Incredible Four

When a friend shared a fun fact about “The Incredibles” the other day, it seemed like a great jumping-off point for this week’s blog post. The Incredibles are often celebrated and only occasionally criticized for being heavily inspired by another superhero family- one I’ve analyzed in several prior posts. In this post, I’d like to explore some of the symbolism and meaning behind the powers gifted to Pixar’s favorite family and how the characters are fundamentally different from Marvel’s Fantastic Four.

The Incredibles

The idea my friend shared was, I believe, based on this video. The theory expressed is that the powers of each member of the family is believed to be based on their role in the traditional family unit.

Mr. Incredible is the father and the man of the house. Traditional family values and stereotypes put pressure on men to support their families and be strong for them. Hence, Mr. Incredible has the power of super strength.

As the matriarch of the family, Elastigirl is expected to be flexible and able to handle everything around the house at once. Elastigirl’s body is stretchy and flexible to the extreme.

Violet is a defensive teenage girl. She puts up boundaries. She simultaneously wants to be invisible and to be seen. She has the powers of invisibility and telekinetic forcefields.

With the endless energy of a typical young boy, Dash has super speed.

Finally, Jack Jack is a baby with unlimited potential to fill any role in life. Therefore, his powers at the time are undefined and infinite.

The Incredibles’ powers are based on the types of people they are. While their abilities are similar to the Fantastic Four’s, I’d like to set forth a theory on the Four and add upon the list of reasons they differ from the Incredibles.

The Fantastic Four

Thinking about the theory that the Incredibles’ powers are based on what the people are, I thought about whether this theory also applies to their Marvel counterparts. Something didn’t seem to add up until it occurred to me that the theory could be applied in reverse. The Fantastic Four’s powers are not representative of the characteristics they have, but rather on the characteristics that they lack. In that sense, they were incomplete people before their life-changing event, and their powers complete them.

Reed Richards is and always has been an almost entirely logic-based man. He’s first and foremost a scientist, and he sees the world in terms of black-and-white. He’s utterly inflexible, and so Mr. Fantastic was given the power to stretch and contort his body, much the same as Elastigirl.

Susan Storm is, as mentioned in a prior post, perhaps the most empathetic character in all of comic literature. She is open with her feelings, she hides nothing, she keeps nobody out. Therefore, the Invisible Woman’s power is (any guesses?) to become invisible and create forcefields, much like the Incredibles’ Violet.

Johnny Storm Is a little bit of an odd-man out here because he’s always been a bit of a hot-head. He has always thought he’s the most popular, hottest thing in the room. There’s the key. He has always THOUGHT. In many portrayals, Johnny is shown to be a bit of a wannabe or poser, if you will. He wants to be popular, well-liked, included, but he’s still something of an outsider a lot of the time. Then, the Human Torch received his power of pyrokinesis, and legitimately became the hottest thing in the room.

Ben Grimm has always put on a tough facade, but underneath, he feels emotions quite deeply and often struggles with a hefty load of inner turmoil. He’s soft on the inside, so his powers made the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing literally hard as a rock on the outside.

While the Incredibles and the Fantastic Four share much in their conception, they are still fundamentally different for a variety of reasons. I hope you’ve enjoyed this additional take on the subject. Viewing both teams from this new point of view, It’ll be quite interesting to observe the subtleties in future installments of these franchises. At the time of writing, and so far as I know, there are no known plans for any more Four films, but “The Incredibles 2” is set to hit theaters in June of 2018. Personally, I can’t wait to see what new challenges face Pixar’s favorite family, and I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in that sentiment.

Until next time, all the best. Thanks for reading.

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Marvel’s Experiment

Nobody knows these guys. They’re D-list, no one’s gonna care about them. You can’t cast him! Look at him! He’s chubby, flabby, no one will take him seriously as the dashing hero. Those two muscle-bound meatheads can’t play a role with any substance. You can’t make this movie! What are you doing?

Such were the thoughts running through the minds of many when Marvel announced, produced, and released “Guardians of the Galaxy.” To make a long story short, doubters were wrong and the movie was spectacular. Almost universally beloved by all.

“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” was recently released, and again, people raised questions: Will it live up to the first? Can it live up to the first?

