Jan 31, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Captain America: The First Avenger

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 one fans had been anxiously awaiting since the announcement of the Avengers movie franchise.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger was released on July 22, 2011 and made $65 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $193 million in the United States and $370 million total worldwide.  Not bad for a period piece war movie featuring a soldier draped in the American flag.

JD: I love this movie.  It’s still my favorite of the MCU.  It’s the best kind of origin story.  It’s not the same old flawed person “learning a life lesson” and becoming a better hero.  It’s about a good person becoming the best kind of hero.  Steve Rogers will jump on a grenade for you.  I don’t see any other character doing that before they get their hammer or their iron suit or whatever.  I get swept up in this movie.  It’s campy, but not too much so.

LAMAR: I’m glad they went with vintage Captain America with this movie, because I was worried they were doing Ultimate Cap with these.  I liked The Ultimates as a comic, but that version of Steve always came off like Great Value Frosted Flakes to me, in comparison to regular Steve.

DUY: I remember, at the time, being worried at the approach they’d take also.  They could have easily gone with the Ultimates version.  And the helmet worried me, but you’d barely notice with all the motion – it still looks terrible in the comics though.

MATTHEW: This movie had more heart than any superhero movie before or since.  I still don’t know if I can point at a superhero in a movie that matches his portrayal of Cap.  He is exactly what I was hoping to see in a Captain America movie.

SAMANTHA: This is my favorite in the MCU, or… with Ragnarok having made me fall harder for the Hulk… at least in my top 3.

MATT: I love a good WWII buddy movie.  I have found the Cap movies to generally be the best stories they’ve told.  They do good character development, follow through, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, all the hits.

BEN: I remember thinking it was the best pure superhero movie yet.  It’s the pitch perfect depiction of Captain America.  The commitment to doing a full WWII movie made it seem more faithful to the comics.  It was all-around enjoyable.

BRIAN: Man, enjoyable movie, but disappointing Red Skull.  Especially since the actor (Hugo Weaving) doesn’t seem interested in doing it again.

DUY: I thought Red Skull was okay, in the sense that that was basically the bare minimum I needed for Skull to be enjoyable.

TRAVIS: This is still not as good as the Albert Pyun movie, and Red Skull is magnitudes not-as-good.  No plastic ears, though, so… point!

JD: I rented that so many times from Blockbuster.

TRAVIS: High bar for cinematic Red Skulls.

ANTONIO: I will never understand your love for that movie, Travis!

It’s not the same old flawed person “learning a life lesson” and becoming a better hero.  It’s about a good person becoming the best kind of hero. -JD

JEFF: I remember when I first saw this, both this movie and Thor were out the same year, and after my initial viewing of them both I preferred Thor.  I didn’t care for them using Hydra and energy weapons for WWII (aren’t Nazis evil enough?) was my thoughts back then, but the more I’ve seen them both since, the more my feelings on them have reversed.  I can watch Thor but never feel like actively putting it on, but Cap is something I can never get sick of now and a large part of that is Evans.  He’s nailed it each time he’s playing Steve, no matter the tone of the movie or situation Cap is in. He’s played it perfectly.

SAMANTHA: Didn’t it freak you out in the slightest that, in imagining Nazis as the worst kind of evil, that there was something out there worse?  And that he was using more powerful and dangerous technology?  That kind of blew me away when I sat and really thought about it during the first time I watched the movie.

KATHERINE: I remember thinking that too!  When Hitler and the Nazis are basically like, “Damn, okay, now you guys have gone too far,” you know these guys are bad.

DUY: I believe, and I could be absolutely wrong, they used Hydra because Nazis may have been a hard sell to some international markets.  Also the subtitle “First Avenger” because they needed to be able to remove “Captain America” from some markets.

BEN: I’d like to point out that Thor is thousands of years old, so “first” Avenger is questionable.

SAMANTHA: Let’s not play semantics.

(Evans has) nailed it each time he’s playing Steve, no matter the tone of the movie or situation Cap is in. -Jeff

DUY: I would put First Avenger up as the best score in all of the MCU.  All of it.  Including “Star-Spangled Man with a Plan.”

JEFF: I get that stuck in my head for hours whenever I watch this movie.

BEN: Steve: “Where are we going?”  Bucky: “The future!”  And they both do!

ANTONIO: Easter eggs!  Wasn’t the original Human Torch also at that expo?

BEN: Yes he was.

ANTONIO: So originally, Logan and Magneto were supposed to have cameos.  That fell apart due to the film rights, of course.

BEN: Namor and Black Widow were in the script at one time also.

ANTONIO: Namor showing up during a battle montage woulda been cool.

BEN: The scene between Erskine and Steve is so great.

DUY: The earnestness just shines through so many times in this movie.  “Do you want to kill Nazis?”  “I don’t want to kill anyone, I just don’t like bullies.”  And also, Steve jumping on the grenade.  They establish what makes him special before they ever gave him powers.

ANTONIO: I love the grenade bit.

SAMANTHA: That’s what made him deserving of the supersoldier serum.  That he wouldn’t abuse the power he was given.

DUY: Yes, I just really hate the argument that Cap is only special because of the serum.  I think the fact that he was a skinny kid who just kept trying and trying is what made him special.

SAMANTHA: Steve getting back up while those street bullies were beating the crap out of him.  And then bringing that goddamn tenacity back during Civil War.  “I could do this all day.”  Chills!  I freaking love Cap so much as a character.

JEFF: Favorite line – Hydra goon: “Cut off one head…”  Bang!  General Phillips: “let’s go find two more.”

BEN: “Go get him!  I can swim,” gets me every time.

MATT: I did love the Gordian knot cutting of the flag scene.  And Stanley Tucci’s taking Steve’s drink away from him.

SAMANTHA: Don’t ever discount Stanley Tucci!  I don’t care if the dies early in the film!

DUY: One of the big changes this movie made from the source material is the introduction of an adult Bucky.  I think it worked for the better, and I also believe the comics followed suit, retconning it so Bucky was always an adult.

SAMANTHA: OK, so what I always wondered was how longtime readers took to the changes – however large or small – between the movies and the comics.  Also, what were the most significant changes?

DUY: Quite honestly, for me, that was it, and I don’t think kid sidekick would have flown in a WWII movie.  There are details that changed, but I definitely thought at the time that Evans got it.  He was Cap the way Hemsworth was Thor.  (RDJ was different in the sense that he actively transformed Tony Stark.) I was definitely afraid that they would make Steve more cynical, darker (y’know, the way some movies have for their eternal beacon of light characters).  It was such a breath of fresh air that they didn’t do that.

BEN: I’ve always been fine with changes as long as the characters remain recognizable as who they are, or the changes make more sense, like with Bucky.  The kind of changes I don’t like is how in X-Men: The Last Stand they would waste a longstanding character name on a random mutant bystander, who doesn’t even have the correct power-set.

ANTONIO: But the movies went ahead and made them friends from before the war.  That’s probably one of the biggest departures.  The films made them neighborhood buddies.

“I could do this all day.”  Chills!  I freaking love Cap so much as a character. -Samantha

SAMANTHA: I loved (and still do) the relationship between Bucky and Steve in this movie.  I kind of got the impression, which we didn’t see much in the way of it, that Bucky had a hand in keeping Steve the good guy that he was.  It wasn’t especially pertinent to the story, but sort of a side thing that Bucky was that guy.

KATHERINE: The flashback in Winter Soldier shows that, which I love!  Steve becoming an orphan could’ve broken him, but Bucky was there to pick him up and literally took him in.

BEN: This movie might be even better now, after the sequels.

KATHERINE: Totally agree.  I think rewatching it knowing what happens to Bucky and Peggy makes it even better and richer.  I didn’t put a lot of stock into their friendship and Cap losing Bucky the first time I saw it, but rewatching it afterwards and seeing how he’s mourning and trying to get drunk (but his metabolism is too fast) is heartbreaking.

BEN: It didn’t seem like the Bucky relationship was properly fleshed out, but it is all here if you’re watching for it.

KATHERINE: Knowing that he becomes the Winter Soldier makes all of their moments together (and every moment when he’s this happy, flirty, smart-ass… who becomes this hollowed-out shell) feel more significant.  Especially after Steve saves him and they walk back to the base camp – Bucky’s the one who starts the rally and round of applause: “Let’s hear it for Captain America!”

BEN: One of my favorite lines.

DUY: It got better with age.  It and Thor were similarly received when they came out, if I remember right.  This one aged better in light of the next movies.

BEN: Apparently, Peggy touching Steve’s newly buff chest was an adlib.  Haley was so taken aback by Evans’ body that she “ruined the take.”

