Feb 28, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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, arguably the best movie in the entire MCU.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Comics Cube Roundtable

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released on April 4, 2014 and made $95 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $259 million in the United States and $714 million total worldwide.

BEN: One of the great times I’ve had in a theater. From the opening action, with Black Widow and Captain America taking down the bad guys with brutal efficiency, I was hooked. The action was so visceral and exciting. It immediately set a new high bar for me.

JD: I’ve seen this 20 times and the poster still gets my hyped.

JEFF: Any excuse to watch this movie again.

MATTHEW: I've been waiting for this roundtable. Far and away my favorite of Marvel's movies. The movie is just awesome.

LAMAR: The Winter Soldier is the both the best Marvel film and the most well-crafted superhero film ever made...but get back with me in a few weeks (when Black Panther opens). *This roundtable took place prior.*

TRAVIS: I would have enjoyed this one more, but for the marketing. It's not a political thriller and if you can't guess who the baddies are the first time any appear onscreen, you can't be an adult who's seen movies before. Hella good action movie, though.

DUY: I think it's the best MCU movie, top to bottom. It was the best one when it came out, it's still the best one now. And I think one of the things that makes it work so well is it doesn't fall over into joke territory like all the other non-Cap movies have done.

MATT: I am a tremendous fan of this film. I think it picks up nicely where Steve left off after both his first movie and the Avengers. SHIELD is out there and Steve's at the forefront, fighting Darth Maul. I do think that these movies all try to focus on different themes and genres. The first is a classic WW2 movie. Steve respects authority and finds his heroic means. In this film, Steve learns that Natasha has some skills he doesn't, like skepticism of authority and how to use computers. The reveal that all these people in SHIELD are actually HYDRA isn't the real reveal, it's Bucky — the titular Winter Soldier.

KATHERINE: Just read this on IMDB: The "winter soldier" title is assumed to refer to either Bucky's nickname, the Cold War, or how he was kept in a cold-based suspended animation between missions. But, from the commentary, it actually refers to an eighteenth century quote from Thomas Paine: "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he (the winter soldier) that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Therefore, the titular "winter soldier" is Cap, not Bucky.

DUY: Nice, double meanings. I like.

MATT: Also, that Fury is prepared for betrayal and manages to escape the ultimate assassin is pretty great. The fight scenes are excellently done, and since Steve doesn't have laser beams or a magic hammer, they are tightly focused and often brutal (the elevator scene is expertly done as is the ambush).

JEFF: I actually think the way Fury gets away is badly done, there's no way that little lightsaber devices he had(from his Mace Windu days I imagine) should have cut that deep a hole in the time it would take Soldier to walk over to the vehicle.

ANTONIO: The dude is all shot up and bleeding profusely! Just jump down into the hole and kill him the rest of the way, dude. Way to give up so easily, Bucky!

CHRISTOPHER: Fury with that lightsaber shit to escape is a serious hard sell.

It immediately set a new high bar for me. -Ben

BEN: I’ve gone back and forth over the years on if this was better than Avengers, but after re-watching both now, I had a lot more problems with the Whedon dialogue in Avengers. I think this is the best MCU movie. It doesn’t hurt that it has both of my favorite Avengers in it.

CHRISTOPHER: This movie is Marvel's most focused and tightest film to date. It managed to elevate into much much more relevant territory the story of Steve.  By far this is the top Marvel movie for me and will probably hold that place for good simply because as the movies expand upon the lore of its universe it will never come to this level of focus.

JEFF: The action in this movie is unbelievable, from start to finish. Cap is like a juggernaut in the beginning taking out all the mercenaries on the ship and barreling through everything in the way when pursuing Winter Soldier after Fury is shot. The scenes for Fury’s chase and the first fight between Cap and Winter Soldier are pure intensity, I love how Soldier has a never ending arsenal of knives and pistols to use against Cap.

DUY: And yet, despite all that action, I love that he takes Bucky out with a sleeper hold. Because it's Bucky, and only because it's Bucky.

MATTHEW: They made Arnim Zola work. Let that sink in. They put Arnim Zola in a live-action film and made it work.

JD: Twice.

MATTHEW: The part in the elevator where he realizes what’s up and offers everybody a chance to get off.

CHRISTOPHER: I loooooove how Cap's all up in everyone's face like he's there only to kick ass and take names, but with Bucky he's all about the bromance.

JEFF: I like when Rumlow says nothing personal cause he knows exactly how the fight between him and Cap is going to end.

MATT: The brutal efficiency of that scene is amazing.

MATTHEW: The whole scene with him escaping the Triskelion is just awesome. Everything about that just played so perfectly. I love how they basically made Cap unstoppable. It didn't matter what was in front of him. He knew what was right, and he was kicking every ass necessary to straighten shit out.

JEFF: I love the scene where Cap jumps from the jet without a chute and one of the strike team guys asked was he wearing a chute to which Rumlow shakes his head and says no he wasn't with a little smile on his face, admiring Cap even though he's really Hydra.

