Greetings, reading rainbow raiders! It’s a pretty good batch of mail this week, if I do say so myself. We explore the nature of storytelling and the difficulties of religious tolerance, but I also get to talk about poop and fictional characters’ genitals! God I love my job.


Squirrels Just Wanna Have Fun

Jason from Battleworld:

Being from the future and having no doubt studied the long history of our modern day nerds, could you explain to me what the deal with Squirrel Girl is? And by that, I am referring to that nearly every comment section on any article talking about comics will have between 1 and 15 people say, “They should put Squirrel Girl in this book, she’d beat (insert literally ANY villain name here) no problem.” followed by posts of “Yeah, she beat Galactus/Thanos/etc.” Now, that is all well and good, but aren’t the people who post comments about how Squirrel Girl is AWESOME because her power allows her to beat any villain by being just a little more powerful than they are the exact same people who make complain that Superman sucks because he is too powerful and thus boring? I haven’t read any of her books, but it would sound like there is no real conflict/tension to the stories. Now, no doubt the fanboys of your time have evolved beyond being hypocritical so I wanted your take. I would be fine if people said, “I love Squirrel Girl because of writing/art/quirky character design,” but all I ever hear is “dude, she totally kicked Thanos’ butt and she could beat ANYONE!” Please weigh in.

Well, yes and no. You’re technically correct—the best kind of correct!—that the complaint is the same for both characters, but the expectations of those characters are vastly different. Squirrel Girl is meant to be comedic, and Superman is not. Comedies get a lot more latitude, because you don’t need dramatic tension when you’re providing laughs. But Superman is not a comedy, and thus requires dramatic tension to hold our interest. In this sense, this is purely Superman’s problem, and not SG’s.

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Let me put it this way: At the end of the day, we both know that Squirrel Girl, Superman and pretty much any other superhero will end their stories by beating the bad guys (did you really think Batman V. Superman is going to end with Bats and Supes not saving the day or being BFFs? Did you really have any doubt the Avengers would beat Ultron and Loki?). The question is how will they make the story of Superman/Batman/Etc. defeating this foe interesting? For Squirrel Girl, the answer is almost always interesting because her power is talking to squirrels. We know she’s going to beat Dr. Doom, Galactus and Thanos somehow, but we can’t imagine how—and that’s what we want to see.

Where Superman runs into trouble is that most writers don’t know how to give Superman a worthwhile conflict, a problem that he shouldn’t be able to solve or a bad guy he can’t just beat up in about two minutes. Often, writers find ways to depower Superman to make the fight more challenging; sometimes they give a justification in the story, but more often they just ignore or forget the solutions Superman has on hand, and hope you forget or ignore them too.

In that sense, the character has too much power—that writers don’t know how to give him an exciting challenge. But this isn’t an impossible task, by the way. I’ve said it many times, but all you need to do read Superman stories where Superman is at his most powerful, and yet still facing genuinely formidable problems, is pick up Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman. Again, the best Superman stories aren’t where he has to out-punch somebody—that’s practically 85% or every Superman story ever told—but how he has to find solutions to problems he can’t just punch, or heat-vision or freeze-breath his way out of.

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But anyways! Obviously, stories where you don’t know what’s going to happen can be fantastic—I don’t have the faintest clue where Game of Thrones is going now, and I love it—but stories that fit into a prescribed form, which is pretty much most superhero stories can also be fantastic, because we want to experience the conflict, not the end of it. “It’s the journey not the destination is a cliché”, but it’s certainly true.


Fear Itself

Daryl’s Crossbow Repairman:

I don’t get the point of Fear the Walking Dead. We already know how the show’s going to end – zombie apocalypse. Isn’t the show just going to us watching as these people slowly figure out what is going on? Won’t it be irritating to watch them try and figure out what is happening when we already know its zombies? How is that not completely boring?

