Ragnarok, more MCU, Phase 3 films

save Asgard!

Thor.RagnarokI’ve now gotten to the part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where the release dates and the chronology of the movies – or most of the films – diverge. And the various TV shows, none of which I ever saw save for a handful of SHIELD eps, fit in there as well. Fortunately, I’m going to mostly ignore those facts. The titles in italics I saw in July 2020.

Captain America: Civil War (2016). When I used to read comic books, the creative teams often developed fights among the superheroes. Sometimes it’d be a brief misunderstanding. Occasionally, it’d be a more elaborate brawl. Too often, though, the motivation seemed sketchy. Not here.

The Hero Registration Act, designed to limit the actions of superheroes, was embraced by Tony Stark/Iron Man, but Steve Rogers/Captain America balks. I found this film surprisingly emotional, especially with the big reveal. Why it’s a Captain America movie, I don’t know, since most of the combatants were Avengers, but whatever.

Doctor Strange (2016 ) -it was an origin that took too long to get going. And it felt formulaic. But I did like the weird dimensional stuff, walking on the sides of buildings.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). Apparently, this takes place before Avengers: Age of Ultron, not that it particularly matters. Odd that despite the massive amount of comic book violence, the story was much more interesting to me than the first Guardians. Part of that is Kurt Russell as Ego, whose presence makes the Star-Lord character feel less of a Han Solo wannabe. I also like Sly Stallone’s appearance and the curious character of Mantis. And Baby Groot is cuter.

Heck, even when the music was too much on the nose – Fathers and Sons by Cat Stevens, really? – I found it touching. Speaking of music, it also featured my favorite Fleetwood Mac song ever, The Chain.

Dorky high school kid

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – There was a movie called The Birdman starring Michael Keaton as an actor pigeon-holed as someone who had played a superhero. I didn’t love it, though it reviewed well. Yet I projected that character onto his playing the Vulture in THIS movie, and it worked, especially his threat to Peter while the young man was on a date.

I’m starting to warm up to Tom Holland as this version of the web-slinger. His classmates are appealing, though incredibly patient with Peter. And while he’s hanging out with Tony Stark, he still feels like your friendly neighborhood dude.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Despite the serious theme – save Asgard! – this turned out to be a very funny film, with great action to boot. Even Doctor Strange was fun in a cameo. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is as stubborn as the Thunder God. Hela (Cate Blanchette) appears invincible. The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) is very Goldblumesque. Did I mention the Hulk?

I take it that director Taika Waititi deserves some of the credit. Clearly, the best Thor film.

Black Panther (2018) – I saw it when it came out before I was aware of the events of Captain America: Civil War. This actually makes the accomplishments of this film more impressive. Because the real star of Black Panther is Wakanda itself.

Well, those last two Avengers films and a couple of others will have to wait until next time.

Spider-Man, and other films, non-MCU

ANOTHER iteration?

The_Amazing_Spider-Man_theatrical_posterI started watching the movies in what was eventually labeled the Marvel Cinematic Universe back when it started in in 2008. Now for those of you NOT seeped in these things, not every Marvel character that appeared in a movie this century is an MCU film.

For convoluted aesthetic and licensing reasons, the films with the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Blade, and Deadpool films, among others, are not part of the canon. The Spider-Man films in 2002/2004/2007 and 2012/2014 are not MCU. But the recent ones with Tom Holland, including Captain America: Civil War and the last two Avengers films, ARE MCU. Got that? There will be a test.

Despite having had collected comic books for over a quarter-century, primarily Marvel products – and I still own some Marvel Masterworks books – I hadn’t watched all that many of the films. Before I tackle the MCU, I thought I’d check to see which ones of the other Marvel films I’ve seen.

Howard the Duck (1986) – the movie was previewed in Albany in a movie theater, sponsored by FantaCo, the comic book store where I worked. I related to the “trapped in a world that he never made” description in the comic book, which also transferred to the film. It was roundly panned, and perhaps deservedly so. Yet I had an odd fondness for it.

Fantastic Four (1994 – unreleased) – at some point in the 2010s I saw this, possibly on YouTube. It was not very good. In fact, it was so awful, it was mildly enjoyable.

Friendly, neighborhood…

Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) . These are the ones starring Tobey Maguire. I saw the first one in a cinema, the second at a resort in the Berkshires. Never saw the third one. I liked the first two enough to get them on DVD.

X2 (2003) – I watched in a hotel in Oneonta on New Year’s Eve many years back. Maybe because I didn’t see the first X-Men film, it didn’t make as much sense as I thought it should.

Fantastic Four (2005) – I thought Michael Chiklis was actually quite good in this. That is high praise since he was all but unrecognizable as The Thing. The rest of the story, as I recall, was pretty pedestrian. That’s necessary, I suppose for an introductory piece, but still… Never saw the follow-up.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – for reasons I’ll explain soon, I have been watching a LOT of MCU movies this summer. So in early July 2020, I needed a palate cleanser before starting on Avengers: Infinity War.

