At first glance, this does not sound like a good idea.
U.S. Avengers and Uncanny Avengers will not survive the new year. January brings us a three-month mini-event called Avengers: No Surrender. Okay; on the face of it, this seems like a good idea – and pretty much what I was calling for in this space back on September 6th when I said Secret Empire might have been a worthy eight-parter if it had been entirely confined to the two Captain America titles, segueing from Sam Wilson to Steve Rogers and completely in the hands of writer Nick Spencer. Okay, I guess I’m getting much of what I asked for.
However, Avengers: No Surrender also marks the cancellation of both U.S. Avengers and Uncanny Avengers and the “promotion” of The Avengers to weekly status… at least for the duration of the storyline. There are 13 shipping weeks in the first quarter of 2018, so at the current cover price that means it’ll cost you nearly $52.00 to read the storyline. Plus tax.
Now if you’re like me (which means at some point you made a drastically bad life decision) you do not presently read all three titles. Usually, I only follow The Avengers. No slight against the other two titles – there are only so many hours in the day, and only so much cash in the kitty. Writers Mark Waid, Al Ewing and Jim Zub, at least, will remain on the weekly title, doubtlessly divvying up the work in some equitable fashion.
Waid, one of the best superhero writers around, is blessed with a wit that is equal to his comics prowess, and he told The Hollywood Reporter No Surrender is “half celebration, half wake.” Well, that sounds half-interesting: it’s been a couple decades since readers would be vested in that “half wake” part.
I am merely expressing a concern; I’m not judging something that I haven’t read – something that, likely, is not yet fully written. No Surrender begs a serious commitment from Marvel’s evidently-dwindling readership. Not all True Believers have that kind of time, money … or desire.
This mini-event begs the question “what happens after?” Will The Avengers remain weekly? Will the title revert to monthly status allowing for the return of U.S. Avengers and TheUncanny Avengers, or will Marvel create two new titles? A year ago, I would have thought resurrecting U.S. Avengers and TheUncanny Avengers with new number ones would be a given, but Marvel has since gone on to eschew such overworked marketing stunts.
But a couple weeks after the alleged conclusion of No Surrender, the world will be lining up for Marvel’s latest and most crowded movie yet… Avengers – Infinity War. History has shown us this is not the time the House of Idea will cut their output of comic books with the word “Avengers” in the title. And with a couple dozen heroes in that movie, it seems unlikely that Marvel will be weeding out capes from the comic book team.
I suspect most comics shop owners will have a hard time deciding how many copies to order. They’re going to have to order at least two-thirds of No Surrender – eight or nine issues – before they find out of their customers will go for the thing. This is not a comfortable position for their retailer base, no matter how frequently they have been put in that position lately.
Let’s hope No Surrender knocks it out of the park.
Captain America: Civil War is complicated, and sprawling, and intense, and funny, and dark, and in the end, nobody wins. It has one of the best multi-superhero fight scenes out there, and yet the first half of the movie is held together by a series of quiet and deeply personal moments that develop numerous character arcs without feeling random or forced. Neither side of the fight along which lines are drawn – over the issue of whether to sign the Sokovia Accords, which will hold the Avengers accountable to the United Nations after their actions in saving the world have caused multiple instances of massive civilian casualties – seems entirely right.
Captain America’s stance of not wanting to abdicate personal responsibility for the Avengers’ actions to people “with agendas” is shown to be dangerous when he violently defends his childhood friend and WWII army buddy Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) against all comers, after Bucky is accused of having bombed the conference in Vienna where the Accords are to be ratified. On the other hand, Iron Man’s position of signing over accountability to the UN and his inability to ever consider that he’s “in over his head,” as the Spider-Man of the comics crossover observed, result in pretty much all of his friends ending up in prison for trying to stop the movie’s actual villain, Helmut Zemo, from activating an elite death squad that can be mind-controlled like the Winter Soldier. And with the intricacies of so many main characters with their own views on the issue, there’s a lot to unpack and consider.