MATTHEW: Hydra or not, he's a warrior, and he's going to carry a healthy level of respect for that dude.

BEN: Maria Hill has one of the great moments in all of the MCU in this movie.

DUY: I marked the hell out for Maria, which was a testament to how into the story I was, since I didn’t like her in Avengers.

BEN: Cobie was legitimately bad in Avengers.

Despite all that action, I love that he takes Bucky out with a sleeper hold. Because it's Bucky, and only because it's Bucky. -Duy

DUY: How did your theater audiences react to the Bucky reveal? Because I saw it twice and I don't think people made the connection the first time. They either probably didn't see the first movie or he looked too different.

TRAVIS: The actor wanted to go with short hair, didn't he? For that reason? But, Brubaker explained the long hair in the wind = cool thing?

BEN: I think they could have done a little more to remind the audience of Bucky without it tipping too far into obvious.

SAMANTHA: I saw it New York. I feel like New York City has more Marvel fans per capita than most places. There was a pretty huge pop. The camera work for that reveal was fantastic to begin with, though.

DUY: Yeah, the first time I saw it, there wasn't much of a reaction. The second time, I heard some murmurs of "Oh it's his friend! That guy!" Katherine also told me that she saw it with someone who knew who Sebastian Stan was, who saw him on the poster, and who knew he was Bucky, and was apparently so engrossed in the story that when the reveal happened she still belted out an "oh my God!"

BEN: Even a quick cut to a WWII Bucky in that moment would have helped. But I guess they didn’t anticipate the audience not getting it.

KATHERINE: Wasn’t lingering on the shot of the two of them laughing together in the museum enough? He even stares at the giant poster of his face as the VO talks about how his best friend since childhood, Bucky Barnes, was the only Commando killed in combat.

DUY: I'd normally say yes, but those two scenes are too far away from each other, I think. Then again, if it were any closer it would have been more obvious.

KATHERINE: He spends a full 20 seconds in front of that memorial. They did more than enough to remind the audience! Isn’t that the equivalent of the rule of Chekhov’s gun? Why show a pistol hanging on the wall in Act 1 if you’re not gonna use it? Why spend 20 seconds on this guy’s face if it’s not gonna be important? You don’t see him focusing on Tommy Lee Jones’ memorial. Or maybe I’m just expecting audiences to pay too much attention.

DUY: But (1) he's not introduced in Act 1 full out, he's introduced in Act 1 in a picture where he's wearing a hat and he has a clean cut, and (2) when he shows up again much later, his hair is much longer, he's got the sexy stubble, and he's wearing mascara. It's like introducing, in a vacuum, Clark Kent in Act 1 and then having Superman show up an hour later.

KATHERINE: That logic is crazy! That’s like saying if you introduce a girl in Act 1, then she reappears in Act 2 but with a different haircut, the scenes are too far apart to connect that it’s the same person! Gah!!

BEN: You’re preaching to the choir here, I would have gotten it even without the comic book background going in.

I've always loved how Hydra's big plot played so perfectly into very real fears that exist in our society. Blown up to Herculean proportions obviously, but very real. -Matthew

DUY: So what did everyone think of Hydra being behind everything? They couldn't have planned that out from the beginning, because some continuity errors show up too much, but I think it adds a new wrinkle into the older movies, figuring out which ones are Hydra and which ones aren't. And I think with the Avengers having been established at this point, it was okay to do away with SHIELD for a while.

MATTHEW: I've always loved how Hydra's big plot played so perfectly into very real fears that exist in our society. Blown up to Herculean proportions obviously, but very real.

JEFF: I love the use of Jasper Sitwell in this movie, he's prefect to add a bit of humour and completely disposable.

LAMAR: #ripGaryShandling and all that, but was I the only one that thought ol' buddy Senator Stern looked he smelled like feet and stale farts?

SAMANTHA: You weren’t. He was repugnant - well done Garry Shandler, I guess? Or was he lending himself to the image?

LAMAR: The ill-fitting suit was the capper though, I was praying for his downfall like Biggie Smalls with DMC.

Of course it’s taken to an extreme, but the root of that feels super real. Also, the return of Nazis? It sounds so crazy yet it’s happening!!! -Katherine

TRAVIS: I think it's a very good kid’s movie. And, good for the kid-in-adults. I can't get behind it being "great" as an adult movie, whatever "great" actually means in that way. Hydra's great big plan is flying tanks? This is less sensible than the Death Star. But, it's a great something-we-can-punch for superheroes to fight. If Fury had been rotten, or anyone we "liked," if Bucky had been more blatantly culpably guilty, it could have hurt audiences too much. If the threat as one that was harder to remove...

BEN: Travis also kicks puppies.

TRAVIS: You don’t kick ‘em now, they’ll lose their tread in six months and it’s your fault.

SAMANTHA: I don’t know that we’re supposed to focus on the "flying tanks" so much as what those flying tanks actually do. Being able to pinpoint individuals, to spy on/take them out in a split second is terrifying - and we are closer to that reality than ever. I realize that sounds silly, but the fear of Big Brother, in my opinion, was what that was all about.

