The Role of Witches

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Typically, I spend the month of October, attempting a month-long marathon in the vein of FreeForm’s “31 Nights of Halloween” (formerly 13). So, originally, I had intended to make this post about that, focusing on some of my favorite Halloween TV specials and movies. However, in light of certain events, I decided I wanted to look at the role of women in Halloween culture.

The most obvious figure, is the witch. In Salem 1692, these were individuals who supposedly were in league with the devil. Over time, they have become almost exclusively women and, for a long time, almost exclusively evil. In 1939, the Wicked Witch of the West was the frightening antagonist with the green skin and hooked nose who was thwarted with help from Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. This beautiful ginger got a name and a sparkly pink dress and crown, while our anonymous friend looked severe and dour in the traditional dour black dress and conical hat.

In The Wizard of Oz, good and evil are both represented by witches/strong female characters (although protagonist Dorothy later needs to be saved by her men). In typical fashion, they are characterized by their appearance, but they both demonstrate a great amount of power. Almost 54 years later Disney released another good example of strong women on both sides: Hocus Pocus (1993).

In Hocus Pocus, the Sanderson sisters are three witches who cast a curse just before they are hanged in 1693 Salem. The curse enables them to be resurrected 100 years later to exact their revenge. Played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, these witches are not so obviously “ugly”, and, in the case of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, she’s actually quite beautiful. Instead, the “ugliness” is in their actions and personalities and in how they aren’t especially intelligent.

In contrast, there’s our protagonists, siblings Max and Dani Dennison, Max’s beautiful crush, Allison Watts, and 17th Century Salem resident-turned-cat, the immortal Thackery Binx. Although the protagonist is decidedly Max (and to some extent, Binx), he is often outshined by Dani and Allison’s intelligence and resourcefulness. Max is the one who starts the trouble, and while he finishes it with his bravery, the beautiful girls more often than not prove to be the more intelligent characters.

Hocus Pocus and The Wizard of Oz share some key similar traits in how they portray women, with good and evil females on both sides, and the evil ones less beautiful or intelligent. However, where The Wizard of Oz, also gives its strength and intelligence to the male protagonists, Hocus Pocus reflects the changing times by making the females the more capable characters.

In the years since Hocus Pocus, witches have more and more often been portrayed as forces for good: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992, 1997-2005), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003), Charmed (1998-2006, 2018-), Harry Potter (1997-2007, 2001-2011), The Good Witch (2008, 2015-) … the list goes on. The point is, women have been taking back that word. Because, let’s be realistic, what is a witch but a woman who has power beyond male understanding? Witches don’t need men and cannot be controlled by them (which is why some of them choose romantic partners that are not your standard human man: Willow and Tara, Scarlet Witch and The Vision (a cyborg created by an alien intelligence and hyper-sophisticated AI)).

Today, witches are again being threatened. See, it’s no longer just witches threatening the patriarchy. More than ever, women are standing up for injustices that have previously gone unacknowledged, but also/still receiving pushback. Women are looking for the same autonomy, power, and resources afforded to men; the right to feel safe and secure. While women have been restricted and vilified as witches, (wealthy, white) men continue to exhibit poor behavior and decision making skills without consequence. For centuries, women have been silenced, burned at the stake (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially). It’s never been okay and now that people are voicing that opinion it’s even more important that we keep standing up and saying it. Because these voices are having an impact, the opposing side is becoming more frantic and eager to silence them. While this message seems to be gaining ground socially, it seems to be stagnating politically. For the first time in my life, I am actively encouraging political participation. Vote, take a stand; things are never going to change when we have politicians who want them to stay the same. Find the power within yourself to be a witch; someone who cannot be controlled and expects respect and equality.

Consider what kind of world you want to live in: one where Dorothy needs to be rescued by a Scarecrow and the hero is a boy who summoned a trio of evil witches (NEVER light the Black Flame Candle), or one where Captain Marvel is supposedly going to be the most powerful character in the MCU and Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins’s success is leading to the DCEU actively recruiting female directors for female-lead superhero films? (A historically male-oriented genre wants to explore powerful women without asking them to wear a sexy outfit.) This October, almost 55 years after its pilot aired, we’re even getting a female Doctor on Doctor Who! (Seriously, I could go on…)

 

So this year, rather than be a sexy witch for Halloween, be a powerful one all the time.

The “Miraculous” Mistake

Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir is a French cartoon, created by Zagtoon and Method Animation in conjunction with Toei Animation (Sailor MoonOne Piece) and South Korean studio SAMG Animation. Although it premiered in South Korea, its primary distributor is the French television network, TF1. Its original airdate is listed as September 2015 and in the United States it first aired on Nickelodeon before moving to Netflix beginning with the 2016 Christmas Special.

(Believe it or not, all that background information is important to this post.)

