Apr 19, 2018

The Infinity Gauntlet: 3 Things That Should Be in Infinity War, and 3 Things That Shouldn't

To say that Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest event in superhero movies is a giant understatement. It's the culmination of 10 years of multiple sub-franchises connecting the first truly successful shared universe, which is pretty appropriate considering that the Marvel Universe is the first true shared universe in comics, integrated tightly by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and company in the 1960s.

The Infinity Gauntlet
3 Things That Should Make It to the Movie
And 3 Things That Shouldn't
by Duy

Marvel's The Infinity Gauntlet is the first comic book event I ever bought. It was widely read in my grade school, so the fact that Thanos was the villain led to a lot of teasing at my expense due to my last name. Despite that (or maybe because of it), it's what made me a fan of the Marvel Universe (I was already a fan of the DC Universe, and yes, you can be both). And it made me a gigantic fan of George Perez, who is to this day still my favorite artist of all time.

The comic sees Thanos wield the titular Infinity Gauntlet, which is really just his glove with the six Infinity Gems (they're the Infinity Stones now) attached to them. The gems control power (the Aether in the MCU), reality (Star-Lord's Orb), time (the eye of Agamotto), the mind (that thing on the Vision's head), space (the tesseract), and the soul (we have yet to see this, but it's gotta be in Wakanda, right?). Of course, power over all of these things kinda sorta makes Thanos, well.... in a word...

It's not a perfect comic, though. It's high-stakes, it's dramatic, and it's full of action, but it doesn't quite stick the landing and falls into some convoluted characterization that could at least be described as apropo in the comics, but would just be out of place in the movies. So with that, let's look at three things that should make it into the movie, and three things that shouldn't.



These introductory/transition effects blew me away as a kid and I think they'd look cool in the movie if they can execute it properly.

Look, after Thor: Ragnarok captured Jack Kirby so well, anything is now visually possible.

Okay, fine, that one's really specific to me, so let's go here.


In the Marvel Universe, the concept of a universe is a sentient being made of galaxies, stars, and planets, and his name is Eternity. There are beings that manifest the concepts of Love and Hate. And ruling over it all is the Living Tribunal, the ultimate judge.

This entire thing blew my mind as a child, and was awe-inspiring when my nephew and niece read it many, many years later. Infinity Gauntlet is a comic my family shares, and this is always one of the big "wow" moments. 

They don't need to actually do much, but now would be a great time to introduce them.


When all the gathered heroes fail, and only Captain America is left, he doesn't back down. Instead he stands up to Thanos, believing that as long as there was life, there was hope.

So basically, when this happened, I basically screamed "YEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH!" really loud at the TV.

And now, for the bad stuff.



Remember what I said about Marvel having personifications of concepts? Death is one of them, and in the comics she's Thanos' entire motivation. He's in love with her, and that's why he wants to kill half the universe.

It's an intriguing concept, but I would argue it's easier to pass off such a concept in two dimensions than in live action, and I would question their ability to establish this in such a way that the general moviegoing audience would accept it.

Unless they want to say he's in love with Hela, the Goddess of Death. I can buy that.


I don't think Warlock is getting into the movie because he has had no buildup past one post-credits scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but he's basically Thanos' arch-nemesis (sorry, Silver Surfer fans, we all know it's Warlock) and the main protagonist of Infinity Gauntlet.

The fact that he has no build-up may be a good enough reason to not put him in the movie, but really, you should keep him away altogether because Adam Warlock is a terrible character, a pretentious, condescending excuse of a hero who makes me want to take a white-out and pour it all over his annoying little golden face when I have a comic he's in. Did I mention I hate Adam Warlock?

But really, come on. This is a culmination of ten years of movies. It should be resolved by the characters who appeared in those ten years of movies. Maybe some of them die, maybe the torch is passed to the later generation like Black Panther and Doctor Strange and Spider-Man. But they shouldn't make way in this movie to a completely new character. That's not just unfair to the characters; it's unfair to the actors who built this thing.


Speaking of being resolved by the characters who built this, I really, really hope they don't introduce comic Thanos' character flaw in these. You see, in the comics, Thanos has an all-too-human weakness:

Man, Warlock's such a dick.

He wants to lose. He believes himself so unworthy of winning that he ends up sabotaging himself. It's relatable. It's fascinating. In the comics, it's an integral trait.

In the movie? It would be really annoying. Like I said up above, the culmination of ten years should be solved by the heroes, the characters we've grown attached to. This may be the last time we see Iron Man and Captain America some of them.

They shouldn't save the day because of a dogmatic adherence to the source material for the sake of being faithful. They should save the day on their own because at the end of the day, that's what will be satisfying to everyone who came on this decade-long ride.

They should save the day because they're the heroes.

Enjoy Infinity War, everyone!

Apr 18, 2018

Cassandra Nova Is Charles Xavier

There is something Gnostic in the number of evil sides of himself, that over the years, Professor Charles Xavier has had to tamp down or exorcise. Most media, most serial characters would be satisfied with one evil double, one gone down the wrong path version. There are the supervillain foils, his famous nemesis, Magneto, his bully of an older stepbrother, Cain Marko, aka the Juggernaut. And, there is always an excuse when some horrid monster crawls up from his mind, from his urges, takes a body and wreaks havoc. “He was psychically tainted by some heretofore unknown mental power of Magneto’s.” “There was a cosmic confluence that reached over galaxies.” “I think she is the first of a new, unforeseen species.” “The Shi'ar mystics call this a mummudrai.”

Cassandra Nova Is Charles Xavier
Travis Hedge Coke

My favorite thing about these evil sides, including the above excuses and explanations, is that we are, from the beginning, invited to disbelieve them. When the earliest of these evil sides attacks Xavier-proper and his school, it possesses him, he fights against it. It is seen as a clearly distinct being, called the Entity. However, the Entity is Charles Xavier, and even he eventually has to recognize this truth.

Onslaught, the seemingly all-powerful monster who seemed to be the death of most of the major superheroes in the Marvel Universe, was born out of Xavier, expressing his guilts and lusts explicitly, but later, we see that when he put Magneto in a coma, some evil creature, a seed of psychic energy, crawled up from Magneto’s brain into Xavier’s and clearly, that must be at fault.

We “see,” however, a memory, a replay from perspective. Memory is not reality, and in the Marvel Universe, memory and reality are not immutable or undeniable.

The Entity can stand proud, can conquer and rape in his conquistador helmet, with his working legs and his open condescension. Onslaught appears as a towering armored beast and as a wicked child, openly goading with guilt and promises of friendship. They don’t befriend and compromise, but command and disrupt.

So, we come to Cassandra Nova, a demonic inversion that is currently bedeviling Jean Grey in a new X-book just now. Cassandra is described by the Shi'ar, as a mummudrai, as an inversion of all that something is, a mummudrai is all that something proper, is not. Everything has a mummudrai. “The mummudrai of in, is out.” Up, down. Awake, asleep. Cold, hot. But, Xavier’s mind is so powerful, even before birth, that his mummudrai is also thinking and psychically-empowered. With that psychic power, and that awareness, she is able to have form in this world, and to act.

What the aforementioned Jean Grey and her colleague Emma Frost see in Xavier’s mind, amidst boobytraps and bruises left by Cassandra’s attack, are memories of prenatal Xavier attacking his twin sister in the womb, strangling her with her umbilical cord, causing their mother to fall down a flight of stairs and miscarry one of her children. It is a primal scene mixed in with cues of the primal scene. His spinal injury and a sense of castration are thrown around, his father becomes himself in a snow globe of semen, standing proudly beside his mother as if at their wedding. We understand that the weirder things are symbolic, cannot be real, but the vibrant and contained struggle of the twins? We take it for granted that it is true in a boobytrapped mind.

Later, we learn from other sources, that when Cassandra first gained consciousness, she made her body out of discarded cellular matter in a sewer. So, not a near-to-term fetus.

Still, most of the audience clung, and clings yet, to the fantasy that plays out in his damaged mind, because, well, Grey and Frost saw it, and we saw them seeing it.

It never happened. What we saw was memory only, or, if you prefer, it was presentation alone.

