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It’s Morphin’ Time!

Jason David Frank – or maybe you better remember him as Tommy Oliver – has to be credited as one of the driving forces behind the new Power Rangers movie. After the internet hyped some really great Power Ranger shorts, JDF approached series creator Haim Saban about the possibility of a mature Power Ranger movie following the Green Ranger (which would have been awesome to watch). Instead of limiting the film to just the Green Ranger, we get a full cinematic reboot of the series in the new film Power Rangers (2017).

These Rangers are very different from the ones we remember. While in the series Zordon instructs Alpha to recruit “teenagers with attitude,” the original Power Rangers severely lack the attitude. They are essentially “squeaky-clean” kids with martial arts skills. These new Power Rangers – screw ups, trouble makers, and even bullies – are edgier, bringing a certain amount of depth and realism to the characters. While the purists might see this as tainting the beloved heroes, to true intention is to sever the “campiness” which defined the series in favor of something more “realistic”.

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Logan’s Travels with Charley (and Wolver-tween): Yes, No, Maybe

(Spoilers? Just some mild ones, bub.)

Yes, it’s good to see Wolverine in action again. Pairing him with a mini-me (or mini-him… er, actually a female mini-him) smelled like a big fat gimmick upon first glance (or whiff) but Wolver-tween is interesting, entertaining… and jarring. Seeing her decapitate an enemy was oddly refreshing. Why?

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The LEGO Batman Movie: Death of a Police Commissioner, Birth of a Batgirl

(Spoilers below? Oh yeah.)

A few years back there was a Lego movie. It’s name escapes me right now. Anyway, the Lego movie was thought to promote collectivism and criticize capitalism. The makers of the Lego movie (whatever it was called) denied an anti-business agenda BUT… the bad guy in the film was named “Lord Business.”

Well, a few years have passed and now we have The Lego Batman Movie on our hands. Perhaps to bring a Ra’s al Ghul-ish balance to the cinematic Lego-verse, this film asserts a strong critique of police policies largely revealed through the Barbara Gordon character. Her shedding of the commissioner’s uniform (Don’t get excited, it’s a PG film) in favor of her Batgirl costume formalizes her abandonment of supposedly enlightened law enforcement policies.

In the first reel Police Commissioner Jim Gordon finds himself in a crisis: The Joker has assembled a huge bomb to blow the literal floor out from under Gotham City. Gordon does what the G.C.P.D. does best: Call BATMAN!

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Lego My Batman

If you are anything like me, “skepticism” best described your thoughts when learning of The Lego Batman Movie. Yes, I love Lego’s. And yes, I love Batman. But “The Caped Crusader” in an animated film depicted by the world’s favorite plastic block construction toys? Sounded like too much of a good thing to me, perversely so in fact. I just did not think that Lego Batman could do the character justice. I did not think it could tell a Batman tale that anyone over 11 years old could get behind. I am glad to say: I was wrong.

Spoilers throughout.

The premise for the film is a rather simple one—what if Batman believed himself to be the bad ass that we believe he is? That’s Lego Batman, a narcissistic, frat-boy superhero who always saves the day, and always knows the he will. Lego Batman sacrifices friendship and relations out of his commitment to the superhero craft and out of his fear of losing others in the same way he lost his parents. Lego Batman’s narcissism is so profound, that even the Joker is disillusioned by it. In fact, we find that the Jokers criminal behavior is largely attention seeking. He just wants validation from Lego Batman, and to be accepted as the plastic hero’s arch nemesis.

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Avenging The Fantastic, Part 13: The Black Widow Goes Solo (Briefly)!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #94-104; Avengers #73-83; Captain America #121-133, Captain America and the Falcon #134; Iron Man #21-32; Incredible Hulk #125-134; Thor #172-181; Amazing Adventures (starring Black Widow) #1-4; years: 1970-71

The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Yellowjacket and Wasp are out so Hank Pym can do science for the government, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are back, thus filling the Avengers’ quota of unhealthy relationships. And then the Vision abruptly leaves shortly later…and returns almost immediately.

Iron_Man_Vol_1_21The Best of This Bunch – Iron Man #21-22

Archie Goodwin’s solid run on Iron Man continues with a tale of Tony Stark trying to quit his superhero life…and realizing he can’t. The story features tropes that have become too commonplace these days—a replacement for the hero, a replacement for an old villain, and the death of a romantic interest. But these tropes were fresher in 1970 and, in this particular instance, well-handled.

Iron-willed boxer and all-around decent guy Eddie March makes for a likeable potential Iron Man, though he has a medical condition of his own that cuts his super-heroic career short. Surprisingly, he survives the tale, but Janice Cord’s death comes out of nowhere.

Janice had been portrayed as a potential girlfriend for Tony Stark for the past twenty issues or so. Now, after an experimental medical procedure leaves Tony Stark’s heart healthy enough for daily life but not necessarily superhero life, he decides to pursue a normal relationship and pass the Iron Man armor onto a worthy successor.

