Feb 19, 2018

How Many Times Before It’s In Character?

Characters that appear in serial fiction crafted by divers hands over years, accumulate characterization beyond their original creators’ intentions. Often, though, a purist-sentimentality in audiences means that we want to think of the characters in terms of their original characterization or that character which we first, personally, encountered. Even if something happened multiple times, even if they have behaved a way or expressed a belief repeatedly over, for example, seven seasons, or thirty years of monthly comics, we often are entirely ready to ignore what does not agree with our original encounter with the character, or our personal canon version. Maybe you erase John McClane’s superhuman resistance in the later Die Hard movies, or you ignore the unabashed dickishness of Weisinger-controlled Superman. The serious stories about the Wolf Man or Thanos count; Abbot and Costello meeting the Wolf Man, though, does not; Thanos in a helicopter bearing his name doesn’t count.

So, how many times does something come up, before you just go, Yeah, that’s valid?

How Many Times Before It’s In Character?
Travis Hedge Coke

How often does Captain America have to disregard law enforcement (usually with a woman in command), before it’s part of his character?

If Magneto keeps just murdering people or sending his cults to do so, is there a point where, even if you’re a fan of “heroic” Magneto, where you accept that characterizing Magneto as that kind of guy is at least a valid authorial choice? Or, do you hold firm, and even if something crops up consistently, it’s just wrong?

Wonder Woman

In Wonder Woman vol 1, #181, Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, finds herself attracted to a chauvinistic, gruff jerk because, “He’s crusty… but, he’s also strong, decisive… he’s a man!” In a Brave and the Bold issue by an entirely different team of talent, Diana exclaims attraction to Batman because he, basically, beats her up a bit. There’s a whole weird strain throughout her comics appearances, wherein she feels the blush of love whenever a man pushes her around, physically or verbally.

All this taken into account, I’m not a giant fan of it, and even the playful version seen in Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again sits poorly with me. I could do without.


On the flipside, we often hear of Wolverine’s berserker rages, of how dangerous he is, uncontrollable, will murder anyone when he’s in a mood. But, do we see it? Is it ever really in evidence? In the first X-Men movie, Wolverine stabs Rogue when she sneaks into his bedroom and he wakes up scared. He stops there. In the comics, he occasionally shouts or cuts someone’s necktie to prove how dangerous he is. But, is he murdering the guy who cut him off on turn at Fourth Street? Is he disemboweling friends or children at the playground?

Even when entirely enraged, he still targets people who are actively doing him violence, or lashes out briefly and then pulls back when it is someone more innocent. If you see Wolverine really injuring innocent people, presenting him no threat, he’s being mind-controlled. Every time.

The “berserker rage,” is a good sell. It sounds good. It feels right. But, we aren’t going to see it in stories, and especially never in stories that are set after his “redemption” and time with the X-Men. The sell is necessary. The actualization is necessary to avoid.

Clark Kent

I posted a humorous thing about how appealing Clark Kent is, as a human being, compared to the kind of guy likely to go, “Girls want a Superman, but they walk past a Clark Kent every day.” Clark is, in the gag, contextualized as a fit farm boy who is unfailingly civil and polite, and who does not expect sex in exchange for being polite. There were, naturally, counter-positions that drew upon specific portrayals and in-story responses to Clark, including those from his very first appearance in comics.

Lois Lane does criticize Clark from moment one, and he does feign cowardice and clumsiness throughout most of his portrayals, from comics to film. During the era where Superman comics were controlled by Mort Weisinger, he’s not unfrequently, just kind of a jerk in terms of his sense of humor and his sense of personal privacy. I would argue, though, that outside of a few truly egregious examples, the worst Clark Kent has ever been, officially, portrayed as, is still a pretty admirable, civil, socially-minded professional, and he looks, physically, pretty dang good.

Spider Jerusalem

Fellow fictional journalist published by DC Comics, Spider Jerusalem stops being like Superman or Clark, pretty much there. Spider, himself, declares, “I’m not your fucking cartoon,” but the comics in which he appears often seem to make just that of him, and his fans, by and large, have embraced in his cartoon nature, a harmlessness to his detrimental qualities and a lionization of his better bits.

Unlike the previous examples, Spider only appears in a relative handful of comics. About five years worth of monthly Transmetropolitan issues, a couple oneshots, the rare tie-in product. I think there was a web animation that has since disappeared off the face of the easily accessible internet. But, in that span, a lot is packed. Unlike Clark Kent, if you agree with Spider Jerusalem on something, it is hopefully in spite of him - him as a whole - than because of how he is. Spider is an asshole. Spider is a jerk. He, too often, gets the wrong people hurt, even when he is trying to do right.

Almost every story, arc, and angle in Transmetropolitan, gives us a new example of Spider, the bad person, Spider the wrong. People have pretty good reasons to hate him. But, he’s charming as a caricature we don’t have to actually share real space and life experiences with. He is tenacious, witty, and wily. Ultimately, he wins. So, he is remembered for his victories, for his high points, and if the lows are covered, they are without real world parallel.

Little Orphan Annie

And, now, a serious cartoon.

Annie is an orphan who needs no introduction, but her comic has certainly been overshadowed by film adaptations and stage musicals by this point in time. The bulk of her adventures continues, though, to be in comic strips. And, she’s not really aging. Even, before the end of regular publication, in 2010, you had eighty-six years of regular strips, since Harold Gray created her, and she was still ten years old for all that time. Even being born on a leap year, and so only aging one year for each new leap year - if you want to take the gag as literal - she still did not actually age at all.

But, she remembered her experiences, even going back decades. So, either you accept that this fundamentally won’t work out in a real world believable fashion, or you stretch for weird, mystical explanations (not that unlikely, since the strip has its own active godlike figure in Mr Am). Or, as many Annie fans seem to, you just ignore that most of her past has happened unless it is being directly addressed. Time rolls up being Annie. She’s not growing and maturing. She isn’t suspended in time perfectly and strictly. She just has about a nine month window of active life and then time rolls up again, and she’s roughly where she started and going forward again. Less than a year later, she’ll mostly-reset.

Feb 14, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Iron Man 3

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, is the first movie of Phase 2.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 was released on May 3, 2013 and made $174 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $409 million in the United States and a whopping $1.2 billion total worldwide.  Staggering totals for a movie that is arguably the most polarizing Marvel Studios movie yet.

MATTHEW: I'm still wounded over The Mandarin reveal.  Still.  You've got Ben fucking Kingsley playing a genuinely scary villain, sold it hard to where the guy is an absolute nightmare, just to ruin it all... that still hurts.

BEN: Here's the thing about Iron Man 3. Yes, it felt like a regression to have a movie with only one hero directly after Avengers. I was just as disappointed in the theater by the Mandarin twist as everyone else. Tony didn't wear the suit enough. All those are true. But if you watch it now, without any of those expectations in place, it's actually pretty entertaining.

MATTHEW: It was entertaining enough, yeah. It's not like I wanted my money back or anything, but I would've skipped it if I'd known what I was walking into.

JEFF: I enjoyed this Iron Man more than the second one, and find it has a nice loose feel to it with Tony out of the suit for so much of it, but still has a lot of nice action. I like the Mandarin reveal, far more plausible then ten rings from alien metal each with a different ability.

TRAVIS: I wondered about "true fans" who were really bothered by the reveal, since it had happened in the comics before. We'd seen an Iron Man comic where Mandarin was a political bogeyman for a rich and powerful white (or white read) character, with Heroes Reborn.