ANTONIO: Yeah, she was all “yumyum.”
I didn’t put a lot of stock into their friendship and Cap losing Bucky the first time I saw it, but rewatching it ... is heartbreaking. -Katherine

KATHERINE: What do you guys all think of the romance in this movie when rewatching it?  Cap and Peggy are my favorite couple in the MCU (well, second favorite after Cap and Bucky).  I felt like everything about them in this movie worked.  Great natural chemistry and I just love the dynamic of such a tough badass woman seeming to be kind of interested in him even pre-serum because of his heart and his clever problem-solving abilities and him being flustered and intimidated by her even post-serum.

MATT: Yes, they spent the time developing the characters and throwing them together both before and after the serum.  It makes the crash effective and affecting.  If any of us have hearts anymore.

KATHERINE: Yes, the fact that it was an almost-romance that never really got to take flight makes everything about them more poignant.  Honestly, that was my biggest criticism of Wonder Woman.  Why did the romance with Chris Pine have to become such a big part of the story?  It seemed like it would’ve been more powerful if they had pulled a Cap without them “falling in love” and sleeping together.  To me, leaving her with the question “What if he was the love of my life” that can never be answered feels more powerful.

BEN: I’m way too invested in the sex lives of fictional characters.

SAMANTHA: It was important that she saw him pre-serum, because her character would have been attacked for being ‘thirsty’ for the Cap bod.  I don’t know much else about her character otherwise, but I love how she ‘loved’ him from the start, even if it was in a protective sort of way at the beginning.  Also, Bucky realizing that he was the new ‘little Steve’ at the bar when Peggy couldn’t take her gaze from Cap’s?  Delightful.

BEN: Every scene with Steve and Peggy makes my eyes watery now.

KATHERINE: I adore Peggy.  The feminist icon we all deserve.  And to see Captain America respecting the hell out of her was beautiful.
I kind of got the impression, which we didn’t see much in the way of it, that Bucky had a hand in keeping Steve the good guy that he was.  It wasn’t especially pertinent to the story, but sort of a side thing that Bucky was that guy. -Samantha
SAMANTHA: I also love when she shot at Cap’s Shield.   I realize that may be a bit awful of me, but I think she got the point across pretty perfectly.

BEN: Bucky is only at like 65% sexiness levels in this movie.

ANTONIO: He looked good in his military uniform!

BEN: 65% might be too generous, he’s no good all cleaned up.

KATHERINE: Still hot!  Evil dirty Bucky is definitely sexier, but I’m not even sure why.  I feel like that’s just something wrong with us as a society that we instinctively are more attracted to these damaged bad boys.

BEN: It’s the eyeliner.

KATHERINE: Smiling eyes and happy smirk vs evil raccoon eyeliner and frickin death mask, and yet the second is considered sexier.  I don’t know what’s wrong with us.

ANTONIO: Evil Bucky is a challenge.  Smiling Bucky is too easy.

KATHERINE: Totally agree that the challenge is part of it.  Still, we’re messed up for even wanting the challenge of a brainwashed evil assassin over a well-adjusted dude from Brooklyn.

Every scene with Steve and Peggy makes my eyes watery now. -Ben

BEN: Starlord’s mom is in this movie, the actress, not the character.

ANTONIO: Yeah, she kisses Steve and Peggy walks in on them.

KATHERINE: The one who kisses Steve is freakin Margaery Tyrell with her evil little smirk.

ANTONIO: Love her smirk.

BEN: Starlord’s mom is an autograph seeker at the 50-minute mark.

KATHERINE: There’s an article I saved awhile back that had a really interesting take on Captain America embodying a new kind of masculinity that the world needs examples of. (link) Then there was also an article about how Chris Evans’ casting is so perfect because he also embodies that same type of masculinity. (link)

SAMANTHA: These should be shared everywhere.  Though it perplexes me that we have to sell just being a decent human being in general as “a new kind of masculinity.”  But that’s a whoooole different conversation.

I always thought it should’ve ended with the Junior Howling Commandos too. -LaMar

DUY: Okay, here’s my one gripe with the movie, it should have ended with the kids playing in the street, pretending they were Cap and the Howling Commandos.  That’s it.  Then you blast the score all the way to the mid-credits, and theeeen… you do the revival.  This is the only Marvel movie without a post-credits sequence, but I think it had the perfect post-credits sequence right there.

LAMAR: This movie was just about perfect aside from that slip at the end.  I always thought it should’ve ended with the Junior Howling Commandos too.

TRAVIS: They should’ve "killed" Cap at the end.  Brought him out of the ice as a post-credits or for Avengers.  Movie should have hit the credits with his sacrifice.

BEN: The problem with that is they find his crashed ship at the beginning of the movie.

TRAVIS: So, they found a body.  Or, just cut that and start with us in the past.  His death just loses too much oomph for me, if they’re going to immediately jump him to awake in the present that fast.

BEN: I’m guessing they were worried a crucial event like that would be skipped by some viewers.  Too much potential for confusion heading straight into Avengers.  People still, to this day, start leaving the theater during the credits when I go see a Marvel movie.

KATHERINE: I wonder if it’s been a rule that they never put vital story information in the credits.  It seems like it’s always been jokes or teases and setups for future movies, but nothing that you definitely need to walk away from the movie knowing.  Have there been any exceptions that I’m not thinking of?  I agree that ending the movie with him dead would have been a really emotional and artistic choice, but would too many people have walked out of the theater really thinking that he dies at the end?  I mean, even now in freakin’ 2017, 20 movies later, people leave without waiting for the credit scenes!  It still shocks me.

BEN: Every time I see people getting up to leave when the credits start, I think to myself “Seriously?”

SAMANTHA: I do it too!  Whoever I’m with usually laughs because I’m like “what, are they new?!”

DUY: Honestly, at that point, when the credits hit I’d have forgotten the first scene.  If they had done it postcredits, I’d have been like “oh yeaaaaah.”  It doesn’t ruin the movie for me, but it could have been this really big emotional gut wrench all the way till he wakes up.  As it is, I ended up waiting until the second Guardians to get that feeling.

BEN: I think the gut wrench is about him losing the world, the people, and the woman he loved.  It was never about a death that wasn’t going to stick anyway.

DUY: Even then, you could have had extra time for that gut wrench to sink in.

Cap and Peggy are my favorite couple in the MCU (well, second favorite after Cap and Bucky). -Katherine

BEN: Sam Worthington and Will Smith were in early contention for the role of Captain America.  Channing Tatum, Scott Porter, Sebastian Stan, John Krasinski, Chad Michael Murray, and Jensen Ackles were on the final shortlist. Alice Eve, Gemma Arterton, and Keira Knightley were considered for Peggy Carter.  Emily Blunt turned it down.

SAMANTHA: See?  I watched so much of The Office that I was kind of puzzled when I heard John Krasinski was up for the role.  Then I felt awful, because I typecast the dude and he’s not a bad actor.

BEN: He’s amazing in the Benghazi movie.

ANTONIO: I can’t really see it working out as well as it did with any other crew.  But I guess I would have dismissed Evans back then too.

BEN: Evans was the most skeptical I had been about a Marvel casting announcement, at that point.  He declined the part three times before finally accepting.

SAMANTHA: I actually love that story, though it’s sort of sad.  He had major anxiety about what taking this role would do to him, to his career.  He went to therapy to come to terms with the decision.  It’s an amazingly real thing to admit, and kind of tied me to his movies even more.

ANTONIO: I don’t even think he was supposed to stick around long as Cap, but he ended up digging the positive way folks saw him.  Kids and stuff, going to hospitals.

DUY: Yeah, I love how Evans basically just turned into Cap offscreen.

ANTONIO: His transformation was pretty awesome too.  He lost over 200 lbs of body mass and over a foot in height through sheer willpower for the role.  Method acting at its greatest.

ANTONIO: Will Smith woulda been so weird.

BEN: I like Will Smith, but he’s not an earnest enough presence.  And, you know, the internet would have actually exploded.  In flames.

ANTONIO: Racist flames.

DUY: I’m in favor of racebending more often than not, but I genuinely believe you cannot straight up racebend Steve Rogers.  It’s 1941 and he’s going to rally an entire nation behind him.  I would love to see that movie or read that comic – but it would be a completely different story.  Plus, if it were gonna be a completely different story due to the racial dynamics… Will Smith is not the guy to pull that off.

ANTONIO: In Spider-Gwen, Captain America is a black woman.  I wouldn’t mind seeing that on the big screen someday.  Played by Will Smith, of course.