However, Janice hasn’t sprung to life as a particularly memorable or compelling character…so she must die, naturally. In the story’s defense, back in these days, any character who lasted beyond his or her first or second appearance wasn’t likely to die ever. So at the time, this was a somewhat bold story decision on Goodwin’s part, even though to modern sensibilities, the automatic reaction tends to be, “Ugh, another woman killed to provide motivation for the male hero?”

Goodwin’s run ends several issues later, and the drop in quality is steep. (more…)

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Captain America: Civil War Review

So I finally got around to seeing one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, Captain America: Civil War. In general, I’m not that into superhero movies, primarily because I find they’re often over-simplistic for my taste: These are the good guys. Those are the bad guys. Now watch them blow stuff up.

Luckily, Captain America: Civil War does not fall into that trap. There’s two opposing sides, but rather than a battle of good vs. evil, it’s a battle between two different interpretations of good. The conflict is introduced when the UN finally expresses discontent with the Avenger-caused destruction of previous Marvel movies, which is best summed up this way:

Oddly enough, I’ve seen the same meme used to describe U.S. foreign policy.


So the Avengers have a choice. Do they want to give the governments of the world increased control over their operations (#TeamIronMan) or continue to be as independent as they’ve always been, even if that makes them outlaws (#TeamCap)?
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Avenging The Fantastic, Part 12: Meet the Falcon…And His Falcon!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Avengers #64-72; Fantastic Four #82-93; Thor #160-171; Incredible Hulk #116-124; Captain America #114-119; Captain Marvel #15-19; Iron Man #15-20; years: 1969-70.

Avengers_Vol_1_71The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are back in action…at least part of the time. And the Black Knight becomes an official Avenger though not an active one, as he resides in England, which would be quite the commute.

The Dawn of the ‘70s

As this read-through finally hits the 1970s, and after we’ve all been subjected to the super-serious monstrosity known as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, let’s appreciate how nice and innocent these old comics are. True, they are infected with the prejudices of their era (i.e. no shortage of sexism), but otherwise they depict many fine role models for the children who were reading them back in the day. These characters always try to do the right thing and make their world a better place. In the Marvel Comics Universe, superheroes err, but they tend to find their way back on track.

In DC’s rush to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and establish a different tone from the MCU, they’ve given us a Superman who’s not very heroic and a Batman who’s willing to indirectly kill criminals, and that’s a loss for today’s kids. Adults can enjoy superheroes, too (as I certainly do), but we shouldn’t take the classics away from children.

These comics, for all their faults, depict superheroes as originally intended, in colorful, action-packed stories that excite the imagination and encourage us to be the best that we can be. But enough with the soapbox—on to the comics!

Thor_Vol_1_168The History of Galactus – Thor #160-161, 168-169

Some stories can only be told in the comic book medium—stories such as a big world-eating guy fighting a sentient planet. Galactus squares off against Ego the Living Planet, with Thor and others caught in the middle, and it’s epic indeed. Totally ridiculous, yes, and no other medium could do it justice, but it works wonderfully as an action-packed comic.

The fight puts Galactus on Odin’s radar, so shortly later he sends Thor to find and battle Galactus. But since we’ve just had a world-shattering Galactus fight, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby give us something different—the origin of Galactus. Turns out, Galactus is tired of fighting, and he just wants to tell Thor how he came to be. Why now and why to Thor? Because he’s Galactus, and his prodigious mind is such that we cannot comprehend, so don’t question anything that seems convenient or coincidental.

Anyway, Galactus is the sole survivor of his planet, Taa. Weird radiation happened. The Watcher observed it all and was tempted to stop this destructive being from coming into existence, but ultimately the Watcher takes his watching seriously. So if countless planets need to get eaten, fine, so long as the Watcher never interferes. Again, it would probably make sense to minds less mortal than ours. (more…)

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Avenging The Fantastic, Part 11: Behold … The Vision!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Captain America #106-113; Iron Man #5-14; Avengers #57-63; Fantastic Four #80-81, Annual #6; Captain Marvel #6-14; Incredible Hulk #104-115, Annual #1; years: 1968-69.

Avengers_Vol_1_57The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

The Vision joins! More on that below.

Otherwise, the membership stays relatively stable in this set, aside from a couple of identity adjustments. Hank Pym, already on his third superhero persona in less than a decade of stories, switches out his Goliath identity for a fourth persona, Yellowjacket. Maybe this one will stick for a few weeks. Meanwhile, Hawkeye realizes the flaw in being an archer superhero—if your bowstring breaks, you’re kind of useless—so he uses Pym’s growth serum to become the new Goliath.

