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 Utility of Humanoids: What’s the Purpose of Sci-Fi & Fantasy Races?

One of my earliest memories of crafting alien species was when I helped design a homebrew tabletop roleplay game with a group of friends. The five of us were co-collaborating our own galaxy “long ago” with sentient races, each possessing unique feats. I was particularly enamored with the saurian race we came up with for their reptillian appearances, their rigid cultural code of honor, and ability to shoot out unarmed spikes at opponents. They were just one among the handful of playable races amid a universe of warring sentients.

I made my own homebrew universes and systems after this with creative zeal. I’d craft my own sci-fi universe filled with my own sentient species or reimagine fantasy races of my own design. In both scenarios, each race had their own unique ability and strengths. The more I reflect on this, the careful design I employed in terms of anatomical advantages always came down to gamers playing in my imagined universe, adopting one of these races, and falling in love with the uniqueness of each sentient being.

There’s a handful of story ideas sitting on the “shelves” of my computer archive that still benches these old ideas of games intended to become novels.

I mention all this because I recently began looking at other writers’ designs of humanoids, of investigating what makes authors design as they do and become curious if such designs can/will hold the attention of their audience.

As mentioned, my own designs of sentient humanoids in both the sci-fi and fantasy genre came from a function point of view, of carving something aesthetically unique that bared a nuance to how a player interacted with the world or played a theoretical game. Admittedly, culture and thematic elements usually came later. This isn’t wholly unuseful. Halo is a series that has seemingly borrowed from this design–think of the function of the alien and an aesthetic that can match it, and develop a backstory later–and seems to have been relatively successful with a compelling narrative (barring anything Halo 4 and on).

That being said, I think its useful for us authors to do some deep digging of our intention of writing these humanoid aberrations. I mention this because two different series that have a “cat race” can bear different fruit in terms of how compelling the narrative is: for example, if one writes up said cat race because the author simply likes cats and thinks it would be a neat hybrid, versus another author who sees specific utility and ramifications to the narrative and world for having a feline sentient humanoid.

Therefore, I’d like to explore some examples of usage of races solely in terms of the Sci-Fi genre (though I believe each example has a fantasy counterpart). To this end, I hope we can do some deep exploration of why we write the species we do instead of default to a reason that may not be so compelling: “well I thought it was cool.”

Star Trek: Your Utopian Telos

Though I’m far from being a Trekkie, I’ve had a history growing up around them.

What I’ve been educated about Star Trek is that the races of the show all are meant to represent some historic or proposed culture, and to contrast said races against the human spirit.

The Vulcans, from what I can see, are meant to contrast a passionate and human side of humanity from a proposed passionless, and dogmatically thought-based species. The Vulcans show us positive traits of this kind of emotional neutrality while also showing set-backs of being so cold and detached. The Borg bear warning to dangers of assimilation for the sake of continuity and peace, while the Ferengi propose the warped pursuit of imperial greed.

Though I was never particularly invested in learning deeply about the overall plot of the series or become emotionally invested to the story and characters, I recognize the following that Star Trek has and its success in terms of utilizing sci-fi races to illustrate the dark sides of humanity in their extreme. Each of these races are abberations of humanity and show grossly disproportionate maxims or principles in a cautionary manner. While it’s hard to keep track of the running list of planets and races that the mostly human pioneers encounter, the usage of this model of designing sci-fi races lends itself to a powerful utility of storytelling: speak about the human condition, and warn about the tragedies that are close to our nature, behavior, and machinations.

Star Wars: Paint Me A Feeling

It’s only natural now to go to Star Wars, the favorite rival of Star Trek. Star Wars I see doing much less of Star Trek’s moralizing of human nature. When I think of races in Star Wars, I think of some really sensory-filled and impresionistic races that through their design convey a raw feeling to the audience.

Ewoks are perhaps the low-hanging fruit in this variety. Ewoks were admittedly a race created in order to undermine the hubris of the Empire and all their tyrannical force of technology and governance. These child like teddy bears humiliate the Empire through their incredibly ramshackle inventions, traps, and weaponry, and their dwarfed size and cute appearance is starkly opposed to the very stoic and angry-faced empire uniform. The audience is more often than not endeared with these true underdogs and might even rally a little harder seeing the machinations of the Empire put to shame through Ewok creativity.

That being said, they are by far my least favorite species. I’m tempted to take a shot at the Ewoks as being more of merchandise than true creativity, but I know my own fondness for Baby Yoda makes such an accusation rather limp (I really do commend Mandalorian for giving us such an endearing character).

While I attempt to convey my true frustrations for the existence of Ewoks, I do have to give Lucas credit for what he was attempting to do in creating this race. Ewoks are these forest dwelling dwarfs that represent the good-hearted altruism of simplicity and autonomy against a threat of “progress” and enforced unity. The Ewoks are easy to root for due to their humble nature and might even be a statement illustrating adults need to return to child like innocense.