It did. It did live up to the first.

In fact, it’s probably fair to say GOTG2 is arguably the best film in the MCU. This statement stands, even considering the other juggernauts in the series like “The Avengers” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” Such a claim is supported by a simple fact. GOTG2 has stronger underlying themes than any of its Marvel predecessors.

It’s true that many of the films before had some pretty effective themes- Team-building in “The Avengers,” loyalty in “Winter Soldier,” and accountability in “Iron Man.” However, these themes each seemed coincidental to the plot, whereas GOTG2’s themes are the driving force behind the plot. None of these films are lessened because of this fact, but GOTG2 is certainly strengthened by it.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED)

Family

The major force driving the plot of this film is the idea that one’s family is not necessarily the one that they’re born into, but rather the people who choose to be there for him.

Star-Lord spends much of the movie struggling with this concept. In the beginning, he is shown to be a very effective member of his team, and they work well together. Then his biological father returns into his life, and he is left to wonder whether his loyalty lies with his team or with his newfound father. It looks as though he might choose his dad until it turns out pops was only using him the whole time. Finally, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the MCU to date, Star-Lord realizes he had a father all along in Yondu. He’s not the dad he wanted, but he’s the one who was always there for him. Peter reunites with his true family- his team.

Chris Pratt and Michael Rooker as Star-Lord and Yondu in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2”

Gamora  struggles with a similar conflict involving her sister. Both were raised in unimaginably harsh conditions. They could have eased each other’s pain all along, but they chose instead to compete. Each grew up hating the other. Finally, they were able to express their own perspectives and they recognized that the other was hurting just as much as they were. They chose to be there for each other instead. They chose to be a family.

Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan as Gamora and Nebula in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2”

Secrets

The Gamora/Nebula subplot is a perfect example of another plot-driving theme- secrets. Each sister kept her own feelings to herself and this caused problems. It was only when they aired out these thoughts that they were abe to begin repairing their relationship.

Toward the beginning of the film, Rocket Raccoon secretly steals a few priceless items, setting an alien race on the warpath to destroy them recurrently throughout the movie. His secret caused a lot of turmoil for the rest of the team. Rocket only begins to recognize his selfishness when Yondu forces him to reveal his secret fear of failure and isolation.

Bradley Cooper (voice)/Sean Gunn (motion capture) and Michael Rooker as Rocket Raccoon and Yondu in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2”

Yondu was banished from his original team because he secretly transported and sold children.

Star-Lord’s dad hides a major secret from him throughout, cementing his role as the villain throughout the back half of the film.

Chris Pratt and Kurt Russell as Star-Lord and Ego in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2”

It seems the only two characters relatively removed from the conflict of the film are Drax and Mantis. With the exception of the secret Star-Lord’s father forces Mantis to keep, these two are the most honest characters in the movie. That is perhaps one of the reasons their interactions are so interesting. Neither one holds anything back. They say what’s on their mind without filter. Each blatantly tells the other that they find them repulsive, yet they still develop a friendship and platonic love for each other.

Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff as Drax and Mantis in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2”

This film demonstrates through its characters that secrets invariably lead to trouble, and honesty is the most valuable virtue.

These themes intertwine with the plot and the characters in a magnificent way- in such a way that has not been seen quite so clearly in any MCU movie before it. One can only sit and anxiously wait for the day when “Volume 3” shines bright on the silver screen.

 

For more on how Director James Gunn turned his own painful upbringing into cinematic treasure, check out this article from the Washington Post.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/comic-riffs/wp/2017/05/05/how-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-reflects-its-directors-painful-childhood/

Emo Rich Kid Beats Up Mental Patients

Ladies and gents, be prepared. I am about to share with you a really unpopular opinion. Some of you may hate me for it, but try to have an open mind. Are you ready? Here goes…..

Batman is not really all that great.

(Also, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and Nightmare Before Christmas are all super overrated, but that’s beside the point.)

Think about it. He’s not. I mean, there are some kind of cool aspects about him, but as a character, he’s moody, temperamental, and just so bleak! It’s like reading a comic an emo middle school kid wrote about an emo middle school kid! Not to mention, he hardly ever sticks absolutely to his “No Killing” policy except for the one insane clown he probably should just kill.