It was guilt and disassociation, which grew, by will alone, a physical, walking, talking, id-driven body, and then covered that body in armor and a pretense that it’s a living “not-me.”

Like Onslaught.

Like the Entity.

Cassandra is not a new species. She is not a magical demon from the nether realms. Not an abandoned, rejected twin fetus. She is an anxiety-fueled imaginary fiend. An intimate projecttion, a thought even a baby did not like having. Like the other evil sides we had seen, she is a subconscious rejection by Xavier, a thing of rejected feelings, rejected temperament, pushed away so strongly, by such a powerful mind, that they could pretend autonomy and act distinct from Xavier. But, she is still a projection, a willed being. She is still Charles Xavier, even if Charles made her up while still in his mother’s womb.

Cassandra Nova is not Charles Xavier’s twin sister. She is Charles Xavier.

Apr 16, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Thor: Ragnarok

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  Next, the Lord God of Thunder does comedy!

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok was released on November 3 2017, and made $123 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $315 million in the United States and $854 million total worldwide.

MATT: I actually saw this one in theaters, which was a first probably since Age of Ultron. It was a pleasure to sit through. Goldblum goes a full 5/5 Goldblums, which is thoroughly enjoyable. I do also want to give a shoutout to all the Hemsworth brothers in the opening sketch in Asgard. Even Larry. It is a bit disjointed, but really you have parallel movies going on. Hela scheming in Asgard and Thor trying to get back. The Executioner is a flat patsy, but Hela is a fleshed out villain. We know why she's doing what she's doing quickly and efficiently.

SAMANTHA: So, this is my favorite Thor movie now. It’s also the closest I think we’ll ever get to a Ruffalo Hulk standalone, and that’s legitimately fine by me. I loved the addition of Tessa Thompson, and you can’t tell me Cate Blanchett didn’t crush it.

DUY:  I get that it's funny and to a lot of people, that's inappropriate. And as I've said in Dark World and Age of Ultron, I am not a fan of when Thor cuts a dramatic moment with a zippy one-liner. But this movie from the start was marketed as a comedy, and even as a comedy, it's hellaciously dark (no pun intended). Hela is the most dangerous villain they've ever faced. The Executioner goes from being a joke to being absolutely terrified the moment she subjugates him. Heimdall kicks more ass here than any supporting character who isn't the Hulk in any Thor movie. Virtually all of the funny moments happen on Sakaar, and that's okay.

BEN: I was initially disappointed that Hela wasn’t given a more serious movie to be the villain in, but after watching it a few more times, it still works. We watched it three times the first week after it came out on digital download.

MAX: Personally, I think lighter moments make the darker ones...well..darker. If something is one note, it gets old quickly. I thought Ragnarok took the audience to a lot of different places, not just in story but emotionally too. Waititi's comedies are all really dark and there's almost always a surprising moment of tenderness in them.

DUY: It reminds me, equally, of Giffen and DeMatteis' Justice League International and the Brave and the Bold cartoon series, where it's primarily a comedy, and they use that to get away with some really dark stuff. And also, it reminds me of Wayne and Garth, Bill and Ted, Dude Where's My Car, Jay and Silent Bob, except with Thor and the Hulk instead, and come on, how do you not love that.

SAMANTHA: It starts strong with the comedy right out of the gate, getting laughs even when Thor is in dire straits - I laughed pretty big at that slow turn while he was dangling from the chains. Poor Surtur got zero respect while he was trying to be intimidating.

DUY: It's just silly to me that there's the preconception that all stories need to be serious, but it goes double for Thor. The trappings are serious, yes, but even a good sampling of classic Thor runs yield memorable stories that would be funny in live action. Arguably the classic Kirby story is literally when Thor and Hercules brawl all over New York because Hercules was flirting with Jane. Another classic story, this time by Simonson, is even referenced in Ragnarok: Loki turns Thor into a frog.

MAX: I think some fans just have that mindset, it's the same people who complain about Starlord's singing in Guardians of the Galaxy. they probably need to unclench in real life too. Thor being so different fits with my idea of maturity. As you become more secure, you get less triggered and more able to laugh at yourself. Brannagh’s young Thor felt like he who was trying to be or become someone; Waititi’s older Thor was comfortable in his own skin and didn’t mind showing his dopier side. So i’m all good with that character progression.

JEFF: I freaking loved this movie. From start to finish I enjoyed just about everything it had (the effects, the action, the comedy, the music) and that it never took itself too seriously. I loved how Sakaar ended up feeling like it was from a post-apocalypse British 80's movie with music to match, we get a talking Hulk(finally!) and Jeff Goldblum managed to be in a movie and not annoy me (I'm not a fan of his but I loved him as the Grandmaster).

SAMANTHA: Jeff Goldblum didn’t at all strike me as a Marvel movie kind of guy, now I’m wondering why he wasn’t in one sooner. I sadly forgot how much magic is all up in this guy.

Even a good sampling of classic Thor runs yield memorable stories that would be funny in live action. Arguably the classic Kirby story is literally when Thor and Hercules brawl all over New York because Hercules was flirting with Jane. Another classic story, this time by Simonson, is even referenced in Ragnarok: Loki turns Thor into a frog. -Duy

DUY: Thor kicking ass to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" is my favorite solo fight sequence ever. Both of them.

MAX: That got the blood pumping.

KATHERINE: I was so pumped both times I saw this in the theater that I was just basically squealing and didn't even notice the details, but looking at it now when you can pay attention shot by shot, it's really amazing to see all the different ways he's using lightning. He uses it like he used his hammer, but also like a whip, like a sword, like a gun, like a battering ram, like a natural extension of his body. So good.

MAX: I really liked the confidence oozing off Thor in that opening sequence. Kinda reminded me of Grant Morrison's "shamanic" epiphany for his portrayal of All-Star Superman:
Until we looked up to see a guy dressed as Superman crossing the train tracks. Not just any skinny convention guy in an ill–fitting suit, this guy actually looked like Superman. It was too good a moment to let pass, so I ran over to him, told him what we’d been trying to do and asked if he wouldn’t mind indulging us by answering some questions about Superman, which he did…in the persona and voice of Superman! 
We talked for an hour and a half and he walked off into the night with his friend (no, it wasn’t Jimmy Olsen, sadly). I sat up the rest of the night, scribbling page after page of Superman notes as the sun came up over the naval yards.
My entire approach to Superman had come from the way that guy had been sitting; so easy, so confident, as if, invulnerable to all physical harm, he could relax completely and be spontaneous and warm. That pose, sitting hunched on the bollard, with one knee up, the cape just hanging there, talking to us seemed to me to be the opposite of the clenched, muscle-bound look the character sometimes sports and that was the key to Superman for me.

DUY: Thoughts on the Dr. Strange cameo? It really builds up his power level, but may bring down Loki a bit.

JEFF: I loved Thor's face when his drink just starts to refill.

SAMANTHA: The entire time they spent with Dr. Strange was amazing. It had to have been meant to build up on his power level. At the expense of Loki, who wasn’t really being used as a villain anyway? I’ll take it. Besides, I’ve seen the movie three times and have laughed at Loki’s landing every. single. time.

MATT: Their getting thrown around by Strange was actually pretty effective. It shows us Strange and his power in a way that puts him on equal terms (if you, lets say skipped his movie entirely). And also, we get the umbrella!

MAX: I enjoyed it, and it worked for me even though I never saw the Doctor Strange movie.

LAMAR: It stays true to their interactions since their first appearances. Loki and Dr. Strange have gone back and forth quite a bit, and Strange has mopped the floor with him often. Especially in the early days.

SCARLET: Loki needed to be taken down a notch anyway. This movie was all about Loki getting brutally chastised again and again and that's part of what made it so great.

KATHERINE: I did hear people complain about this section and I would just shake my head like "why do you hate fun and joy?" I thought it was a delight. Definitely hope to see more Dr. Strange/Loki moments in the future because they just make such a fun pair of sorcerers/a-holes. Also, those two have a total bromance in real life, so it would just be perfect. I want a road trip buddy movie with Falcon / Cap / Bucky all squeezed into a tiny car. And an intergalactic / alternate dimension / mushroom trip buddy movie with Loki/Dr. Strange/Thor in a tiny space ship.

