Greetings, my little priority envelopes. I apologize for the spottiness of “Postal Apocalypse” recently, but rest assured I had very good reasons that I’m absolutely not going to tell you about. This week: Whether superheroes truly create their villains, the reason Jurassic World’s dinosaurs didn’t and won’t have feathers, and why Wonder Woman stands alone.
Why is Wonder Woman all alone in the pantheon of classic super women?
I’ve been binging on Rucka’s “Rebirth” run on Wondy and feverishly (albeit skeptically) anticipating the Wonder Woman movie. I love Wonder Woman; she’s noble, honorable, powerful, compassionate, and intelligent. She’s the only popular female super hero who uses truth, peace, and love as the cornerstone of her driving philosophy. She’s the only popular female super hero who stands on her own and is not the “____-woman” spin-off of a popular male superhero.
She’s also peerless among female superheroes. I could point out a million male superheroes with blockbuster appeal, but only Diana on the female side. There’s no comparable female superhero to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, Spider-man, Batman, etc., etc. The recent Mockingbird comic was fantastic, Ms. Marvel is a revelation, but they don’t get the kind of exposure and promotion of their male peers. Captain Marvel was great before she was written into being a complete asshole in the new Civil War run.
Why don’t we have proportional gender representation among our superheroes? Why is there only one Wonder Woman?
She’s the only female superhero that has survived all the way from the golden age of comics in the ‘40s to the present-day. She’s been a major hero for over 75 years, something very few male heroes can say. She’s not just a superhero, she’s an icon.
And she did this for the decades when the primary audience of comics was made up of young boys. There’s a reason some comics makers still can’t believe that a superhero comic can have female readers and fans, and that’s because for a long time there really wasn’t. Yet the Wonder Woman comic has been published continually since she was introduced, way back in 1941, which is something literally no other female superhero created before 2000 or so can say. That’s insane.
So the question is, what has made Wonder Woman so special that comic readers continued to stay interested in her for all these years? How has she survived, when every other female superhero either has only had brief bouts of popularity, or has been relegated to co-starring in comic books whose primary stars are men?
I’m not sure this is a question your humble postman is truly equipped to answer. I think part of it is that Wonder Woman’s origin as an Amazon tied her into Greek mythology, which not only made her unique but offered audiences a grander scope that just watching, say, Black Canary knock out a bank robber or two. I also think that her being part of the Justice League gave her an added popularity, because she became a peer with Superman and Batman, arguably the two biggest comic book superheroes in the world. Combined with her own legacy—and the fact she had her own solo title, which kept her from being relegated to a mere co-star—it gave her clout no other female superhero could match. Which in turn led to the ‘70s TV show, which helped cement her in the pop culture landscape, which kept her comics sales strong, too.
But there’s also something special about Wonder Woman. Maybe it’s been her ability to adapt to the times, or the flexibility of her character, allowing her to fight gods or chauvinists, wear armor or high fashion, be a hardened warrior or a champion for love, which has allowed her to constantly adapt over the decades when other characters couldn’t.
Marvel really is trying hard to make Captain Marvel their Wonder Woman, and have continued to push her as one of primary heroes of their universe (although yes, they don’t seem to have realized turning her into the Thought Police might be harmful to her popularity). It’s why she’s getting a movie (eventually) and Black Widow hasn’t. Maybe one day, if Marvel keeps it up, several decades from now Captain Marvel will have the same prominence as Wonder Woman. But she’ll always be #2.
Bad Man Begins
In the middle of Captain America: Civil War, The Vision stops to basically explain that the mere existence of superheroes cause super threats. In the pilot episode of Supergirl, Maxwell Lord says that Metropolis is a battleground because Superman is there and Supergirl will cause the same for their city. At the end of Batman Begins, Commissioner Gordon wonders if Batman’s presence means bigger, badder criminals will come to Gotham (does he also think increased police presence means more crime?). And if you read comics—-especially Marvel—-everyone blames heroes for supervillains.
Isn’t this odd? The reason heroes come first is because that’s how comics are made. The hero is created first, then villains are created to fight him. New ones never stop coming to keep the audience from getting bored. You can’t have villains first because there’d be nothing left for the hero to save. Luthor, Doom, Thanos, Doc Ock would all have conquered or destroyed everything. Personally I feel It’s basically a fourth wall violation for the inhabitants of these fictional worlds to even notice because it means they can see the contrivances of their genre. You might as well have them wonder why they’ve been though 50 Christmases and have only aged 10 years.