TRAVIS: I guess I’m not as afraid that half my government and police could be evil and want me dead or enslaved. That’s never felt like a What-If?

BEN: But what if they did???

MATTHEW: The problem is that as it all becomes more and more automated, it makes it all too easy for the wrong person to get their finger on the button.

KATHERINE: Wasn’t it basically a bunch of giant drones? And that’s literally what drones do now for the military, they’re programmed to take people out efficiently and remotely. I’m totally not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t believe the government is out to get me at all, but we’re definitely living in a time when it’s obvious that our current government leaders are putting their interests above anyone else’s, and certainly would sacrifice innocent people in the name of protecting “their own” - so I think this movie has even more resonance today. Cap is calling out the potential for the abuse of power and how people will defend it and become complicit because of fear. Of course it’s taken to an extreme, but the root of that feels super real. Also, the return of Nazis? It sounds so crazy yet it’s happening!!!

TRAVIS: Giant drones kind of defeat all the purposes of drones. I dunno, maybe it’s just me.

DUY: I'm going to take what Samantha said further and mention that it's not just about Big Brother to me, but the fact that they could take them out before you did anything. And that's not just "closer to reality", that happens in all countries (I live in one), but people don't get that, and it's a big thing for a big wide-reaching movie to point to it and be all "Hey, this is happening, could be happening, and this is wrong."

KATHERINE: The crazy thing is in light of the latest news that’s been breaking about Russians getting indicted and conspiring with Americans to destabilize the government and influence the election is some total “Hail Hydra” shit. The truth really is stranger than fiction.
I can't get behind it being "great" as an adult movie, whatever "great" actually means in that way. -Travis

JEFF: I forgot they dropped the name Stephen Strange in this movie, makes sense that Dr. Strange happens before this film in the MCU timeline as he seems a more practiced sorcerer in Ragnorok.

DUY: Huh, I didn't think of it that way. I just figured Stephen Strange, the very intelligent doctor, had the background and skills to be able to pose a threat to Hydra.

JEFF: Strange was an uncaring arrogant prick before his accident, he was probably more in the possible recruitment category then threat for Hydra.

TRAVIS: The transition from modern espionage Cap costume to non-costume costume, to more traditional costume was fucking excellent.

JEFF: When I first saw the WWII costume back on him I was assuming It was going to be a plot device to help Bucky’s memories.

BEN: I never thought I’d be happy to see that costume back considering my disdain for it initially. It grew on me, and it was a great touch.

DUY: Big coincidental thing, Winter Soldier came out here the same week that the second-to-last issue of Superior Spider-Man came out, so both of them had these "Return to the classic costume" things going on.

BEN: “Return of the classic costume” is such an iconic comic book cover thing.

DUY: So a common complaint I hear about this movie, aimed at me specifically, is that they don't show Cap and Widow breaking into the military compound to get Falcon's stuff. That's usually the fireback when I say that Dark Knight Rises didn't show Bruce getting back into Gotham. But the biggest difference is at that point in the movie, Cap and Widow had already done so much, that we can easily fill in the blanks. Batman didn't do anything in Rises other than get beat up a lot, and he also loses to Bane after that scene, so getting into Gotham would have been the one competent thing he could do.

TRAVIS: Rises is just not in any way as good. Rises is the low point of everything, except maybe, "How much money can we blow on an airplane scene?" They won that one.

JEFF: When Sam tells them what they have to get through to get the wings their response was "Shouldn't be a problem." It's just in the movie to add a little humor, which was needed. It already had enough action.

MATT: My single biggest complaint (apart from Robert Redford's bad speech toward the end) is that SHIELD destroys Roosevelt Island to build their stupid building. I mean, I know this area, the Park Service would never let that happen. Talk about unbelievable!

ANTONIO: The one bad thing about this movie is that afterward every Marvel fanboy wanted all MCU movies to basically be just like this one. Also, Batroc got gypped.

DUY: Batroc Ze Leapair is in my Masters of Evil for a Phase 4 movie. My biggest nitpick is that the start has the introduction of the shaky cam in the MCU, which they also use in the beginning of Civil War, and I hate that. It makes me dizzy. I don't know if the fact that I easily get motion sickness actually plays into that, but they don't do it the entire movie, so I'm confused as to what they do it at all.

CHRISTOPHER: Shaky cam is stupid and it should never be used since I feel it detracts from the overall feel of the film.

KATHERINE: Can we take this time to appreciate that Winter Soldier brought Anthony Mackie into the MCU? He's so utterly charming and likeable, I immediately loved and somehow trusted Sam basically from the first frame.

MATT: Falcon is well sold, even if his flight suit is legitimately silly. They just roll with it.

DUY: We went this long without even bringing up Falcon. I feel like when he's your fourth best character you're probably in good shape.

TRAVIS: The opening laps were a sweet, understated way to introduce a lot of characterizations and dynamics. That scene, I thought, was one of the smartest in any Marvel movie.

