Tagged: Age of Ultron

John Ostrander: For What It’s Worth


 “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” – For What It’s Worth, 1967, written by Stephen Stills, performed by Buffalo Springfield

SPOILERS! Warning! Danger! I’m going to discuss some questions raised in Captain America: Civil War, which means some plot points will get spilled. If you haven’t yet seen the film – it’s just out on Blu-Ray – you may not want to proceed.

There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Captain America: Civil War but what I liked best was the question that was at the center of the narrative. During an action in Legos involving Cap and some members of the Avengers, there is a mistake and an explosion and innocent bystanders get killed. This, coupled with the human collateral damage witnessed in previous Marvel films, causes members of the United Nations to create The Slovenia Accords – named after the site of the massive destruction in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now the Avengers must submit to an oversight panel. If they don’t, they will be disbanded.

This creates a split within the Avengers themselves. Tony Stark (Iron Man) believes they must accept the accords and some restrictions on how they use their powers or they would be no better than the foes they oppose. Steve Rogers (Captain America) does not, cannot, and will not agree. This compromises their freedom including the freedom to act when they see a situation calling for it. They can’t wait for bureaucratic paper rustling. Lives are in the balance. The Avengers split into Team Cap and Team Iron Man (along with some guest stars) and they will, of course, fight it out.

So… which team do we, the audience, ally with? The film is clever in that neither side is set to be absolutely right or absolutely wrong. There are arguments for both but the question at the center of the film is – can society allow masked, super-powered individuals to act without some check?

There is no right answer. Oh, my inclinations is to go with Cap; I’m a stinkin’ leftist liberal progressive pinko commie after all. FreeeeeeeDOM!

Except. . .

All these superheroes are basically vigilantes. They operate outside of the law; for the most part, the heroes are not deputized by any government or law enforcement organization (Green Lantern is an exception but that was a lousy movie). They don’t really have any authority to do what they are doing.

I do take exception to one trope in the movie. “Thunderbolt” Ross from The Incredible Hulk film returns, now as the U.S. Secretary of State and evidently liaison to the Avengers from the U.N. He cites all the collateral destruction suffered by society in both Avengers films and the previous Captain America film. He lays the blame for this on the Avengers, noting that there are others in society that feel the same way.

Except. . .

Neither Cap nor the Avengers initiated the situations in those films. Because of their actions, humanity was not enslaved or outright destroyed as would have been the case otherwise. I would have liked to have that mentioned in the film by the heroes.

However, that doesn’t change the root question in Captain America: Civil War. Can any society allow such masked, perhaps super-powered, individuals to act unilaterally? Some of them are masked and the authorities don’t know their true names. Can a society of law survive in such circumstances? It is not a simple question and, to its credit, I don’t think Captain America: Civil War presents it that way.

buffalo-springfieldMy heart remains with Cap but I think my brain may agree more with Iron Man. I think I have my own civil war, one that most of us have at one time or another – heart versus head. I don’t think that one is going to be resolved any time soon.

At the start of the column, I quoted a line from Buffalo Springfield’s song “For What It’s Worth.” Despite being fifty years old, the piece is remarkably suited for today. Check it out on YouTube or some such place for yourself and see.

Editor’s Note: A somewhat less subtle version was recorded by Ozzy Osbourne about 10 years ago.

Dennis O’Neil: Keeping Up With The Avengers

Age of Ultron

Saturday night and the old folks are not in Manhattan attending the convention. For many con goers, Saturday night is par-tay time, as it was for me in days of yore. But not now. If we were there we wouldn’t be partying and anyway, we weren’t there, so why the blather?

So: ordinary Saturday night. Does that mean it has to be boring? Wellll… Hey! I know, Let’s watch a movie on teevee – and don’t let me hear anyone say that senior citizens don’t know how to rip it loose! But which movie (and must life be one dilemma after another)? Hey, I know! Let’s pay homage to the fact that we’re not at the convention by watching… a superhero movie! Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

But – darn these dilemmas – which superhero movie? We missed a number of films we might have been expected to see – pretty arid summer, cinema-wise – and so, with a bit of channel scouring, we should be able to find a satisfactory non-convention-attending entertainment.

And lo and behold, there it is, available at the on-demand channel, for less than half the price of one theater ticket; a movie we actually wanted to see but for some reason didn’t – The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Life is good.

But the movie…?

