Responding to Fandom

First thing’s first: to everybody who has been sharing my post from last night all over Facebook and the like, thank you so much. I wrote it because I was too angry to sleep. and now it’s really just taking off like crazy. I have the best, most intelligent, most attractive readers on the internet, and I hope that those of you who came around for the last Human Excommunication or to read about how re-posting the Frankenstein’s monster of a Bill Cosby speech doesn’t make black people the absolute worst will stick around for more rage coupled with supporting details.

Yea. Like that.

And it is on that note that we’re going to take a small digression away from rage to discuss something that is merely frustrating, perhaps a bit anger-inducing: the new Robin.

But first, some history.

During the 90’s, when everything about comics sucked, the few gems in the industry really stood out. Among them, we were introduced to a semi-villianess named Spoiler, the daughter to Chuck Dixon’s pulled-from-the-bin-and-dusted-off Cluemaster. Basically, she ruined her father’s plans, but wasn’t really a “good guy”, much like the Huntress from Green Arrow. She had her own agenda, and often it matched up with the Dynamic Duo, specifically Tim Drake Robin for whom she became a love interest.

Due to a number of things, Tim’s father finds out that his son is Robin, forces him to retire, and Spoiler, who is named Stephanie Brown, gets her own Robin costume and demands that Batman train her. He does, she’s Robin, all is good until she makes some serious mistakes and is fired…and becomes Batgirl.

During this time period, however, Steph really gained a major fan following. She’s spunky, raw, and really an interesting character. So when DC annouced they would be bringing in a female Robin, people got excited that it might be Steph.

Nope. It’s Carrie Kelly from “The Dark Knight Returns.” This is about as much of a letdown as when DC announced that one of it’s “major characters” would be gay, then made it Alan Scott, who is absolutely awesome as a character, but let’s not pretend that when people think of “Green Lantern,” they’re thinking of his Earth 2 counterpart. Similarly, I really, really like Carrie Kelly, but there’s a whole lot more going on behind this.

Ultimately, DC isn’t my comic label, Marvel is, but after reading Jess’s take on the bizarre and active opposition to Steph at DC, I can’t help but wonder what the hell they think they’re doing over there. Here’s a partial list of the things that DC has done to prevent this character from seeing the light of day, as compiled by Jess.

  • made Steph Robin as part of a publicity stunt, only to promptly kill her off in a lengthy, brutal, sexualized sequence;
  • subsequently announced that she had never really been a Robin and denied her a memorial case for years;
  • hosted a panel in which one of their freelancers, speaking as a representative of their company, expressed a desire to violently murder her fans for asking when they would see her again, and did not subsequently apologize nor request that the writer do so;
  • removed a character who, again, made The New York Times bestseller list, along with Cassandra Cain, from their New 52 in favor of Barbara Gordon, claiming it was to avoid confusion, while retaining four essentially identical-looking male Robins (thus eliminating not just two female characters, but a character of color and a differently-abled character);
  • rejected multiple pitches from popular writers to use her, including Gail Simone, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Bryan Q. Miller, and Scott Lobdell;

There are several more examples over at the post, and I highly recommend reading them all. The point is, despite a dedicated and huge fanbase, the high muckity-mucks at DC really, really, really don’t like Stephanie Brown and they’re going to do everything in their power to ignore fans and keep this character out.

That’s one reason why I’ve always been more of a Marvel reader, really: they tend to be more responsive to the fans (also, Doctor Strange is an amazing character, and the new Defenders is fantastic). In fact, like we see with the absolute train wreck of 90’s Spider-man plots that eventually ended up with a plane-crash-on-train-wreck attempt to correct those plots (One More Day, the Clone Saga, I’m looking at you guys), they may be even too responsive to their fans. However, I prize more highly a ham-handed attempt to correct a wrong than the steadfast refusal to admit to it.

And now we get to the crux of the matter: is it better to save face and deny a problem or to admit to it? Well, we can look at some examples.

Perhaps the most obvious is the Vatican, an organization that has staked its claim on infallibility, so they are completely unable to admit to wrongdoing, instead having to hide, deny, and command away any problems they may face. Even when they do apologize, it’s for things far too late or minor that any change can be affected. By extension, the ever-dwindling group of people who still give credence to the Vatican as a moral guide will reflexively proclaim every pope BESTEST POPE EVAAAAARRRR, and the problems will continue.