Okay, so what is it about? *SOFT SPOILERS AHEAD*

Well, it is about the teenage superhero Ladybug and her partner, Cat Noir (Chat Noir (“Black Cat”) in France) as they combat the evil machinations of Hawkmoth (Papillion (“Butterfly”) in France). Hawkmoth is looking to get Ladybug and Cat Noir’s Miraculouses, the items that make them superheroes. The Ladybug and Cat Noir Miraculouses are considered the most powerful and acquiring them will enable Hawkmoth to get his greatest wish. Hawkmoth has his own Miraculous, one that gives him the power to take control of people’s anger and turn them into supervillains. He uses them to try and take the other Miraculouses.

The show has global distribution and, most recently, won a Teen Choice Award this past summer. Last year, there were plans for 5-6 seasons and a live action movie with Lionsgate. So, what’s the problem? Well, as I mentioned, the show originally aired 2015-16, with a Christmas Special in 2016. The fanbase, although somewhat obscure, is huge and passionate and was deeply looking forward to season two… which didn’t premier in France until the end of October 2017.

It didn’t come to the US until the end of March 2018.

Okay, so shows have hiatuses, what’s the problem? Well, here we are almost a year later and France’s sporadic airdates have resulted in only 16 episodes airing in France, 13 in the US (the remaining 12 are expected to drop on Netflix this December), of an expected 25 episodes. Now, Miraculous isn’t the first show to be so sporadic. In the US, fans of Adventure Time (2010-2018), Star vs. The Forces of Evil (2015-), and especially Steven Universe (2013-) have long been frustrated by long hiatuses. However, these shows aired more episodes more close together before their hiatuses, though they too fall out of interest over time.

Adventure Time was a huge success for Cartoon Network, but I hardly hear about it anymore, even though the SERIES FINALE literally just aired this week. Star vs. The Forces of Evil was another popular show, but over a year hiatus between seasons led that to fall out of high interest. Steven Universe has aired sporadically enough that the rabid fanbase has stayed consistent. Miraculous, with its grand plans of a global franchise, does not have this luxury.

Miraculous relies on when it airs in France. Episodes here and there will premier earlier in other countries, but in the US, the episodes will not be released until a certain number have aired in France. Now, this would not be a problem were it not for the grand plans Zagtoon has for its property. Despite its Teen Choice Award win, it has yet to gain a strong foothold in the US. While the United States is not the be all and end all, it is a huge producer and exporter of entertainment properties.

Additionally, for many of these shows, while they are meant for children, the most excited and excitable fans are adults. However, it’s merchandise that sells. Cartoon Network does it best, flooding stores with toys, apparel, school supplies, etc to get children not only buying but keeping the show in the public interest. Essentially, in absence of content, the goal is to keep visibility across the market.

Although I cannot imagine a scenario in which Miraculous and Zagtoon are not reliant on TF1, the unpredictable hiatuses in conjunction with a season of controversy has frustrated and alienated fans. The first season, which has less continuity was a huge success for everyone, but did not rely on a constant schedule, though it did have that. After years of waiting, fans are impatient and frustrated and the release schedule is only exacerbating the problem.

This “Miraculous” Mistake is costing the show.

I’m not at all familiar with the French Entertainment Industry, but it seems like a great disservice is being done to what was an ambitious and creative project to begin with. I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done to rectify it beyond TF1 just airing the episodes (which are ready to be released in multiple languages). My concern is that the show will be canceled before it can accomplish all it looks to. I’ve had my own frustrations with the content, but have tried to remain optimistic that, given enough time and episodes, the show will return to and surpass the quality of the first season. Perhaps in another post I can better address my opinions on the show itself, but for now, it’s difficult to move past the frustrations.

I’d like to close this post by giving you a taste of the show. The Pilot Video, which demonstrates a greater amount of influence from Toei Animation, and a Trailer for what has actually aired/been released. (Believe it or not, the 45 second Netflix trailer is a better representation than the original 2 minute one.)

Best Viewing Order of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of my “Best Viewing Order of the Marvel Cinematic Universe”!  Previously, I gave my list and covered my reasoning for going in release order for the first 9 movies. We are solidly within Phase 2, so time to deviate a little…

Here’s a reminder of the order I went with:
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Black Panther (2018)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

*My feelings about Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) are covered at the end of this post.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: This movie occurs around the same time as Winter Soldier and is the first film to not feature Earth/Midgard.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2Volume 2 takes place within months of the original.

Considering the effect the Guardians have on Earth and vice versa, these movies could be watched right before Infinity War and make sense. (Really, as long as it’s after Phase 1.) I put these two together because they occur within months of each other. I put them before Age of Ultron because it provides a sense of time passing between the events of Winter Soldier and Ultron, which occurs a year later. It also allows for passage of time between the Guardians last outing and Infinity War, where a teenage Groot makes it clear that time has passed. (That being said, the Post Credits Scene does indicate that same passage of time.)

