Archives for posts with tag: representation

sendforthesuicidesquad

The Suicide Squad have been in the news a lot lately, especially since the release of the trailer for the 2016 film. As I put together my presentation for this year’s Comics and Popular Arts Conference, I’m becoming more and more entrenched in the lives of Task Force X as my presentation tries to place the Suicide Squad within the timeline of modern discipline and punishment as put forth in Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. As I go through the source material, I’m also reading a lot of what people are writing online about the upcoming movie and I notice a dearth of articles written about the movie by people who have much experience with the actual comics. In an attempt to bring comic books back into the discussion of comic book movies, I thought I’d put together a few interesting tidbits about the Suicide Squad as they appeared in the comics.

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1. The Suicide Squad is older than the Justice League…sort of.

When the Suicide Squad first appeared in DC Comics The Brave and The Bold #25, they weren’t a chain gang of super-villains, but rather of a state-sponsored group of everyday heroes having not-so-everyday adventures. None of them had any superpowers and none of them had criminal notoriety. In many ways, they barely resemble the Suicide Squad in the comics today or the Suicide Squad as its been portrayed in popular media (Smallville; Batman: Assault on Arkham; the upcoming Suicide Squad film). What connects the original Squad to the contemporary Squad are the memberships of Rick Flag- a character who hasn’t been on the Squad in the comics for a long time- and Karin Grace- a character that, excepts for a few issues in the first revival of the Squad, has largely been lost to comic book history. Still, that old Suicide Squad of scrappy superpowerless do-gooders appeared in the pages of The Brave and The Bold before the Justice League, which made its debut in The Brave and The Bold #28.

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2. Those thugs were first assembled to defeat Darkseid.

While the Suicide Squad mostly goes on sketchy espionage missions to serve the interests of A.R.G.U.S. or Checkmate, they were first brought together to defend the planet against the terrible tourist from Apokolips, Darkseid. In his usual fashion, Darkseid has attacked the Earth on many fronts- physical, social, and psychological- which has made ordinary folks despise ‘heroes.’ Superheroes become unable to perform their basic function and villains are brought in to do the hero work. This may remind readers of how Lex Luthor, Captain Cold, and others came to perform heroic feats in the recent Forever Evil storyline when the Justice League was incapacitated by being locked up in the ever-unstable Firestorm matrix motel.

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3. They are a group of predominantly white super-powered convicts being bossed around by a high-ranking government official, an out-of-shape and overweight black woman.

In the United States, we haven’t had a black female president yet. We haven’t had a female president and it’s arguable that we’ve only had half of a black president. In our most female-filled congress of all-time, only 20% of the elected officials serving in the legislative branch are women. Only half of the fifty United States have ever elected a black person to the House of Representatives. There’s only been nine black senators ever and only one of them was a woman. Still, overseeing the Suicide Squad isn’t really the responsibility of an elected official, so we can assume Amanda Waller wouldn’t have to campaign for votes. Well… no CIA director has ever been black nor female. The same is true regarding directors of the NSA, FBI, and ONI. Carolyn Payton was black and a woman, but she was just served as the Director of the US Peace Corps which seems like a job that would bore Amanda Waller. Growing up in poverty, it seems strange that Amanda Waller would also have the social connections to end up in such a position. Likewise, it’s not until Amanda Waller is skinnied up in the New 52 that she has any real military experience as part of her background. Sure, the US  government is racially biased against black women in terms of promotion and Amanda Waller lacks the necessary background and physical fitness to perform her job, but we find Amanda Waller directing the affairs of the Suicide Squad, literally holding their lives in her hands- such is the unlikely magic of fiction.

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Are we finished with ways that the Suicide Squad narrative does not accurately reflect the way racial tribes manifest their power through our social institutions? Worry not, because despite the fact that nearly half (1 million) of the entire US prison population (2.3 million)  is black, nearly all of the members of the Suicide Squad are not black or were not black during at least part of their history- Bronze Tiger, for example, or Deadshot who has never been black until the casting of Will Smith. While short-time Squad member Black Adam has black in his name and is literally African, he’s got lighter skin than Betty White. While blacks and other ethnic minorities account for significantly less than whites in Suicide Squad membership, such disparity is not uncommon among super-teams as the superhero genre suffers famously for its lack of diversity. On the other hand, women consistently make up a larger percentage of the Suicide Squad than most super-teams (looking at you, Justice League/Avengers….), which is a little odd since men make up over 90% of the US prison population.  As statistically unlikely as the Suicide Squad’s roster would be in the real world, it is essential to the dynamic of Suicide Squad because who is the Suicide Squad?

