Sunday, October 10, 2021

On the New Marvel Unlimited App

This past month, Marvel updated – and aggressively marketed - its Marvel Unlimited app, adding exclusive digital “infinity” comics that are optimized for phone screens. As a long-time subscriber to Marvel Unlimited, I did in fact download the update — and I have some thoughts.


First, beware: the new app is not compatible with all devices. While I had no trouble downloading it onto my phone, I’m now unable to use Marvel Unlimited on my Samsung 4. This is a bit of an inconvenience to me because, being an older lady, I now have trouble reading on itty-bitty screens. Keep in mind: according to the company’s website, the updated app will only work for Apple OS 11.0+ or Android 5+. 


On my phone, the app loads well even on my rural internet — though there are a few bugs I’ve encountered. One, if you’re an established subscriber, it takes a few days for your existing library to be transferred. Two, brand new comics (particularly the infinity comics) don’t always load without errors, especially on their first day of advertised availability. Third, the library is now sorting by series instead of by issue, which, based on the Twitter chatter, has annoyed quite a few long-time users. And lastly, I’m not a big fan of the navigation set-up. The end pop-up for each comic does not include a direct link to “Library” or “Home,” which forces you to back-arrow several times to get back to the main menus. Maybe this won’t bother you at all, but I personally find it a little aggravating.


Now about the content: I don’t recommend you sign up for the new Marvel Unlimited just to get access to the “exclusive” infinity comics. I’ve read all of them, and they’re just not worth the extra expense if you don’t already have an account. Said comics are either completely safe and substance-free or they reach heights of moral inversion so horrifying that I, at least, wondered what the hell the creators were thinking when they were putting them together. 


Take, for example, the most egregious offender of the bunch: “X-Men: Green,” issues #5 and #6 of the X-Men infinity comic. In this story, Nature Girl decides to avenge the death of a sea turtle – and environmental degradation in general – by stabbing a random grocery store manager in the neck with a pair of scissors. Yes, you read that right: Nature Girl doesn’t investigate the real reasons why plastic pollution in the ocean is a problem (like, for example, poor sanitation in China). Instead, she opts for ecoterrorism — and targets some working-class schlub who probably has little to do with his grocery chain’s bagging decisions.


Sea turtles are more worthy of our concern than homo sapiens. -- Marvel, 2021.


“Is this a villain origin story?” you may ask. And yes, I wondered that too. Unfortunately, everyone else in the story (including Xavier and Wolverine) starts treating this little psychopath like she’s either a poor, misguided soul
or – even more shockingly – a hero worth emulating. What the actual hell? These are not Chris Claremont’s X-Men. (Though, in fairness, those X-Men have been missing and presumed dead for quite some time.)


Yes, it's all baseline humanity's fault. Mutants didn't live regular, waste-producing human lives - or patronize regular, plastic-using human stores - prior to the founding of their new Krakoan nation. You totally didn't read those Bronze Age comics in which the mutants, say, go shopping in Manhattan. 

That's right, kids: you should look up to violent environmental activists. They're awesome!

I could also spill quite a few words on the lazy and sinister Captain America infinity comic. In said "story," Cap is sent in to negotiate with and ultimately subdue activists who've taken over Independence Hall in Philly. Why does Travis, the antagonist, want to use this landmark building to pull off his evil plan to control the populace? Well, we can guess (Travis and his compatriots appear to be very-thinly-veiled allegorical representations of the 1/6 Capitol rioters), but we don't actually know for sure because the writer doesn't even bother to give Travis (and those perceived to be on his side) any real dialogue:


Here's a hint, Marvel: when you avoid the specific motivations of Cap's opponents in this fashion - when you fail to make clear what it is they think and why it's dangerous - you diminish Cap himself. If Travis is just a yokel whose ideas are utterly dismissible as "nationalist platitudes," then Cap really doesn't accomplish anything at all in defeating Travis' scheme. A great hero requires a formidable villain. (And no: allowing Travis to speak doesn't "give fascists a platform." Only idiot leftists who failed reading comprehension actually think this. Everyone else who's not a baby-brained imbecile understands that what the villain says is supposed to be wrong. Jesus fucking Christ.)