The Best of This Bunch – Avengers #57-58

As the Vision arrives, The Avengers finally starts getting good. The Vision is the team’s first recruit who didn’t first appear in another book…unless you count Wonder Man’s one-issue stint way back in #9. Artist John Buscema creates a memorable appearance and suitably moody atmosphere while writer Roy Thomas crafts a compelling backstory that gives the Avengers their very own family tree of sorts.

visionavengers13The Vision is what they call a synthezoid, a being who is basically human-like but composed of synthetic parts. He was created by Ultron to attack the Avengers, and Ultron was created by Hank Pym, because what biochemist doesn’t dabble in robotics? (Scientists don’t specialize in the Marvel Universe—they all know all the science.) Ultron implanted the brainwave patterns of the late Wonder Man into the Vision’s artificial mind. Those brainwaves were conveniently lying around because the original Avengers decided to record the dying man’s brains way back when…because that’s a thing you do? Sure.

So, for those keeping score, Pym is the “father” of Ultron, who Oedipally wants to kill him. Ultron created his own “son” in the Vision. The Wasp, as Pym’s girlfriend, winds up as the mother figure here. Wonder Man, who will be back again someday, is sort of the Vision’s “brother.” This tree shall grow as time goes on.

In the Avengers: Age of Ultron film, however, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create Ultron and the Vision. That makes more sense. On the other hand, creating Ultron is the most interesting thing comic book Hank Pym has done so far, and as we’ll see, the guilt will give him some internal conflict (too much, actually). (more…)

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Deadpool is Waiting for You

deadpool1Time for a stupid question, is there anybody out there who hasn’t watched Deadpool?  Well, is there anyone out there other than my dad, who didn’t watch it?  Even he intended to see it, until he learned it was not in fact the sixth installment of the Dirty Harry franchise.  So is there anyone who actually knows how to use the internet, that didn’t see it?  I didn’t think so.

Well, humor me for a second. Maybe you live under a rock and don’t know who Deadpool is?  Or maybe, unlike me, you actually care other people – and spent your Valentine’s Day catering to them instead of sitting through a certain comic book flick with your man crush Ryan Reynolds for the third time.  Either way, instead of wasting your time (and more importantly mine), I am going to provide the top reasons why you should have seen Deadpool.  Or possibly, why you should see it again.

The first reason Deadpool is nothing like the “previous attempt” at Deadpool.  Any dedicated comic book fan, would rather spend a frigid weekend at the Weapons X facility than relive the ending of Wolverine Origins.  This film is nothing like that… in any way.  One of the fatal flaws was of the original, was to sew the lips of the self-titled “merc with the mouth” shut.

As a comic book fan, I am often torn when presented with an origin story. On one hand; it is great to witness the birth of characters I love; and painful when revisionists attempts to reinvent them.  Yes, I had issues with the accuracy of Wade’s origins – and the origins of other peripheral characters like Ajax and Angle Dust – but for the most part these were tolerable and entertaining.

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Avenging The Fantastic, Part 10: The Machinations of Ultron Begin!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #92-99; Captain America #100-105; Iron Man and Sub-Mariner (just the Iron Man story) #1; Iron Man #1-4; Avengers #51-56, Annual #2; Marvel Superheroes (Captain Marvel) #12-13, (Medusa of the Inhumans) #15; Captain Marvel #1-5; Fantastic Four #74-79; Incredible Hulk #103; Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1-3; years spanned: 1967-68.

a52_bpThe Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Captain America can’t return to the team quite yet, but he invites the Black Panther to join in his place. And when the first black Avenger shows up at the mansion, the police promptly arrest him for the murder of the Avengers. It’s all very awkward. But he saves the Avengers from new villain the Grim Reaper (brother of the late Wonder Man and bent on vengeance), and all is well. That leaves us with a lineup of Hawkeye, Goliath, Wasp, and the Black Panther – a formidable but still low-powered bunch.

That Didn’t Take Long – Tales of Suspense #96 (Captain America)

Remember how Captain America quit last time? Made a big fuss, revealed his secret identity to the world and everything? Yeah, well, Cap decides never mind…all in the span of ten pages, because some imposter Caps get themselves in trouble and he has to leap into action to bail them out.

As I said last time, 60s comics burn through plot fast.

“You can’t give up bein’ Captain America…’cause you are Captain America. It’d be easier to turn yer back on Steve Rogers!” –Nick Fury

“I…think you’re…right…Fury! I realize now…a man can’t ever stop being…something that he was born to be!” –Steve Rogers (channeling William Shatner, apparently) (more…)

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Avenging The Fantastic, Part 9: The Secret Origin of Dr. Don Blake!

And we’re back—in a bold new direction! (Well, technically not bold, but 60s Marvel and hyperbole do go hand in hand.) As the Marvel Comics Universe continues to evolve, so must this column. I’m playing around with the format a bit, but one thing remains the same: We’re continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #56-73; Thor #141-159; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #92-101; Incredible Hulk #102; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury and SHIELD) #150-168; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #89-95; Avengers #36-50; years spanned: 1967-68.

A confession

Lifelong Marvel fan though I am, I must confess I’ve entered into a bit of a slog here. By this point, Marvel has grown confident in its house style. The books have hit a comfortable rhythm, which was no doubt great for young fans at the time, but it doesn’t hold up so well against modern adult sensibilities. Dialogue is over-written. Captions explain more than they need to. And while everything is still brimming with wonderful imagination, it doesn’t feel as special as it did when most of the characters were making their debuts. And that makes perfect sense—these books weren’t built for long, multi-year narratives. They were disposable entertainment kids would get into for a few years before moving on to other hobbies.

