Episode 4: Transcript

Transcription by Keffy Kehrli

Charlie Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a bi-weekly podcast about the meaning of science fiction. I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who obsesses about science.

Annalee: [00:00:10] And I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.

Charlie Jane: [00:00:14] Today we’re going to be talking about superhero movies. We’re so excited about the release of Avengers: Infinity War that we decided to geek out about why superhero movies are still ruling Hollywood, why we still care about them, and what even makes something a superhero movie. Like, what even are superheroes?

[00:00:31] Intro music plays. Guitar riff and bass over snare, followed by synth organ.

Charlie Jane: [00:00:47] So, we’re not going to talk about Avengers: Infinity War that much today because it’s brand new and we’re still just reeling from, like, all the infinity of it and everything. I’m like…

Annalee: [00:00:55] Crisis on infinite infinities.

Charlie Jane: [00:00:58] Yeah, Hulk and Rocket Raccoon and everything. But, we’re excited about the genre of superhero movies, which honestly, especially nowadays, it feels like they just rule everything. Like, Hollywood is basically like, completely superhero movie dependent. And superheroes are becoming more and more our modern mythology. We have a whole network, the CW, which is basically just wall-to-wall superhero TV shows. And it’s just… it’s becoming like, the way that we think about empowerment and the way that we think about heroism is filtered through that superhero story and I’m kind of curious as to why that is.

Annalee: [00:01:33] I think some of it is about the—is about a very American idea of individualism, and I think that most of the superheroes we’re going to be talking about in this show have an American origin and certainly have a western origin. This sort of idea in the United States is that individuals can overcome anything. Like, if you just have one person who’s awesome enough, they can fix all the problems. So, I think that’s part of what’s so appealing about a superhero.

Charlie Jane: [00:02:07] Yeah, a superhero is basically the great man theory of history in human form. Like, in the form of a single individual. And if you think about what superheroes are as a genre, they kind of straddle every possible genre. There’s epic fantasy, there’s gritty noir. Urban violence and crime drama. There’s like space opera. There’s westerns. There’s everything, and the fact that the Hulk can be a superhero alongside Thor and then you can have someone like Jonah Hex, who’s like a cowboy superhero. It can be pretty much any genre at this point, but what makes it a superhero story, I think, is that there is a person who is the superhero, or who’s part of a group of superheroes sometimes. Who, individually, has a particular power, or in the case of Batman, has a particular set of skills and attributes that makes him more heroic or more able to affect change than everyone else around him.

Lego Movie [00:03:00] Darkness. No parents. Continue darkness. More

Batman song: darkness. Get it? The opposite of light. Black hole.

Annalee: [00:03:17] It’s kind of the chosen one story, and we were talking about this earlier and you were saying, well, I don’t really feel like Batman fits the chosen one idea.

Charlie Jane: [00:03:28] Yeah, I mean, I think Batman is somebody who decides to become a superhero after his parents are killed through a sheer exertion of will and determination. He gets these skills and he becomes the greatest detective. He’s kind of an outlier. I think Captain America also is somebody who decides to become a superhero. But, Spider-Man. Superman. Most of the other big ones often just luck into it or power drops onto them and they are just chosen by fate or by circumstance to wield some kind of power that they then have to wield wisely. And, a huge theme is always an individual who has such a disproportional amount of power has to use it wisely and responsibly, and the whole “With great power comes great responsibility” thing.

[00:04:11] And, you know, the idea is that one person is more powerful than the mass of humanity as a whole.

Captain America [00:04:18] When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t,

Civil War Clip: and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you.

Annalee: [00:04:31] Since I was sort of picking on this idea earlier that these are kind of American stories, specifically North American stories, I wanted to note—just to defend my sort of chosen one idea. That, the United States was founded by Puritans who were obsessed with this idea of who is the elect. They believed that the moment you’re born, some people are chosen by God and some people are not chosen. Those who were chosen are the elect, and they came up with these incredible pretzel logic ways of figuring out who the elect were. One way to know whether you were the elect was if you succeeded financially in life. If you had—if you were successful. If you amassed power, if you amassed money, which was of course a great might makes right idea. But, also, it fits in nicely with Batman, who actually does succeed as a—and Iron Man, too, these businessmen who are so powerful partly because they’re rich. They really are the kind of Puritanical idea of the elect.