It wasn't too heavy handed with the allegory and it makes perfect sense in current culture: it's hard for any of us to believe that people or institutions rise to power without some blood on their hands. - Max 
It's the movie equivalent of taking a spoonful of sugar with your medicine. -Katherine
DUY: I think Hela may be my favorite Marvel villain, just in terms of threat level and the personality and sass she brings to the character. It's close between her and Loki, but as I've mentioned to many times before, I don't think Loki is actually a good villain.

MAX: I really enjoyed her backstory here and how it tied into Odin and their previous conquests (read: colonization).

DUY: I was thinking about how Panther was probably the MCU movie with the most to say about society, issues, the state of the world, so I did some Googling and, weirdly, found out that the other movie that had a lot to say about that stuff — and I never noticed, because it's just not that kind of movie — is Thor: Ragnarok.

ANTONIO: It was a fantastic little detail. Asgard has this machine that can launch whole armies across space, so it makes sense that they did some conquering and pillaging. Even if it was to occasionally beat down some frost giants or dark elves. You’re still expected to bring home spoils. Sooner or later, there’s bound to be a few worlds that didn’t deserve getting conquered buuuuuut, well, they had some nice shit you wanted.

MAX: It wasn't too heavy handed with the allegory and it makes perfect sense in current culture: it's hard for any of us to believe that people or institutions rise to power without some blood on their hands. I think the article highlights the importance of having diversity not just in front of the camera, but behind it too. an equally talented and skilled white male director would have made a Thor movie every bit as good, but he wouldn’t have brought Waititi’s worldview to the story of Asgard. Diversity of creators means diversity of story and themes. Pretty simple.

KATHERINE: I love this analysis and read a bunch of similar takes when the movie came out. Genius and so well camouflaged with entertainment. It's the movie equivalent of taking a spoonful of sugar with your medicine.

DUY: Max, what do you think about it being a statement on colonialism, seeing as how you and Taika are from the same continent?

MAX: Technically we’re not from the same continent. I guess the easiest way to describe Australia and New Zealand’s relationship is like the USA to Canada, but we also have a habit of claiming anything good to come out of New Zealand as our own. So somehow, we’ve tried to take credit for waititi despite having contributed zero to his success (other than letting him film here). We’re a nation partly built on criminals so I guess stealing is just part of the culture. New Zealand also has a far better track record of working with and respecting its indigenous peoples than Australia has. So I think part of Waititi’s hopeful narrative comes from that more positive experience. The movie was shot here though and i know Waititi went to great lengths to make sure crew and cast of indigenous and diverse backgrounds were utilized, giving them an opportunity that’s rare in our small industry. a Viet-Australian I know was cast as a Valkyrie because of that approach. I want to be a Valkyrie!

MATT: It's full of Australians and New Zealanders, which definitely gives it a different gelling and the vibe carries through. Much like Ryan Coogler in Black Panther, I think Waititi was given a much freer rein to put his stamp on the movie and it definitely works.

DUY: The Marvel movies do start out with something they want to say, but between Ragnarok and Panther, they just dove deeper into those things than any of the movies before. They have very similar overall plots. Comes with the characters (both are royalty) or a sign of the times?

MATT: Another interesting parallel is that they definitely get a healthy dose of the director's style and aren't slotted into a "generic" category (something I'd ascribe to Dr. Strange).

KATHERINE: I feel like these two movies are so much about big timely themes faced by minorities (though Ragnarok kind of hides it behind its comedy), tackling racism and systemic oppression in Black Panther and colonialism/displacement in Ragnarok. I don’t want to say that a Caucasian director couldn’t have done as good a job, but I can’t help but think that having directors that actually grew up mired in these issues made the expression of these themes better, at least more personal and with a deeper understanding of the issues they’re tackling. I think that's part of the argument for the importance of diversity. Sometimes it's not just about pure talent — different life experiences can bring a little something extra to the table.

Sometimes it's not just about pure talent — different life experiences can bring a little something extra to the table. -Katherine 
Diversity of creators means diversity of story and themes. Pretty simple. -Max

MATT: It has a lot to say about refugees and it's text, not subtext. I am also by far not the first to point that out.

SAMANTHA: You legitimately just made me brain battle whether or not Odin deserved a fiery violent death for his past transgressions or if he should be commended for how he tried to re-set the example. I’m not in any way commending that he glossed over and hid the actual history of Asgard, but I guess he did it to stop the future from cycling off their violent past? His death, while understated, kind of seemed befitting given what the audience would later found out about how he actually rolled back in the day. He was a savage, really. He raised a monster and knew it, so much so that he had her locked up and hidden away. He lived his last years wanting to rule peacefully and avoid fighting if he could, so it’s kind of cool that he just kind of... quietly disintegrated... versus the writers having Hela somehow escape and impaling her father so that he died a violent painful death.

MAX: I liked that Odin's passing was relatively peaceful versus fiery death. I liked it as a passing of the torch to Thor (and Loki). It fit with the current real-life political discussion of the next generation becoming more politically aware), but also with Nordic myth, which is full of fathers dying and sons avenging.

DUY: Do you guys think Odin by the end wanted redemption, or wanted to run away from his responsibility?

MATT: Run away. Resigned to it though.

MAX: Redemption through his sons.

SAMANTHA: I think he ran. And what better way than to be exiled by your asshole son so that you can keep your favorite son’s sympathies?

KATHERINE: Isn't that his MO?

SAMANTHA: I know I mentioned this to someone! Every time things go pear-shaped it’s like “Oh my god, I can’t take this. Odinsleep.”

KATHERINE: Considering the revelations made in Ragnarok, I would think Loki should now be even more offended at his treatment. So he tried to conquer one little earth and killed some people in the process... big deal. Turns out, Odin waged war on galaxies, plundered their resources and probably killed millions in the process. Get off your high horse, colonizer. Then, he locks up and/or banishes any of his kids who try to do the same. He did it to all three of them! He's just lucky Thor turned out okay (probably because he was lucky enough to end up on earth and fell in love, sparking his humanity), whereas it broke the other two (probably because they went into some hellish dark hole where they were likely either tortured or living for eons in solitary confinement). If you're batting 2/3 of your kids turning into psychos, I think you're the common link.

DUY: Let's take this time to acknowledge that the biggest villain in the Thor mythos is Odin.

KATHERINE: It’s so true. If Odin hadn’t been such a shitty dad, there would be no villainous Loki or Hela. Imagine their potential for greatness if they had grown up happy and well-balanced. I just saw a post that reminded me of what Odin said to Loki in the Dark World, and honestly, no wonder he left him in a retirement home. "Your birthright was to die as a child! Cast out on a frozen rock. If I had not taken you in, you would not be here now to hate me. Frigga is the only reason you are still alive and you will never see her again." Cold blooooded.

Let's take this time to acknowledge that the biggest villain in the Thor mythos is Odin. -Duy

KATHERINE: I saw an interesting criticism that once Loki became king, he didn't do anything with his power - he just hung out, eating grapes and putting on shows about how great he is. I'm curious what everyone thought of this. Was anyone expecting him to start wars and subjugate his people? Given everything we know about him, I actually thought it totally made sense that he was just chilling and letting people adore him. I don't think Loki has any ambitions to be the warrior or the conqueror that Hela, Odin, or even Thor was. He tells Thor in the first movie that he never wanted to be king, he only ever wanted to be Thor's equal. And he says in The Avengers that even though humans are beneath him, he plans to rule Earth as a benevolent god. I think he wants the power just so that people will love him and fill that hole left by his daddy in childhood and to prove to Thor that he can.

MATT: It didn’t seem out of character. He achieved his goal and Thor had no idea. No reason to ruin a good thing.

KATHERINE: If he had succeeded in conquering the earth in The Avengers, I think he'd be doing the exact same thing, relaxing in some magnificent mansion and making Matt Damon and Hollywood's biggest stars act out little plays for him.

SAMANTHA: Hah, actors all over the world would be pining to perform for King Loki, the film industry would be turned on its ear! It made perfect sense to me too that his rule involved a lot of fruit, hanging out, and performance art!

