Tag Archives: MCU

Assassins, Outlaws, and Narratives of Autonomy and Vulnerability

sad bucky

Sometimes emotional impact comes at you from sources you don’t expect. For example, did I ever tell you about how that cowboy game by the people who made GTA came out of nowhere and made me cry, introducing me to a protagonist who swiftly became one of my favourite characters? No? Okay, well, let’s talk about that.

Late last year, my housemate brought home Red Dead Redemption 2 (winning the local trivia contest in the process, but that’s an extremely powerful story for another day), and the game–and its player-character, gunslinger Arthur Morgan–quickly stole the hearts of everyone in the house. A natural response to a new interest in this digital age was to peek into social media’s fandom spaces to see what was there, and when I did, I was met with a wave of adoration for Arthur as a character. This took some different forms for different people, of course, but spending enough time following discussions about the game I soon recognised a recurring pattern: a lot of people were drawn to him on a personal level, and not only enjoyed him as a protagonist/thought he was cool/thought he was a bit hunky, people empathised with him in ways that many of them (myself included) found pleasantly surprising. And I thought “hey, this feels… a little familiar.”

It wasn’t until conversations about Bucky Barnes—alias The Winter Soldier—began to resurface in the wake of Avengers: Endgame that the neurons connected. Bucky was, and is, an immensely popular character, particularly after his appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the heyday of the fandom interest in that movie, a whole string of posts, tags, and conversations popped up observing that maybe so many people, especially people who weren’t (cis) dudes, were latching onto this character because something about his narrative, his construction of identity, and the things that happen to him, felt familiar on a strangely personal level. So what exactly was at the heart of this?

It would be easy enough to say this is another case of “fangirls like handsome gun man” (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with liking the handsome gun man, we’re all out here just trying to drag some enjoyment out of the media hellscape), but that feels in this case like a superficial take that misses a core part of the appeal of these characters. Women (and fans raised, socialised, and/or otherwise socially perceived as women/girls; a distinction I want to make because I know a lot of NB and trans folks who like these characters too) don’t just like these fictional men, they connected with them, on a level that I feel has a few similarities worth talking about. Again, “handsome gun man” is a superficial take: both Arthur and Bucky are presented on surface level as traditionally masculine images of cool-factor, but have personal narratives (and sometimes place in the narrative) about autonomy and vulnerability, themes that are usually associated with the feminine.

[There will be spoilers for both stories within, and, as a content warning, some discussion of abuse and violence] Continue reading

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Of Cosmic Stakes and Personal Stories (Spider Verse, Infinity War, and Others)

spider verse miles

A confession: I haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War nor Avengers: Endgame yet, and I don’t really plan to. I promise I’m not trying to be contrary or edgy with that statement—in fact, it makes me kind of sad. I love superheroes! I like the Marvel movies! So why aren’t I compelled to join in the hype for the epic, universe-bending crossover event?

In an unfortunate case of history repeating itself, I think I might be switching off from the MCU for the same reason I dropped Doctor Who back in ye olden days: the constant ante-upping required to keep the series fresh and engaging has led the story to cosmic stakes where the rules of time and space are being warped willy-nilly and the multiverse hangs in the balance, whereas the thing that drew me to the series in the first place was those more grounded, relatable, personal stories. When it comes to the MCU’s shift towards Big Crossover Events, Civil War (allegedly a Captain America standalone movie) was about as much as I could take in terms of world-altering stakes, an over-stuffed ensemble cast who couldn’t possibly all get the screentime they deserved, and “epic” tone.

I get it, superheroes need to save the world, and it’s a natural progression that they should save the converging, warping universe in an adventure that brings together characters from all across the wide-spanning story. I get it, but, well, ehhh. I’m willing to admit this is personal taste, of course—and I would just say that Crossover Events aren’t for me… but then again, I was really compelled to see, and really enjoyed, Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. So what’s going on there? Continue reading

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Starscream’s High Heels and the Androgyny of the Trickster

Starscream prime

I like Transformers now, and I like Starscream. Who’d have thought? And who’d have thought it would lead me down a tangent about the mythological archetype of the Trickster and the blurring of the gender binary within?