So are you confused yet? If you haven’t seen the movie, a) go see it; what are you waiting for? It’s worth it! and b) I’m not surprised at the confusion. The cool thing about the modern MCU is also one of its drawbacks – these movies (thirteen and counting, with a lot more to come) have managed to stay believably within one universe and interweave references to each other in a fairly natural manner while still maintaining their individual styles. That keeps each film fresh and interesting, while also ensuring we want to see more of the whole universe.
The downside of this is that eventually, with the ensemble movies in particular, there is a lot to pack in to make the films work, and they are in danger of collapsing under their own weight. It’s a testament to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo that they got all the moving parts built into this movie to work together like a well-oiled machine instead of dissolving into a messy disaster (did someone say Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?)
We’ve gotten to a point in the overall MCU story where to fully comprehend the depth of events in Captain America: Civil War, it helps to be familiar with at the very least The Avengers; Captain America: Winter Soldier; and Avengers: Age of Ultron. (It’s best if you’ve seen all the others, too.) What begins in The Avengers – S.H.I.E.L.D. recruiting a bunch of heroes who start out with pretty different viewpoints and struggle to form a cohesive whole – continues in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where we see Steve Rogers/Cap’s resistance to following the government when it strays from his personal values and morality, and his belief in caring for individual people. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see the results of Tony Stark/Iron Man’s serious accountability issues in pursuit of what he sees as a better future, when he uses something he doesn’t fully understand to complete an A.I. that is supposed to protect the entire world but then tries to kill everyone instead.
By the end of that movie, there’s a fissure within The Avengers – who were not all that stable to begin with – and Captain America’s belief in personal accountability versus Iron Man’s futurist viewpoint stand in stark (no pun intended) contrast to each other.
Captain America: Civil War builds on this and on events of the previous movies by using the immense destruction in New York City during The Avengers and the destruction of the capital city of Sokovia in Age of Ultron as the backdrop for the opening act, in which yet another Avengers’ attempt to stop criminals ends up causing civilian casualties, when Scarlet Witch, the youngest Avenger, accidentally redirects a bomb blast meant for Steve Rogers into a building and kills several Wakandans on a peace mission (a nod to the accidental hero-caused explosion that killed civilians at the beginning of the comics’ Civil War crossover event). This leads to the Sokovia Accords, which 117 countries intend to sign, and which will make the Avengers accountable to the United Nations. The decision of whether each hero will sign the document or “retire” brings out the core issue around which the plot is built.
Although the movie starts with a bang, the series of quieter moments in the first half establishes the stakes and interpersonal relationships that each hero stands to lose when choosing a side as the plot builds the foundation of the civil war itself; creating a world that is less black and white than the comics crossover. And it almost goes without saying in the MCU, but once again the acting in the Marvel movies is top-notch across the board, and the casting choices for new characters are clear winners. Each of the headliners (Chris Evans/Captain America, Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man, Sebastian Stan/Winter Soldier, Chadwick Boseman/Black Panther, Scarlet Johansson/Black Widow, Anthony Mackie/Falcon, Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye, Elizabeth Olsen/Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany/Vision, Paul Rudd/Ant-Man, Tom Holland/Spider-Man, and Don Cheadle/War Machine) truly embodies the characters we know from the comics and the previous movies; and brings the emotional heart of the movie to the forefront.
The first of the quiet emotional moments occurs soon after Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s mistake costs civilian lives. As she watches the newscasters vilify her, Steve turns the TV off, and together they accept shared blame for the tragedy, as he tells her that they have to learn to live with the collateral damage of trying to save the world because otherwise, next time they might not be able to save anybody. Their mentor/mentee relationship, and Steve’s recognition of her youth and inexperience in the face of the great power she is trying to wield, are clear. Another scene has Tony giving grant money to MIT students in an effort to assuage his guilt over his mistakes (including the creation of Ultron), when he is confronted in an empty backstage hallway by the mother of a boy who died in the Sovokian tragedy while doing aid work; she blames Tony for his death.