MATTHEW: Helped cement Cap as just a normal guy. He goes out for a jog every morning just like millions of other people... he just happens to run laps around The Mall at Olympic sprinter speed.

TRAVIS: That's his social hour, too. With Natasha there to pick him up, like a step-mom, meeting new playground friends. Falc even making the effort to keep up, them forming a rapport.

JEFF: Another good score for this movie, listening to it during the end credits helps hearing just how great it is for the movie’s themes.

DUY: The Cap movies have the best end credits sequences.

JEFF: They do.

KATHERINE: The Winter Soldier attack theme in particular is so awesomely scary and stressful. It’s like a horror movie villain theme.

DUY: Also, we have here an old Peggy Carter, the introduction of Sharon Carter, who isn't explicitly named as Peggy's niece, but does mention she has an aunt, and a kiss with the Black Widow. Does anyone have a particular ship for Cap? That doesn't involve Bucky of course.

TRAVIS:  Cap and Tony peek the showers. That's as far as it goes. He def calls Sharon "Peggy" in the moment.

SAMANTHA: First and foremost, Peggy and Cap are so sweet together and I had to stifle a sob watching him tend to his “best girl” in this movie, particularly when she had the “you came back” moment.  Sharon? I guess. Lol - it doesn’t hit me as hard as Cap and Peggy, or his perfect bromance with Bucky.

JEFF: They don't have time(or make any) for Sharron/Steve in the movies so what happens in the next movie feels like it don't belong.

KATHERINE: They would be a smokin’ couple but I love Steve and Natasha as totally platonic friends and hope they never hook up. (But I would support Bucky and Natasha.) I’m forever Stucky and/or Steggy. He can flirt with whoever he wants but those are the two loves of his life as far as I’m concerned. 

DUY: When you name the best MCU villains, who among you names Bucky?

KATHERINE: Me! But he’s not really a villain. Best antagonist. I’ve had long conversations about whether Bucky would get acquitted if he actually went to trial. In a case of brainwashing when it can be blamed on the Russians, I vote yes, he would be ruled innocent. Cap’s testimony as a character witness would play great with a jury, and the government would be happy to pass the blame onto a hostile foreign power.

DUY: I remember I equated it to putting Angel on trial for the crimes of Angelus and you believing that wouldn't be the same thing.

KATHERINE: It’s not the same thing 'cuz Bucky is a Howling Commando/War Hero/literal POW captured by Nazis and Russians, experimented on, tortured and brainwashed into doing their bidding! That would play so well with a jury! Totally not the same as a dumb kid who had to consent to becoming a vampire. 

DUY: I still don't think him being forced to drink her blood or die is consent, but the basic principle would be the same wouldn't it? It feels weird to punish Liam for the crimes of Angel

KATHERINE: Definitely debatable, but I do think overall Bucky has a way stronger case than Angel. The POW status from people that were worse than Nazis alone gains him huge sympathy!

 I’ve had long conversations about whether Bucky would get acquitted if he actually went to trial. In a case of brainwashing when it can be blamed on the Russians, I vote yes, he would be ruled innocent. -Katherine
DUY: Who wins the Kilmer Award? And if it's Evans, who wins best supporting?

MATT: Supporting I would say has to be Widow. Steve would be toast without her.

JEFF: You could make an argument for Stan or Mackie as they both do a great job but I think Scarlet Johansson is best supporting. Try picturing another character like Hawkeye in Widows place and I don't think it's as good. Also Johansson plays perfectly off Steve's too serious wall he keeps up most of the time, developing a nice chemistry between the two characters.

KATHERINE: Bucky! He said like two sentences in the whole movie but you still feel the pain and confusion he’s going through. He communicates a lot with I believe literally 5 or 6 lines. If we don’t feel for him in this movie, wouldn’t everyone be Team Iron Man in Civil War? That little break in his voice on “But I knew him,” and then submitting himself for more electro-shock therapy is a heartwrencher.
I think this is the movie that cemented Chris Evans as the spiritual heir to Christopher Reeve. -Lamar
DUY: Comic recommendations for Winter Soldier?

JEFF: Captain America To Serve and Protect, American Nightmare. These are the first two trades from Mark Waid's return to Cap. Not as great as his first time on the book but a worthwhile read with a cool "Hydra" story. Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes, a great Brubaker WW2 story.

TRAVIS: Chaykin's Scorpio comics. Hama's Maverick comic, The Sword Sung on a Barren Hearth. And, Gruenwald Captain America.

BRIAN: Mark Gruenwald wrote some cracking good Captain America books in his day. And dangit, I enjoyed the Ron Lim run on Cap!!

PETER: Obviously, Ed Brubaker's Captain America run. Specifically the first 20 or so issues. Start with the Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection and continue into the Red Menace Ultimate Collection. Or get the Omnibus if you can find or afford it. Brubaker and Butch Guice also had a short Winter Soldier series which was pretty good and featured Black Widow a lot.

LAMAR: I think this is the movie that cemented Chris Evans as the spiritual heir to Christopher Reeve. Which now that I think about it, considering that this movie is less overtly fantastic as far as tights and flights goes than anything in the MCU, is quite a feat. 

