The Avengers

Summary: If you like action movies, comic book movies, special effects, Jos Whedon’s work, or pop culture experiences: go see it. It’s worth seeing on a big screen with the sound a bit too loud.

Fair warning, there will be spoilers below. If you have a problem with that stop reading now.

As some of you may know, I’ve been an Avengers fan for the majority of my life. I was thirteen years old when I picked up a copy of West Coast Avengers issue #31. The next month I picked up Avengers #291, and from there on I was hooked. I own 90% of the issues published (including the myriad of spin-offs) between 1963 and 2006, when I decided to spend my discretionary money on LEGO instead of comics which just become increasingly difficult to store over time. I grew into my adulthood with the Avengers. I said this to give some context so that you might understand why I had been dreading and looking forward for this movie to come out ever since they released the first Iron Man movie in 2008.

Because it’s exceedingly early in the morning and I’m feeling like rambling, I will say that Iron Man is not my favorite Avenger. That would be Hawkeye, followed pretty closely by Captain Marvel (Monica Lambeau), She-Hulk, Captain America, and Hank Pym (Yes, really: Hank Pym). However the first Iron MAn movie was really excellently done. The updated the origin story in a way that made sense, they cast a nearly ideal actor for Tony Stark, and it really worked on a lot of levels and was very enjoyable to watch. For me it really hasn’t lost much of it’s luster either and when I saw it earlier today on the big screen again, it was still a thrill. It also started a flicker of hope that when the eventual Avengers movie arrived it would be worth seeing.

Oh yeah: I arrived at a local movie theater today at 11:10am so that I could watch Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk (Edward Norton version, not the crappy Ang Lee versions), Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and then (at midnight) The Avengers. To be honest I had already been planning on doing essentially this at home however the allure of doing so with a big screen, though without a pause button, was too much to pass up, and I’m glad I did it. It was an excellent opportunity to interact with fellow fans of all kinds and see the movies in a format that does them credit. It doesn’t quite feel like I actually spent 16 hours at the theater yet, though I’m pretty sure it will in the morning. Well, later this morning. Or perhaps this afternoon. Anyway…

As I said on Twitter while waiting for the traffic to clear out of the parking lot: I have a few quibbles with the movie but overall it was quite good and I am likely to see it at least one more time in the theater. I think it was true to the spirit of the comics and worked pretty well in the universe they’ve created with the movies so far. I was thrilled to see Maria Hill as a character, and a pretty kick-ass one at that, and having Hawkeye as a founding member in this version of the Avengers was a treat for me though really not nearly enough of him since he spent half the movie on the bad guy’s team against his own free will.

It was every bit a Joss Whedon movie. Long sections following a particular piece of the action without a cut. Witty dialog and the almost trademark humor. And he kills off a fan favorite character. I’ve really enjoyed the Agent Coulson character through the various movies. The way the actor continued to pull off understatement in the face of everything going on around him in some cases had him stealing scenes. During the marathon they had specially shot introductions to each of the five preceding movies with just Coulson talking to the camera for a couple of minutes and they were all funny and endearing and added to the experience. (I’ll be shocked if they aren’t a DVD extra) For those who may not be familiar with Mr Whedon’s previous history on this point, it’s an actual thing. Assuming he had the choice, I can see why he picked Coulson. Hill didn’t have enough time on screen to have enough impact. Nick Fury is… well, Nick Fury. I’m sure he’ll die someday. Or maybe not. Hawkeye or The Black Widow? It’s not worth killing off a character you can milk for merchandising and possible sequels later. Any of the big three (Cap, Thor, Iron Man) is pretty close to inconceivable for somewhat obvious reasons, including the previous. Hulk? Ditto. I don’t really pay much attention to channels that might have leaked Coulson’s death before hand. I don’t actively avoid spoilers, but I don’t generally seek them out. So when The Avengers finally started to roll tonight I went into it actively watching for who I thought he might take out, and I didn’t see it coming. Here’s the thing: Having that sort of reputation means that every time he does it, the impact is lessened and in the case of a character I really liked and to some extent cared about, I think it seriously cheapened the whole thing.

