Interview with Travis Smith

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I got into writing about superheroes and philosophy after reading an article by Adam Barkman published in Comment magazine. I could give that a try, I thought. Why not? Barkman looked at superheroes from a “mythological” point of view; I would prefer to look at them from a somewhat more human perspective. When I discovered an article by Jonathan V. Last in The Weekly Standard that I disagreed with I took it as an opportunity to respond. Last argued for the timeliness of the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films; I argued that Spider-Man was a better hero for our times, in commemoration of what was then the fiftieth anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance. Little did I know that this one article would lead to an entire book on the subject.

2) What inspired you to write your book?

University professors are asked to find ways to engage in the public dissemination of knowledge. Most of our research is written for an academic audience. How does someone like myself take what I study and teach in the history of political philosophy and make it relevant for a wider audience? Well, if Plato can discuss the popular heroes of his time, whose adventures are depicted in the epic poems of Homer, then why can’t I look into superheroes, whose stories have become popularized lately in so many feature films? I look at them to find out what they might teach us about ourselves and our ideals—who we imagine ourselves to be at our best, or who we would become if only we could be better than we are?

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I’d point to the value of thinking critically about the things we happen to enjoy, and the possibility of thinking critically about ourselves in the process. This is something we can do even with respect to our amusements—the music we like, the TV shows we binge on, the athletes we admire, the vloggers we subscribe to. Focusing on questions of ethics when doing so leads us to wonder: How does thinking about the character of this or that person, whether real or fictional, help me to better understand the worldview and motivations of people similar to them—whether that’s someone I’ve encountered in my private life, or public figures like politicians, leading professionals, or outspoken celebrities? What answers to life’s problems do they represent, and should we heed them? What does whether I like or dislike some particular person or character tell me about myself?

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

In the classroom, I draw on a lot of examples from popular culture in order to make old ideas and arguments seem relevant and familiar to my students. With respect to superhero stories in particular, I’ve read plenty of comic books over the years and re-watched the movies based on them more than enough. I put that hobby to use in Superhero Ethics.

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

I would like to know why Tony Stark doesn’t share his most advanced technologies with everyone—whether they want him to or not. Why not save people from ever needing saving again through upgrades and alterations to the human condition? Not that I would want him to—but I don’t really understand why he doesn’t. That said, I’d be concerned that by pushing him on it I might inadvertently convince him to give it a try, or else stop playing the hero entirely. Either way, better to keep my mouth shut, really. The most interesting line of dialogue to me in Avengers: Infinity War occurs when Thanos tells Iron Man, “You are not the only one cursed with knowledge.” In Superhero Ethics I argue that Tony Stark willfully refrains from drawing the furthermost consequences of his views regarding human nature and our place in the cosmos—including, ultimately, that he himself is insignificant. He struggles with a nagging suspicion that his pride—which is substantial—is vanity, and all of his efforts and sacrifices are offered in vain.

I’d also like to hear Wolverine explain his fascination with Japan. I think it’s because culturally, feudal Japan is practically the exact opposite of present-day Canada. We can be glad that imperial Japan at its worst was ended non-fictionally and still romanticize traditional Japanese society in fiction as representing honor-based society at its best. Still, I’d like to hear Logan’s perspective on it over a few bottles of beer, hoping he’ll call me “bub” at least once—and that I’ll be able to sneak out the back door of the dive bar before the inevitable brawl gets underway.

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

Personally, I avoid using social media. I worry that it’s an engine of incivility.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Read. A lot. Read a lot of good books. Even books you imagine you’ll dislike by authors you expect to disagree with. For starters, read about Achilles sulking in his tent in the Iliad if you haven’t already. Also, learn to take criticism well, and be your own harshest critic. Reread everything you write, out loud, and ask yourself if it actually says what you want it to say in the best possible way. Always be revising but recognize that your words will never be perfect. Nothing that you decide today is good enough for now will seem good enough later in retrospect—and that’s okay.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

Some people have asked me whether I’ll write about Superheroine Ethics next. Or perhaps Supervillain Ethics. What about something fandom-adjacent, like Pro Wrestling Ethics? Within this genre, I haven’t decided yet. As a professor of political theory, I intend to publish more on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, including pieces informed by my analyses of superhero stories, on subjects such as bravery, magic, and the imagination. I’m convinced that Thomas Hobbes himself thinks he’s like a superhero or something.

Bonus/Fun Questions:

Who was your favorite superhero growing up?

On Saturday morning cartoons, I liked Green Lantern best, mainly because of Sinestro. As a teen, I connected most with Rogue. For over a dozen years now though, Ms./Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) has been my favorite. I await her feature film debut in 2019 with great anticipation.

