Written Analysis: Formula

Formulas are described in Ray Browne’s Popular Culture: a Reader as “a sophistication and narrowing of the concept of myth into the realization that all cultural expressions develop in a mixture of the old and new, the well established and the newly developing, that is, conventions and inventions” (Browne, 2005). Formulae are used in every story we read, every movie we watch, every video game we play, and every comic book hero that we idolize. It is a tried-and-true way of created a “new” story that we already know people love because they have gone to see it again and again and Marvel comics are no exception.

Marvel comic book heroes all follow the same basic pattern: weak and powerless person suffers some tragedy that they were unable to prevent, they gain powers (via mutation, genetic experimentation, radioactive contamination, or a simple “super suit”), and then use those powers to attempt to stop anyone else from suffering tragedy like they did, saving all of humanity in some instances. We also never see a super hero truly die. Many super heroes have been killed off in an epic battle only to be brought to life an issue later to save their town from impending destruction.

The formula of underdog-beats-the-odds is not new to mainstream entertainment: it is very popular in sports movies, children’s movies, and even romantic comedies (a maid marrying a millionaire sound like a typical underdog to me (Maid in Manhattan, 2002). But the comic book industry uses it only to start their story off. Someone weak usually suffers some sort of tragedy—we’ll use Ororo Munroe (aka Storm) as an example—Storm was the daughter of a Kenyan princess and an American photojournalist and lived with her parents in Cairo until she was five years old—when a plane crashed into her home and killed both of her parents. There was nothing at all she could have done to stop that from happening (nothing anyone could have done without some sort of unnatural powers). She then lived a hard life as a street urchin and pickpocket, her powers not showing themselves until she was in her teens. She then gained the ability to control the weather and served a tribe in Kenya as their goddess, protecting them from supernatural threats until she was called to help save the world and join the X-Men (Ororo Munroe). Even without someone calling her to help save the world, she offered her power to help those unable to do so, to save people from suffering the same fate she suffered.

As stated before, heroes never stay dead. DC Comics killed off their most beloved super hero, Superman, in the 90s, selling more than 2 million copies of the issue that he died in (When DC killed superman they almost killed the comic book industry, 2010). But he didn’t stay dead long. He came back to life and it soon became a common thing to kill off super heroes and have them resurrected to fight again. There is a saying in the comic book industry that “no one stays dead except for Uncle Ben” (No One Stays Dead in Comics, 2014) and Uncle Ben is not killed in every universe within the Multiverse, so technically, he is not 100% dead. Many Marvel characters even have the ability to resurrect themselves (or regrow their body after it being smashed to bit in Wade Wilson’s ( Deadpool) case) and don’t stay dead as a part of their own story and ability set.

While different comic book characters may all seem very unique and have very different abilities or backgrounds, all suffer from the same basic origin story: weakling suffers tragedy, weakling gains power, now-powerful-weakling seeks to protect others (and possibly avenge said tragedy). This basic formula of a weak person becoming strong and defeating evil is something that has brought viewer to movies, readers to books, and gamers to video games. It is a classic tale and loved by everyone. Resurrecting characters, however, is more of a publicity stunt, acting on reader’s emotions to sell more copies for a storyline that keeps you on the edge. Knowing that all things that are made to sell contain some formula that was used by the writer to garner interest makes some stories a little less interesting, but the many different personalities seen in comics help to hide this so that you do not feel as if you are seeing the same origin story over and over again.

References

When DC killed Superman they almost killed the comic industry. And Marvel is about to reload the gun…. (2010, November 27). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from https://comicbookgrrl.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/when-dc-killed-superman-they-almost-killed-the-comic-industry-and-marvel-is-about-to-reload-the-gun/

Browne, R. B. (2005). Profiles of popular culture: A reader. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Williams, O. (2015, October 9). No One Stays Dead In Comics: 16 Superhero Deaths And How Long They Lasted. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/comic-book-deaths/

Deadpool (Wade Wilson). (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://marvel.com/universe/Deadpool_(Wade_Wilson)

Ororo Munroe (Earth-616). (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Ororo_Munroe_(Earth-616)

 

 