DUY: No “true fan” would count Heroes Reborn though.

If you watch it now, without any of those expectations in place, it's actually pretty entertaining. -Ben

BEN: I remember asking Duy if I could spoil the big twist for him, because I thought it would help lessen his disappointment in the theater and enjoy (or not enjoy) the movie for what it is.

DUY: So yeah, Ben spoiled it for me going in, because, as we’ve established, Iron Man isn’t a character I particularly care for.  I went into Iron Man 3 in the theater based on how much I enjoyed the Avengers, not how much I wanted to actually see Iron Man.  The Mandarin thing was hilarious.  I know people went nuts over it, but I can’t rightfully believe that there are that many Mandarin fans in the world.  And you can always view these things as an alterniverse.  And yeah, Tony’s out of his suit a lot, but Tony is more entertaining to me than Iron Man, so that didn’t really matter too much.

ANTONIO: I guess the Mandarin kinda ends up feeling too much like Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, so maybe that’s why they didn’t use him.

DUY: I’m 99.75% willing to bet that it’s because there is zero way to make that character work and, very specifically saleable in China.

BEN: The disappointment is totally because of the marketing and how badass he starts out as in the movie.  But look at Kingsley.  Was he really going to be duking it out with Gandhi in the climax of this movie?

DUY: It was coming after Avengers, so I consciously lowered my expectations.

MAX: I just straight up liked it.  I found out a while after that everyone hated it, which left me confused.  I thought Kingsley was hilarious (but I was never a fan of the Mandarin, so I had no connection there).  Actually thought it was the most fun Iron Man film and a nice wrap on the trilogy.  Also a big fan of the director’s other films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so I was bound to like this one despite however it interpreted the source material.

BEN: I love Shane Black.  I don’t care if he’s obsessed with Christmas.

MAX: I’d… never picked up on that.  Huh, dude has a festivities fetish.

BEN: More and more, I appreciate when a director can infuse their specific style onto a Marvel Studios movie.  A real director’s vision.  This is definitively a Shane Black movie.

MAX: Fully seconded.

BEN: I don’t know who would top it, in terms of a personal style.  James Gunn?  Taika Waititi?

MAX: And the theme of Tony’s past as a total dick coming back to haunt him and take revenge was cool.

BEN: The theme is definitely “consequences.”

MAX: 100%.  And how it was something he didn’t even recall, rather than some painful guilty memory.  That sort of callous casual damage people inflict on each other.  That’s a layer on the consequence theme I haven’t seen played out often in movies.

BEN: I loved the idea that this one specific night ended up being such a major event in his life.  Like a nexus point.  Even Yinsen was there.  And he didn’t even notice because he was drunk and trying to get laid.

I just straight up liked it.  I found out a while after that everyone hated it, which left me confused.  -Max

ANTONIO: The only thing I remember liking about the movie was Trevor.  And I think the Mandarin twist becomes a lot more palatable if you watch All Hail the King.

BEN: Trevor is hilarious if, again, you can let go of the disappointment.

LAMAR: One thing I'll say for this movie is that it made great use of character humor, instead of relying on zingers to get the funny across. There were good one-liners there too, but the interaction between Tony and the characters in the town he crashed in was based in character work instead of sound bytes. I thought that was dope because it reminded me of The Andy Griffith Show's approach to comedy moreso than something like Friends, and by the bulk of the film taking place in a small town it was appropriate.

MATT: I wasn’t disappointed by the Mandarin reveal. I liked the non-traditional approach. I’ve also never read Extremis, so maybe I was less onto reveals than I should’ve been. Tony haunted by his space trip also worked well for me. The second/third wave humor also really starts to show itself.

DUY: It should be pointed out that Ben Kingsley is of Indian descent, so the racebend is more one kind of Asian to another kind of Asian. It's still a racebend, and I really don't think you can do someone like the Mandarin if you want to do big business in China and related countries.

TRAVIS: I wonder how this would have played if they’d stuck to a female villain and her lackey who dies in an early scene.

DUY: It may have changed the complexion of the last fight when Pepper gets powers.

I wasn’t disappointed by the Mandarin reveal. I liked the non-traditional approach. I’ve also never read Extremis, so maybe I was less onto reveals than I should’ve been. -Matt

JEFF: I would have liked for AIM to have continued on.

DUY: If you want to look at it from a sociopolitical commentary point of view, the big powerful figurehead who doesn't actually do anything might say... something important.

TRAVIS: On the whole, I think it's still the smartest IM movie. It's maybe too smart/witty for audience expectation. There are a lot of levels for a movie series that isn't famous for its levels.

DUY: It doesn't have the gut punch of the first one, but I do remember thinking it was witty and well put together. And if anyone's gonna do a PTSD storyline, I'm glad it was RDJ. Not, you know, the Punisher.

BEN: Shane Black talked about how he wanted to strip Tony Stark of everything, leaving him with only his intelligence to rely on.  He also talks about how if you were going to create this ultimate villain, what would he look like, and the idea of having this ultimate bad guy be a myth in a way.  Inside of that, what kind of person would pretend to be an international terrorist?

MATTHEW: I do like the subplot of Tony having PTSD. It's a believable progression of his character, and makes him more heroic, considering that he just kept on keeping on and found a way to the other side. Makes him vulnerable and invincible at the same time.

LAMAR: I think the way they put across Tony's bout with Chitauricoccus was well done. I'd imagine a guy traveling beyond Earth's atmosphere under his own power in the same instant he confirms alien life forms really exist-and not to mention want to kill him-would have at least some sort of effect on him.

BEN: I loved that too.  It was the most “comic book” thing in the movie to me, the idea that these stories continue from one to the next and have repercussions.  At the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a superhero deal have and deal with PTSD in this way, so that was something new to see.  The fact that it’s Tony, who is all confidence and machismo, make it that much more effective.

MATTHEW: It makes the confident machismo an armor on its own.  Behind this steel façade, he’s just as fucked up as everybody else.

BEN: No matter how much he tries to pretend he doesn’t care and it’s all a joke on the outside, that promise he made to Yinsen still resonates underneath.

MATTHEW: Dude had his heart ripped out.  Nothing ever could be the same again because of it.

LAMAR: I think that’s the one thing he would never sell “woof tickets” about.  If he ever said anything in these films that was 100% straight and true, and able to be taken at face value, that promise was it.

Dude had his heart ripped out.  Nothing ever could be the same again because of it. -Matthew

TRAVIS: It's worth noting that, about 7 years before, Downey was playing a tittering cartoon who eventually develops verbal tics of grrrs and barking. Iron Man tests out his acting chops a little more than that, but it's pretty careful. The sitting with a burger on the floor scene is the most acting risk. IM3 allowed him to show a range of angles, unified by one strong character. (Sadly, almost everyone else is a little pro forma, but maybe because Tony only really sees the surface he wants to, of people, anyway?)

DUY: I find it fun that Thor has, in both Avengers and this movie, been seen as this big political and military game changer, but you’d think they’d have treated the Hulk the same way.

BEN: It’s because he’s “alien.”

MATT: ‘Technology sufficiently advanced that its magic’ kind of guy.  Destroyer armor and Loki probably kicked it over the top.

DUY: I get it, it’s just that you’d think Hulk would have similar, if lower-scale, consequences.

BEN: The Hulk isn’t really a threat unless they poke at him.  Comparatively, Thor suggests an entire alien race of Hulks that have come here to cause trouble.