KATHERINE: Maaan we should've let him win, this world would've seen a golden age of classical theater. By King Loki's rule, neglected emo kids in school would get all the music and arts funding they need!

SAMANTHA: Wow, you’re right! I... I think I’m onboard! #LongLiveLoki

JEFF: Well when you go back to the first Thor movie and look at Loki's plan, his goal was to be the hero, and receive admiration from Asgard for saving Odin and defeating the frost giants. I don't think he ever wanted to rule. He probably fancies himself a string puller behind the throne. His main motivation has always been his jealousy of Thor.

KATHERINE: Stepping out of the ship and going "Your savior is here!" must’ve really been his happiest moment. 

(If Loki had won in Avengers) Actors all over the world would be pining to perform for King Loki, the film industry would be turned on its ear! -Samantha

SAMANTHA: I’ve only heard a ton about Thanos as a villain, so I’m interested in seeing how he comes off on-screen and how he compares to Hela. She’s incredibly badass.

DUY: Thanos is one of the villains of my childhood (and a source of relentless mocking for me due to my last name). I've got some issues with him, but I hope they pull this off.

SAMANTHA: Tell me about the issues! What are you hoping to see?

DUY: The main character usually put up against Thanos is Adam Warlock, who is a terrible character and I really, really hope does not get introduced in Infinity War or the unnamed sequel. Very specifically though, Thanos has a "character flaw" where he sabotages his own plans. the only reason he loses is because he subconsciously wants to. It's such a huge character trait of his, and I would hate to see that in the movie. I want him to get beaten because the heroes won, not because he wanted to lose.

SAMANTHA: That’s... odd. But psychologically speaking, it’s been argued that we (humans? I’ve been using the term loosely lately) often fail at certain tasks because we, in some way and for whatever reason, want to. But I’m sure I’m reading too much into that. Also am I right in saying that Thanos’ entire mission (at least in the CU) is basically for the purpose of impressing a love interest? I could have sworn I read that somewhere - if that’s the case, it would certainly explain why he kind of wants to fail deep down.

DUY: I mean, yeah, it's realistic, it's just... not narratively satisfying. And yes, it's all to impress a woman. But that woman is Death. I don't know how they're gonna pull that off, and would be happy if they just changed that altogether.

SAMANTHA: With a 2-hour-36-minute runtime, it’ll be interesting to see how they flesh that out enough to make sense.

Sakaar looked so much like a Jack Kirby comic brought to life, and everything on Asgard felt like it was brought off of Walt Simonson's pages. Just the two best Thor creators ever, and I felt like I was watching them on film. -Duy

DUY: My complaints: The Warriors 3 get killed unceremoniously, there's no word of where Sif even is. Making up for that is Heimdall being the most badass character ever until Shuri and Okoye showed up, so he won that title and kept it for five months.

SAMANTHA: Yeah, I was left — what, empty? — with the way they died! Were their deaths just casualties of the chaos of Hela’s arrival, meant to go quickly so that the viewer didn’t have time to really think? Or was it meant to sort of subliminally begin the audience’s disconnect from Asgard since it was ultimately going to be destroyed?

DUY: It definitely felt more to me like "Oh their contracts are up." Odin too, especially, actually.

SAMANTHA: That’s kind of depressing. I mean, I get it - the movie isn’t called “Odin” or “Thor and the Warriors 3” but still...

MATT: Only Hogun got a decent death, comparatively speaking. Sif, I believe is doing something TV?  Odin's death seemed like a continuation of the character abdicating his general responsibility for how messed up things are in Asgard. At least Miek survived.

ANTONIO: They couldn’t get Sif’s actress away from filming Blindspot at the time. I liked that the Warriors Three basically got murdered by Hela. Would they really have been able to last in any sort of way?

DUY: I know why Jaime Alexander wasn't there, I'd just have liked a shoutout.

Korg is the best! Heck, years from now you might even remember him better than the bigger stars in the whole MCU! -Zha

DUY: It's actually really amazing how it shifts from comedy on Sakaar, to heavy drama on Asgard.

SAMANTHA: It didn’t feel jarring for me either, to go from one to the other - I think their exit from Sakaar is responsible for that though. It was a great scene for me - it definitely helped the transition.

DUY: Sakaar looked so much like a Jack Kirby comic brought to life, and everything on Asgard felt like it was brought off of Walt Simonson's pages. Just the two best Thor creators ever, and I felt like I was watching them on film.

This is basically straightlining Waititi's comedy and it's great. You get some nice Kiwi accented rock guy and Doug. It's lovely.  -Matt

DUY: Can we take the time to appreciate Korg? Jesus, probably the most quotable character I've seen since, I dunno, Inigo Montoya. "I tried to start a revolution, but didn't print enough pamphlets, so hardly anyone showed up, except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate." "Piss off, ghost!"

SAMANTHA: He was fun! “I’m made of rocks, but don’t let that intimidate you! You don’t need to be afraid unless you’re made of scissors.”

JEFF: We should take a moment of silence for poor Doug.

MATT: This is basically straightlining Waititi's comedy and it's great. You get some nice Kiwi accented rock guy and Doug. It's lovely.

MAX: Best director cameo ever.

ZHA: Korg is the best! Heck, years from now you might even remember him better than the bigger stars in the whole MCU!

DUY: Damn, the entire arena fight with the Hulk is incredible (pun not intended, but welcomed). I don't know what cracks me up more: Loki 's reactions or Thor doing the Black Widow lullaby.

SAMANTHA: And how Thor kept dragging it! “Ssh, shh, the sun’s getting low...” Loki jumping to his feet when Thor gets the stuffed animal toss is magic.

MATT: I would like to discuss Loki's outfit and what the internet might call the amount of 'knuck he rocks in that jumpsuit.

SAMANTHA: I legit wasn’t even looking. And I am nowhere I can check back! Damn it!

KATHERINE: I feel like I saw a lot of speculation (headcanons?) about all the sly little looks The Goldblum was giving Loki that suggests how Loki climbed so high into his favor so quickly. .... and how he knew which one was his orgy ship. So if you jump onto that, it would also explain the outfit.

SAMANTHA: What is wrong with me? I didn’t even catch all of that!

KATHERINE: I think it's very sub-textual and totally up for interpretation. But I think it's a valid theory and I love it.

SAMANTHA: In retrospect, I see it! And no one... no one could have nailed the subtext like Jeff Goldblum did.

Forget whitewashing, "Mattwashing" should be a thing. -Max

MATT: The Point Break callback in the Quinjet I only got retrospectively since I rewatched Avengers during the rotation. There's lots in here that requires general knowledge about the MCU the casual fan misses. Thor being a dummy and self-centered remains.

SAMANTHA: I laughed so hard at the Point Break callback on the first watch! But I’m wondering now if it was because I was paying attention or because I’ve been rewatching everything for the roundtables...

KATHERINE: I think the Point Break thing is a funny line regardless of whether you remember it from Avengers or not. I figure that's probably how casual fans take it, but it's an extra fun reward for the more devoted fans who do remember everything.

SAMANTHA: How many people invested in these movies are "casual fans," though? Having not read the comics and realizing early on that this was meant to be an entire Universe versus several standalone movies, I watched the movies hard. I personally didn’t miss Surtur telling Thor about the prophecy in the beginning. Then again, I watched people leaving the theater as soon as the credits started rolling which, at this point, where the hell have they even been?

DUY: To be fair, at this point, they're so widely watched that it no longer matters, I think. Yeah, you might not get all the references if you don't see everything multiple times, but you've probably seen most everything. Just look at the numbers.

SAMANTHA: True, Marvel gets all the dollars.

DUY: Another nitpick I have: unless you see this movie more than once, it's not really clear why Surtur would beat Hela. It's only mentioned the once, way, way early on to expect the audience to be immersed, that Surtur with the eternal flame would be unstoppable.

ANTONIO: It’s not so much Surtur beating Hela as it is Surtur beating Asgard.

KATHERINE: Going into it without knowing anything about Surtur, I understood it that he was the one prophesied who would destroy the world / Asgard. So it made sense to me that if he was powerful enough to do that, he's the only one powerful enough to destroy Hela... or that she would be destroyed in the collateral damage.