But yes, that’s an easy target. “You’re always down on the Church, Kaoru! Why don’t you ever criticize atheists?” Well, dear reader, let me do just that.

Sam Harris has recently come under attack for being “Islamophobic”. This is part of a recent trend these last two weeks to conflate the criticism of Islam by the New Atheists with a hatred of Muslim people in that weird way that we say “race” when we’re talking about “religion” (see also: Jewish). I think many of the criticisms of him and people like Jerry Coyne are off base, but then we have Harris’s response (h/t PZ Myers).

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Rather than admit that at the very least when he regurgitates well-worn philosophical experiments and tries to apply them to the real world, they have the potential to negatively affect people in the real world (PZ has plenty of examples), he basically says that any of his critics are unethical for calling him names. I disagree with most of his critics, if for no reason other than they are criticizing the wrong thing, but Harris’s response is a blatant attempt to cover up mistakes by blithely putting his fingers in his ears and repeating to himself how much better a philosopher he is than other people.

We make mistakes. It happens and it’s a part of human nature. Sam Harris needs to admit that his philosophical riffing often comes across as callous because he is trying to impose the results on a real world that doesn’t so easily conform to thought experiments. DC needs to realize that Steph Brown is not going away and it’s time to confront that and address it rather than attempt to suppress it. The Vatican…well, it needs to close up shop, but at the very least it needs to show some real humility (not just washing the feet of AIDS patients or choosing a less ostentatious wardrobe, neither of which require any effort), admit to its mistakes, and make an effort to actually fix them (working with governments for the prosecution of people who had raped children, falsely imprisoned women, or snatched babies from their parents would be a start).

Joe Davidson can donate 10% of the nightly earnings to Camp Quest from the night that he reneged on his deal with them.

Brad Paisley can resolve to talk to some black people who are from the South and not multimillionaires to learn about modern racism, why wearing a Confederate flag is not a color-blind expression of heritage, and make an effort to highlight actual Southern contributions to this country.

We all make mistakes, but we can learn from them, we can grow and we can make amends. That sometimes means listening to our fandoms, even when they’re being our critics.

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“Intellectually Challenging” Doesn’t Mean “Not Fun”