Charlie Jane: [00:05:34] And we have this idea going back to Horatio Alger, that success equals virtue, and that anybody who is successful in our economy, that’s because they’re a good person, or they’re hard-working, or they have, like, American virtues. There’s a huge strand in American thought of like, basically blaming the poor for their own problems, and also lionizing anybody who is powerful and successful, like our president, allegedly, and other people like that. Superheroes play around with a lot of archetypes like, there is the Nietzchean ubermensch idea, which, you know, the Superman which literally is what becomes Superman, and this idea of like the one individual who has the will to power, or who has the ability to control his or her own destiny, usually his. And, it’s going to be interesting to me to see what happens with the Incredibles coming back because the Incredibles is the ultimate kind of individual versus society story, and it felt fresh in all sorts of ways when it came out, like 15 years ago, but coming back now, at a time when I think we’re thinking about the individual versus society in a much more complicated way. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how that’s received. And of course, it’s a more feminist spin on The Incredibles because it’s like the wife, Mrs. Incredible who is the centerpiece this time.

[00:06:53] One thing I really wanted to mention really quickly is that a lot of superhero stories also kind of revolve around, especially recently, revolve around the idea of celebrity, and around the superhero as kind of like, almost a reality TV character who’s being scrutinized, or who’s being looked up to, and how that shades into kind of being a fascist leader, or how it shades into being—like in the classic The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is talked about on television a lot, we talked about this in the propaganda episode, and then he kind of becomes the center of this cult of post-apocalyptic mutants who follow him around, and he leads them with like fascist speeches.

Annalee: [00:07:29] And I mean, it’s an absolutely in your face theme in Batman versus Superman. And say what you want about that film, and I’ve said many things, it deals explicitly with the idea that Superman is kind of a potential fascist dictator and that fear, I think, inhabits a lot of superhero movies now, and superhero shows. And there’s also this sense that the superhero is kind of—it’s becoming kind of meta. That we’re thinking about superheroes as such, and I think that’s why, especially in the recent, some of the recent films, we’ve had characters talking about basically branding. Like, your brand is tarnished because you destroyed the UN, or you know, how do you get more followers, or—and I think that’s what’s been interesting about seeing the show, The Tick come back, because The Tick as both a comic book and has been through several iterations of different shows was meta from the very beginning. And, has always been kind of about well, what is a superhero and how do you construct a superhero and where do they fit into the media landscape and stuff like that.

Charlie Jane: [00:08:42] Yeah, and I think the question of branding is something that’s in The Incredibles, too. Where they talk about costumes and like, [crosstalk] and his fashion design.

Incredibles Clip: [00:08:49] Well, be bald. Dramatic.



Yeah, something classic. Like—Dynaguy. Oh, he had a great look. Oh, the cape, and the boots.

No capes.

Charlie Jane: [00:09:01] Something that comes up in a lot of these stories in different interesting ways, like there was a great comic in the ‘90s called X-Statics that was about a group of X-Men who basically were celebrities. And it was about celebrity culture.

Annalee: [00:09:12] One of the things that’s really changed recently in superhero movies is that we’re finally getting beyond kind of the Supermans and the Batmans, and we’ve had incredible success with Wonder Woman, with Black Panther, where we’re seeing women and people of color coming to the fore as heroes. And, really resonating with audiences. I think that’s the thing that’s the big revelation, is that people are hungry for these stories.

Charlie Jane: [00:09:39] Yeah, and people really want the story of a savior or somebody who is special who can kind of be meaningful to everybody else and rescue everybody else, but they don’t necessarily want it to be a white guy all the time anymore, and I think that that idea of like, the special person not having to be Bruce Wayne is really powerful for people. It’s meaningful, and it’s—especially right now.