MATT: To conquer!

ANTONIO: To seduce the humans with their frail hearts and loins.

MAX: Maybe it’s also Hulk’s unpredictability that gets him the different treatment from Thor?

KATHERINE: In Civil War, General Ross refers to both Thor and Hulk as the equivalent of unchecked nuclear weapons (he would know).  But in the context of Iron Man 3, I think people are generally assuming that Hulk has his rage under control from the Avengers, and since he’s become Tony’s science BFF he would at this time presumably also be under Tony’s watch and protection.  As for him being a game changer in the larger universe, isn’t he basically considered a Captain America type of military experiment gone wrong?  So it seems like the game changer already happened 80 years ago with Cap.

This being the first movie after Avengers, it really is hard not to ask, hey, why doesn’t he just call the rest of the Avengers? -Duy

DUY: This being the first movie after Avengers, it really is hard not to ask, hey, why doesn’t he just call the rest of the Avengers?

KATHERINE: Maybe it’s just me being all conscious about filmmaking logistics and the necessity to not make every movie an Avengers sequel, but I never really think about why the others aren’t showing up to help each other. I think it’s a fun creative exercise to come up with in-universe reasons why they couldn’t be there, but we basically already know the real reasons.  I actually like going into the solo movies with the assumption that they’re truly solo, then I’m just delighted with any cameos rather than being disappointed about who doesn’t show up. This is the first time we’ve ever seen this kind of interconnected universe and I feel like they already spoil us sometimes with the fan service, I don’t want to take it for granted.

DUY: I could write this one off as Tony has an ego, and Dark World off as, London is far. But Winter Soldier taking place in DC and SHIELD being involved does test my disbelief suspension.

KATHERINE: The real reason that Iron Man is not in Winter Soldier is that you don’t get RDJ involved unless he has a super important part to play (or it’s a 5 second post credits cameo). How do you include him in that particular story without derailing Cap as the hero? That movie’s perfect, no one else needed to be there.

BEN: I’ve only really felt that way for this and Dark World, and I’m sure it would have been the same for whichever movies had followed directly after Avengers.  Winter Soldier was too entertaining for me to spend time contemplating such things.

DUY: They even have the weapon aimed at Tony Stark, it's just weird to think that's all happening and on the news and he's in his tower. The fact that Winter Soldier is the best movie in this entire universe makes that a teeny tiny afterthought, though.  I mean, we all know the real reasons, but some in-story acknowledgment would go some way into increasing the world building, I think.

BEN: Winter Soldier feels like such a personal story because of Bucky, but it does have giant flying ships exploding over a harbor.  They should have added that to Civil War, “I was a fugitive and you didn’t even check on me!”

KATHERINE: None of it’s on the news though, that’s a secret military mission and no one knows who the targets are. I don’t think they even told anyone that they were going after Cap. Only the Hydra compromised soldiers knew. When the helicopters showed up Rumlow told them to put the guns down so no one would know.  Also, I don’t think Cap calls Tony when he needs ethics advice.

BEN: True.

KATHERINE: It becomes about trust at the end, it became a whole thing that when it came down to it, Cap would trust Black Widow. I don’t think Tony’s on that list. I would buy that someone suggested asking for Tony’s help and Cap just said “...nah.” But it would make it into a weird tension thing if they said it out loud in that movie.

BEN: None of these guys are the type to think they need help, it’s more about “London or DC are under attack and you don’t think to help, Iron Man?”

KATHERINE: For Winter Soldier though it’s a secret military operation that publicly was probably being called a routine tech test. By the time they actually start blowing up and something is obviously wrong to the public, that’s probably started and done within 5-10 minutes. Iron Man could’ve shown up at the end of it like “Oh. So, I guess you got this?”

BEN: There’s a logical explanation for them not appearing, it’s completely all in my head with “I only get one superhero per movie now?”

MATT: I would like to also commend the framing mechanism for this movie.  I loved the reveal at the end that Tony’s boring Bruce to sleep.  Even if he’s also confessing his PTSD at the same time.

TRAVIS: Is it odd that I’d actually recommend a lot of other PTSD comics over and Iron Man comic for this one?  Red, Happy, even Tamaki’s Hulk (She-Hulk).

JD: I will recommend my favorite Iron Man story What-If #64, "What If Iron Man Sold Out."  Everyone has a suit, from Dr. Doom to the local police.  Some heroes retire, Tony becomes a recluse and never leaves his suit.  But everyone comes together to battle Magneto.

DUY: I actually do like that story quite a bit.

MAX: If I remember right, the creative team weren’t credited?  I know the art was Geoff Senior, but do you know who the writer was?  (A Google later.)  Suspicions confirmed, Simon Furman.

BEN: Transformers UK represent!

JD: I bought it at a gas station on a family trip to Toronto and read it about 50 times.

LAMAR: Iron Man vs. Fin Fang Foom, and this is from the “big boot” Iron Man era where he had the energy cells on the hips of his armor.  The whole plot seems like something out of an Iron Man movie because his suit keeps screwing up and overheating and what-not.  It also has an acid-breathing Kaiju in it, so it’s something I’d nominate no matter what.

Feb 12, 2018

5 Amazing Comics-Based Movies Without Superheroes

Superheroes are great, but most of us don’t want to watch them all the time, and some folks don’t even want to watch them much at all. Thankfully, despite what the occasional nightly news story or clickbait author might believe, not all comics-based movies are superhero movies. There are horror movies (Cellar Dweller, Jenifer), directly adapted from comics or a particular comics author’s ouvre, comedies (A Charlie Brown Christmas, Gemma Bovary), romances (Tamara Drewe), action movies (Bullet to the Head), thrillers (A History of Violence), even a porno or two (Grub Girl). From Addams Family to Death Note to Casper Meets Wendy, something for everyone!

5 Amazing Comics-Based Movies Without Superheroes
Travis Hedge Coke

dir. Iku Suzuki

If You’re Looking For… Mystery

The shortest movie on our list, at 60 minutes, this animated feature, adapted from Sanomi Matoh’s comic, sees New York police, Dee Laytner and Randy McLane, vacationing in England. I’m not going to spoil too, but there might be a ghost, and someone does take a motorcycle’s front wheel to the face. While indulging in a romantic rowboat excursion, Laytner and McLane find a corpse floating in the lake waters, and so begins an impromptu investigation, uncovering a history of grisly, racially-motivated murders.

Also, for… the sort of person who goes, “Gay couple on vacation! Cute gay couple on vacation!”

St Trinian’s
dir. Oliver Parker

If You’re Looking For… Comedy

The fourth or fifth film based on Ronald Searle’s comics, depending on how and what you count, it starts you fresh in, as new girl (and niece of the headmistress), Annabelle Fritton, enters her new school, the dreaded and much talked about, St Trinian’s. Just as she arrives, the school, itself, is under threat of closing, and while it is a vile, crime-ridden, drunken mess, where tweens are bootlegging liquor, it’s also the only place allowing tweens to bootleg liquor and they aren’t giving that up! So, how to acquire the money? Theft? Shakedowns? Kidnapping Scarlett Johansson?

