Why Every White Male Comic Book Fan Owes Sincere Gratitude Towards She Hulk

A Seemingly Unrelated Anecdote

Last week, I saw a frog dead on our sheds AC unit.

Frogs have seemingly been all around in this hot season. Perhaps its been mating season. We have a nearby pond wherein we can hear them croaking quite actively at night, and we know we’ve seen baby frogs spawn from there.

My wife pointed out the frog was sitting on the AC unit still, seemingly content, enjoying a high vantage point.

The next day I went outside for some yard work, and I myself was curious if this had become a kind of new perch for our local amphibians. Sure enough, the frog was still there. I thought to try and catch it, so I went to retrieve a net. But when I returned, I took a closer look. The frog’s body was dead still, quite literally. It didn’t breathe, didn’t flinch. Upon closer inspection, I saw the frog was not only expired, but it was entirely adhered to the AC unit, a most repulsive manner.

The dead frog’s belly had been absolutely eviscerated by a hive of hungry ants. It took some careful prying to lodge the frog off for what I suspect multiple reasons. For one, its leg was caught in the AC unit. Secondly, the eviscerated stomach ooze perhaps made for strong adhesive. Thirdly, it had to have been perched on the hot metal of the AC unit for at least a couple of days. It was a disgusting and tragic sight.

I can only imagine what brought the frog to perch itself on the AC unit instead of somewhere safer. Had it chosen to leave the pond due to competition with the current amphibian hosts? Had it been seeking high ground to have a better view, a more advantageous perspective to better hunt at?

It remains unclear, though whatever the reason its stuck leg seems to have been its downfall, and perhaps if it had reasoned to even lose its foot to dislodge itself it may have not become a hive of ants meal.

She Hulk Is All The Rage

The New She Hulk series seems to be unparalleled in the amount of attention it has drawn. It has become a flagship production for feminism and woke culture on one side and a large target of scathing criticism from a—let’s say—traditional fanbase of the Marvel, Comic, and Superhero genre.

While ads and trailers had done quite a bit in hyping up the series, platforms like IMDB and other organizations have helped the series ride the wave of public attention as clips of the show continue to go viral on both sides.

What’s especially noteworthy, is how this series seems to be acting as a vanguard of both Marvel and Disney’s aim of having a more diverse representation in media, of aiming to appeal to a more marginalized or forgotten audience. The minds behind this show have not held back on pointing out their own aim here, of creating a superhero that could embody feminist representation, to tell the tale of 1st world single women struggling in a patriarchal society.

Truth be told, from the outright I had my own personal curiosity about the show. A plot featuring a superhero who is required to function within criminal law is an angle that really only Daredevil had achieved—and had done so quite successfully. The show had teased promises of bringing in characters we’ve wanted to reconnect with—Abomination, Wong, and, again, Daredevil. But if I’m perfectly honest, the trailers ramped up both the main character’s sex appeal and a light-hearted plot that admittedly appealed to a more surface level curiosity. This was not going to be a dark or convoluted plot, but an easy going fun flick.

Why You Mad Bro?

The amount of flak that this show has attracted perhaps does not need restating…

Though I digest of the popular critiques perhaps has some utility…

1) She Hulk is a Mary Sue
Anyone unfamiliar with the term ought to brush up on this one. A Mary Sue is a typically young female character that has no flaws and often times lacks any depth. The Mary Sue commonly is a gender swap of an already popular male character. The Mary Sue tends to fail as the process of the gender swap skips the important component in the character composition of exploring growing edges or imperfect histories that make a character palpable. She Hulk is presented as a component lawyer in a male-driven society that comes by the Hulk powers and thereby outperforms her counterpart, Hulk. The training montage of She Hulk tends to get under the skin of most comic buffs as her superseding greatness to Hulk seems to be stumbled upon, without any feat, trial, or thematic purpose except that, well, the writers wanted it to go that way.

2) She Hulk’s Monologue
Thanks to IMDB, we all were able to witness perhaps the iconic soapbox of the show, the defining monologue for every single, independent She Hulk enthusiast out there to rally around. She Hulk explains to Hulk why she’s so great at controlling her rage, citing the mansplaining she endures, the objectification she is subject to, and the perceived threat of death that looms over her if she acts out even once. What irked so many about this monologue is twofold. For one, the monologue comes across as a heavy-handed homily aimed at the traditional Marvel audience, that being, a traditional male audience. The perhaps more offending part of She Hulks monologue is seeing her tear into the Hulk character, a tragic man who lost the love of his life, wrestled with suicide, lived as a public enemy that had to go into hiding for his well-being and for the wellbeing of many others, and was a combatant in multiple tragic Avenger wars. This latter grievance is not as well highlighted, perhaps, because what we see in Mark Ruffalo’s cuckold portrayal of this Hulk is that of a limp smile and nod, a concession that his own traumas really are insignificant to the heroic feats that She Hulk has endured as a woman.

3) The Hypocrisy
She Hulk’s Monologue becomes a pivotal point of argument for the show as the character digs her footing into the real grievance of being objectified while she herself actively participates in sexually demoralizing others and flouting her own sex appeal. The moral ground for the character quickly crumbles as we hear her comment on Captain America’s butt and on his virginity. The double standard is quickly picked up as a tactic of a bully, of belittling someone else who you know you can attack all coming from a sense of insecurity for one’s own pain or angst. Further, the show outright gives us a trailer of this sex symbol, displaying her figure and skin in tantalizing wardrobes that even her female co-stars comment on, and then doubling down by giving us the viral scene of her twerking with her client in a business suit. The show and character seems to be unable to make up its mind if it wants to be a fantasy for a select fetish group or a champion of female dignity and respect. To put it simply, the show wants to have its own cake and eat it.

I believe this summarizes the chief complaints against the show and character.