DUY: It’s 1941, he has to rally a whole nation behind him, and the nation is still ignorant.  There are Japanese internment camps and black people can’t use the same water fountains and bathrooms.  You can’t just slot in a black Steve and have it be the same exact thing.  That’s a Captain America that wouldn’t be served in some restaurants.  It’d be interesting as hell; I’m just saying you can’t do the same thing as you would if, say, Tony was a different race.  (Assuming someone of a different race can approximate 98% of RDJ.)

BEN: It’s an interesting what-if.  Could the country have embraced him out of sheer patriotism, or is the prejudice and racism too strong?  Regardless, it’s much too complex an idea to do in a Will Smith movie.

DUY: Gonna jump the gun here with the comics recommendations: Truth: Red, White and Black, which is about a black guy named Isaiah Bradley who was the test subject for the first super soldier serum, which goes into that topic.  And also, Patriot, which is about Cap’s replacement.  There’s a scene where he has to go to his gay friend’s funeral and he goes as the Patriot, because the government won’t let him go as Cap. (To tie all that together, the next modern-day Patriot, Eli Bradley, is Isaiah's grandson.)

ANTONIO: I’ve never read Truth.  Heard good things, though.  Also, I can’t see Cap not going to a gay friend’s funeral as anyone else.  Especially if the government told him he couldn’t.

BEN:  He’d go as The Captain at least, or Nomad.  “This funeral is a job for Nomad!”

DUY: We’ve gotten hints before of a bigger shared universe – the supersoldier serum and the Tony appearance in Incredible Hulk, the Stark reference by Coulson in Thor, and Cap’s shield in Iron Man 2.  But this is, I think, the biggest one yet – the fact that Cap’s serum was worked on by Tony Stark’s dad.

LAMAR: Hell, Cap himself was the Incredible Hulk.

MATT: The Cap movies, as a whole, are probably the strongest single character stories.  Particularly what I like is that each is a different genre movie done well (Civil War is definitely the weakest).  This is, as I stated before, an excellent WWII buddy action movie romp.  I think it shows in our comments that we are basically quibbling around the edges of a strong movie.  I say we fight about Best Supporting Actor.  Peggy?  Bucky?  Both?

JD: Haley Atwell or Stanley Tucci.  For me it’s a tossup.  But I would lean towards Tucci.  That scene with the drinks is 10/10.

BEN: Haley is the only Marvel supporting actor that I prayed would get her own spinoff series (and she did) so her by far.  But Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones were pretty great.

SAMANTHA: I was torn between the Tooch and Haley until I said it out loud.  It’s gotta be Peggy.  She’s Cap’s best girl, his ride or die – she was on his side from the beginning and saw who he was before anyone else had.

BEN: Dominic Cooper was great as Tony’s crazy old man.  I love that he probably taunted Tony for his entire life with Steve Roger’s comparisons.  “Cap would never lie about sneaking out of the house, Tony.”

SAMANTHA: The tension between them later wouldn’t have meant as much without the psychological damage endured by little Tony?  That’s kinda sad.

DUY: It’s Peggy.  How is it even anyone else?

BEN: I guess the harder question is, was this the best cast as a whole so far?

SAMANTHA: Almost, but no Coulson.  Nothing captured my heart faster than watching his cool, collected demeanor crack as soon as Cap was in the same room with him.

BEN: I think this is the best cast because of the criminally underused Howling Commandos alone.

DUY: This is the best cast so far, yes.  And for whatever it’s worth, Cap’s Howling Commandos blow Wonder Woman’s Howling Commando wannabes out of the water.

BEN: And seemed a little less “calculated.”

DUY: Well, considering Wonder Woman’s troops are all playing stereotypes… (I love Wonder Woman, but that's something no one ever talks about with that movie).

Was this the best cast as a whole so far? -Ben

BEN: What comic recommendations do we have for Captain America?

DUY: I’ve already said Truth and Patriot.  I think my biggest Cap-related recommendation, though it’s not gonna be set in wartime or have the same tone, really, is Roger Stern and John Byrne’s run, entitled “War and Remembrance.”  That in eight issues gets the essence of Captain America, the earnestness and the awesomeness.

TRAVIS: Operation Rebirth has my favorite Cap story anywhere (Sanctuary) and Waid and Garney just kill that whole run that this collects.

JD: I love Brubaker’s entire run.  I even loved Reborn.  There’s a couple moments in it that I really nerd out for.

JEFF: I love Operation Rebirth as well, including the story collected in the same trade, Man Without a Country, an overlooked Waid/Garney gem.  I love the exchange between Steve and Doom in this story.  Justice is served, Cap going after the Scourge of the underwold who has been killing off villains.  Marvel Fanfare #18, this is a story that feels like it belongs in the War and Remembrance trade with Cap tracking down a group of arsonists.  And, Man out of Time is a good read looking at Steve dealing with waking up decades after the war had ended and Bucky’s “death” and with the end to the First Avenger this is a nice story to pick up.  Captain America #454 is one of my favorites with Cap taking on an army on his own.

TRAVIS: That is, hands down, my favorite Cap story.  Him refusing to board unless they take all the slaves who’re also under fire is a beautiful moment.  Cap, being chased and fired upon, just freeing people as the goes… put that in a movie.  That’s Cap to me, and I think, for me, the Cap of this movie, much more than, for example, Civil War Cap (movie or comic).  The guy who throws himself on the grenade.

DUY: “Get them to safety.  Meanwhile, I’ll hold off the army.”  Then he does!

JEFF: I think if I read that issue again I’m going to have the main theme music from this movie in my head.

BEN: Since I’m pretty sure Evans wins our “Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday” award for best performance, I’ll ask, who has done the best acting job in these first five movies between Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr? I really want to say Evans, but I think that would be taking RDJ for granted too much.

JD: I’ll say RDJ as well.  For Cap and Thor, I think the heavy lifting is in the writing and directing.  It takes some acting chops to make Tony Stark that likable.

MATT: Yeah, I think RDJ as well.  This is based solely on how much I loathe Iron Man as a character and that first movie, man, I liked him.  No matter how much I try not to.  I like Cap and know some crazy Norse mythos stories, so they had an easier sell.  I’m willing to bet RDJ would be Duy’s huckleberry.

DUY: I think they all have a high degree of difficulty, but I’m gonna have to give it to RDJ.  Hemsworth had to walk a fine line between taking himself too seriously or not seriously enough.  Evans’ performance gets better in the context of what comes after, but we’re judging it just by these five movies so far.  RDJ had to hook you, and he did hook you.

Jan 29, 2018

The Bat, the Girl, and How He Came to Be

Whenever they ask me what are my favorite Batman movies, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm always comes out in my top 3. It is right there together with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

The Bat, the Girl, and How He Came to Be
On Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
by Migs Acabado

I was a big fan of the Batman: The Animated Series growing up. It introduced me to Batman’s world. I remember watching every episode during Friday night right after the X-Men animated series. I quickly became familiar with the characters, and the series proved to be very successful with a movie being made in 1993. What is special about this movie is its story. It delves into Bruce Wayne’s past, on how he met his first love and on how he almost never became Batman.

The movie begins with members of the crime family being hunted down by a mysterious Phantasm which they thought was Batman. The Phantasm then proceeded to kill the heads one by one. At the same time, Bruce’s first love, Andrea Beaumont returned to Gotham.

In flashbacks, we see how they fell in love and how that love fell apart. Bruce was very happy with her, and the happiness caused him to not want to avenge his parents anymore. He confessed to his parents at their grave that love was not part of the plan and he didn’t expect to be happy. He later asked Andrea to marry her and she accepted.

However, due to some deal that Andrea’s father made to the crime lords, they needed to flee the country. With that, she backed out on his marriage proposal and she abandoned Bruce. With Bruce feeling angry and lonely, he became the Dark Knight and carried on with the plan.

In the present day, it appeared that the Joker was also involve with the family and Phantasm is also after him. Batman was able to deduce that Phantasm was really Andrea. At the end of the movie, she and the Joker were caught in an explosion. Batman thought that she died, but she survived and got aboard a ship away from Gotham.

The first time that I watched it as a kid, it had little effect on me. I thought it was just a movie version of the series where typical superheroes beat the new villain and the classic villain. But when I watched it as I got older, I fell in love with it. This is the Spider-Man: Blue for Batman. This is about Batman’s lost love. This is also the first time that I saw Bruce Wayne giving up crimefighting for a girl he loves. I never thought an animated movie would have this kind of story.

