The Politics of Marvel’s Gods

The Avengers is a great movie, with great writing. But one character in it poses a bit of a political problem for Marvel: Thor, the god of Thunder. Religion is a big deal in most parts of the world, and having a character who represents godhood requires some careful maneuvering to avoid touching some sensitive nerves.

Ever since Marvel introduced Thor in 1962, they’ve been careful about portraying their “gods”. Thor and his Asgardian kin are seen as merely an alien race with advanced technology (insert Clarke quote about advanced technology = magic), and certain superhuman traits which aren’t all that remarkable in comparison to other amazing superheroes like The Hulk. Last year’s Thor movie went to great lengths to explain Thor’s world in a technological context instead of mystical, and in The Avengers there are several jabs at Thor’s godhood including Tony Stark calling him a “demi-god”, and good old Captain America, wearing the stars and stripes, proclaiming that “there’s only one god”. Thor and others like him were simply worshipped as gods by ancient peoples who didn’t know their true nature. This approach works for outdated mythology and gods no living person really believes in anymore, but what happens when Marvel’s modern mythology makes light of currently practiced religion?

It happened…in November 1980.

Marvel got themselves into a tiny bit of trouble when they messed with Shiva in Thor I #301. Shiva is seen as one of the three Supreme Gods in Hinduism (along with Vishnu and Brahma), and has five important roles: creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer, and revealer. Those powers apparently sounded so awesome to a writer at Marvel that they decided to create a comic where Thor did battle with Shiva. You’d think that Shiva being Shiva would’ve given him the upper hand, but nope…Shiva was getting his ass beat and offered up a truce. This offended Hindu readers who wrote angry letters, but not because Shiva was in there in the first place (Vishnu and Brahma appeared too). They were angry because Shiva didn’t win! Marvel later fixed the problem by retconning and saying that it wasn’t Shiva after all, but Indra (an older Vedic thunder god that no one worships anymore) posing as Shiva. Problem solved!

Shiva has since made other appearances in Thor comics, but not in battle. Marvel apparently learned their lesson on that one.

Thor and Shiva duke it out

Marvel has of course dabbled in Christian themes too, with Johnny Blaze becoming Ghost Rider from a deal with a devil-like being who may or may not be Satan. Hardcore Christians have been complaining about that for years, but since the devil is never portrayed in a positive light, Marvel has never gotten into too much trouble for having him around. But Marvel have shied away from Jesus and most references to the god of Abraham. There are a few obscure mentions here and there, but for the most part they’ve been really good about not crossing that line in the comics.

When it comes to gods in the movies, Marvel has been extra cautious to put them in a place that won’t offend the Christian majority. In The Avengers, Iron Man does remarkably well against Thor, even though in comic book battles Thor has either won easily or Iron Man needed help from Asgardian tech (see Thorbuster armor). Captain America even stands toe-to-toe with Thor and comes out favorably. While Cap’s shield is well-established as being near-indestructible, a single bolt of lightning from Mjolnir would make Cap extra crispy – but we can’t have America Incarnate being bested by a Scandinavian myth, right?

I will watch with great amusement and curiosity as Marvel’s comic tales continue to be converted into mass-market films. As we delve deeper into the history of the Avengers and characters like Thor, Thanos, and the Asgardians, many other god-like beings come into play, including Eternity who literally is the living embodiment of all that lives in the universe. The relatively small number of comic book readers out there are used to this, but it would be interesting to see how the religious world at large would react to this alternate portrayal of our world where “god” is really just a matter of perspective.

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TV Cancellation Logic

It’s that time of year again: time for the TV networks to decide what stays and what goes, while they introduce their upcoming shows. It’s often a tough period for die-hard TV fans, who oftentimes feel their favorite series was treated unfairly or mismanaged, but a lot of different factors go into the decisions. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t vindictive TV executives out there that love to crush the spirits of TV fans.

First, let me plug IGN’s 2001 TV Show Obituary List. It’s a comprehensive list of all the network shows that are dead, Jim. If you haven’t been following all the cancellation news, that’s the place to go.

This year, FOX once again cut a lot of shows from their catalog. As usual, some fan favorites got the axe, including Lie to Me and Breaking In. IGN TV Editor Eric Goldman has a great blog post on how FOX shouldn’t be blamed for canceling shows, but praised for taking chances on them in the first place. As Goldman wrote:

I see some people inferring that FOX has some bizarre, specific agenda to greenlight interesting/cool series and then quickly cancel them, which is pretty silly. Instead, it’s notable that FOX continues to greenlight interesting/cool series.

I have to agree with him – FOX pushes the edge a lot more than most networks, but sometimes the shows just don’t pull in enough money.

And that’s where the ratings come in. The common outcry these days is something like, “The rating system is outdated! They don’t factor in online views or DVRs!” But actually they do (as best they can, at least). The problem is, the advertising revenue isn’t the same for all those platforms. I highly recommend this very informative blog post (“The Truth About TV Ratings) by Craig Engler, VP of Digital at the SyFy network. Here’s a great excerpt:

If you add up all the money you get selling ads in live and DVR viewing and stack that against all the money you bring in through every other kind of viewing method, you’d probably be lucky to get $1 in online revenue for the same number of views that would bring in $10 on TV. […] To look at it another way, if you add the income from 1 million TV viewers and 1 million online viewers, it gives you the same income as 1.1 million TV viewers would.

Despite the Netizens feeling like online viewing should weigh in heavily in a network’s decision to cancel a show, the money is still coming from TV, and if those numbers aren’t up to snuff, a series can’t survive. It will be interesting to see how advertisers change their pricing structures as online and mobile viewing continues to become more popular.

Michael Jackson on Kinect

Today marks the official release of Michael Jackson: The Experience for XBOX 360 Kinect. The game has been fairly popular on the Wii for a while now, but the motion capture system of the Kinect promised to make the gameplay even more entertaining.

Sadly, the early reviews indicate the game may not be as awesome as I was hoping.

I’ve always been a big fan of MJ’s art. Where would we be without his influence? Contemporary artists like Justin Timberlake, Usher, and Chris Brown made their careers by emulating him. I was hoping that the Kinect version, with its brilliant motion capture system, could bring a true MJ emulation experience to living rooms across the country, especially with the successful Dance Central (a game that I regularly kick ass at) as a template. Months ago, I expressed my excitement about the game to a friend. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Michael Jackson dance game coming to the Kinect! Hee Hee! Shomone!

Friend: Yeah…but look at who the publisher is. It’s Ubisoft. They’re gonna screw it up.

The game just came out so there’s no consensus on its quality yet, but early reviews from GameInformer and customer reviews on the Amazon sales page would indicate my friend was right. Ubisoft took a brilliant opportunity to produce one of the greatest games on the Kinect platform, and came up a bit short.

At the moment, you can get the game for $10 less at Amazon. So far the reviews say that while the game is disappointing, it’s still a fun way to kill some time and shake your groove thing in the comfort of your home. And if you’re a Michael Jackson fan, there’s plenty to love, even if the gameplay might not be the best. I may or may not get the game for myself, but if I do I’ll be sure to post a thorough review.