Why You Should Be So Bloody Thankful For This Show

But to circle back to my title, and to my anecdote, my fellow male superhero enthusiasts owe a great deal of gratitude to this show.

I admit that’s a jarring thing to hear, and I admit, it’s perhaps slightly misleading…

You see, I’m grateful for Disney and Marvel finally giving us a series so bad and so hyped up. I’m grateful that my disheartened expectations for new content has been so suddenly deflated. I breathe fresh air knowing that Disney and Marvel have received their fatal diagnosis, allowing me to have some closure and peace of mind knowing they are respectively dead.

I suffered through Moon Knight with the utmost highest expectations for such an interesting character that had to wait so long to see its debut to only flop. I limped through Hawk Eye with the hope that Jeremy Renner could revive the nostalgic spark of the Avengers in a mini-series only to see it do a disservice to the hero and to an all-famed villain, Kingpin. This wavering relationship of Disney and myself (and perhaps one many of you also share) has been an exhausting dwindling love story marked by romantic highs and then unsatisfying breaks and cutoffs, only to have the toxic romance to be rekindled with the hope that one of us will change.

 Sorry Disney and Marvel, it’s not me, it’s you. You’ve changed. We used to love you for your classic cartoons and even your newer Pixar movies. We used to love you for the Avengers and for the smattering of other successful shows and movies you’ve produced. But you’ve changed, you’ve admitted it, and this union no longer needs to continue.

But if I may address my fellow audience that feels the same, I want to reassure you of a few things:

1) The Subtle Agenda Is Finally Overt, And That Affords Us Some Time To Reflect
Most of the uncomfortable nods to a political correctness and DIE (Diversity Inclusivity Equity) culture is right out in the open, stark naked, unashamed. Disney and Marvel are proud of this new skin of theirs, and perhaps this is our time to give pause and wonder where our ideals and principles are. In light of this loud declaration of ideology, we ourselves need to decide what kind of stories we yearn for, what kind of principles we find speak to our hearts, and what heroes and villains are the most compelling. Now is the time to be reflective, introspective, as is the case when loss occurs. When we ourselves are on our deathbed or are at the side of a dying loved one, we think on our mortality, what we value, and what changes we’d like to see…changes for the actual better!

2) This is a Dumpster Fire and it needs your kindling, not your time
Neither of us needs to continue to wax on with this new media with the hope it’ll get better. Like an addict or under-functioning relationship, cutoff is the best thing that can happen so that the unhealthy individual hits rock bottom and finds a new foundation to build something wholesome and good. We don’t need to give Marvel and Disney our money, not even for the morbid curiosity of what new next bad show will be. Thanks to IMDB and other internet organizations, we can be appraised to the new garbage that is rolled out, repost it, and rekindle it without having to waste precious moments of our life or our hard-earned money to see what the rage is about. Quit Disney Plus. Quit the garbage platforms that continue to disappoint. Let’s pull the plug on this and move on!

3) Disney Is Ash, And We Are The Phoenix
I’ve been meaning to write a call to action for other avid fans of the superhero genre to participate in a new age of vigilante and superhero media. I think our time is coming to become new artists and to create new universes for fellow fans to enjoy. Marvel had its glory and golden age in both comic and media formats. We can still admire those creations, but in so doing realize that they are dead, long reposed, fit to be preserved in a museum rather than resuscitated like a geriatric corpse waiting to be put on comfort measures only. Disney is burning itself into ash, and now is our time to create our own phoenixes from the dwindling fire. I’ve put my lot into this fight and continue to write and edit so that a new genre of heroes and villains may emerge to tell refreshing stories with principled themes. In no way am I saying that I offer a perfect alternative to Disney’s new batch of garbage, but rather I’m looking forward to seeing an army of writers and artists to stand side-by-side to create something new and wonderful.

Disney, you are the dead frog. You ventured away from the fold in fear of competition. You climbed high hoping to achieve an advantageous high ground. In so doing, you will find yourself stuck, and I imagine you are unwilling to amputate yourself from the peevish politics and woke culture you participate in. Your whole platform will burn and be devoured, not consumed. Your movies, your show, your merchandise will not be edifying sustenance for the masses, but rather dismantled by the horde of decomposers that seek to create something more remarkable than your stinking corpse.

PS: Stay Tuned. I’m looking forward to expounding on the She Hulk series and what it can teach us. In part, the series admittedly has afforded me some time to reflect on the emotion of rage, and I think there’s some valuable things to unfold on that topic in lieu of the show’s portrayal of it.

Resculpting the Heroine – Retaking Femininity

If you did a google search of “female protagonist” what do you think among the first images would be? What female characters are representing the entire scope of heroines? What are the in common traits that agree with triumphant femininity? 

Before you go searching, write down your thoughts first. Who is the first person you think of when you think female protagonist or heroine? What traits make them heroic or a great character?

Ok, now go search. What do you find? Does it match your view of heroine, of protagonist? Why or why not?

Give some serious consideration to that just for a moment before reading any further. What makes a good heroine? What separates them from other female characters or even from male characters? And where are your views on this formed?

What Seperates Heroes from Heroines?

Let’s start with the biological divide on this one. There are real physical differences between men and women that go deeper than genitalia. One you might be less familiar with is how women tend to have a better eye for color than men, while men tend to have an easier time with depth perception and distance. This is just one of many biological differences, and it’s a valuable one to bring up not only because it highlights the subtle differences in men and women, but it also harkens to the sociological narrative of hunter-gatherer societies. Men hunted in society, and they needed to have range and focus for this. Alternatively, in the hunter-gatherer society, women gathered and tended to things at home and could spot ripeness in fruit among many other feats.