I heard the movie’s theme “I Never Even Told You” a few weeks back so I decided to watch the movie again. I can still relate with the story. It reminded me of two heartbreaks: a love that I lost a decade ago and when my last relationship ended two years ago. Both times, I thought it was the end of me . But I was wrong. Every one of us has a first love. During that time, we think that love lasts forever. And when the time comes that you have to go your separate ways, it feels like the end of the world. What happened in the movie is somewhat true. You learn a lot of things when you’re heartbroken. It may not be as big as Bruce’s decision, but it’ll help you in making your future decisions. I may not have become Batman or Spider-Man but those experiences made me tougher and stronger.

Alfred said to Bruce in the movie that it was too late to save Andrea. Whenever a love has ended, it is too late to save it. We have to move forward.

Jan 26, 2018

Reconsidering Franklin Richards’ Versions of the Marvel Universe

Consider the first six-year-old you can think of, who at least knows of you; closely, through mutual acquaintances, from TV. And, ask yourself what you look like through their eyes. If they had to remake you from scratch, your face, your clothes, your habits and social life. Would it be even that much better if they had a little time to interview you first? It’s always going to be a mess that reveals as much about them as about you, right?

Through a Child’s Eyes
Reconsidering Franklin Richards’ Versions of the Marvel Universe
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

In the mid-90s, Marvel turned this thought exercise into a year-long set of stories. They called it Heroes Reborn. The six-year-old was Franklin Richards, son of two of the famous Fantastic Four, and the “you” was that team, Iron Man, Captain America, and a handful of other classic Marvel characters.

By 1996 Marvel was losing money on its comics, as a whole, and emphasizing toys to the point that dead characters were revived based on their toyetic designs (Elektra), while others were visually retooled (Wolverine, the Wasp) to provide more looks to make more toys from. Simultaneously, the publisher was desperately trying to anchor each comic, each cast, into a commercially-friendly status quo. If this seems conflicting and difficult to navigate, it was. Iron Man had recently been killed off and replaced by his teenaged self from the past, Wasp was an orange-skinned bug woman, and they were trying to do nostalgia-fueled callback stories with them. The Incredible Hulk was a very smart, obnoxious know-it-all who wore undersized reading glasses and black t-shirts.

This isn’t as bad as it might sound, but it was enough of a sales and image issue, that they would contract out their primary characters, outside of Spider-Man and the X-Men, to two Image founders, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, who relaunched them in four monthly books: Iron Man; Fantastic Four; Captain America; and The Avengers. These title heroes, as well as the supervillain and greatest enemy of Franklin’s parents, Dr. Doom, sacrificed their lives, flinging themselves into the extra-dimensional body of a monster, and that body and these characters were psychically and cosmically reworked by young Franklin, into a pocket universe where they would live out modernized, focused versions of their familiar lives.

I happen to think Heroes Reborn, its world, conceit, and actual comics are 85% awesome and at least 90% cool. It was good stuff, which remains for me entirely rereadable. The first four or five issues of Avengers are awkward, yes, and there’s a lull in Captain America, when temporary writer James Robinson decides to make Cap a bigot who hates big city folks for some reason. But, Fantastic Four and Iron Man are beautiful from start to finish. And, Avengers is, even when it’s flawed, pretty cool especially compared to what was being published under that name just months before.

How does Franklin understand the Avengers? The X-Men? Well, for one thing, Hawkeye is Wolverine, according to later stories and judging by the very Wolverine-looking mask he wears. They have pointy masks and sharp things, and they’re the same guy.

While Hawkeye, in normal reality, is deaf and uses hearing aids, in Franklin-world, he hears just fine. What would Franklin know about this dude he barely encounters’ hearing loss?

Touched on in a fantastic Kurt Busiek short, in a later Avengers annual, but not nearly covered enough, I am stuck wondering, what sort of mad horror is it, to have something like your hearing or your actual identity at risk because of a kid? Beyond being danced out like a puppet, your birth, your parents and name are at risk! And, worse, you might still remember, however vaguely, that previous truth.

Reed and Sue, Franklin’s parents in the normal real reality, are in this truncated, pop world, both of them incapable of producing offspring and mildly obsessed with the idea of their son who is not, the missing Franklin Richards. This is the most true-to-life, kid-like concern I have ever seen Franklin weather. That’s not the concern of a sub-Calvin or pastiche-Dennis, a The Kid, but a person.

Franklin’s mother, in his version, is part-owner of casinos. His uncle is sexually propositioned with, “Let me find out why they call you the Thing,” and his own father is offered money to appear in a sex movie.

If Hawkeye seems to have gotten the short stick, and Franklin’s parents are a weird mix of oedipal anxieties and dirty kid jokes, Hellcat and Tigra are conflated into cat-person who sells out her own team. Hellcat and Tigra are both good people. They are heroes. Loyal. Good-natured. But, they are not present, either, to be involved. This version is wholly created from the ideas of their contemporaries and, most significantly, Franklin Richards. This is what Franklin Richards, it seems, must think of them.

Thor is literally a bad copy who gets replaced by a better version for about eight issues of Avengers. Franklin barely knows these people and they are all, within his head, confused. Maybe, Franklin reconsidered his idea of Thor after a while? Maybe he felt guilty or like he’d overdone it?

Captain America, inexplicably, has glowing green blood. Presumably, this is just cool to six-year-old Franklin.

Iron Man, on the other hand, is a total jerk. But, he is also good friends with Bruce Banner, presenting us with Science Bros! years before the Marvel movies (or anywhere else) would try it.

Characters who are barely on Franklin’s periphery are smooshed together. Those, he probably only sees at the same time, because of big superhero gatherings or braintrust conferencing are much closer than they were in reality. His family are eternal, classic versions of themselves as he knows them, except generally hipper and more successful. Family friends?

A minor character in the Marvel Universe or Marvel Comics, Wyatt Wingfoot is the best friend and former college roommate of Franklin’s uncle, and so, here, in this pocket-verse, Wyatt has a much more significant presence.

His other uncle, the Thing, famously went through a dramatic, prolonged transformation from scabby mass to dude covered in handsome rocky plates, but in this universe, he looks like he has for Franklin’s entire life, and his pre-Thing, human form, is nothing like the man who became that rocky monster dude in “real” life.

Heroes Reborn, presented in four thirteen-issue modernizations, ends up telling the meta-story of a child’s anxieties, fears, hopes and misunderstandings. It is the Marvel Universe through from out the mouths of babes, lives, deaths, business and politics as seen through a child’s eyes.

Hydra, a mostly pro-forma anti-American militant group, is in Franklin’s fantastic personal world, a genuinely chilling terrorist cult of disaffected janitors and armchair nihilists. Which, like the Mandarin, its supposed, orientalist head, is merely a facade for the real great villain of the universe.

You know who this is going to be.

Who would the son of two of the Fantastic Four believe, inherently and entirely, is the great evil of the world? The man behind every nightmare? The villain running every evil scheme? He is named way up above as the only non-hero who entered this pocket-verse.

(You can go back up and look.)

His own personal bogeyman, and constant global threat at the best of times, reinvented by a little boy as the villain behind all schemes, the danger in every shadow, behind any closed door. All threats are the man, the constant threat to his home, his family, to him.

The Mandarin is Doctor Doom.

Hydra is merely an arm of Dr. Doom.

Every threat out there: Dr. Doom.

Jan 24, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Thor

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 a property that very easily could have gone terribly wrong.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War

Thor was released on May 6, 2011 and made $65 million on its opening weekend. It ended its theatrical run at $249 million in the United States and $449 million total worldwide. A modest hit by current Marvel standards, but pretty amazing considering the subject matter.

DUY: For whatever it’s worth, this is the first superhero movie, ever, that made me go “Holy crap, they finally got it!” And by “it,” I mean the joy, the fun, the grandeur, all that stuff, without any indication of being embarrassed by the source material.

BEN: Reportedly, when Chris Hemsworth and Sir Anthony Hopkins first saw each other in full costume, Hopkins said, “God, there’s no acting required here, is there?” That, in a nutshell, sort of encapsulates how easily this could have gone wrong and become something goofy.

MAX: I was struck by how uncomfortable Hemsworth looked throughout. I actually found it more melodramatic this time around.

DUY: I remember thinking the margin for error for this was very slim. Play it way too straight and it’ll look funny. Play it satirically and you get.. well, you get Ragnarok, but Ragnarok doesn’t work without these first two movies establishing a serious baseline.

JD: I named my cats Loki and Laufey because of this movie.

TRAVIS: This is the first one where I felt like I could watch any of the cast without being eager to get back to someone else. And, it begins the great use signs and diegetic text, that Thor: The Dark World blows up into a full theme.

JEFF: I had forgotten that Odin lost his eye in the fight against the Frost Giants. Hemsworth and Hiddleston were perfect choices, like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. I can’t see someone else doing a better job in the roles. I love how Asgard looks, the backdrops, the towers, the Bifrost. They did a great job creating the realm eternal.

