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Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 and History

Another year has passed, 2017 has come to a close, and we wait to see what 2018 holds. 2017, however, has seen the anniversaries of several important historical events, and many other events which can be explained through history. For 2017's final blog post I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at historical anniversaries and some of 2017's headlines to see how they fit in world history. Due to the amount of things which have happened over the last year I cannot talk about everything and I'll only talk of events which I feel that I can (somewhat) accurately explain. As my specialty are the nineteenth and twentieth centuries most of what I'll discuss will be from these two centuries.

The Reformation 500 Years On
Luther and the Reformation
The first event which we're going to look at is the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther supposedly nailed his criticisms of the practices of the Catholic Church - his 95 theses - on the door of the Wittenberg Church - although it is far likelier that he sent them to prominent bishops and theologians. This started the split between the Western Christian church between Catholics and Protestants. A detailed look at the Reformation can be found in one of my recent blog posts here. Luther was not the only critic of the Church to emerge. In Switzerland Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin emerged, in England Henry VIII formed his own movement when the pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and across Europe people sided with either the pope or the reformers. Despite how long ago the Reformation was it still greatly shapes the world we live in. For example, several historians have argued that the Wars of Religion helped lay the groundwork for secularization. The many wars, (such as the Thirty Years War, 1618-48, and the French Wars of Religion, 1562-98), forced a compromise between the warring factions. Limited religious tolerance was offered in the peace treaties which ended the wars; although of course it was only tolerance for the religious sects which fought one another, some of the worst persecution of Jews until the Second World War in Western and Central Europe occurred during the Wars of Religion. In Britain the wars resulted in the strengthening of the parliament, first with Cromwell's rule and later with the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688/9. In many areas of Europe, and the world, the Catholic/Protestant divide is still very prevalent and shapes thought. For example, Northern Irish politics is extremely divided on sectarian lines with the DUP - who are currently in coalition with the Conservative party - running on a very strict Protestant platform. 

India's Two Anniversaries
India witnessed two traumatic anniversaries this year which greatly influenced the forming of today's India. The first was the 1857 Indian Rebellion - although you may also see it referred to as the First War of Indian Independence, Indian Mutiny, the Indian Uprising, or Great Rebellion. For years resentment towards British, and the East India Company which was ruling India. 1857 the resentment spilled over. The East India Company (and Britain) had been using Indians in the army and had introduced a new rifle, the Enfield, which required the user to bite a greased cartridge. A rumor abounded that beef and pork fat were being used which led to many Indian soldiers to refuse to use the rifle. As a result on May 9 the commanding officer of the Third Bengal Light Cavalry in Meerut sentenced 85 troopers to ten years' hard labor and publicly humiliated them. This caused a widespread rebellion from Indian soldiers in Northern India which spread to the Indian masses. Some soldiers around Delhi declared the aged Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah, emperor of all of India. Indian soldiers massacred British citizens when they took towns, cities, and barricades which enraged British troops who committed bloody atrocities against Indians in revenge. By November 1, 1858 the rebellion had been put down costing the lives of up to 806,000 through massacres, battles, disease and famine. Despite early victories the rebellion was defeated for several reasons. The East India Company had three armies - the Bombay, Madras and Bengal - and only the Bengal army mutinied. In fact, some parts of the Bombay and Madras armies were used to fight the rebels. As the Bengal army had helped conquer a Sikh princely state Sikhs were widely used to put down the rebellion in the Punjab. The 1857 Rebellion was only confined to northern India, but if it had happened across India there was a strong possibility that British rule could have ended in India. The rebels were also very divided. When soldiers declared that Bahadur Shah's power had been restored this deterred Hindus, Christians and Sikhs from supporting the rebellion, (the Mughals were a Muslim power). With a divided rebellion it prevented it from being a success. Following the Uprising Indian-British relations were changed. The brutal crushing of the rebellion greatly soured relations and it remained prevalent in imperial (and indigenous) records for the following century. The East India Company was dissolved, Victoria made Empress, the three armies were merged into one, and Indians were declared subjects. Declaring Indians subjects also raised questions for many Indians. Many asked, if we are subjects why do we lack the same rights as the British? Indian nationalism would grow exponentially after 1857.
Refugees after Partition
This brings us to the second anniversary: the Partition of India. Britain continued with the East India Company's policy of divide-and-rule which set different ethnicities, religions and castes against one another instead of creating a united force against the British. More can be found about on my post on Partition here so I shall try and give a brief summary. Thanks to divide-and-rule policies different religions formed their own nationalist, or reform, movements. Two which emerged were the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. Mohandas Gandhi became involved with Congress and turned it into a mass movement attracting millions of supporters. Slowly the movements managed to obtain limited constitutional reforms from the British. However, due to Hindu domination of Congress (something accidentally caused by Gandhi) many Muslims feared Hindu domination in a post-independence India, including Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League. In 1933 nationalist Choudhry Rahmat Ali coined the name Pakistan and Muslim activists championed this idea. Until recently it had been believed that Jinnah drove a wedge between Muslims and Hindus leading to Partition, but recent historiography, such as by Ayesha Jalal, has argued that it was a desperate attempt to get compensation out of Congress. Following the Second World War British rule in India collapsed so Britain opted to haphazardly divide India using out of date maps and censuses in August 1947. This left millions of people trapped on the wrong side of the border. A refugee crises emerged as massacres and rapes took place in an attempt to ensure areas were part of India or Pakistan. Around 2% of India's population remained refugees in 1951. This division has drastically shaped the Indian subcontinent since 1947.

On December 6 Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, something which has been vetoed by the UN, causing another wave of protests across Palestine and the world. This came a month after the centenary of the Balfour Declaration which was signed by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour. This can largely be seen as the event which set the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into motion. During the late-nineteenth century nationalism was widespread across Europe and the Middle East. Discrimination of Jews was prevalent across Europe so Jewish intellectuals, primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, thought of an idea called Zionism. If Jews were to stop being persecution they needed their own homeland, and that they had a homeland before but had been expelled by the Romans. They wanted to reform Israel (as a republic not a kingdom) in Palestine. They also assumed that the Arabs would accept them being a fellow Semitic people, and that they would want 'civilizing' by Europeans (Social Darwinism was very prevalent in the 1800s). Especially thanks to the intense antisemitism of the Dreyfus Affair - where a blatantly innocent French Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of being a German spy - support for Zionism grew. At this early stage the proposed Israel was meant to be a state for Jews - the Balfour Declaration even uses the phrase 'national homeland for the Jews' - not a Jewish state. In 1917 Arthur Balfour declared that Britain would help form a Zionist state despite opposition from Palestinians, non-Zionist Jews, and the fact that Britain had already promised Palestine to Hussein bin Ali to be part of the pan-Arab state. Palestine was declared a British mandate and Britain implemented divide-and-rule policies in the region. Eventually, in 1948 two states were meant to be formed: Israel and Palestine. In the first Arab-Israeli War - sometimes called the Israeli War of Independence or the Nakba - saw Palestine divided between its neighbors. Following the 1967 Six Day War Israel annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem. For political reasons it was largely agreed to recognize Tel Aviv as Israel's capital and Ramallah as Palestine's, or West Jerusalem as Israel's and East Jerusalem as Palestine's, to respect both Israel and Palestine. By recognizing Jerusalem as being Israel's capital this ignores Palestine's claims.

You may be hearing on the news about talks of a Third Intifada. There were two intifadas - the first 1987 to 1991 and the second 2000-5 - which were periods of intense Palestinian uprisings against Israel. Some have argued that Trump's relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem and the IDF's brutal crackdown on Palestinian protesters may cause a Third Intifada.