DUY: Yeah, but I just heard more than a few people going, how did Surtur do that, when Thor beat him so easily...

ANTONIO: He was old and decrepit when Thor fought him. I mean, they say it a couple of times. Hela draws her power from Asgard. So destroy Asgard and you destroy Hela.

JEFF: He didn't have his flame on when Thor beat him.

Skurge definitely needed more time to develop. -Samantha

DUY: Skurge's death is such a great, iconic comic scene, which doesn't really get the time or buildup here, but it's still nice of them to do it.

SAMANTHA: I don’t think we got to appreciate the gesture as much as we could have, though it was certainly an awesome turn. Skurge definitely needed more time to develop.

MATT: I do want to also seriously discuss the wonderful weirdness of the opening Asgard play scene. If for no other reason than you have someone (Sam Neill?!) playing Odin in front of Loki playing Odin and Matt Damon playing Loki. The entire Hemsworth clan has coalesced to play Thor (or that's my best recollection).

KATHERINE: Liam has not been involved yet, right? Was he somehow in that scene as well?? That whole thing was so weird and so utterly delightful. And the dramatic choir coming in out of nowhere and Loki mouthing along with his "dying" words. Beautiful. And I actually loved that scene in The Dark World and really wanted to believe that this was a rare honest moment from Loki. This scene skewers that so well and perfectly sets the tone for this movie as a departure from The Dark World. But at the same time, I can weirdly see that as maybe still being a real moment for Loki (I totally believe that he loves Thor), and that Loki looks back on it as his greatest moment and believes his own virtue and hype like "oh hot damn that was such a good line. I'm the best."

MAX: It took me a long time to figure out it was the older Hemsworth instead of a Liam clone that was just slightly off. Matt Damon was a great touch too. Forget whitewashing, "Mattwashing" should be a thing.

DUY: Let's also give a shoutout here to Tessa Thompson's performance as Valkyrie, which, of course, was met with hardcore fan outrage, since comic Valkyrie is a white blonde woman named Brunnhilde. The best thing is Waititi apparently knew that, and had someone who sure looked an awful lot like Brunnhilde be a Valkyrie who died in our Valkyrie's arms at the hands of Hela.

MATT: She goes from Veronica Mars to Creed to Thor 3. The throughline is tremendous.

SAMANTHA: I recently heard  that Tessa was cast in the new Men In Black movie as the "K" to Chris Hemsworth’s "J."  it made me happy 'cause I liked their scenes together in Ragnarok, just as much as I loved how Valkyrie interacted with the The Hulk.

KATHERINE: I adore Tessa. She's also a total badass on Westworld and I just loved how she shrugged off all the people bitching about her being cast as Valkyrie with class and sass. "But, I am her now. Oops."

DUY: I've also seen the movie described as a celebration of LGBTQ representation, which I don't really quite get, but hey!

MATT: I am not qualified to comment on this. I do recall the news floating something about Valkyrie, but it never really came through in the movie.

DUY: She played her as bi, and she is bi in the comics. Loki is gender fluid, which doesn't really come through. But the thing I've read about the most is Hela, who apparently is loved as a gay icon.

MATT: She does basically vamp across the stage. We've already commented on Loki's outfit and likely reason for his rise to the top. Shame Scrapper-142's time was spent mentoring/training Hulk (she is Mickey to his Rocky) and not wanting to fight Hela again (who can blame her).

KATHERINE: I think Cate Blanchett in general is just a gay icon. Iconic in all ways, really. I'm totally Cate Blanchsexual. I saw someone say that they went into the movie wanting to marry Thor, came out wanting Hela to murder them... and honestly, I so relate to that emotion. haha

MATT: The Ragnarok F/M/K?

KATHERINE: F Loki / Marry Thor / Let Hela Kill Me. That can be an option, right?

MATT: Absolutely. F Grandmaster / M Korg/ K Doug (sorry Doug)

DUY: Let's take a moment of silence for poor Doug.

KATHERINE: Poor Doug. Though I do get the feeling that if you did kill him, he would be back and it would be all good in the end.

DUY: That's Miek. You're thinking of Miek.

KATHERINE: Aw that’s right. Doug is really dead. And they were stuck in the weird hallway with his corpse.

DUY: The hallway is a circle. But not a real circle, more like a freaky circle. Seriously, if I were to rank my most quotable movies ever, this is way up there. Princess Bride. The animated Transformers. Bill and Ted. Dazed and Confused. Ragnarok. "Oh, Miek's dead. I accidentally stomped on him on the bridge and I've felt so guilty, I've been carrying him around all day. Oh, Miek you're alive! He's alive guys. What was the question again?"

KATHERINE: And on top of that, some of the funniest moments aren’t even lines, they’re looks or little bits of comedy timing. Loki’s “ah, good times” smile when Thor tells the story about how he turned into a snake and stabbed him is one of my personal favorites. “MBLARGH IT’S ME!”

DUY: That entire monologue is so funny... and feels totally, completely ad libbed

MATT: The quinjet access bit is another of the audience loves a slow thinker moments. Thor is not the smartest Avenger and we all know it.

KATHERINE: And it’s also a reminder that Tony’s a dick and probably made it intentionally difficult and embarrassing for them to gain access. Either way the audience wins! Another scene I absolutely love that is probably all improvised is when Thor and Hulk are stomping around like toddlers, throwing shit and having little baby tantrums. "You're being a really bad friend!" "YOU BAD FRIEND!" "You know what we call you? We call you the Stupid Avenger!" "YOU TINY AVENGER!"

MATT: Yes! Thor and Hulk huffing around is hilariously unexpected and works

ANTONIO: Someone complained about Banner’s PHD line in another group, and it blew my mind how someone thought it was weird for a guy known for his intellect to throw it around in comparison to his super-strong alter ego who he’s constantly at odds with.

Thor is not the smartest Avenger and we all know it. -Matt
DUY: Let's also take this time to acknowledge that this is the single best movie poster in all of the MCU.

MATT: It has some strong postering going on. Grandmaster is front and center.

KATHERINE: Also, we can't talk about Ragnarok without talking about Daryl. How does this work, can that be considered canon? I really want it to be.

DUY: How is Daryl not canon? It all totally fits. He was in Australia, roomed with Daryl, and then left to go find Stones.

KATHERINE: Funnily enough, the one hole might be that Banner is human and hanging out in Australia too, taking Tony's calls. And I just found that there was a continuation of the adventures of Darryl! This is beautiful.

DUY: See, it completely works out. Except for Banner, we'll just ignore that.

MATT: We could also discuss the James Corden 4D version of the movie. Which would dovetail with the play within a play motif back with Odin-Loki.

KATHERINE: All the marketing for this movie was just top shelf fun and crazy. I know exactly where this theater is. I can’t believe I wasn’t there.

DUY: It goes back to why I think the move is so fun: every actor really looks like they're having the time of their life.

Seriously, if I were to rank my most quotable movies ever, this is way up there. -Duy

DUY: Who wins the Val Kilmer Award for this movie? So many choices, but I think mine goes to Korg.

MATT: Korg or Grandmaster for me. They steal all scenes. Hela is a close third.

ANTONIO: Graaaaandmaster.

JEFF: Goldblum was too good as Grandmaster, Hulk is my runner up

DUY: Comics recommendations for Ragnarok? I'm just gonna recommend Walt Simonson's run, and every comic Jack Kirby ever did, but primarily the Thor run, the middle part of the Fantastic Four run, and the New Gods series.

JEFF: Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, and Avengers Disassembled: Thor.

DUY: I'll close it off with Jason Aaron's run on Thor, because Thor Odinson eventually ends up hammerless with short hair.

Apr 11, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Spider-Man Homecoming

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  Next, the long-awaited return/debut of Marvel's flagship superhero!

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming was released on July 7, 2017, and made $117 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $334 million in the United States and $880 million total worldwide.

ANTONIO: I liked it, even loved some parts, but not sure I loved it as a whole. The warehouse scene in DC seemed to run longer than it shoulda, for one thing. And I guess I wanted something a little more stylized, a little funkier. Cast was cool, though.