But that’s just story-wise. Art-wise, however…

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A broader palette

Jack Kirby dominated the art scene in the beginning and helped launch most of these characters. As this is a visual medium, Kirby deserves as much credit as Stan Lee for introducing these characters the right way. He had a kinetic, larger-than-life style that particularly suited the Fantastic Four and Thor, which he continued to illustrate in this batch of issues.

But other notable artists had begun emerging with their own distinct styles that suited the books they were assigned to.

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Death Cat

Shady Grove Rest Home promises residents tranquility in their final years.  Instead, it delivers terror in the form of Bingo, a palliative care cat that snuggles up to whichever resident is next to die.  Is Bingo’s power supernatural, or is something more ominous at play?

Death Cat  is written by SCC contributors James C. Harberson III & Frazer C. Rice with the script by Harberson III.  Artist is Stephen Baskerville, a brilliantly-talented comic book, video game, and advertising artist.  He has worked for, inter alia, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Egmont Fleetway, Curve Studios, Asylum Entertainment, and KUJU Entertainment.  He resides in the UK and you can learn more about him here.

Click top right arrows for full screen.

[The NSFW version is available after the page break.]

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Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Worst to Best

The Internet clearly doesn’t have enough lists, so here’s another.

Many have attempted to rank the movies comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fewer have dared to add the four complete seasons of MCU television and Netflix series into the equation. I shall somehow rise to this challenge to ensure the Internet does not experience a shortage of lists. This was not easy, Internet. I swear, the top six were all neck-and-neck, and it came down to a photo-finish.

This ranking is from worst to best, not horrible to great. I’ve enjoyed all of these to varying extents, and the “varying” is what I’m measuring. None are bad. Conversely, none are works of towering artistic genius either. But it’s all damn fine entertainment worth revisiting.

SPOILERS ahead.

So, with that warning out of the way…

Here…we…go! (more…)

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Avenging the Fantastic, Part 8: Enter the Black Panther!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_80Books Read

Fantastic Four #52-55; Thor #131-140; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #80-91; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #146-149; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #79-88; The Avengers #30-35; years: 1966-67.

Fantastic Firsts

Captain America’s arch-foe the Red Skull arrives in the modern era (relative to World War II, anyway) in Tales of Suspense #79, and the story also introduces the Cosmic Cube—known to Marvel Cinematic Universe viewers as the Tesseract.

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_52Marvel gets its first black superhero, the Black Panther, ruler of the African nation Wakanda, in Fantastic Four #52, and the next issue introduces his foe, Ulysses Klaw, who was seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The super-metal vibranium also debuts.

Sif is reintroduced as a skilled warrior, more along the lines of her movie counterpart (though comics Sif is Heimdall’s little sister), in Thor #136.

Future superhero (and future Goliath) Bill Foster first appears as Hank Pym’s lab assistant in Avengers #32.

The Abomination, the monstrous villain of The Incredible Hulk movie, gets his first exposure of gamma radiation in Tales to Astonish #90.

And several other recurring villains debut in this group of issues: the Super-Adaptoid, the Serpent Society, Ego the Living Planet, and the Living Laser, as well as neither-villain-nor-hero the High Evolutionary.

We also experience the first crossover between titles, as Iron Man’s battle against the Sub-Mariner directly continues from Tales of Suspense #80 into Tales to Astonish #82. And thus a trend began, one that has never ended to this very day.

The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch abruptly take a break to fix their inexplicably diminishing powers—the effects of which we never see in action, but I suppose someone had to prevent the Avengers from having a stable lineup for more than a few issues. This also allows Goliath to be repeatedly referred to as the most powerful Avenger—even though he has no power aside from being ten feet tall. The team must really miss Thor and Iron Man. (more…)

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Avenging the Fantastic, Part 7: The Fantastic Four Explore!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #44-51; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #124, 125; Thor (Hey, look, he got promoted!) #126-130; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #75-79; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #145; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #73-78; The Avengers #25-29; year: 1966.

7533-2045-8308-1-fantastic-fourFantastic Firsts

The Inhumans debut in Fantastic Four #45. Viewers of the Agents of SHIELD TV series have met this hidden, ancient society of super-powered people—but not the comic universe’s main cast of Inhumans, who I suspect are being saved for the upcoming movie, which is slated for 2019. In the comics, we’ve already met Medusa, but in #44 we meet Gorgon and in #45 we meet the rest: Crystal (introduced as a potential love interest for the Human Torch), Black Bolt, Karnak, Triton, and dog Lockjaw. In #47, we meet their nemesis, Maximus.

panel_ff045aImmediately after that adventure, Galactus develops his first craving for the Earth in FF #48, during which the Silver Surfer debuts, initially as the herald of the world-devourer. Yes, this is where the second Fantastic Four movie, Rise of the Silver Surfer, draws its inspiration, but ignore that film and read these instead.