So why are people so obsessed with Batman in our modern day? I have a simple theory on this. See, though Batman himself is a relatively uninteresting character, he does have probably the best rogues gallery in all of comics. My theory is that the public has confused a love for Batman’s villains with a love for Batman himself.

So what, then, makes the villains so great? Why do they stand out compared to any and every other villain in comics?

Though they may often be a bit campy and cartoonish, somehow these villains always maintain a sense of reality, where many others fail to do so. Somehow, they feel like they can and do actually exist, which makes them even scarier. People may assume this is because they are well-rounded and fully-developed characters, but I’d like to propose another hypothesis, just the opposite: These characters are each representational of an idea, magnified and expanded into a being with a name and a backstory. They’re not developed characters, but, rather, each is a personification of a very real mental disorder.

Psychopathy

From psychologytoday.com, “[the psychopath] lacks conscience and empathy, making him manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/psychopathy

In the real world, psychopathy can take a number of different forms, with some living they’re whole lives undiagnosed and unaware that the problem even exists within them. In comics, psychopathy looks like the Joker.

The Joker is most certainly volatile and manipulative, enacting countless plans to drive citizens of Gotham insane and fostering chaos just for the fun of it. He has no empathy for those lives he ruins- in fact, he finds an immense amount of joy in it. The Joker is psychopathy incarnate.

The Joker, from “Batman: Arkham City”

Stockholm Syndrome/Abusive Relationship

On the subject of the Joker’s manipulation, nowhere is this more apparent than in his relationship with Harley Quinn. During one of his many stays at Arkham Asylum, the Joker was analyzed by Dr. Harleen Quinzel. He manipulated her emotions to such a degree that she fell in love and became utterly devoted to him, no matter what he does or how much he hurts her. Incidentally, he really enjoys hurting her. She is the victim of an abusive relationship, and his willing captive– a perfect example of Stockholm Syndrome.

Harley Quinn, from “Batman: Arkham City”

Superiority Complex

A superiority complex is an innate belief that one is better, cleverer, or more important than everyone else. Often, this is a facade adopted to hide true feelings of inferiority. Edward Nigma, the Riddler, is fixated on proving his superiority. He believes he is the smartest being in Gotham, perhaps even the world, so when a figure like Batman happens along, with the capability to make him feel inferior, the Riddler must challenge him for supremacy. This need is so ingrained in Nigma’s mind that, even when he has the opportunity to simply kill his victims, he cannot bring himself to do it, opting instead to subject them to a carefully-devised death trap and offering them the possibility of life, should they be clever enough to survive it.

The Riddler, from “Batman: Arkham City”

Dissociative Identity Disorder

More commonly known as “Split-Personality or Multiple-Personality Disorder,” dissociative identity disorder is, according to psychologytoday.com, “a severe condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in—and alternately take control of—an individual.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder

Even before his disfigurement, Harvey Dent showed signs of this disorder. Occasionally, he would appear to lose his temper, becoming spontaneously violent and aggressive. This was his second personality emerging. The event that caused his disfigurement was traumatic, loosening his control over the second identity and, at the same time, giving it a face of its own. Two-Face was born. Both of Two-Face’s identities exist at the surface simultaneously, which, according to a first-hand account on Quora.com, actually isn’t all that far-fetched. https://www.quora.com/With-multiple-personality-disorders-can-more-than-one-alter-be-in-front-at-once-Can-you-talk-to-both-of-the-alters-in-front-and-be-up-front-with-them

In any case, it is quite apparent Harvey Dent is the comic book personification of Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Two-Face, from “Batman: Arkham City”

These are just four examples of how the translation of real-world problems can create fascinating character designs. Someday, I may revisit this topic and explore grief and depression through Mr. Freeze or how environmentalism can be taken to a violent extreme through Poison Ivy, but for now, I’ll just leave you with this one final reason why Batman should not be so universally celebrated: These are some obviously disturbed individuals, and Arkham Asylum is clearly ineffective at treating or even containing them. Wouldn’t Mr. Wayne’s money be much better spent improving the mental hospital to help these unbalanced patients, rather than devising new ways to punch them?

Until next time, all the best. Thanks for reading.

