Learn from the Scarlet Spider — Think Uveitis


Ben Reilly — The Scarlet Spider. Well-intentioned but flawed.

Marvel’s Scarlet Spider is an interesting narrative experiment on the nature of soul. Ben Reilly is a clone of the original Peter Parker who shares the physical traits of the famous webslinger. Through vaguely-described “arcane magic”, he even gets an imprint of Parker’s memories.

Clone Wars: The Scarlet Spider fighting with Spider-Man. Source: Marvel Comics

However, as he does not share the many responsibilities of his more famous clone, Ben Reilly struggles with true purpose in life. Possessing the same intelligence and inquisitive mind as Peter Parker, his desire to discover and experiment leads him to make some bad choices, which have led him to die and be resurrected more times than is habitual for a Marvel Comics character.

As a result, Ben has flirted the line between heroism and villainy, seemingly resolved to entropy as an antihero. Even when he wants to do the right thing, his virtuous intentions backfire. In a recent storyline (written by Peter David, pencilled by Will Sliney and coloured by Rachelle Rosenberg) during which demons take over Las Vegas, Ben makes an assumption we can all be guilty of when seeing red eyes:

“Is this creature possessed by some sort of satanic entity?”

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider. Issue 16 (David, Sliney, Rosenberg)

Ben has been very presumptuous here. In a Las Vegas which is arguably more satanically inclined that usual, he has naturally assumed that anyone with red eyes is a demon.

He hits this man with the force of his radioactively enhanced jab, and wasn’t prepared for what came next…

Jimmy’s family are angry and upset with the Scarlet Spider

“But… he has red eyes”. Ben struggles when explaining his actions to Jimmy’s wife and daughter. It dawns on him that he has jumped to conclusions.

Jimmy’s wife explains that he has Uveitis, and has clearly read the patient information leaflet “It’s an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye!” The episode finishes with Ben receiving a well-deserved kick in the shin from Jimmy’s young daughter.

Learn from the Scarlet Spider. Think Uveitis

Whether you are the well-intentioned but haphazard clone of a popular superhero or not, it’s always worth thinking about Uveitis as a cause of red eye. Uveitis literally means inflammation of the uvea — the middle layers of the eye and can have a huge number of causes including trauma, various infections and autoimmune diseases (where the body attacks itself). In many cases, no cause is ever found.

Uveitis can have different patterns — it can come and go with no problems in between, or can flare up many times and cause a lot of discomfort and anxiety for the sufferer. Jimmy may well have had a number of flares before, and his current treatment could be anything from steroid eyedrops to tablets or injections, all with the aim of reducing the inflammation in the eye.

Jimmy lives in the United States of America, where an estimated 300,000 people are affected by Uveitis each year. In many cases, anterior uveitis may be misdiagnosed as a bacterial conjunctivitis, which has a different treatment of antibiotic drops or ointment.

Jimmy has both red eyes

In this panel, Jimmy appears to have acute anterior uveitis — the form which affects the front of the eye, either the iris (iritis) or the ciliary body (iridocyclitis). Together with a red eye, he may well be suffering from symptoms such as blurred vision and light sensitivity(photophobia). The latter can be very hard for Uveitis sufferers to deal with, and even more so considering the fluorescent lighting which adorns the City of Lights. Jimmy is wearing polarized sunglasses to help him manage as he navigates the Vegas strip:

Given that his eyes are so red, Jimmy is likely to have only recently had a flare of his disease, and may have only just started treatment. Both eyes are red rather than just one, which makes it more likely that he has an underlying “systemic disease” disease. In addition, the whole of his eyes are red, which isn’t a typical pattern seen in anterior uveitis where the classic appearance of redness is immediately surrounding the iris:

Classic “Ciliary Flush” image of Iritis with redness surrounding the iris where the cornea and sclera meet, an area called the “limbus”.

However, there are other causes why his eye might be red whilst he is being treated for Uveitis, which might include:

  1. Episcleritis/Anterior Scleritis — He may have these conditions as a co-diagnosis (alongside his Uveitis). These diseases reflect inflammation of blood vessels in different layers of the white of the eye, and can be associated with an underlying disease. Jimmy might have Lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or a number of other full-body disease which can be linked to different problems in the eye.
  2. Glaucoma — Jimmy may have uveitic glaucoma , raised pressure in the eye caused by inflammation (from uveitis) obstructing and damaging the structures in the eye which allow for outflow of the aqueous humour. the sudden eye pressure rise would cause red However, Jimmy would likely feel very sick and in too much pain to verbally joust with our friendly neighbourhood spider clone.
  3. Allergy — If Jimmy has been taking eye drops for his Uveitis, they may contain a preservative which he is allergic to. I hope that his Ophthalmologist switches him to a preservative-free formula.

One can only hope that Ben Reilly, our Scarlet Spider, learns from this lesson and doesn’t make presumptions about peoples’ eyes, even in the context of a satanic takeover of Sin City.

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Comics and Caius

Iron Man and Dr Doom reminisce in Tree Court, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Victor Von Doom bantering with Tony Stark in Tree Court, Gonville and Caius, Cambridge England. From Invincible Iron Man 13 (Marvel, 2016)

In fiction, Billionaire playboy industrialists are wont to lose sight of both their past and their future, with potentially devastating consequences. When Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, is teleported (against his will) by reformed marvel villain Victor Von Doom, he finds himself standing in the Tree Court of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge.

Tree Court. CREDIT: Gonville and Caius College website

The former Caian then engages on a voyage of discovery from a past forgotten, dressed very casually as the sharply-attired Victor Von Doom (experimenting in heroism as the Infamous Iron Man) prompts a realignment of Tony’s moral compass.