And then, because the FF are on such a roll here, Mr. Fantastic visits the Negative Zone for the first time in #51.

Peggy Carter, the character Hayley Atwell has made famous in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, debuts in a flashback Captain America tale in Tales of Suspense #77, though she is never identified by name.

Many of the Olympus gods debut in Thor #129, including Ares, who will join the Avengers a long, long time from this point.

The Collector (Benicio Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy) first fights the Avengers in #28 as a pretty basic villain who uses his vast collection as weapons (using magic beans to summon giants to fight Giant-Man, for example).

Rest In—oh, never mind

The Black Widow, briefly presumed dead, is back in action—but brainwashed this time so she’ll remain loyal to those wicked Soviets. Hawkeye remains stupidly obsessed with her, and the fact that this hasn’t killed him yet is miraculous.

Avengers_Vol_1_28The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Retirement didn’t take for Giant-Man and the Wasp, so they’re back on the team—only now Giant-Man is calling himself Goliath, because Hank Pym needed a third superhero identity in the course of five of our years (starting with Ant-Man, for those just tuning in). Fortunately, the Scarlet Witch took the liberty of sewing a new costume for this man she hardly knows.

The Status is Not Quo

–In the Marvel Universe, secret identities are not forever. Happy Hogan learns that his boss Tony Stark is Iron Man. Thor finally says to Hel with his father’s wishes and tells his beloved Jane Foster that he and Dr. Donald Blake are one and the same (though Dr. Blake has been showing up less and less lately). Goliath and the Wasp reveal their true names to the new Avengers. And Rick Jones, thinking his buddy the Bruce Banner has died, blabs the secret of the Hulk to everyone. Clearly Rick hasn’t been a comic book character long enough at this point to have learned the big rule: No body, no fatality. Heck, even if there is a body, there might not be a fatality.

–Peggy Carter, however, has no idea who Captain America really is. (more…)

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Avenging the Fantastic, Part 6: Avengers Reassemble!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Journey_in_to_mystery118-00Books Read

Fantastic Four #39-43, Annual #3; Journey Into Mystery #114-123; Tales to Astonish (starring Giant-Man & Wasp and the Hulk) #60-74; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #136-144; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #66-76; Avengers #15-24; years: 1964-66.

Fantastic Firsts

Thor is the first to fight the Absorbing Man (we saw a little of him in early season two of Agents of SHIELD) in Journey Into Mystery #114. He also takes on the Destroyer (that robot-like Asgardian weapon from the first movie) in JIM #118. In a flashback story in JIM #119, the Warriors Three first appear (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg, who also all appear in the movies—Thor’s Asgardian warrior friends who aren’t Sif).

talessuspense76Captain America has his first battle with Batroc the Leaper (seen in far less cartoonish form at the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) in Tales of Suspense #75. In the same issue, he meets Agent 13, a young woman we’ll later learn is Sharon Carter, the sister of Peggy Carter who we know well from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (The familial relationship will change as World War II grows more distant.)

For the sake of democracy, Iron Man tackles evil commie the Titanium Man for the first time in TOS #69.

Jasper Sitwell, another familiar face from the cinematic universe, joins SHIELD in Strange Tales #144, though here he’s young, idealistic, and obnoxious.

Future Avenger the Swordsman first appears in Avengers #19. He’s in the bad guy camp at this point, but the seeds of future heroism are planted.

R.I.P. For Now

Captain America’s Nazi foe, Baron Zemo, the guy who killed his WWII sidekick Bucky Barnes, dies in battle in Avengers #15. Cap doesn’t lose any sleep over this.

In the next issue of Avengers, Hawkeye reports that the Black Widow has been killed by communists for trying to desert them. Nevertheless, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Madame Natasha…

Avengers_Vol_1_16The Revolving Door of Avengers’ Mansion

Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and the Wasp are out (amicably), leaving only Captain America to lead newcomers Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch.

The Status Is Not Quo

–The Hulk can’t seem to settle on a status quo. For the first time, the traditional “dumb Hulk” persona emerges, where he’s always referring to himself in the third person and is portrayed as being generally mindless…at least until Bruce Banner is accidentally shot in the head, which soon results in Banner being trapped in Hulk’s body with his own mind, unable to switch back without the bullet killing him (a more extreme version of Iron Man’s situation, basically), at least until the villainous Leader saves his life and coerces the Hulk to join forces with him.

“Then together, you and I…the only two green-skinned humans on Earth…can rule the world!” For a supposed genius, the Leader sure is fixated on skin color. (more…)

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Avenging the Fantastic, Part 5: Nick Fury Joins S.H.I.E.L.D.!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #31-38, Annual #2; Journey Into Mystery #110-113, Annual #1; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #60-64; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch and Thing) #125-134, (starring Nick Fury) #135; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America in separate stories) #59-65; Avengers #8-14; years: 1964-65.