Annalee: [00:10:02] Also, one of the things that I found so interesting about Black Panther was that it is about—it is sort of the story of the chosen one, but it’s also about how Black Panther’s identity is tied up in his community. It’s about him being a community leader, and yes, he’s a king and so there’s all these problems around maybe monarchy isn’t the best system. Maybe we should have a social democracy Black Panther. But, leaving that aside, the way we’re shown Wakanda in the film is that it is a kind of social democracy, and that his role is really to bring them together and to lead them wisely and that one of his superheroic characteristics is that he is a wise and just leader of a community. He’s not just the loner. He’s not just like, “I’ll do it all by myself.” It’s like, he needs to have his sister. He needs to have his guardians. His amazing warriors.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:57] The Dora Milaje.

Annalee: [00:10:58] The Dora Milaje, and he can’t do it on his own.

Black Panther Clip: [00:11:01] I wish to bring Klaw back here to stand trial.

Wakanda does not need a warrior right now. We need a king.

My parents were killed when he attacked. Not a day goes by when I do not think about what Klaw took from us. From me.

It’s too great an opportunity to pass.

Charlie Jane: [00:11:23] It’s a group effort, and his mother is an important part of the movie. There’s like, a lot of strong women in that movie who help him, not just to solve problems, but also to make decisions. And you know, and Nakia—

Annalee: [00:11:34] And other strong community leaders, yeah.

Charlie Jane: [00:11:35] –Yeah, Nakia, Shuri, it’s like a movie where it really does take everybody working together to fix what’s gone wrong. And, what was interesting was that the best part of Wonder Woman for me was when we’re with the Amazons on the island, in that community. And once we’re away from that, it’s still a great movie, I love the crossing no man’s land sequence, but as soon as we leave the island, it’s just Wonder Woman surrounded by mostly male characters in kind of the outside world. It’s a fish out of water story, but it doesn’t have quite as much just raw power as when we get to see her in her community.

Annalee: [00:12:09] And I think that… the male characters who accompany her, they become kind of sidekicks. They become a community of sorts, but the difference between her group that she goes across no man’s land with, that group of men, and, for example, the citizens of Wakanda, the Dora Milaje, things like that, is that this is a bunch of scrappy guys who are kind of not leaders. They’re with her because they’re outcasts in a sense, whereas in Black Panther, all of the people who are helping him are also leaders in their own right and also makers of great technology and things like that. So, they are in a position to help organize the community whereas Wonder Woman’s team, her Scooby Gang, they all have special skills, but those skills don’t include leading a nation of awesome woman warriors for example, or awesome pacifists.

Charlie Jane: [00:13:04] Absolutely. There’s nobody as great as Shuri in that group. And, you know, it’s interesting because in the past, we’ve had movies like Blade or Hancock, or we had some female superheroes, like there was a Supergirl movie, there was an Electra movie. There was a Catwoman with Halle Berry… There was My Super Ex-Girlfiend that’s about a female superhero, but those movies never really felt like they were heroic in the right way. They always felt like they were kind of—well, I love Blade. I should say, I love Blade.

Annalee: [00:13:33] I am like a total Blade fan. And Blade 2. Love Blade 2.

Charlie Jane: [00:13:37] Oh my God, Blade 2 is the best movie. I mean, I love everything del Toro does, but the Blade movies are sort of straddling the superhero vampire line. It’s partly just about, like, vampires fighting each other. It could almost be one of the Underworld movies in terms of how it’s handled. And you get something like Hancock where we can have a black superhero, but he has to be a screw-up. He has to be somebody that everybody else looks down on, and he has to kind of prove himself and clean up his act, and that’s like most of the arc of Hancock. And then you have these female superheroes who are kind of sad and pathetic, you know?