Oh look, Mr. Whedon killed off somebody we care about again. Ho hum.

I think I’m pretty much done with that Mr. Whedon. We get the point. We got the point before Serenity. Now that you’ve done it in a movie that a hugely significant portion of the population of the western hemisphere is likely to see I think it’s time to move on before that horse you are beating becomes less then paste.

Moving on, we have the three female characters with names in the movie. I’m not sure if I should feel elated or disappointed that there were three real characters with speaking parts that were female in a mega-blockbuster comic book movie. Given the demographics at the marathon that I was at today, which was at least 30% women (Really. Yes, I was a little surprised. And clearly MANY, or possibly most, were there NOT because they came with their boyfriends) having 25% of the major cast being female isn’t too bad for this kind of movie. Somewhat more interesting was the kind of range I thought the characters had. Maria Hill is a soldier, and as previously mentioned a pretty kick-ass one. On the other end of the spectrum, Pepper Pots played a purely supporting role as essentially a wife (Sure, not married, but whatever). Granted, a wife that didn’t put up with much from her husband and can give back in kind but unlike the strong, take-charge Pepper Potts we saw in the first two movies the very first opportunity for her to leave town for safety she gets sent packing. And then there was Natasha Romanov, The Black Widow.

Of ALL of the characters who should have emotional issues in the Avengers, it’s the Hulk. It’s kind of his thing. Yes, occasionally in the comics for whatever reason he gets over it temporarily. It is always, however, temporary. Why in this movie is the Hulk over his anger issues but they go back to the 1960’s to play out the Widow/Hawkeye stuff? I can tell you, it wasn’t very good the first time around and it didn’t come off a lot better this time. I dunno, maybe I’m wrong on that point but it didn’t quite feel right. I’m looking forward to hearing a feminist deconstruction of the character.

One last set of thoughts, and then I really must go to bed.

In all of my time reading comics the cliche that has always irritated me most is the bit where the good guys have to fight one another for the first half of a story. I know some people seem to adore that bit and debate endless who could beat-up who scenarios but I was bored with them before I was done being a teenager and have only thought the pretense for that particular brand of fan-service to have gotten more and more irritating since then. It will surprise no one then when I saw that in some ways that the big fight between Thor and The Hulk was the most boring part of the movie. I really thought about going and getting some more pop, maybe stroll to the bathroom, and then take in some movie posters but I figured how long could they possibly take to wank on the screen? Nearly 20 minutes is the answer, and it was about 19 minutes too long. The bit not long after that where they’re all in a conference room and bickering? That was fine. That shows actual relationships and conflicts of interest and all sorts of interesting stuff. But who would win if Thor and the Hulk got in a fight and Captain America tries to break it up? WHO THE FUCK CARES! That said, the single punch delivered by Hulk to Thor in the big battle at the end? Unnecessary, but funny.

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New Marvel Trades on Nook (12/23/2011)

New Marvel Comics Available on Nook 12/23/2011

It’s been 11 days since the last batch of new comics got released which seems like an odd number but at a guess it is because Sunday is Christmas in the US and Monday seems to be the day many businesses are giving as a holiday. Could it be that instead of the world of physical comics, where a holiday means delayed shipments, that in the world of electronic comics we’ll have early shipments? It would be nice but it seems more likely that Marvel wanted more titles in the catalog for all the people who are about to receive a shiny new device in the next two days. In any case we’ll know if the two week release window is the general plan on or around Jan 9, 2012.

This release is fairly Spider-Man heavy gives us a little mix of vintages starting with a classic Avengers storyline in “Avengers Under Siege”. (Personal anecdote: That is the story that ran immediately before I started following the Avengers.) In a similarly dark tone we have the first collection from the recent “Dark Avengers”. Both of which I’m looking forward to reading through, Under Siege for the umpteenth time and Dark Avengers for the first.