It’s the high heels, is what it is. The Transformers property I’ve grown attached to is the 2011-2013 animated series Transformers Prime, which WB got me into, and in which Starscream is rocking a pair of stilettos built in to his very mechanics. Many of the characters went through a design overhaul for Prime, most notably baddies like Soundwave, who is no longer a walking boombox that you can slot other Decepticons into; and Starscream, who’s now delightfully spindly and spiky compared to his earlier, blockier counterparts, and who now has better-looking legs than me complete with those wonderful heels. To me, this look conveys his character well—one glance at this robot and you can tell he’s bad news, but you can also tell what kind of bad news he is. Continue reading

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Martyred Moms and Dastardly Dads in the MCU

GOTG Ego and Starlord

My friend and I came out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 convinced that the Infinity Wars movies, and the big Avengers/Guardians crossover therein, were mostly going to consist of Tony Stark and Peter Quill trying to out-Daddy-Issue each other. As well as both having facial hair and a penchant for roguish one-liners, the two heroes have a few things in common, most notably their parental situation: like Tony, Peter Quill has a complicated and at times antagonistic relationship with his father that forms the emotional core of a whole movie, and a sense of wistful mourning for his mother, who was sweet, kind, and only shows up in a few scenes. She’s also dead due to circumstances that were in no way her fault, so they can bond over that as well. At this point, maybe Thor can chime in too, perhaps initiating a group hug, since he also has a complicated relationship with his main-character dad and grieves over his good and nurturing dead mum. Jeez, is Infinity Wars just going to be one big session of father-related angst and mother-related mourning?

Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father to main character status once, Marvel, and that’s shame on you. Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father twice, still shame on you. Do this three times for three different superheroes and it’s officially a pattern. What exactly is going on here, and why does it annoy me so much?

Head to Lady Geek Girl & Friends for the full post!

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Letting Boys Cry

yuuri2

One of the first things Yuri Katsuki does onscreen is cry. His establishing character moment is him weeping uncontrollably in a bathroom, the picture of vulnerability and hopelessness, after doing badly at the Grand Prix. And he doesn’t stop crying, either—his tears, and his anxiety, return time and again over the series, and while he eventually learns to handle this anxiety as his confidence is nurtured, the narrative never really presents this emotion and his expression of it as a bad thing or a weakness. Yuri is a highly expressive, emotional young man, and the show he’s in lets him be that. And that’s quite a rare thing to see in fiction, let alone from the protagonist of a sports anime—surely one of the most manly genres out there, given that they’re all about feats of physical prowess!

It seems paradoxical to have the protagonist of something in the action genre—be it sports or superheroes—cry, because crying is, well, such a non-masculine and non-heroic trait. Journalist Ben Blatt recently released the findings of a study on word use in books, which found that, among other things, women were commonly described as “sobbing” but men almost never were, especially when the novel in question was written by a man. The study suggests that “Male authors seem, consciously or not, to hold that if ‘real men don’t cry,’ then ‘fictional men don’t sob’.”

And yet there’s Yuri, sobbing—and not the only man to do so in that show either. Granted, a lot of Yuri!!! on Ice plays with and strays from what we would consider “manly” (dancing, themes of love, throwing away strict conventions of gender presentation with Viktor’s long hair and flower crowns, etc.), but this departure from gendered expectations is still worth noting. Usually, the perception is that boys don’t cry. Crying is a sissy thing to do, an unmanly thing to do, a girly thing to do, and society says the accepted and desirable alternative is to bottle up your feelings or project them outwards onto other people. This is one of the neatest examples of toxic masculinity you can find: being emotional is somehow feminine, and, of course, that that makes it bad.

Head to Lady Geek Girl and Friends for the full article!

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Redeeming and Rehabilitating Your Brainwashed Villain: Precure vs The MCU

villains

There are few things more fun than a (well done) villain to hero story, whether it’s a redemptive arc like Zuko’s or a heartfelt rebellion like Finn at the start of The Force Awakens. A surefire way to switch up alliances is to throw brainwashing into the mix, a la Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes or Princess Twilight from the current wholesome and unstressful light of my life Go! Princess Precure. Just un-brainwash ‘em and you have a perfect new member of your main cast of good guys, right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as a villain-to-hero story is often more complex, especially when it deals with the kind of trauma and guilt that comes from being the enemy’s human weapon… which, interestingly enough, I’d argue that the kids’ anime about magic princesses does much, much better than the blockbuster superhero series. Continue reading

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Who Won the “Civil War”?

captain-america-civil-war-movie-iron-man

Who indeed? Though I myself am still firmly on Team Cap, I discuss the narrative’s deliberate ambiguity in a piece written for Popgates. Read the whole thing here!

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