Also, for… fans of Another Country who found the leads adorable and want them to flirt more.

dir. Rintaro

If You’re Looking For… Arthouse Pretty

CLAMP, the arts collective who created X (aka X/1999), specifically wanted classic anime director, Rintaro, to adapt the comic to screen. Because, how do you adapt into 90 minutes, over a dozen volumes of complex character interactions, explosive fight scenes, mad magic, and general prophetic weird visuals? You hire a guy who is most at home focusing on the explosive, the mad, and the weird, and don’t sweat the narrative and catharsis. Rintaro just goes for it. This is not a satisfactory narrative arc; it’s a bombardment of symbols and flash. And, it is gorgeous. Horrifying, entrancing, and gorgeous.

Also, for… people who want to watch a superhero movie without obviously watching a superhero movie.

Friday Foster
dir. Arthur Marks

If You’re Looking For… Crime/Adventure

This movie looks good. Every set is full and living. Every shot is immaculately framed. And, everyone reads off obvious cue cards and occasionally just straight looks into the camera like they love us.

Photographer Friday Foster (Pam Grier) is photographing the arrival in Los Angeles of the richest black man in America, when men try to murder him! Teaming with a private investigator (Yaphet Koto), she tries to uncover the roots of the assassination attempt and the related murder of a friend.

Also, for… anyone for whom the rest of these are too new. The late 70s live here.

So I Married an Anti-Fan
dir. Jae-Young Kim

If You’re Looking For… Romance

One of the funniest, sweetest films of 2016. After a disastrous encounter with a pop star, entertainment reporter, Fang Miaomiao decides to troll him and his fans as his number one anti-fan. Because, #@*% that guy. But, his people have a different idea: What if they put them together, 24/7, and made it a tv show?

Also, for… anyone who can admit they’ve been a cranky anti-fan at least once in their life. And, you have.

Note: Racist language in Friday Foster and St Trinian’s has not aged well, and would have turned off some folks even during first release. I’m recommending them, regardless, but we all know it’s there.

Feb 11, 2018

Challenging Preconceptions: On Galactus and the Black Panther

So how's this for a roundabout way of getting into one of the most legendary runs of all time? The first Thor movie made me into a full-blown Thor fan, which then led me to reconsider the work of the great Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the character. Then when Taika Waititi incorporated a bunch of Kirby designs into Thor: Ragnarok, I decided I needed even more classic Kirby in my life, so I pulled out the second Fantastic Four Omnibus, which is when the run really gets going. The introduction of the Inhumans in the 45th issue also happened to be when Joltin' Joe Sinnott took over as Kirby's inker, providing a level of depth the previous inker didn't and bringing Jack's work to life the way it was meant to be.

Challenging Preconceptions
On Galactus and the Black Panther
by Duy

There are a couple of characters at the height of this Fantastic Four run that were created by Stan and Jack that kind of buck some preconceived notions about art, commerce, and diversity. Let's take a look first at the man of the hour, T'Challa, the king of Wakanda, the Black Panther.

Panther had, in my book, the greatest first appearance by a hero of all time, taking out Marvel's then-premiere superteam on his own with an intense amount of preparation. He was basically Batgod before Batman was Batgod.

Now here's the preconception that we tend to have as fans: Diversity shouldn't be introduced for the sake of diversity, or to pander to diverse fans. Rather, it should be completely organic, on outgrowth of the story.

But this is a tough dilemma for creators, because everything is a choice. There's no organic need, ever, to have an adventure in an African nation; Stan and Jack chose that setting explicitly. There's no need to have the king of said nation take down all four members of Marvel's first superteam; that's a choice that was made explicitly.

When Jack Kirby was asked about the Black Panther by The Comics Journal, he said:
I came up with the Black Panther because I realized I had no blacks in my strip. I’d never drawn a black. I needed a black. I suddenly discovered that I had a lot of black readers. My first friend was a black! And here I was ignoring them because I was associating with everybody else. It suddenly dawned on me — believe me, it was for human reasons — I suddenly discovered nobody was doing blacks. And here I am a leading cartoonist and I wasn’t doing a black. I was the first one to do an Asian. Then I began to realize that there was a whole range of human differences. Remember, in my day, drawing an Asian was drawing Fu Manchu — that’s the only Asian they knew. The Asians were wily...
The Black Panther, in short, was created so that the black readers enjoying the Fantastic Four had someone to represent them on the page.

Now let's go to Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. Galactus was created to represent God and Judgment Day. Obviously comics have escalated the threat level since with characters such as Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet and Darkseid of Apokolips (also a Kirby creation), but in 1966, Galactus was it: the be-all, end-all of worlds.

This is actually from Thor. Because that story's better.

Here's the preconception: Art should be done for art's sake, and commerce should be secondary.

But that puts creators in a tough spot too, because without sales, they won't continue to get their books published. So let's see what the King has to say about it. In the documentary Masters of Comic Book Art, he said:
My inspirations were the fact that I had to make sales. And I had to come up with characters that were no longer stereotypes. In other words, I couldn't depend on gangsters. I had to get something new. And for some reason I went to the Bible. And I came up with Galactus. And there I was in front of this tremendous figure who I knew very well because I’ve always felt him. 
And I remember in my first story I had to back away from him to resolve that story. And of course the Silver Surfer is a fallen angel. And when Galactus relegated him to Earth he stayed on Earth. And that was the beginning of his adventures. 
And they were figures that had never before been used in comics. They were above mythic figures. And of course they were the first gods. 
And I began thinking along those lines. And the New Gods evolved from those lines. And I began to ask myself: “Everybody else had their gods. What are ours? What is the shape of our society, in the form of myth and legend? Who are our Gods? Who are our Evil Gods? 
And who are our Good ones?” And I tried to resolve them in the New Gods.
And I came up with some very, very interesting characters. And very good sales. Which satisfied me immensely.
Long story short: Jack Kirby came up with Galactus as a way to find something that sold more than what was currently selling, and it led the way for his DC work, which was vindicated by sales figures.

I understand ideals such as organic storytelling and doing art for the sake of art without giving a whiff about commerce. But we also have to think about the practicality of such positions because at the end of the day, it is a business with a diverse audience, and all that entails.

Feb 9, 2018

Body and Place in The Wild Storm

The final issue of Planetary, by the same writer as The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis, is one of my favorite issues in a series I aggressively adore, in large part because it mostly takes place in plain, common little rooms and workspaces, with plain, human people doing work. It strips off any locational grandeur, for the most part, any visual glossiness, so that if the people, and what they do, is important, it is what is important. Or, seems to; this is what they call, “deceptively simple.”

Crap Rooms and Storefront Postures
Body and Place  in The Wild Storm
Travis Hedge Coke

Warren Ellis works in systems comics better than almost any other living comics writer. A systems comic, is a comic that contains a sensibly articulated, and fully comprehendible, seemingly fully-comprehensible, world. Technology, politics, traffic laws and last night’s television that belong not to our world, but to theirs, that seems to work and be built from previous iterations, previous working systems, as an actual history would. I love systems comics, systems stories, but I don’t like working in the milieu. Maybe, why Ellis is a name you know and lauded the world round, and I am, to date, not.

With The Wild Storm, and the capable and careful artwork of Jon Davis-Hunt, Ellis has taken those stripped down human figures and plain rooms, and turned them into a systems comic aesthetic, that makes a whole universe glow with importance and realness, by virtue of its lack of flash. This feels like a refinement of Ellis’ work on systems comics like newuniversal and Transmetropolitan, and a good bit of growth for Davis-Hunt from his earlier work. The WildStorm universe already existed. It has been revised before, folding it into the DC Comics universe, and was created by Jim Lee and associates back in the mid-1990s, but this series has been the narrative equivalent of the visual paring and positioning that I praised above.