Do you prefer Marvel or DC? Or do you find them to be on equal footing overall?

When I wrote Superhero Ethics, I didn’t just focus on my favorite characters. I wanted the book to be accessible to casual fans and a general readership. I didn’t want it to be accessible only to those of us who have read a hundred thousand comic books. My book might give the impression that I prefer Marvel, but my analyses weren’t decided by my subjective preferences. I tried to give more generous readings to characters who interest me less and be tougher on characters I like most. Speaking personally, I am a fan of both universe’s characters. I started reading comic books as a pre-teen at the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and DC successfully persuaded me to disregard the pre-Crisis multiverse as no longer relevant and too confusing and supposedly unsophisticated. As I have gotten older, however, I have discovered how fantastic Silver Age Superman, Flash, Legion, and Earth-Two stories are. I have also enjoyed exploring DC’s western and war genre comics, too, such as Jonah Hex and Haunted Tank.

Which non-Marvel or -DC hero do you think would fit into the ethical discussion of superheroes? 

Sailor Moon and The Tick were favorites of mine when I was young. Captain Planet probably deserves some critical analysis, too, but I don’t think I could sit through enough episodes to assess the character fully.

If you were to create your own hero based on the ethical discussions raised in your book, what would that hero’s name be, what powers would they have (if any), and what villain/threat would they face to mirror the challenges of our world?

I already have a hero in my wife. [Awwww!] Putting up with me and my hobbies has got to be challenge enough. And who knows what kind of villainy I’d be up to if she wasn’t always asking me, “What are you doing?!?” I try to keep in mind how Aristotle would have told Ajax to listen to Tecmessa.

Thank you, Anthony, for the opportunity to discuss Superhero Ethics with you. I’m glad that you enjoyed the book!

About the Author:
Smith_Travis
Travis Smith is the author of Superhero Ethics (Templeton Press). He received his PhD from Harvard University and is associate professor of political science at Concordia University. He has been collecting comic books since he bought Uncanny X-Men #207 with his allowance in 1986. His writing has appeared in the Weekly Standard and Convivium Magazine. For more information, please visit https://www.templetonpress.org/books/superhero-ethics

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Superhero Ethics: 10 Comic Book Heroes; 10 Ways to Save The World; Which One Do We Need Most Now? By Travis Smith | REVIEW

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Superheroes are one of the biggest money grabbers of the twenty-first century. Fans around the world love flocking to the world’s of Marvel, DC and other comic book publishers who make the most popular comic books, films, television programs and more. Yet there has been one question that has always been on fans minds since the comic book industry began: who is the best of all the heroes? While this has always been a matter of popularity, but author Travis Smith has done something truly spectacular by focusing not on their popularity, but the ethics of each character and comparing it to our society today and what we truly need in a hero. That’s what makes Superhero Ethics: 10 Comic Book Heroes; 10 Ways to Save The World; Which One Do We Need Most Now? such an incredible read. Here’s the synopsis:

Whether in comic books or on movie screens, superhero stories are where many people first encounter questions about how they should conduct their lives.

Although these outlandish figures—in their capes, masks, and tights, with their unbelievable origins and preternatural powers—are often dismissed as juvenile amusements, they really are profound metaphors for different approaches to shaping one’s character and facing the challenges of life.

But, given the choice, which superhero should we follow today? Who is most worthy of our admiration? Whose goals are most noble? Whose ethics should we strive to emulate?

To decide, Travis Smith takes ten top superheroes and pits them one against another, chapter by chapter. The hero who better exemplifies how we ought to live advances to the final round. By the end of the book, a single superhero emerges victorious and is crowned most exemplary for our times.

How, then, shall we live?

How can we overcome our beastly nature and preserve our humanity? (The Hulk vs. Wolverine)

How far can we rely on our willpower and imagination to improve the human condition? (Iron Man vs. Green Lantern)

What limits must we observe when protecting our neighborhood from crime and corruption? (Batman vs. Spider-Man)

Will the pursuit of an active life or a contemplative life bring us true fulfillment? (Captain America vs. Mr. Fantastic)

Should we put our faith in proven tradition or in modern progress to achieve a harmonious society? (Thor vs. Superman)

Using superheroes to bring into focus these timeless themes of the human condition, Smith takes us on an adventure as fantastic as any you’ll find on a splash page or the silver screen—an intellectual adventure filled with surprising insights, unexpected twists and turns, and a daring climax you’ll be thinking about long after it’s over. 