While there’s bound to be exceptions to these “rules” (for example you can  find some women who shoot better than men, or men who do have a refined eye for color) the patterns we see warrant our attention of the differences between men and women.

But what difference does any of that make to our discussion of hero and heroine?

I believe there’s a reason why we separate hero and heroine into different categories, and that reason includes but also goes beyond biological sex…or at least it ought to.

Gender Swap and Sexualization

In the screenshot of my google search, you’ll see that Tomb Raider is featured at least three times. Despite your feelings on the Tomb Raider games, it’s hard to dispute that Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise is heavily inspired by everyone’s favorite Trilogy: Indiana Jones. Both are action-packed protagonists with smarts and strength, battling rival archaeologists and even supernatural/esoteric foes. Uncharted is another honorable mention here as being a spiritual successor to Indiana Jones, but its story focuses on a male lead.

The problem lies not in the adaptation of Indiana Jones into a video game franchise, but the execution of this hero building. What we all know from the Tomb Raider franchise (movies and video games) is that it’s Indiana Jones premise with sex appeal. That might seem like an unfair caricature, but we all know the memes, “artistic” choices, and even promotional arts that set on this franchise early, solidifying it as a female lead meant to be oggled.

Though Lara Croft is a champion heroine of the video game world, her inception can be reduced to two mechanisms: gender swap & sex appeal. Neither of those character creation mechanisms are new to you and I, and if we think critically about each, we’ll find that these are rather lazy techniques for chracter construction.

Take gender swaps. The 2016 Ghostbusters is perhaps the best worst example of this. The movie invested solely on the premise that we’d get the same fun premise but with a female cast that loosely alluded to the original cast. But this wasn’t sufficient for the greater audience. Why? Because great films are not solely written on the “what if we switched this sole detail” instead of composing a new fresh story and premise. Perhaps the only accomplishment of modern cinema in effectually using gender-swap was in the Loki series, though I’d argue the payoff of the female Loki only came through in the romance that Loki has for himself (symbolically the pinnacle of narcissism, which this character embodies).

As for sex appeal, I imagine a minority disagrees with me that dressing a character by way of sex appeal is a lazy and crass means of attracting an audience. That same minority either is begging like a hungry dog for the softcore pornography that Hollywood delivers to us, or lives in a twisted reality where sex appeal equals power. Let’s look at Emilia Clarke’s character, Daenerys, from the screenshot. While Daenerys has this very dramatic reversal of power–literally being used as a sex pawn before becoming a powerful mother of dragons–I ask the audience to consider if some of what is loved about Daenerys is the explicit content that was used to sell her character. We are bombarded with nudity of this character from season one, and while some might argue that this was to sell her humble and powerless state (after all, she’s used by everyone in the beginning), I would also argue the audience has been sold to see her as a sex object through and through (not unlike the other characters in the story).

A caveat I’ll make here is that writing a sexualized character in order to provoke an appetite of the audience has a subtle difference than writing a character that is sexualized by others or uses sex appeal. Sexualizing a character (without loaded, explicit, or pornographic means) has less to do about illiciting a base response from the audience, and more to do with telling a story of the character. If a character does use their appearance or seduction to get what they want, then this is storytelling. If a director/author takes off a character’s clothes for the audiences’ pleasure, they’re trying to seduce the audience with little finesse and dignity.

Prudish as some of this criticism may begin sounding, my intention is to shake us all and keep hammering a question I think we’ve grown indifferent towards: what makes a heroine different than a hero?

A Different Fitting Spandex

Wonder Woman is a commonly championed heroine of womanhood represented in the realm of comic crime fighters, and for good reason. Wonder Woman is not easily made into a male counterpart, nor was her inception a knock-off of another character. For starters, she is Amazonian, belonging to a real Greek myth of a sole female warrior society (a myth that is worth its own lengthy discourse).

She is also the first woman of the Justice League, though her roster within the team never seems like a compelled insertion, but more of an intentional addition that adds to the story and inter-character dynamic. At times she takes the role of a “queen” in the Justice League or fits a romantic storyline (based on which storyline you follow with whichever justice league member falls in love with her). But more than that, her contribution as the heroine to the team often comes across as a gentle confidant, a caretaker, a sort of matronly role of a nursing mother figure. While she fights with just as much ferocity as her male counterparts she is distinct in her femininity, not merely a gender swap or soley an insertion for sex appeal. She provides something unique as a heroine.

Compare that to Captain Marvel from the Marvel universe. This heroine is unabashedly Marvel’s brainchild of the ideal heroine. The music selection, the cast, all the elements of the Captain Marvel film underscore that this is Marvel’s chief feminine protagonist, a symbol of triumphant womanhood. Though Captain Marvel’s characterization doesn’t seem to provide something unique to the Avengers films or even in her standalone film. She is a superman like figure with a spunky and even flippant attitude. Perhaps her character is meant to portray the possibility of, “what if Superman was a woman” which is a prompt that has potentiality. But what we see in her story is spunk and arrogance without a message. Tony Stark’s insolence is comical and gets him in trouble, and Gamora’s head-strong personality also gets her into trouble while also being a personality that pairs very well with the rest of her cast. 

When Captain Marvel arrives to the “Justice Leage” of Marvel, the Avengers, she doesn’t provide anything unique as a heroine. Even if we were to say, “well, she’s the superman that has arrived to the Avengers” we still see a lot missing in her own narrative and personality that made Superman interesting (ie, being invincible and realizing his vulnerability through emotion, his struggle as an orphan and identity as a Kryptonian-Earthling, his struggle with rage, vengeance, and power, the list goes on…)

Even Black Widow provides more to the Avengers in terms of femininity, while also possessing the same spunk and attitude (although subdued by comparison to Captain Marvel). But Black Widow is interesting because she knows she is underestimated. Her sex appeal makes her seem powerless at first to Tony Stark and then to the Russian mob in Avengers, and then we see a reversal when she shows her finesse. Even her lacking of a superpower runs parallel to the trope that women are typically seen without strength; this underestimation provides her with an advantage as we see not only does her finesse make up for this lack of superpower, but she is able to extract information even from the trickster god Loki when she is thought of as weak.