Why did we need ANOTHER iteration of the web-slinger? I say that as someone whose favorite Marvel character is Peter Parker, the awkward young man with a secret.

Maybe we didn’t. But I felt Andrew Garfield was a credible Peter. And since the earlier Sam Raimi stories focused on his relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), it seemed natural that the series deal with his first love, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Her internship with Osgood Corp may have been a bit too coincidental for my taste.

Still, I appreciated their relationship. Her father, the cop (Denis Leary) felt like a real dad, as did Peter’s uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Aunt May (Sally Field) fretted a lot. If the villain was more tortured soul than actually evil (Rhys Ifans as Curt Connor/the Lizard), that would be in keeping with the comic book narrative.

Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the films I had seen a decade and a half earlier. Still, it was time well-spent. I’m still warming up to the new Spider-Man. But that’s a story for another time.

Comic book creator John Byrne is 70

FantaCo Chronicles

John ByrneBack in my FantaCo days, John Byrne saved my bacon. Twice.

For those of you who are not comic book fans, Byrne is a British-born writer and artist of superhero comics. Notably, he had a stellar run with Chris Claremont that made the X-Men the most popular title in the Marvel Universe starting in the late 1970s. He’s worked on many Marvel titles and a few from DC, as you can see here. In 1981, Byrne took over the writing and drawing of Marvel’s first superhero group, the Fantastic Four.

When I worked at FantaCo, we created a series of magazines about Marvel characters. The first was the X-Men Chronicles in 1981, which I edited, with a cover by former X-Men artist Dave Cockrum, It turned out to be monumentally successful, with a print run of 50,000.

The next two were to cover the Fantastic Four, edited by me, and Daredevil, compiled by Mitch Cohn, in early 1982. I no longer know how we did it, but we were able to get several name artists and writers to participate in our project.

Wait, Tom Skulan, publisher and store owner, remembers that several came directly from other artists who had done work for us “who felt that their friends would appreciate the high rates we were paying.” Mitch, in particular, often pumped creators for other phone numbers.

We DID have an impressive Rolodex. (Hey, kids: a Rolodex is “a rotating file device used to store business contact information. Its name is a portmanteau of the words rolling and index.” I have my red one SOMEWHERE, I think.)

Problem solver

spider-man chroniclesJohn Byrne agreed not only to do the front cover of the Fantastic Four Chronicles but the centerspread. He also wrote A Personal Reflection re: the FF. We needed to print the front and back covers of the Fantastic Four and Daredevil Chronicles “two-up”, i.e., at the same time.

The problem is that I didn’t have the back cover from prominent artist George Perez. What to do, what to do?

Finally, I called Byrne, who suggested using his front cover as the back cover as well. No charge. Eventually, the Perez cover showed and we used it as the inside back cover. It bumped a piece by local artist Joe Fludd, who was/is a big Perez fan. George, BTW, did the cover for the Avengers Chronicle, edited by Mitch.

I’m working on the Spider-Man Chronicles. Spider-Man was my favorite character. Mitch got Frank Miller, who had done the Daredevil Chronicles cover, to agree to do the same for Spidey. Then, at the last moment, Miller called and pulled out! I have everything else finished.

In desperation, I call John Byrne. Can he whip up SOMETHING? And quickly? I swear that four days later, the cover arrives in the mail. And it’s great! The book schedule is saved.

I haven’t kept up with Byrne since I largely gave up reading comics in the mid-1990s. I know that he and his X-Men collaborator Chris Claremont were entered into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2015. But thanks, John Byrne. And happy natal day.

May rambling #1: The Case Against Reality

I had a terrible blogging April, but because I work ahead, it wasn’t always evident.

c 19651965 edition of “Our New Age”[/caption]

The Case Against Reality. A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.

Song Of My Self-Help: Follow Walt Whitman’s ‘Manly Health’ Tips, appearing in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. It was uncovered by a University of Houston student, and includes: “The beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat.”

The Neverending Workday – A pervasive cultural norm of work devotion leaves many employees with little time for family, friends, or sleep.

In rural Maine, a life of solitude and larceny. Police say hermit stole to survive 27 years in woods.

What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money?

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight. Continue reading “May rambling #1: The Case Against Reality”

June rambling #2: composer James Horner, and coloring books

John Oliver: Helen Mirren Reads the Most Horrible Parts of the Torture Report and What the Internet Does to Women.

The Internet Age of Mean.

11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility for its Racism. “The pernicious impact of ‘white fragility.'” Slurs: Who Can Say Them, When, and Why. And Churches Are Burning Again in America.

President Obama’s extraordinary eulogy in Charleston, SC.

A black man and a white woman switch mics, and show us a thing or two about privilege.
Continue reading “June rambling #2: composer James Horner, and coloring books”