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4. Amanda Waller is the Suicide Squad.

The Wall wasn’t part of the original Suicide Squad from the B&B days- there weren’t a lot of black female characters in 1950s comic books. She didn’t arrive on the scene until the Legends mini-series that introduced the world to the Suicide Squad as we understand them today and she’s been with them ever since. While the Squad certainly has its usual suspects (Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Enchantress, Plastique, King Shark, Killer Frost, Count Vertigo- to name a few), the only constant is Amanda Waller. As a character, Amanda Waller remained pretty consistent during her tenure in the DC universe. She’s operates from some shadowy government organization (Checkmate, ARGUS), monitoring and managing the world’s ugliest secrets. She doesn’t take shit from anybody, even presidents. Her existence is kept somewhat a secret, but she’s got connections everywhere. Physically, she’s short and heavy-set. Her figure distinguishes her from the bombshells that make up most female characters in the superhero genre. Her weapons include the power of persuasion and the ability to circumvent bureaucracy.

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Following in the 2011 film Green Lantern, Amanda Waller is portrayed by the lovely Angela Bassett- a casting decision that would have significant effects on the character. While the actress retained Waller’s authoritarian attitude, she did nothing to portray the character’s physical attributes and turned Amanda Waller not only into a sex symbol, but a much more physically violent character. Bassett’s portrayal heavily informed the way Amanda Waller would appear in the New 52, the company-wide overhaul that occurred in September 2011, the same year that the Green Lantern movie came out. In the New 52, Amanda Waller is a former member of Team 7 and actually joins the Suicide Squad in punching up the bad guys. The military background, weapons mastery, and martial arts expertise give Amanda Waller new strength, but at the cost of the original character. While I miss the original Amanda Waller character, I must admit I really enjoyed the New 52 Suicide Squad. The storylines related Waller’s past came across as very fresh, but I wonder if they couldn’t have created a different character- one skinny ex-military bad-ass and Amanda Waller instead of one skinny ex-military bad-ass as Amanda Waller.

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5. Belle Reve is the official Suicide Squad prison.

The inductees of the Suicide Squad Hall of Fame come from the halls of Belle Reve prison in Louisiana. Amanda Waller is the on-again off-again warden. The prison first appeared in Suicide Squad #1 back in 1987. It shares the same name of Blanche Dubois’s lost estate in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and translates roughly as “beautiful dream.”

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I recently embarked on an intense reading/rereading mission. Throwing myself into the Green Lantern narrative as I had never before, I set off to read the entire GLC chronology up to this point beginning with Hal Jordan becoming a Green Lantern again in Green Lantern: Rebirth. For GL fans, this ambitious reading project is something similar, on a much smaller scale, to the Islamic rite of the Hajj. As Muslims fulfill their religious duty by making their pilgrimage, modern Green Lantern fans owe it to themselves to familiarize themselves with as much of the story as possible and while it isn’t possible to read the entire story in one sitting, I believe there is something special about reading it all at once.

Light reading

Light reading

My motivation for this spurred from my wife giving me the Brightest Day omnibus for Christmas. I had read much of the story out of sequence and I had picked up a few trades at conventions- saving them for when I had amassed a complete set. With the introduction of the Brightest Day omnibus, I went ahead and filled in the rest of the holes though I did miss a few- I haven’t read the Teen Titans trade associated with Brightest Day and I’d really like to because the Black Adam/Isis family from 52 is one of my favorite storylines in DC history.