Again, we sometimes think of heroines as beefy, muscular feminine counterparts without giving much thought to what femininity provides to a story or even a broader cast. These typified Amazonian females can work in a narrative and in a cast, but too often these stories and characters attempt to celebrate femininity without giving serious thought to what that femininity brings to the table and becomes integral with the plot and character dynamics.


The last point I’d like to close on with heroines is motherhood.

To continue on from Black Widow, we see a character robbed of motherhood. This is mentioned more than once in the Marvel universe of the Black Widow indoctrination, and it’s not an insignificant detail. The sterilization of these young women says a lot to the audience and provides a lot of narrative potentiality for the creators. For one, the sterilization of these young women speaks to a universal problem of abuse, of treating women like tools instead of as people. Instead of mothers, they become killers. Robbing them too of their motherhood also robs them a little of their womanhood, and this is typified with how little empathy we sometimes we see from the Black Widows. And we can’t forget about the component of grief and sense of trauma that Natasha faces, both of which compel her to remain in the life of “superhero” when she has a wish to get out and be normal; she feels she is a damaged good and without the potential to start a family shies away from settling down with the Hulk, perhaps even feeding into her desire to sacrifice herself for the soul stone.

Motherhood is a compelling force to create memorable and inspiring heroines as the distinct and unique experience of bearing, giving birth, and nurturing a child is a universal plight with its own obstacles to overcome. To look at the popular movie Encanto, Luisa is a compelling character who has an infinitely memorable song that has become a rally cry of all mothers; mothers know the struggle of bearing a great deal of burdens and pressures. But Luisa actually is emblematic of the strength of femininity, of the skill of multi-tasking typically attributed to feminine characteristics, as well as to an untapped strength when a mother feels threatened or distressed (ie, the all too famous image of the mother lifting a car off her child, supposedly the inception of the character Hulk).

Femininity and motherhood also showcase the heroine’s capacity of creativity and tenacity. I think this is especially well done in the new movie, “Shut-In”, which features a single mother who is locked in a closet and faced with the struggle of caring for her two children against this barrier, all the while attempting to protect her children from a predator. The mother from shut-in is a rich heroine who shows her flaws of impatience and even cynicism but overcomes her external obstacles through innovation while also conquering her inner demon of addiction through sheer determination. 

A similar movie that showcases motherhood–albeit not directly through a protagonist who is a mother–is the movie Run, Hide, Fight. A young teenage girl finds herself at school when a mass shooting begins to take place. In this movie, she not only is tasked to survive this harrowing circumstance through her father’s skills of survival (an ex-military hunter). This character endeavors to rally her fellow students to survive and even change the heart of one of these shooters. The elements of prophetess or console that are seen in the heroine and motherly archetype are exemplified in this character as she does not show her prowess in external combat, but shows her capacity of helping others with their inner combat as she compels those who cower to take up courage and those who callously oppress to also take courage against evil.

Give Us Our Mothers, Give us Our Heroines

I’m aware that highlighting the traits and heroines we have mentioned above leaves room for criticism of, “is your definition of femininity and heroine merely narrow?” 

To which I would respond, yes, thankfully it is.

Although we shirk from the word “categories” we must concede that our fields of study (both hard sciences and humanities) are filled with categories. Although dogs and cats share a lot in common, the two provide different things in the animal kingdom, with different traits, each within themselves a narrow definition that excludes the rest of the animal kingdom. This is not to say that man and woman are different species, but as soon as we speak of “masculinity and femininity” we must realize we are speaking in categories. The categories might seem confining, but they actually clarify and can even encourage.

This distinction of heroine versus hero is meant to provide some precision to this itch that society has for more female protagonists. With the gender-swap of many comic book heroes should come a deep reflection on what it means when we create these counterparts, what parts of femininity we are celebrating when we insert these female protagonists. If the motivation is to achieve a quota of feminine heroes, the outcome will most certainly be shallow. If it is meant for sex appeal, then I’d argue we haven’t created a heroine but rather have drawn a sex tool.

99% of male heroes exemplify muscle and confidence. I believe what this can positively provide a male population is to endeavor towards adopting a discipline that leads to strength and a wrestling of inner demons that gives way to a clear mind of leadership and certainty. We typically lose sight of what virtues the hulking trope of hero is attempting to show us, but with a bit of scrutiny we can discern what the externals of these heroes are teaching us in terms of worthy virtues to be pursued.

Likewise, our heroines should be conceived of with a similar intention. Any external or behavior we seen in our heroine ought to show something virtuous and worthy of pursuit. While it’s fair for women to set out on a pursuit of discipline and confidence, I would argue we shouldn’t stop there as we take into consideration of what opportunities and traits are unique to femininity. Heroines need not only be literal mothers, but the spiritual motherhood of counselor, confidant, and prophetess (a speaker of truth) I think is unique to the heroine archetype that we could endeavor to see more of.

Ultimately, let’s give some careful consideration to what our heroes and heroines are attempting to provide us. Throughout history, these protagonists have served to be cautionary tales of tragedy or emblematic figures of triumph. Let’s pay attention to where these heroes and heroines of our present-day lead each of us, what they inspire and celebrate, and how we can create fresh and unique heroines and heroes for today’s media.

The Ethics of Spider-Man, and Why This Was The Greatest Marvel Film Yet

Spoiler Alert: We’re about a month past this movie coming out, so if you haven’t watched the film yet and don’t want aspects of it revealed, I suggest you save this post for later until you’ve seen the movie.