DUY: For me, I think it's the best Spider-Man movie, top to bottom, I've seen, and Tom is the perfect high school age Peter. But it didn't have the impact of the first two Spider-Man movies, even though the cast is better top to bottom. And from a personal preference standpoint, Andrew Garfield is the closest to my preferred version of Spider-Man. I've never been an Ultimate Spider-Man fan. My favorite version is Ditko's version, which has more of an edge.

JEFF: I really enjoyed this movie when it came out, Holland is the overall best Parker to me and his performance was solid. He's the most relatable to me, which is an essential part to Spider-Man. It's funny but I've been rewatching Homecoming and the two Amazing movies this last week and I'd forgotten how much I liked the first Garfield movie. Both he and Holland did great as Parker conveying the outcast who can't ever fit in.

DUY: Yeah, I think Garfield really got that Ditko feel, the angry, controlled loner who's also just a genius. Too many people like to stereotype that era as him being a nerd, and I think that's because of flashbacks, mainly. Ditko's Peter was more loner/outsider than stereotypical nerd. And Holland is pretty much Ultimate Peter Parker brought to life.

JEFF: I love that they didn't redo the origin, something Warner Bros should take note of for the next Batman reboot.

DUY: Absolutely no need to redo the origin, but I think my biggest beef is that Peter isn't a loner in this one. They even mention it in the movie — Ned being the guy in the chair kinda gives this more of a TV setup.

ANTONIO: I think it’s nice that Peter has friends. It just makes him look like less of a jerk.

KATHERINE: Spider-Man is my sister's favorite superhero, she saw this probably like five times in the theater and it's her favorite of all the Spider-Man movies, hands down. It's so interesting how different the reactions are depending on your "version" of the character. I personally love the teen movie genre (shout out to Chris Evans' start in Not Another Teen Movie!) and coming-of-age stories are my favorites... probably partially a result of being a child of the 80s and 90s. So I absolutely loved that they made a superhero movie that also completely belongs in the teen movie genre. I don't think any of the previous Spideys did that. Even though they took place partially in high school, they didn't feel like superpowered John Hughes the way this one did. Thinking about it now, that probably has a lot to do with having the prom / big school dance at the same time as the climax. I really appreciate how Marvel is showing that "superhero movie" isn't one genre, it can be any kind of movie you want that happens to have superheroes in it.

DUY: Yeah, absolutely. I don't really have a love for the teen movie genre anymore (that peaked with 10 Things I Hate About You), and Peter is so, so ingrained in my mind as a certain set of things. But I think the weirdest thing for me with Spider-Man is that he'd be perfect for a TV series, and not for Netflix, but for your regular primetime hour-long show. He's got the supporting cast (especially with this movie, with Ned), he's street-level, the special effects wouldn't be so big, certainly not compared to someone like Superman, and he tends to have an episodic type of storytelling in general.

ANTONIO: You probably make more money in a movie, though. A lot more money. Netflix shows were basically made on shoestring budgets.

DUY: No yeah, the stature of the character is definitely for the movies. He's that big. But I think the ultimate paradox of Spider-Man as a brand is the fact that the character is street-level, small-scale compared to all these other big guns in the Marvel Universe, and that a character like him is really suited to an episodic TV show.

ANTONIO: He definitely sits above that line separating street-level and Avenger. Honestly, he’s probably the most versatile hero. One of the best set of skills and abilities. If he can’t beat you one way, he can beat you four other ways.

DUY: While I'm on the subject, I'm also gonna say he's the perfect video game hero. Everyone else has a powerset that can be approximated some way or another, but you can't approximate Spider-Man without coming off as obviously trying to approximate Spider-Man.

I liked it, even loved some parts, but not sure I loved it as a whole. -Antonio

ANTONIO: I think Michelle makes for an interesting modern twist on the Mary Jane character. Also, I will never, ever get enough of MJ fans shouting at the top of their internet lungs that she’s not MJ and that the MCU will have two MJs.

DUY: Michelle's character is pretty one note and is just a running joke throughout the movie. The MJ thing just feels like a branding directive more than anything.

JEFF: I think they just threw that in at the end to cause a shitstorm with "fans", give them something new to complain about.

DUY: I just feel like there's an opportunity to build more characters as brands outside of MJ and Gwen. The Dark Knight series has Rachel Dawes, who isn't even a comic character.

KATHERINE: I loved Michelle. Cool woke chick who didn't give a shit about what people think and who's not trying to be anyone's love interest. I thought it was a fun way to introduce a character who's clearly going to be a bigger deal in the future but didn't need to take up too much time in this one.

DUY: I was more annoyed that she wasn't Michele Gonzales. Also, in general, I feel like this would have been better if it was a Miles Morales movie. It even feels like it was written as a Miles movie and then they took him out and put Peter in. Not to say Peter is a whitewashed Miles; it just feels like the whole thing started as a Miles project.

KATHERINE: I totally get the criticism, but I think considering the planned longevity of the MCU, I think you still want to start with Peter and see him fighting alongside the original big-hitters while you still can (he'll probably just get that one chance with Infinity War). Miles is next generation that builds on and is informed by what came before, so I think we'll get to him later, but in the meantime they still wanted to diversify the cast in a way that feels familiar to the Spidey universe. It sounds like it's already in the works when you consider that Donald Glover was canonically playing Miles' uncle and he mentions wanting to keep his nephew's neighborhood safe. There's even a deleted scene where he calls Miles and tells him he can't make it (as he's still webbed to the car). Would you have preferred that the MCU start with Miles and never have a Peter in their universe? It feels like his origin should still have something to do with Peter.

DUY: I'd prefer it have started with Miles, actually, and treat Peter like they treat Pym. (Weirdly, I still wish they'd started with Pym.)The diverse cast got me to thinking a lot about how we view diversity. The fact that it really felt more like Miles to me kind of said, to me, that we'll diversify the cast as much as we want, but the lead character still has to be a white guy. And it's not the first MCU film to do that: look at any of the Iron Mans, Captain Americas, and Thors. Black Panther goes a huge way into changing that, but it did make me think that I'd want to see a multicultural diverse cast whose lead was a nonwhite character. I think that was the opportunity lost with Miles.

 I think the ultimate paradox of Spider-Man as a brand is the fact that the character is street-level, small-scale compared to all these other big guns in the Marvel Universe, and that a character like him is really suited to an episodic TV show. -Duy

DUY: The Vulture is a really good villain, at the time thought to be Marvel's best. I don't agree, but he is up there. The personal connection thing is such a big deal for Marvel, especially Spider-Man.

ANTONIO: I didn’t see the twist coming until Peter was at their door. And I’m glad they didn’t spoil it. That was one of those Holy shit! moments.

DUY: I was taken completely aback by the twist, partly because I'd read that Vulture was gonna be Michelle's dad, and not Liz's. And partly because I didn't think Liz was gonna be biracial. It was a unique way to use the racebend to set up the twist. There probably hasn't been a twist in an MCU movie that's surprised me so much, and that includes Hydra being in control of SHIELD.

I really appreciate how Marvel is showing that "superhero movie" isn't one genre, it can be any kind of movie you want that happens to have superheroes in it. -Katherine

DUY: Flash Thompson's reinvention into the nerdy bully actually makes sense given the current climate.

ANTONIO: I wish they’d used him better. If just to justify the change.

DUY: What's everyone think of Spidey lifting the rubble? I like that they tried it, but it's not quite how I imagined it. The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon did it pretty well from what I recall

ANTONIO: I liked how he panicked. That felt very real.

DUY: I think this movie has quite an excellent use of continuity from the MCU, and possibly the first non-sequel that is most reliant on it. Whether or not that's a good thing is up to you as a viewer. But from the onset, it's set right after the first Avengers, and basically goes into the common man away from the big guns. Also, it explores the idea of these heroes being larger-than-life personalities. Spider-Man is the big fanboy. And, as I am a Spider-Man fan, that's part of the disconnect for me, that he's the rookie.

JEFF: For those that liked this movie, my question is how much do you think you still enjoy it if it's not in the MCU? No Stark or Civil War–related references, Just Spider-Man trying to prove himself against the Vulture

DUY: Interesting question. Would it be structured as a setup to its own new universe?