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My Favorite

Alice in Wonderland was my favorite childhood movie. This movie wasimage_a80c747a.jpeg something I loved as a child and I still enjoy watching occasionally. It was not the typical girl movie of my time where princesses waiting for princes to come and save them, or fell in love someone they’ve barely known. It showed a girl going on her own journey, making her own decisions. And it was just plain weird. Once I was in high school I read Lewis Carroll’s books and I even purchased The Annotated Alice which had notes in it about why Carroll wrote what he did or what he meant in a particular section. I have always been into weird and Alice in Wonderland was the first weird film I had seen. It was so different from anything else in my time, where we watched someone explore their own imagination rather than break some curse or run away from their evil step parent.

There are some stereotypes about women that are evident in the movie though. While Alice is not waiting on a prince to come save her like other Disney heroines at the time, she did display some negative characteristics of women. She was easily controlled by the men in the movie, she ate what they told her to, went to fetch gloves for the white rabbit even though she was not his housemaid, follows the direction of the Cheshire cate, and sits and listens to Tweedledee and Tweedledum even though she is in a hurry (Disney, 1951). Throughout the entire movie, the only person she stands up to is the Queen of Hearts who is another woman. She is also shown to cry when she has to face hard decisions or things don’t seem to go as well as they could. When she grows too large to leave the first room she comes to, she begins to cry so hard that she ends up creating an ocean. And when she loses her way in Tulgey Wood, she sits down and cries until the Cheshire cat shows up to show her the way out (Disney, 1951). This shows women as being emotionally unable to handle heavy or hard decisions because we may break into tears at the thought of how “unfair” things are.

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Alice shows many negative reactions in her emotions. She is constantly annoyed people and has many angry outbursts. When confronted by the flowers about her not being a flower, she angrily stomps off, offended that they think she is a weed, and tells them that “If I were my right size, I could pick every one of you if I wanted to. And I guess that’d teach you” (Disney, 1951). And says to herself that they could learn about manners. She is also pestered by a mother bird who is convinced that she is a serpent trying to steal her eggs and simply shrinks herself to avoid the bird, not dealing with the conflict, but running away. And another negatively represented female character is the Queen of Hearts. The Queen of hearts is shown as easily flattered, easy to anger, and mentally unstable. Neither are shown to warm, empathetic characters as most women in movies seem to be portrayed today.

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Queen of Hearts with the King of Hearts

While the movie was created in 1951, it was based on two book s by Lewis Carroll that were published in 1965 and 1971, in the Victorian era. In the Victorian era, women were meant to be well-educated homemakers. According to Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice,

“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages….; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions…”(Austen, 1995)

Women were not allowed to work and had the have certain “accomplishments” in order to attract a husband and were not allowed to actively seek one (Hughes). This could be why Alice is not like other princesses, forever seeking “true love” and instead is on a creative journey through her own imagination.

 

References

Austen, J. (1995). Favorite Jane Austen novels: Complete and unabridged. New York: Dover Publications.

Disney, W. (Producer). (1951). Alice in Wonderland [Motion picture on VHS]. US: Walt Disney Productions.

Hughes, K. (n.d.). Gender roles in the 19th century. Retrieved March 06, 2016, from http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/gender-roles-in-the-19th-century

Stereotypes in Marvel Comics

In Profiles of Popular Culture, stereotypes are defined

Hulkling and Wiccan, openly gay couple since their debut

as “the generalities of life cut down to a fine point concerning a particular subject and directed usually toward a special goal” (Browne, pp. 102). Marvel comics are full of stereotypes and attempts to subvert them. There are characters that act intentionally not like a stereotype and there are characters that embrace stereotypical behavior. Then there are the characters that struggle to overthrow a stereotype, maybe successfully, maybe not. There are a multitude of stereotypes in Marvel comics and have been for generations; African-Americans, Asians, Germans, Women, Gays—all have stereotypes that they follow or struggle with throughout Marvel comics.