This is truly one of the most unique books I’ve read this year. The deep analysis of each of these well known heroes and the complexities of each character’s heroic actions and their motivations is something that’s always fascinated me. Yet never before has someone so articulately brought these issues to the forefront of the comic book industry and given audiences a deeper connection to these heroes as Travis Smith has done.

The book allows audiences to really analyze the motivations these characters have for taking on the mantle of hero, and whether or not their actions are completely selfless or not. It also compares these heroes and their ethics to our current political climate and gives historical context to these hero’s actions as well. It’s a really interesting and wonderfully different perspective that allows a wider audience as well as die hard comic book fans an opportunity to really understand the heroes they love in a whole new way.

Overall I loved this book. It was entertaining yet educational all at once, delving into political, intellectual, philosophical and of course ethical questions no one usually bothers to ask about the superhero community. Yet the author does a superb job of bringing these issues to light and giving us a chance to look deep within ourselves and determine which hero represents our best, brightest and most ethical hero in the twenty-first century. If you haven’t yet be sure to pick up your copy of Superhero Ethics by Travis Smith today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author:

Smith_Travis

Travis Smith is the author of Superhero Ethics (Templeton Press). He received his PhD from Harvard University and is associate professor of political science at Concordia University. He has been collecting comic books since he bought Uncanny X-Men #207 with his allowance in 1986. His writing has appeared in the Weekly Standard and Convivium Magazine. For more information, please visit https://www.templetonpress.org/books/superhero-ethics

The New 52: Futures End, Vol. 1 Review

A horrific future filled with mechanical bugs and cyborg heroes terrorizing the world lead one man to take the fight into the past in DC Comic’s very own The New 52: Futures End, Vol. 1! Created by  Brian AzzarelloJeff LemireDan JurgensKeith GiffenPatrick Zircher (Illustrator), Aaron Lopresti (Illustrator), Jesús Merino (Illustrator), the first volume shows the groundwork for this apocalyptic future where the evil program Brother Eye has decimated the DC Universe as we know it, and the fight for the future rests on the shoulders of everyone’s favorite future Batman, Terry McGinnis. Here’s the synopsis:

Five years from now, the DC Universe is reeling from a war with another Earth, leaving the world unprepared for an approaching evil that threatens to destroy the future. As heroes are turned into mindless villains, the planet as we know it is no more. The only salvation lies in the past, where this future apocalypse must be averted. Can a time-traveling Batman Beyond help a massive cast of the DCU’s finest avert the impending apocalypse? 

Written by a cast of the industry’s best talents, including Jeff Lemire, Brian Azzarello, Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens, this new epic series will expose the secrets of the New 52 universe!

Collects issues #0-17.

The artwork and story of this DC Comics event is both breathtaking and haunting all at once. The first pages hit the reader hard with a monstrous future. Seeing the likes of Wonder Woman, Constantine and other beloved heroes transformed into mechanical cyborgs programmed to kill or assimilate the heroes of the world, seeing these iconic heroes bodies torn asunder by these machines is heartbreaking to watch, and really sets the stage for this life or death fight that Batman Beyond has to make.

The trip back to the past shows a world torn apart by politics, war and conflicting ideologies. A more relevant reflection of our current society, this story shows what happens when people fear refugees that hail from the same region as known enemies, and the hardship these refugees face because of narrow minded politics. We also see the beginnings of a major conspiracy, with a new Superman who wears a mask and becomes more and more violent, a Firestorm divided amongst themselves and Frankenstein traveling into space to find the cause of a superhero team’s demise. It’s everything you want in a huge DC Comics event, exploring both the cosmic and mystical realms of the DC universe.

Overall this was a fantastic start to an intense comic book event. By the first volumes end, the true enemy will be revealed, and the fight for the future will truly begin. Can Terry stop Brother Eye from gaining power before it’s too late? Will the heroes of the DC universe be able to stop the coming threat? Find out by picking up your copies of The New 52: Future’s End today!

Rating: 10/10

https://www.amazon.com/New-52-Futures-End-Vol-ebook/dp/B00MV1O02U/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1523852018&sr=1-10&keywords=The+New+52

Forever Evil (Justice League, Volume II) by Geoff Johns Review

For this installment of comic book reviews, we are diving head first into the DC Comics event Forever Evil by writer Geoff Johns. A story of a world without it’s heroic protectors, and the people who rise above themselves to battle a world conquering evil. In a world filled with villains, will a hero arise? Here’s the synopsis:

The Justice League is DEAD! And the villains shall INHERIT the Earth! In a flash of light, the world’s most powerful heroes vanish as the Crime Syndicate arrives from Earth-3! As this evil version of the Justice League takes over the DC Universe, no one stands in the way of them and complete domination … no one except for Lex Luthor. By New York Times #1 best-selling creators Geoff Johns and David Finch, FOREVER EVIL is the first universe-wide crossover of The New 52.