Climate Change
This summer saw some of the most intense climate events in recent years which included Hurricane Harvey; Irma; floods in Niger, India, and Nepal; intense wildfires in California; and cold winters across the northern hemisphere. These intense bouts of intense weather have been attributed to climate change caused by global warming. Not too long ago I wrote about the Little Ice Age which brought intense climate change caused by a drop in global temperatures. Among these were hailstorms which wiped out crops, frozen lakes in June, and even the Thames freezing over. Understanding the Little Ice Age helps us understand how we can face climate change. Geoffrey Parker in particular has written about how adverse weather and climate affected societies worldwide in the 'Crisis of the Seventeenth Century.' In China the Ming were bloodily overthrown; religious wars ravaged Europe; succession wars hit the Mughals, Ottomans and the Kongo; and famines, floods, and droughts plagued all the world. Although bad weather did not cause these conflicts it made these conflicts worse. As humans continue contributing to climate change by looking at the Little Ice Age we can understand how to cope with global warming.

Centenary of Russian Revolutions
Lenin and the Masses
In 1917 Russia saw two revolutions: the February and the October. These two revolutions shook both Russia and the world. For over a century Russia had been trying to slowly reform itself. In 1905 a revolution caused by frustration over defeat in the Russo-Japanese War caused the creation of a parliament, the Duma, although it was extremely weak and gave the tsar large amounts of power. The First World War brought issues to a head. On International Women's Day Social Revolutionaries handed pamphlets to women in Petrograd (St Petersburg) waiting in line for bread. This escalated into a protest and strike, and eventually into a revolution which caused the overthrowing of the tsar. The new Russian republic began many widespread reforms - including emancipating Jews and women - but it soon became unpopular. Many in Russia, especially the peasantry, wanted a clean break with tsarist Russia, different nationalities wanted increased autonomy, and many wanted an end to the war. Then the Bolsheviks rose to prominence. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin the Bolsheviks were originally a faction of the Social Revolutionaries deeply inspired by Marxist theory. The Bolsheviks and Lenin promising peace, bread, land and autonomy struck a chord with soldiers, urban workers, peasants and some minorities. Following the crushing of the Bolsheviks during the July Offensive and the arrest of certain leaders, including Leon Trotsky, sympathy for the Bolsheviks rose. Eventually by November (October in Russia which was still using the Julian calendar), the Bolsheviks under Lenin rose up and seized the Winter Palace in Petrograd. Lenin, walking into the Duma, declared 'We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.' Thus the most influential revolution of the twentieth century took place inspiring millions around the world to do the same from Mexico to China. Many people today are influenced by Marxist theory - including myself, although I am more influenced by Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci than Lenin and Trotsky - and the October Revolution helped contribute to this. Although clearly bias I would highly recommend Trotsky's own account, called The History of the Russian Revolution, which is a gripping read detailing the events of both revolutions.

In November long-term president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was forced to resign after being in power since 1980. Earlier I wrote about Mugabe if you are interested so I'll do a brief summary here. The prime reason why Mugabe was forced to resign by the military was his replacement of Emmerson Mnangwa with his wife, Grace Mugabe. However, Mugabe remains popular in Zimbabwe, and the opposition leaders and military have stated that because of his legacy they chose to go through legal procedures to oust him. Mugabe was one of the key figures in the War of Independence against the minority, white-rule government with his party, ZANU-PF, being incredibly popular with many Zimbabweans. The first few years of Mugabe's premiership were very well received and if he had resigned in the mid-1980s he may even have been popular in the West; after all he was even knighted by the Queen. It is quite telling with the North Atlantic viewpoint that Mugabe was only criticized for his treatment of white farmers in Europe and the USA, and not his period of ethnic violence called the Gukurahundi. One thing to note about the recent resignation is something which has been prevalent in Zimbabwean politics since 1980: the treatment of veterans. Many critics of Mugabe have noted his abandonment of veterans of the independence war leaving many with no job prospects. Mnangwa is also a veteran so his replacement by Grace Mugabe was seen as an even greater affront.

Japan and Korea
Throughout 2017 North Korea has been in the news for testing nuclear missiles. Although this has partially been thanks to Trump's bellicose rhetoric, including this tweet which I thought was satire by The Onion when he was in Vietnam. You may have noticed that Pyongyang has been firing missiles over Hokkaido. We all know by now why Korea is divided so I thought it would be more interesting to look at why there is hostility between North Korea and Japan. When Japan started to get involved in international politics after 1868 they felt threatened by European and American imperialism so began a course of imperialism themselves. They soon turned on the small Kingdom of Korea to the north; first they muscled China out of the way and began influencing Korean politics to prevent Russian interference. Japanese thinkers believed that Asia had to unite, but only the Japanese were capable of uniting Asians. In 1910 they annexed Korea and began a process of 'Japanizing' Koreans. From 1910 to 1945 Japanese politicians started implementing policies to 'Japanify' Korea including banning Korean in Japan; banning Korean dress; attempting to replace Korean names with Japanese ones; and having Japanese landowners buy land in Korea. I would highly recommend watching the Korean romantic thriller The Handmaiden to see this in effect. During the Second World War Koreans were forcibly conscripted into the Japanese army, forced to work in factories producing arms, and Korean women were forced to be 'comfort women' for Japanese soldiers. Korea was split after 1945 between the communist DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) under Kim Il Sung, and the capitalist ROK (Republic of Korea) under Syngman Rhee. The legacies of Japanese rule, and a lack of apology for said rule, has meant that animosity continues to pervade not only DPRK-Japanese relations but also ROK-Japanese ones. 
Shinzo Abe
This year Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election, and unlike the UK's snap election which caused Theresa May to lose her majority, Abe's Liberal Democratic party swept the board. The DPRK helped with this victory. After Japan's defeat in the Second World War the Allied powers wanted to make sure that Japan could not threaten them again. On May 3, 1947 (another anniversary) Japan had a new constitution implemented where Article 9 dissolved the Japanese military and forbade Japan from declaring war. Instead Japan would have a Self-Defense Force in case a country declared war on it. This was largely accepted by everyone in Japan: the left as it made pacifism in the constitution itself while the right liked it as it let them focus on getting foreign investment to fuel capitalist growth. Abe ran on a platform of reversing Article 9 where in the light of North Korean missile tests made Japanese voters sympathetic to. Whether it will be passed we'll find out in 2018.

Something in the USA
Much has happened in the USA this year. We could compare Trump's travel bans to the Chinese Exclusion Act and anti-immigration acts; how the Confederate statues link to the South's dark past where millions were enslaved; or how Trump's banning of transgendered soldiers and talks at prominent homophobic events links to the LGBTQ+ community's struggle for rights. We could also compare the Democrats emphasis on Russian interference in the election and anti-Russian hysteria to that of Cold War hysteria (I've seen a few people suggest that Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein being Russian stooges), or how the USA has also interfered in elections (including the 1996 Russian election). However, I want to focus on this one giant mess which Trump caused.
Again, I thought this initially was a joke
In November at an event honoring the Navajo Code Breakers Trump made a Pocahontas joke about Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren in front of a painting of Andrew Jackson. I must admit part of me died hearing that, and there's lots to unpack here. First off Pocahontas. Pocahontas has been deeply involved with America's cultural heritage, but she has become a figure of myth. Pocahontas was the daughter of Wahunsenacawh (called Powhatan by Europeans), the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah. English settlers had arrived in Virginia and by 1607 conflicts over land had caused tension between the settlers and Powhatan. In American lore Pocahontas stopped her father from executing explorer John Smith by jumping over his body before the killing blow. Historians believe this to be fabricated, especially as in his diaries this happens several times. Pocahontas was captured by the settlers in 1613 where she converted to Christianity, we are not entirely sure though if she was forced to or not. In order to create peace Pocahontas, at the age of 17, was married off to tobacco planter John Rolfe in 1614. Rolfe seemed to genuinely love Pocahontas (who went by the name Rebecca) and her accounts seem to suggest that she respected but did not love him. Pocahontas was eventually taken to Britain where she was paraded around as a 'civilized savage' (a precursor to what would happen during later European empires in the nineteenth century). She would never again see Virginia; aged either 20 or 21 she would pass away to be buried at Gravesend.