Marvel films are sometimes shortchanged as being flat and flashy, as being a parody of modern cinema caricatured as campy dialog and attractive visuals. Some of this criticism is fair, though I say this as someone who still faithfully consumes most of Marvel’s media and is able to see the good that these films offer (or at least try to offer).

While some of their more recent works might not lean all that heavily on particularly deep themes or impacting character arcs & flaws, I would argue that Spiderman No Way Home is Marvel’s shining achievement in these dimensions. Spiderman NWH gives us a refreshing view of humanity’s capacity for redemption while also providing us a look into the hero’s—and thereby an opportunity for our own self-reflection—sense of personal responsibility and need to have self-examination and discourse with our psyche.


Let’s begin with the pinnacle theme of this movie: all of humanity—particularly that of villainy—can be redeemed. This is an explicit aim of the film, not an afterthought sentiment or a coincidental result of the plot. Peter Parker argues for the redemption of his arch nemesis’.

In the film, Peter Parker’s famous villains from alternate realities spill into his. Though the 3rd rendition of Peter Parker hasn’t encountered yet Green Goblin, Dr. Octavius, and the rest, he’s tasked with capturing them in order to send them back into their respective timelines and universes. But there’s a problem that emerges as Peter catches them all. He realizes those who have come over have one thing in common: they’re “destined” to die.

Dr. Strange pragmatically sees the integrity of each universe as more important than a possibility that the villains can be redeemed. Peter Parker argues that each one need only be “fixed”, and thereby employs his intelligence and creativity to look into ways of “curing” each villain.

As I watched this plot unfold, I almost couldn’t believe the angle. How could Green Goblin’s psychosis be cured with only a serum? How could Electro be set right merely by rescinding his power? There’s a suspension of disbelief that takes place here but for the sake of the poignant message. It matters little about the techno babble and capacities of science in this universe, because the aim and endeavor is rallied behind by the audience. In the end we love these villains and want to see Peter Parker succeed in saving them.

Through this film, we see how villains are created from a fallen existence and circumstance, but all can be saved. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it takes a scientific flick of a switch to cure the monsters that you and I encounter daily (such is true only in the Marvel universe). For you and I, it takes a metaphorical Spiderman to see not a villain that deserves death but rather a human aching to have their future rewritten through a helping hand.

There’s another important message embedded here: a fallen and selfish determination ultimately leads to our death…and not just any death, but a tragic and vilifying one! Still, this dispels a kind of predetermined point of view of humanity, undermines a notion that any of us have destiny. Peter Parker becomes a kind of Christ like figure that in the end sacrifices himself (really his identity) in order to save these sinful abominations from a kind of Hades or perdition.

While our circumstances can sometimes seem out of our control, the use of our will gives hope that our futures can change courses. This not only means the use of our will to change our own course, but the course of those around us, be it friends, family, or foes.

Such is a refreshing theme in a world that often operates with a black and white perspective, that is so quick to sully and damn a public figure.

Responsibility & Butterfly Effect

This film also has a subtle point on the topic of personal responsibility and the ripple effect of our mistakes on the very fabric of existence. While this theme is subtle and yet seen in movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron wherein Tony Stark’s own fear and desire for control effects the world through the broken creation of Ultron, that image seems to address more the dangers of totalitarianism and broken orderliness rather than how our actions effect the very Cosmos.

Peter Parker’s selfish desire to have his blown secret rescinded invites dark magic to be put into play. Dr. Strange at first writes off any danger that this forgetting spell has, though Wong reminds him the nature that this magic has. What begins as a simple fix becomes complicated as Peter Parker mid-spell begins asking for taller orders, for not merely the world to forget who he is, but for his girlfriend, his friends, his aunt, and other connections to continue to know him and his secret.

He wants to eat his cake and have it too, and there’s a price to be paid for this and for even embarking on this desire.

The spell goes awry, and it doesn’t merely hurt Peter, or his circle, or his nation, or even just his planet or universe. It effects multiple universes to a point where things are about to converge and get so messy and broken. This is the butterfly effect told in the Marvel mythos, of how a small whim or action may seem like a butterfly flapping its wings can stir the inception of a hurricane.

Such are our actions, our wills, or as some of us might say our “sins”. Selfish action is the “missing of the mark” (the original definition of sin) and though our selfish or secret actions, words, whims may seem innocuous do in reality effect and rip apart the world around us.

Again, this is not the central theme of the movie or even that overt of a message, but I appreciate this movie and it’s “web of interconnectedness” imagery to sell this point.

Payoff With Character Development & Self Talk

Perhaps the most fun part of this movie is its use of memes, easter eggs, and especially cameos.

Most of us began with Spiderman through Toby Maguire’s rendition of it. It was exciting, it was well cast, and it felt like the first great comic book movie (barring Tim Burton’s Batman perhaps). Then some of us continued on with Andrew Garfield’s rendition, and although his two movies were met with a bit more skepticism, we could at least appreciate his fun take on the character of Peter Parker and what these movies were trying to accomplish.

Love or hate these Spidermans, I think we all experienced a catharsis when the two other Spidermans came through into this movie. There was a kind of rally as they phased through unlike the “Avengers Assemble” moment in Endgame. These two Spidermen weren’t merely heroes showing up for a fight. They were an embodiment of Spiderman’s conscience and psyche, words of wisdom, edifying counsel and encouragement, a representation of a kind of “telos” to who this very young Spiderman could become and even become better than.

As silly as the Spiderman self-talk circle was, it was I think representative of what we all wish for. As a child, I had a fantasy that my future self could come back in time and give me wise consul, share with me what I should pursue, what I should avoid, and reassure me of something great that I could aspire towards. Sometimes this is also seen as a plea for ourselves to get in touch with our “inner child” to reconnect with our dreamer self, our innocence that has hope and an infinite amount of potentiality. Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield symbolically represent both respectively, of a seasoned Spiderman giving wise counsel and an innocent (yet still mature) young Spiderman representative of his potentiality.