JEFF: I think it would make sense as a reboot scenario

DUY: I'm a fan of Andrew as Spider-Man, so I think I'd have been annoyed, really.

DUY: Timeline is wobbly again here, this all supposedly takes place eight years after the first Avengers, which would place it in 2020. And Vulture grilling Peter in the car is an intense moment, but really Peter should have just punched his face.

ANTONIO: I think it shows that Peter is still just a kid, can still be somewhat intimidated by an adult, and of course lose his nerve on the spot when being outed. Is he just gonna punch the dude with no proof in front of his date?

DUY: His date left the car.

ANTONIO: She was still nearby.

DUY: No one could be blamed for punching Michael Keaton's face, have you seen it?

ANTONIO: It’s the lips. Way too distinct to ever play a convincing Batman. Him and Kilmer.

DUY: Kilmer can play a convincing anything, you heathen! Speaking of which, Keaton wins the Kilmer Award for me this week. And for comic recommendations, I'm gonna go with Ultimate Spider-Man.... the Miles Morales version.

JEFF: I'd recommend The Untold Tales of Spider-Man and the first three volumes of Ultimate Spider-Man. Lots of fun Spidey stories.

Apr 9, 2018

Demand Good Writing: An Interview with Mark Russell

I was very close to giving the recent Flintstones revamp a hard pass, even though it was written by someone good, drawn by someone who’s never disappointed me. The property seemed past its ultimate sell-by. And, I’m a mark!  I’m the one person who loves Viva Rock Vegas. But, that movie concretized my point. Its quality is all in being retro, retro concerns, retro gags, retro giggles. Marie Javins changed my mind, first by posting Steve Pugh’s thoughts on dinosaurs, and then, dropping here and there, what Mark Russell might actually find important. And, it made the comic sound important. Like a good sitcom instead of perfunctory space filler.

Demand Good Writing
An Interview With Mark Russell
Travis Hedge Coke

And, there were Devo and glam rock puns. Carl Sagan wasn’t timely, but it was super timely. PTSD, modern slavery, marriage retreats, churches desperately making new bids for relevance that are just the old bids with new carpeting.

Any hate it got, was invariably stupid. Often, hateful and stupid.

I would see Russell post on social media, here and there, mostly replies to mutual friends. He’s always smart, often super funny.

I don’t do a ton of interviews, but I love interviewing people who are definitely smarter than me, who are considered and experienced.

After, his Snagglepuss comic, Exit Stage Left, was announced, and I teared up in a way I never would have assumed I would over Hanna-Barbera ad copy, I knew solidly, this is an interview that has to happen. And, it did.

Travis Hedge Coke: What is the value to you, as a writer, in putting serious effort into revisions of fifty year old cartoon characters, like the Flintstone family or Huckleberry Hound?

Mark Russell: To me, it's the same value as writing anything else. You have a very finite amount of time on this Earth. The amount of time where you are artistically active and productive is even shorter than that. And the amount of time where people are paying attention to you is shorter still. So don't hold anything back. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to write in a popular medium, take full advantage of it. Whether you're writing a comic book about a stone age family or your life's story, throw all your thoughts and feelings about the world into it. Never hold back "the good stuff" because you never know when that opportunity will come to an end.

Hedge Coke: What have you learned since God Is Disappointed In You, that you wish you knew back then?

Russell: I think my writing was better served by not knowing anything about the future. If I'd known that I'd be writing comic books, that I'd have other opportunities to impose myself on the world, I might have held something back, pulled a punch or two. I wrote that book feeling like it might be the only thing I ever publish in my life and that made it a better book. It's the way I always try to write, even though I've got a lot more projects lined up. The book I wrote after God Is Disappointed in You, Apocrypha Now, which is about the non-canonical books that didn't quite make it into the Bible, has a parable from the Gospel of Thomas about a rich man who spends all night planning his upcoming harvest, figuring out how to improve his crop production, calculating how many harvests it will take for him to retire a rich man. Exhausted, he finally goes to bed, having mapped out his entire future. That night, he died. I keep that parable in my mind when I start getting ahead of myself, thinking too much about the future or upcoming projects instead of focusing on what I'm working on at the moment.

Hedge Coke: How do you balance familiarity with the new, nostalgia with novelty, in your work?

Russell: I've made something of a career by borrowing on the cultural equity of older, more popular work like the Bible and the Flintstones. In both cases, what I tried to do was find what I really loved about the old work, what it was that drew me to it, and then use it as a prism through which to project myself , my thoughts about the world, and the things the original creators were trying to say about the world that I found meaningful.

Hedge Coke: The Flintstones live in the modern day, just with dinosaur proxies and puns on rocks. So, why were the musical references in your run from decades earlier than “today”?

Russell: Because I'm old and irrelevant. I just made references to music and bands that I like, which tend to be from a few decades ago. Although Devo seemed strangely relevant to the world of Bedrock, as they do to a 21st century America ruled by reality TV.

Hedge Coke: Why do you think so many people who otherwise don’t care, want gay-coded characters to remain sexless and merely implicitly coded?

Russell: Of all the flavors of evil in the world, I think the most insidious is nostalgia. "Conservatism" is essentially a word for wanting the world to remain as you remember it. Nostalgia is very comfortable and it asks nothing of you. It's doubly hard to convince people that their need for characters to remain white or straight are symptoms of racism and/or homophobia, because they don't feel homophobic. They just feel nostalgic.

Hedge Coke: What would you hope from a kid who gets hold of your Snagglepuss comic, Exit Stage Left?

Russell: That the purpose of life is to create from your soul and people can't do that if they are forced to live in a world of lies and self-hatred.

Hedge Coke: If there are two things you could teach the comics audience/market as a whole, to make them a better audience/market, what would they be?

Russell: Demand good writing. Don't just buy a comic because you like the title character and you remember when it was good. Demand that it say something new to you, or move you in some way, or if it doesn't, look for a comic that does. So many comics have become a form of professional wrestling. "Title Character X hasn't fought Y in a while. What if he teamed up with former enemy Z?" And they get away with this because it's a safe formula. They know it will sell. And they will continue making the same comics until the fan spends their money on something different. That, and I would like it if the industry became more geared around selling trades than individual floppies, which again, I think rewards better writing.

Apr 4, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  Next, that dysfunctional family in space gets their sequel!

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released on May 5, 2017, and made $147 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $390 million in the United States and $864 million total worldwide.

MATT: It’s weird that this the only like immediately following movie. It’s like the Guardians get no break.

DUY: The structure of this movie is weird to me, but in a good way. There doesn't seem to be the one main plot, just a bunch of small subplots all coming together at the end.

TRAVIS: Both Guardians movies were big breaks in Marvel formula. And, better for it. The reactions of Mantis, which are classic abuse reactions, going unnoticed by our heroes, who are also largely dicks to her (well, Drax is, the rest just don't notice her), is kind of a beautiful deal.

ANTONIO: I love the staircase scene with Mantis and Drax when he’s talking about his daughter and she touches his shoulder. That was dope.

DUY: Also, the only MCU movie to successfully make me cry. I have no regrets.

SCARLET: "Father and Son" is a tear-jerker in pretty much any context.

DUY: It's totally cheating to use it

KATHERINE: Okay, shameless ogling / hardcore ovary-tingling here, but starting at 1:00 is the second best use of a Cat Stevens song ever.

SCARLET: Best use of a Fleetwood Mac song in anything ever.

MATT: I do love the use of this song, but I will always have a soft spot in my heard for "Looking Glass."  Also, I will be lost to the GotG Pandora station for a week or so

JEFF: Ever see the first episode of The Americans? That's the best ever use of a Fleetwood Mac song in anything.

MATT: This is a legitimately good Pandora station. I do think at the end of all this, we should strongly consider which of the movies has the best music, acting, action, writing,..

MATT: I feel it's extremely important for our credibility as an erudite publication that we appreciated the first inclusion of diegetic music since the last GotG movie. Feel free to throw in some $10 words too

DUY: I might actually like this soundtrack better. Not just because of Cat Stevens.