We have to go to the nineteenth century to understand why it is vastly inappropriate to have a painting of Andrew Jackson when honoring the Navajo Code Breakers. Jackson was president from 1829 to 1837 and was very much like Trump: brash and racist. Other than supporting slavery Jackson loathed Native Americans; while fighting the British during the War of 1812 forced the Creek to give up 23 million acres of land to the United States. In 1816 he would also lead a campaign against the Seminole. Years later he brought his racial hatred with him to the White House. Throughout his presidency he had around 70 treaties made which forced Native Americans off of their land. Perhaps the most famous was the 1830 Indian Removal Land which allowed the president the ability to create treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes in the Southern US. This began the Trial of Tears where thousands of Native Americans were forced from their land to go to Oklahoma, mostly on foot. It is difficult to estimate but almost 20,000 died through famine, disease or exhaustion during the Trial of Tears. Just over 16,500 Cherokee were evicted from their land where between 2,000 and 6,000 died along the way. 

Star Wars
Star Wars fans in 1977
To finish this post I thought it would be best to talk about something on a lighter note. Recently The Last Jedi was released, the same year as the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars. This franchise perhaps the most influential film franchise of all time. Using groundbreaking effects mixing Westerns with samurai movies George Lucas brought us an epic which revolutionized sci-fi and the movie industry. Other than movies Star Wars has spawned toys, comics, TV shows, video games, and even a Christmas special. Star Wars is just as popular in 2017 as it was in 1977.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post. For future blog posts please check out our Facebook or catch me on Twitter @LewisTwiby. If you want to discuss any other of 2017's events please feel free to leave a comment. Have a Happy New Year!

Friday, 22 December 2017

How I would bring the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Deadpool into the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel back together?
One of the big topics to be on the minds of every comic book fan recently is Disney purchasing a lot of Fox's movie and TV rights. Currently, we do not have a clear image how much Disney has bought but we do know that the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool have all been at least partially acquired by Disney. CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, has released a statement declaring that the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool will be worked into the MCU. Iger has also stated that R-rated Marvel films are not out of the question. Many comic book fans have been debating how they would bring these characters in, and I would highly recommend watching this YouTube video by Rob from ComicsExplained and Benny from Comicstorian on how they would do it. Rob on his own channel has also done several videos on how he would do the MCU X-Men/Fantastic Four. Today I thought I would do personally bring these characters into the MCU.

Fantastic Four
Also Fantastic Four not Fan4stic
The Fantastic Four must be treated with respect. Although I am not a big fan of the Fantastic Four comics they are incredibly influential and important in making Marvel what it is today. Marvel started out as Timely Comics and evolved into Atlas Comics during the 1950s, (which you can read about here), when the superhero trend started to dip after the Second World War. When DC made it big with the Justice League this brought superheroes back. Atlas was re-branded as Marvel and they made their own superhero team with the Fantastic Four. Unlike the Justice League, the Fantastic Four were a family and had family squabbles, and readers loved this. They had interstellar battles while going through family drama grounding the characters in reality. Up until the end of the 1970s the Fantastic Four was Marvel's biggest sellers, and when they wanted another team/character to explode in popularity they would team up with the Fantastic Four for an issue or two. Galactus, Silver Surfer, Black Panther and Dr Doom all made their debut in the pages of Fantastic Four. The MCU can do the Fantastic Four right compared to the previous three abysmal movies done by Fox.

I have not watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D but to my knowledge they have teased S.W.O.R.D. In the comics SWORD (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) is a branch of S.H.I.E.L.D designed to deal with intelligent alien life. We can imagine that following the events of The Avengers, Guardians Vol. 2 and Thor: The Dark World S.H.I.E.L.D decided that it needed its own division to combat alien threats if the Avengers were unavailable. I would have the Fantastic Four be part of S.W.O.R.D. A big issue then comes up: Reed Richards, (Mr Fantastic). In the comics Richards is the world's smartest person, possibly second only to Dr Doom or his daughter. Audiences would be wondering if he's so smart why hasn't Tony Stark or Bruce Banner mentioned him yet? The easy answer could simply be that we don't bring up Stephen Hawking in everyday conversation, but that is an easy way out. Richards could be a part-time lecturer at somewhere like MIT who has been secretly working for S.H.I.E.L.D, alongside Susan Storm, but the information was classified. They could have designed the Helicarriers etc. but Nick Fury has had their involvement classified so S.H.I.E.L.D's secrets could not get out. Then we get to Infinity War. When Thanos is invading we can have a simple comment from someone like Black Widow saying that S.W.O.R.D's best two scientists have gone up with two expert pilots to fortify the ISS or S.W.O.R.D's orbital base. Another comment would be made that solar rays released by Thanos' usage of the Infinity Stones has caused them to go silent. At the end of the movie, or in a post-credit scene, the ship arrives back on Earth and it turns out those who went up have powers thanks to the space rays. Thus we have the Fantastic Four in the MCU.

For the first Fantastic Four movie do not have Doctor Doom as the primary antagonist. Mention Doom but do not feature him. Tim Burton's Batman and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man could have the Joker and Green Goblin as the key antagonists because of how varied Batman's and Spider-Man's Rogues Galleries are. The Fantastic Four's Earth-based enemies are largely limited to Doom. However, most of Marvel's celestial universe originated with the Fantastic Four. Disney had to do a deal with Fox in order to get Ego in Guardians Vol. 2. The first Fantastic Four movie would work well if they went to space and we can link it back to S.W.O.R.D. Like how Iron Man was in The Amazing Spider-Man we can have Black Panther serve a similar role. There is so much to work with; we can introduce the Skrulls, the Shi'ar, the Titans. Maybe Annihilus could be the primary antagonist so we can bring in the Negative Zone and expand on the Multiverse as set out in Doctor Strange. After this first film we can have the Fantastic Four cameo, or star in, other MCU movies until they get sequels. 

Doctor Doom
Doctor Doom
Doctor Doom is one of my favorite Marvel villains and has yet to be done justice. We hit a problem though. Latveria is the joint most advanced country in Marvel's version of Earth - tying with Wakanda - and Dr Doom's quest for dominance knows no bounds. Wakanda so far in the movies has been quite effectively explained - it is an isolated advanced country hiding behind a facade of a poor, rural country. There is a simple way to explain why Doom and Latveria has yet to appear: Latveria until Infinity War was a regular Balkan country. I would have Doom take control of Latveria during the events of Infinity War. Someone could even make a passing comment. I can imagine Black Panther looking at a screen commenting where Thanos is invading and he makes a comment like 'The Latverian government has fallen to someone with advanced technology but I do not believe that this is related to Thanos' army.' That is Doom's introduction to the MCU. Then when we have our first Fantastic Four movie we have a Doom movie. In the Fantastic Four movie we have Mr Fantastic commenting to Black Panther in a brief conversation that he knows Doom, and that his heart is in the right place despite a massive ego. In the Marvel movies until we have the Fantastic Four v. Doom we show that despite an intense egomania Doom has toppled an apartheid state, brought equality, improved the rights of women, increased the standard of living for all Latverians, and has ended crime with his Doombots. Meanwhile, the Doom movie is basically an origin story for Doom. It sets up Latveria as a state virulently oppressing the Roma population, it establishes that Doom's mother is a witch who teaches him magic, and that he had been using technology mixed with magic to help his family. Maybe we can even bring in Mephisto who was influential in Doom's origins. Doom goes to the USA where he meets Richards and then Nepal where he trains with the Ancient One. We can even have a Doctor Strange cameo where Doom leaves, bumps into Strange, and then goes on his way. He returns to Latveria building up a resistance movement and then during the events of Infinity War he takes power. The movie closes with the first Doombot executing the other leaders of the resistance who oppose Doom's increased authoritarianism. Then in future movies he becomes a full blown antagonist.