The last thing I’ll say about the richness of this cameo—more towards my audience of writers—is the payoff that years of world building has, and how we can aspire to invite others into our story so well that they’ll rejoice seeing old characters shine through. This movie was a 20+ year movie in the making, whether it knew it or not, not attempting to simply “try something new” but to borrow and honor the ruins and old structures that the audience still loves and respects.

In Conclusion

We need more stories that say something powerful and important, that contain themes that are going to feed humanity rather than tropy themes that are sprinkled in as an after thought. Good literature doesn’t need to just be edgy, because this film shows us how powerful referencing and allusion is to our audience. We can borrow from not only old stories that we know and love, but the themes that those stories were trying to instill in us.

My hope is that through this film we see the importance of redemption in literature and in our daily lives, that we examine the butterfly effect of our selfish endeavors, and recognize the multiple potentials of the self and how they manifest in our soul.

The Unsatisfying End of Mandalorian – And What It Did Well Before

Spoiler Aelert


What Mandalorian Has done well

Before I point out the frustrating blunders that the last episode hit us with, let me begin with some praise.

Mandalorian is perhaps the best new thing that has happened for Star Wars and perhaps even Disney. I am not sure I am not the only individual who will claim that I became a subscriber to Disney+ solely for the Mandalorian–but having infinite access to Marvel and Star Wars in my free time certainly helps as well.

But why has this show been such a hit? I have some theories.

The Faceless hero

Mandalorian accepted an outright challenge writing in that our protagonist follows a creed that prohibits him from showing his face. This was not a rule that any of us were really expecting given our prior exposure to Mandalorians like Jango and Bo Katan who had no qualms of showing their face. This felt like a new but welcome piece of added universe building. Why was it welcome though?

Because the challenge merited it.

There’s no shortage of heroes and villains who have had to communicate their emotions through little medium, such as eyes or body language. I remember being quite impressed with Tom Hardy’s performance of Bane, who communicated a seething and pretentious villain with little more than his eyebrows and posture. This challenge is not a unique one, but it’s exciting to see how actors, directors, and writers seek to communicate character depth and emotion without usage of facial expressions.

Our protagonist, Mandalorian, is albeit a rather stoic character who would otherwise without a helmet still come across as rather cold–and I think that’s why we love him too. Still, I vividly remember the scene of him flying off from dropping off Grogu (Baby Yoda) and the feeling of hesitation that was communicated without any words and without any expression.

Lastly, the path taken in this show of having the anonymity of the Mandalorian being so sacred brings some big payoffs when our hero DOES show his face. We see vulnerability against his prejudice for droids, seeing the higher path of accepting help from our Good Samaritan Nurse Droid in order to fulfill his duty to protect others. Even more astounding was seeing him break his code in front of someone who mocks his code (Bill Burr’s character) when he lifts his helmet out of love and concern for rescuing Grogu.

All the characters

But all credit should not be given to just our protagonist. Each and every character feels…full. There’s no proper way to describe it, but with each character we have a succinct feeling for them, a sense of what they are about, what they are like, and what we can expect from them. While there might be a temptation to say such archetypal characters could present as predictable or one-dimensional, I’ll argue that the predictability makes their deviation from their predictability all the more rewarding and the succing nature of each character memorable.

Quil and Cara are examples of simple but fun additions. Both are salty veterans, both offering aid to the galaxy’s finest warrior: the Mandalorian. Yet their talents and view of the war are opposed and rather simple; Quil pragmatically served the Empire with his intellect for his freedom, Cara is a freedom fighter and a brawler who is motivated by hatred for what the Empire had done to her planet. When they meet, we are rewarded with incredible foils: two salty veterans, on different sides, with different talents, but with a similar cause.

To close on this note, we see the IG droid. A friend once told me IG droids were supposed to be formidable and intimidating death machines, yet what we see from Episode 5 is kind of a stock bounty hunter that cosmetically doesn’t even appear all that terrifying. But when the IG droid goes gunslinging, we are wowed and giddy with what he is capable of doing. What makes this character even more affable is his simplicity: he has simple programming, to kill, to get the job done, and to never be taken hostage. This cold killer is lacks a great deal of depth because it is so simple, and yet when we see it reprogrammed, retaught by Quil, and sacrifice itself roundabout to its programming, it feels absolutely complete, without having need for any deep backstory or deeper motives.

A Celebration of fatherhood

I recently became a father, so this one is a bit personal.

I know there’s been a bit of a complaint of our male figures not being sensitive enough, but I think Mandalorian does not roll over to this complaint. Instead, it addresses a deeper need we all have: to witness a loving father.

The Mandalorian throughout is stoic, laconic, and an archetypal male in his flat voice and cowboy demeanor, so the concern we have for the male figure keeps its form. While keeping its form, it slowly introduces the sensitive, but not by highlighting a feature, but by highlighting a role: father.

The Mandalorian changes his materialistic worldview of getting paid and having the best armor for the sake of rescuing and caring for this affable child who is fatherless. Instead of cloistering him in some compartment at the bottom of his ship and ignoring his peevish, childish quirks, he learns to embrace them, handing Grogu the metal ball from his ship, and letting him sit in his lap.