Anthony over at Rev Rants has a new video up in which he discusses how every time somebody points out that video games should move away from the “guns and chainsaws” mentality that so many games seem to have and focus instead on creating games that address serious philopsophical issues, there are generally two camps: the ones who smugly agree, and the ones who get righteously furious at the idea that games should no longer be “fun.”
And that’s where I lose the argument. Anthony brings up some very good points about how if games are to to treated seriously as an art form, they have to be about more than just the physical challenge of pressing the right buttons at the right time to kill your endless stream of enemies in the most creative ways possible, but I take issue with the fact that he doesn’t really go into what I consider to be the major problem with this argument.
Media that challenges us intellectually can and often is really fun.
Now, I’m not saying that he doesn’t believe this or that I have a problem with the video, which I think is largely spot on, but rather that in arguing for games to be more thought provoking, he neglected to explicitly point out that that doesn’t mean the game isn’t suddenly fun, as if every medium has to have its share of “interesting” things and “challenging” things, and checks them off a list to fill certain quotas in order to qualify as “art.”
Some of the games he mentions, for example, are not only thought provoking and interesting, they are also a real blast to play. Braid is one of my favorite games that he mentions. It was clever, artfully designed, did really fantastic things with mechanics, and told a story that produced a wonderful twist ending without significant cut scenes, dialogue, or anything that explicitly spelled out what was going on. It was a beautiful game that told a great story with a lot to discuss, and was still hours of fun.
Similarly, Journey was fantastic. It was gorgeous, emotional, and thought provoking, but also a whole lot of fun.
Far too often, the idea comes up that something, anything, can be fun or it can be intellectually challenging, but it can’t possibly be both. I hear this most often when I talk about texts and do close readings of them. The common refrain is “Can’t you just enjoy the movie/game/song/book/whatever?” or, even worse, “When I watch a movie/play a game/etc., I don’t want to have to think about it.”
When did thinking become this gigantic burden? Seriously, I’ve been thinking for the 30+ years I’ve been alive and, quite frankly, it’s the most fun thing I do.
The Rev also brings up movies in this as a medium that struggled to attain a reputation for artistry, and even mentions in passing the idea of a “Citizen Kane of video games.” He does this to point out that despite how many absolutely awful movies come out every year, there is a “bedrock” of artistic films that prove that movies can be an artistic medium, giving big studios an incentive to create films that are contemplative, so we can have the American Beautys and Fight Clubs and even Willows (which I just watched again a couple of days ago because it has some of the most perfect storytelling I’ve seen in film) without those who for some reason I couldn’t begin to articulate don’t enjoy thinking too much missing out on another American Pie or [Fill in the Blank] Movie sequel. The existence of Casablanca does not preclude the existence of No Strings Attached. Because The Godfather was made does not mean that Corky Romano was not. And the filming of Arsenic and Old Lace did not prevent the filming of The Hangover, much to my continued chagrin.
To an extent, I think this goes with Anthony’s point about how a medium doesn’t have to be one thing, in that video games can be serious and they can be fun, but I feel like he’s separating those two ideas. A video game, like any medium can be serious and fun in a single game. In fact, I would hope that is the objective in most cases: to make a point and make that point enjoyable. I can appreciate the technical aspects both in terms of film and writing of Casablanca and still be deeply invested and entertained by the plight of Rick and Ilsa.
There are two more supplementary points to this video I would like to make. The first is that the Rev makes a point I rather disagree with around the 5:27 mark when he starts to talk about comics. The point he makes is that while there are some amazing indie comics doing interesting things, the mainstream publishers are basically super hero comics, with the implication that super hero comics can’t tackle meaningful subjects in a serious way. While I love and respect a lot of indie titles, I think this seriously underestimates the ability of super hero comics to deal with important , human issues. It doesn’t take a whole lot to see the metaphor for the civil rights struggle in X-men going back to its conception, nor Stan Lee’s refusal to change a story line in The Amazing Spider-man that dealt with drug addiction in order to get a Comics Code Authority seal for those three issues. There were the Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossovers that were designed specifically to deal with social issues, and to do so by pairing a highly liberal with a highly conservative superhero so they would be able to really delve into the ideological divides present. Shortly after taking over Green Arrow in 2004, in fact, Judd Winick started a storyline dealing with Speedy (Mia Dearden) testing HIV positive that was sometimes ham-handed, but a real attempt at dealing with a serious issue that didn’t drain a drop of entertainment from the comic.
Beyond those, look at the Marvel series-wide events, most specifically the Civil War, but also Fear Itself. I make no secret of the fact the Marvel Civil War is one of my favorite comic series of all time. In the midst of the War on Terror, Marvel decided to take a hard look at how we balance our need for security with our civil liberties and used its major characters to do so. And it doesn’t just focus on the heroes themselves: it takes the time to explore how it affects everybody and the historical connotations of what we’re doing. At the end of one of the Frontline issues, for example, there is a small vignette about a couple of Japanese Americans reporting to an internment camp, and the panel sticks in my mind is where the father is telling his child that the reason why they left their home and have to live there now is that they’re “good Americans” and this is what their country requires of them.
Superhero comics are absolutely able to be serious and give insightful treatments to real problems while still remaining fun.
The other thing that this makes me think of is the current problems within the atheist movement vis-a-vis whether atheists can speak out against social injustice in light of their atheism and skepticism or rather, as some people have argued, atheism is just a non-belief in the supernatural and anything beyond that is out of bounds. Much like video games can be more than one thing, so can the atheist movement. If we’re feminists because there is no rational reason to oppose equal pay for equal work or the perpetuation of rape culture, that doesn’t mean that suddenly people will start believing in Bigfoot. Anthony says that those who agree that video games should be about more will “look down their nose” at others who don’t, but the counterblast is often just as guilty of that behavior. Applying that to atheism/skepticism, there is a fair amount of “Well, I’m a real atheist because I don’t spend my time discussing LGBT rights, which have nothing to do with psychic scams,” and that’s not only not helpful, it’s a callous attempt to avoid bringing skepticism to its logical conclusion. That being said, it’s also not prohibited to focus your energy on combating pseudoscience just because my energy is on how blind faith in bad ideas makes otherwise good people do terribly cruel things to myself and other queer folks.
Things don’t have to be just one thing. Games don’t have to be either fun or contemplative. Superhero comics don’t have to be exciting or socially meaningful. The atheist movement doesn’t have to be just about stopping quack doctors from scamming people or stopping quack preachers from advocating for the death of homosexuals. We are capable, as humans, of doing many things for many reasons, and it’s important to realize that it’s not a zero-sum game.