And then we have Steve attending the funeral of Peggy Carter, where he receives an almost beyond-the-grave message from Peggy to stand strong for what he believes in via a eulogy from her niece Sharon Carter (surprise, Steve! The pretty neighbor who was spying on you for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Winter Soldier is actually your first love’s age-appropriate relative!). And the introduction of Black Panther, occurring on either side of the bombing in Vienna, is composed of two deeply personal moments – the first of which shows T’Challa’s desire to be a politic leader who will make his peace-loving father proud, and the second of which flips to his intensity and willingness to take matters into his own hands after his father is killed by the explosion. (T’Challa also acts as an “undecided voter” in the war, in that his agenda is his own, not Cap’s or Iron Man’s; and Black Widow lends some other interesting shades of grey to the ideological debate down the line.)
The bombing sets off a chain reaction of events which results in insanely violent but elegant fights down stairways, on rooftops, and through highway tunnels as first the Bucharest police and then Black Panther try to take down Bucky, as Cap and his more recent sidekick Falcon try to protect him.
On a purely cinematic level, I absolutely adore the way that each superhero’s unique fighting style echoes the comics and looks completely natural on screen, the way Bucky and Cap fight almost as one person when they’re fighting on the same side, and the fun the movie-makers must have had choreographing these and the other hero team-up and civil war scenes. The end result of this fight, though, is everyone being captured and brought in to where Thaddeus Ross (who is now Secretary of State, what whaaaat) is haranguing Tony Stark on the phone about the whole mess. This leads to one of my favorite interactions between actors Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans as Stark tries to get Rogers to sign the Accords so he won’t be prosecuted.
Downey Jr. shows a vulnerable side of Stark that we haven’t seen very often since the first Iron Man, and Evans ability to emote with facial expressions shines as Steve comes close to signing before discovering that Tony has confined Wanda to the Avengers compound. Disappointment and disgust for Tony’s stance are written all over Cap’s face as he makes the final decision not to sign.
But tell me, have we forgotten about Helmut Zemo?
Who? One thing that’s so great about this film is that underneath all of the straightforward politics of Avenger-accountability, and the character moments, there’s also this little mystery growing. In the background of the superhero clashes, Zemo is seen tracking down old Hydra secrets and plotting to get a face-to-face meeting with the Winter Soldier. Once he does, the movie flips into high gear, with action scenes rolling into character introductions resulting in funny asides, and moving back into action.
Despite the intensity and dark elements in this film, it doesn’t lose the trademark heart and humor that runs through the MCU. Vision trying to cook for Wanda to comfort her even though he’s never tasted food; the introduction of Spider-man and his running fight-scene commentary; Ant-Man meeting Captain America (I love other heroes’ reactions to meeting Cap for the first time. I mean, he’s Captain America. I get it.); everything about Hawkeye (can I even encompass how much I love what these movies and Jeremy Renner have done with Hawkeye? Probably not); Cap’s two best friends/sidekicks grumping on each other (tell me there isn’t a little bromance jealousy up in there) – these are the bits that make the heroes seem like real people.
Even in the epic fight scene that has twelve superheroes squaring off against each other, the humor is not lost, and each hero gets to showcase his or her moves and have at least one lighter moment as the battle rages. Every. Single. Thing. About this battle is cool – but hands-down, the stars of the show are Spider-Man, doing his thing for the first time in the MCU proper; and Ant-Man, who literally takes over the scene and has a blast doing it. This is one fight scene I will inevitably rewind and watch twice during any home viewing of the movie (the Guardians of the Galaxy Xandar ship-crash scene is another one).
The aftermath of this fight leads to the final showdown, and for once, I’m not going to spoil things here. Suffice it to say that although hinted at previously, the movie took a turn you might not expect, and that the fallout from the final reveal resulted in an even more personal, we-ain’t-friends-no-more fight than the all-hands-on-deck brawl that came before. (It also brought an epic comic book cover from the crossover to the screen.) And in the end, out of the chaos of the civil war came almost no resolution (with one notable exception), actually less darkness than I expected despite the villain sort-of actually winning this round, and a question as to what the Avengers will look like when next they fill our screens.