Let’s put it this way:


Open on a protracted and noisy fight and then more of the same. Structurally, the film reminded me of the old kiddie matinees shown at neighborhood theaters, in which one plot/story was stretched over months by dividing it into chapters, each ending on a suspense hook to pull you back for the next installment. Here’s how it parsed: Protagonist encounters adversary in battles that end indecisively until one doesn’t and the good guy wins. If he’s a cowboy, maybe he rides off into the sunset.

As noted, the opening scene in Ultron is loud and busy. In this it echoes one of the not-quite-rules that my merry men and I observed when we were Batman’s bosses: open on action. But a comic book is not a movie and anyhow, our debut action didn’t eat up much print space. Oh, and it was quiet. Little mousey quiet. Quiet as ink on a page.

One of my worries – okay, a small worry – is that film folk believe that audiences have come to expect – demand? – large portions of pyrotechnics and noise and in providing it they neglect others storytelling techniques. (Already, unless I’m missing something, they don’t seem much concerned with rising action.)

But maybe I shouldn’t expect expert storytelling. Maybe these entertainments are really about spectacle, closer to the offerings of P.T. Barnum than those of William Shakespeare. And in that case… next time you’re seeing a superhero flick, be sure to pop for a 3-D screening. When it comes to spectacle…hey, can it ever be too splashy?

John Ostrander’s Summer Movie Wrap-Up


Labor Day 2015 is upon us. Technically, the season’s change on September 23rd but for all intents and purposes, summer closes shop right after Labor Day. The summer movie season is over and the fall seasons are gearing up. Among things to look forward to is the new Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, coming out around Christmas. However, we’re going to look back at the offerings from last summer, specifically the ones I saw and most enjoyed.

I freely admit I haven’t seen all the cinematic offerings that were out. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation got missed, for example. I saw a fair amount, though, and I’m prepared to talk about those. You should be prepared for spoilers since I may reveal plot elements. That’s okay; you should have seen these films by now anyway.

There are six films on the list – Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Inside Out, Jurassic World, and Mad Max: Fury Road. All entertained me, some surprised me, and I’ll want all of them on disc for repeated home viewing, some more than others.

Remember: these are my opinions. Your mileage may vary.

Avengers; Age of Ultron moved the whole Marvel franchise forward and, together with Ant-Man, rounded out Phase 2 of the Marvel Conquers the Cineplex movement. The Avengers film had everybody and then some (played by their usual thespian counterparts), and included the Falcon in the mix and debuted Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision, always a personal favorite of mine. The Big Bad was the nasty computer program in the crisp robotic shell, Ultron, voiced by the always silkily threatening James Spader.

Did I like it? Yes. Did I like it as much as the first Avengers film? No. It seemed more disjointed to me. There were also odd additions – a possible budding romance between the Black Widow and Bruce (The Hulk) Banner (?). The suggestion that Black Widow had relationships with most of the other male members of the Avengers (because – why?). The fact that Hawkeye has a wife and kiddies out in the hinterlands. None of it seemed very central or even germane to the plot and seemed only to pad it out.

On the other hand, it also had the return of Nick Fury and, at a key moment, the original SHIELD Helicarrier, which I loved. The big fight at the end went on a bit long and didn’t always make a lot of sense. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all of it.

Ant-Man was the surprise to me. Like last year’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy, I would not have bet you money going into it that I would enjoy it so much. But I did. Paul Rudd was a hoot and I bought his heroic side when it surfaced. Michael Douglas took the Famous Older Actor In a Surprise Supporting Role that Robert Redford did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel/Disney really can afford just about anyone it wants to get.

Ant-Man may be better suited to the movies than the comics. The shrinking man and large objects around him works better on the screen than the page. I may be looking forward to this Blu-Ray even more than the Avengers one.

Tomorrowland is based, conceptually, on a portion of Disneyland but, like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, is so much more entertaining than it needs to be. Part of that can be traced back to Brad Bird, who directed it and co-wrote the screenplay. You may know Bird better as the director on Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and others.

The film stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson as the spunky young gal who is the center of the story. The city of the title exists in a fold between time and space and it’s where the dreams of the future become real. It’s in danger of being corrupted and made prosaic by those who think they are saving it. What it needs is dreamers.

I love this film because, ultimately, it is so hopeful. It’s about the necessity of hope and that’s a message I think we need more of these days. It’s far from a perfect film but it’s message really appeals to me.

I’ve written before about Inside Out, the latest offering from Pixar. Quick summary: very inventive and imaginative, heartfelt, psychologically true (IMO) and wonderfully realized. I loved it.