Again, Ewoks are but the lowest hanging fruit in this very illustrious universe. The Hutts, by contrast, are easily vilified, disgusting for their wild tongues and wet bodies, easy to dehumanize and loath for their invertebrate like bodies. The Wookies, like the Ewoks, are affable for their furry and bear-like bodies, resembling something of a hugable teddy bear, the only difference being that the height and roar of their voice convey the danger and double-sidedness of their bear like qualities (in short, bears are regarded as loveable but also dangerous, just as Wookies are). Perhaps the last and most impressionistic race are the Twi’leks, the females always depicted in revealing clothing, the tentacles on their head suspiciously looking like a naked pair of legs; this race has been labeled as categorically sexualized, making them both pitied for being targetted as sex slaves and coveted for their overly sexualized features.

Save for the Twi’leks, it should be noted that just about every Star Wars race has a key character that sets the tone for the entire race. The Wookie race is second in importance to Chewbacca, such as the Hutt race is second to Jabba. The same goes for Zabraks and Darth Maul, or Kaleesh and General Grievous. All these races develop backstories as an after thought, and only so many of them get recycled in mainstream continuiations of the series.

Star Wars isn’t looking to convince you so much of human nature or socio-political slippery slopes through their races. Instead, they are looking to portray to you a very raw and earthy picture. The races either exist to paint the atmosphere (Twi’leks to paint a harem, Ewoks to paint innocence and humility) or exist typically in the form of a sole character to illicit a feeling in the audience using imagery instead of a lengthy backstory (Jabba obviously vile without knowing his origins, Chewbacca formidable but still likeable without even being ble to understand him).

Star Wars is a fantastic example of a sci-fi world that requires little backstory or “telling” (though it certainly has plenty of non-canonical extended universe materials) because it gets so right the showing. That is smart characterization that saves the author time so they don’t have to dive into long prologues, but can cut to the action with the impressions we are immediately given through the races and characters.

Avatar: The Ideal Man & World

While I personally feel some of the themes of Avatar are heavy-handed and even trite, I truly do appreciate what was accomplished in the design of the Na’vi race and world of Pandora.

My own dissection of the story of Avatar is the telling of mankind’s feelings of discontent for the raw pursuit of exploration and progress, for the shallow satisfaction that can come from technological advancement and materialism.

Pandora illicited a very raw feeling of what the Germans call “Sehnsucht,” a kind of longing for a place that seemingly can’t exist or can’t be visited. We ached because the 3-dimensional and beautiful world of Pandora isn’t able to be visited. People literally felt depressed walking out of this film.

Pandora is mirror to how we also feel about the Na’vi. We see a pure sentient species that enjoys the beauty of this magical land. While the Na’vi “tail” is on its face an interesting world building concept, it also illicits a real desire in us to have communion and peace with nature, to possess this role of pure-hearted stewardship over such a magical land. The priorities of Pandora are not for expanse or development, but to see one conquering death through their “uplink” to the neurel network of trees and nature.

I argue that Avatar gets at a real angst in us all for the materialism we have been fed for the last few centuries, that the scientific method and pursuit of discovery and innovation are the end all be all of human perfection. Avatar flips that on its head, conceiving of a world that requires little innovation, a world that has relative harmony and is saturated with beauty.

Pandora is an allegorical type of paradise or heaven, and the story of Avatar gives the audience hope that one not only can step outside of the grungy and base world of materialism, but become eternal and part of a reality based on communion.

Whereas Star Trek warns of human falleness, Avatar gives hope of transcendence and magic returning to our lives and world.

Alien & Predator: Face Your Fear

Predator, I admit, is only slightly harder to justify into this category. That being said, the Predator series has been treated as a kind of thriller/horror that I think affords it this category (besides, the two races seem hard to divorce from one another).

The creators of alien were pretty explicit in their intentions of creating this alien race. Here we have an alien designed to be the most perturbing machination that human thought could conceive. Alien is sleak and fast, easily missed and hard to squash, much like our innate disgust for roaches, snakes, and mice. It’s also been mentioned that the design of the creature (phallic head) in tandem with its means of reproduction (suffocation, chest bursting, in short he involuntary carrying of another being’s spawn) were meant to illicit a vile response from the audience. This was a race meant to scare men and women alike, to illicit a feeling of powerlessness and penetrability.

Predator didn’t tap into as much of a raw human disgust, but rather seems to be designed as a kind of horrific reaper, an alien icon of the angel of death. Predator is pseudo-invisible, it has perfect awareness of its prey, and its patient and adaptable in its form of harvesting trophies/taking life.