The X-Men has a huge roster which could appear in the MCU
The X-Men is far trickier than the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom. Do we keep the old X-Men cast or do we get a new one? I cannot imagine Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X as anyone other than Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, but it would be confusing if we kept them and not everyone else. However, due to their age I doubt they all would be able to continue playing characters for several more movies for about ten more years. For Fox's Marvel TV series keep them in continuity when possible (I have yet to see them) but recast the main movies. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D introduced the Inhumans as the MCU's version of the mutants; we can keep that but use 'mutant' as a slur. Rob at ComicsExplained did an excellent video about how he would bring in the X-Men (please see here) but my idea is a mix between his and a user on Reddit u/TheUglyBuck back when the trailer for Infinity War was released. To summarize Rob's idea mutants and the X-Men have always been in existence but Professor X used Cerebro to wipe them from history, but after Infinity War everyone remembers. u/TheUglyBuck mentioned a reverse of 'No More Mutants.' In the comics Scarlet Witch and Vision couldn't have kids so using her reality warping powers she created twins. When they were wiped out of existence by Mephisto (whose soul she used to create them) she lost her mind, and Magneto manipulated her into making mutants the majority and humans the minority. Called The House of M it resulted in Scarlet Witch saying 'No More Mutants' and depowering over 90% of Earth's mutants. 

My plan sort of mixes the two. Throughout humanity mutants have existed but in very small numbers; maybe one hundred existing at once max at any point in time. Apocalypse, Wolverine, Sabretooth, Mystique, Professor X, Magneto, Storm and Jean Grey are just some mutants who had powers at birth. Over the last few years more and more have been appearing which are shown in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, Earth's mutant population still remains tinny, maybe 150 in total. Then Infinity War happens, Vision is killed, and Scarlet Witch loses control and suddenly turns hundreds of thousands of people into mutants. Suddenly fear of superpowered beings turn from a rather niche fear to a full blown, worldwide panic. The word 'inhuman' is replaced by 'mutant.' Then we have our first five MCU X-Men movies: a Professor X movie, a Magneto movie, a Wolverine movie, a Storm movie, and the X-Men movie. The Professor X movie is like how Rob explains in his video which is slower paced, more character driven, and goes into the history of mutants in the MCU. The Storm movie is similar where she encounters Black Panther as a child setting up their future relationship. The Magneto movie acts like Spike Lee's adaptation of Malcolm X's autobiography where he sees the persecution of mutants as the same as the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, and becomes involved in radical mutant activism. The Wolverine movie is basically X-Men Origins: Wolverine done right. Finally the X-Men movie adapts the first issue of the comics where Professor X brings together Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, Beast and Angel to prevent Magneto from using stolen nuclear weapons to wipe out cities. Then we get a second Wolverine movie (featuring his time in Japan and possibly introducing Daken), a Jean Grey movie, a Mystique movie, a Gambit movie and then the second X-Men movie. This second movie blends Giant Size X-Men #1 and God Loves, Man Kills where the first X-Men are kidnapped so Professor X recruits Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Polaris, Nightcrawler, Sunspot and Havok to rescue them. Meanwhile, they face the repercussions of the last movie with hate preacher William Stryker denouncing mutants, and we later find out that it is connected.

Do not do Avengers vs. X-Men immediately. We all know how the DCEU fared when it jumped straight to Batman v. Superman. One thing I want to mention is bringing the MCU together. A criticism of the MCU movies is why don't other characters appear in other movies? Where was Thor, Hulk and Iron Man in Captain America: Winter Soldier? Why didn't Iron Man get hold of Captain America in Iron Man 3? Earlier I mentioned Fantastic Four was Marvel's biggest seller until the 1970s, the reason why this stopped being the case was because of the X-Men. Everyone would be wondering why the Avengers aren't mentioned in the X-Men movies. A simple comment/cameo could fix all this. Like in the first X-Men Iron Man could offer his assistance but Professor X rejects this saying that mutants have to stop Magneto. It can even be smaller references like Magneto seeing a Captain America movie in his own movie. Of course the Wolverine movie specifically has to mention Captain America seen as the Weapon X program, which gave Wolverine adamantium covered bones, was an attempt to replicate the Super Solider serum. We can build the relationship up so the X-Men appear in an Avengers movie, the Avengers fully appear in a X-Men movie, and finally we get Avengers vs. X-Men.

Ryan Reynolds tweeted this saying 'Apparently you can't blow the Matterhorn.'
Deadpool is simple. Keep Ryan Reynolds and just have him acknowledge that he's in a new continuity. Deadpool should appear in the Avengers and X-Men movies where he wants to do his usual stuff but 'the Mouse won't allow it.' The entire movie he tries to say the f-word but can't, and PG-13 movies are allowed one f-bomb so he tries to save it for the end, but then Wolverine uses it. Deadpool could also make jokes that Chris Evans once played the Human Torch and says 'Aren't you supposed to be on fire or something?' We could even have a Spider-man/Deadpool movie. The comics are hilarious, it worked in the cartoons, and would work perfectly with Ryan Reynolds and Tom Holland together. The Deadpool solo movies would remain just as they are and the first one should open with a joke about Disney. For example, Deadpool could be thrown out of Disneyland for destroying the animatronics on the It's a Small World Ride, and when he gets kicked out he could yell 'Does that mean that I can't be in Kingdom Hearts 3 then?' Deadpool in the MCU would be great, and we could get an adaptation of Deadpool Vol. 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Final Thoughts
The Family back Together?
Although I am very much against Disney slowly monopolizing the US entertainment industry, seen as it is a company which has rewritten copyright law to stop Mickey Mouse appearing in the public domain, I am excited for Marvel to have its characters back. Soon hopefully Namor and the rest of the Spider-Man roster can be back in Marvel's hands. Did you like my plans to bring the Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and X-Men into the MCU? How would you bring them in?

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Saturday, 16 December 2017

Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Warning: May Contain Spoilers!
The Last Jedi
The new, and much anticipated, Star Wars movie has finally been released. Two years after The Force Awakens we finally have an eighth entry into the mainline Star Wars movies. Before going ahead I have tried to avoid spoilers to the best of my abilities but there may be some present. 

Shortly after the events of The Force Awakens Rey (Daisy Ridley) hopes to be trained by Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who has disconnected himself from the Force after a traumatic event years prior. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the late great Carrie Fischer), are close to being destroyed by the First Order under Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), which prompts Po Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to send Finn (John Boyega) and engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to find a way to save them. After his battle with Rey in the prior movie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is facing an inner turmoil which creates a Force-link with Rey whom she wishes to rescue from the Dark side of the Force. I really enjoyed the plot and preferred it to The Force Awakens. I fundamentally disagree with some of the criticisms in regards to the plot which have been put forward by 'fanboys'. The main reason is the apparent shift in character of Luke Skywalker abandoning his friends and the Force. I thought it was an inventive move and not too out of his character (it was an impulsive choice and he did very impulsive choices in the Original Trilogy). People seem to forget that characters can change over medium, after all Luke has turned to the Dark side several times in the comics, and trauma can irreparably change someone's character. Personally, I saw a connection between Anakin's fall and Luke's fall: both had very lofty dreams, both were destined to bring balance to the Force, their own impulsiveness created a wrong decision which shattered their dreams, everything they once knew crumbled around them, and they fell from the Light (Luke becoming disconnected and Anakin falling to the Dark). Throughout the EU the Jedi have always been portrayed as being deeply, and inherently flawed, and I feel this is just one aspect which they've decided to adapt.