Cosplayers Are Overrated Slut-Sirens

Here’s one for the confusion files. Some of you may remember Tony Harris, who did some wonderful comic illustrations for Starman back in the 90s and has done some mediocre work since then. Apparently, he doesn’t really like cosplayers.

Tony Harris ranting about how much cosplayers are evil sirens who befuddle geek men that know that they're not all that anyway. Yea, I'm just as confused.

Let’s examine this for a moment.

First of all, I can see why Harris is the illustrator, not the writer or letter. He uses extraneous capitalization like a Christianist lovingly reminding me how evil and hellbound I am. Is it just that capital words are clearly Very Important when Inserted into sentences and make The point much More Obvious? Are they Referring to Anthropomorphic Manifestations of their favorite Words? I UNDERSTAND ALL CAPS IS YELLING, but Why just random Words capitalized Throughout the piece?

Ok, enough of that joke. Let’s look at some of Harris’s specific objections to women cosplaying. Commentary will be both inserted into the quotes and after.

I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male. Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff ( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake)…

This is what we in the LGBT-sphere call The Obligatory “I’m Not Gay” (yay! More capitalization!). He feels the need to first assure us that he likes staring at scantily dressed women, but on his schedule, if you please. You can’t just be walking around wearing “racy type stuff” when Tony Harris isn’t in the mood to look at you! Also, how very kind to keep your words PG for those sensitive lady eyes that might see a post from a guy called “Tony Effing Harris.”

but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics.So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE: “Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl, you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC.”

This just seems like he’s Eastwooding. Or yelling at the cardboard cutouts of atheists that Chris Steadman attended a party with once (nobody has ever said, “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?” in an actual conversation, ever). Basically, Harris has created a geek nightmare and, like the Great and Powerful Oz, is making quite a show of presenting it as real.

But he carves out some space for his friends who do the same thing. Because he knows they’re cool. No, it’s that really nebulous Other Girl out there who is secretly trying to manipulate him…er, con goers who totes aren’t Tony Harris, into liking them so they can giggle at how pathetic those not-Tony-Harrises are.

You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public, and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are ) [KN: slut shaming isn’t half as fun without some fat shaming chaser or you have Big Boobies [KN: Adults call them “breasts” or, more accurately, “none of your damn business”]. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies? [KN: Yes, I noticed that. Because I assume guys like you draw a distinction between “big” and “great” when it comes to breastsYou are what I refer to as “CON-HOT”. Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. [KN: So you refer to them as “con-hot”, but don’t really think they are. So why do you refer to them as that?Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU. [KN: “Preyed on”? Does that mean groped against their will and sexually harassed?] You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate [KN: Oh, you meant they were magically forcing helpless geeks to have pantsfeelings and then masturbate later. Yea, I see how that’s much worse than what I thought].

This bit is all over the place. Harris thinks they’re “con-hot”! No, he doesn’t think that, but some other guys think that! And they might want to have sex with people! And won’t necessarily be able to because they’re awkward! Hanging! Open lips! The Moon and Stars (of pleasure)! And this just makes the homunculus that Harris is yelling at so very happy that later that evening, while wearing the robes of an evil empress, she’ll laugh her evil cackle and purposefully not touch herself while getting off on the idea of geek boys…

You know what, I can’t even keep that particular joke going, it’s so absurd. What Tony Harris doesn’t seem to realize is that girls, even one that are hot enough to tantalize the geek men he seems to be ineptly defending, are actual, real people who have complex desires and may not necessarily dress in revealing clothing just to lure in vulnerable men for the dastardly goal of not doing anything to them.

[…]YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER. [KN: Wow, this is almost getting into Hipster Sexism territory. It’s bad enough that they’re sluts, but they’re mainstream sluts as well] And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. [KN: He says, based on those John Hughes movies he watched once] Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. [KN: Going to take this personally in a minute, buddy] Yer not Comics. [KN: No, they’re people. The comics aren’t real, Tony.] Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up.