MATTHEW: It’s a really fun movie. Overall, as far as personal preference goes, I’d put it above the other Marvel solo movies, with the exception of the first two Cap movies and Ragnarok.

MATT: I think, perhaps, this was the biggest risk of Phase 1 (after deciding to do the thing in the first place). Thor was not a top tier character in the public eye, at the time, and the only actors people know are supporting actors (and very good in it) but they managed to pull off an effective movie and create a great villain for use later on.

JEFF: I’d forgotten he was tasered in this movie, the shocks he got in Ragnarok are even funnier now.

TRAVIS: There’s a whole movie (to be had) of the three of them tooling around New Mexico, tasering weird beefcake and chasing stars like the three wise men.

This is the first superhero movie, ever, that made me go “Holy crap, they finally got it!” -Duy

DUY: The thing that makes this movie less watchable as time goes on is the long middle with powerless Thor. I know I pretty much do a bunch of fast-forwarding when I put this movie on.

BEN: You know I have a distaste for powerless superheroes in movies. It’s always better in theory than in execution. Losing powers works in contrast to years and years of published comics. A character only gets a movie so many times, and making them undynamic in one is a complete waste.

TRAVIS: I think it was a pretty smooth transition here, and I like the three wise men getting used to cocksurejesus. He’s not amazing to them because he can fly and has a hammer. He’s just exceptionally charming and dumb and handsome and eager. Anti–Tony Stark way more than MCU Cap, in that respect. Maybe how cute you find Thor depends on whether or not that section lags?

LAMAR: Best thing about this movie is the way the Destroyer armor came to life onscreen: no stupid cosmetic changes, everything came right of the comic page.

DUY: Underrated music: “Thor kills the Destroyer” is an awesome score, and would be up there in the Movie Score Hall of Fame if they just, you know, used it more.

BEN: Including Walt Simonson and JMS in the movie shows how true to the comics they tried to keep it.

DUY: Again, this movie takes place the same week as Iron Man 2 and Incredible Hulk. So the entire time this is all happening, Tony and Rhodey are fighting Justin Hammer.

It’s not like the quotes in this movie are so great, but for whatever reason we somehow quote it a lot! “This mortal form needs sustenance! Brother, please. Another!” -Peter

JD: Hiddleston was so good in this. It’s easy to see why he’s such a fan favorite.

LAMAR: He was so dope in this that if he was standing on the corner-not as Loki, but as himself- I wouldn’t trust his ass to tell me “good morning” without using Snopes to verify it.

JD: When Loki confronts Thor and that tear runs down his cheek, that might be my second favorite moment in all the MCU.

LAMAR: What’s #1?

JD: Steve Rogers jumping on the grenade.

BEN: The pain and hate in his voice when he says to Thor, “Is it madness…is it… is it?!” I’ve always remembered that.

JD: Yes!! That’s the moment!

PETER: Agree so much. We still jokingly use that line around the house when my wife and I ask each other questions. First time I used it, my wife immediately knew what I was referencing.

DUY: That and “Tell meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

MAX: It’s kinda crazy Hiddleston was struggling for years in L.A. before this. Hemsworth’s career was a more straightforward success trajectory.

BEN: Well, Hemsworth is the perfect man. I remember when I first saw a video of him being funny, I thought, “wait, that’s not fair! He can’t be funny too!”

MAX: I thought that was Jason Momoa? But Hemsworth beats him in comedic timing.

DUY: Chris Hemsworth is the first celebrity to make me go, “Well, that’s not fair” in the same way I assume most women feel when it comes to female celebrities.

MATTHEW: I love the scene where he walks into the pet store looking for a horse.

JD: Personally, “Another!” is my most used quote from the MCU, lol.

SAMANTHA: My sister and I use it frequently too, so glad we’re not the only ones, lol.

PETER: It’s not like the quotes in this movie are so great, but for whatever reason we somehow quote it a lot! “This mortal form needs sustenance! Brother, please. Another!”

DUY: This and Ragnarok are insanely quotable “Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!”

SAMANTHA: “He’s fine! We drank, we fought – he made his ancestors proud.” Shit-faced’ Stellan Skarsgard is my favorite Skarsgard, btw. Lol.

KATHERINE: “You are a vain, selfish, cruel boy!” and “And you are an old man and a fool!” is also a favorite between me and my sister when we piss each other off.

DUY: I do think we have to note Hiddleston doesn’t really break out until The Avengers.

TRAVIS: I think he’s better here, but more memorable in Avengers.

MAX: I was thinking the same thing, Travis.

JD: I don’t agree about Hiddleston. If he didn’t nail it here, he isn’t in The Avengers.

MAX: I think what Duy is saying is that he did nail it in Thor, but just that he didn’t become huge in pop culture until The Avengers. That’s the one people still talk about.

DUY: Yeah, I meant in terms of fan appeal and recognition, not performance and skill level. Having said that, that’s probably a function of the fact that way more people saw The Avengers.

MAX: I feel like he did ham it up a notch more in Avengers than he did in Thor. Both approaches worked for the material.

KATHERINE: He’s also a more angry, damaged character in The Avengers. Thor is his origin story where he’s mostly confused and working out his dual nature, he’s not a full-blown villain yet. So I didn’t see it as a hamming it up, it was his evolution.

DUY: An understated line is when Odin tells his kids, “Both of you were born to be kings” and the thing is, Loki is in the right for a lot of the movie. Odin banishes Thor, so when he does down, Loki is next in line and is the rightful heir to the throne. You have to reveal he’s the one who let the Frost Giants into Asgard in the first place, or he’d have too much sympathy.

KATHERINE: There are multiple cut scenes that give Loki even more sympathy, so I totally get why they were cut, but as a Loki fan I would’ve loved to see even more of that character complexity.

JEFF: I think Loki in The Avengers was the plan regardless. If not, then who’s the villain? Hulk? Kang?

BEN: Why haven’t they done Kang yet? I love Kang.

TRAVIS: Kang is a big leap, I’d think, especially to have gone that way so early. Even in The Avengers, the big bad’s power set isn’t all that radical.

JEFF: I hope they don’t waste Kang on something like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

(Loki)’s also a more angry, damaged character in The Avengers. Thor is his origin story where he’s mostly confused and working out his dual nature, he’s not a full-blown villain yet. So I didn’t see it as a hamming it up, it was his evolution. -Katherine

JD: I think the villain in Avengers was going to break out no matter what.

DUY: I dunno… could have easily been a Steppenwolf.

JEFF: Or something like Ultimates vs Hulk.

JD: Nah, The Avengers was a great flick that made a bajillion bucks and didn’t have the terrible baggage that the DCEU has following everything they do. Justice League was almost doomed to fail.

DUY: Okay, wait, could have easily been Ultron. Or Ronan.

MAX: I think a badly cast actor as villain could still have been the weak link in an otherwise great film.

JD: I just think Hiddleston had fans right away. Especially the ladies.

MAX: Thor does a good job of supplying two very different male sex symbols.

JD: It does, doesn’t it. They are quite the opposites. Never really thought about it like that.

BEN: Hiddleston did not really take off until The Avengers.

KATHERINE: He definitely had a burgeoning passionate following after Thor, but maybe didn’t explode mainstream until after The Avengers. I just know because I was one of them. My immediate thought while leaving the theater was “who the eff played Loki cuz that guy blew me away” and when I looked him up, found that there were many others thinking the exact same thing.

DUY: What does everyone think of Hemsworth and Portman? Back then a criticism was that they had no chemistry, but I found them pretty charming.

BEN: I don’t know why fans criticize Natalie Portman so much. I thought she was so charming in this, and really portrayed smitten believably well.

TRAVIS: She seems to have a huge crush on him, and he seems like he’s pretty much up for anyone.

MAX: Well, he had his wife stand in for Portman on set! OK, I know it was because Portman couldn’t shoot that day, but… clickbait!

JD: I never had any problem. To me, falling for a demigod who is also tied to your life’s work seems a pretty natural thing to happen.

MAX: I didn’t have a problem at the time, but now that I’ve seen the energy between Hemsworth and (Tessa) Thompson, despite the characters not being explicitly romantic, I have to say… it could have been better. Portman can be fiery, but they chose a fairly straight performance for Jane.

The aliens thing didn’t kill the magic. Personally, it made sense. -Max

DUY: Another point of contention: the idea that the Asgardians are aliens, and not gods, which is an idea introduced by Warren Ellis in his ‘90s story, Worldengine. Does this kill some of the magic for you?