Overall, I would say that the plot is good. Bar some overly cheesy lines the dialogue was well written, and the last shot in the movie I felt was a bit too cheesy as well. One problem I did have was the handling of Snoke. Albeit this was partly my own fault and that of other fans: we hyped up Snoke beyond belief. However, the screenwriters should have recognized the hype, and you don't include a new Sith Lord on the magnitude of a new Palpatine and you don't go and do what they did. Other than that I did enjoy the plot. It felt like its own thing and was actually a sequel compared to The Force Awakens

Luckily The Last Jedi follows the trend of The Force Awakens and Rouge One where they mix practical effects with CGI. After over twenty years of CGI you can definitely tell which is CGI and which is practical effects so not all the effects are of the same quality. Due to the blending of effect styles this helps make the CGI seem much better than it actually is. At times I was wondering is what I am looking at computer generated, or is it a practical effect? For the most part the effects are phenomenal and makes it feel far more real compared to say the prequels, Kong: Skull Island, or Jurassic World which were mainly CGI so felt very artificial at times. There is a good example of how they blend the two effect styles together. A Force Ghost does appear which blends them together and it looks really good. Especially when they do this the effects are really good. Not all effects are at such a high standard though. The ice dogs on the salt planet seem very out of place, especially as animal effects were done much better earlier on in the movie. If they had merged practical and CGI together they could have looked better. However, the effects and CGI were overall good in this movie.

The acting was good. Of course Carrie Fischer and Mark Hamill are seasoned and excellent actors so they did a flawless job. Although Mark Hamill didn't like the apparent change in character he played in anyway in an extremely good way. The newer actors are good as well. Daisy Ridley was good and I felt Adam Driver really improved his acting from the first film. I think with him spending the majority of this movie without his helmet really improved his confidence on screen. In particular his acting with Daisy Ridley was really good. Personally, I could just have watched the movie where it just followed John Boyega. He is extremely talented and charismatic, and it made me want to just see him all the time. Easily the best new actor in the movie.

Like Rouge One I felt that The Last Jedi felt truly part of the Star Wars universe. This movie actually bothers to show the repercussions of the events of the prior film in a realistic way. Although Empire remains my favorite entry into the series, and one of my top ten movies of all time, I was bothered by the fact that there seemed to be no immediate repercussions for the destruction of the Death Star and Alderaan. In The Last Jedi the First Order immediately retaliates for the destruction of Starkiller Base and people aligned with the Resistance choose not to assist them due to fear of the First Order. Yes their prime weapon has been destroyed but they wiped out the Republic and seemed to be unfazed by Starkiller Base's destruction. With the exception of the ice dogs I felt all the animals shown in the movie felt part of the Star Wars universe. One particular detail which I liked was how a reptilian tail could be seen breaking the water as Rey and Skywalker was talking; no one made a deal out of it which grounds the unseen creature in that universe's reality. It felt like someone in Cornwall or Orkney seeing a basking shark near the surface. Canto Bight I thought was really fitting with the Star Wars universe. The casino where unrepentant capitalistic arms dealers spent their blood money watching child slaves ride animals in races using their profits from selling arms to the First Order seemed straight out of the EU or now Canon comics. It felt like a Mos Eisley for the Galaxy's elite. I do like how in both this movie and Rouge One they show the darker side to the Resistance/Rebellion with them buying arms from the same people who supply the First Order. One issue I did have was Laura Dern's character saying 'God speed'; in the Star Wars universe 'Maker' is more commonly used. Finally, I want to talk about the Force in this movie. How Luke, Rey, and another character uses the Light side, as well as the depiction of the Dark, is phenomenally done. It felt a natural part of how the Force is used in the Star Wars universe.

As you can probably tell I really enjoyed this movie. Although I prefer Empire and Rouge One I did really enjoy this one. I thought it was better than The Force Awakens but being better than A New Hope is debatable, and I would have to rewatch all the movies to decide which order I would place The Last Jedi. I felt this was a fitting last movie for Carrie Fischer who tragically passed away a year ago. She had two stunning moments which gave her, and Leia, the respect which an actor of her caliber deserved. For good effects and acting but for some questionable choices done throughout the movie in would give The Last Jedi an 8/10.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my review. Did you agree with me or completely disagree? I would love to hear your opinions, positive and negative, about The Last Jedi. For future blog updates please see either our Facebook or catch me on Twitter @LewisTwiby. Normally I don't announce the topic of next week's post but this week I shall: I'll be discussing how I would bring Deadpool, the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the MCU. Thanks for reading and may the Force be with you.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

World History: The Reformation

Martin Luther
Earlier this year the 500th anniversary of one of the most important events in European and religious history. The Protestant Reformation was not the first schism in the history of Christianity (when we looked at the Byzantine Empire we briefly looked at an earlier schism) but it greatly changed history. Most of Europe became divided between Catholics and Protestants in a schism which would shape European politics for centuries, and continues to influence European politics (and that of their former colonies). However, the Reformation is often portrayed in the media as one congruent movement led by Martin Luther but in reality it was a diverse movement where the Catholic church was also affected. Early modern historians have argued that this event helped influence the creation of the modern state with it influencing the divorcing of the state and religion (to an extent).

Earlier Attempts at Reformation
The Jan Hus Memorial in Prague
The Protestant Reformation was not the first schism in Christian history - the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches springs to mind - and it was not the only attempt to change the Western Church. We'll look at two attempts today. The first is a movement led by John Wyclif in late-fourteenth century England. Wyclif was a theological professor at the University of Oxford and he criticized papal authority, in particular rejecting the idea of transubstantiation - that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ by a priest during the Eucharist. Wyclif's criticisms gained traction immediately with his followers being called Lollards; so popular was Lollardy was that it helped influence one of the key English texts of the Medieval period in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. One part of The Canterbury Tales even has the selling of indulgences portrayed negatively. In 1378 Wyclif's ideas were declared heretical and Lollards were either executed, converted back to Catholicism, or went underground. Patrick Collinson places the English Reformation as starting with Wyclif's ideas being declared heretical. The other important movement was under Jan Hus in Bohemia. Like Wyclif, Hus was a theologian in the employment of an university, Charles University in Prague, and targeted in particular indulgences. For those who do not know Catholicism believes in the idea of Purgatory; if not damned enough to be sent to Hell, or not pure enough to go to Heaven, a soul would be sent to Purgatory where they would eventually be sent to Heaven. An indulgence could be bought to reduce the time you, or a family member, spent in Purgatory. Hus believed indulgences were useless and corrupting. As indulgences could be sold for profit this is why he saw them as corrupting. Unlike Wyclif who kept preaching despite being granted safe-conduct by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Hus was tried, condemned, and executed as a heretic at the Council of Constance in 1415. The pope and emperor constantly fought Hus' followers until they decided that it was easier to grant recognition to the Hussite church in Bohemia and Moravia in the 1430s. If you go to Prague's very beautiful Old Town Square there is a large memorial to Hus built in 1915 on the anniversary of Hus' execution.

The Reformations
Throughout the World History series I've tried to avoid Great Man History but it's difficult when looking at the Reformation as it was influenced by individuals at times. There were many different Reformations and many of the Protestant denominations found their origins in the Reformation. As a result we'll look at three regions where the Reformation took route: Germany, Switzerland, and England.

Luther nailing his theses
With the German Reformation this was largely dominated by Martin Luther and Lutheranism. Like Wyclif and Hus Luther was a university theologian. Euan Cameron has described him as being 'a figurehead who showed unheard-of tenacity in a daunting situation.' Luther was originally from Saxony and was a law student at the University of Erfurt until he was caught in a thunderstorm in 1505. Apparently he yelled 'Help St. Anne! I'll become a monk!' and that is what he did enrolling in an Augustinian monastery where he was constant torment about his sinfulness and holiness. In 1512 he accepted a position to become a theologian at the University of Wittenberg. Luther was extremely angry about the situation of the Church; in particular focusing on Johann Tetzel who had become famous for selling indulgences to earn a profit. Apparently Tetzel said: 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.' Also, there was an issue with Archbishop Albert of Mainz who was in charge of the church in Wittenberg. He wanted to become bishop of some more areas but needed a special dispensation from Pope Leo X so he would borrow from the wealthy Fuggers family to afford this. Meanwhile, Leo X was offering special indulgences in order to fund the construction of St. Peter's basilica. Albert would give some of the profit from indulgences, raised often by Tetzel, to Leo and use the rest to pay back the Fuggers. 