Annalee: [00:14:09] Yeah, well, Catwoman, for sure. Catwoman has like become kind of a joke. Even the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman was a bit of a joke and I think, certainly the Halle Berry version was… everyone wants to forget that that happened.

Charlie Jane: [00:14:23] And talking about Black Panther has really made me think that one of the things that’s been really interesting in superhero movies recently is how they’ve been moving more into the realm of political thrillers. This was very blatant with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was very much modeled on all these 1970s like, All the President’s Men kind of thrillers. But also, the Christopher Nolan Batman movies are all about the politics to Gotham City and it comes up in various ways in different places. Superhero movies are always about whether cities will be destroyed in terms of their physical infrastructure, but what we’ve been seeing more and more of in these movies is whether institutions will be destroyed, and whether the political institutions, and like, the national institutions will survive a particular crisis. In the Nolan films, in the Batman films, we spent a lot of time with the mayor of Gotham City, like hearing about his concerns, and in the Winter Soldier, we actually worry about the national, the US government, and these spy agencies and whether they’re gonna survive, and the United Nations gets destroyed in another one of those movies.

Annalee: [00:15:21] Yeah, it makes me think of Luke Cage, which was such an interesting TV series, and how so much of it—actually a lot of the stuff that I loved in it had to do with questions around gentrification and how do you preserve a historic neighborhood that has a specific community, in this case the African-American community. And, like, all the dirty dealings that are going on with the city and trying to develop different kinds of housing projects, and as a city geek, I loved that and I thought it was so interesting. But, you’re right, that’s a new thing. The idea that you have the minutia of city politics or political process being part of these stories.

Charlie Jane: [00:16:02] I think it’s been in the comics for longer. Like, Brian K. Vaughan did a series back in the day called Ex Machina about a superhero who becomes mayor of New York if I’m remembering correctly. And there have been other superhero comics that have tried to work in a more granular examination of politics into the story, but it’s definitely a newer thing for the movies to really attempt to replicate that on screen, and I think it’s one of the reasons for their staying power is that they no longer just feel like things are going to explode. Like, there’s going to be a physical explosion. It’s like, the Joker in the The Dark Knight wants to bring about a cultural and political explosion.

Annalee: [00:16:40] Yes. He’s a burn it all down anarchist. That’s part of why he’s charismatic, because I think all of us have that feeling sometimes, like, yeah, just fuck it all. Because he doesn’t represent evil in the sense that he’s not sort of like, let’s imprison everyone, or control everyone’s mind. He represents just pure anarchy.

Charlie Jane: [00:17:01] He’s a destabilizing force and he wants to reveal the truth about society, which is that it’s all fake. Another thing that’s contributed to the longevity of superhero movies is this kind of shared universe concept, which Avengers: Infinity War is the kind of tail end of ten years of building up this shared setting where all these different characters intersect. You’ve seen other universes trying to copy that, like DC Comics has tried a couple of times now, and it feels as though that’s a thing that kind of creates a sense of a greater reality. A greater sense that these heroes—

Annalee: [00:17:37] World-building.

Charlie Jane: [00:17:37] –co-exist together, and that, yeah, it’s world-building and it’s not like you have to start from scratch every single time, like I’m the first person ever to put a costume on in this world. We’re starting from zero. It’s like, no. There’s a history, there’s like, a background, but it also feels like it could very easily kind of dovetail into, or degrade into just stuff for the internet to dissect and obsess about.

Annalee: [00:18:00] Yeah. I actually… a few years ago, I bought the collection Crisis on Infinite Earths because a) I think it’s a great title for anything. But also because I just—I had heard so much about this insane train wreck that happened in the comics when they had so many different cross-overs in so many different worlds, and I was like, how did they resolve this? And the answer is, it’s a train wreck.

Crisis on Infinite [00:18:25] You see, because of me, he realized that as each positive

Earths Clip: matter universe died his anti-matter universe would absorb its energies, and he would grow even stronger. Because of me. The destruction of the multi-verse began. An infinity of universes have suffered for my sins.