But the fact that the writer picks an obvious target and outright refuses to develop his villainy in any real sense isn't even the worst aspect of this comic. No: that comes at the end, after Cap has stopped Travis and is brought before the government to explain why he destroyed the Liberty Bell in the process:



The lecture Cap delivers here basically encourages these politicians - and the reader - to be suspicious of and confrontational with the guy next door. Our real enemy, Cap says, is our fellow Americans. Other parents cheering in the stands at your local soccer game? They're possible monsters. The mom behind you at the ice cream stand? Don't trust her; she could be a threat. Allow me to be quite blunt: this is evil. This is misusing Cap to gin up further political polarization -- and maybe even foment civil war. And the true Cap would be absolutely appalled.

Suffice it to say that these infinity comics do not represent Marvel’s best. To find those, you should hit the app’s extensive back catalogue — i.e., the reason I signed up for Marvel Unlimited in the first place. At $9.99/month, this subscription is a bargain-basement way to catch up on comics from decades ago. And if you’re willing to wait for three months, you’ll eventually have access to the new comics too. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

**Announcement of Partial Hiatus**

Posts (including that aforementioned discussion regarding politics in the Captain America comics) will still appear on this blog from time to time, but for the next few months, I plan on devoting most of my energy to developing my Iron Man fan comic and working on a possible book idea. See you on the flip side! 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Continuing the Space Trilogy Discussion w/Perelandra!

And, unfortunately, that's all I have ready for this post. But the next should be pretty chock full. In addition to some comic and book reviews, I also plan to share an essay on the abuse of Captain America. Hope you'll stop by on the 17th for the fun!

ETA: The second post of the month has now been pushed back to 7/31. Many apologies!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

One Review, One Advertisement, and Several Streams

Let's open this post with the review: Yesterday, I started - and rapidly finished - Andy Weir's Project Hail Mary, which is absolutely outstanding and thus earns my highest recommendation. Indeed, I don't think I've been this excited about a book in quite some time.

How shall we describe the premise of Weir's third novel? Well, I read it as an offspring of a marriage between The Martian (reviewed here) and my favorite first contact narratives (like, for example, James Cambias' A Darkling Sea, reviewed here), . 

Like Mark Watney, the protagonist and point-of-view character in Project Hail Mary - Dr. Ryland Grace - is a wise-cracking, super-skilled scientist who must rely on his wits to solve seemingly insurmountable problems. In this case, however, the primary test he faces is not mere survival but an imminent apocalypse: a newly-discovered space-faring unicellular lifeform is syphoning energy off our sun (and off many other stars in our local cluster), and Grace has been sent to Tau Ceti on a fast-tracked suicide mission to find a solution before crop failures and radical climate change destroy the human race. 

Interestingly, the above remit is not something Grace realizes right off the bat; interestingly, it is something he has to discover gradually after waking up from an extended medically-induced coma with severe memory loss. And it is this choice to situate the main character in the same condition of ignorance as the reader as to the full context of his predicament that, in part, makes for a riveting story. 

The other thing that kept me turning the pages besides Grace's slow-to-resolve amnesia (and, of course, Earth's impending doom) is "Rocky," our second principal character. "Rocky" (dubbed thus by Grace because of his mineral-based exoskeleton) is an ammonia-breathing alien spider from the Eridani system who has come to Tau Ceti to save his own species from the very same invasive organism that is threatening Earth. It is "Rocky" who brings the Darkling Sea elements to the table; after Grace and "Rocky" encounter each other, much of the middle chapters are devoted to their attempts to 1.) recognize each other's sapience, 2.) communicate, and 3.) learn about each other's biology and cultural traditions. I suppose another breed of reader might find such exposition boring, but I don't; on the contrary, I'm attracted to science fiction precisely because it tackles this challenge of mutual comprehension so often.

Plus? "Rocky" is so. damned. likable. Once Grace and "Rocky" learn the basics of each other's languages and it's revealed that they're both the sole survivors of their respective missions, they strike up a genuine, heart-felt friendship that, at several points, moved me to tears. The end of chapter 19 in particular is a stand-out moment. I actually had to stop for a while to collect myself before proceeding to chapter 20.

Bottom line, what we have in Project Hail Mary is a book that brings several positives to the table: 1.) sympathetic characters, 2.) high stakes, and 3.) more than one intellectually engaging mystery. On top of all that, we can add the fact that our main characters do not, as we eventually learn, hail from the cream of the crop. "Rocky" is a workhorse engineer, and Grace -- well, I don't want to spoil the specifics about his history, but suffice it to say that he's not a stellar specimen either. And I like what that says, implicitly, about the heroic capacities of ordinary people. This novel is competence porn -- but it's also Human Wave to the core. A+



Now for the advertisement: If you have the time, I encourage all of you to sign up for the July 3rd Zoom seminar that's been arranged by The Society of Tolkien. Said seminar promises to celebrate Tolkien's works as they were intended to be celebrated: without Current Year nonsense. Because of course, Tolkien was a mid-20th century Catholic fantasy writer who, if he were ported to 2021, would find present-day fixations utterly incomprehensible and bizarre.