On October 31, 1517 Luther made his '95 theses,' called Disputation against Scholastic Theology, and sent them copies to his friends at Nuremberg and to the theologian Johann Maier of Eck of Ingolstadt, and quite possibly nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg church. Within two weeks they had been circulated around Leipzig, Magdeburg, Nuremberg, and Basle. He publicly denounced Albert and his ideas soon spread around via his writings, sermons, and university lectures. One of his followers was the professor of Latin and Greek at Wittenberg, Philip Melanchthon. Luther rejected many aspects of Catholicism believing that the pope and priests were unneeded, instead people could find faith through themselves; indulgences were wrong; rejected transubstantiation; by reading the Scripture one can find God; and believed that 'we are not made righteous by doing righteous deeds; but when we have been made righteous we effect righteous deeds.' On June 15, 1520 a papal bull, called the Exsurge Domine, condemned Luther and forty-one tenets ordering that if he did not recant he would be excommunicated. He refused. Then the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who wanted rigid orthodoxy, summoned Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521. Although it is debated if he actually said this Luther said, 'Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture and plain reason I cannot, and will not, recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.' Luther might have faced the same fate as Jan Hus if not for the fact that he had made the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich III, a follower. Freidrich secretly had Luther abducted near Altenstein on May 4 and placed under protective custody in the castle of Wartburg.

The Swiss Reformation can be exemplified in two figures: Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. Zwingli had attended the Universities of Vienna and Basel where he had become heavily involved in Renaissance humanism. Zwingli arrived in Zurich to be the city's 'people's priest' (Leut priester) in the city's main church, the Grossmunster. At the time the Swiss cantons were deeply involved in the mercenary trade which Zwingli was deeply critical of. In 1522 Zwingli came to prominence when he criticized fasting during Lent. He attacked indulgences; said that saints and religious images should not be venerated; was against clerical celibacy; said that Scripture was most important; and started translating the Bible into Swiss German. He went further than Luther calling for a more iconoclastic service wanting no liturgy, church decorations, or music other than the singing of psalms. A split between the 'Protestants' emerged as Luther and Zwingli disagreed vehemently over the Eucharist: supporters of Zwingli became known as Evangelicals and Luther's became known as Reformed
John Calvin
John Calvin was a French Protestant who fled from France to Geneva in 1533. Like Wyclif, Hus, Luther, and Zwingli he had a university education. Upon arriving in Geneva Calvin published Institutes of the Christian Religion which set out several key doctrines: God is infinite in power and sovereignty; humans are sinful and can only be saved by Christ; redemption and union with Christ are free gifts from God; and there is no free will, instead God has decided our fates in an idea named predestination. Despite having no free will Calvin argued that thrift, piety, hard work, and good moral conduct could serve as signs that one was among the 'elect' chosen for salvation. Geneva had recently expelled the bishops so had asked Calvin to set up new structures. He believed that the church and state should act together where church leaders should have ultimate authority. As a result the Consistory was formed made up of pastors and lay-elders (presbyters, which is why Calvinism is in areas called Presbyterians). The Consistory banned theater, drinking, gambling, and card games as well as punished religious dissenters (some of the worst anti-semitism during the Reformation was in Calvinist regions), adulterers, drunkenness, family fights, profanity, absence from church, gambling, premarital sex, and dancing. Calvinist thought spread into Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Scotland and England. In Scotland Calvinism was introduced by John Knox as he had studied with Calvin in Geneva. Upon returning to Scotland he worked with the Scottish state to set up the Kirk of Scotland, and later Scottish settlers introduced Calvinism to Ireland.

A depiction of the dissolution of the monasteries
As mentioned earlier Patrick Collinson placed the English Reformation as beginning with Wyclif, and the writings of Luther made its way into the universities of England. Henry VIII and his lord chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, were very keen to suppress Lutheran and Protestant ideas. By 1527, Henry VIII had started to believe that God was displeased with his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as they had only produced one child, a daughter who would become Mary I. Henry started courting Anne Boleyn, a court lady-in-waiting, and asked Pope Clement VII for an annulment - not a divorce as it has been portrayed in British media. An annulment means that the marriage never happened. However, the army of Charles V were at Rome and he happened to be Catherine's nephew, so an annulment would make his cousin a bastard. Angry at the refusal Henry arrested Wolsey on the accusation of treason and appointed Thomas Cranmer instead as archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer divorced Henry and Catherine so Henry could marry Anne in 1533. Henry threatened to withhold taxes unless the pope accepted Cranmer, so the pope excommunicated Henry. Following this Henry's principal minister, Thomas Cromwell, started enforcing a new branch of Christianity, Anglicanism. Cromwell oversaw the closing of the monasteries, transferring their assets to Henry and his followers, and ensuring that office holders had to agree that Henry was the 'supreme head of the Church of England.' However, the English and Welsh citizens did not entirely take the Reformation lightly. In 1536 discontent over dissolving the monasteries combined with rising taxes led to a revolt by priests and nobles, beginning in north England, called the 'Pilgrimage of Grace.' As mentioned earlier although Anglicanism became the dominant Protestant sect in England many others emerged including Quakers, Anabaptists, and Calvinists, just to name three, arrived or emerged in England. Despite a brief return to Catholicism under Mary Protestantism remained dominant with Elizabeth I requiring officials, clergy, and nobles to swear allegiance to her as the 'supreme governor of the Church of England.' Part of this change in wording was due to Elizabeth believing that it would be improper for a woman to be a 'head' but also as a way to create a loophole to let Catholics swear allegiance to her. Only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688/9 was Protestantism properly secured in England.

How the Reformation Spread
A printing press
There are many reasons why the Reformation became so widespread so quickly. The main reason why is print. By 1450 Johannes Gutenberg created a new printing press which involved a mechanical movable type which allowed quick and mass printing. Few people were literate but information could easily be disseminated through public reading sessions or town criers. It is quite telling about European society at the time that the first mass printed book was the Bible, and has since been called the Gutenberg Bible. The Reformation heavily used printing to copy and distribute the writings of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other theologians. As mentioned earlier within two weeks of first releasing his theses Luther's words had been distributed to cities across Germany and by 1518 it had traveled across Europe. The strongest centers of Protestantism were always from cities with universities: Oxford, St Andrews, Nuremburg, Geneva etc. Most literate people would be located in universities and most universities were near, or in, cities. Mass publication with people to read and disseminate the ideas of the Reformation. It is noted that both Luther and Zwingli chose to translate the Bible from Latin to German; this allowed people to understand, or read, the Bible themselves without the need of a priest or bishop to do it for them. In 1549 in England the Book of Common Prayer was produced doing the same but in English. Mass printing allowed these translations to be widely distributed. 

Political authority helped as well. When Luther and others arrived on the scene papal authority was being challenged; the pope had sided with France during the War of the League of Cognac which had seen mutinous troops of Charles V sack Rome. How could the pope truly be the unchallenged voice of God if his power was being challenged? Areas where anti-Reformation rulers were in power could strangle Protestantism early on. Frederick III of Saxony protected Luther, the Protestant Swiss Cantons harbored Zwingli and Calvin, and the Scottish state actively used John Knox to install Calvinism. Meanwhile, the French state persecuted evangelicals resulting in a series of civil conflicts, and the Spanish Inquisition - set up 1478 to persecute Muslims, Jews, and conversos when it was feared that converted Muslims and Jews would reconvert - ruthlessly crushed Protestant thought early on. In the Netherlands, where Spanish rule was weaker and where trade with Protestant regions was larger, Calvinism soon became dominant. 