Annalee: [00:18:50] And, I think, to me, the more characters you add into an Avengers-type story line, it just gets—it ends up feeling like, “And here’s this character doing their thing. And here’s this character doing their thing!” And it’s fine if you’re playing with action figures on your dining room table, which I may or may not do sometimes, but I think in a movie, it just gets so overburdened, it doesn’t feel like it’s moving forward, it just feels like it’s a giant puddle of references. It’s just, “Okay, we’ve got to have everything in there,” and I’m not feeling like there’s any politics at stake. I feel like there’s no arc.

Charlie Jane: [00:19:26] No personal stakes. I mean, that’s the problem. And like, a couple of movies come to mind. Batman versus Superman, and also Amazing Spider-Man 2 are two films that feel very much as though they’re trying so hard to get you interested in other movies that haven’t come out yet that they don’t get around to just telling the story that they’re telling.

Annalee: [00:19:45] Well, and Justice League is another—but it’s a perfect example of just like, the characters are just all on screen, and that’s just the whole point, is just to have them. It’s like a catwalk type movie. It’s just like, march them out, look how they great they look in their costumes! They have cute butts. They’re made partially of electricity, woo. Um, love that.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:05] I would watch Cyborg and like, Aquaman and Flash, just hang out for a few hours.

Annalee: [00:20:09] I want a Cyborg movie so badly. Like, that was, when I came away from that film, I kept thinking, the only character in this movie who has an arc is Cyborg, and it’s a super interesting arc. I was so there for him, and then it was just squandered. It was like, okay, well that’s just because he’ll be able to interface with the other stuff, and like…

Charlie Jane: [00:20:30] Yeah, and…

Annalee: [00:20:30] Bricks of powerstones or whatever they’re called. I know, I’m a terrible geek. I should know what those are called, but I don’t care.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:35] And as a huge fan of Joe Morton, I just want to see Joe Morton play a mad scientist in everything.

Annalee: [00:20:39] I’ve been Joe Morton’s fan since Brother From Another Planet, when he played an escaped alien slave.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:45] Eureka?

Annalee: [00:20:46] Uh, Eureka, Terminator. He’s just… he’s the ultimate. He’s just a super great geek, so yay.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:52] He should be every mad scientist. Anyway, but getting back to, so another thing about superhero movies that really feels like it expands and opens up the genre is just that some of these superheroes are actually monsters and I know that’s a subject close to your heart.

Annalee: [00:21:06] Well, I’ve—Hulk is my hero. Like, I am all in for Hulk. I’ve been a Hulk fan since I was a really little kid.

Incredible Hulk Clip: [00:21:14] Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Annalee: [00:21:22] Although I have to say my honorary nephew, K, who is eight years old, and I’ve shared a lot of superhero culture with him. He hates Hulk because he says Hulk can’t even control himself. How can you like a character that doesn’t control themselves. And it’s a good point, and maybe when you’re eight that’s like a big issue. But, for me, I love the fact that he has this power that is both destructive and incredibly useful, and that that rips his mind apart. And that that really hurts him. But there’s other examples, too. The new—well, relatively new, now, series Monstress by Marjorie Liu from Image Comics is explicitly dealing with this as well. There’s a character who actually is kind of like a supernatural version of Hulk. She has a monster that lives within her, or a great spiritual force that lives within her that she can’t really control. And that does save her life, but also is kind of destructive. And I love that that character is becoming more and more visible in so many of these stories.

Charlie Jane: [00:22:23] Yeah. And I think it’s an interesting, like if we’re talking about superheroes as like the individual has great power and has to figure out how to use it wisely, and has to sit and think, “Gosh, should I use my power to save that school bus full of nuns, I don’t know. I’m going to think about it for a minute. Oh shoot, the school bus is going off the bridge, I’ve got to go.” Um, you know. That thing, like it’s usually this very virtuous, kind of, slightly nerdy, introspective character. But when you have a monster who just sometimes acts out and has power that not only do they have to figure out how to use it wisely, but they have to control it, and keep it from just overwhelming everything. I think that that’s in a lot of ways, a more realistic depiction of what power is like. Power is not a thing where you sit back and thing, “Well, gee, what am I going to do with this power that I’ve got.” It’s more like, I’m gonna destroy a bunch of stuff. How much stuff am I gonna destroy? Will I be able to do any good in the process of destroying a bunch of stuff? That’s like real power in the real world.