Feb 25, 2018

Why "Let's Not Play Off the Movie" Doesn't Work

One of the most common things we say, as fans, is that the comics shouldn't play off of the fact that there are movies, TV shows, and other forms of media. We say comics should be their own thing and not mind what the other, more high-reaching forms of media are doing. And sometimes we're right. And sometimes we're wrong.

Why "Let's Not Play Off the Movie" That Doesn't Work
by Duy

Superhero comics have played on the other mass media interpretations of their characters since the inception, when the Superman radio show introduced kryptonite, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White, and the difficulty of animating a man jumping forced the movie animators working on the Superman short serials to bring the power of flight to the Man of Steel. At the time, some people complained about that last one (Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, was apparently one), but I think with the benefit of hindsight we can agree that the power of flight was a blessing to Superman, at least on a commercial level.

Comics are, first and foremost, a business, and that means capitalizing on items that can maximize your revenue. Using things that a wider audience knows about is a tried and true tactic, and sometimes the results are bad, like when they introduced organic webshooters to Spider-Man, which was, in itself, not the greatest idea in the world for the movies anyway.  

My favorite example of something that capitalizes on a TV show and failing is the 1970s Shazam comic. You see, in the 70s, there was a Shazam TV show. It featured Billy Batson traveling in a van with an old man named Mentor. So in the comic, they had Billy Batson traveling in a van with his Uncle Dudley, and he called him "Mentor."

It's hilariously bad.

But sometimes they're good. The 1966 Batman series not only picked up sales on the then-flagging Batman comics, but it also reintroduced Alfred Pennyworth, bringing him back into comics for the first time in almost 20 years. Even better, the perception of Batman as a campy, over-the-top, exaggerated character really set the stage for Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. With Batman once again prominent in the public consciousness, O'Neil and Adams did a complete 180 and brought Batman back to his gritty, hard-boiled roots. It was the perfect time to do it. If they had done it while sales were flagging, would it have worked in getting a new audience? Maybe. But this already had a captive audience, one bigger than they probably could have asked for at the time from only comics. This further elevated his stature, which has only gone up since.

But here's my favorite example. You see, in 1982, DC had a movie out called Swamp Thing.

To capitalize on this, editor Len Wein decided to launch The Saga of the Swamp Thing, a new series based on his creation. After a year of it running, he was on the lookout for a new writer, and therefore placed a call to England to talk to one Alan Moore.

Yes, Alan Moore, writer of Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and many more acclaimed comics only started writing American comics because Swamp Thing had a movie out.

Okay, so imagine that butterfly effect. No Alan Moore, and the floodgates to Britain for writers (they'd already been hiring artists before Moore) don't open when they do and Karen Berger doesn't have the manpower to start Vertigo. And let's say by some chain of events, she still does bring the British writers in and Vertigo still happens. You know which writer she definitely doesn't get, other than Moore?

Neil Gaiman. By his own admission, at that point in his life, Gaiman had almost completely walked away from comics, living life as a journalist instead. The only two comics he was keeping up with were reprints of Will Eisner's The Spirit, and Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing. It's Swamp Thing that pushed him into giving this a shot for himself, and it was even Moore who taught him how to write a comics script. So, no Gaiman, no Sandman, and all that entails: the higher female readership, the imitators, the ones who are clearly influenced by him (goodbye, Loki: Agent of Asgard and The Wicked and the Divine and everyone else who's even remotely influenced by Gaiman). And, arguably, you can say goodbye to Gaiman's entire career as a novelist and fiction writer as well.

And there's also this: in Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked, in the 6:30 mark of this video, Paul Levitz relates the story of how when Watchmen came out, it forced the entire industry to step up their game. Imagine if that doesn't happen.

All because Swamp Thing had a movie. Imagine if Wein hadn't considered the possibility of capitalizing on that at all. (My view: the comic industry would have played copycat instead with the other breakout star of the 80s, Frank Miller. And since Frank Miller isn't as reproducible as Alan Moore, you'd have a lot of people missing the point of Miller's work. Miller walks a fine line between real and goofy, and he makes it work. I think we'd have ended up with the Image artists going dark and gory, with no Alan Moore influence to have the rest of the industry try more ornate wordsmithing. That's not necessarily a bad thing — I like Frank. But I think we all benefited from both guys having influence.

The real answer is there's no hard and fast rule. Sometimes playing off the movie or TV show is good. Sometimes it doesn't work. But you'd have to be myopic as a businessman, and even arguably as an artist, not to at least consider the best way you can do some capitalizing.

Feb 21, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Thor: The Dark World

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, Phase 2 continues on with another sequel.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Thor: The Dark World
Comics Cube Roundtable

Thor: The Dark World was released on Nov 8, 2013 and made $85 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $206 million in the United States and $644 million total worldwide.

MATTHEW: Seriously underrated movie. Obviously not Marvel's strongest film, but it was a lot of fun, and a fitting adventure for the characters.