The original WildStorm universe was wild. It was visually brash, narratively slapdash, with artists and writers (and artist-writers) laying groundwork that would be almost entirely flipped by other talent a year or two after. It grew crystalline out of a popping, flaring, and chunky soup. It also had more prominent female characters, more prominent non-white characters, or visually-coded-as-nonwhite-but-actually-aliens-or-gods-whatever characters, than comparable major comics universes at the time had amassed in their fifty or seventy years of existing. A lot going on. By contrast, this version seems deliberate, rather than reversals, we have the necessary blooming of truths. The diversity is expanded upon, with deliberate gender-flips of characters from the old WildStorm universe, race-changes, alterations in sexuality. Rather than the speedtrails of high velocity wow, the places and people, aided by a fairly steady nine-panel guide to each page, are articulate necessity; they have to be as they are, and as they are, is real.

By the time we are shown more wow, more high velocity flares and high explosive flashes, the real has been delineated and made so true, it is so accepted by us, that the crazy visuals and high concept scifi are real by default of everything we’ve seen being real. The Wild Storm skips over the uncanny valley of splashy fantasy madness by embedding it in a world with generic cafe seating, run of the mill living rooms, and perfectly normal doors. The reader takes in aliens and robots without blinking, not so much because we’re an inured comics audience, but here, because even an alien has understandable body language, even a woman who bleeds out a transkeletal armor with jets on her legs has fear responses we understand. And, none of it looks like it is trying too hard to be convincing.

That lack of readily apparent sell, is the best sell the comic can make. While Lee’s original WildStorm launch was all about hard sell, cool scratchy lines and a billion things waving around doing nothing so much as looking goddamn exciting, a woman in a t-shirt on a sofa in front of a blank wall, with a turned off television set across from her does a lot, too, but it does it while sending out a vigorous signal of “I’m not doing anything.” Unassuming.

When the people and the places are unassuming, the audience stops making assumptions. We take in passively what would otherwise be impassive information. When Davis-Hunt and Ellis want to communicate the actuality of a space that grows between office floors, they just show us office floors and standard jumpsuited employees. Keycard locks and cubicle lighting we already blank on. The added fantastical element becomes immediately so sublimated it simply slips right into our heads.

By the time we see glorious, broken alien vistas or interdimensional splash, we understand that their walls probably have water stains, too, that their toilets have invisible fingerprints on the bowl from when someone last vomited there or dropped their phone and bent to retrieve it without thinking where they were placing their hand. Desk lamps will never entirely shine where you want them to, regardless of how bendy they manufacture the necks. The world occupied by people, consists of swept floors and cleaned streets, and those floors and roadways which need, again, to be cleaned. The stucco will have imperfections, the granite signs will inevitably have misprints no one can afford to fix just now, or any time in the five years since the typo was first noticed.

This is life. This is society. Culture is our most memorable achievements, but it is also the jokes from last night’s talk shows, that only work in context, but you inevitably try to retell in the morning. Gay men, even hilarious ones, are not arch comedy gays all day long. Drunks don’t inevitably find themselves in an alley every night. A weak smile is not a gut laugh. Spitting mad is not killing rage. We may accidentally wear our t-shirt inside out, your hair is always more perfect at home, than when you come into a shop from across a breezy parking lot. But, if someone has a long red mask hanging from their face and guns strapped to every conceivable part of their body, it is so, because they have made the effort to dress themselves, thusly. Clothes are not always well-considered, but they are almost broadly conscious acts, conscious efforts, by thinking, mobile human beings.

This new version of the WildStorm U, is as much poetry and metaphor as the old. It’s still broadly about style, about seeming. Only thing’s really changed is the style of seeming. Like reality, the world of The Wild Storm does not need to actually work, it isn’t clockwork, it’s a thing that feels and looks akin to clockwork. The look of gears comfort us, because gears are a thing we do know do a job, we know gears work. We know governments do something, so if you have one, it feels like a fixture, a job-doing occupancy of a necessary cultural gap, which would be, otherwise, a vacuum.

Audiences abhor a vacuum. We are agitated by gaps and secured by familiar presence and the sort of reassurances that real life rarely, if ever, affords.

Flashy scifi people will use tablets, much like the ones we use, even if they can have a transparent device or blow up their visual on some three-dimensional glowing array that surrounds them, because, for first, those things are impractical to the point of being a detriment, and second, the tablets we use are crazy science fiction devices far in advance of the same branch of technology even in mid-90s Star Trek. The elevator was still showing up in Star Trek: The Next Generation, as a form of high technology.

Having an artist and a writer who understand these truths, and who can machine them into something impactful, something misleading in the best possible fashions, is, itself, a kind of good magic. We pay for the privilege of being briefly misled through an interesting trip. We want the huge fights, the rockets and smart bullets, the jetpack legs, but when it’s all clean and clear, it looks too fake. Too clean. When good people look too much like cartoons of good people, we stop believing, no matter their actions or their words. A world that has leaves fallen in the street and rockets firing in space, a world where alien robots wear people-disguises and sometimes your sleeve sits funny on your arm, is a world we can swallow. If we can see the inner guts of a Star Trek vessel or the deeper bowels of Heaven, but have the outs of oh, elevators and tablets, or, oh, drugs, we are secured. We are strapped in, but strapped into a comfortable seat, in a familiar cockpit, on a commercial flight. And, we trust commercial.

We believe in Starbucks. And, if there are aliens at Starbucks, they are, before they are aliens, aliens at Starbucks. The place, the familiar people and places, anchor and comfit anything else.

Feb 7, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Marvel's The Avengers

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 up, is the culmination of a 5-year plan that came to be known as Phase One.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Marvel's The Avengers

Marvel's The Avengers was released on May 4, 2012 and made a (then) record $191 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $896 million in the United States and a whopping $1.5 billion total worldwide.  It was the best possible outcome for an ambitious and risky plan to build a whole universe of interconnected franchises in the world of cinema.

MATT: This is perhaps the best of the movies so far. From the opening “oh shit” scene through the Battle of New York, man I can just sit down and watch and enjoy this film over and over.

MATTHEW: This is the movie that actually made me realize this was possible. I enjoyed the solo movies, but I still thought it was going to be a “grade A” train-wreck when it hit the screen, and instead, it nailed it.  On a cinematic level, this movie is incredibly important. The rest of Hollywood is still trying to catch up.

JEFF: I was excited for this move but cautious at the same time. I didn't want to end up as disappointed as I was when I saw The Phantom Menace. Turns out I worried for no reason, The Avengers had everything in it I was looking for. Hiddleston stole the show as Loki, Thor vs Hulk, Thor vs Iron Man.  The Cap and Iron Man animosity was done perfectly to reflect how the heroes have traditionally fought each other when not fighting against a common foe. I love that long continuous shot showing them fighting the Chitauri.

DUY: Let's get this straight: I was scared as hell when this movie was coming out, because so much depended on it and it just needed to work. It could have very easily been a mess. As high as I believe the degree of difficulty was with the previous movies, I think this was the highest.

TRAVIS: Justice League seems to actually be all of my "fears" about Avengers.

BEN: My wife was very pregnant so I went to see it by myself. I was so overjoyed on the drive home I started getting emotional. It was absolutely the greatest thing I could have ever hoped to see.  It’s everything I had hoped to see as far back as when I was 9 years old. We take this all for granted now, but when I was a kid I wore out a VHS recording of Trial of the Incredible Hulk just because it had Daredevil in it.