Annalee: [00:23:18] It’s interesting because as you were saying that, it was making me think about how we often talk about powerful technologies and powerful weapons where the technology and the weapon, they don’t have any opinions. It’s how they’re used. They represent a kind of raw power and that’s kind of what’s happening with both Monstress and the Hulk. And some other characters, too, in other sereis, where they have access to something that is basically, as you said, just raw power and how do you guide that? And how do you make sure that there’s as little collateral damage as possible, and the thing is that there’s always collateral damage. And that’s what’s so poignant about the Hulk is that he never is able to use his power in a way that doesn’t destroy things that shouldn’t be destroyed. Including his own life. That kind of dark lesson lurks under a lot of these stories. And I think that’s why, for example, so many comic books, especially in the ‘60s were so campy and silly and goofy, because it was trying to bring levity to something that’s actually really intense and dark.

Charlie Jane: [00:24:31] Yeah, and we wanted to talk about campiness, and sort of cheesiness, and like, because it’s interesting. The last 25 years of superhero movies, the arc, or even the last 30 years, really, the arc has been away from campiness and cheesiness and then towards—

Annalee: [00:24:46] Like, the grim-dark.

Charlie Jane: [00:24:47] Yeah, toward Christopher Nolan, and towards, like, some other really dark things. And, you know, the idea was that if we could just—there’s all these kind of cartoony, silly, campy trappings attached to these characters. Batman, is like, super smart, and super strong, and has this dark origin. But he also says “chum” a lot. He calls Robin “chum” and he’s kind of like a jolly good fellow who goes around being jolly. And like, that was like the classic Batman for a long time. Not just in the TV show, but also in the comics. And there was this idea that if we could just strip that away, we can get to what’s really great about the character, but, you know, I think that in retrospect, the campiness, the cheesiness, the kind of cartoony-ness of these characters enables you to look at the kind of, like, arguably somewhat ugly fantasy of there’s one guy who has all this power. Or, in the case of Batman, all this skill, and he knows better than everybody else what’s good for us, and he’s going to fix everything. That’s actually kind of a disturbing fantasy, if you look at it without kind of being, “Woohoohooohoo, you know.”

Annalee: [00:25:51] We’re just all being silly and goofing around here.

Charlie Jane: [00:25:53] Without the silliness. And that may be one reason why every time we try to strip the campiness and silliness and goofiness away from superheroes, it has a way of coming back. There was a thing like, a year or two ago where Deadpool came out and just crushed the X-Men movie that had just—there was like another X-Men movie which was like the tenth X-Men movie, which was like… X-Men:Even Darker and Sadder.

Annalee: [00:26:17] Also, with pointy bits.

Charlie Jane: [00:26:18] Yeah. X-Men: Super Sad This Time! But Deadpool was fun, and it was goofy and silly, and kind of wacky. And which one did audiences want to see? They wanted to see Deadpool.

Deadpool Clip: [00:26:30] Join us. Use your powers for good.

Head’s up.

Be a superhero.

Listen. The day I decide to become a crime-fighting shit-swizzler who rooms with a bunch of other little whiners at the Neverland Mansion of some creepy, old, bald, Heaven’s Gate-looking motherfucker. On THAT day.

Charlie Jane: [00:26:48] And like, I feel like Lego Batman in some ways was a more interesting and compelling Batman movie than Batman vs Superman. I’m sorry.