My friend, who I will call Social Justice Heroine unless she gives me a better moniker, that pointed me to this article made an excellent observation. Isn’t Tony Harris, the person that the con is there for (instead of, you know, the fans who pay him to draw stuff), in a pretty unique position to solve this problem? I mean, he’s a comic book illustrator. Why doesn’t he draw comic book women wearing more clothing, or with less obvious breasts, or in positions that a human body is capable of achieving? I mean, I’m sure he’s never…oh. Oh, my. Oh, my, indeed.

Ultimately, Harris’s rant is as incomprehensible as it is stupid. He both tries to excoriate women who dress in ways he finds inappropriate (sometimes, because he’s not gay) as man eating predators out to do absolutely nothing with some poor, socially awkward geek, and as ugly sluts who noble comic fans can see right through. He’s using scattershot stereotypes and ending up with a confusing mess of entitlement that just makes it seem like he spent his formative years wondering why no scantily dressed women with super powers ever needed to be rescued by him. And in the process, he completely dehumanizes women who cosplay (notice how he calls them “the thing”, not even recognizing that they’re individuals), reducing complex human emotions and motivations down to “you just want to make men feel bad about not having sex with you!” Basically, Tony Harris is the anti-Scalzi, Scalzi being the avatar for all that is right and good in geekdom. EDIT:  I wrote this last night and scheduled it, and in the interim Scalzi responded to Harris. All that is right and good in geekdom.

Tony Harris needs to get over himself. What women wear in any context is none of your damn business. Geek men don’t need you “sticking up” for them, either. They’re remarkably intelligent and will take care of themselves. But most importantly, unless you’re the Mind Reading Comic Illustrator, you have no fucking clue why people wear what they wear, whether they know enough about what they’re wearing to pass muster with you, or anything else about them. So knock it the fuck off.

NdeGT Locates Krypton

This was too cool not to share. It seems that DC Comics hired Neil deGrasse Tyson to locate a physical place for where the doomed planet of Krypton might have been based on information given in the comics. Of course, most of that was made up and probably inconsistent, but the Astrophysicist of Awesome bent his brain to the task and found a place for Krypton to have been, officially.

Apparently, it once orbited the red dwarf star LHS 2520 in the Corvus Constellation. The color of the light was obviously important, as well as the distance (27.1 light years) and several other factors that NdeGT took into account.

Now that he’s done that, perhaps Disney can hire him to determine exactly which galaxy far, far away the Galactic Empire ruled. And if it was a long enough time ago that light from the two suns that once shone on a despondent farmboy unaware of his destiny will have reached us.

Gamma Powered Pathos

So, I read an article the other day that got me thinking…about the Hulk. You guys know the Hulk: big, green, angry, varying degrees of shagginess in haircut?

This guy

This guy

Not this guy.

What I was thinking about, specifically, is what the Hulk says about us, about human beings, our capacities, our loves, and our passions. I mean, seriously, why does a character who’s main forms of interaction involve hitting things, punching things, and attempting to kill things with poor grammar captivate us so?

I think the answer to that, my friends, is pathos.

Pathos is a mode of persuasion that appeals to a person’s emotions. When we talk about it in literary criticism, we’re often talking about how we’re made to empathize with the struggles a character is facing and then start to like them more. It’s where we get the word “pathetic.”

The Hulk, unlike a lot of super heroes and especially unlike most from the Marvel universe, is basically cursed. The Fantastic Four went into space, there was an accident, and they came out heroes (though arguments can be made for the pathos evoked by The Thing). The X-men suffer bigotry and cruelty for who they are, but they’re also able to largely insulate themselves at Xavier’s when they’re not out saving the people who hate and fear them. Iron Man’s pathos is self-inflicted. Captain America’s is existential. Spider-man’s is based on the realities of life that lots of people face.

Our Big Green Man, however, is experiencing something that none of them can really understand: the totally involuntary loss of control, spurred by something he can later blame himself for. He can’t afford to let his emotions get the best of him or he’ll do terrible things. The tiniest slip in his thoughts and whole towns can be leveled. And it’ll be his fault because he let some jackass irritate him.