Mad Max: Fury Road. Wow. Intense. As reboots go, stunningly successful. Tom Hardy makes a great successor to Mel Gibson and looks very much like him in the early Mad Max films. Charlize Theron kicks major league ass. George Miller is astounding. He’s seventy years old, it’s been thirty years since he last directed a Mad Max movie, and this film had so much raw energy, imaginative action sequences and filmmaking derring-do that you would have thought he was a much younger man taking over a sagging franchise. There’s lots of things that call back to the earlier Mad Max films while, at the same, time, laying claim to it all for a new generation of filmgoers.

Jurassic World. It’s been more than twenty years since the first Jurassic Park movie and about fourteen since Jurassic Park III (which, for the record, I preferred to Jurassic Park II although, from reports, Steven Spielberg did not.) This is essentially another reboot of a franchise although, strictly speaking, it does follow in continuity from the first one. It was a thundering successful relaunch; it made just buckets and buckets of money. It also marked Chris Pratt’s emergence as a bonafide and believable action film star. Oh, he was the star in Guardians of the Galaxy but his Peter Quill was a bit of a goofball as well; he had a strong streak of coyote in him. In Jurassic World, there is a young Harrison Ford feel to Pratt. Charismatic, strong, and a star.

One of the problems for Jurassic World is that, when we see the dinosaurs, there isn’t that same sense of wonder we had in the first Jurassic Park. The plot in Jurassic World mirrors that – the park itself is having problems because having dinosaurs is no longer “new” – not so much of an attraction — so the Powers-That-Be manufacture, by blending DNA strains, a whole new – and very deadly – form of beast. And, of course, it escapes. Jurassic World pleases us, it entertains us, but it doesn’t –- it can’t — give us that same sense of wonder, of discovery, that the first Jurassic Park did.

So – which of these was my own personal favorite? I enjoyed them all but there’s no question that Inside Out is my pick. It’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel, it’s not another link in a cinematic chain; it’s fresh, it’s engaging, it’s funny, and it has its own truths to tell. Tomorrowland comes in second for the reasons I’ve already given. Like Inside Out, it is something new and fresh and that scores a lot of points with me.

So – how was your summer?


Molly Jackson: Cosplay for a Cause

Cosplay For A Cause

This past weekend I took part in the Black Widow #WeWantWidow flash mob that swept through the world. If you happened to spend the past few days hiding under a really big rock from news sites and Facebook, here are the details about what happened.

This was cosplaying for a cause. Kristin Rielly, of RiellyGeek and formally Geek Girls Network, organized this event as a fun protest to the treatment of Marvel’s Black Widow, in terms of exposure in movies and merchandising. When I asked her the why of doing this event, she stated “After seeing Age of Ulton and Black Widow’s lack of character development (or her abrupt back story scene), and writing several posts for Fashionably Geek about the new Avengers line this and that – almost all missing Black Widow images, I just had enough. And then then to top it all off, Hasbro and Mattel both released action figures of Captain America and Iron Man on Black Widow’s motorcycle in her most badass AoU scene, instead of a Black Widow action figure.”

People from the US, Canada and Australia took part, dressing as Black Widow or in merchandise for the character. I was one of them, participating in the NYC demonstration outside of ReedPop’s Special Edition comicon. At least, that was the plan. The standard rule for most New Yorkers: if you are running late, the subway will make it worse. So I missed out on the big group photo shoot by a few minutes.

However, I lucked out that another late person and a few other Black Widows were out front when I arrived. So I still got my group shot! (I am weirdly proud of the belt buckle that I made. Never underestimate the power of twist ties!)

cosplay for a cause 2As I walked the floor of the comicon, some exhibitors remarked to me about the sheer number of Black Widows in attendance. I came to realize that this flash mob was sending a message to the people in the room that we want to see a change. I am so proud that I took part in it, even if I was late. I made a difference in that room.

The truth is that this really applies to all female and minority characters in comics. If DC had done the cinematic universe building first, we probably would have been tweeting We Want Wonder Woman instead. (That outfit would have been harder for me to make though.) I can hope that the industry heard us and saw the aftermath of supporting coverage.

In case you were wondering what to do now, I did ask Kristin how she thought we should continue. Rielly said “Let’s keep talking about it until we can make a difference. Keep sharing the hashtag, keep posting photos online of Black Widow images and cosplay. Maybe Marvel and Disney will see that they really do have a demographic ready for more female superheroines on screen and on the shelves.”