ST 135_ce_HKFantastic Firsts

Lots!

The Avengers battle time-travelling villain Kang for the first time in their #8, though technically the character already debuted as Rama Tut over in Fantastic Four. Then they meet Immortus in #10, who we’ll later learn is another version of Kang from a different point in time (pesky time-travel shenanigans).

Future Avenger Wonder Man is introduced in Avengers #9, though he’s not entirely a good guy yet. Then they meet Count Nefaria in #13, and with a name like that, you know he’ll always be a bad guy.

Thor is the first to utter the famous catchphrase “Avengers Assemble!” in #10, uniting the team against the Masters of Evil.

We meet Sue and Johnny Storm’s father in FF #31. (He’ll be in the upcoming movie, but it looks like he’ll be an entirely different character than the disgraced surgeon who appears here.)

FF 36 MedusaThe Fantastic Four first encounter the Frightful Four in #36. The group includes previously established villains the Wizard, Sandman, and Paste-Pot-Pete (now Trapster) and new character Medusa, who is the first of the Inhumans we meet, though she’s not yet identified as such.

SHIELD debuts and recruits Nick Fury in Strange Tales #135, where we’re introduced to SHIELD staples such as the Helicarrier, life-model decoys (LMDs), a flying car, and recurring enemies Hydra.

Avengers’ mansion butler Edwin Jarvis first appears in Captain America’s story in Tales of Suspense #59. Like his television counterpart in Agent Carter, he’s in the employ of a Stark, but unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no computer is named after the guy.

Golden Age villain Red Skull is reintroduced in TOS #65, though it is a World War II flashback story, so he hasn’t yet appeared in “modern” continuity by this point.

Norse and Greek mythology cross over when Thor accidentally visits Olympus in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 and gets into a wee little misunderstanding with Hercules (another future Avenger).

The Hulk’s new solo series in Tales to Astonish features several notable first appearances, including Major Talbot (Adrian Pasdar’s character in the Agents of SHIELD TV series) in #61 and the villainous Leader in #62.

R.I.P. For Now

Wonder Man does not survive his first appearance. But we haven’t seen the last of him! (Don’t expect to see him in the movies, though. It’s possible, but I suspect Warner Bros. would object to another “Wonder” character floating around Hollywood.)

Dr. Storm, the Invisible Girl and Human Torch’s father, makes it to a second appearance in FF #32, at which point he’s killed by the alien Skrulls. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he ever rises from the dead—a rarity in the Marvel Universe. (more…)

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Avenging the Fantastic, Part 4: The Black Widow Strikes!

2678806-talesofsuspense50Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man) #50-58; Tales to Astonish (starring Giant-Man and Wasp) #52, 53, 59; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch) #120-124; Fantastic Four #25-30; Avengers #5-7; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #105-109; year: 1964.

Fantastic Firsts

The Black Widow joins the Marvel Comics Universe as a foe of Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #52, and Hawkeye gets seduced into helping her out when we meet him in TOS #57.

The Mandarin begins menacing mankind in TOS #50. Movie fans will never see him coming…primarily because he’s basically a different character with the same name.

In Avengers #6, Baron Zemo, an old Nazi foe of Captain America, forms the original Masters of Evil (Black Knight, who had fought Giant-Man and the Wasp; the Melter, who had fought Iron Man; and Radioactive Man, who had fought Thor—such balance).

The Fantastic Four and Avengers meet for the first time in Fantastic Four #26, where they bond while fighting the Hulk after first fighting over who gets to fight the Hulk.

Future Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have been introduced in X-Men as reluctant members of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but they first appear in this corner of the Marvel Universe when they cameo in Journey Into Mystery #109. Dr. Strange, who has been appearing in own series (which we’re also not covering) in Strange Tales, begins guest-starring elsewhere in FF #27.

Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_52The Status Is Not Quo

–Black Widow is a villain from Soviet Russia, without any hint of future heroism—nor any fighting skills. In her first appearance, Natasha and her partner, Boris (yes, really), are charged with killing Tony Stark and ex-commie Crimson Dynamo. The Dynamo sacrifices himself stopping Boris, and the Black Widow slips away, only to brazenly return to Stark’s office in the following issue.

“I feel so ashamed…to think I once tried to harm you!” she sobs to Tony.

“There, there! I don’t make a practice of harboring grudges,” Tony responds, right before showing her the dangerous gravity gun he accidentally built, which she promptly steals.

Granted, he figured she was up to no good—he’s just cocky and underestimates her.

“Boris is finished! I’ll let the Black Widow go! After all…she is just a woman…and a lovely one at that!” he thinks in a flashback to the previous issue’s events. (more…)

spideymark

University-Style Notions of Race Creep Further into Popular Culture

In this modern collegiate age where every possible sub-division of the human race has to have a “safe space” in which to properly commiserate with those of like hue, various arenas of popular culture are following suit.

This past week, for example, it was announced that the new comic book version of Marvel’s Spider-Man will be a biracial — black Hispanic — teenager.