Obviously it’ll be irritating to some people—and that’s fine—but I’m still looking forward to it. The reason I believe The Walking Dead has been so popular is because unlike every other zombie story, it doesn’t end, and it’s fascinating to see characters survive, but have to continue to survive in an ongoing nightmare, and how it affects them. I’ve said this before, but George Romero’s zombie movies take place at various time points after the zombie apocalypse, but they’re mostly self-contained stories. In TWD, the characters are unable to escape the world, and thus it changes them and wears on them in ways you never see in zombie movies.

Now it’s true we know the eventual destination of Fear the Walking Dead, but by the same token, I’m really looking forward to seeing a story take its time with the zombie apocalypse. Most zombie movies begin with a quick montage of the world ending in order to establish the setting (e.g. the opening of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, which is probably one of the finest things Zack Snyder has ever directed). It’s something that most zombie stories have to get out of the way. But the world doesn’t end it once, it falls apart slowly, over time. I think seeing civilization crumble throughout the course of the show through the eyes of a few otherwise normal families has the potential to be pretty fascinating.


Reason to Disbelieve

3ponin3:

This may be a weird question, but your little thing at the ends says I can ask you anything, so here goes:

I’m an atheist. I’m not a preachy atheist who mocks religious people (at least I hope not) but I do tend to assume people I like and respect and think are smart are also atheists, or at least agnostic. So when I find out one of these people are really religious, I’m always taken aback — and kind of disappointed.

Does this make me a bad person?

I’ve actually had the exact same feelings. I don’t think it’s that unusual. Perhaps you religious people can tell me in the comments if you also tend to assume that people you like and admire are your same religion, or even just religious. I don’t think it’s that weird to project

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I had a friend once who actually had the greatest term for that feeling when you get bummed out upon finding a celebrity you like is also super-religious, or a Scientologist, or etc.: “A crisis of faithlessness,” a moment that disturbs you enough to momentarily doubt your own lack of belief. If so-and-so is so smart and funny and believes in such-and-such, could it be possible I’m the one who’s wrong? It’s a great term. Use it in your next conversation! Anyways, unless you’re publicly denouncing these people for their beliefs, or denigrating them to their faces for their “stupidity” in believing in some kind of bearded sky-lord and you just keep it to yourself, you are not a bad person.

In fact, this exact situation has actually made me more tolerant of religious people. I don’t know who knows this, but one of my favorite entertainers in the world, Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax is a very conservative Christian, which blew my mind given the many of not-at-all conservative jokes he’s told over the years. Eventually I came to realize I was trying to condemn him for his beliefs, which is just as awful as someone condemning someone else for their lack of beliefs. So Nelson helped me realize that just like I wouldn’t want someone to stereotype me as an immoral hedonist, I shouldn’t assume one’s faith and politics can mean they can’t be completely tolerant, extremely intelligent, and unbelievably funny. Just something to keep in mind.


Nosferat-poo

BooUrns:

Do vampires poop?

While watching the hilarious What We Do in the Shadows for about the tenth time the other night, Lady BooUrns and I pontificated this very question of vampire biology. There are moments of the film where Nick the Vampire mentions the downsides to vampirism, such as no daytime TV, and he can’t eat chips. Viago lists drinking human blood as the only real negative.

Not pooping would be quite the upside to me. Being able to travel the world over after dark would be much easier if I didn’t have to worry about finding a toilet. That’s one stress in my life I could do without when travelling overseas. I’d argue it would be worth a supernatural life on earth and eternal damnation if I never had to poo again.

I have some very bad news for any would-be vampires out there.

First of all, if you’re a human and drink a lot of blood, you’re going to die. Blood of course has a lot of iron, and the human body only needs a certain amount of it. Any kind of regular blood drinking would give you a toxic level of iron, which is very bad news for your liver, heart and testicles (it’s called haemochromatosis, FYI).