I guess we’ll have to wait until May 2018 and 2019 to find out; but in the meantime, this movie is definitely worth the price of admission.
Sure he does all sorts of bad stuff as Loki in Marvel’s AVENGERS and THOR films, and now in theaters he is even creepier in Guillermo del Toro’s new horror outing, CRIMSON PEAK. But why is it we still find him so damn charming? In our exclusive talk with Tom, you find out just how deep the charm runs.
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:
BANG BANG BOOM talk talk BANG BANG BOOM talk BANGEDY BOOMBOOM
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?
As I stared blankly past my blank-canvas-of-a-computer-screen this evening (and yeah, I totally know you’re reading this Saturday morning…), my eyes have rested on my still-mint-in-package Kyle Rayner Action Figure. It’s his post-crab-mask, post-Jim-Lee, pre-New-52 costume. He sits in line with representatives of all the Lantern spectrum – Saint Walker, Atrocitus, Larfleeze, Sinestro, and Indigo. Whoops, never did buy that Star Sapphire figure, did I? Oh well.
There was a time, in what I’d wish was the not-too-distant past (it is, I did the math, ouch), where my toys would not find their final resting place on a half-mantle, still sealed in clamshells. They would be free-air action figures, posed in intricate dioramas, depicting my favorite scenes from books past. And slightly before that time (yes, so, I’m really starting to feel old), these same action figures would sit in a toy chest, ready to do combat on the coffee table, and zip around the basement. No worries, Batman can fly too. He installed rockets in his boots. Which is why there are holes in the heels.
Action figures have come a good long way since the 80s (when I’m personally professing the true boon began). The Transformers – once blocky and spindly in the same breath – are now multiple lines deep, featuring both highly intricate sculpts as well as animated-inspired designs offered in the same shelf-space. And where we comic fans might pray for a chase rogue packed deep in the line of a Batman or Superman series, now we’re getting B, C, and D listers being sold en masse. And where the action figures of yesteryear were either choked with articulation points (G.I. Joe) or confined to four or five (Batman: The Animated Series), now, we have offering from each pole and everything in between. And accessories? What was once a series of mono-color swords or missiles, is now a litany of swapable heads, hands, guns, and pieces of other figures.
And what of those Build-A-Figures? Pure marketing genius. How better to force kids and their grown-up counterparts to part with errant assets for otherwise unwanted figures in a line? Well, pack in that much-needed torso of the Anti-Monitor or Galactus, and suddenly the demand for Batroc the Leaper or G’nort goes through the roof.
If I’m allowed to kvetch for a second though, allow me now to digress. With the mass of plastic übermenches choking the aisles of the local department stores, there still seems to be a few big gaping holes left to plug. As usual, the girls aren’t getting as much attention as the boys. We’ve come a long way from just the pink aisle for the girls – packed tightly with 17 variants of the same white Barbie (sorry, Michael Davis) – but there still seems to be the stigma of corporate focus groups when it comes to complete diversity via toy lines. Look no further than The Avengers movie tie-ins, where Black Widow can’t even seem to negotiate a spot on the damned packaging, let alone get a figure to call her own. Where or how little girls are supposed to get their ass-kicking in, I don’t know. Maybe release a pink Thor and call it a day?
Girl-power aside, I’m also surprised that there’s no push of the ole’ action playset anymore. Back in my day a kid coveted those gargantuan homes for their action figures to pummel one-another on. To be totally fair? I only went over to Kyle’s house (Kyle Gnepper, of Unshaven Comics infamy) because I’d heard he’d had the Technodrome. Bastard never let me see it up close either. Suffice to say, perhaps it’s because of the price point or production woes, but when there’s 19 different Hulkbusters all coming to the collectible shelves near you… why isn’t there a half blown-up Triskelion awaiting the kiddies under the Hanukkah bush? Digression over.