 

 

 

One example of a character that is subject to stereotypes is Betty Ross, originally seen in Captain America comics. She is the daughter of General “Thunderbolt” Ross, a controlling man that sends her away to boarding school after the death of her mother. Sh

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Betty Ross as Avengers PR agent in Ultimate Marvel

e becomes an FBI agent in the 40s and on multiple occasions gets into trouble and needs to be rescued by Captain America and his sidekick Bucky. That demonstrates the stereotype that mean are stronger than women. The trope of the “damsel in distress” is widespread throughout comic books, movies, and fairy tales. While Ross could be seen as a strong woman, capable enough to be an FBI agent, she is still in need of rescue by men who are “far superior”, even though Bucky had no superpowers, only military training (Kirby, 1941) which we should assume an FBI field agent should be more than capable of using herself. She is later used as bait for the Hulk many times because of her relationship with Bruce Banner in the Ultimate Marvel series (Millar, 2000).

 

 

Marvel did later nod to the fact that she was aware that she was pushed around and helpless in Marvel Ultimate where she injects herself with Hulk serum and becomes She-Hulk in order to help the Hulk fight off Wolverine who was sent to kill him. But this only perpetuated the stereotype that women are emotional (and from a military point of view, therefore unfit for battle) and make rash decisions. She deliberately disrupted a mission to kill the Hulk because she was in love with Bruce Banner (Hulk’s human form) and went as far as to commit grand treason and help a national criminal escape death (Millar, 2000). Ultimate Marvel is an “updated” version of certain Marvel characters to better fit them with today’s popular beliefs and cultures, and though some may see this as a woman showing strength and fighting for what she believes in, Betty Ross could have just as easily been shown to suffer with the loss of Bruce Banner and show loyalty to her country, a struggle which could have resulted in her injecting herself with the serum anyway but with better reason than “let me abandon my morals and help save the man I’m in love with”. Afterward, she is captured and used as bait against the Hulk—back to the same scenario that was prevalent when she had no superpowers.

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Betty Ross transforming into SHe-Hulk

In the Earth-616 universe, Betty Ross indeed becomes the Red She-Hulk without leaving the loyalty to her country in the dust for a man. Though this time, it was at the urging of her father who had saved her body in cryostasis after she was poisoned while living as a fugitive with the Hulk (Loeb, 2010). So one again, her father is controlling her life. Literally this time. As Red She-Hulk, Betty Ross is aggressive, but not in the same way as the original Hulk. She does not lose her human self when she is a Hulk, only is she becomes “pure-hulk” where she gains strength from absorbing energy from other Hulks and loses all sense of herself (Loeb, 2010). But even Red She-Hulk has her feminine stereotypes, even if she has more control than other Hulks. Red She-Hulk reverts to human form when scared (Loeb, 2010). This again shows women as weak—the fact that the Hulk changes into a rampaging beast with immense strength when scared or angry and she snaps back to a weak little human form when scared makes it look like women are unable to handle tough situations, unable to perform under pressure.

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Betty Ross as Red She-Hulk

While Marvel comics are chock full of other stereotypes, one of the ones that resonates with me the most is way in which women are depicted. Some may not notice these stereotypes, and indeed, Marvel has changed a lot of characters to meet with more politically correct views of the current populace, they still show themselves in many ways. Some of this may be due to the fact that they did not want to entirely change the personalities of characters when they did the reboot Ultimate Marvel, but some women may still find it offensive. Female characters in marvel comics and movies are never shown as the perfect role models that men are. Pepper in Iron Man may be the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but she is always in need of rescuing by her metal boyfriend. Gwen Stacy in the Amazing Spiderman was intelligent, beautiful, had plenty of money, but she too needed rescued by a super hero. Storm from the X-Men team was the leader, yet she constantly questioned her ability to lead. No woman is shown to be powerful and successful. She can be one or the other, but someone will have to save her at some point, no matter how strong she may be. Hopefully we will see female characters develop into something that doesn’t need to be saved as comic book characters become more and more popular.

 

References

Browne, R. B. (2005). Profiles of popular culture: A reader. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Kirby, J. and Simon, J. (1941) Captain America Comics #1. Marvel Comics.

Loeb, J. and Pak, G. (2010) World War Hulks. New York: Marvel Comics.

Millar, M. (2000). Ultimate Marvel. New York: Marvel Comics.