So, it is now in your hands. Go tweet #WeWantWidow. Go tell Marvel, Mattel, Hasbro and any other licenser that you want to see more Black Widow. Or go tell DC that you want to see more female coverage. Go use your voice to make sure that change happens.

John Ostrander: We Eat Our Own

A recent Internet brouhaha occurred when some feminists attacked Joss Whedon after the opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron claiming he was a misogynist, etc, for his portrayal of Black Widow in the movie. I haven’t seen the movie yet – I may be one of a handful in the world who hasn’t – so I can’t comment on it although given Whedon’s track record, I am skeptical.

When Whedon closed his Twitter account, the Internet went crazy and charged he was chased off by “militant feminists.” Again, I was skeptical. Whedon himself later stated “I just thought, Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place, and this is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life.” That’s true of the Internet in general, by the way. A great tool but also a great temptation for wasting time.

This practice of attacking our own is not new. Will Smith playing Deadshot in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, has been attacked by some as being too lightweight for such a stoic badass character. This ignores the work he did in such films as The Pursuit of Happyness or the minor role he had playing the devil in Winter’s Tale. Serious characters, well played.

Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice? According to sections of fandom, heresy! They said the same thing about Michael Keaton waaaay back before his first Batman film. When I was writing GrimJack at First Comics, we got a letter from someone who said I should leave the book and let other writers do the character because I wasn’t up to this letterhack’s standards. That may explain a certain lack of sympathy I have for these type of fans.

It’s not everyone in fandom. They can, however, be a vocal segment of fandom. Often an angry and strident voice in fandom. They seem to have (or think they have) a Fan Early Warning system (or F.E.W.s), a sort of Spidey-Sense that starts tingling when they sense something wrong (especially in casting) in an upcoming project, especially film. There is a certainty that they are right, a vitriol that accompanies the attack, and an unwillingness to hear any other point of view. It isn’t what they wanted, it isn’t how they would do it, it’s not how they see it and so it is wrong. No debate, end of story.

Does it matter? It is a small minority, after all. A small, strident minority that can be heard over the din of the crowd. That’s part of the problem with this country today – minority voices stridently decrying what they think is wrong and refusing to listen to any other opinion because, you know, that would be compromising their principles. You can’t just agree with them; you have to agree wholeheartedly and for the right reasons. You have to share the same religion; you have to drink the same flavor of Kool-Aid.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion but it is often formed without actually seeing the work. The dissident fans haven’t seen any footage of Will Smith as Deadshot, yet they already know he is wrong. Their proof that Ben Affleck will suck as Batman? His performance in Daredevil. (He has also performed in other films since then, including a fine turn as George Reeve in Hollywoodland .)

Negative comments can create a negative image of a given work, especially movies, before it’s seen. The “buzz” can affect how a film is perceived and received. It can affect the box office. That, in Hollywood, is serious.

It’s not hard to be heard these days. Is it too much to ask to consider what is being said? To think before you speak?

What am I saying? This is the Internet. Of course it is.



Marc Alan Fishman: Loving Age of Ultron

Oh, Avengers: Age of Ultron, how I loved you so! From the moment the pre-movie Ant-Man trailer began to the last second of Whedon-tinted footage befell my eyes, I was a happy camper. Before I roll up my sleeves and dive in to the nitty-gritty details that made the movie for me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout from the rafters that this week’s column is chock full of spoilers. So, consider yourself warned. But I digress. Let the love-in begin!

Remembering Where It All Began.

More than once during Age of Ultron, the lingering ideas of Iron Man permeated the plot line. This attention to detail – taking the theme of Tony’s war-mongering past as the driving force for all that has followed – helped create a sequel born of the cinematic MCU, rather than being plucked directly from the proverbial pulp.

That Pietro and Wanda would stare a Stark explosive in the face for several days of mental anguish, would lead them to their nearly permissible antagonistic actions showed a deft hand in the writer’s room. Pair this with the birth of Ultron himself and you have a wealth of villains to combat without it feeling like a bloated mess. I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3, Amazing Spider-Man, and any other multi-villain movie menagerie. Here, Tony Stark is the spark for the unfurling events. It’s an organic plotline that pays dividends through believable character interaction. Astonishing, no?

Exploring The Details Of The Under-Players.