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As an active member of the comic book internet community, I intended to write about the experience as I went along. I considered starting a twitter account and live-tweeting as I read, but I ending up just getting lost in the narrative. It’s hard not to. This run on Green Lantern is extremely well-executed- a sophisticated narrative with a reaching stories that attempt to take the notion of a universe controlled by tiny blue fascists to its ultimate absurd conclusion. During the first few trades, those leading up the Sinestro Corps War, I found myself constantly impressed with Geoff Johns forethought. The seeds of the Blackest Night and all the new Lantern corps as sowed in the very first issues where Johns brings Hal back. The integral roles played by Mongul, Cyborg Superman, and the Manhunters in the arrival of the Blackest Night and the writing of Atrocitus into Hal Jordan’s origin story all demonstrate such solid planning I wonder how much Johns had planned when he first began writing the character.

pucca-starsapphireWhile Johns’s master plan is certainly apparent, reading the whole story together allowed a chance to see how characters and concepts developed. The voices of certain writers who joined Johns become easily recognizable- primarily Dave Gibbons, Peter Tomasi, Tony Bedard, and Peter Milligan- and the end of Johns run is not only noticeable, but the final issue is included in the collected trades of every GL title published at that time. The creative teams that followed that crew brought their own voices as well. Though the art is largely consistent, both following and creating the DC house styles of their time. Some characters are drawn wildly different from artist to artist. None more so than Arisia Rrab- Reis gives her an adorable pixie face, Gleason makes her a hideous troll, and all the other artists find themselves somewhere in between. The female lanterns of all the applicable Lantern Corps often find themselves most easily distinguished by the nature of their scanty uniforms, but even that changes over time. When Rob Vendetti took Johns’s place as the guiding hand of the GL legacy, female characters in nearly all of the GL titles found their uniforms had become more conservative or at least less revealing. Green Lanterns like Arisia Rrab and the Star Sapphires received more modest outfits, but Red Lantern Bleez kept her trademark skeleton wings and black thong- which I’m happy about it. I can’t really imagine Bleez without some sort of overwhelming sexuality- it’s part of her origin story to some degree that she be sexually desirable and hostile to sexual advances. Sinestro Corps member and hot librarian Lyssa Drak actually sports a more conversative garb in the Sinestro series, but rocks her more traditional barely-there attire in the Sinestro issue published as part of Villains Month and in the Sinestro: Future’s End issue. It could be intentional, but I suspect disrupted communication as the likely culprit.

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When I first read Blackest Night, I read a digital copy that put every issue in chronological order. Unfortunately DC hasn’t collected the event that way. Instead, they separate the trades by title. To recreate the single issue experience, one would need to carry a lot of books with them, juggle them intermittently, and do their best to keep their bookmarks from falling into the wrong hands. If you don’t want to do that, I’d recommend reading the books in this order and split a few of the books in half.

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps

1/2 Blackest Night

1/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1

1/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns

2/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern

2/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2

2/2 Blackest Night

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Both Blackest Night and Brightest Day require the reader to know a bit about the DC universe, both contemporary and historical, to fully appreciate all the ins and outs. In the Blackest Night trades, they’ve provided blurbs about how each character rising from the dead to become a Black Lantern originally died, which I definitely appreciate.

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Beyond the White Lantern of it all, Brightest Day actually has much less to do with the Lanterns than it does the rest of the DC universe. The affiliated GL books are actually quite strong though. I particularly like the story line of the Weaponer of Qward and his quest for vengeance against Sinestro from the Green Lantern Corps title, which depends entirely on Deadman creating a net out of White Lantern light in Brightest Day. The Brightest Day overlaps with the War of the Green Lanterns through a limited series called Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors. The War of the Green Lanterns peters out through the Green Lantern titles and a small handful of limited series. In the aftermath of the War of the Green Lanters, the arrival of The New 52 is very apparent. The trade War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath ends with two single issue stories that suggest heavily their authors were simply waiting out the clock before getting the emotional spectrum involved in any new crises. The shift from pre New 52 to New 52 is weirder for the Green Lantern titles than any of the others (even Batman) as so much of the Green Lantern story depends on a character-rich past. Rebooting Superman makes Cyborg Superman’s destruction of Coast City hard to explain. Similarly rebooting Green Arrow makes his friendship with Hal Jordan patchier than an early puberty beard. Johns, Tomasi, Milligan, and Bedard do their damnedest to balance the demands of the Lanterns with the demands of the New 52 reboot, but one character comes off really weird: J’onn J’onzz. Before the New 52, he’s one of the Brightest Day twelve while in the New 52, he’s a virtually unknown agent operating in odd stealth. Newsarama recently published a list of queer doings afoot in the New 52 and Martian Manhunter featured prominently among their findings