Propaganda Wars
A Catholic image of Luther being played by the Devil
As said earlier most people in Europe could not read so propaganda and art was issued by both Catholic and Protestant leaders. Again, using the Gutenberg printing press woodcuts, prints, and at times books were published to convert the masses. Although writing was often featured with these publications they were largely picture based using imagery which the public would recognize. For literate people pamphlets were produced; Luther himself printed 3,183 printings of which 2,645 were printed in German, not Latin. Even here Luther was printing for a more general audience rather than the Latin speaking elite, although Luther did loathe the masses. Catholic propagandists were not as initially successful as Protestants where the four most prolific ones produced 247 prints together. However, an interesting war of propaganda emerged where images of Luther being played like a trumpet by Satan were produced by Catholics, while Protestants had images presenting the pope as a demon.
The Pope portrayed as a demon in a Protestant image

The Catholic Reformation
Reading about the Reformation you might see the term 'Counter-Reformation' which was a term coined in the nineteenth century. Over the last sixty years 'Catholic Reformation' has been more widely used as Counter-Reformation implies that the Catholic Church only tried to counteract Protestants instead of reforming itself. Between 1545 and 1563 the Council of Trent, overseen by Pope Julius III and Pius IV, which vowed to limit the spread of Protestantism, reaffirm the power of the papacy, and reform Catholicism to remove corruption. New religious orders were also formed, of which the most famous was the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534. Writing in Spiritual Exercises he said that through a program of meditation and contemplation in order to develop spiritual discipline and to meld one's spirit with God. Loyola stressed individual will to lead to holiness and self-control. In 1540 Pope Paul III officially recognized the Jesuits which allowed them to open universities and schools where Loyola's Spiritual Exercises was taught over a four week period. They also sent missionaries out of Europe, Francis Xavier being one of the most famous ones, to Brazil, West Africa, India, China, Japan and Indonesia. The Kangxi emperor in China was particularly fond of the Jesuits for their astronomy skills.
Ignatius Loyola
One of the interesting aspects of the Catholic Reformation was the return of local level devotional life. In urban parishes, and some villages, confraternities of lay people were founded, often limited to men. These organised funerals, donations to charity, held feats and processions, and practiced flagellation. In Venice, 120 confraternities existed in 1500 which rose to 400 by 1700. Capuchin houses were also formed across Catholic, and some Protestant, provinces. In Ancona, Italy by 1596 there were 50 Capuchin houses with each housing 486 Capuchins.

Men, Women and Marriage
Marriage and the positions of men and women greatly shifted thanks to the Reformations. Protestants started preaching that marriage was the greatest role for someone in life instead of celibacy; in fact Luther married a former nun, Katharine von Bora, and Zwingli married a Zurich widow, Anna Reinhart. Marriage was seen as being reflected in spiritual equality of the husband and wife which has led some historians to argue that this ensured that women did gain greater roles. This was not entirely the case, and the 'equality' was not actually an equality which we might see it. It is important not to be anachronistic with this, what we might see as not being equal is not what a sixteenth century observer would see as equal. Women were advised to be cheerful in their housework as it showed a willingness to follow God's plan, and in return men had to be kind and considerate to their wives. However, men had to show authority over women, sometimes with physical coercion - an English marriage law said that a husband could beat his wife with a stick as long as it was thinner than his thumb. Protestants argued that marriage was made by God to remedy human weakness so bad marriages could reasonably be divorced to allow remarriage, and marital courts in Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland soon allowed divorce. It is important to note that divorce was very rare although it was more common than in Catholic, and Anglican, states. Thanks to the Council of Trent marriage records had to be held by priests in their parishes, and for a marriage to be legal it required witnesses, one of which had to be a parish priest.

One of the key parts of the Catholic Reformation was the role of women. The Protestant Reformation has seen as limiting the role of women: opportunities were limited with the closing of nunneries and wives being submissive was emphasized. The Jesuits actively involved women. In 1580 a Jesuit mission formed by Robert Parsons and Edmund Campion was set up in England which Catholic women attached themselves to as often the law overlooked them. However, the Jesuits themselves disapproved of women involving themselves; when Isabel Roser asked Paul III in 1581 for the permission to form a women's association it was rejected and Loyola was horrified about the idea of women being in regular contact with lay people. Angela Merici did receive permission to form the Company of St. Ursula which aimed to improve girls' education, but again many Ursulines were pressured to become cloistered nuns. This later shift is reflected in how many women were made saints. In the fifteenth century 27.7% of saints were women compared to 18.1% the next century.

Wars of Religion
I won't go into too much detail about the Wars of Religion as I intend to do a World History post just on them. In these wars a variety of factors came together and caused clashes between Protestants and Catholics. These wars started around 1524 and ended around 1651, but it is debatable if later wars were also Wars of Religion. One of these wars, the Second Kappel War, even cost the life of Zwingli. One such war, the German Peasants' War of 1524-6, started as an uprising about fishing in a forbidden stream which escalated in the largest mass rebellion in European history until the French Revolution. These peasants soon started using Lutheran doctrine to express some of their concerns, such as the community having the opportunity to elect or dismiss pastors to ensure the 'pure gospel' would be preached. Luther, however, did not support these revolts writing in Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (1525) urged rulers 'as God's sword on earth to knock down, strangle, and stab the insurgents as one would a mad dog.' One recurring theme of these wars was the result: increased toleration for other religions. The treaties would offer toleration to certain Christian sects, antisemitism meant this was never expanded to Jews except in one case and often other Christian sects were ignored. For example, in 1555 the Peace of Augsburg allowed rulers in the Holy Roman Empire to be either Lutheran or Catholic, but it was not extended to Calvinists. Following the English Civil War Oliver Cromwell allowed Protestant sects to proliferate and he reversed Elizabeth I's ban on Jews, but he ruthlessly persecuted Catholics, especially in Ireland. Despite the clear limitations some historians have argued that the Wars of Religion were key in forming the present-day European state. For the most part today's states in Europe are secular and some have argued that the treaties allowing some religious toleration offered the first step towards this secularization.

The Reformation was one of the most influential events to shape European history, and it still affects the world today. We can see this on a small scale. Glasgow has a very divisive football culture with the two main teams being divided on sectarian lines, Rangers being Protestant and Celtic being Catholic. Meanwhile, the Protestant/Catholic divide has caused Ireland to remain divided to this day, and Northern Ireland's politics are clearly defined by religion. The Reformation shaped how people viewed the world and themselves for centuries, and the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries helped bring about some limited religious tolerance. However, all this was possible thanks to the spread of literature and images through the printing press. The ideas of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin spread across Europe, and later the Americas, thanks to the printing press so they did not remain regional movements as Wyclif or Hus were. In a world where ideas and information are easily disseminated through the internet we can see clear connections to the past.

Thank you for reading. Next time we will be looking at the Wars of Religion, how they affected Europe, and how a myriad of reasons led to them. The sources I have used are as follows:
-Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, (Cambridge, 2006)
-Euan Cameron, The European Reformation, (Oxford, 1991)
-Mark Greengrass, The European Reformation, c.1500-1618, (London, 1988)
-David Englander, Diana Norman, Rosemary O'Day, and W.R. Owens, (eds.), Culture and Belief in Europe 1450-1600: An Anthology Series, (Oxford, 1990)
-Bob Scribner, R. Porter, and M. Teich, (ed.), The Reformation in National Context, (Cambridge, 1994)
-John O'Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council, (Cambridge, MA, 2013)

Thank you for reading. For other World History posts we have a list here. For other blog posts we have a Facebook or catch me on Twitter @LewisTwiby.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Comics Explained: Thanos

Earlier this week the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War was released and one character is on everyone's lips: Thanos. Thanos has had a long history in Marvel and is one of the most powerful villains alongside figures such as Galactus. For this post we'll look at the real world origins of Thanos and go through some of the key stories which has shaped the character's history.