This isn’t all that big an announcement by itself, of course (the character, Miles Morales, was established already as an alternate reality version of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler); what was most interesting were the comments of his co-creator, Brian Michael Bendis:

The enormity of Miles Morales’ place in comic book history didn’t really hit Bendis, a father who has two kids of color among his four children, until recently. His 4-year-old adopted African-American daughter found a Miles Morales Spidey mask in the toy aisle of a department store, put it on and said, “Look daddy, I’m Spider-Man!” he recalls.

“I started crying in the middle of the aisle,” says Bendis. “I realized my kids are going to grow up in a world that has a multi-racial Spider-Man, and an African American Captain America and a female Thor.”

Many kids of color who when they were playing superheroes with their friends, their friends wouldn’t let them be Batman or Superman because they don’t look like those heroes but they could be Spider-Man because anyone could be under that mask.

“Our message has to be it’s not Spider-Man with an asterisk, it’s the real Spider-Man for kids of color, for adults of color and everybody else.”

This is very intriguing for two main reasons.

(more…)

Av4 - Cap Discovered

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 3: Captain America Returns!

TOS 45Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man) #45-49; Tales to Astonish (starring Ant-Man) #47-51; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch) #113-119; Fantastic Four #19-24; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #97-104; Avengers #2-4; years spanned: 1963-4.

Fantastic Firsts

Iron Man finally gets a supporting cast in Tales of Suspense #45, where we meet Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau in the movies). He ditches his clunky original armor for a more recognizable design in TOS #48.

Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish #49.

The X-Men were introduced in their own series, which we’re not covering here, but they make their first guest appearance when they meet Iron Man in TOS #49.

Though he first appeared in the World War II–era Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Nick Fury makes his first modern-day appearance in Fantastic Four #21, where we learn he now works for the CIA.

The Lady Sif first appears in a flashback story of Thor’s youth in Journey Into Mystery #102, although she’s nothing more than a damsel in distress with zero lines of dialogue. Sif the warrior, like we see in the movies, is yet to come.

The Invisible Girl gains a more useful power—invisible force fields—in FF #22, and unless I missed it earlier, the Thing first utters his famous catchphrase, “It’s clobberin’ time!” in FF #23. The intended target of clobberin’ is Dr. Doom, and the Thing, still relatively inexperienced at clobberin’, swings and misses.

ST 114Captain America joins the modern world in Avengers #4. However, earlier, the character had a “tryout” in Strange Tales #114, though that was a villain in disguise messing with the Human Torch (an gauging reader interest in the dormant World War II character).

Notable new villains include Rama Tut in FF #19, the Crimson Dynamo in TOS #46, the Molecule Man in FF #20, the Human Top (later Whirlwind) in TTA #50, Mr. Hyde (who Kyle Maclachlan plays in Agents of SHIELD) in JIM  #99, and the Enchantress, the first recurring female villain, in JIM #103.

RIP For Now

In Avengers #4, we learn that Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s teen sidekick, apparently did not survive World War II.

How Captain America grieves: He notices that Rick Jones, former sidekick of the Hulk, looks almost exactly like Bucky. “I was wasting time—mourning him—but you’ve suddenly made me realize that life goes on! In a way, Bucky can still live again!”

No pressure, Rick. (more…)

Avengers 1 final panel

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 2: Avengers Assemble!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Tales to Astonish (starring Ant-Man) #42-46; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man) #40-44; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #92-96; Fantastic Four #14-18, Annual #1; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch) #109-112, Annual #2; Avengers #1; year: 1963.

tales-to-astonish-44Fantastic Firsts

We meet Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp, who becomes Ant-Man’s sidekick in TTA #44. This brings us up to two female superheroes in the Marvel Comics Universe—one who turns invisible and one who shrinks.

Unless I missed someone, we also get the first non-white, non-extraterrestrial super-villain who would recur, the Radioactive Man, in JIM #93 (though back then they hyphenated it as “Radio-Active”). He comes from Red China, of course.

The Fantastic Four battle the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android for the first time in FF #15, and in the next issue they take the first trip to the Microverse. In #18, the shape-shifting alien Skrulls introduce their Super-Skrull.

The Human Torch endures his first team-up with Spider-Man in Strange Tales Annual #2 (though they first met in the first issue of Spider-Man’s series, which we’re not covering here).

And the Avengers assemble in their own first issue, with the initial line-up of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, and the Wasp.

The Status Is Not Quo

–So, back in the day, Ant-Man had a somewhat reckless method of travel.

At the size of an insect, he catapults himself out his window and across the city. While he’s being a projectile, ants converge at the landing spot he calculated, and they act as a cushion for him to fall on. He gives the Wasp wings so she can fly, but Ant-Man, the little reckless daredevil, keeps catapulting himself and never thinks to give himself wings. Though in TTA #46, he does start riding flying ants “like a Pegasus.” The man travels in style.