Collects FOREVER EVIL #1-7.

This was a truly unique story. Exploring the DC Comics universe without a Justice League to protect it was a marvelous story for the writer to explore here. Are there villains strong enough or willing enough to step up to the plate and become heroes when the OG heroes are gone or worse, dead? The big highlight of this story to me are the characters Lex Luthor and Captain Cold. Luthor is a fantastic character because he showcases selfish motivations throughout his criminal career, and the beginning of this tale is no different. However we also see another side to the villain when a new life is bound to his, and the fate of the world hangs in his hands. Captain Cold meanwhile is the perfect anti-hero, as he is a Flash villain with a code of honor, not willing to sacrifice the fate of innocent people for his own needs. Going up against the ruthless version of the Justice League, these two and other villains rise to face the Syndicate, which showcases the mirror image of our favorite heroes.

The artwork for this collection was amazing, showing the gritty and brutal nature of the Syndicate and the real life or death stakes that these characters face against this all powerful enemy. The shocking deaths of certain characters and the heroes that work from the shadows to fight the enemy make this an incredible read, but the beautiful use of color in this story highlights the shocking turn of events this DC Comics event represents.

Overall this was an amazing story. Filled with humor, action and unbelievable character development, the story of Forever Evil is one that deserves to be read over and over again. If you haven’t yet be sure to pick up your copies of Forever Evil by Geoff Johns today!

Rating: 10/10

Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka (Writer) Review

The powerful Amazon warrior Wonder Woman returns in her first DC Rebirth graphic novel, Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Lies. Written by Greg Rucka, the graphic novel finds Wonder Woman with two sets of memories, and in search for the truth. Here is the official synopsis:

A part of DC Universe: Rebirth!

New York Times best-selling writer Greg Rucka returns to Wonder Woman! After suffering an unimaginable loss, Diana must rebuild her mission as Earth’s ultimate protector and champion. However, in the midst of her grief, her Lasso of Truth stopped working! Start down the rabbit hole as dark secrets from Wonder Woman’s past unravel her present!

From the ashes of DC Universe: Rebirth, critically acclaimed writer Greg Rucka along with illustrator Liam Sharpunveil a tale that will forever alter the DC icon in Wonder Woman, Volume 1: The Lies!

Collecting: Wonder Woman 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, Rebirth

The incredible work done in this graphic novel is truly breathtaking. The strength and courage Diana displays as Wonder Woman showcases both the emotion and power women can emulate all at once, while also exploring the larger DC Universe as a whole. The latest incarnation of the DC Multiverse introduces the dark new version of The Cheetah, Wonder Woman’s friend turned hated enemy. Showing the horrors of her origin, Cheetah may be Wonder Woman’s only hope of finding her home. The way the writer showcases the affect of the multiversal changes to DC Comics on Wonder Woman is a brilliant stroke of storytelling, and the art is incredibly vivid. The lush environments seem to just pop off of the pages, and the wider conspiracy teased in the pages of this graphic novel make for a compelling and edge of your seat story.

Overall this was an incredible read. Filled with classic Wonder Woman and DC Comic goodness, the story highlights the strength and wisdom of the character, all while showing off the long standing affects of multiverse changes. If you have’t yet pick up your copy of Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka today!

Rating: 10/10

Greg Rucka (Writer), Liam Sharp (Artist), Jodi Wynne (Letterer), Matthew Clark (Penciller), Sean Parsons (Inker), Laura Martin (Colorist), Jeremy Colwell (Colorist)

 

anthonyonrequest:

It’s Good to Be Bad:

Why Suicide Squad Excels and Why the Criticism Is Unfounded

*SPOILER Warning* (This review contains some spoilers, in an effort to explain my personal opinion towards this film)

DC’s most anticipated film has finally arrived! Suicide Squad is in theaters, and despite critic reviews panning the film, the blockbuster is set to light up the box office. Better yet, the reviews from general audiences are much more favorable and showcase the excellent power of the star-studded cast.

In the film, Amanda Waller creates a task force made up of the most dangerous criminals in the world to combat threats from the growing metahuman community. Things quickly spiral out of control and the task force must find a way to work together to stop a world shattering evil.