The spate of Spider-Man titles that arrives this week continues the odd release pattern we’ve got going for most titles. Doing it right is the Ultimate line with the consecutive release of Volume 3 and continuing to make a mess of things is the release of the Civil War story (Pre-Brand New Day), the second volume immediately following Brand New Day, and a volume long AFTER Brand New Day (though previous to “Big Time” released last week), but still no Brand New Day. So for those of you keeping track that gives us the following contemporary issues of Amazing Spider-Man: #532-536, #546-558, #574-577, #648-651.

To balance the complaints about the order of release I do want to point out that at least there are digital releases and I personally find the reading experience to be quite good.

Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season!

New Marvel Trades on Nook (12/12/2011)

New Marvel Comics Available on Nook 12/12/2011

The list for this week includes a couple of firsts for the the Nook releases. First and foremost it’s the first 616 Spider-Man trades released (Ultimate Spider-Man vol 1 & 2 were much earlier) though it does show part of the problems in the release schedule by putting out books on either side of the One More Day special event without also publishing THAT story. Previous weeks have shown similar issues with the Civil War and Captain America assasination timeline and I expect that it will continue in that vein until someone can talk some sense to whatever poor intern got the job of getting this schedule together.

The second first is the inclusion of the Masterwork trades. Already owning them in physical form I am still debating if I’m going to pick them up or not though I would imagine they look as good as the modern stuff. It does at least point to some intention to publish some of the classics from the vault.

Marvel Comics on the Nook

I’ve been a Nook user since I got a free Color last Christmas and liked it enough to upgrade to the Tablet on day one (which honestly is a somewhat marginal upgrade) and also a long time Marvel Comics reader though a few years ago I had to decide financially between LEGO and Comics and then once my finances had stabilized I still wasn’t able to return to the comics because I just don’t have any space for them. So when the Nook Tablet announcement included news that Marvel would be publishing exclusively on the Nook platform I was incredibly excited.

Sadly that announcement said essentially nothing about what they would be publishing and several weeks in, some of the shine has worn off the thrill of finally being able to buy Marvel comics digitally however I can say that it has not been a total disappointment. Currently Marvel is only publishing trade collections for Nook and the selection is still somewhat small. Today there are a total of 48 items available in the special Marvel Comics section, and that includes the five new items that were the first new items in two weeks.

The pricing for the trades is decent, though probably nothing to look forward to if you have already bought any of these in print, generally maxing out at $16.74 (currently only for Planet Hulk) and as low as $5.59 for several good items. Most items are within a dollar of $10.

Users of the Nook software on other platforms should beware: These purchases are ONLY viewable on a Nook Tablet or Nook Color with the latest firmware. I’m hoping they open that up a bit some day and since I’m a Tablet owner I’m don’t have too much of a problem with it, but it really feels like a purely artificial imposition for no good reason.

The reading experience is pretty good if not perfect. The default display is a full page taking up the entire screen and the text is quite readable and the graphics come through well. If you want to see detail a quick tap zooms in for a closer look. Tilting the device into landscape mode will resize to display two pages which is handy for big spreads, though makes the text unreadable at that size. Additionally the TOC navigation is visual rather then by page number so it makes it really easy to move around.

The actual problem from my point of view is the what they are publishing and when they are publishing them. Early in the release cycle they published books on either side of the story where Captain America was assassinated without publishing the story where the assassination happened. They seem to be keeping with that kind of idiocy with this week’s publishing of Spider-Man trades on either side of the One More Day storyline, though hopefully they’ll follow up next week with that story as well. The assassination story I wasn’t as bothered by since I had already read that one in print. I have not read the Spider-Man story and so it feels a bit spoilerish to be reading what happens afterwards and I might wait till they correct that oversight before I actually crack that one open.