–Iron Man’s armor is powered by “transistors,” not “ark reactor” technology as seen in the movies and modern comics. And as Tony Stark, he doesn’t just have the glowing circle in his chest—he has to wear an entire armored chestplate under his clothes at all times. To recharge, he literally plugs the armor into everyday electrical sockets, the same ones you would use to plug in a toaster, and he sits there and waits. Tales of suspense, indeed.

Tony is seen dating different women in several issues, but none of these relationships last, presumably on account of his inability to take his shirt off without having some explaining to do. Though how these women never notice the peculiar hardness of his chest and stomach remains a mystery, unless Tony Stark dances like a middle school kid. (more…)

JourneyIntoMystery83pg5pn6

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 1: The Marvel Comics Universe Begins!

FF1The Avengers have been around since long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a mainstream pop culture juggernaut. In this new series, I’ll be reading the Avengers-related titles of the original Marvel Comics Universe from the 1960s through the present over the course of many, many months, and I’ll chart my observations here every two or three weeks.

I’ll include the Fantastic Four in this, since not only is their first (hopefully) good movie coming up this summer, but they’re also a major part of the traditionally super-heroic corner of the comics universe—as opposed to the feared-and-hated characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man or vigilantes like Daredevil, though Hulk gets included on account of being a founding Avenger. (If I included those other franchises, I’d never finish.) Between the Marvel Unlimited digital library and my own collection, we’ll be able to cover most (but not all) of the books starring Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the like. Special thanks to The Complete Marvel Reading Order for sparing me the hard work of keeping track of what to read next.

So face front, True Believers, as we begin our long-term tour of the evolution of Marvel with this extra-sized first issue!

Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_27Books Read

Fantastic Four #1-13, Tales to Astonish (starring Ant-Man) #27, 35-41, Incredible Hulk #1-6, Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #93-89, 91, Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch) #101-108, and Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man) #39;  years spanned: 1961-3.

Fantastic Firsts

We’re at the ground floor here, so pretty much everything is new.

Though Marvel Comics had been around in some or another since the late 1930s, Marvel continuity officially begins with the introduction of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing in Fantastic Four #1.

The next character we meet is Hank Pym (who will be played by Michael Douglas in this summer’s Ant-Man movie) in Tales to Astonish #27, which is more a sci-fi short story about a scientist being almost done in by his own invention rather than a superhero tale. Pym becomes Ant-Man in TTA #35. (more…)

Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg Opened His Big Mouth and Made Nerd Nation Upset

Pegg at CCApparently actor Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Star Trek, Mission:Impossible) made some controversial comment regarding the current “nerd culture” being used to infantilize our society in order to keep it under control. The preoccupation in popular culture today of entertainment originally targeted to teenagers and their juniors.  Specifically comic books & video games and their film adaptations, cosplay and their conventions, and the more recent explosion of re-makes, re-boots and re-imaginings of favorite childhood memories is all keeping current social national-global conversation fixated on fantasy rather than reality.

Here is Pegg in his own words:

Recent developments in popular culture were arguably predicted by the French philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard in his book, ‘America’, in which he talks about the infantilzation of society. Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth? A time when we were shielded from painful truths by our recreational passions, the toys we played with, the games we played, the comics we read. There was probably more discussion on Twitter about the The Force Awakens and the Batman vs Superman trailers than there was about the Nepalese earthquake or the British general election.

(more…)

hawkeye

Super Comics: Hawkeye #1-5 (2012)

Minor spoiler for Avengers: Age of Ultron aheadHawkeye_Weapon_TBP

After the first Avengers movie came out, Marvel wisely promoted Hawkeye into a solo ongoing series. It’s not the first time this has been attempted, but the series that launched in 2012 is easily the most successful and critically acclaimed outing for a lone Clint Barton. Well, not entirely lone.

The series only lasts 22 issues before getting a reboot with a new creative team, and there’s nothing wrong with stopping while you’re still ahead. The place for readers to start, of course, is the first trade paperback, My Life as a Weapon, which collects Hawkeye #1-5, (plus a superfluous Young Avengers Presents #6, which is okay but we’ll just ignore it here).

These short stories show how delightfully entertaining comic books can be when they’re not muddled with intricate continuity or crossovers or big events.

(more…)

avengersageultron1

Film Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers_Age_Of_Ultron-poster1
Even the poster is crowded.

Within about 36 hours of its American theatrical release, Avengers: Age of Ultron has already grossed over $424 Million dollars worldwide (update: the final tally for the weekend is $626,656,000) and it earned the title of having the second-highest grossing opening day of all time, just behind Harry Potter’s final installment. Marvel Studios continues its Hulk-like rampage across the American cinematic landscape. Having now seen both the 2D and 3D (not worth it) versions of the film, I feel like I’ve done my part.

But I guess the real question is, “Was it worth it?”

The short answer is yes, absolutely.

The longer answer is, this is a film that has a lot of heart, goes out of its way to show its heroes actually being heroes, further develops key characters that haven’t had as much of a chance to be seen in other films, has a pretty compelling villain (almost entirely thanks to James Spader), and unsurprisingly features some phenomenal action sequences.

(more…)