TRAVIS: They can be aliens without being gods, but they can’t be god without also being aliens. They can be high tech, without being magic, but they can’t be magic (that works) without being high tech. Working magic has to be considered a working technology, and gods from another realm are alien just as anything “from another realm” would be.

DUY: Personally, I feel that Jane and company are scientists and thus will try to explain such phenomena according to their line of work. We could easily tell a story about how some religious people think Thor and Loki are legitimate gods.

JD: It lines up with Earth X, so I loved that they used that take. And it’s an easier sell to audiences, I think.

TRAVIS: Earth X comes after Warren’s Thor run, but the idea had been expressed by ignorant people in the comics, beforehand, and is only presented in that run as someone’s "idea" from afar, in one of the many books the cop gets to research.

MAX: Maybe because I was a mythology nut as a kid, but Marvel and DC’s gods always came off as superheroes with a different name, rather than gods to me. The aliens thing didn’t kill the magic. Personally, it made sense. But then, I also saw Galactus as simultaneously a god and an alien too.

DUY: It’s my big issue with the New Gods as they’re usually presented. There’s really nothing that differentiates them from superheroes, but that’s completely digressing.

TRAVIS: I don’t think the MCU alien/gods fall into that trap, so much. Loki is still stupid powerful. By the time of Dr. Strange, even if I don’t care for the movie, the gods are still massively godlike. Even Ego.

DUY: True, and a big part of that is that most of the characters presented in the MCU actually don’t have any powers, and those who do are like Spider-Man. Dr. Strange is the big exception.

MAX: I just want to clarify that I don’t think making them superheroes is a bad thing at all, just that it was the big reason why I’m not bothered by the alien thing.

DUY: I do think if they’re gonna be “gods,” there should be some distinction. Thor should be stronger than everyone who isn’t the Hulk. But the Asgardians being “gods” have always been kinda weird. It’s like they just call themselves gods the way we are humans. They only difference is here, anyone can be an accountant. Over on Asgard, one guy becomes an accountant and he’d be called the “god of transactions,” or something.

MAX: That would actually be fun. If human concepts started bleeding into Asgard and gods found themselves reimagined as “the god of accountants” or “the seer of social media.”

TRAVIS: Have we talked yet about how well this movie does the Christ theme, compared to… every other superhero story that’s tried?

DUY: You mean a God showing up on Earth, mingling with people, and then dying to save them, and then coming back to life because of his actions, is better than doing random crucifix poses?

BEN: It’s much better to bludgeon the audience over the head with Christ imagery.

KATHERINE: I think I was so accustomed to it being super obvious that I don’t think the allegory even occurred to me until months later someone (Duy maybe?) pointed it out. It was like “oh yeah… of course.” But I had so much extra appreciation for it because they had been pretty (comparatively) subtle about it.

Have we talked yet about how well this movie does the Christ theme, compared to… every other superhero story that’s tried? -Travis

BEN: The role of Thor eventually came down to brothers Chris Hemsworth and Liam Hemsworth, with Chris getting the part, obviously. Daniel Craig had been their first choice. Alexander Skarsgard, Channing Tatum, Triple H, Charlie Hunnam, and Tom Hiddleston had been in the running as well. Kevin McKidd was considered for the part of Dr. Donald Blake, before it was written out of the movie. Future Daredevil, Charlie Cox, auditioned for the role of Loki. Jim Carrey and Josh Hartnett were also rumored for the part. Jessica Biel and Diora Baird were rumored for Sif. Mel Gibson turned down the role of Odin (thankfully).

DUY: Jesus Christ, I remember being so scared Triple H was gonna get it.

PETER: Mel Gibson as Odin and Rene Russo as Freya! Lethal Weapon reunion! I like it!

JD: Odin needed to be someone more wise looking. Mel would have looked great though.

JEFF: Rene Russo and Stellan Skarsgard are two most casting choices I really like. Russo was better used in the Dark World and Skarsgard is one of the better character actors around.

MAX: I’m always impressed/grateful to hear about castings that throw a wide net and cast “against type,” like getting Hiddleston to read for Thor. I’m surprised they didn’t audition Russell Crowe for Thor.

BEN: Crowe as Odin is interesting, but it’s hard to see anyone but Hopkins now.

DUY: Of course, Crowe ended up being Jor-El.

MAX: Trying to imagine Harnett or Carrey as Loki. I think one would play it too straight and the other too “mustache twirly.” Hiddleston was the sweet spot.

JD: Yes. Loki needs a bit of subtlety. Carrey’s not going to do that in a superhero flick. God, could you imagine him in The Avengers?

MAX: Yeah, trying to do the Loki crowd speech? Can’t see it working. I still found his serious acting in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind too wacky and lacking that subtlety.

LAMAR: I think every movie should have a “people of note that auditioned for these parts, and almost got them but for last minute smarts” lists.

JD: This is probably Kenneth Branagh’s best movie in my opinion. His Shakespearian sensibilities really elevated everything.

BEN: He was the best choice to get the franchise started.

LAMAR: Branagh would’ve made a great Aquaman 20 years ago, but that’s for another talk.

MAX: Yeah, I remember thinking he was the perfect choice when they announced him as director, but I do think some of his stuff like Much Ado and Hamlet are better. Not ‘cos it’s Shakespeare, just that his love of that material shines through. He’s like a megafan.

DUY: I believe this also had the MCU’s first racebend in Heimdall, who is played by Idris Elba when he is traditionally portrayed as Caucasian in the comics (and is assumed white in mythology). Thoughts?

JD: Casting Idris Elba is always the right choice.

MAX: My stance is that you can always explain that away easily (the whole Asgardians are aliens shaped by human thought or the fact that Vikings came in contact with may ethnicities back in the day) in-universe, if you absolutely need to, but my personal feel on the matter is, once you throw historical accuracy out the window with blonde Thor you might as well go the whole way.

BEN: Who wins for Best Supporting Actor, and who wins the “Val Kilmer” award for dominating the movie? I ask both because I suspect the answer is Hiddleston for both.

MATTHEW: Yeah, definitely Hiddleston. Honestly, he would carry these awards throughout the MCU as a whole.

LAMAR: Probably so, not counting the Destroyer.

DUY: Hiddleston wins best supporting, easily, but I’m actually gonna give the Kilmer award to Hemsworth. There’s a lot on his shoulders, and the way he goes from superserious Thor to someone who isn’t afraid to make fun of himself once he’s on Earth is important, and opens the door for what would eventually be Ragnarok.

TRAVIS: This whole cast were on fire. They all dominated. Hemsworth’s abs dominated.

MAX: That’s six extra cast members.

DUY: Which comics would you recommend to anyone who liked the movie? I am gonna go with the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run, which the fight scenes in this one kinda distilled. I'm going to save Walt Simonson's run for the next one, although I guess I just named it.

TRAVIS: Worldengine. Ellis, Deodato, Javins. Birthplace of shirtless Thor. Heroic piece of fiction. Quick entry, does its job, sees you gently out the other side.

MATTHEW: Astonishing Thor.

PETER: JMS. Just kidding

DUY: Loath as I am to say it, he did have a writing credit in this movie.

BEN: Your favorite movie is written by JMS!

DUY: That's just something I'm gonna have to live with.

JD: I liked the beginning of JMS’s Thor where it was the gods interacting with normal folks. Then it got superheroey and went to poop.

MATTHEW: JMS is good in theory, and the ideas all seem sound on paper… and then you read them.

PETER: I haven’t really read Thor the Mighty Avenger but it’s drawn by Samnee and I remember it getting good reviews.

BEN: It’s worth recommending.

DUY: I actually did buy that one soon after the movie, and shared it with my niece. That’s what made Thor her favorite Avenger.

BEN: It’s the perfect “here’s Thor in 12 issues” to give to someone. As great as Kirby and Simonson are, they are big commitments.

JEFF: I’d recommend Worldengine too, Thor by Jurgens volume 1, and Avengers Disassembled: Thor.

Jan 23, 2018

Renew Your Vows: A Sales Analysis

With the recent announcement that Dan Slott is ending his lengthy run as the writer on Amazing Spider-Man, a vocal contingent of fans has once again returned to the comment sections.  For many years, a subset of Spider-Man fans have continuously and passionately denounced Marvel’s decision to erase the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.  They’ve sworn for years now that Spider-Man is an objectively better character, and comic, when he was married.  Marvel finally gave them what they wanted in November of 2016, when they launched Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, featuring a married Peter and Mary Jane, and their super-powered daughter.  Prompted by the resurfacing of what is now a decade long debate, I decided to look up the sales on Renew Your Vows to see how it’s doing, and how it compares to the other comics in the Spider-Man franchise.  Here’s what I found.