So why do so many creators across mediums feel the need to have characters say this? Do they think they’re being clever? Do they think it makes it somehow “realistic?” Is this some kind of post-modern hipness?
Needless to say, it annoys the shit out of me. I eagerly await your thoughts.
There’s a lot going on here, but let’s start in comics-reality. There are certainly times where heroes do create their enemies: As you noted in your unedited letter, Ant-Man (or Iron Man in the movies) literally created Ultron. Reed Richards made young Doctor Doom so angry that he accidentally made his own science experiment blow up in his face. Sometimes Batman is the guy who dropped the guy who became the Joker into a vat of acid. Ares was the god of war long before Diana of Themiscyra picked up her golden lasso. Loki wouldn’t mess with Midgard nearly as much if it weren’t Thor’s favorite place to hang out.
This is hardly always the case. In the Marvel/Netflix TV series, both the Kingpin and Kilgrave were performing their evil schemes long before they’d heard of Daredevil or Jessica Jones. In the first Captain America movie, the Red Skull was in charge of Hydra before Steve Rogers volunteered to take the Super-Soldier System. And think of all the new superheroes running around nowadays. Both Marvel and DC have such extensive sets of villains at this point that new heroes can face those guys exclusively without ever getting their own brand-new nemesis.
But I think you could make an argument that the reason Gotham City has so many villains is because there’s been a dude running around in a bat costume for so long. His celebrity, for the lack of a better word, has inspired challengers, people who want to be known for being the person to defeat the Batman, and this can be extended to a lot of villains. For instance, Spider-Man has so many bad guys who hate him so much that they’re willing to kill anyone and everyone to get him. If Peter Parker actually threw his suit away, how many of his rogue’s gallery would also quit their evil ways, just because they’d lost their primary reason for committing acts of evil?
But in reality, I don’t see it as breaking the fourth wall, certainly not like if Spider-Man’s birth certificate still read 1945 or whatever. It makes sense to me that some characters would question whether superheroes cause more problems than they solve. (Frankly, create one Ultron, and you deserve to have your superhero validity questioned for all time.)
I don’t think most writers feel they’re being particularly clever when they pull out this old trope—it’s been too well-used—or that it makes any story more “real.” But it’s still an easy way to give their heroes a bit of internal conflict as he/she suddenly doubts the worth of his/her heroism, and gives the hero something to conquer in addition to a bad guy wearing spandex. Don’t think of it as a writer trying to be cool or edgy. It’s just standard superhero writing procedure, basically.
Why isn’t “Power Pack,” the old Marvel comic, being shopped for a TV show for younger kids on Disney Jr.?
It’s low hanging fruit, there for the taking! Make it into a kids show like “Jake the Pirate,” have them fight Snarks, profit.
Because Marvel is vastly more interested in the tween and older target audiences than pre-K.
Because the best-known character in Power Pack is Franklin Richards, son of two members of the Fantastic Four, who aren’t particularly popular in any fashion right now, and who Marvel isn’t particularly interested in promoting.
Because if Marvel does make a Disney Jr. show, it’ll star Spider-Man, their most famous character by about a zillion miles, which instills excitement for the character and brand loyalty and is an easy gateway into all the other Marvel characters and products across various media.
To be fair, it appears that in 1991, Marvel tried to make a Power Pack cartoon and failed, and then in 2010 Marvel Studios apparently said it was looking at Power Pack of one of 15 potential live-action movies it might make, which would absolutely not star Franklin Richards, who is owned by Fox under the Fantastic Four rights. I would guess Marvel is going to make cartoons of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Agents of SHIELD, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, and Spider-Boy & His Amazing Grade School Friends before it bothers dusting off Power Pack.
Age of Discovery
Dear Mr. Postman, it’s obvious we’re living in a golden age of speculative fiction, be it scifi, fantasy, comics, or genre television. On the whole it seems like most fans are excited optimistic about their respective franchises, or at least corners of their respective franchises (I haven’t seen any of the new DC stuff besides Man of Steel, but if you don’t like the movies, the CW shows probably scratch your itch. If you thought Rogue One is a dud, maybe you’re enjoying Rebels. etc.) There’s even room for cool, well-produced shows like Westworld, Stranger Things, and Legion.