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So obviously vampires have a way to avoid iron build-up, and it makes sense to look at the vampire bat, who does drink blood as part of its regular diet and does not live in testicular agony. The vampire bat has a special lining in their intestines which lets the blood pass into the body to nourish it, while keeping out all the extra iron they can’t handle. And how do vampire bats get rid of this iron? They poop.

But this isn’t regular poop. Because blood is a liquid, the poop is also liquid—a black, sticky, gooey liquid which I imagine looks exactly like the goo in Prometheus and smells terrible. And because it’s liquid, vampire bats aren’t able to hold it in particularly well, meaning they poop this disgusting substance mere minutes after they drink blood (obviously it takes very little time for the stomach to digest blood, it’s already almost totally broken down).

Maaaaaybe vampirism also bestows greater control over one’s sphincter, but that’s a pretty big maybe. I think there’s a decent chance that every vampire we’ve ever seen also happens to be wearing an adult diaper under their clothes.

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The good news is that you can actually buy that adorable Vampire Poop plush shown above over at CindyMakes. And you should! It’s adorable.


Mantle Peace

Anon.:

Hello Mr. Postman!

I have two questions.

1) First, why is it that the overwhelming majority of superhero identities are mantles one can pass on to another person? (Besides $$$) Doesn’t that ruin the prominence of the heroes? I’d venture to say that’s the reason Superman/Wonder Woman aren’t mantles that can be passed down and why Dick Grayson was also so reluctant to be Batman.

2) Also, what are the chances we see Martian Manhunter in the DCCU or is his power set too close to Superman?

1) Honestly, any superhero mantle can be passed down, or at least co-opted: Artemis has been Wonder Women for a while, and in the (not good) Future’s End series Shazam masquerades as Superman, although he had to wear a motorcycle helmet on his head to hide his real identity (it was dumb).

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Anyways, there are few reasons why heroes pass on their mantles. It’s definitely an easy way to show a character’s larger-than-life status — that the people of the comics need the idea of the hero more than the individual hero him or herself. It’s not Bruce Wayne who scares the pee out of criminals, it’s Batman — so when Bruce Wayne gets his back broken or dies, someone else comes to take him place until he gets better.

Another aspect is that then you get to explore the character and the hero by separating them. What is Steve Rogers like when he isn’t Captain America? How does losing that aspect of his identity affect him? What part is Captain America, and which is Rogers? There are both very popular storylines for a reason.

2) I wouldn’t rule him out of appearing in the Justice League movie, or more likely a second Justice League movie. But he won’t get his own film, because the Justice League cartoon aside he’s a second-tier DC character, as evidenced by the fact that he’s not been part of the JL in comics since the New 52 relaunch. Besides, I think WB/DC will have its hands so full with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern Corps, Flash, Shazam and Sandman that they won’t even bother trying to give ol’ J’onn J’onzz his own vehicle.


Krillin Me Softly

Brad E.:

You’ve talked about superhero genitalia all the time, so I thought I’d ask something different – who is the most well-endowed character in anime?

I gotta go with Goku from Dragonball Z, and here’s my reasoning. Goku is married to Chichi, who he met and accidentally promised to marry when they were like eight or so, back in the days before the title gained its “Z” suffix. When Dragonball Z starts, Goku and Chichi have been married for a few years and have a kid.

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Now as anyone who’s watched DBZ knows, Chichi hates Goku. Not even just hates—she yells at him constantly for being a crappy dad and husband, without cutting him the slightest bit of slack for saving the world on multiple occasions. She doesn’t like that he fights, and fighting is the core of Goku’s being—it’s almost literally all he does. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like Chichi even likes Goku, let alone loves him. So what else could Goku possibly bring to this relationship, when she doesn’t like him, his interests, or anything he does? What would make her have not one but two children with this man she can barely seem to tolerate?

His dragon and its balls, obviously.

Also, when Goku turns Super Saiyan, his muscles get bigger, his hair gets bigger, and his stamina increases 100-fold. You do the math.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!