(Yes, I'm throwing shade at a certain converged organization that shall remain nameless. And no, I'm not even remotely sorry about that. Authorial intent does matter -- and so does historical context.)



And finally, here are the links to my most recent streams:



This one is our discussion of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.



This one is our regular Iron Man stream, which covered the latest annual, a plot-arc from the early 2000's, and one story from Tales of Suspense.



And this is the one we streamed today on C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet.

Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Western Comics, 6/2021

Western Comics: Capsule Reviews


As it turns out, I don’t have much to say about May’s offerings from the Big Two, so this column will focus on three four-star independent graphic novels I read in the past month — one recent release followed by two online recommendations.


T-Bird & Throttle vs. the Moon Men

Writer/Artist: Josh Howard

(How Rad Comics, Superhero)


A YouTube commentator I regularly follow has described this book as the anti-Watchmen, noting that it is a reconstruction (rather than a deconstruction) of the superhero. Said reviewer, in my view, got it exactly right. The first volume of T-Bird & Throttle opens with our protagonist living in disgrace, despised by a world that views men like T-Bird as fascistic, misogynistic, racist — basically any au courant insult you can imagine. But lest you think Josh Howard is simply out to satirize “wokeness,” it should also be noted that T-Bird’s past is not sinless — that, in fact, he does have one major skeleton in his closet for which he needs to atone. So while this story does have some pretty pointed things to say about the eagerness with which certain factions embrace misinformation and smear campaigns, its more important purpose is to tell a redemption story — a purpose it achieves with genuine heart.


Cardboard

Writer/Artist: Doug TenNapel

(Scholastic, Fantasy — Real World Setting, Young Adult)


Are you someone who absolutely adores books like The Velveteen Rabbit or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane? Then this comic might be for you. The premise: an out-of-work widower, struggling to put together some semblance of a decent birthday celebration for his son, meets a weird salesman who sells him an enchanted cardboard box from which figures can be made and brought to life. From this box, father and son build a man who actually turns out to be a great protector and friend — something they end up needing when the neighborhood ne’er-do-well steals some of the magical cardboard and uses it to make a menacing army of monsters. As an adult reader, I was able to predict the progression of the story here fairly easily — and even foresaw the ending. Nonetheless, it still hit me hard in the feels. Why? Because throughout, TenNapel tackles his main characters’ background grief with touching sincerity and real human emotion. The depiction of the father’s difficulties in particular make Cardboard, in my view, an unquestionable winner. 


The Shadow Hero

Writer: Gene Luen Yang

Artist: Sonny Liew

(First Second Books, Superhero/Historical)


As I hope I made clear a while back when I reviewed Superman Smashes the Klan, Gene Luen Yang knows how to write. And because he has that talent, he’s able to do “representation” right. He doesn’t lecture the reader, and he doesn’t stack the deck in favor of his specific view of the world. Instead, he channels his experiences as a Chinese American into stories that are creative, complex, and honest — stories like The Shadow Hero, in which Yang unearths a little-known Golden Age hero and gives him an interesting (and tragic) origin story rooted in the mid-20th-century Asian immigrant experience. The only complaint I have here? I would’ve liked to have seen just a little more acknowledgement of the father’s decency and bravery. That he asked the turtle spirit to keep him sober instantly inspires my fascination and sympathy — and puts the lie to the idea that he was a coward. But that bit of quibbling aside, this is an essential read for anyone looking for high-quality “diverse” titles that aren’t just thinly-disguised political tracts.     


Yes, I take requests and suggestions! If there’s a particular review you’d like to see, please contact me at hobsonphile@gmail.com and tell me the title, creators, and - most importantly - point of sale. Assuming the comic in question is available for immediate purchase, I will respond in the following issue!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

ICYMI: My Latest Comics Stream w/#1 Marmaduke Fan

Here, we talk about the incredibly stupid marketing campaign for the Hellfire Gala, dive deep into Way of X #1, and then finish the broadcast with my favorite title: Iron Man!