First, I have to say, I love this film. The music, the comic book lore and the incredible cast are all the driving force behind the fantastic film. David Ayer did a marvelous job of bringing his signature gritty filmmaking and the fun, adventure quality of the comic books. So much of this film felt like it was lifted from the pages of the comics themselves, and the performances from Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Jared Leto’s Joker and Jay Hernandez El Diablo all were fantastic. Perhaps the most frightening character in the film was the cold hearted Amanda Waller, brought to life beautifully by Viola Davis. Her cool demeanor and tough exterior made her the most dangerous villain in the film, which is saying something.

Now in order to dive into my opinions on the film, some spoilers will be discussed. Turn away now if you don’t want to know….

Still here? Ok, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Now the problems I saw “critics” complaining about were the plot, main villain and amount of backstory per character. I had no issues with any of these things, and I’m going to explain why.

The plot was not a wholly original one, yet it worked. The film was not intended to be about the plot, but rather a character study. It was about the characters and their ability (or inability) to work together. The villain of the film turns out to be The Enchantress, an ancient evil witch that possesses June Moon, whom team leader Rick Flagg falls in love with. The Enchantress releases her brother, Incubus, and together they begin building a machine to destroy the human race and take over the world. I love that they added the romance between Flagg and Moon, bc it gave a new depth and motivation to two characters that otherwise may have come across as cold or simple, not complex.

The biggest complaint is that this is an overplayed plot device. To that I have two points. 1, it’s a villain team up comic book movie, so of course the threat is going to be on a global scale. 2, the villain isn’t an overcomplicated one. It’s an evil that wants world domination, and that’s a good thing. While I love Marvel films, they have only had one or two villains I actually like (Loki and Red Skull). The hit Marvel film this summer, Civil War, had no villain to write home about. He was a revenge seeking ex soldier who used old Hydra files to tear the heroes apart, but he didn’t exude a clear and present danger in the film.

The Enchantress is finally a true villain that lives up to her comic book namesake. She’s feral, ruthless and even gets physically involved in the final battle. She was a fantastic first villain in this series, and Cara Delevingne did a wonderful job of bringing her to life.

What I appreciate about DC comics films is the gritty, dark world the films create. I like variety in my films, and while I’m a huge Marvel fan, DC has always been a darker toned comic company, and I like seeing a difference between the two companies playing out on film. The dark, often funny yet emotional tone of this film really kept me entertained.

Finally, the backstory for each character was perfect. It was just enough to keep the audience interested and leave us wanting more from them in future films. If each character was given a 15-20 backstory, the film would be five hours long. Plus, the inclusion of Batman, The Flash and The Joker as background characters was a great call. They added just enough to the film to keep the audience interested and eager to see them more in the future. The Joker was a part of Harley’s character growth, and Leto’s performance has left me excited for more of him in the larger DC universe.

Overall, Suicide Squad was an A+ film. The critics seem to not understand comic book movies, and seem to not have the ability to just enjoy a film for what it is anymore. This isn’t an “Oscar” worthy film, but it’s fantastic nonetheless. I loved the blend of science fiction, real world grit and magic, because that’s what DC Comics has always been about. This is a work of art that I will see over and over again, and I’m so excited for the future of DC films. Be sure to see the film for yourself now if you haven’t yet, and if you did let me know what you thought in the comments below!

@suicidesquadsource
@rockonrequest

Check out my review of Suicide Squad on my official blog over on On Request Magazine!

DC Comics Rebirth #1 Review:

One of the most intricate storylines to be introduced to the great DC comics mythology has got to be DC Comics Rebirth. In issue #1, written by
Geoff Johns, showcases a deep plot that explains a lot of the rewrites and storylines that have been written since the incredible Flashpoint
storyline. Focusing on a time and reality displaced Wally West, who is on the verge of being absorbed into the speed force, the issue showcases
both past and present storylines and shows that after the events of Flashpoint, before time could right itself, an all-powerful being took
10 years away from the heroes, destroying relationships and removing legends and heroes altogether. Wally is the only one who remembers the
original timeline, and he must race to find someone who can bring him out of the speed force before he dies, for it’s not only his life on the
line, but the entire multiverse as this being still looms large as a threat to the heroes.

Now the twists and turns in this story were absolutely amazing. The emotional core that comes with Wally’s story and his struggle to save his
universe and correct what’s been broken makes the issue all worthwhile, and the big twist that comes with the revelation of a new power in the
multiverse makes this an unforgettable issue. Both longtime and new fans of DC Comics will feel a strong connection to this new storyline, and
the future looks bright with one of the most creative comic books in recent history. Geoff Johns did a wonderful job writing this story and if
this is any indication of what the coming story will entail, fans are in for a big treat. Be sure to tune into the latest developments with
DC Comics Rebirth in the months to come!