Annalee: [00:26:56] And then we had Guardians of the Galaxy which was explicitly trying to be campy and disco-colored. And that’s—

Charlie Jane: [00:27:03] Thor…

Annalee: [00:27:03] Thor Ragnarok is now kind of borrowing that same style. And, I mean, interestingly those styles all do hark back to these earlier points in history, too, and we even have musical cues that kidn of remind us of the ‘70s and this more campy time. So, at the same time you get this kind of resurgence of darkness, too, and weird combinations of it. For example, Hellboy, both the comic and the movies, are incredibly dark, but also fun and colorful, and Hellboy. I mean, if you think about it. He’s from hell, and he’s basically been enslaved by various war machines over the years. He’s—and he has to shave down his horns to try and fit in, even though he’ll never fit in. He’s kind of a hell creature. He’s kind of a slave, and his whole job is just to get beaten up by bad guys. That’s a pretty grim story, and at the same time, in the ‘90s, you had things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which similarly had these really dark themes involving hell, and involving just getting constantly beaten the crap out of, and feeling—Buffy and her friends don’t feel like they fit in. But, it’s a fun, zingy show. Lots of humor. So, you get these funny hybrids of that sort of colorful campiness with like, really, really dark themes.

Charlie Jane: [00:28:27] Yeah, and actually, the thing you mentioned of like, the darkness and also the campiness and the kind of silliness alongside the darkness. I think that is part of what defines superheroes as a genre is like, how they blend the kind of heightened reality with also like a really dark core of emotion. And I think that we were talking in the beginning about what makes something a superhero story versus just—why is Logan a superhero story, versus just a story about like, an old guy looking back on his life—

Annalee: [00:28:53] Washed up old wrestler or something.

Charlie Jane: [00:28:55] Yeah, exactly. Why is Logan a superhero story, and part of that is that he has powers, but part of it is also that there’s a sense of heightened reality. And heightened reality can often become kind of campiness and cheesiness. And, you mentioning Buffy made me think a little bit about how a lot of times the best superhero stories are on television right now. I’ve been obsessively watching Supergirl, which I feel like has become just the most empowering show ever. She’s, at this point, completely put Superman in his place a couple of times and he is now just like, Supergirl, you tell me what you think we should be doing because you’ve already kicked my ass and this is something you know more about than me. I’ve been watching Legends of Tomorrow, which is just the most fun, and you know…

Annalee: [00:29:35] We already mentioned Luke Cage, and there’s also Jessica Jones. Both of us are huge fans of Steven Universe which I think fits in nicely to a kind of campy superhero story, that’s about the crystal gems, who are aliens, who are, I think someone described them to us as lesbian geodes from another planet or something—

Charlie Jane: [00:29:54] It was something like that. Yeah.

Annalee: [00:29:58] And, uh. Which, I sort of love.

Charlie Jane: [00:30:00] I love that. Super love that.

Annalee: [00:30:02] And, but I mean, it’s dealing with all the classic questions of a superhero, like saving the world, and intergalactic fights, and multiple universes and a kid who’s trying to figure out how to be a hero.

Charlie Jane: [00:30:18] A literal chosen one who is on that journey, but has that classic blend of very light and fun with huge darkness at the center of it.

Annalee: [00:30:26] There is, that’s the thing that—with Steven Universe I found so fascinating is that as the show has gone on, how many of the themes are really heavy. Like, they’re about global environmental disaster and colonization and slavery and conformity. Being bicultural, because Steven is both human and gem, and it’s just really incredible how they manage to balance those two things, especially in a kid’s show.

Charlie Jane: [00:30:55] Yeah. I’m in awe of it. So, I wanted to close with just like the question of, if superheroes are really about the individual who has powers or destiny or whatever, and his, or maybe her role in the world. How do we get to more superhero movies that are more like Black Panther, and that are about a community rather than just the individual? And I don’t have an answer to that, I just wanted to—

Annalee: [00:31:16] Well, I mean, we were just talking about Steven Universe, which I think is a good kind of answer to that question in some ways, because one of the things that fans love about this show is that it is about community. It’s about friendship. They have a fantastic visual metaphor for how friendships can work when the characters merge with each other to become more powerful than they are as individuals.