4 Archetypes

As movies continue to jet in and out of theaters, I’ve noticed something more and more in team-based films. Quite a few teams in pop culture adhere to a set of archetypes. Not all groups, mind you, but in films and comics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the A-Team, the Fantastic Four, and even the Penguins of Madagascar, members of these teams seem to fit quite nicely into four character types that, from here on out, I’ll dub “the Head, the Brain, the Muscle, and the Heart.”

The Head

The Head is typically a brash, yet charming character. He might be a bit quick to rush into battle, without considering all of the alternatives, but he certainly isn’t stupid. Oftentimes, the Head is the leader of the group, though this is not necessarily a requirement, as we’ll see with the Fantastic Four and the A-Team. The Head is generally pretty well- rounded and serves as a lynch pin of sorts, bringing the rest of the team together. From the four groups I will focus on throughout this post, Head characters include Leonardo from TMNT, Skipper from the Penguins of Madagascar, Face from the A-Team, and Human Torch from the Fantastic Four (One might expect Hannibal and Mr. Fantastic to be the Head characters, as they are the leaders of their respective groups, but it is my belief that they fit better into the Brain archetype).

Leonardo in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

The Brain

The rest of the archetypes from here on out are pretty simple and self-explanatory. The Brain, as the name might suggest, is the smart one of the group. They are technologically proficient, gifted at the art of invention, and they excel in finding research and intelligence information. They often create the plans and strategies the team follows, and can sometimes be a bit slow to adapt to change. However, when they realize that their team is depending on them to figure a solution, they set to work and end up saving the day. Examples of the Brain include the aforementioned Mr. Fantastic, and Hannibal of the A-Team, as well as Donatello of TMNT and the Penguin Kowalski.

Ioan Gruffud as Mr. Fantastic, in “The Fantastic Four”

The Muscle

Again, the name of this archetype gives it away. The Muscle is the tough guy of the group. He is not necessarily stupid (though he can be portrayed that way if the author or screenwriter wishes), but he certainly is not the brightest of the four. He is there to do the heavy-lifting for the team (often literally), and he will fearlessly run headfirst into battle, sometimes to the detriment of the team.(LEEEEERROOOOYYYY…… JEEEENNNKKIIINNNSSS!!!) The muscle will sometimes feel underutilized or unappreciated, and so will challenge the leader’s authority, losing each time to the leader’s superior strategy. Examples of the muscle are Rico the Penguin, B.A. Baracus of the A-Team, Raphael the Turtle, and The Thing, of the FF.

Mr. T as B.A. Baracus, in “The A-Team”

The Heart

The Heart cares most about the team’s well-being and their overall togetherness. They are most likely to set aside their own feelings and desires if it means they can solve inner conflict and bring peace to the other members of the group. Oftentimes, the heart is the one who brings interest and personality to the audience– otherwise we are just watching three intense and focused characters solving external problems with no joy or fun. The Heart is usually the glue that holds the team together. Sometimes, however, the heart serves this purpose in a different way– by being so ridiculous or goofy that the team needs to unite to reign him in- as with the case of “Howling Mad” Murdock of the A-Team. Other examples of the Heart include the Invisible Woman, Michaelangelo the Turtle, and Private the Penguin.

Private, in “The Penguins of Madagascar”

 

This concludes my analysis is of the archetypes of Comic and Pop-Culture teams of four. Next time you watch a movie of this kind, watch it with this in mind and see if you can pick out the individual characteristics. You’ll be surprised how often you see it. Until next time, all the best.

(By the way, in case you were wondering about the feature image on this post, Ron Burgundy is the Head, Brian Fantana is the Brain, Champ Kind is the Muscle, and Brick Tamland is the Heart.)

 

If you’re interested to see another theory on archetypes within teams of four, check out this video.

http://wolfcrow.com/blog/the-four-major-group-character-archetypes/

The narrator of the video explains his own take on the archetypes, including the Lynchpin, the Thinker, the Rebel, and the Odd One, which roughly equate to my own Head, Brain, Muscle, and Heart respectively. He lists a lot more examples, and places each into their categories as he would. They don’t completely mesh with my own placement (for example, he places Mr. Fantastic as the Lynchpin, Invisible Woman as the Thinker, Human Torch as the Rebel, and the Thing as the Odd One) but I understand his reasoning.

