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Why I Hate the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Why You Should Too!

I hate the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate it. I understand that my position is not a popular one; but then again, I never really was that popular. Need proof? Look me up in the high school yearbook.

I hate the film and everything about it, from its Kevin Bacon inspired jokes to its talking Raccoon. I have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince the rest of you, that I am right. With the sequel arriving in theaters, I will give this one another go.

I hate Guardians for one simple reason: lazy storytelling. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a carbon-copy of the Avengers (2012) formula, just with a relatively obscure series from deep within the Marvel vaults. And yes, before you start questioning me and my fan-boy creds, I am in fact one of some twenty-five people who has ACTUALLY read the Guardian’s books.

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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 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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MCU worst to best

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 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…)

Super Comics: The Avengers #19-22 (1999)

Welcome to Super Comics, where we take a look at the books that inspired the movies and TV shows. And where better to start than a great Avengers storyline featuring the titular villain of the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film?

unnamed-11Avengers stories are at their best when the stakes are both huge and personal, and that’s what we get in the “Ultron Unlimited” storyline that ran in The Avengers (vol. 3) #19-22 in 1999, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by George Perez—two top, veteran talents in the comics industry.

The cast includes a few Avengers moviegoers have already met—Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor—as well as some they’re about to meet—the Scarlet Witch and Vision—and even a couple whom they might meet versions of in the upcoming Ant-Man movie—Hank Pym and the Wasp. The Black Panther, who’s got a film in the works, rejoins the team for this adventure. And then there’s Wonder Man, who filmmakers will probably get around to eventually if the super-hero trend keeps up long enough; Firestar, who ‘80s kids might remember from the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon; and Justice, who…well, they can’t all be in the pictures, can they?

In this storyline, Ultron is taking another shot at his usual goal of replacing organic life with robotic life. But this time includes some twists. He actually does destroy an entire small country as his opening salvo, which gives tremendous gravity to the proceedings. And he kidnaps his “family” so that he can use their brainwaves to generate unique personalities for the robotic life he wants to take over the world.

unnamed-12This story draws on the 35-plus years of Avengers continuity that comes before it, something the movies simply don’t have time to do. While it enriches the overall experience, it also bogs down some parts with exposition so the newer readers aren’t lost.

In the comics, Ultron was created by Hank Pym, who began his super-heroic career as Ant-Man, is most often identified as Giant-Man, and has even called himself Yellow Jacket at times. It looks like Tony Stark will create Ultron in the movie series, which is a logical revision. Pym’s scientific specialties were always biochemistry, insects, and size-changing. Creating artificial intelligence was a significant deviation.

In fact, in this storyline, Iron Man says, “Ultron always hits close to home for me, Firestar. He represents the dark side of technology, the soulless coldness of it—and even though it was Henry Pym who first built him, he always reminds me of the times my armor’s been used to kill others—and what a danger I can be.”

Then again, Pym has often been portrayed as an insecure, sometimes even unstable character trying to prove himself, so it’s not entirely out of left field in the grand scope of comics continuity. But writer/director Joss Whedon is correct not to be a purist in this instance.

unnamed-13Ultron, as he explicitly points out here, has always been something of a “family man,” and he is connected to an impressive family tree. In “Ultron Unlimited,” he kidnaps his “father,” Pym; his “mother,” the Wasp, who at this point is Pym’s ex-wife; his “son,” the Vision, whom he programmed with the brainwaves of the then-deceased Wonder Man, who’s alive again and also gets kidnapped; his “daughter-in-law,” the Scarlet Witch, who was married to the Vision for a while, though they’re long since divorced here; and the villainous Grim Reaper, the brother of Wonder Man.

That’s a family tree that took many years of comics to build. This story is even missing a couple of notable “relatives,” including Scarlet Witch’s brother Quicksilver, and the robotic Jocasta, whom Ultron created as a wife for himself by programming the Wasp’s brainwaves into her.

unnamed-14This storyline can be read by tracking down the individual issues or the out-of-print trade paperback Ultron Unlimited. Your best bet, however, is probably the Avengers Assemble vol. 2 trade paperback, which includes several other issues that come before (just make sure it’s written by Kurt Busiek. There’s another Avengers Assemble series by another writer, which I haven’t read). You can also subscribe to Marvel Unlimited’s digital library, which has this as well as most, if not all, of the earlier storylines it references.

Busiek’s entire run is full of good, solid super-heroic stories that balance character and action, and Perez’s art in the first couple of years is a treat. These guys are two of the best in the business, and it shows in “Ultron Unlimited.”