Real World Origins
Jim Starlin, Thanos' creator
Thanos was created by Jim Starlin for The Invincible Iron Man #55 in February 1973. Starlin originally thought up Thanos during a psychology class following him leaving the US military. He said:
I went to college between doing U.S. military service and getting work in comics, and there was a psych class and I came up with Thanos ... and Drax the Destroyer, but I'm not sure how he fit into it, just anger management probably. So I came up to Marvel and [editor] Roy [Thomas] asked if I wanted to do an issue of Iron Man. I felt that this may be my only chance ever to do a character, not having the confidence that my career was going to last anything longer than a few weeks. So they got jammed into it. Thanos was a much thinner character and Roy suggested beefing him up, so he's beefed up quite a bit from his original sketches ... and later on I liked beefing him up so much that he continued to grow in size.
He has also commented why Roy Thomas wanted Thanos to be beefed up. Starlin was a fan of Jack Kirby's New Gods over at DC and really liked the design of Metron. Thanos was drawn and conceptualized to be like Metron: he would be superintelligent, sit in a chair, be thin, and be omnipotent. While Thanos would have these design traits Thomas said 'Beef him up! If you're going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!' Thus, Thanos had the design which we know today. Although appearing in The Invincible Iron Man #55 it was not a proper appearance; he only appeared in a flashback. In this story two aliens, named the Blood Brothers, captured Iron Man, send him to Thanos' desert base on Earth, and later teamed up with Drax the Destroyer (who also made his debut) to destroy the base. 
Invincible Iron Man #55
Just a month later Thanos made his first physical appearance in Marvel in Captain Marvel #25-33 by Starlin and writer Mike Friedrich. In this series of comics Captain Mar-Vell faced his own friends who turned out to be Skrulls. However, the Skrulls turn out to be working for the mysterious 'Masterlord' who turned out to be Thanos. 

Thanos' origins has been explored throughout his publication history, but most of what we know is found in 2013's Thanos Rising. Thanos came from Saturn's moon of Titan, and Titans are a member of the race known as Eternals. Thanos, however, is the Titan equivalent to Earth's mutants as he had the 'Deviant Syndrome' which made his skin a different color, act like hide, and made him abnormally strong. His mother even tried to kill him as an infant out of disgust showing how intense the stigma against 'Deviants' was. In contrast his brother Eros did not have the Deviant Syndrome. While Eros was carefree, womanizing, fun-loving Thanos was quiet, morose, and nihilistic. Through social exclusion Thanos could only play with Eros as a child and his one attempt at making friends ended in tragedy when they were killed in a cave-in for which he was blamed. Thanos started delving into dark arts and nihilism which brought him into contact with Mistress Death. Death is embodied in a female form, most often skeletal, and Thanos fell in love with her. Experiencing love for the first time Thanos wished to prove himself worthy to Death so augmented himself in order to seize political power and bring destruction. 

Thanos created an armada bringing death and destruction to the universe in order to woo Death. He performed some of the most unspeakable crimes on the worlds which he destroyed, including rape. Some of the people he raped were made pregnant by Thanos and years later he sought out his children to murder them, something which became part of the plot for Infinity. In Captain Marvel #29 it is revealed that Thanos returned to Titan and ravaged the moon killing 100 Eternals, including his mother. In order to enhance his powers he sought out a Cosmic Cube, called the Tesseract in the Marvel movies. Unlike the movies, there are multiple Cosmic Cubes and exist independently from the Infinity Stones. As a Cosmic Cube existed on Earth this is why Thanos came into contact with the Avengers.

Infinity Saga
Infinity Gauntlet
Thanos had been killed during the events of Avengers Annual #7 in 1977 but was resurrected in 1990's Silver Surfer Vol. 3 #34. In this story Silver Surfer encounters the spirit of Thanos whom Death plans to resurrect to 'correct an imbalance in the multiverse.' Thanos takes up Death's request and in order to correct this 'imbalance' he must wipe out half of all life in the universe. To achieve this goal he sought out the Infinity Gems (please see here to see their power). This is the plot to The Thanos Quest where he scours the universe searching for the Infinity Gems in order to become Death's equal. However, at the end he is angered to find that with the Gems he is not actually Death's equal, he is in fact her superior. With his quest successful this brings us to 1991's The Infinity Gauntlet. Upon immediately placing the Gems in his tailor made Infinity Gauntlet with a snap of his fingers Thanos wipes out half of all life in the universe. This even includes the Fantastic Four, most of the X-Men and Daredevil. He causes disasters on Earth as well including having the USA's West coast and Japan fall into the sea. When the heroes go to fight Thanos he fully utilizes the immense power of the Infinity Gems used in conjunction. He made a partner named Terraxia to make Death jealous who decapitates Iron Man and beats Spider-Man to death. Thanos himself backhands Captain America snapping his neck; disembowels Vision; disintegrates Quasar; turns Nova into Lego; suffocates She-Hulk, Namor and Cyclops in various ways; implodes Cloak; and turns Thor into glass.
Thanos turns Wolverine's bones to rubber
Eventually the Cosmic Entities including Galactus and the embodiment of the universe itself, Eternity, all come together to take down Thanos, only to be turned to stone. With Eternity destroyed the universe required a new embodiment and as the most powerful figure Thanos takes this role. However, to do so he left his physical body behind with the Infinity Gauntlet. Nebula, who you may recognize from Guardians of the Galaxy, takes hold of the Gauntlet and reverses all of Thanos' actions. The story ends with Thanos deciding to become a peaceful farmer as Adam Warlock claims the Gauntlet for himself. In the sequel, Infinity War, Thanos plays a smaller role (despite the title of the upcoming movie). Adam uses the Gems to purge the good and evil out of him to become a totally logical being in order to use the Gauntlet wisely. However, doing this enables his evil side to become personified accidentally in the form of the Magus who obtains Cosmic Cubes to create doppelgangers of various characters, including Thanos. This brings Thanos out of his farm life and into the fight. Finally, there is the Infinity Crusade where Adam's good half, called the Goddess, decides to attack Thanos after using Cosmic Cubes to create her own superhero army. 

Annhilation and After
One of the last major stories which we're going to focus on is Annihilation. In this story the leader of the Negative Zone, (an antimatter universe), called Annihilus invaded the mainstream universe. Thanos decided to ally with Annihilus wishing to see how the universe would be changed by such a radical shift. Thanos would capture Galactus whom Annihilus would use to power his Annihilation Wave (Annihilus' army). However, Thanos found out that Annihilus never wished to conquer the universe: he merely wished to destroy all life in the Negative Zone and the mainstream universe. He decided to release Galactus but many opposed this - after all Galactus does consume planets for energy. As a result Drax the Destroyer was forced to punch through his chest ripping out his heart. Finally Thanos was dead.
Drax kills Thanos
However, Thanos would later be resurrected in 2010's The Thanos Imperative. Thanos was resurrected by Death for an unknown reason until another universe invades the mainstream universe. We find out that Thanos has become the avatar of Death while the one leading the invasion is the avatar of Life, Captain Mar-Vell. In this universe death has been vanquished and now life has become rampant like a cancer, hence its name of the Cancerverse. Mar-Vell now wanted to spread life throughout all realities. Thanos pretended to surrender to Mar-Vell only to run him through with a sword which summons Death. However, Thanos became enraged when Death spurned his advances. The Cancerverse started collapsing now that Death had returned so Star Lord and Nova remained in the Cancerverse to trap Thanos. Later the three would return to the mainstream universe through various means. Since then Thanos has been a semi-recurrent antagonist with him briefly courting Hela, the Nordic goddess of Death.

Reading List
For anyone wanting to read some key Thanos related stories here's a brief list:
-The Invincible Iron Man #55
-Captain Marvel #25-33
-The Death of Captain Marvel
-Avengers Annual #7
-Silver Surfer Vol. 3 #34
-The Thanos Quest
-Infinity Gauntlet
-Infinity War
-Infinity Crusade
-Deadpool vs. Thanos
-The Thanos Imperative

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