In the first Avengers movie, Black Widow and Hawkeye were mostly there to flesh out the cast. Believably placed for the ties to S.H.I.E.L.D., Natasha and Clint had their moments, but their placement on the team at large seemed more or less to add a human element to an inhuman team. No, not those Inhumans.

Here in Ultron, our truly human Avengers showcase that it was their humanity that was their superpower all along. Hawkeye the family man and the Black Widow the no-baby-mama helped anchor their gifted counterparts when things got too explody. That we would see Hawkeye leap into battle knowing he leaves a wife and kids behind – because he knows his worth and importance to the team – hit me as a parent right in the feels. As for Natasha revealing a secret shame to Bruce Banner in an effort to prove that her budding feelings for Tony Stark’s best science-bro matched his outer monsterhood with her own perceived faults… well, it was a touching and mature a concept placed in a movie I wouldn’t have pegged as either of those adjectives.

A Master Plan Worthy Of A Mean Child.

Loki, granted the mind-gem by Thanos in an effort to conquer Earth, hatched an invasion pitted against  a handful of misguided do-gooders. His machinations included mind-control, sabotage, and ultimately brute force. In contrast, Ultron – very much a child, with more mental capacity and power then he can truly control – opts instead to smash the earth with a big rock. Sure, there’s more to it than that… but really, there isn’t. And it’s a brilliant move. When we first meet him, Ultron seeks to evolve. He sets about his plan not unlike Loki – using mind-control and psychic attack to distract – but when he’s denied his prize, there’s little left to do but start killing. That he was able to create a network of thrusters underneath an entire city in what feel like a few days? Well, I guess that’s what makes him a super-villain.

What I love most about it though, is that the end-game motivations of Ultron end up immature and thuggish when he’s left without the toy he wanted in the first place. We are reminded at the tail-end of the movie that both he and The Vision are very much new to the world. No amount of knowledge can replace wisdom. Again, this is a little detail in a large moving plot that escalates a would-be blockbuster into something that rises above my personal expectations.

And Last, But Not Least… The Promise Of The Future.

When the dust settles, it’s apropo that there’s no schwarma to be had. The Avengers fall into their more natural state. If I might beat this dead horse one last time: the actions presented all felt in line with the characters we’ve seen built in front of us now for the last seven years. Of course Captain America and Black Widow will remain Avengers set to train the first class of new heroes. Tony Stark, tail between his legs, retreats to his vast fortune and his machine shop to ponder where he goes next. Thor returns to his homeland to seek answers, and likely build towards Infinity Wars. Hawkeye gets his well-deserved family time.

And our incredible Hulk? He’ll incredibly sulk for a while, until he’s needed again, I suppose. Given that he turned down the opportunity for a romantic connection in lieu of a martyrs’ life makes sense. He did try to commit suicide only a year or two ago. He’s not ready to move on.

And after a nuanced movie like Age of Ultron? Neither am I. Excelsior indeed.


Dennis O’Neil: It’s All Done With Mirrors

So the new Avengers movie only brought in $191,000,000 and change, domestic. Well, we knew it was a loser, didn’t we? Its predecessor did way better – broke the $200,000,000 mark without working up a sweat. Then along comes this loser with its giant robot – a giant robot? Really? What a two-finger job!

Okay, I haven’t actually seen the movie but I’ve certainly been aware of it. All those tv ads, all that hype… I imagine that when I do, I won’t be disappointed. It will be what it is, a professional entertainment done by people who know how to make movies and know how to tell superhero stories.

That hasn’t always been the case: I’ll arbitrarily date the first serious superhero flick from 1978 when the kindly corporation that was, then, my main source of income delivered unto the nation’s screens Superman, a film that was slightly marred by an unevenness of tone but which, unlike most of its forerunners, asked that audiences take it seriously. It wasn’t the Citizen Kane of costumed melodrama, but it was a solid dose of escapist entertainment.

When the darkish Batman debuted decade later and repeated Superman’s success, the superheroic colonization of summer blockbusters began in earnest. Now, the guys in the costumes own the region.

Don’t they? If you wanted to play pessimist, you could interpret the latest Avenger flick’s lavish but slightly disappointing box office performance as a harbinger of an impending end. Have we superheroed out?