JD: This movie just makes me happy.  That’s all I really have to say.

JEFF: This movie gave me a genuine nerdgasm.

PETER: Same. There was nerd juice spilled all over the floor.  Sorry, I may have taken that metaphor too far.

LAMAR: Ayyyy, WTF!

I was excited for this move but cautious at the same time. I didn't want to end up as disappointed as I was when I saw The Phantom Menace. Turns out I worried for no reason. -Jeff

TRAVIS: I think, in a way, pacing it like it was a TV episode/season opener, instead of as a traditional superhero movie helped immensely. Almost none of the traditional beats get hit, in favor of a getting-the-band-together highlight reel. Avengers is where, for me, the idea that these are serials, not lightly connected standalones really settled in.

MATT: That’s a good point and view.  Though, I would take it as a finale.

DUY: And I think a huge part of its success is the fact that RDJ had only 37 minutes of screen time. It would have been so easy for a star of his stature to hog the spotlight, to be the leader of the team, to win all the fights. But he concedes leadership to Steve, he all but loses to Thor, and he depends on The Hulk to win this fight. That's a huge rub given that really legitimizes everyone.

BEN: The amount of screen-time per character breaks down as: Steve Rogers/Captain America 37:42, Tony Stark/Iron Man 37:01, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow 33:35, Bruce Banner/The Hulk 28:03, Thor 25:52, and Clint Barton/Hawkeye 12:44.

DUY: The MCU would have been a different place if this had been the Iron Man show.

BEN: If I remember correctly, Iron Man dominating the film was one of our greatest fears.

DUY: At the time I remember co-workers telling me that Widow stole the show, and she did. No one thought she and Clint would get any sort of spotlight, but she did. Even Clint had his moments; my mom, who is usually bored with action movies, went "Wow" when he leaped off the roof.

BEN: Hawkeye is the only character where I don’t think they nailed the casting. I like Jeremy Renner as an actor, but I’ve never thought he was a good fit for Clint. So it’s kinda hilarious to me that he’s almost immediately sidelined in the movie.

DUY: I think if he's gonna be that serious, they may as well have put him in the costume.

I think, in a way, pacing it like it was a TV episode/season opener, instead of as a traditional superhero movie helped immensely. -Travis

DUY: I wanted to say that my complaint coming out of it was that Thor and Cap didn't do enough, and the second time I saw it I realized Thor killed 200 aliens coming out of the portal. So that was always gonna be my complaint about it, I guess.

KATHERINE: I think this movie also did an amazing job of giving everyone iconic introductions that were fun, badass and totally sums them up as characters. I think they would work as full blown intros for people that hadn't seen any of their individual movies. Loki emerging from the portal, Iron Man underwater, Black Widow "torture" / interrogation, Bruce in hiding treating poor people then getting surrounded by a swat team, Cap's punching bag, Thor landing on the plane in a lightning storm. Does anyone have a clear favorite?

LAMAR: Cap in the gym for me. It reminded me of Bruce Lee's training area, with the 400-pound punching bag-he could kick it hard enough to make the bag swing back and forth and parallel to the ceiling.

JD: “We could use a little old-fashioned.”

BEN: Widow is the best for me.

KATHERINE: I didn’t like Widow in Iron Man 2 or even Scarlett Johansson really before this movie, then after her intro I was basically in love.

DUY: I think Widow's intro has to be considered "best," since she gets a whole scene out of it.

KATHERINE: Overall it's probably the best and most badass, but there's a child-like chair-bouncing glee in hearing the thunder and that moment of anticipation knowing that Thor is coming. "You afraid of a little lightning?" "... I'm not overly fond of what follows."

JEFF: Probably, but I really like how they used dialogue to set up Cap and Tony's intros.

BEN: Hell, even Maria Hill’s combat roll at the beginning was dope. Look at Robin Sparkles go!

JD: I think the Hulk's intro was my favorite over all. That wild shot of Hulk running through the ship in slow motion after it had been hinted at so many times.

SAMANTHA: Here is where we usher in the glorious age of RUFFALO HULK.

BEN: One of the things I was struck by most when watching this again, is how much more I enjoyed Ruffalo. At the time, being the replacement actor for Norton, he seemed the most out of place for me as a viewer. I didn’t have the same familiarity with him, especially in a movie that was combining actors all playing parts from previous films. But now that he’s fully established himself since, I enjoyed him a lot more this time.

KATHERINE: My nephew begged to watch this movie with me when he was maybe just under three years old. Maybe that makes me an irresponsible babysitter, but whatever. Now at four he’s a die-hard Avengers fan and can name all of them and explain their stories. He was entranced the whole time, then when Hulk transformed and started destroying the ship he was still staring wide eyed and amazed, didn’t hide or close his eyes, but a single tear of fear rolled down his cheek. I asked if he was scared and he shook his head, but then he looked up at me, pointed at the TV and said “Wow.” It was the best.

BEN: When my son saw that scene (he would have been 4 also) he reacted like it was a horror movie.

My nephew begged to watch this movie with me when he was maybe just under three years old. Now at four he’s a die-hard Avengers fan and can name all of them and explain their stories. -Katherine

DUY: “We are not soldiers” is an incredible line delivery.

MATT: Cap slipping Fury $10 is a nice bit of silent acting.

JEFF: I love it when the old man stands up to Loki. "There are no men like me." "There are always men like you."

LAMAR: That struck me as something Jack Kirby would actually say.

DUY: As someone who is clearly a Thor fan (my two favorite Avengers, in order, are Thor and Cap), I cannot express how happy I was that he was put over so much by both Iron Man and the Hulk. Iron Man had to power up to 400% to fight him, and Thor still just head-butts his armored head with his bare forehead, and then crushes his gloves in his bare hands. And then when Thor spears the Hulk into the next room, goes toe to toe with him, gets knocked down, smiles, calls Mjolnir, and then knocks the Hulk into the plane, that's my second favorite moment of the entire movie after the big long shot in NYC.

JEFF: I love how Thor and Hulk’s fight was interrupted. I knew someday down the road they'd throw down again.

BEN: I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Of course they all fight each other.”  That’s 100% the Marvel way. It was perfect.

JEFF: When you think about it, most of them are solo operators, high testosterone alpha males so it's more believable to me that there'd be a lot of conflict between them.

KATHERINE: Yes, I so appreciated that it was all believable for them to fight each other. Of course it was there to make the fans happy, but I never thought it was out of character or just there to be gratuitous. These are strong cocky personalities with different philosophies to life and different priorities (and who probably haven't met people strong enough to challenge them until now). I love how that comes across not just in the fight scenes but also when they just talk to each other. It feels right here, as they meet, then it settles into a fun dysfunctional family, while also laying the groundwork for bigger fundamental disagreements like in Civil War.

I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Of course they all fight each other.”  That’s 100% the Marvel way. It was perfect. -Ben

DUY: Tony and Steve's dynamic throughout is like coworkers who don't actually like each other. Like these two would not be friends in real life.

KATHERINE: I always got that feeling too, so it's funny to hear people giving Cap shit for not siding with Iron Man in Civil War. Honestly, if it's you, are you gonna go hang out with your childhood best friend or your arrogant co-worker that you never really got along with anyway?

DUY: “He’s my friend… so was I,” was one of my big Civil War criticisms.  No you weren’t!