BEN: I had spent the months before this movie’s release reading Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original Thor comics for the first time ever, and loving every minute of it.  The action was so bombastic and the pace was so fast, but still with a layer of that ‘60s cheese, that it made me a legitimate fan of Thor and his cast of characters.  Then I went to see this movie, and I was very disappointed.

DUY: Like Ben, I spent a month reading the Stan and Jack run and truly getting converted into a Thor fan. So expectations were pretty high. I do think it starts off well enough — hints at a Sif romance in the future, fights with different monsters (and it even got me thinking why I was okay with Thor killing monsters and not okay with Superman killing Zod), and I enjoyed pretty much the entire movie. That's not to say it couldn't have been much better, obviously. I thought there was way too much humor in the climactic fight scene, which, considering Malekith just killed his brother, it should have been much more serious. "True" fans complained about Ragnarok being a comedy, but Ragnarok was always advertised as a comedy. This one seemed to take a sharp left turn into comedy at the worst possible time.

TRAVIS: I sight-read during movies, by reflex, so all the diegetic text being thematically relevant (or, at least, thematically funny) made me way too happy in the theater.

Obviously not Marvel's strongest film, but it was a lot of fun, and a fitting adventure for the characters. -Matthew

JEFF: This movie just didn't click for me. I remember the first time I saw it and feeling underwhelmed, having rewatched it today for this that feeling hasn't changed and is probably only strengthened. I enjoyed Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, and Stellan Skarsgard. Shame Frigga was killed off in this movie instead of Ragnarok, and wish they had a bit more screen time. Eccleston however seems so bland and uninspired in this roll, Hiddleston makes me wish this was a Loki-centric film and Portman seemed annoying at times. There are some cool scenes in this movie, some good action, but overall the Dark Elves were a bad choice to use as the villains. Enchantress probably would have been cooler.

MATTHEW: As much as I loved the first movie, it just wasn't quite fantastic enough for what I wanted from Thor. Just too much powerless Thor.  This movie made up for that. Wild, colorful, way the hell out there adventure.

SAMANTHA: I really love how plot devices sit differently with people — powerless Thor, as far as I could see, was what made him worthy of Mjolnir again. However, I guess that’s what made the first movie feel short, because there just wasn’t enough time for him to be that guy who has to humble himself to realize the responsibility that comes with having the power of Thor and have this truly satisfying return to what he was.

LAMAR: I'm pretty tough on movies with a less than great ending, because if the film doesn't nail the landing it makes me feel like I wasted my time. The way this movie went all goofy at the end made me feel like that, but the post-credits made up for it slightly.

DUY: Darcy and the intern making out out of nowhere, Thor and Malekith doing the slow slide off the window, Thor taking the subway. They're all funny, they're just all in the wrong place.

LAMAR: At least with Malekith it makes sense, considering he's basically an evil cosmic trickster, but yeah the pacing and timing was off with all of those.  But the thing I appreciated most about this movie is they get across how much Thor enjoys using his powers. One of the things that makes him work is that he never takes his powers as some burden, because unlike most of his peers he can actually lose them at the drop of a dime; as vindictive and petty as his pop is he could very well wake up one morning and not be able to lift the hammer, and then have Odin say something like "Oh I forgot to tell you I'm trying some new shit" and walk off like nothing just happened.

DUY: All true too, I love the choreography in just the way Thor uses the hammer. Jumping off the castle and then just waiting for the hammer to come to him, the last hit on Malekith. It's pure joy.

I'm pretty tough on movies with a less than great ending, because if the film doesn't nail the landing it makes me feel like I wasted my time. The way this movie went all goofy at the end made me feel like that. -LaMar

MATT: Waste of a “Doctor” really.  Not terrible but a letdown compared to Avengers and Iron Man 3.

SAMANTHA: What made IRON MAN 3 better than this Thor for you?  If I may ask.

MATT: I liked the Mandarin fake out. I also never read Extremis, so I didn't know what was going on. The second wave of movies, for me, was good, they would've been better if the expectation weren't higher. With the exception of Winter Soldier, they are largely second fiddle to Phase 1 counterparts for me.

DUY: Loki steals the show here, I think, with his limited scenes, although Thor's fight choreography is pretty fun. I think the biggest irony in the entire thing is the fact that Loki leads Malekith into Odin's throne room, so he's actually almost directly responsible for the death of Frigga.

SAMANTHA: Hiddleston got my mark as Loki when I caught myself crushing on him and hating him at the same time. In the first movie, watching him emotionally crumble Thor when he told him their father was dead and he still couldn’t come home had me snarling.

DUY: I'll say this for the scriptwriting: it's economical. There's nothing in it that doesn't need to be in it. Even Jane's date and her ringtone are important plot devices later.

TRAVIS: I love the pure silliness this one indulges in. The intern's intern, the naked raving, awkward dates, and largely anything involving Loki aren't "plot necessary," they aren't action-drama-typical, but they are adorable.

SAMANTHA: Everyone needs a Kat Dennings in their life.  That was totally worth saying.