Steven Universe [00:31:42] Look, here, Steven. When we synchronize our forms we

Clip: can combine into a powerful fusion gem named Opal.

Annalee: [00:31:49] It seems like any number can merge. It can be three or four. We’ve seen—we’ve met one character I think is more—six…

Charlie Jane: [00:31:56] Six, I think, yeah.

Annalee: [00:31:57] Who’s an outcast because you’re not supposed to merge that many gems together. But, we see immediately, like I said, visually, that this is a show that really believes that you can’t really do stuff on your own, and trying to do stuff on your own is actually the wrong direction. It can get you in trouble. It can cause destruction. But, I also think that looking to something like Black Panther, yeah, how do you have a superhero that fits into a community like that? Like a nation-building type of exercise? I mean, are there other stories that you feel like do that?

Charlie Jane: [00:32:36] I mean, I feel like Ms. Marvel. It’s a thing I love that it’s really about Jersey City. It’s about the community that she’s in, and that actually… my final thought, I guess, is that what makes me usually fall in love with a superhero comic is not so much the hero or heroine or whatever, but the supporting cast. Who, in my favorite comics usually do not have super powers of their own. They’re usually just like around. They’re people who are just supporting the main character. Like, Squirrel Girl has a whole bunch of friends who are around her, who are just regular people. Like, her college roommate and a bunch of other folks who are just in her world. And I feel like that’s what makes me come back to a superhero comic. And that’s the thing that superhero movies on the whole have failed to really capture. You see it more on the TV shows, but the idea of like, the supporting cast who just have regular world problems, and who ground the character in a town or a neighborhood or a place that is a whole community. I think that’s something that I would love to see superhero movies kind of explore more fully.

Annalee: [00:33:36] And I think one of the superhero stories that has returned to that question again and again is X-Men in a variety of different ways. It does sort of fit what we were criticizing earlier, where you get a bunch of super-powered characters together and it’s kind of just like, all the soup is full of things. But, it also—

Charlie Jane: [00:33:54] Casserole.

Annalee: [00:33:54] Casserole. Yeah, the casserole has lots and lots of like… invisible parts and pointy parts and lava parts and stuff. But anyway, I think what X-Men has posed as a question throughout its run as a story, and which has become kind of fundamental to a lot of comics is do we assimilate and try to help the broader community or do we turn ourselves into an elite group that enslaves humanity? Or enslaves the community? And it’s basically the question is social democracy or oligarchy. And, it’s a powerful question, oftentimes when people talk about good guys and bad guys, I hear people saying things like, it’s a Magneto—it’s a situation that’s kind of like Xavier versus Magneto. And it’s short-hand for that question, of like, do we want a democracy or do we want some kind of authoritarian regime. Of course, the idea in the X-Men is that maybe the authoritarian regime, especially in some of the later movies, would be kinder and gentler because Magneto has suffered, and understands that it’s terrible to be the victim of genocide or to have your family be the victim of genocide. But of course, he’s come out the wrong end. He wants to be Hitler instead of Schindler or whatever. Thinking about those questions is really important when you’re worldbuilding around a hero. How do you… what is the social structure that they represent?

Charlie Jane: [00:35:21] So, that’s our show and we’ll be back in two weeks. You can subscribe to us in all the places, like iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and of course on the web at OurOpinionsAreCorrect.com. And on Twitter at @OOACpod. Thanks to Veronica Simonetti at Women’s Audio Mission for editing, and thanks to Chris Palmer for the amazing music.

Annalee: [00:35:42] And if you like the podcast, please rate us on iTunes. Leave a little message saying that you like it. That helps a lot. Bye

Charlie Jane: [00:35:50] Bye.

[00:35:51] Outro music plays. Synth organ over a snare followed by a guitar riff.


Annalee Newitz