JEFF: In the movies they really aren't friends at all.  They're at odds with each other most of this film, a good portion of Age of Ultron, and then it's totally on for Civil War. Iron Man as a character is more reactionary to current events, where Cap is so rock solid in his ideals and beliefs on freedom and liberty to ever compromise them, and they are both stubborn once they've decided which way is for them. Almost like an introvert and an extrovert.

DUY: Can we talk about how beautiful that one long shot was? How much did it hit you all in the gut?

JD: I stood on the corner where that was filmed.  It was a cool feeling.

BEN: The whole entire Battle of New York is perfection. Downey’s delivery when the portal opens, “oh yeah… army” and him being clearly overwhelmed by the moment is one of my favorite parts of the entire MCU. Followed very closely by Captain America laying out the battle plan and ending on “and Hulk... smash.”

LAMAR: The dope thing about this movie is the humor seemed natural and less mandated. I didn't mind the cop not knowing why he should listen to Cap when he told him to block off the battleground because the bit was so funny to me.

BEN: RDJ’s Galaga line was improvised.  Whedon liked it so much, he added that shot of the guy’s Galaga screen later on.

DUY: The big fight loses its steam when it cuts to Fury dealing with the shadow cabinet and then the missile and then all that stuff, but at the time I likened it to a song that doesn't end so much as fade away.

BEN: The Chitauri soldiers all collapsing after the mother ship explodes is… convenient.

DUY: Was the biggest crowd-pleasing moment for you guys the "Puny god" scene? All three times I saw it, it got the biggest reaction. General public does love the Hulk in these moments.

LAMAR: It was that, the Cap/Thor/Iron Man fight, and Hulk halting the Chitauri warship with his hands, all battling for the top spot.

KATHERINE: Loki getting rag-dolled was the biggest laugh for sure, but Hulk punching the Chitauri warship got a huge cheer, so different kind of crowd-pleasers I guess.

BEN: The CGI on the Hulk made another quantum leap for this movie.  He didn’t look like a cartoon anymore.  The way they incorporated Ruffalo’s face made him look a lot more like comic book Hulk too.

JD: He looked like Jack Kirby’s Hulk.

SAMANTHA: Shawarma, guys.  Shawarma.

PETER: Just curious, was shawarma really so unknown in the US at that point in time? Over here there's stalls selling it on every other street.

DUY: I lived in the US five years and I don't think I ever had a shawarma. My roommate was all into that kinda cuisine too.

MATT: I had had it, but not until like 2008.

BEN: How do you all feel about Coulson being resurrected for the television show?

TRAVIS: It was such a silly death, capitalized on in-story with trickery, that he might as well have never even been close to death.

DUY: The death hit me in the theater like a surprise, but I've never really been the type to hate resurrections. What I hated was that the TV show was not good.

BEN: Yeah, in hindsight, the show wasn’t worth cheapening the impact of that death.

LAMAR: … what show?

BEN: Exactly.

DUY: I have two nitpicks with the entire movie, and one is the way the Battle of New York ends. But the other one is that for amazing as he was as a performer, Loki is really a pretty incompetent villain, and he continues to be one all the way to Ragnarok. He's carried straight-up by Hiddleston's charm and his chemistry with Hemsworth's Thor.

KATHERINE: How dare you. Still disagree. With very few exceptions, every movie villain gets defeated, so you can argue that they're all incompetent. Loki has been in four movies at this point, so maybe we see him get beat down more times total than most other villains that just never get a chance to last that long (because they're not as awesome). I don't think there are many villains that get to accomplish everything they set out to do, but he was a believably formidable enough threat to get this team assembled and shake them up. Also, part of his greatness is in his ambiguity and that he's not always being a villain - sometimes he's just trying to survive, sometimes he's in over his head serving a higher power that's appealed to his ego, sometimes he's maybe (?) actually trying to help, sometime he's not even trying to accomplish anything other than stir some shit and piss people off. And he's been very competent at surviving and stirring shit.  And speaking of ambiguity, I think one of the moments that makes him so interesting in this movie is when he's fighting Thor on top of Stark Tower and Thor begs him to look around and see the destruction he's causing. There's a moment where he looks legitimately panicked and his eyes water up and he says "It's too late to stop it." Of course he takes advantage of the very next moment to shank Thor, but then an actual tear falls as he scoffs at him, "Sentiment." I'm sure Loki fans have all analyzed what this means. I don't know the answer, if that's a real moment of "Shit, I didn't actually want this to happen, I just wanted to be like father and take over a planet," or if it was all a ruse to distract Thor, but it makes him fascinating.

DUY: He's a great, amazing, fascinating character, but he gets beat down at every opportunity, especially in this movie where every Avenger gets the better of him at one point. The Vulture is more threatening!

KATHERINE: But those are the crowdpleaser moments! Everyone cheers when Hulk smacks him around and we love that Widow outsmarts him (but even then, he still manages to get what he wanted by unleashing Hulk on the ship - and he killed Coulson! He had many victories along the way). Overall, I'm happy to sacrifice some villain scariness (especially if we're already sold on him - he's got cool points to spare) if it benefits our heroes. Didn't you also say that you wish Spider-Man had been able to beat up Vulture more?

DUY: I wish Spider-Man had beaten Vulture; I was fine with the entire thing except for the part where he doesn't win.  And I just wish Loki had some random moment of triumph... somewhere.

KATHERINE: Your nitpickiness has gone too far!! Submit to the power of the Loki!

DUY: Somewhere other than the hearts of screaming fangirls.

KATHERINE: Interestingly, the one villain I can think of that was super competent at accomplishing his goals was Baron Zemo, but people complain that he's not as badass and memorable as someone like Loki. So competence doesn't always equal movie greatness

MATT: I can, as always, quibble. Cap's dialogue in Germany is the weakest part of the movie, but it's ok. Ruffalo as Hulk is a treasure. Particularly, I love the scene where Cap gives orders to the NYPD and they basically tell him to STFU until he beats up some Chi'tauri. How did this film only come out six years ago? Feels like ages, or twenty MCU films...

BEN: The dialogue did not hold up for me, on my re-watch.

DUY: I remember at the time that being the biggest point of contention for the general audience, but I actually loved the corniness of most of the dialogue. It was so comic book-y. Maybe it doesn't hold up, but I appreciate the attempt.

MATT: It's the only part where I cringe. Evans isn't settled enough in his dialogue, Renner is a super small role, Ruffalo is good in his first outing.

BEN: It’s funny he’s known as a script doctor. Maybe he’s great at plot and “connective tissue,” because his attempts at catchphrases are horrendous. “The last time I was in Germany,” is such a great setup, but then it ends with “we ended up disagreeing.”  Let’s not forget the “you want to know what happens to toads when they’re hit by lightning” debacle from X-Men.

MATT: It's the jokes (see Justice League). Which, Tony prodding Banner totally works. Cap lecturing Loki, nope. Old German Man is much better.

BEN: Most of the best jokes were improvised by RDJ.

Another quibble people have voiced about Marvel movies is their lack of an orchestral theme. The Avengers has one. -Matt

ANTONIO: I vaguely remember reading that the berries were one of RDJ’s food stashes he’d hide around the sets.

BEN: Yes, when he’s eating the berries in that scene, it’s because he was actually hungry.

PETER: I gotta admit, Cap's costume here looks the corniest now compared to all the other versions he's had in the other MCU movies. And it's probably the closest to the comic version.

MATT: Yeah, it looks like he’s still shilling war bonds.

