Read, Watched, Podcapped: Children’s literature and the ‘Avengers’ franchise

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In contrast to last week, our podcasts are delving into less familiar territories for their most recent episodes. “Overdue” celebrates Children’s Book Week, while “The Bechdel Cast” delves into the “Avengers” franchise as the series comes to an end.

“Overdue”

Craig and Andrew talk about not one but two books this week — two very short books, that is. In celebration of the 100th annual Children’s Book Week, the hosts each read a children’s book. Craig read “Fungus the Bogeyman” by Raymond Briggs, which follows the title character, a creature whose job it is to scare human beings. Andrew read “Dragons Love Tacos” written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, which chronicles, as the title would suggest, the world of dragons and their love of tacos.

The hosts begin with “Fungus the Bogeyman,” which was recommended by a patron donor who described it to them as “a ‘70s existential British monster story and crypto-anthropology guide disguised as a children’s graphic novel.” After reading the book, Craig notes that this is quite accurate.

Craig explains that the plot is heavily existentialist, with Fungus constantly questioning the reason for doing his job. Andrew notes that it sounds like a book with dark messages about the world and that “to appreciate everything the book is trying to do, you’d be too old to read books like this.”

Craig agrees that the message is mismatched with the targeted audience. However, he enjoyed the characters and the world building and found the illustrations to be fun, if not the content.

They then move on to “Dragons Love Tacos,” beginning by discussing their personal preferences on the topic of tacos. Andrew says, “We have a lot of time to talk about tacos because this book is not that long.”

Andrew explains that this book, in contrast to Craig’s, is quite simple — the main tension comes from the detail of the dragons not being able to handle spicy salsa, despite their love of tacos and their fire-breathing abilities. Summarizing the overarching plot, Andrew says: “It’s like, dragons love tacos, they don’t like salsa, they like parties. What would happen if you did two of those things right and one of them wrong?”

Andrew also appreciated that the book assumes that its kid reader already believes in dragons, thus encouraging imagination. It begins with asking the reader if they know that dragons love tacos, rather than explaining that dragons exist. He also enjoyed the illustrations, which depict each dragon differently from the others to showcase distinct personalities.

The hosts wrap up fairly quickly (this episode is on the shorter side), with Andrew declaring, “I did want a taco after reading this.” Craig replies, “I want a taco right now.” The hosts conclude by delving back into their taco preference discussion.

“The Bechdel Cast”

“Excuse me, Mr. Buffy, do better,” Jamie declares at the beginning of this week’s discussion. She is referring to Joss Whedon, the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and also the writer and director of the first two “Avengers” films, which serve as this week’s topic. Jamie and Caitlin, joined by guest host Anney Reese, cover the “Avengers” franchise, focusing on the first film but referencing the sequels, not including the most recent “Avengers: Endgame.”

The hosts begin by taking note of how few female characters even exist in the franchise. In the first film, the only female Avenger is Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), alongside multiple males. There is also Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), both of whom have minor roles. Further, Black Widow is the only Avenger without a superpower; she is a very talented fighter, but is also juxtaposed with a literal god (Thor) and the “super soldier” (Captain America). This issue is somewhat addressed in the next film with the introduction of another female Avenger, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who does have a superpower (telekinesis). Regardless, this extreme disparity in gender representation still exists in the first film.

Further, the unequal treatment of Black Widow as a character does not stop there. Caitlin, Jamie and Anney all agree that they know the least about her, in comparison to the rest of the heroes. This is partially due to the fact that Black Widow never got a solo film, so viewers never got to spend one-on-one time with her. But that in and of itself is a major problem — why did the original female Avenger never get her own film while Thor, Iron Man and Captain America all have more than one each? Jamie notes that while she enjoyed the recent “Captain Marvel,” she finds it extremely unfair that Black Widow has been overlooked all this time. The hosts note that “Captain Marvel” is also an example of Marvel trying to move forward with societal change by finally highlighting a female superhero. On the contrary, Black Widow is a reminder of the blatant misogynistic tendencies that this franchise is founded on.

The hosts appreciate that more female characters have been added throughout the series, even if the number of them still pales in comparison to the number of male characters. They also appreciate that the female characters who aren’t Avengers are often in positions of power or are women in STEM. They note that this often feels like an attempt to disguise these women’s real roles in the films as love interests or merely especially minor characters. But, they decide, it’s still better than what male-driven creative teams have delivered in the past.

Caitlin ends the episode by addressing the small progress that has been made since “The Avengers” came out in 2012, stating, “We had a long way to go, and we are slowly course correcting.”

Nikki Munoz covers podcasts. Contact her at [email protected].