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Another culmination, we are given the aftermath of the actions of our Earth-centric heroes since Avengers. Tony Stark/Iron Man has created a new home/base for himself and the Avengers, Thor’s life with Jane has been settled on Earth/Midgard, Steve Rogers/Captain America and Sam Wilson/Falcon have been conducting their own search and found refuge in the aftermath of Winter Soldier. This is another film that serves as an end and a beginning, shaking up things on Earth.

 

Ant-Man: Unlike some other characters (Doctor Strange), Scott Lang/Ant-Man is not even mentioned before his solo movie. Ant-Man is a unique character because he is heavily influenced by portrayer, Paul Rudd, on a level beyond Robert Downey Jr.’s impact on Iron Man. Like another Marvel superhero (one that falls under the Fox banner), Paul Rudd served as a writer on the film, providing influence beyond his own characterization. Here the release date again corresponds well with the MCU Chronology; the Post Credit Scene is a scene from the next film, Civil War, in which Ant-Man has a solid role.

 

Captain America: Civil War: Where Iron Man and Iron Man 3 open Phases 1 and 2 by establishing the world in which the characters exist, this film takes it further. Rather than demonstrating what the world is or the impact of momentous changes, Civil War shakes things up. We are given the aftermath of Ultron and introduced to new characters, but the events of this film have a devastating effect on the characters and the world at large. It is a fitting beginning to Phase 3, which takes us directly to Infinity War.

 

Black Panther: As mentioned above, despite being released two years after Civil War, it actually takes place only two weeks later. In some ways it is fitting that this film directly precedes the release of Infinity War; Wakanda plays a pivotal role in the movie. That being said, time has passed between Black Panther and Infinity War. Additionally, Black Panther is directly impacted by the events of Civil War, so it makes sense to look at this film as the aftermath.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Spider-Man was introduced to the MCU in Civil War, and occurs not long after. This film is interesting because it shows how the Battle of New York impacted the average person. With so many movies being released between Avengers and Spider-Man, it’s easy to feel that passage of time. It’s fair to say that the events occur after Black Panther, but provide us with an idea of how the Avengers have been affected by Civil War.

 

Doctor Strange: Although the good doctor is mentioned in Winter Soldier, the actual timeline of this film is incredibly hard to pin down. The events span at least a year, though when that year is, is up for debate. I put this film directly before Ragnarok because of the Post Credit Scene and the solid role that Doctor Steven Strange plays. Ragnarok and Infinity War establish Strange as a significant player in the MCU.

 

Thor: Ragnarok: This movie leads directly into Infinity WarRagnarok shakes up the genre, not so much because of the events (which are fairly standard for Thor), but because of the vitality that director Taika Waiti brings. It’s a refreshing take that reintroduces Bruce Banner/Hulk and Thor and explains what they’ve been doing since Ultron. The Post Credit Scene leads directly into the opening of Infinity War, so even though it was released months before, there’s really no better place for it. Many argue that this is one of the films you have to see for Infinity War to make sense.

 

SPOILER WARNING: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Although released after Infinity War, it takes place around the same time and its Post Credit Scene reveals the end of Infinity War. On the one hand, this could serve as a foreshadow, much like the breadcrumbs left in Phase 1 before Captain America. It also explains where they were during Infinity War. The Post Credit Scene of Infinity War does set up for the next Avengers film, so watching Ant-Man & Wasp before Infinity War would create a linear chronology, but…

Honestly, it’s a matter of preference. Like the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp is very much a Paul Rudd movie before it is a Marvel movie, so it is considerably lighter than Infinity War. It could serve as a pallet cleanser following the dark ending of Infinity War. Or, if you really want to put the effort in, you could watch Ant-Man & Wasp but watch the Post Credit Scene after watching Infinity War, thereby avoiding the spoiler, but all of this assumes that you are watching both movies for the first time.

While this entire post is just my opinion, this is an area where I feel you have to make the judgment for yourself. I absolutely see the benefit of watching Ant-Man & Wasp before Infinity War, but, having watched both when they were released in theaters, I was actually grateful for the lighter fare offered by Ant-Man & Wasp.

Best Viewing Order of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Part One

In the 10 days leading up to Avengers: Infinity War (2018), I rewatched all 18 films in the MCU franchise. While this was by no means necessary, I maintain– even months later– that this film was totally worth it. (Note: I am talking about REwatching, not viewing these films for the first time. That is a different discussion for another day.) I knew months out that I wanted to do this since 1) As a teacher, I would have a week off in April, and 2) Infinity War is the culmination of 10 years and nearly 20 movies.