Renew Your Vows: A Sales Analysis of Married and Single Spider-Man
Ben Smith

First, some caveats.  I did not include any of the limited series or Spider-event titles.  No Spider-Men II, Edge of Venomverse, Generations, or Clone Conspiracy.  I am not including Spider-Man/Deadpool, because it would be impossible to determine how much Deadpool’s popularity helps sales on that comic.  Silk and Spider-Man 2099 were so far down on the sales charts that I didn’t even notice them until around the 5th month, so I’ll be ignoring them altogether.  Furthermore, most industry professionals are adamant that the Diamond sales charts are completely inaccurate, but seeing as how they’re the only tool the public is given, I can only go by what I have available. (Duy here. Diamond numbers indicate preorders only and not actual sell-through.) 

Additionally, comic sales are down across the board, so total unit sales is not a good measurement to go by when comparing current comics to comics from yesteryear.  The best indication of where a book stands in its time period among it's peers, is its rank on the overall sales chart.  That will be my primary focus.  Also, I’m going to avoid assigning asterisks to sales bumps on any of the titles, because any discussion about sales should not discredit the means by which a publisher achieves those sales, whether it be renumbering, incentive variants, new creative teams, or event tie-ins.  It would be impossible to measure the impact of each different sales tool without doing a lot more research, and I've already done far more than I ever do. (Someone help me put the last five years of sales in an Excel file and attribute the appropriate variables, then someone get me the latest version of Stata, and I'll do the regression. No kidding. Matt and I have done it before. -Duy)

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, my personal bias.  First and foremost, I am a Spider-Man fan.  I honestly do not care if he is married or not.  I happen to agree with the reasoning Marvel had for making him single again, but ultimately, his marital status does not affect if I can enjoy a quality Spider-Man comic or not.

One last thing, I am way behind on my Spider-Man reading.  I read a few issues of Amazing after Immonen took over as the artist, and I read the first issue of Renew Your Vows.  (Both titles lost me at around the same time, but to be fair, so did most modern comics in my switch to trades. -Duy) Quality will not, and cannot, be something I can discuss with any first-hand knowledge.  This will strictly be sales, which is the only real way to objectively measure how well a book is received by fans anyway. 


Renew Your Vows finished in the following spots on the Diamond sales chart from Nov ’16 to Dec ’17: #6, #50, #55, #71, #56, #75, #102, #78, #90, #94, #62, #111, #16, #102.  After a strong debut, the book had a fairly precipitous decline in overall sales and it’s ranking on the sales chart.  Except for a few instances where it jumped up the list, it’s been a pretty steady decline.

Amazing Spider-Man during that same time period finished at: #23, #22, #9, #13, #1, #15, #27, #15, #14, #18, #17, #3, #31, #10.  Renew Your Vows outsold Amazing in only two or the fourteen months of its existence.  (Admittedly, not a large sample size.)  When it launched in Nov ’16 (because first issues sell more traditionally) and in Nov ’17 when it debuted a new creative team, an 8-year time jump forward in the story, and a ton of incentive variant covers.  Those aren’t asterisks, merely explanations for the larger sales, which stand out as anomalies compared to the other 12 months.

Possible ASM sales boosters: Alex Ross covers. -Duy

Amazing Spider-Man sold 934,000 comics in that 14 month span.  (That’s not including the second issue anytime Amazing released two issues in a month, because that’s not a fair comparison.  Including those double-shipping months, the overall number rises to 1,089,000).  Renew Your Vows sold 515,000 copies over the same time period.  That’s a pretty resounding sales difference between single and married Spider-Man.

Maybe Renew Your Vows isn’t delivering an appealing creative team?  Considering Slott is uniformly reviled (if you believe the internet) than any other writer option should be a net positive.  If marital status is truly all those fans care about, then quality or execution should not be a factor at all. 

But, you may be saying to me, it’s not fair to compare a brand-new title to a comic that has been published continuously for over 50 years.  Okay, then…


Venom launched the same exact month as Renew Your Vows, and finished at the following spots on the overall sales charts every month since: #8, #67, #24, #47, #71, #14, #2, #32, #55, #71, #98, #12, #85, #40.  Venom outsold Renew Your Vows in 9 of the 14 months since they both debuted.  Venom sold 731,000 total comics.   (Ugh. -Duy) Admittedly, Venom was helped by a legacy re-numbering, and being the focal point of a few minor events, but again, Marvel obviously felt it was doing well enough to earn that increased focus.

Spectacular Spider-Man launched in June ’17 and sold the most copies of any Spider-Man family comic for this entire time period I’m discussing, at 224,000 issues.  It’s rank on the sales charts: #1, #17, #35, #44, #69, #41, #54.  Much less of a drop-off than either Renew Your Vows or Venom (and for clarification, features an even more “classic” depiction of a single Spider-Man).  It sold 462,000 comics over 7 months, nearly matching Renew Your Vows in half the time.

So, now you might be saying to me, but those books are in-continuity, and continuity is what matters…


First of all, the pro-marriage crowd has been saying for a decade that if Marvel made a married Spider-Man title, the legions of fans upset with the erasure of the marriage would come out in legion and it would easily surpass the sales of any single Spider-Man.  But, for the sake of argument, I know that comics that take place in an alternate universe from the “main” Marvel continuity, are not as valued or seen as “important” as comics that do by a lot of fans.  Let’s see how Spider-Gwen fares.

Spider-Gwen finished at the following spots on the sales chart since Nov’16: #101, #100, #74, #81, #65, #86, #105, #82, #104, #113, #54, #13, #101, #83.  Gwen only outsold Renew Your Vows in 4 of the 14 months, but they were relatively near each other in most months.  Gwen sold 427,000 copies, which is pretty good for a book that doesn’t feature a Peter Parker at all.  But yes, Renew Your Vows is the top alternate universe Spider-Man book.


I don’t really know how Miles Morales’ Spider-Man comic fits in this discussion, but since I have the numbers, his book finished at the following spots on the sales chart: #68, #58, #33, #61, #67, #62, #77, #81, #60, #72, #66, #93, #23, #69.  Overall it sold 491,000 comics.  It pretty consistently sells 30-33,000 comics.  If Renew Your Vows continues to sell in the 20-23,000 range, Miles will surpass it before long. (Hey, someone should do Miles' relative chart placement before he was in the main Marvel Universe and afterwards. I'm legitimately curious if being brought into continuity had an effect. Someone who isn't me. -Duy)

Extreme tangent, since Ben Reilly is another darling of the internet message boards.  Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider finished at the following spots on the sales chart since its launch in Apr ’17: #27, #83, #89, #102, #112, #107, #125, #57, #119.  It sold 260,000 copies in 9 months.  A tangent within this tangent, I was surprised to see that Clone Conspiracy, a hyped event mini-series, sold less than its equivalent Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins.  It sold 257,000 copies from Nov ’16 to Mar ’17, while Amazing sold 373,000.  That blows my mind.  I don’t think that has ever happened before. (I'm willing to bet this is the "Slott has to leave the book" data point, if Marvel is run just like any other business and they use data to decide who has which job. Eh, but who knows how comic companies are run. -Duy)

C'mon, who doesn't want to see the return of the Hornet? -Duy

I know this wasn’t exactly the ideal version of Ben Reilly that fans have been asking for, but that’s still a really poor performance, especially since Peter David is a writer that fans are constantly suggesting as a better option than Slott on Amazing.


Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, starring a single Peter Parker, are definitively higher sellers than the married Renew Your Vows book.  Venom, a Spider-Man villain/anti-hero, sold 30 percent more comics during the exact same time period as a comic that features Peter Parker, regardless of his relationship status.  Renew Your Vows sold the most comics as an alternate universe Spider-Man book, but if the steady decline it’s been showing continues, Spider-Gwen will retake that title before long.  It does however outsell Miles, Silk, Ben Reilly, and Spider-Man 2099.  Again, I think Miles will surpass it before long since it maintains a much more steady sales history.

(If you go by average sales, which has its own caveats in and of itself, Amazing averages 66,714 books; Spec is close behind at 66,000. It's then followed by Venom, because there is no justice in the world, at 52,000. Renew is fourth at 37,000, with Miles' book close behind at 35,000. Gwen is at 30,500, and Scarlet is at 29,000. The real takeaway is that sales suck. I'm willing to bet that Venom is high in the direct market because most of the fans who made Venom popular still get their books from the direct market, that 90s collectible crowd. Similarly, I would make the assumption that Gwen and Miles perform more highly on digital and in trades than the direct sales would indicate., as Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel does. While I'm at it, here's an illuminating TED talk by G. Willow Wilson. None of anything I just said relates to Peter Parker, but I'm fairly certain Ben Reilly sells low because he's Ben Reilly, and no matter how many of us say they'd support a Ben Reilly book, only a handful of us actually mean it. And for the record, I am not one of them. -Duy)

Numbers are facts. Indisputable.  It’s time the pro-marriage fans put their money where their mouths are, if they want to keep talking big about which Spider-Man is objectively the best.

