Heroine Complex, Fun Superhero Romp

The comic book genre floods the movie market and, I assume, has prompted an increased  interest into the often-underrated comic books as a media. Certainly, graphic novels have grown in popularity. Many of these stories deal with the angst and uncommon lifestyle of the super hero. Yet other than the cute movie, Sky High, very few deal with the life of the sidekick or support team. After all, much of the work, or at least rebuilding and redecorating, falls on someone else after the hero has kicked some ass and taken his/her bows. 

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn focuses on the San Francisco superhero Aveda Jupiter as seen through the eyes of her personal assistant, Evie Tanaka. The book starts with a hilarious scene of Jupiter handling a case of teeth-gnashing demonic cupcakes while Evie and her crew are attempting to film the event for social media. However, publicity is only one part of Evie’s job, along with cleaning up demon blood out of the heroine’s clothes and controlling Jupiter’s tantrums when the world doesn’t seem to love her enough.

Things become more complicated when Jupiter becomes too injured during training to keep up with the demon fighting and classy social events. Using a little magic help from her high school buddies, Evie Tanaka does what any good sidekick would do. She disguises herself as Jupiter and fills in at the social events. Unfortunately, the same events begin to turn into demon fighting, much to Tanaka’s fear and dismay. Whereas Jupiter comes with a superhero ego, martial arts, and flashy quotes, Tanaka is much shyer, keeping rigid control on her emotions to hide her own secret power, creating fire out of emotional overload. Of course, the stress of being a substitute flamboyant Jupiter blows her careful façade apart and the flames start to burn as the demon menace takes on more serious and less sugary forms.

The comic book story is a feminist homage to best-girlfriends-forever thinking. For example, while bedridden with a sprained ankle, Aveda Jupiter obsesses over what the media thinks of her and Evie’s (as her) actions, driving the entire crew crazy with her whines and attitudes. It is also a light commentary on blog bullying since the antagonist of the story is the blog queen of the city who uses fake-friendship quips and nasty personal comments to basically turn popularity away from the superhero.

The moral of Heroine Complex falls along the lines of “to thine own self be true.” At the beginning, Evie fears and hides not only her conflicted emotions of being a sidekick for Jupiter and substitute parent for her sister, but also her own true nature. She fears her fiery power both from its destructive nature and how it will push her into the limelight, possibly at odds with her best friend. In order to save the day, she must learn to regulate her emotions, accept her true feelings, and find her own way in the world by letting go of issues as much as accepting them. This is a tall order for Evie Tanaka, who has always put others before herself.

Sarah Kuhn’s book is well written and amusing throughout. Tanaka is likable enough for the reader to root for her even when she seems to be obtuse about factors in her own life and her own personality quirks. In the end, saving the day becomes a team effort as she accepts her own superhero ability and creates a persona that is much more comfortable for her rather than trying to mimic others. The only downside, in my personal opinion, was the foul language threaded through the book. The conversations sounded real and contemporary, which I suppose does include a lot of F-bombs, but as an older person I found them unnecessary.

All in all, I would highly recommend this quick, enjoyable urban fantasy, particularly for anyone looking for a new view of the comic book genre. The heroines are not too Superman-powerful and come with a lot of heart and human worries, all the while looking great in spiked heels and spandex.

Kuhn, Sarah Heroine Complex. Daw Books, Inc. 2016.

Thor: Ragnarok, A Fun Romp

(Spoiler Alert!)

The new Marvel Studios movie, Thor: Ragnarok, puts the fun back into comic book movies. The recent spate, particularly the DC Universe ones, were somewhat ponderous even if they have comic moments. This includes Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Each was a good movie but Thor rocked in terms of simply being a fun movie.

To be honest, I didn’t like the first two Thor movies. They seemed kind of dull with the only interesting moments being in when he was in Asgard. I liked the beauty that went into making the scenes for this heavenly plane. Marvel Studios is good at scenery. ThorAlthough Chris Hemsworth is a good actor and played Thor well, the plots just didn’t have the same enthusiasm that Robert Downy Jr. brought to the Iron Man movies. Thor himself came off as a pompous “god” with limited intelligence. As with many bad guys in these movies, the Loki character was the best role and Tom Hiddleston played him with great enthusiasm

In Thor: Ragnarok, Hemsworth owned Thor in a way that no one else could. Throughout the film, Thor throws out great lines that keep to his nice-guy, frat-boy kind of personality even in some of the worst situations. His facial expressions, particularly when dealing with Dr. Strange, proved that Hemsworth nailed the character perfectly. In addition, Thor evolves with the movie as he ascends to his rightful place after Odin’s death. The burden of ruling finally hits him and the frat-boy personality is shed for an older, wiser Thor in the end.

Part of Thor’s evolution in this movie is in how he handles Loki’s constant treachery. The chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston evolves into a true brotherhood. The love and family dysfunctionality shone crystal clear as Thor finally accepts Loki’s nature with a “you are what you are” kind of statement.

The match with Hulk provided some of the best fighting scenes and also the greatest lines from Loki. This movie gave viewers one of the few times in the Avengers series to really get to know the Hulk (and not Banner) in terms of how much he wants to be liked and keep control of the body. His buddy moments with Thor provide some excellent insights into a more complex character than just some green guy smashing things.

Other great names to look for include Sam Neill and Matt Damon, although you will have a hard time recognizing them through all the makeup. Hint: look closely at the actors in the play. For those who want more information about this, check out this Hollywood Reporter video, but warning, spoiler alerts.

Although the trailers show the Hulk as the antagonist, the real enemy is Hela, the hidden eldest child of Odin. The Goddess of Death, played by Cate Blanchett, seeks to rule Asgard as a jumping off point to conquer the galaxy, even if she must kill every Asgardian to do so. Her battle costume reminded me of Angela Jolie’s Maleficent, black, sleek, and spouting horns, but Jolie’s character pulled off more menace than Blanchett’s Hela.

Unsung heroes in the movie include Idris Elba’s honorable warrior Heimdall, Tessa Thompson’s burned out Valkyrie, and Karl Urban’s enemy-turned-good guy Skurge. Urban is becoming a great fixture in sci-fi/fantasy filmography, having great roles in Judge Dredd, the newest Star Trek movies, Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Riddick saga. In this movie, his character Skurge is pressed into service by Hela but the emotions on his brooding face clearly indicates his hesitation to rebel against her, which means instant death, or to follow along, which means slaughtering his own people.

Although I loved the humor, the message in the plot helps make Thor: Ragnarok a great movie. Thor eventually realizes he can’t win against the Goddess of Death and this means the destruction of his homeland. Yet Odin reveals to him that a homeland is not in the coordinates of a map but in the hearts of its people. Save the people, and you save Asgard. It also opens up the idea of future movies with the questions of where will the new Asgard be and how will Earth handle the “invasion” of friendly, beer-quaffing, godlike beings.

I don’t think Marvel will stop making comic book movies any time soon but it’s nice to see that the characters are evolving. Sometimes comic book heroes are very two dimensional, which was true for the early Thor and Captain America movies. Now Captain America is less white bread as he turns into an outlaw do-gooder and Thor: Ragnarok shows that even gods must mature sometime. Thus, Marvel movies are improving and becoming more worth the price of a theater ticket. I look forward to more of the evolved Thor stories.