I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m jealous. I’m a huge Star Trek fan. Katherine Trendcosta’s recent article previously reminded me that the single thing that I have had a sustained excitement for, Star Trek: Discovery, seems like an absolute mess. Pretty much all the good will I’ve had for the series has been extinguished. And even if you like the Abrams movies (I only liked Beyond), it seems a sequel to that is getting less likely.
Now I know you’ve previously said that popular shows, movies, or characters wax and wane. I think Star Trek will eventually be rehabilitated. But I also know that you’re a huge Star Wars fan that lived through the era between RotJ and TPM, and also coped with the prequel years. Do you have any advice for fans in getting through a franchise dark age?
As you said, CBS may have accidentally dropped Star Trek: Discovery in the toilet, and then let its tie dip into the bowl’s water when bending over to get it, and then managed to drop its cellphone in there while scrambling to jerk its tie out before it touches poop—but eventually Trek will get yet another chance. And conversely, all good things must come to an end, too. Eventually, Disney will release some crappy Star Wars movies, and they’ll have to let the franchise sit on the shelf for a while to get the stink off.
When that day comes, I will do the same thing I did when The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones broke me—I will find other things to fall in love with. We’re in an astounding time for both comics and TV series, a shocking amount of which are genuinely great. You had the proper answer in your heart all along—there’s so much you can see and read that you can keep occupied and entertained while you wait for Star Trek to be good again (we can’t recommend The Expanse enough).
Try not to stress or be depressed, because there’s nothing you can do about this other than rejigger your entire life to somehow get hired as a showrunner on a new Trek series (and even then, that’s no guarantee you’ll get to actually make the show you want, as evidenced by Bryan Fuller). Go fill that Enterprise-D-shaped hole in your heart with something else, and wait for the wheel to circle back again.
Why can’t the Jurassic World movies get dinosaurs right?
Why do they need to invent a stupid monster hybrid dinosaur when there are already mind-bogglingly cool dinosaurs that ALREADY EXIST? Instead of Indominus, why not just give us Carcharodontosaurus or Giganotosaurus if you want something bigger than Tyrannosaurus?
Why make a big deal about not giving the dinosaurs feathers, when you know goddamn well that Velociraptor has feathers (Tyrannosaurus probably had some too)? One of the reasons Jurassic Park was so successful is that it single-handedly pulled the public’s collective consciousness about how dinosaurs looked forward 30 years. News stories STILL reference Jurassic Park when talking about new dinosaur discoveries. Jurassic World had that same opportunity and shrugged.
I had this same problem with Terra Nova (among many others). They made up their dinosaurs. Aren’t real dinosaurs cool enough?
The first Jurassic Park movie was much more interested in being somewhat scientifically accurate, as was although it certainly wasn’t above putting story or action first. The primary focus of makers of Jurassic World, however, was to capitalize on Jurassic Park nostalgia and bigger, badder dinosaur action. Scientific accuracy was not at all on the agenda. So if that’s your goal—and keeping mind the fact that Carcharodontosaurus or Giganotosaurus are apparently only slightly bigger than the T.Rex—then making a giant, smarter, inexplicably-able-to-basically-turn-invisible, extra evil T.Rex is indeed a solution. A ridiculous solution, but they were essentially going for ridiculous.
As for the feathers… sorry, man. The feathers are kind of a dealbreaker for the general populace. Instead of being awesome giant lizards now authentic dinosaurs seem like weirdly shaped giant chickens. Large, mean chickens with sharp teeth, but chickens nonetheless. To be fair to the filmmakers, the mass movie-going audience wants to see their perception of what dinosaurs look like, not what they actually looked like.
There may—may—be a few dinosaurs with feathers in Jurassic World 2, as a sort of passing nod to scientific authenticity, but those velociraptors 100 percent are going to be all scales. It is going to take many more years, decades maybe, for dinosaurs in the majority of pop culture to be accurately portrayed with feathers, just because they’re already ingrained in our collective consciousness as scaly-skinned giant reptiles. So sorry!
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