MATTHEW: The battle scene in Asgard with the dark elf ships was great. Heimdall jumping off the rainbow bridge and tearing open one of them blew me away.

JD: I remember thinking “Wow, a Thor story can go absolutely anywhere it wants to.”  Monsters, space ships, magic, science, humor, grief, super heroics. Thor can do it all and other MCU properties can't do that as well (except Guardians of the Galaxy, I suppose, but they weren't around yet). It may make for odd shifts in tone, but I can forgive that.

MATTHEW: In general, Thor as a character is built like that.

DUY: Very adaptable.  I thought the spaceships were actually out of place though.

BEN: The spaceships tipped it too far into “cosmic space movie” for me.  I know they probably aren’t going to do flying wooden chariots, they did a metal one, but whatever.  It didn’t mesh with my version of the character.

TRAVIS: It got a little too Empire with the ships. Not just sci-fi, but explicitly Empire Strikes Back.

JD: I think the Thor films are secretly cosmic space movies.

DUY: Malekith tends to be the big example for Marvel having underwhelming villains, and I think he's incredibly standard, but I don't think he goes into the "he totally sucks" territory. I would be hard-pressed to think about how to adapt him faithfully into the big screen for a moviegoing audience, since he's basically a cosmic Joker.

SAMANTHA: Malekith seemed secondary to me, Loki was the main antagonist in my mind. Was that not supposed to be the case (going from comic to screen)?

DUY: Well, Loki is the main Thor antagonist, but he’s only in like three scenes in this movie.

BEN: Loki was originally not supposed to be in this movie, but was added because of his increased popularity following the Avengers.

JEFF: Post-credits scene with The Collector, this was the first mention of the Infinity Stones wasn't it?

BEN: Directed by James Gunn.

JEFF: Probably the best scene from this movie, almost as cool as the Nick Fury post-credit in Iron Man.

I remember thinking “wow, a Thor story can go absolutely anywhere it wants to.”  -JD

BEN: Patty Jenkins was originally attached to direct.  She backed out due to creative differences.  Portman was so upset she threatened to leave the project too, but ultimately was under contract.

JEFF: I heard about that, almost wish they had let her (Portman) walk.

TRAVIS: It would have wrecked the already thin spine remaining to the movie.  And, removed most of the cast.

SAMANTHA: I read that Patty was going for “Romeo and Juliet-esque in Space” - how do you think that would have played out? Being that I haven’t read much comic canon in terms of Thor, how far from or close to would that premise have been?

BEN: In the comics, Odin hated Jane.  He regularly punished Thor for loving her.

SAMANTHA: Ok, well I get the whole star-crossed lovers thing, in that case. Maybe Marvel shot it down because there had been no segue into it from the previous movie?

DUY: Elements of it are still there though, right? Odin is really a douche, first he says to Loki that they aren't gods and that he should learn to live with the fact that he's a mortal at the end of the day, and then he tells Thor not to pursue the mortal.

TRAVIS: They need more kissing in these.  Just the Thor cast all kissing each other for a third of the next movie.

SAMANTHA: I forgot they recast Fandral.  Josh Dallas was already contractually obligated to Once Upon a Time at this point.

MATT: The movie felt like Jane was just there to punch Loki in the face, which granted was cathartic. Otherwise, she's just hanging around, making Sif anxious and being a plot device. She'd getting totally Padme'd.

DUY: Both Jane and Sif disappeared in Ragnarok.

MATTHEW: The Dark World really only served to show how unnecessary Jane’s character was to these movies.

DUY: I mean, really, she's Thor's anchor to Earth, the reason he begins to care about it in the first place as anything more than a pet planet. Now he's well attached and he doesn't need her as that device anymore.

MATTHEW: It’s weird, because she’s such a great actress, but she’s the one thing in these movies that didn’t click with me.

DUY: I think she's such a well-known star, and not transformative like RDJ, that it's hard to not see Natalie Portman instead of the character she's actually playing. So it actually works to my advantage that I haven't seen her in much of anything.

ANTONIO: I don’t remember why I didn’t think more highly of this movie the first time around.  Digging the melding of fantasy and space tech.

SAMANTHA: I loved Frigga’s fight scene.  I know it didn’t work out well for her, but she’s badass.  Well deserving of the Viking funeral.

LAMAR:  That funeral scene....visually it's one of the greatest things Marvel has done in their films. When a goddess transitions, it should be a big deal, and everything from the layout to the lighting got that across properly.

SAMANTHA: It wasn’t as long as I remembered, but the funeral was visually stunning.

BEN: Antonio’s funeral description.

SAMANTHA: He’s gonna have to do more than wrestle puppies to get a Viking funeral.

BEN: I meant his tombstone inscription.

SAMANTHA: “It wasn’t as long as I remembered?”

BEN: And “it still seemed like forever.”

SAMANTHA: Aww and Loki’s hologram to hide his anguish?  Total uppercut to the feels.

DUY: Loki really does have his own subplot, and goes quite a way into the theory that he’ll die in Infinity War.