J'imm J'onzz

J’imm J’onzz

In addition to reading all the texts, I also watched all the films and must regret that DC has pursued more Green Lantern animated movies. I liked the television series okay, though it paled in comparison to the superior series Beware the Batman!, which suffered the same cancellation fate, but the tv series was a bit more childish than the animated movies. I stand by my earlier contention that outside of the comics, the best use of Green Lantern in media is Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.

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…And somehow this all felt relevant because something big is coming for the Green Lanterns as DC is cancelling most Green Lantern titles in the coming months. With that knowledge, I spent much of my time reading also speculating.

 

 

 

Spoiler alert: Slade Wilson shoots his eye out!

Spoiler alert: Slade Wilson shoots his eye out!

Welcome to second installment of the World’s Second Greatest Detetective’s 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide! In the first installment, I offered suggestions to those shopping for fans of the television programs The Flash, Gotham, and Smallville, the video games in the Batman: Arkham-verse and Injustice, and the film Man of Steel as well as some suggestions for a person’s individual fancies regarding Superman. While I enjoyed writing that list and believe it could come in handy for a handful of holiday shoppers, I felt quite embarrassed when I got towards the end (blogger’s exhaustion as it were) when I realized I had compiled a list almost exclusively contained heterosexual white males. This is 2014 and while heterosexual white dudes still dominate comics in both content and the industry, there are plenty of interesting characters and talented creators who have overcome the default settings that always inhibited Western media. I’ve included a mere fraction on this list.

COMICS FOR A LESBIAN WHO LIKES BATMAN AND HAS AN ELEGANT TASTE IN DESIGN: Batwoman has consistently been one of the most beautiful books in the past decade. Like Batwoman’s costume, the book’s art has experimented heavily with black, gray, and red to create a superhero book that looks more like a haunted luxury hotel than a comic book. You have two options really: before the New 52 or in the New 52.

BEFORE NEW 52: Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s run on Detective Comics has been collected in Batwoman: Elegy. This book stands well by itself and costs less than $20, but if you really want to impress…

NEW 52: I’d recommend the first 4 volumes of Batwoman. J.H. Williams III sticks around and is joined by W. Haden Blackman. Their departure from the series was a small controversy and the story told in these volumes came to an underwhelming conclusion in the first issue contained in the fifth volume, but don’t let that discourage you.

COMICS FOR A LESBIAN WHO ALSO LIKES BATMAN BUT PREFERS CRIME NOIR: I suggest you take a look at Batwoman and if you think the person on your list would like it more if there were less skulls, you need not worry. Renee Montoya, one of Batwoman‘s ‘Eskimo sisters’ and a supporting character on television’s Gotham, is another prominent bad-ass lesbian in the DC universe. Her appearances in the New 52 have largely been limited to the background of the various Bat-titles, but prior to the New 52, Renee Montoya was kind of a star. I recommend Batman: War Games, any of the Gotham Central collections, and The Question: Five Books of Blood. Having made those recommendations, I should admit that I believe 52 is the best Renee Montoya story ever told, but I do not recommend you purchase 52 for a novice DC Comics reader. Much like I wouldn’t suggest Crisis on Infinite Earths for a fan of The Flash television program, 52 requires a good bit of background knowledge to fully appreciate.

COMICS FOR COWGIRLS: Without thinking too deeply on it, I’m going to declare Pretty Deadly as the best current title featuring a female main character, strong female cast, and predominantly female creative team. While I haven’t read everything out there, I feel pretty confident in my assertion because few artists provide layouts that can compare to Emma Rios’s pages and her style works so well with the story Kelly Sue Deconnick has written.

There’s only one collection of Pretty Deadly available, so if you really want spoil the cowgirl in your life, I recommend your pick up all the volumes of The Sixth Gun, a slightly brighter tale than Pretty Deadly with a significantly less creepy art style. The Sixth Gun is also appropriate for a wider age range than Pretty Deadly.