What I find interesting about this is that the Hulk wasn’t always triggered by anger. For the first two issues of The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk at night and back to Bruce by day. It wasn’t until issue three that the Hulk rode a rocket into space and was bombarded with cosmic rays, presumably the same ones who transformed the Fantastic Four, that anger became the trigger for his change. Part of the reason most people don’t know about this is that it’s simply not as interesting, it takes away the element of volition from the Hulk’s story. If he can’t blame himself for the things he’s done, we can’t feel as bad for him, we can’t see our own mistakes in his.

And that’s the other thing I wanted to discuss: the fluid origin story.

There are two origin stories for the Hulk, or at least two basic ones with a lot of spinoffs of them. Like with the day/night change, we tend to gravitate and remember better the one that makes the character more fallible, that reveals the bigger mistake.

The first origin was the original one, started in Incredible Hulk #1 in May of 1962. In it we have Dr. Bruce Banner, renowned scientist and foremost expert in gamma radiation. He has been working for the US government on a project to create a “gamma bomb,” a weapon that would make uranium and plutonium bombs seem like firecrackers by comparison. While testing a bomb, he notices teenager Rick Jones on the testing field completing a dare from his friends and runs out to save him. A colleague trying to kill Banner doesn’t stop the test, bomb goes off as Banner pushes the kid into a ditch, and now we have a gamma-irradiated scientist.

I never really clicked with this particular origin story. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel like it put Banner too much at the whims of fate. Again, try and think of this as a curse: he was saving a kid’s life and for no particular reason he now has to suffer for the rest of what might be an eternal life. That may be how the real world works, but I can’t get past the unfairness of it all, the sort of “no good deed goes unpunished” nature of the whole thing.

The second origin story is usually associated with the Ultimates line of books, Marvel’s alternate-universe comics designed to create a much more cohesive meta-plot and update character origins. However, the seeds of this origin story actually were planted years earlier in the Incredible Hulk television show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as Banner and the Hulk respectively, so I’ll focus on that plot.

In this show we meet Dr. David Banner (LGBT history moment: his name was changed from “Bruce” because the network thought it sounded “too homosexual”), a behavioral scientist studying a phenomenon where ordinary people experience superhuman amounts of strength for brief periods. After some research, he discovers that these events tend to occur when people are 1) angry, and 2) experiencing a flood of gamma radiation caused by solar activity. Attempting to test his hypothesis in the lab, Banner irradiates himself with gamma energy, creating the Incredible Hulk. After a lab accident, he fakes his own death, but in doing so attracts the attention of intrepid reporter Jack McGee, a perpetual antagonist of the show who follows Hulk sightings around the country because he thinks the Hulk murdered Banner and wants to expose the monster in the press. McGee gets a passing mention in the Ed Norton Hulk movie, along with a number of references to what is still an amazing TV show.

Ultimate Hulk is basically a variation on that theme only Banner is instead back to working on weapons for the government, this time trying to recreate the super soldier serum that made Captain America, and the recent movie versions are based on this idea as well.

The thing is, I like this idea a lot better than the gamma bomb. On one hand, you could argue that Bruce brought this on himself. He was arrogant, he was self-centered, he wanted to be the next super soldier, etc. But that’s why I like it.

Let me explain.

In the original origin, you have a man who is screwed over by fate. The stars aligned and now he has to deal with this. I have nothing to grasp on to there, nothing really to empathize with except for a vague sense of “life’s tough, get a radiation suit.”

The second origin we see a man who made a mistake, one mistake, and now his life is irrevocably changed. I don’t know about you guys, but I make mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes, like all the time. There are probably mistakes in this post. It’s difficult to imagine that any one of them might lead to untold pain and suffering and loss. I see Bruce Banner and I don’t see somebody who had a terrible thing happen to them, I see somebody like me, somebody I want to forgive.

I mentioned above that the difference between these two origin stories is “volition,” but I wasn’t just talking about Dr. Banner’s. I’m talking about ours, as readers. We have no control over gamma bombs hurting good people, but we absolutely have the ability to forgive somebody who’s made a mistake. It makes the Hulk’s suffering more noble and our hearts more likely to go out to him because we know no matter how often we say “it’s ok,” it won’t change things for him, yet he continues on trying to forgive himself as his sins continue to pile up. We are equally powerless to help him, but we can at least try, and that makes all the difference.