In the meantime, here's an Amazon link to Renew Your Vows if you want to support it or give it a try:

Jan 22, 2018

Mystik U: Rose by Any Other Name

I had been looking forward to Mystik U for a couple years, since I’d first noticed writer and creator, Alisa Kwitney, talking about it, so I was primed for the first issue. A comic featuring Zatanna, who I generally love, written by a woman, an intelligent and sensible writer, which meant many of the things that sometimes happen with Zatanna stories which make me cringe were unlikely to happen. This was going to be good. But, I had no preparation for Doctor Rose Psychic.

Rose By Any Other Name
Travis Hedge Coke

I know Rose Psychic. Rose, is the consistently more interesting half of a couple-sharing-an-existence, typically seen as the male, Dr Occult. Only one can be physically present at a time, though both still communicate psychically, betwixt themselves. Panel for panel, Rose probably only shows up in physical reality once for ever hundred panels Occult is in. And, while he’s always known by his surname, and almost always with that title in place, even though there’s no evidence he ever earned any kind of doctorate, Rose is Rose. Rose is a female archetype, or more honestly, a sketch of femininity.

The first issue of Mystik U has Rose Psychic right there, the main presence, with Occult unseen and unheard except by her, and she’s insisting men call her Dr Psychic.

Somewhere inside me, eleven-or-twelve-year-old just-discovering-Vertigo-as-it-launches me is hyperventilating. I am still not over it. I am self-conscious about how excited it makes me. Every asshole who dismissed my mom, a fieldworker when I was born, and currently Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside, every dumbass who talked to my grandmother like she was uneducated, the dudes who called my grandfather, “boy,” when he was in his eighties, “Dr Rose Psychic” feels like a raspberry in the face of all of them. A simple, natural, sensible thing that should have always been and of course, unfortunately of course, nobody bothered, nobody even considered it.

It is easy to underestimate these things. It’s easy to disregard them. It’s not a new character. It is not a radical reinvention. The comics news sites that went gaga because Superman had a slight change in his belt design, or because DC paid money to an artist to draw Watchmen characters again, they are not going to even make mention of Dr Rose Psychic’s demanding a title and that the title be used.

I can’t get over it. I don’t want Dr Psychic to go back. The last time I noted Rose in any comic, she was dead and being left in Hell in a comic partly drawn by a convicted pedophile. The most by-the-numbers and unsurprising comic I have ever read by someone I think otherwise has a genius body of work. Rose had nowhere to go but up, but it’s comics, it’s mainstream superhero comics. She could absolutely go down further. Comics can always further degrade a female character. It can get worse.

And, it might still get worse. Mystik U will not have new issues forever. I hope it runs a few years. I want to know where it goes, to enjoy it month by month for awhile. And, this take on Rose Psychic - the Dr Psychic Years, as I will think of them - will remain forever as a potential, as a window if not a place beyond the window. But, the next writer, the next comic can degrade her from here, from this beautiful and flowering starting place. We need to guard against that. I have full faith Kwitney and her colleagues on the comic are fighting against it.

Dr Psychic is not a promotion for Rose. It is where she should have been. It’s where male-her, her male alternate, male double, has always been, with the same qualifications, under the same criteria, without once being questioned or compared. Dr Occult is Doctor Occult, because he is. Rose Psychic is Rose, because we’re sexist. Rose Psychic is Dr Psychic, because she is. Even, if the next writer does not call her that, even if no character ever refers to it again, it cannot be taken away. An education we cannot be divested of. Her right to it cannot be argued. Bullied into silence, maybe, but we’ll all know. We do know.

Jan 19, 2018

Typhoid Mary Doesn’t Exist

Mary Walker and Typhoid were created by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr during their run on Daredevil (issue 254). They share a body, and are manifested identities of a woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder. Later, Nocenti will add Bloody Mary, as a third, and Dan Slott - in an atrocious case of missing the point - Mutant Zero. But, there is no Typhoid Mary. No character by that name exists. That name is a label to put on a cover, a title. Even her gorgeous miniseries by Nocenti and John Van Fleet was called Typhoid, because it’s about, well, the character named, Typhoid.

Typhoid Mary Doesn’t Exist
How Ann Nocenti Turned a Pile of Contradictory Misogyny
into the Gut Release We All Needed
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

And, to me, here is the heart of the character who is Typhoid and Mary (et al). Neither Typhoid nor Mary are a person, are permitted personhood. Typhoid is callous, sexual, violent, strong but yielding temporarily to men with power or money. Mary is weepy, clingy, naive. These aren’t women; they are misogynistic anxieties. And, what’s awesome about them both, is that they fuck over exactly the sort of guys who pretty much earned it. Typhoid stories are morality plays. They’re lesson stories. If Typhoid or Mary are what you believe women “truly are,” you are in trouble.

Both Mary and Typhoid are introduced as assassins, set on not just killing, but destroying someone. Typhoid goes out and gets in stabby fights. Mary has meet cutes and hugs and blushes. Depending on where the audience’s gauge falls between Madonna and Whore, one or the other may seem healthier or cooler, but they’re messed up. They’re both messed up. Mary and Typhoid, in this sense, do not exist. Again, they lack personhood, but not in the sense of fridging. Neither is sacrificed for the growth of male characters, but instead, they are a metaphoric agency, a complex of bruised ideas lashing back outward.

Because, largely, comics won’t let Mary or Typhoid, or even “Typhoid Mary” be their own person. And, to be a person is to be “their own person.” Otherwise, it is not personhood.

Think I am overreaching? The collection of Nocenti’s Typhoid stories, the comics where she is the lead or co-lead, is titled Daredevil: Typhoid’s Kiss. Note, Daredevil, the character, is not mentioned until we are 136 story pages into the collection. He does not physically appear for 167 pages. He’s barely in any of the stories after that. But, the title of the collection is him, and she is not even the subtitle, the subtitle is only her hypothetical, metaphorical action. Something received by someone else.

“I love to test men,” says Typhoid, in the graphic novella, Bloody Mary.

Heroes, villains, “just guys,” that are in danger from Typhoid/Mary/Bloody Mary are not all uniformly horrible, and the ones who are not thoroughly rotten with misogynistic, sexist muck generally survive intact, if cut up a bit. But, they are all sexist. That, I think, is what Typhoid is for, and what makes her and her stories so excellent. Daredevil is sexist. This has been an established trait, complained about by other characters, weathered by women in his stories, since quite early in his existence as a character. Black Widow ditched him, when they were partnered up in San Francisco, because he was annoyingly sexist. He falls prey to Mary, especially, but also Typhoid, because he is sexist. In later stories, like those collected in Typhoid’s Kiss, boorish, annoyed men’s rights shouting idiots are going to get their asses kicked. Rapey, pseudo-intellectual gas lighting dudes are probably gonna die.

Wolverine makes appearances, and c’mon, we know Wolverine has issues with women and how he ought to interact with them, and we, the audience, often cheer a bit for him and his inappropriate methods, especially when they work, and the ladies just love him more because he tore their skirt shorter or pushed his face into theirs because he knows they secretly like it.

Sexism is not only full-blown misogyny. It is not necessarily even rooted in hate. Erasure and dehumanization are also sexist. The reflex belief that a woman who does horrible things must be manipulated by men, controlled or forced or naively colluding is sexist. The hero complex of “if I save her, she’ll bang” is sexist. It is embedded deep in many of our heroic narratives, in our cultural anticipations, but that does not make it any less an individual’s problem. And, that’s what Typhoid cuts up. That is what Mary twists and pinches and bleeds. It is what the “warrior woman,” the “bleeding soldier” Bloody Mary wages war with.

It is where the fun comes in.

Any time you want to read Robert Crumb’s My Trouble With Women, I want you to pull Ann Nocenti’s Typhoid’s Kiss off the shelf. Save yourself.

“Aren’t you really nobody?” a young man asks the woman who is Mary and Typhoid, in Nocenti and Molly Crabapple’s Blindspot. She responds, having been exaggeratedly all over the place in the previous few pages:

“When I was little I had a pair of red rubber boots. My boots took me places. One day they got lost. I thought they were hiding under my bed. But they’re gone. I miss them. All of them.

“One of us is tender,
“one of us is not,
“one of us takes vengeance
“all four tied in a knot.”