Von Doom, himself expelled from State University in New York for performing unethical experiments, gives Stark a comprehensive tour around Cambridge. The industrialist returns to the MRC Laboratory where he had his first taste of research and academia prior to inheriting his father’s weapons-manufacturing business. He is in a contemplative mood throughout.

Stark is not alone. We all go through moments in life when we have to find ourselves again. Perhaps, whilst breathing in the pungent Wisteria flowers adorning the Tutorial Office of Caius, Tony reminisced about an age of innocence, before he had to make difficult decisions with world-changing implications.

The Tutorial Office covered in Wisteria

What is it about this quaint section of Gonville and Caius’ Tree Court which lends itself to a representation in the comics medium? It lacks the iconic postcard-selling grandeur King’s College Chapel or Trinity College’s Grand Court. This is a unique, Cinderella tower-like corner which can easily be missed when visiting Tree Court, famed primarily for the succession of unique hornbeams lining its avenue.

Hornbeams in Tree Court. CREDIT: Gonville and Caius College website

Perhaps, this specific corner of Tree Court simply evokes mystical connotations which are suitable for the illustrated word, and are a fitting place for Von Doom and Stark to do a tête-à-tête, and remember bygone times.

Whilst attending Caius, one wonders if Tony Stark spent any time talking to Professor Sir Stephen Hawking, who was based in Gonville and Caius for many decades and sadly passed away recently. Certainly, Professor Hawking’s advice about the nature of wormholes might have helped Stark in the first Avengers movie, which does not elaborate on how he managed to survive his experience.

A portrait of Professor Sir Stephen Hawking in the Dining Hall of Gonville and Caius College. CREDIT: University of Cambridge website

It is not only Marvel Comics which has set scenes in the Tree Court. The genre-breaking japanese manga “Pluto” also appears to use this corner in its story.

Tree Court, sans Wisteria. CREDIT: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka

Despite being a story about androids, Pluto is arguably the most human of Japanese master storyteller Naoki Urasawa’s manga masterpieces, as he simultaneously builds upon and subverts Osamu Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy. Does this scene pay homage to famous Caians such as nuclear physicist and discoverer of the neutron Sir James Chadwick, Professor Sir Stephen Hawking or John Venn. Who knows?

Tree Court, circa 1870, CREDIT: Kimberly Blaker, New Boston Fine and Rare Books

Long may comics continue to include this mysterious corner in their illustrations.

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Film Review – Black Panther

No significant spoilers in this review

I just saw the latest offering in the Marvel stable in IMAX 3D – Black Panther. Alongside Moon Knight and Hank Pym (who both suffer from inner demons), I’ve found the challenges of Black Panther one of the most interesting in the Marvel comics universe. Chiefly, his turmoil as he struggles with the duties of a king and his own personal values as a person and responsibilities to the world as a whole.

Black Panther from Captain America: Civil War. Source: Marvel.com

This is explored deftly in the new film, which gives us a socio-political quandary right at the beginning – can the isolated secret technology-rich African nation of Wakanda accept responsibility to the rest of the world (and its own continent) and open up, using its resources to help other peoples? It’s a real-life problem that many countries face, and is rendered more stark by the fact that the fictional nation of Wakanda is surrounded by poor neighbours.

Map and Location of Wakanda. Source: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #12 (December 1983).

This is a great popcorn film, full of well-choreographed action sequences, stunning costumes and beautiful cinematography and computer-generated imagery. In particular, the combination of these during the fights in water at a cliff-edge were pure eye candy. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed looking at a film so much, and the key feature here is the balance: there is never too much to see on the screen, but just enough for one to appreciate. I would highly recommend watching this film on an IMAX rather than standard screen, although the 3D elements of the film weren’t particularly crucial to the experience.

Cliff Edge water fight scene. Source: Nerdist.com, Marvel.com

The performances in the film were decent, though not perfect. Chadwick Boseman was very good as T’Challa, as were Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira as his warrior queen and general respectively. I didn’t quite find Letitia Wright’s Shuri as convincing, but that may be personal taste as she is a good actress in other films I’ve seen. Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi was outstanding, and this actor is quickly showing the range in his performances – from an excellent Black Mirror episode, to Sicario, to Get Out and now this performance laiden with subtleties. He’s come a looooong way since playing a pretty stereotyped London Nigerian parking attendant in Harry and Paul. I’ve loved Martin Freeman since his role in the UK’s Office but I found his Everett Ross performance a bit ham-fisted. Andy Serkis was outstandingly over the top as Ulysses Klaue and you can’t help to think he is wasted in his many motion capture roles, I want to see him on-screen! He reminded me of Sharlto Copley in District 9 except even more unhinged. Michael B Jordan as the thuggist Killmonger didn’t do it for me as a principal antagonist – I never felt invested in the character and why he turned out as he did, and was left thinking “What if Daniel Kaluuya had played this role…”. But this is a minor gripe given the variety of great performances throughout the cast.

Cast of Black Panther. Source: www.facebook.com/MarvelCinematicUniverse

My only other criticism of the film was that the humour wasn’t as up-there as I thought it would be – there was a particularly weak joke about “sneakers” which I’m sure was intended to be funny but the cinema was silent. This could be because I had been spoilt by Taika Waititi’s outstanding Thor:Ragnarok which had me in stitches from the beginning to the end. But the themes in this film are, perhaps, such that comedy isn’t really an important element to the story, whereas the third Thor outing had invested itself in being a comedy showpiece, which is executed expertly. In any case, I can’t complain as both films, and indeed so many of the recent Marvel Cinematic offerings, were pure entertainment. Indeed, this studio is struggling to put a foot wrong, with the exception of the absolutely awful Inhumans series.

I would thoroughly recommend this film as a piece of entertainment with some interesting questions throughout.

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