So, what of my titular question? What makes a great action figure? Here’s the truth: imagination. Nothing more. No accessory too detailed, sculpt too perfect, or pitch-perfect point-of-articulation mean a hill of beans without the very life-force of a toy. Toys breed creativity for those willing to cut open their clamshells.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… I need to act out a better ending to Geoff John’s War of Light.
In this exclusive interview with our friends from VOICES FROM KRYPTON, Chris Pratt talks about the importance of the new JURASSIC PARK reboot, how he still is amazed at how big GUARDIANS was and the possibility of picking up the hat and whip to become the new Indiana Jones!
Of course, we saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening weekend and of course you did too — or else why do you watch a comic geek vlog? But in case you didn’t get to it yet, do that soon and be careful watching our video, because you know….SPOILERS!
What we’ve done this week instead of a classic review is to answer some questions our friends asked us after the movie. If you haven’t been reading the comics and or watched all the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s offerings, you might have had these same questions as well. And if you already know everything there is to know about Marvel, maybe you can kindly (very nicely & respectfully because we are only kids & we can’t be expected to pass the 7th grade AND read & see everything in a time span that started before our parents were even born) expand on our points. We also talk about Avengers: Infinity Wars and our favorite MCU ships (#CaptainCarter #ScarletVision) and the one that sank during Ultron (you gotta watch to find out).
In her column last Monday, Mindy Newell talked about how an old-time friend and fellow comics reader was jumping off of the ship. Too many cataclysmic events leading directly into too many cataclysmic events. Not enough real story.
I know other readers who feel the same way, and this spring’s cataclysmic events from DC and Marvel provide an excellent opportunity to take the time they now spend reading DC and Marvel and watching the movies and teevee shows produced by, or with, DC and Marvel.
I get that, and I feel the same way. I love this medium. Always have, always will. A great many of my most enduring friendships have their roots in comics fandom, as did my marriage. But, damn, by the time I hit the staples I want a real story and not just another overwhelming grab for whatever’s left in my bank account.
In terms of my time, the Two Universes’ loss is Image Comics, Dynamite Comics, Boom Studios and IDW’s gain. Oh, I’ve always been attracted to these publishers, as well as to the artsy-fartsy output from the intelligent folk at Fantagraphics and Abrams and their ilk. And Archie, too. Hell, if Harvey was still around, I’d probably find something worthwhile over there as well. I enjoy the medium that much.
But I’ve spent all of my literate life having a special love for superhero comics and for their creators. It’s the backbone of American comics. And I’m kind of pissed that the Two Universes are trying to chase me and my buddies away.
Not that a lot of people care. North Americans spent about two-thirds of a billion dollars on tickets to Marvel’s The Avengers (source: Box Office Mojo). In the United States, The Avengers comic book sells around 50,000 copies. That same year North American comic book sales totaled less than one-half billion dollars (source: Comichron). All comics. From all publishers. All year long.
We vote with our feet. If we don’t like something, we don’t spend money on it. Of course, fans are a bit different: we’re likely to continue to spend money on once-loved comics titles until we’re either absolutely certain they suck, or we are hopelessly confused.
Mindy’s friend is by no means alone. Disney and Warner Bros don’t give a fart about comic books, they care about return on investment. Fine; that’s their job. But from looking at the bottom line – hell, even trying to find the bottom line – it is quite possible that the movies and teevee shows in all their forms will be the only places we’ll be able to get our capes on.
Last week when Marvel announced the all-female team of Avengers, you better believe we were stoked! We studied the A-Force artwork to figure out who everyone was and got right to researching the superheroes we didn’t know. Now, we’re even more excited and can’t waitread Secret Wars in May.In this week’s video we’ll tell you why A-Force is rad, which mutant powers we’d use to make lunch, and our thoughts on the girls not included (namely Maddy’s #2 favorite superhero, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl). A-Force Assemble, indeed!