COMICS FOR READERS WHO WANT HISPANIC CHARACTERS AND ARE CAPABLE OF SHRUGGING OFF PATRONIZING STEREOTYPES: In the New 52, there are two characters that I consider guilty pleasures- actually that’s true, a lot of them that are guilty pleasures that require a suspension of  some of my values in the hope of developing a sophisticated world-view beyond good and evil- whether my affection for scantily clad superheroines, ultra-violence, or a bit of racism, something about reading comics makes me lower my ethical guard and it is in this state that I fell in love with the lovable gay Mexican undocumented immigrant Bunker of Teen Titans and to a lesser extent the Detroit-born Latin cheeseball Vibe, appearing in various titles including a his own short-lived title series. I’d recommend the collection of the Vibe series, titled Justice League of America’s Vibe: Breach, to people who like the fashion in Joel Silberg’s cinematic masterpiece Breakin’. There’s plenty in Vibe that worthy of being subjected to the harshest of structuralist, post-colonialist, deconstructionist, etc. critiques- have a friend writing a thesis on representation of Hispanic Americans? This is the book!

However, I find Bunker much more enjoyable than Vibe. Heavily defined by his sexuality, ethnicity, and geographical origins, Bunker comes across as a bright-eyed bundle of sunshine optimism. Everything in the US is awesome! Everything about being a superhero is awesome! Teen Titan Friendship is awesome! I’ve written before about the Othering of the Bunker character and in that post, I focused primarily on Bunker’s portrayal as an immigrant more than as a Mexican gay man and I still believe it is the most heavily contributing factor to his characterization.

COMICS FOR FANS ON THE CONSTANTINE TELEVISION SHOW: If the person on your list likes Constantine, I suggest you go the source material and start at the beginning of the Hellblazer titles. Most of the volumes are priced at $19.99 and can be found cheaper in the rainforest. Each collected volume is about 300 pages, so a single volume is a pretty hefty gift. If the person on your list likes Constantine but wishes John Constantine ran into Superman and Swamp Thing on a regular basis, I’d push you towards the New 52 Dark titles like Justice League Dark (soon to be a major motion picture…maybe), Constantine, The Trinity War, or perhaps the Forever Evil: Blight collection (but that only really works if you also pick up Justice League Vol. 5, Justice League of America Vol. 2, and the Forever Evil main collection…well, maybe not…)

COMICS FOR FANS OF THE WALKING DEAD SHOW WHO EITHER ALREADY READ THE WALKING DEAD OR FIGURE THEY’VE SEEN THE SHOW AND DON’T REALLY WANT TO GET WRAPPED UP IN THE COMIC: There are so many zombie comics out there now and many of them are pretty good. Want a funny zombie book? Try Last Resort. Want a zombie story set in wartime Afghanistan? Try Graveyard of Empires. Prefer the Vietnam War? Try ’68. Is the zombie enthusiast on your list like to be one step ahead of  the crowd (a good move during the zombie apocalypse)? I’d recommend the collection of the digital comic iZombie or the animal zombie tale The Other Dead as both will coming to the small screen some time soon. Still, my top recommendation for zombie books is Revival. It’s a small town tale that does it’s best to reconcile the humanity of their reanimated loved ones with the terrifying implications of the dead coming back to life.

Blogger’s exhaustion has hit again. I should return to present the 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide pt. 3. If you have a comic fan that you’re having trouble shopping for, feel free to send me a description of their interests to waynexiaolong@gmail.com or leave some info in the comments below. Feel free to do so after the holiday season has passed- I’m happy to consult on gifts for any occasion. If one of your celebrity friends had their nude photos leaked by hackers, you might not want to give them a copy of The Killing Joke.