What’s interesting about the resurrection of this figure of the father is that it is hallmark to Star Wars. Fatherhood was a them in every trilogy of Star Wars. In the original series we see an estranged father through Vader and Luke. From the prequels we see an absent father in Anakin’s history supplanted by adopted fathers such as Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and even Sidious. In the most recent trilogy, we explore an adopted fatherhood with the fatherless Rey and a twisted fatherhood with Sidious and Rey. Mandalorian, as a kind of sci-fi western, didn’t need to explore this theme and could have perhaps been just as successful without the theme of fatherhood. And yet it boldly attempts to resurrect and harken back to this theme, and grants us our typical masculine figure who addresses our desire for seeing sensitivity through his role of father.

The Universe

It’s been said before, but it deserves repeating: Mandalorian deepens the sea of the Star Wars Universe rather than just branching off into a shallow stream loosely connected to the franchise. We see similar alien races, similar planets, technology, and hallmarks to each of the trilogies that grants us that blessed feeling of nostalgia; for me, it came in spades as it reintroduced Bobba Fett. Comparitively, the last trilogy of Star Wars movies felt like the latter, a kind of river flowing out from the great sea of Star Wars, going in whatever direction was the path of least resistance until it pooled and puddled into a dirty lake. Sure, the last trilogy tried to echo, like George Lucas’ “poem”, the original trilogy, but the execution of this still felt forced and alien (pardon the puns).

Further, the original Star Wars followed a format that knew worked: the Hero’s Journey. Star Wars, when it came out, felt like it belonged, like it was the natural sci-fi movie to the adventure stories we crave and for the heroes we so love. Mandalorian didn’t necessarily follow Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but it borrows off of the hallmarks and motifs of a genre we already know and love: Spaghetti Western. Although many hardcore sci-fi fans might argue that Firefly carved out for itself the title as the first sci-fi western, Mandalorian does it in a way that doesn’t feel as though it copies from an already successful franchise, but seeks to be its own entity while still being unabashedly part of this genre.

These are just a shortlist of Mandalorian’s successes that I can personally see, and I’m sure there are many more talking points as to why this series has attracted such great attention. As much as I’d like to continue to highlight what is successful about this story, I feel as though the last episode of this show lends itself to some important pitfalls that we writers need to look out for.

Why Episode Chapter 16 of Mandalorian didn’t deliver

The First underlying problem – No New hope

I will begin my critique by confessing that I, and perhaps many others, are making some assumptions about the end of Mandalorian Season 2. It seems as though the chapter of Mando and Grogu is finished, and we have every reason to believe a new book unfolds as we literally see Bobba take Jabba’s throne with the cryptic “The Book of Bobba Fett” opening. This is problematic, but I should begin by praising one thing this series seems to intend to do well on: don’t milk a series.

We have every reason to believe that Mando and Grogu are going their seperate ways in such a heart-breaking finalle. Mando has taken his helmet off, and Grogu goes off with Luke as the completion of Mando’s quest to reunite him with his kind. We knew this was the goal from Season 1, and it is mission accomplished. As hard as it was to see that parting, it reassures me that Disney is not going to unabashedly limp a series along until it gets old or sickly, but will seek to constantly infuse new life with new creative material.

That being said, seeing Grogu leave with Luke is perhaps my first problem. There was nothing spectacular about Luke’s arrival in the last episode, as the first sign of the X-Wing and the green saber were clear tells of who our rescuer was…but I digress, and this is not my first complaint. My real complaint comes from foreknowledge of episode 8, knowing of Kylo Ren’s execution of Luke’s padawans. I confess I am inferring that all Luke’s disciples are killed by Kylo and that we could all just as easily assume Grogu makes it out alive just as miraculously as Bobba makes it out alive of the sarlac pit. That being said, it’s a grim foreshadowing, so that departure with Luke didn’t make that parting silver lined at all or brighter…it made it only more hollow and despondent. For such a bitter good-bye, please Disney, give us some hope.

Plot holes

This was perhaps the most problematic phenomena in the last episode of Season 2. As mentioned above, we don’t have a lot to go off of that Mando’s plot arch will go anywhere else. He has his armor, he delivered the child, and the very last scene features Bobba, not Mando; I’m not complaining about such a grim and delicious scene of Bobba reclaiming Jabba’s palace, but it gives absolutely no closure to the plot arch we had been following. I have every reason to believe that Mando will become a cameo to whatever spin offs we see come down the pipe, that the new “Mandalorian” will in fact be Bobba, and that everything we began with Mando will fall into the background.

And there’s a lot that has fallen into the background…

To begin, Mando’s history. We see flashes of his family being attacked by the seperatist droids–an incredibly well filmed flashback that makes the droids seem so much more haunting than their comical previous installments. These flashbacks made me want to know Mando more, to see his progression into the Mandalorian creed. So what promise do we have of going back into his past if he is not the center of attention? And if Grogu is not his infant side-kick who affords him moments of vulnerability, how will we access that rich past? Perhaps it is doable still if somehow Mando returns for a Season 3 without Grogu, but knowing this was dropped in Season 2 felt like a hollow tease.

Perhaps more important of a plot hole was the darksaber. There was a lot of hype for this since the end of season 1, and perhaps the height of Chapter 16 was that tension between Mando and Bo Katan. I was convinced to see a content between the two warriors right then and there, and instead we are given absolutely no closure as to the possession of the darksaber by the end of the episode. Perhaps it would have been too much to wrap all up in the last episode, but lets face it, season 2 had its share of “fill in” episodes such as frog lady which could have extended the finale instead of throwing in a wayword quest.

On top of the darksaber is the status of Gideon. Is it problematic to the Mandalorians that he is left alive as we are given the impression when he is taken in? Is he arrested by Cara or just executed? The final clash of Gideon and Mando was lackluster at best, and his futile stunt with the blaster in the end only made him seem even more feeble than the warlord we were delivered in season 1. So what of him? Not even a word from Cara of his arrest, or of execution orders from Bo Katan? Again, a dissonant thread left unwoven into the greater plot.