KATHERINE: I don’t mind it because I loved the idea that it’s the version Coulson chose because he’s that much of a fan - like they got to fulfill his dying wish to see the old fashioned Cap he idolized in action. Even Cap thinks it’s corny when they first show it to him, but Coulson loves it. It was literally for the old-school fans.  But the blue suit in Winter Soldier may be my personal favorite.

DUY: I guess I'm easily swayed by in-story reasons because I hate that blue suit.

ANTONIO: I loved the idea of this suit, but somehow it just felt off in action. Might be the helmet. Maybe the Civil War and Winter Soldier suits were just that much better.

BEN: I was excited after the first promotional shot of the suit as displayed on the wall, but it didn’t work out so much on a human body.  The WWII suit looks better in live action, but looks terrible in comics.  The reverse for the comic suit.

PETER: In the bank rescue scene, they contrived a way for a Chitauri to rip off Cap's mask so we could get a look at that handsome face for the rest of the movie.

DUY: The Cap costume didn't bother me at all, but I also have a higher tolerance for these things, rather than things like Bat-armor or even Cap helmet.

MATT: Another quibble people have voiced about Marvel movies is their lack of an orchestral theme (think Star Trek and Star Wars, you know what I mean). The Avengers has one, they keep re-using it, you just never notice. It's the up-swell when the team assembles and is surrounded by Chitauri. It's at the end of the Infinity War trailer.

JEFF: I love the theme for The Avengers, Marvel should have made better use of it.

DUY: I think this is Marvel's most memorable theme. There's a video  on YouTube about how Marvel scores are unmemorable, and a rebuttal saying that Avengers is.

JEFF: I used to leave the main menu of the Blu-Ray on, to hear the theme for background music.

KATHERINE: Considering how sparingly they use the theme in marketing, hearing it in the Infinity War trailer made my heart soar. I was like THANK YOU! See, it’s so powerful!

PETER: Was it ever explained how Thor got back to Earth at the beginning? Does the fact that it happened so easily, offscreen even, with just some hand waving explanation, kind of cheapen the ending of Thor? The big sacrifice at the end of Thor was that he might never see Jane again, right? And then suddenly he's back without even showing how onscreen.

BEN: Loki mentions how Odin must have had to use a lot of dark magic to get him there.  I’m fine with it skipping to the point, even if it lessens the impact of Thor.  I wish they’d skip to the good stuff more often, actually.

LAMAR: I think it was fine, I didn't need to it see but I'm glad they mentioned instead of just acting like it never happened. Kind of like when Wolverine got his brown/yellow costume and they didn't make a big deal about it, he just had it on and somebody walks in and goes "new costume?" and he's like "yeah, you wanna make something of it?" and then everybody goes their way.

DUY: I think what cheapens the sacrifice at the end of Thor is the reveal in Dark World that he just flat out continued to stay away.

TRAVIS: He was busy!  And, distracted!

DUY: I mean, come on.  Stop by and say hi.

TRAVIS: He was getting around to it!  In twenty or two hundred years.

BEN: Not a whole lot of what-ifs for this movie, since it’s combining previous films, but Jon Favreau was attached at one point to direct.  Joe Carnahan was also considered.  Joaquin Phoenix was considered for Banner.  Natalie Portman was supposed to appear but dropped out due to her pregnancy.  Morena Baccarin, Jessica Lucas, Amanda Peet, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead tested for the part of Maria Hill.

JD: I’m glad it was Whedon.  It’s my favorite thing he’s done.

BEN: I remember being so excited with the announcement that Joss Whedon would direct. He was this successful industry guy that loved comics and had a professional relationship with Marvel Comics (he was invited to Marvel Comics’ yearly creative conferences, and of course he wrote comics for them too). He was successful as a screenwriter and in television (I was late to Buffy and Angel and Firefly but absolutely love them all) but had never really had big movie success despite making some very enjoyable films (Serenity is fantastic). So he seemed perfect; very talented, with an affinity for the material, and an association with the studio. They had this underrated and under-appreciated movie talent sitting right there in their publishing division talking comics.

SAMANTHA: The only off-topic fun fact I’ve got right now: Tom Whedon, Joss’ Dad, worked as a producer on the Golden Girls.

DUY: Who wins the “Val Kilmer in Tombstone” award for the most dominating performance of the movie?  I’m assuming there’s no supporting actor in this one since that’s just Maria Hill and Coulson.

BEN: Scarlett Johansson wins for me. Everyone else was doing their normal superb jobs, and she still stood out.

JD: Hiddleston for the look he gives the room when he's taking out dude's eye, and for the spittle on the glass “YOU MEWLING QIUM.”

DUY: It's definitely Widow, I think. Especially if you counted it against initial expectations. Or even as the upgrade over their previous performances.

JEFF: Hiddleston stole it every scene, for me.  Compared to his performance in Thor, he turned it up a few notches here.

TRAVIS: Harry Dean for best supporting.

MATT: Fucking Harry Dean Stanton.

TRAVIS: Harry Dean Stanton somehow owned the entire movie, just being chill in one scene.

JD: Harry Dean Stanton festival is held in my town every year.

MATTHEW: "There are always men like you" for the biggest geekout moment in pretty much any superhero movie.

DUY: I might give it to him too.

ANTONIO: Yeah, the old man was dope.

DUY: Comic book recommendations for Avengers?

BEN: I went back and read a lot of the classic Avengers stories, and they do not age well.  Kree/Skrull, Korvac, Celestial Madonna, they’re all really disjointed and not very good.

DUY: I did gateway comics soon after Avengers but I'm gonna have to go with the Busiek/Perez run, the first 12 issues. Not that it's the best run, but because it's kind of a mission statement of classic Avengers, which the movie was more like.  If you like your big three Avengers, I'm a huge fan of Avengers Prime.  And hell, just get JLA/Avengers.

JEFF: I'll always recommend Under Siege when it comes to The Avengers, one of the best stories Roger Stern has ever done. Onslaught: Marvel Universe, been recently rereading that story and I'd forgotten how good a script Waid did for that issue, both The Avengers and the FF are handled perfectly in what was a supposed send off to them dying. The Avengers: The Bride of Ultron, 70's stories but full of lots of action with Wonder Man, Count Neferia, Ultron, The Grim Reaper, keeps the team busy. Finally, The Crossing. Just kidding.

LAMAR: I remember telling people to read the Busiek/Davis run, mostly because it's a great blend of a lot of things that made the movie great.

TRAVIS: No one wants to go for Avengers volume 2 or The Ultimates?  I'm actually going to suggest Iron Man volume 2/ Heroes Reborn Iron Man, because Science Bros! And, The Kree/Skrull War, because after the movie, why not kick it up a notch?

JD: I'll recommend The Ultimates. Volume 2 is Loki vs Everyone, so there's some overlap there.

BEN: Plus, Hawkeye kills people with his fingernails.


DUY: The Ultimates helped drive me away from comics for a while, so that's not a recommendation for me.  The difficult part recommending any Avengers story to fans of the movie is that no book other than Avengers Assemble, which was made to coincide with the movie, uses the movie lineup.

BEN: One night when the cast was all in the same place, Chris Evans sent them all a text message simply saying "Assemble,” prompting a night out on the town. Clark Gregg said that this is his favorite text message that he has ever received.

ANTONIO: No.  I refuse to believe that text message is real.  No one has ever had something that cool happen to them.

JEFF: No, you never had something that cool happen to you.

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