Thanks for reading. Farewell!

 

A Comic Who Comments on Comics

Over the next couple of months, I’m going to explore the psychology and personalities of some of the most famous and most popular characters from comics and pop-culture. Although I am very excited to begin, I feel I should take this opportunity to introduce myself.

My name is Benjamin Emley. I am a Communications-Advertising student at BYU-Idaho, though I’m originally from Orange County, California. Here in Idaho, I perform with a BYU-I campus comedy group (hence the name of this blog post). I’m an avid fan of Marvel Comics and, to a lesser extent, DC, and I am absolutely thrilled that superhero blockbusters are currently the popular trend. To help you get to know me even better and to give you a little taste of what’s to come in later posts, let me tell you about a couple of my favorite characters.

My Favorite Superheroine

Just recently, I was with a small group of friends, asking each other about our favorite superheroes. I was surprised to find that each of our favorites, even those of the women present, was a male hero. Though they have been, admittedly, a bit underrepresented in the cinematic universes thus far, there is a wealth of strong and inspiring female characters written in the pages of comics and graphic novels; So I posed a new question to the group: Who is your favorite superheroine? Most of the answers were somewhat typical– Supergirl, Catwoman, Black Widow– and mostly for the simple reason that these are the only characters they have been exposed to. These are the most recognizable ones. My choice was also a recognizable character who has been portrayed in movies, but there are deeper reasons she is my favorite.

Marvel Civil War #4

Susan Storm, or “The Invisible Woman,” is a member of the Marvel team, The Fantastic Four. She has been portrayed in film four times: Once in a forgotten 1994 movie so bad it wasn’t ever released, twice by Jessica Alba, and once more in a horrendous performance by Kate Mara in the recent flop reboot. Suffice it to say, I’m not a great fan of the way she’s been played on-screen (Jessica Alba got the closest, but that’s not saying much).

So what is it that makes this character so great, and why have her portrayals been so bad? Susan Storm is arguably the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four. She could easily overpower any of her teammates, and even take down some of the strongest characters in the Marvel universe. Yet, despite her enormous potential, her most defining characteristic is easily her empathy. Sue is one of the most empathetic characters in all of comics. She can relate to just about anyone, including her genius, socially inept husband Reed, the king of Atlantis, and the god of thunder. She could use her power and her will to stand toe-to-toe with just about anyone, but she chooses instead to talk through the conflict whenever possible, resolving issues peacefully rather than violently.

(This is one of the reasons Kate Mara’s performance was so terrible. She played Sue as this work-focused, antisocial loner who valued independence over love and friendship.)

Check out ScreenRant’s list on how to make a great Fantastic Four movie. Susan has her own section in #4.

http://screenrant.com/ways-to-make-great-fantastic-four-movie/

(ScreenRant is a website devoted to movies, TV, and all things geeky. ScreenRant writers publish news stories, opinions, and reviews, all devoted to films, comics, and series.)

My Favorite Hero

My favorite Hero of all is a bit of a simpler choice. He’s not one whose comics I’ve read more than any other, nor is he the most popular or most prolific in the cinematic universes. Rather, I chose this character because I relate to him on a deeper level than I do other heroes. My favorite superhero is…

Kelsey Grammer as Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand

… X-Men’s Beast.

At first glance, Hank Mccoy is an imposing figure. At face value, he is a terrifying blue lion man, ready to beat you into submission or eat your face off. However, underneath Beast’s exterior is a genius mind and a gentle heart. Those who know me in person know that I, too, am a very large, imposing person, leading many to assume I might be rough and mean. Even worse than that prejudice is the one held by those who judge my appearance and assume I’ve got an enormous head with nothing inside it. Sometimes I’m reminded of the quote from the first “Shrek” film, when Shrek tells Donkey “People take one look at me and go ‘Aargh! Help! Run! A big stupid ugly ogre!’ They judge me before they even know me.” I often feel the same sentiment. I may be large in stature, but my mind is greater, and my heart is even bigger than that. That is why Beast is my favorite hero of all.

 

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to these next couple of months, discussing and analyzing some of my favorite characters and dynamics from pop-culture. Thanks for reading. Farewell.

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