Predator speaks to the human fear of death, while Alien perturbs us with an image of violation and being forced upon. A case could be made that the two represent the monstrous capacity of mankind to be predatorial in terms of violence and sex, but I think what’s more true in their inceptions is looking to frighten the audience using basic and common fears in an illustrative manner.

It should be noted that using sci-fi races to explore the emotion of fear and sense of human powerlessness is a fairly common trope in the larger sci-fi and “weird fiction” genres. Lovecraft markets on both as he explores cosmic creatures either too unworldly to fathom or too collasal to fight, and even the rehashed “greys” of so many books and movies continue to haunt us with their expressionless faces and typically cold, morbid, and scientific curiosity of humanity.

Possible Pitfalls of Race Creation

We’ve mentioned some of the highlights of the sci-fi genre and what they do well, but it’s prudent I believe to also explore not bad examples persay, but what I find to be typical pitfalls in writing up new fantasy and sci-fi races. The following list is also not exhaustive and is also not meant to label any of the following tactics as inherently “bad” or poor, but rather to call to attention temptations in writing that can lead to a flat or unremarkable universe.

The first pitfall I’ve already made mention of is the “oh this would be cool” philosophy. The problem with this route is not that the creator isn’t inherently creative and able to innovate something remarkable, but to caution the author against their own bias and possibility for subjectivity as they craft their humanoids and the universe that they inhabit. We’ve mentioned quite a few “oh that’s cool / neat looking” examples above of skilled killers (Alien/Predator) and beautiful aliens dwelling in a remarkable world (Avatar). That being said, each of those examples had some substance behind their creations, had a purpose behind the innovative idea. It’s hard to find a sci-fi race that is just merely “recycled,” implying that all new ideas possess some novelty to them, but what the successful series’ seem to do is to go deeper than just the aesthetics and special effects and get at a deeper “why” behind the races. It’s fair to then ask if some of these series developed their cool idea BEFORE OR AFTER the thematic/narrative consideration, though I think this chicken and egg debate is less important than how the themes relate to the ideas.

It pains me to also say this, but leaning too greatly on allegory can also provide challenges in your writing. I’m a fan of world building with allegory when it can point out some much needed warnings to society and human behavior, but like the above mentioned issue of a homogenous race, this too can make your humanoids feel flat. Even worse, feeling compelled to find the most perfect appearance or pattern of thinking/feeling for your new race can limit your own exercising of creativity–though I caution against going the “oh that’s cool route” keep in mind that the above mentioned examples still use awe while crafting well-written aliens.

Related to all of that is a temptation to merely write a species that suits a clear stereotype or role for the purpose of your world so your reader knows “oh they’re the_____.” The exception to this is that there is more leniency here given to the video game market which lends itself to already dehumanizing the enemy and therefore can profit off of a stereotype. That being said, the Mass Effect series has taken flak for constructing an overly sexualized fantasy race (worse than the Twi’leks in my opinion) that seem more of a marketing ploy to appeal to male appetite rather than provide any substance in world building or plot.

So Why Make Up a Race/Humanoid?

The above mentioned is by no means an exhaustive list of compelling reasons to write a fantasy or sci-fi race, but they do happen to be so popular because these humanoid races do one of the following:

  • Serve as a cautionary example of human nature or misplaced ideology
  • Illustrate a character or univrese without via showing versus telling
  • Propose an ideal or longed for existance for mankind (a world or human that may be hard or impossible to acheive)
  • Evoke a raw human emotion (ie fear) or capture the demonization of humanity

No doubt other examples exist of well done and purposeful world-building via race concepting. The utility of pointinging out these successful instances is for us to see the intentionality of their craft and creativity, to see the inventions of these races not as merely cool designs but purposeful machinations. We need not fit into one of the aforementioned categories, but I think borrowing something there or doing some deep exploration as to what purpose writing up a new species has will help us craft stories that compete with an already very large and continually growing market of fantasy and sci-fi books and universes.

This isn’t to put down some of the less substantiated sci fi narratives out there. Don’t get me wrong, I loved how immersive Mass Effect 1 and 2 were as games, but the series itself oscillates between their races being helpfully characterizing like Star Wars and flat/easy to digest tropes.

Again, if you’re like me, it’s easy to see your fantasy and sci-fi races with more curiosity of the aesthetics and utility than what the species itself contributes to the narrative. If it’s a cat species that has unarmed bleeding damage for your homebrew tabletop, go for it. If it’s merely your own badass take on a new saurian race because you’re like me and you like dinosaurs, you might want to consider why writing it at all and how it’ll stand above the rest of the already existing literature.

I invite you all to at least do some wrestling as to what your audience will find compelling about your sentient addition to your already sprawling and ever-growing universe. Your pet alien or beloved mythic elf can still be a fresh and incredible addition to the world of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s only to your gain if you can critically think why others should care about them.

Happy writing! Live long and prosper, and may the force be with Toruk Maktow.