MATT: I have already stipulated my views re Looking Glass and Fleetwood Mac. I will also chime in for ELO.

JEFF: We should like this soundtrack better since they had more budget to pay for songs from bigger names like George Harrison, ELO and Fleetwood Mac but besides the songs from Looking Glass and George Harrison, I prefer the first soundtrack, especially the songs it introduced me to.

MATT: You can’t fight the feeling?

Both Guardians movies were big breaks in Marvel formula. And, better for it.  -Travis

DUY: I also marked out over Kurt Russell and Michael Rooker. Tombstone, yo!

PETER: Michael Rooker and Sylvester Stallone = Cliffhanger, yo!

DUY: Is the movie too steeped in daddy issues? Yeah. Do I care? No.

TRAVIS: It's about daddy issues. The whole thing.

MATT: Quill is a seriously screwed-up kid. His mom dies, he is abducted by an alien who threatens to eat him, then learns his dad is a magic space being after holding an Infinity Stone, then meets and kills his dad (because dad killed his mom). It's very Oedipal. The only people with more daddy issues are Gamora and Nebula.

DUY: Don't forget that the alien who threatens to eat him is basically his surrogate dad. I mean, Yondu's a great character and all, and this one movie (the last one, not even) really got me to caring about him. But if that guy's the best you have as a father figure...

TRAVIS: "Oh, but ain't that America"? That's the American condition, isn't it? Tony. Steve. Peter. The other Peter. Probably, Jane Foster. America and the MCU are stuck on the first leg of a father's arc in a Spielberg movie.

MATT: Thor has daddy issues too. Banner has Ross. Steve's father is not mentioned; I think he only says he's been on his own since he was 18 (except for Bucky).

DUY: What's everyone think about Sean Gunn's character? He's fun, in that ridiculous way

TRAVIS: I'm glad he got on-screen, instead of just hunching over to be erased. And, it adds to the dad issues, all over.

MATT: It's Kirk in space, who doesn't like Kirk in space? You know who doesn't have daddy issues? Groot.

ANTONIO: Technically, I suppose, New Groot is an orphan.

MATT: He's imbued with ancient tree knowledge. Don't ruin him for us, Ruiz.

TRAVIS: Rocket. Jesus. "You think I asked to be made?!?"/Acts out. That's a cycle.

MATT: God, this is one incredibly messed up bunch. It works though and doesn't get campy.

DUY: One of the things I really like about this movie is how Rocket just consistently lies to himself. From the start, he's saying that he's only playing music because of Quill. But when Quill leaves, he's still playing the music.

ANTONIO: Raccoons lie.

MATT: If you can't trust the garbage panda with a heart of gold, who can you trust?

ANTONIO: Rocket also got one of the best action scenes. He’s just this cool furry dick with guns and explosives. He should be the one taking over Arnold’s action hero legacy, not the Rock! Rocket shoulda been the star of Rampage.

DUY: That makes no sense!

ANTONIO: It’s all CGI anyway!

I think this movie reinforces the idea that friends are the family you choose for yourself, and that connection can be greater than the family you happen to be born into (especially when they're abusive, murderous pricks). -Katherine

MATT: It's a fairly by the numbers, dad-is-a-giant-planet-trying-to-take-over-the-universe kind of story. It's enjoyable, but not super memorable. Except for the super racist (specist?) gold aliens.

KATHERINE: Cheering each other on during their virtual ship battles was hilarious, they earned their keep onscreen just because of that. "You suck, Zylak."

DUY: It's got a bunch of smaller stories that aren't really tied together outside of the fatherhood theme, and then the aliens.

MATT: Yeah, we established the theme is fatherhood and to a lesser extent family (as it was in the first movie). Fatherhood is in the Ego-Yondu-Quill love triangle. Family is Gamora and Nebula, Rocket and Groot, Mantis and Drax (they are like teenage siblings in my mind given how shitty he is to her).

KATHERINE: I think this movie reinforces the idea that friends are the family you choose for yourself, and that connection can be greater than the family you happen to be born into (especially when they're abusive, murderous pricks). There are daddy issues galore in the MCU, but I think the Guardians might be the most balanced because they really do have each other.

MATT: It is essentially an action hang movie, which shouldn’t work and probably doesn’t for newcomers. But we are not newcomers.

JEFF: I enjoyed the hellout of this movie when I first saw it, even ended up seeing it twice in the theater for the kids, but it doesn't have the same enjoyment for when I've tried to watch it again at home. I don't know why but when I've put it on my mind wanders and I stop paying attention to it. It's got good action, CGI, comedy, and music, but there's something not right with it I can't put my finger on.

DUY: Lack of coherent focus?

JEFF: Maybe but it doesn't feel like they're following too many plots. You have Quills group on Ego and the scenes dealing with Rocket and the Reavers. That isn't something that should be too much for a two hour movie to chew up.

DUY: This movie is all about the funny balancing with the dramatic. "I don't know what Cheers is!" is immediately followed by: "I finally found my family, don't you understand that?" and "I thought you already had." Also,   "You were the one who wanted to win, and I just wanted a sister!"

Coming into this movie did anyone think that Yondu would play a major role? And yet in the end, his last words are the strongest gutpunch in the film. -Peter
DUY: I think Ego is a start for quite a streak of better-than-average MCU villains. Also, the first of four straight to have a personal connection with the hero, something that in all the previous movies we'd only seen with Loki and Bucky (If he counts).

MATT: Better than average, yes. Actual connection to the person? No. Granted, he's more known to Peter than Killmonger is (since Peter — presumably — knows he has an actual father). They develop a simulacra of one during the film, so I'll give them points for that.

DUY: Well, he's got more of a personal connection than, say, Kaecilius, Ronan, Malekith...Not as much as Vulture, Hela, and Killmonger, though, yeah.

MATT: Middle of the road, planet-dad level connection.

ANTONIO: This really was a pretty movie to look at.

DUY: What did we all think of the "original" Guardians of the Galaxy showing up, with Stakar being played by Sylvester Stallone?

TRAVIS: Beautiful.

PETER: I was confused and I marked out at the same time which I did not know was possible. The original Guardians with Yondu, Martinex, Charlie-27, and Vance were the Guardians I knew from the comics first. I never knew of the characters played by Stallone, Yeoh, and the rest, so I had to look them up after.

ANTONIO: Cute Easter egg. Probably wouldn’t mind seeing more of them in the third movie. Maybe even some kinda short caper on the DVD/blu-ray, and/or attached to the theater release.

DUY: So we all agree that they're better off focusing on them instead of bringing in Adam Warlock, right?

TRAVIS: Him should be in Infinity War, since it fits but it would also be fairly unexpected. Usually they don't roll out from the teasers that fast. They should.

DUY: He shouldn't be anywhere.

TRAVIS: What about Taserface?

DUY: Look, any movie that can bring Taserface to life...

DUY: Who wins the Kilmer Award for this movie?

MATT: Ego, especially digitally younger Ego makes a good case. As does Yondu, per the other one.

DUY: I think I go with Yondu, because he really just won me over and turned me in the course of this single movie

KATHERINE: I want to give it to Baby Groot for his big dance number at the beginning, which was just so cute that I felt like I was going to explode from the gigil. And him holding the little Ravager chip over his head like a hat. Gah! Yondu is an excellent choice though for going through such a full and satisfying character arc. But I will also take this moment to appreciate the insanely good job they did with digital young Kurt Russell. I thought young Michael Douglas was super impressive, but this was even better, and definitely harder to pull off since he spent so much time in full blown daylight and it still looked so natural. It freaked me out because I know that he's old now, but the young version they made is what he still looks like in my mind and in my memories.

MATT: Yes, it actually looks like a young Snake Plissken.

PETER: Coming into this movie did anyone think that Yondu would play a major role? And yet in the end, his last words are the strongest gutpunch in the film.

DUY: Comic recommendation for this is James Robinson's Starman series and Ennis and Dillon's Preacher, which are still my go-to for father/son dynamics in comics

TRAVIS: I'd recommend Ennis and Dillon's Heartland, Adam Warren and Hector Sevilla Lujan's Galacta: Daughter of Galactus, and Rick Veitch's Heartburst and Other Pleasures.

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