently, one of their personalities decided to use that minute to whine about the selection of guest speakers for college graduations.  I won’t say who she is to “spare” her from feeing “shamed”, but her whine is that colleges have been inviting a whole plethora of liberal celebrities from actors and authors to political figures.  Where, she asks, are all of the conservative speakers?  Why, she asks, is academia so hateful towards conservative speakers?
This is typical tripe from conservative minds.  They play the “poor persecuted victim” card at every opportunity when they’re not dominating the subject.  They carry a ready-made “persecution” banner just like shyster lawyers carry arm slings and neck braces so they could claim “whiplash” whenever they bump into someone.  And it’s all an act to validate their past actions and to justify their future ones.  It’s simply bully projection.
I’ll presume that the whining media personality doesn’t know a thing about college graduations or the reason why there are guest speakers.  Having a bachelor’s degree from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, I obviously went through the graduation ceremony.  They’re long and boring as hell.  It’s a lot of ceremony and sitting around or standing in line wondering just how long the process will drag on. 
Graduation ceremonies really aren’t made for the students.  They are made for the college faculty and administrators.  They get to wear the fanciest caps and gowns, and you can see the pride on their faces.  And most of the ceremony is about them and what they’ve done.  They are telling the world “Look at all the people that we’ve educated!” 
The only thing that really brightens the ceremony other than the end is the commencement speaker.  And that’s because the purpose of the commencement speaker is for publicity.  They’re there to bring attention to the school.  The school gets to brag about who they were able to invite, and, if the celebrity is noteworthy enough, the media will highlight what that speaker says in one or two sentences, which is free publicity in and of itself.
Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s talk about the so-called “problem”.
First, I seriously doubt that conservatives got “snubbed” from every college graduation ceremony.  You mean to tell me that every single college and university, even the ultra-conservative ones like Bob Jones University and Liberty University (which, by the way, many a Supreme Court clerk came from), decided to snub conservative speakers?  I call shenanigans on that claim!
I would dare suspect that the real complaint is not about colleges not inviting conservative speakers, but that the air-fluffed, ego-driven media is not reporting about conservative speakers at certain colleges and universities.
But, for the sake of their delusion, let’s just say that media bias was not involved.  Let’s also suppose, for the sake of that same delusion, that there really is a deliberate snubbing of conservative and neo-conservative figures from colleges and universities all across America.
Should anyone really be surprised at this, given the hostility that the conservatives and neo-conservatives have shown towards the institutions of higher education and towards education itself?
How many years have the conservatives and neo-conservatives been attacking education, and specifically attacking academia?  How many times have conservatives bashed academia as being bastions of ignorance?  How many times have the college students been accused by conservatives and neo-conservatives of being petty and self-centered and not having a single clue as to how the real world operates?  How many times have conservatives and neo-conservatives attacked educators in the media and demanded they be held to performance standards that they would never hold themselves to?
When educators try to fix things, conservatives and neo-conservatives are the first to scream foul.  Their more recent crusade involves Common Core standards; the very kind of standardized testing that conservatives and neo-conservative required under their own “No Child Left Behind” law.  But, then again, that was back when they controlled the White House and Congress, isn’t it?  As soon as they were out of power, it became yet another “threat” that they needed to stop at all costs.  And, believe me, I have seen plenty a campaign flier from career politicians and their wannabe challengers all pledging to “stop Common Core” like it was a terrorist cell.
Between that and the efforts to defund public education and move kids to private charter schools and home schooling, not to mention the continual campaign to crucify science to save the conservative egos (not to mention their campaign wallets) from climate change, it’s easy for one to conclude that conservatives and neo-conservatives have the same regard for educational institutions as fictional Faber University did for “Delta House”.
Given that, why should any faculty member or administrator of colleges even consider “rewarding” those conservative and neo-conservatives with the opportunity to be a commencement speaker?
Let’s get brutally honest here... you have a right as an American citizen to question and challenge how our children are being prepared for the real world, especially when our tax monies are involved.  But that right does not entitle you or your conservative and neo-conservative personalities an automatic platform in the very educational institutions that you’re questioning and challenging.  You don’t cajole educators and administrators, threaten to take away their finances, demand that they adhere to whatever crazy theory you may have about the world, and then expect them to invite you or your ideological champions to their graduation ceremonies.
There’s a little thing called “cause and effect”.  I’m sure the conservatives and neo-conservatives have heard about it.  They use it when they try to hold others to account for their actions.  Well, it also applies to you.
Remember that graduation ceremonies are really there for the school administrators and faculty.  This is their time, and they invite those that best reflect their institutions.  In that regard, it appears that they have a better grasp of that particular reality than do their critics. 
Perhaps it’s best to simply regard this as a “teachable moment”.  After all, it’s never too late to learn things.