 

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Upon the announcement that Jesse Eisenberg would play Lex Luthor in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel, I’ve felt a slight discomfort with the casting. I like Jesse Eisenberg, Lex Luthor is one of my favorite characters of all time, and more importantly, I think Eisenberg will do a great job as Lex Luthor. My discomfort comes from the difficulty is separating Eisenberg from his Jewish heritage. Eisenberg is not the first Jew to play Lex Luthor- Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum played an incredible Lex- but part of Eisenberg’s charm is how well he personifies many of the characteristics that pop culture finds endearing about the way Jews behave. He’s not Woody Allen, but he played him once in a movie. Does he play up to Jewish stereotypes? Sure, to some extent, but he’s also embraced roles that challenged popular conceptions of Jews, such as playing an Orthodox Jewish MDMA smuggler in Holy Rollers. Eisenberg is Jewish and deserves a certain amount of consideration when he portrays Jews positively or negatively as it is his own culture he’s representing. From Shakespeare to Star Wars, Jews has suffered negative portrayals by gentiles and while it is a generally accepted dramatic trope, negative Jewish stereotypes are usually identified by the Anti-Defamation League swiftly and often make news. As a person of Jewish heritage myself, I’ve come to tolerate the negative depiction of Jews as unavoidable symptom of a larger systemic social problem and rarely make a crusade about the way Jews are presented. As the husband of a Chinese woman, I’ve probably become more sensitive to the portrayal of Chinese people in Western media than I am to representations of Jews that reinforce stereotypes.

So……………………

what’s wrong with a Jewish Lex Luthor?

Lex Luthor plays to some very specific Jewish stereotypes

1) Lex Luthor is the smartest man in the world. This point may be argued by Michael Holt or Ray Palmer, but it is generally accepted in the DC Universe that Lex Luthor is the smartest man on Earth. When I was living in China, the most common reaction to the discovery of my Jewish heritage was: “This is why you are so clever.” or “The Jews are very clever.” While this is not really a negative stereotype, it is a stereotype and one that makes the lives of Jewish children with learning disabilities doubly difficult. Is unforgivable to portray Jews as intelligent? No. Is it racist to portray Jews as intelligent? I’m not sure if it is. The belief that Jews are somehow smarter than others is rooted in the Jewish tradition of revering scholarship. Many cultures place an emphasis on education, but there is something special about the role education plays in the development of Jewish identity, both communally and for the individual.

2) Lex Luthor is the richest man in the world. Lex is not only one of the richest people in the DC Universe, but he has obtained his wealth through the type of ruthless business behaviors that non-Jews have frequently accused Jews of engaging in. Of course, Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor won’t be as damaging as Bernie Madoff or any of the very Lex-Luthorian types of Jewish descent that the US government has an irrational fear of prosecuting. The stereotype that Jews have lots of money is hardly new. The phenomenon of Jewish wealth can largely be traced back to the limiting of opportunities for Jews by the gentile populatins in which they lived. The inability to own land and Christian opposition to usury can both be credited with encouraging a tradition of finance and trade in Jewish communities, making both finance and trade elemental to the Jewish economy and to Jewish social mobility.

3) Superman is Jesus. As we all know, Superman was created by a couple of nice Jewish boys from Ohio and the comic book industry itself was largely created by Jews, borrowing many of its production strategies from the garment industry where Jews were also prevalent. Why did these Jews make a caped Jesus? The Christ-like nature of Superman has always been there. While Superman’s origin story greatly mirrors the story of Moses, we should pay attention to some differences in the two stories. Moses liberates his people from the tyranny of the Egyptians while Superman liberates a foreign population from the tyranny of themselves and external forces of Darkness. Superman is Jor-El’s only son. Jor-El gives his only son to the people of Earth- people he largely look down upon while simultaneously adoring them (sounds like any god you’ve heard of?). The messianic nature of Superman is well-documented and generally accepted, so I won’t go into too much detail here and will assume that you accept that the idea of “Superman as Christ” has legitimacy. Lex Luthor hates Superman- perpetuating the idea that Jews hated Jesus or willfully contributed to his crucifixion is an irresponsible assessment of the relationship Jesus had he with members of his own community.

For these reasons, I’m a little uncomfortable with Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor, but as a comic fan, I have no doubt that he will do a better job than Kevin Spacey, the worst Lex Luthor of all time. My favorite Lex so far? Either Clancy Brown or Anthony LaPaglia.

Honestly, I might be more excited about the Son of Batman animated movie that was recently announced more than the Man of Steel sequel.

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