And then there’s the clones. Now, perhaps the clones that Gideon attempted to make via Grogu will show up in one of the new spin-offs, though I think I felt most excited by this plot arch in season 2 and hoped that our heroes’ journey would revolve around the investigation and destruction of this project. And yet all we hear are allusions to the project from Gideon, that he has Grogu’s blood and that the process has begun. But then the subject is dropped, and then we are left to consider the most frustrating question: what’s most important? Is it the clones? Is it the darkblade? Is it Grogu?

And then there’s the potential of the dark side within Grogu. Ahsoka opened up for us another possibility for an interesting plot arch, involving Grogu’s exploration of his powers and his potentiality of having the dark side within him. I believe the scene featuring Grogu tossing around the stormtroopers like rag dolls and then also seeing him force choke Cara from season 1 were teases of this possible plot arch. This tension easily could have made all of season 2, and would have had an incredible unfolding given Grogu follows a morally ambiguous character whose only moral compass is in an archaic creed that he finds himself wavering in. Again, great potential for plot wasted or left empty by the end, leaving us feeling unsatisfied and perhaps even fatigued to wait for whatever comes out by 2021.

The God machine

There’s a device in literature often used when the plot kind of backs itself into the corner: Deus ex machina.

I think the first time I was bothered by its occurrence was in the frog lady episode, wherein the Rebel fighters find Mando and help him kill the spiders attacking their ship. Now, the rebels in that particular episode weren’t as frustrating of a ploy of “the god machine” because at least we know the rebels exist in this galaxy and we were already introduced to them in the beginning of this episode. However, their opportune arrival and then casual leaving doesn’t leave us with a sense that Mando or the Rebels have grown in their relationship or learned anything, but rather feels like a kind of slight reminder that the Rebels are the good guys. Combine this frustration with their short appearance with Cara later on which, again, culminates into nothing.

But the “god machine” really felt as it took place in this episode in two different ways: the darktroopers, and Luke.

The darktroopers, albeit not too nuanced and actually appearing as quite sinister, lose their luster after they are expelled from the imperial cruiser and then come back when we all remember: they are droids, with jetbacks, and need not breathe. Their return to the cruiser to create some tension for our heroes feels like a vain ploy, a panicked invention of the writers saying, “oh wait, we need one more big setback, especially to reintroduce an old hero!” Perhaps instead Mando could have detonated said dark troopers and then we could give some space for Gideon to pull one more over all our heads through his tactical genius so that perhaps we could fear and despise him properly again. Instead, the darktroopers return for the sake of Luke’s arrival.

The clashing of these two “god machines” is self-defeating. Luke’s arrival needed to be grand, and so the dark troopers return to make us all feel that the battle isn’t really won, and then this problem we see is solved by this deified force that slaughters the droids without any issue. It’s a wholly unimpressive scene which I believe comes from one writing themselves into a corner. Despite not feeling any hope seeing Luke recruit Grogu, we needed Grogu to be reunited with his kind, and so Luke had to arrive. But his arrival needed to coincide with all the other plot points that have been ongoing throughout the series: the darksaber, the clones, Gideon, Bo Katan, etc.

Perhaps the intention was to evoke a kind of nostalgia of seeing our old hero return, after the galactic civil war had ended. Still, the feeling of nostalgia was not captured in this episode as I found Luke’s arrival as not only overly simplified, but also upstaging of our true heroes: Mando, Grogu, Cara, and even Bo Katan.

Give us the child

An unfortunate part of Season 2 was having Grogu absent for much of the second half. I realize that the plot perhaps had to go this route and that season 2 might have felt like “nothing can go wrong” without his capture, but there was a definite risk and loss in having his capture take place in Chapter 14. Just when we see Mando and Grogu’s relationship really blossom in Chapter 13, then we are given an episode of Grogu meditating for most of it–albeit, we are reintroduced to Bobba in a fantastic way–have almost no exposure to him in Chapter 15, and then really only a good heaping of it in Chapter 16.

First off, this is precious time to develop emotional build and pay-off for Mando and Grogu’s final parting. Keeping the two characters away and showing very little of Grogu in the process doesn’t reinforce the endearing feelings that we received in Chapter 13 when we see Mando inspire Grogu to use his powers. Instead, I felt atrophe for their connection, and then a kind of unfairness knowing the two would not see each other again–and not so much an emotional unfairness that serves to make the audience feel a certain way, but more so a literary mistake that didn’t follow through on what it attempted to deliver.

Lastly, Grogu is part of the reason why we love Mandolorian. Sure, the series is a fun spaghetti western in space with an awesome cast, but Grogu was the center of our memes for such a time. Season 1 did something incredible in not only being bold enough to return to an epoch of puppet use in cinema, but to perfect it, creating a character that feels so real and that could steal all our hearts so easily. It’s a mystery how Grogu became so beloved so quickly, so then when we see so little of him for the final episodes of Season 2 it feels like we’ve missed half the show, the other protagonist we know, love, and care about.

In conclusion

There are plenty of other series that deserve perhaps this amount of heat or more. But because Mandalorian has been such a genius, well-intentioned, and heart-capturing piece of art, I believe that the conclusion of this series/season deserves some criticism.

I am willing to accept that some of my critique is perhaps off-base or inaccurate, but what might be useful for every author reading is to consider the emotional reactions we seek from our audience.

Mandalorian created incredible characters that we cared about, rooted for, cried for. We ought to take a page from their book as we look to create/forge our own characters.

Mandalorian evokes feelings with subtle details, and we too should explore how some of these details and movements can be exploited in our own work.

And finally, we should keep a leery eye out for a quick and easy finish that is tempting to use for the sake of closing our own stories, and keep mining for avenues to take in our literature so that what we write/create feels whole, contained, and not empty or incomplete by the ending.

And with that…”I have spoken”.