At least one commentator thought that might be so and I confess that when I look at Yahoo’s news column and see several superhero stories that really aren’t very important, even as importance is measured in the land of popular entertainment, I wonder if the journalists haven’t anything else to occupy their computers. (The middle east? Racial tensions? Global warming?) It’s the old going-backstage-at-the-magic-show quandary: do I really want to see how all the tricks are done? Won’t that interfere with my enjoyment of them? And if everyone knows the Secrets, won’t that hasten the end of magic shows? And what if magic shows are the only kind of amusement available?

Of course, I can go backstage and not look at how the tricks are done. But do you really think I have that much character? Really?

Ah, the questions we ask ourselves on a beautiful spring afternoon…

Maybe because asking questions about the middle east, et al.is discomfiting.

Let’s think about something else, shall we? I wonder if the forthcoming Superman vs Batman will be any good. And what on Earth can the guys at Marvel possibly hope to do with Ant Man? And will there be a sequel to Daredevil?

Boy oh boy, there sure is a lot too think about!


Molly Jackson: Bow to the Almighty Dollar

Judge DreddThis past weekend was a big, major one with Avengers: Age of Ultron premiering, and, on Saturday, Free Comic Book Day. And geeks, in general, had a good, busy weekend. Events were popping up all around the country, celebrating geekdom.

It was also a huge money maker for geek companies. Marvel/Disney (as expected) scored big at movie box offices all over the US. Comic book stores opened their doors to new and old comic readers with free gifts as well as deals on their current stock. People were out and about spending money, which is good for the local community as well as big business.

All this spending of the almighty dollar.

Which made it all the more better when I opened up the FCBD 2000 AD issue and read the Judge Dredd story. This UK weekly had a futuristic story about certain people being banned from using certain building entrances set aside for the elite. Which is the exact same issue happening in NYC right now.

Science-fiction always has been used to highlight inequality and social issues throughout time, which is part of the reason I love it so much. Using entertaining media to educate people and share ideas is one of the best ideas humans ever had.

Still, I didn’t expect it to show up on FCBD. This is a day normally reserved to bring in new readers and give them a taste to whet their appetite. So taking a moral or ethical stance that could offend could be a risk. However, 2000 AD took a chance and I’m loving it. They show their platform through Judge Dredd, as well as other stories, and it’s an open-minded one. They are showing any and all readers who they are and what they stand for. This is what Sci-Fi is meant to be.

High-five to 2000 AD for using issues and dilemmas from “over the pond” to educate as well as entertain.

Mike Gold: Saturday Matinee Superhero Horror

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when superhero movies were kiddie fodder and proud of it.

Yes, I know. The Avengers: Age of Ultron opens this Friday (which is really Thursday night; Hollywood exists in a different time/space continuum). Everybody’s stoked to see it; well, everybody but ComicMix’s own Martha Thomases, who has already seen the movie. That’s just about the, what, twelve thousandth superhero movie to open in the past decade? I’m not complaining, as these days most of these movies – dare I say it? – are more entertaining than their source material. However, I’m not here to praise this crop of superhero movies for being adult-accessible. I’m here to wax nostalgic about the first time I saw a superhero movie in a real, honest-to-Crom movie theater. Or theatre, for those who drift towards the pretentious.

Let’s go back to late July, 1966. I was at the palatial Uptown Theater on the mid-north side of Chicago. I wasn’t quite 16, so I was old enough to know better. By this time the glow of the Batman television phenomenon had faded for my friends, even those who were comics fans. But I was a hard-core comics fan, and I wanted to see the movie as nature intended: at an old-fashioned Saturday matinee.

For those of you who are too young to have experienced such a thing, the purpose of the old-fashioned Saturday matinee was to serve as a baby sitter. Mothers dropped off their precious darlings at the theater so they could get some much-needed quiet time with their friends. The kids would sit in the darkened theater and watch four hours of cartoons and Three Stooges shorts, or, perhaps, a “real” movie that was accessible to children.

A “real” movie like Batman.

Peculiarly, the good folks at the Uptown Theater decided to schedule a double-feature, and the opening flick was Paul Newman’s Harper.  I love that movie, but I was a bit surprised to see it at a Saturday matinee. Even in those days, I thought Harper was a bit too violent for kids who were already gifted at hurling Jujubes at their peers. The most violent parts were at the end, or, for these purposes, right before the beginning of Batman.

Clearly, many kids were traumatized. During those final scenes damn near each and every one of them was silent. Think about that: a couple thousand unsupervised kids between the ages of maybe 8 and 12, staring wide-eyed at a movie that would make Fredric Wertham shit his pants. It put the kiddies in the perfect mood for the upcoming campy cape caper.