But, I had a problem: what order do I watch them in? It’s well known that the release dates do not necessarily correspond to the MCU timeline (ex: Black Panther (2018) released just before Infinity War takes place 2 weeks after Captain America: Civil War (2016); Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) takes place only months after the original, despite being released 3 years later). So, what should I do? Do I watch them in the order they were released to get the most authentic experience (it could be that release dates/order correspond to some kind of artistic choice, but it’s more likely monetary motivations), or do I try to puzzle out the chronology?

After way too much time spent researching, it is safe to say I went with the latter.

This is the order I went with:
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

 

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Black Panther (2018)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

 

*I discuss Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) at the end of Part Two.

 

That list is my quick answer. Now, let me explain why.

 

Iron Man: Jon Favreau’s entry did more than just open a franchise. This film revitalized the superhero film genre and the career of Robert Downey Jr. as well as position Marvel (without creative involvement from other studios) as a major player in the industry, eventually evolving into the now hugely successful Marvel Studios. In addition to how it changed the industry, Iron Man also introduces key concepts, setting the tone for future films and serving as an example to follow. Its influence can be felt throughout the MCU. I cannot express enough the significance of this film, but would also like to add that it totally holds up upon rewatch.

 

The Incredible Hulk: This film was released only a little more than a month after Iron Man and thus does not have its influence. This film is the early days of Marvel, just barely beginning to discover its formula. As a character, Bruce Banner/The Hulk has been hugely popular over the years, but making a solo movie has proven surprisingly challenging. As a result, this film is not well remembered and very little carries over into the greater MCU. It’s not actually a bad film, though, and serves a clear purpose in reintroducing Banner/Hulk and serving as a pallet cleanser following Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). Tony Stark does appear in the post-credit scene, though, forming a bridge between Iron Man and its sequel, which was released next.

 

Iron Man 2: Production began following the positive reception and huge box office returns from the first Iron Man film. In the movie, some time has passed since Tony Stark’s big reveal. It better establishes Nick Fury and SHIELD, as well as introduced Howard Stark as a key player in its history, a reveal that is expanded on in Captain America. It also introduced Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, although we will not see her again until Avengers.

 

Thor: The events of this movie occur at roughly the same time as Iron Man 2 and is even mentioned in that movie. Thor was designed to follow Iron Man 2. Like Incredible Hulk, it was also another of Marvel’s experiments in establishing its brand. The movie introduces part of the greater universe, Asgard, and explains how the human mythology was developed– something that is referenced in Captain America. Many of the characters and elements come into play in the movies that follow, and its post-credit scene sets up not only Captain America but the Avengers as well.

 

Captain America: The First Avenger: When I first decided I wanted to have my marathon, I had originally planned to watch this movie first, but then saw a blog post while I was doing research that pointed out that Captain America expands on breadcrumbs dropped in the other movies. Knowing the details of those topics isn’t helpful and can add confusion (SHIELD doesn’t even have an acronym until the end of Iron Man). Also, the beginning and end of the movie take place in the present and lead directly into Avengers (the post-credit scene is in the movie itself). This movie is a prequel through and through and the reality is that the chronology of Phase 1 really does line up with the release dates.

 

Marvel’s The Avengers: The end of Phase 1! This movie brings together the characters and plot threads introduced (mainly in Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America), including Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Phil Coulson, and Nick Fury. It also expands on SHIELD introducing additional support staff such as Maria Hill. Additionally, reintroduces and retcons Bruce Banner/The Hulk with Mark Ruffalo’s on point casting. This film establishes the Avengers as a group and sets up for the next phase. The events have a ripple effect that spreads through all the films that follow.

 

Iron Man 3: This film opens Phase 2 and demonstrates the direct effects and aftermath of Avengers and the Battle of New York, informing the character development and overall arc of Tony Stark/Iron Man and his relationship with Pepper Potts. The role of James Rhodes/War Machine continues to increase following Iron Man 2 and gives the audience an idea of what he gets up to before his reappearance in Age of Ultron.

 

Thor: The Dark World: Although the composition is an absolute train wreck, this movie provides a lot of valuable information. It occurs after Iron Man 3 and two years after the events of the first Thor. We learn Loki’s fate from the previous movies as well as revisit Jane, Darcy, and Selvig. A new Infinity Stone is introduced, moving us away from the Tesseract of Phase 1.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: While Iron Man 3 and Dark World transition into Phase 2, this movie introduces drastic changes with an impact on par with Avengers. With two movies supporting the fact that two years have passed since Avengers, this film shakes up SHIELD, the organization that has been the foundation/support for the Avengers. It also has personal consequences for Steve Rogers/Captain America and directly informs his character arc, much like Iron Man 3 did for Tony Stark/Iron Man.

 

Because this is insanely long, I decided to break it into two pieces. I wrote a lot of words and its a lot to read and process, so I continue to explain my reasoning in Part Two, which I will post tomorrow.