ANTONIO: He’s instrumental in Thanos losing, obviously.

SAMANTHA: Yeah, I definitely feel that coming.  Ragnarok seemed to really build him up as a face so that he can ultimately die a hero’s death.

ANTONIO: Loki dies, Thor gets mad and uses his new Hammer-axe to cut the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’ arm, and then Tony uses it to fix everything and die.

SAMANTHA: Is that an official prediction?


SAMANTHA: Watching you, then…

ANTONIO: “See you in hell, monster,” wasn’t a very good Loki line.

SAMANTHA: Shoulda been a perfect indicator that he wasn’t dead.  He wouldn’t have gone out on a bullshit line like that.

I don’t remember why I didn’t think more highly of this movie the first time around. -Antonio

JEFF: They ended the movie with a really cool set up with Loki posing as Odin but then kind of wasted it in Ragnarok by having it ended at the start of the movie, I'm guessing there were big changes in what they had originally planned for third movie. I loved Ragnarok but this seemed like something they had to write themselves out of for that movie.

SAMANTHA: I had completely forgotten about it by the time Ragnarok came around. I feel like you’re right, they were probably going somewhere with it, but ended up scrapping it in favor of the current movie. No complaints here, though!

JEFF: I had forgotten about that too actually, they might have planned to use Jane originally but scrapped it.

SAMANTHA: Does anyone think if Jane’s Thor got a movie (a whole other conversation, I know) they’d cast Natalie? Because I feel like Natalie is one of those actors who excel in supporting roles. Would they have to at this point or would they throw original casting out?

JD: In a post–Infinity War reboot?  Hell yes!  Please and thank you.

DUY: They might want to cast Natalie, but I very strongly doubt Natalie would take it.

SAMANTHA: OK, so, then let’s play ‘Who would you cast?’  Jane Foster’s Thor gets the green light.  Who gets the hammer?

MATT: Hmm, I think Jennifer Lawrence might be good.  Lupita Nyong’o if you realllly want to piss off the neo-nazis (I’m game).  Gwendoline Christie might be good too.

SAMANTHA: Gwendoline Christie (and I feel bad for saying it) frequently slips under my radar!  I’d honestly back any of those ladies – but then, do you think they’d consider Jennifer with her already established as Mystique? – for the role.  I wonder if Vince would start shopping Rousey for something like this.

DUY: It has to be noted that as the comic currently stands, Jane and Thor would have to be played by different people.

SAMANTHA: I can definitely see why, but would Marvel go that route? That’s a lot of money in casting, unless they went with a newcomer for when Jane’s actually Thor?  I’m also kind of rethinking Natalie Portman in that case. Why wouldn’t/couldn’t she do this if it happened?

JD: In my head Serena Williams was supposed to be Wonder Woman.  Maybe she can be Thor Jane now?

BEN: Having played Mystique wouldn’t be a problem.  At least it hasn’t been for Michael B. Jordan or Chris Evans previously.

SAMANTHA: Good point!  I mean, J-Law *is* in everything, and I was just reading that Natalie was kind of problematic for Marvel, so… yes! Let’s do Serena Williams!

MATTHEW: I love how they consistently and solidly establish that Thor is their big gun.  He goes head-to-head with somebody wielding an Infinity stone and walks away victorious.

ANTONIO: Team effort!

DUY: “The Aether cannot be destroyed.”  “No, but you can…” at which point Mjolnir returns to kill Malekith is such a badass moment.  If only the entire last fight wasn’t randomly a comedy.

BEN: Who wins the award for best supporting actor?

MATTHEW: Is that even a question at this point?

JD: Rene Russo?

MATT: Here’s a curve, the Warriors Three.

BEN: Who wins the “Val Kilmer in Tombstone” award for the most dominating performance?

SAMANTHA: Is it not Hiddleston?

DUY: Hiddleston steals every scene he’s in even though he’s barely in it.  So him.


DUY: Comic recommendations for Dark World? I'm gonna go with the obvious and say Simonson's run which introduces the Dark Elf. But I'll also go with Jason Aaron's run, which has Thor doubting himself as a god and Malekith as a cunning political leader.

MATTHEW: Astonishing Thor... not so much in the sense of being like the movie, but it's just a great big, otherworldly story with Thor handling stuff that no other hero can. It does deal with Ego and The Collector though, which is a nice tie-in with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Jurgens wrote a really good story with Malekith and Kurse.

TRAVIS: Thor: Vikings. Iron Man/Thor: God Complex. And, in terms of tone, Conspiracy and DeConnick's Captain Marvel run.

DUY: For Sif badassery, I can't recommend enough Kathryn Immonen and Valerio Schiti's Journey Into Mystery run, which really showed she can carry stories on her own. The Warriors Three have a cool Marvel Fanfare story written by Alan Zelenetz and drawn by Charles Vess, and then a cool Marvel Spotlight by Gerry Conway and John Buscema. Both are collected in a Warriors Three premiere collection. Finally for Loki, I recommend the Agent of Asgard series, which really showed off his manipulative skills.

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.