Kids are a resilient lot, and as Adam West and Burt Ward were doing their opening tribute to the cover of Batman volume 1 number 9, the tykes had shed all thoughts of bloodied movie superstars and settled into the moment for which they’d been waiting. The teevee show already had grown a bit tiresome for a guy as old and sophisticated as I, but I loved watching Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith work. Thanks to the kiddies, I quickly got caught up in the spirit of the film and had a great time. So great, in fact, that I still enjoy that movie.

Will I have a similar experience when I see The Avengers: Age of Ultron? Maybe. I hope so. Given the nature of the previous Marvel Studios movies, I think there’s a pretty good chance.

Call me a starry-eyed optimist (although others may laugh at you), but that’s why I’m going to see this movie. Hey, it worked with Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ll be with friends, including my daughter, so I’m bringing my own environment to the multiplex.

Sadly, Frank Gorshin is no longer with us. He lived nearby and I ran into him a few times at local restaurants. But just imagine what a hoot it would have been had he been in the theater next to us.


I have every reason to expect a great time at The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Let’s see what happens.


John Ostrander on the Mighty Marvel Movie Monster

In a few days the new Avengers film, Age of Ultron, will be opening here in the States. It’s already opened in some overseas markets and, by all accounts, is doing very well. Seems like a good time to look back at the output in general of Marvel Studios.

Not all of Marvel’s characters’ appearances onscreen have come from Marvel Studios; stalwarts like the Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and Spider-Man have been made elsewhere (although Spidey’s next appearance will be coordinated with Marvel Studios and, in fact, will probably be in the next Captain America film). Those appearances have been, shall we say, a bit spotty in quality. The two FF films were anything but fantastic.

However, by and large, the output of Marvel Studios has been first-rate. There have been a few hiccups, such as the second Iron Man film and the second Thor film as well, but I’ve been dazzled by the rest. The studio has gone from strength to strength lately. They did it by staying true to the concepts and feel of the Marvel Universe.

When Marvel first emerged back in the Sixties, several things marked the upstart newcomer as different from its “Distinguished Competition” (as it referred to DC in those days). All its characters inhabited the same universe; events in one comic could influence events in another. The characters might pop up in each other’s comics at any time, even if just for a panel or two. The characters were not “squeaky clean” – they had hang-ups and foibles. The heroes and heroines often didn’t like one another and sometimes worked at cross-purposes; a hero was as likely to slug another hero as a bad guy.

While all this has become almost a cliché these days (i.e. the perennial existential question of “Who is stronger – the Hulk or the Thing?)” all this was very new and different when the whole magilla started. While the movies may have changed bits and pieces, they’ve stayed true to the overall concepts.

A good example of all this was the first Avengers movie. It brought together not only the main characters of the previous films, it also included many of the supporting characters. And they did not all like one another. Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) could barely stand each other. Thor and Iron Man come to blows early on and the Hulk and Thor had more than one dust-up in the course of the film. They all came together eventually to defeat Loki and his army and to trash much of New York. This is all very much the Marvel Universe as it was created. The film is true to its roots.

It was good enough to make me decide to see Guardians of the Galaxy which I wasn’t certain I was going to do. I think it’s now my favorite Marvel film and it too is cut from the same cloth; questionable beings who may be ethically challenged come together and, for most of the film, can barely stand one another. There is sacrifice and, by the end of the film, the team has come together to defeat the Big Bad. Classic Marvel.

There’s a common thread running through all these films and it’s not Sam Jackson as Nick Fury. It’s Kevin Feige, who has produced, co-produced or executive produced all of the Marvel films, including the ones I haven’t been so crazy about. He’s having a hell of a run right now and I’m thinking of him as the Stan Lee of the Marvel cinematic universe. (Stan Lee is also a part of the Marvel cinematic universe, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) I don’t know the guy but I get the sense that he really knows the Marvel comics universe and knows why it works. They’ve got me looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War, and Black Widow, and Doctor Strange, and even Ant-Man.

Ant-Man. I can’t believe I’m writing that.

Enjoy it while it lasts, kiddies. Nothing lasts forever. At some point, Feige will get a better offer or move up at Disney (Marvel’s parent company) and someone else will take his place. The writers and directors and even the actors now playing the characters will move on or just get too old. Marvel Studios will put out a clunker. Things will change. Things always change.

But for right now, I’m strapping in and enjoying myself.

Excelsior, True Believers.