The initial point of this post however was to make a note of the items that are available when they are released since I can not seem to find anywhere else on the net that talks about it and figured it might be useful for someone else. I’ve been checking the store daily for awhile so hopefully will keep this up for at least awhile in some format.

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Comic Thoughts: Iron Man Disassembled

A friend recently bought the Iron Man Disassembled tpb and I mentioned how I had thought it was one of the worst Iron Man stories in quite awhile. Unfortunately when challenged for specifics I actually couldn’t quite remember why, but I did remember the story leaving a bad taste in my mouth that was only fixed four issues into Warren Ellis rebooting the series not too long afterwards. So I borrowed her copy and figured out what I thought the problems were.

I think I should preface this by saying a few things about what I think about Iron Man. As some people who know me already know, I have a deep and abiding enjoyment of Marvel’s team book, The Avengers. I got hooked with issue #31 of West Coast Avengers (I should really write something someday about that particular issue) and have since managed to assemble (heh) a great majority of a full run of issues of the main Avengers and probably close to 98% of the spin-offs and related titles. But the solo books for a lot of the characters have not really been nearly as interesting to me. I think it mostly has to do with enjoying the interplay between multiple important characters in a story rather than focusing on a primary hero and their entourage. That said I have significant runs of both Captain America and Iron Man and at various times have even been a regular reader of both series but it has always been easy for me to drop the titles when they get stupid. Just to pull out a random example: I have never, ever, ever seen an Iron Man story involving time travel to the middle ages that was not entirely stupid.

So, about the Disassembled storyline. The tpb collects issues 84-89 of Vol 3 which contains two rather distinct stories. The first one “Prologue” is written by John Jackson Miller and the second, “The Singularity”, written by Mark Ricketts.

“Prologue” was published as a, well, prologue to the Avengers Disassembled event and is by far the better of the two stories in the book. It has excellent characterization, a decent plot (for a super hero fight comic), and a decent core idea about conflict of interest that is explored in a very appropriate context, in this case Tony Stark’s dual role as U.S. Secretary of State and member of the Avengers which at the time was a United Nations sponsored organization. The dual role theme is explored further, if lightly, in reference to the Avengers as a United Nations organization on U.S. soil as well as the Avenger’s Mansion originally being a family home for the Stark’s back in the mists of time, and finally circling back to the classic superhero problem of maintaining a dual identity. In this case Tony Stark is public about his identity as Iron Man but still finds the demands on his two very different jobs/persona’s as businessman and hero to be in conflict. The story is handled well in two issues with a well executed split between the talky first half and the more action oriented (though still somewhat talky) resolution in the second half. The art is good, if not exceptional. In particular I really enjoy the use of lots of other characters to flesh out the world. Little conversations with all sorts of people who exist in this over the top world are what make the Marvel Universe alive and compelling to read for me. The snatches of dialog with the protesters, or Jarvis getting help setting the table for formal dinner are what make the Marvel Universe worth reading and John Jackson Miller understands this and does it well. It however not without it’s flaws: Finding a forgotten cold war doomsday machine in the Avengers basement is about as hackneyed as you can get, but handling it as a macguffin to frame the conflict of interest theme works reasonably well.

With “The Singularity” we have an almost diametrically opposite example of a comic. To begin with, I find the jaundiced color scheme to be off-putting at best and just plain ugly. While I’m glad that someone is taking chances with the art in a comic book, it’s so sad that it has to fail so spectacularly. Yes, red and gold are the classic Iron Man colors, we get it already. Now please try not to make one of the pages look like the regurgitated results of last night’s bender. The story is a frightful example of not one, but two of my most hated comic plots: The Ham-Handed RetCon and the Tie Up Loose Ends So We Can Reboot Faux Epic. As far as I can tell, the assignment was handed out with the following instructions:

  • Revert all character development that has happened in the past 4 years
  • Do not make more than vague references to the events in the other books
  • Find a way to incorporate Happy and Pepper back into Tony’s life, but don’t bother thinking about it too much
  • Make sure the U.S. Military Iron Man units can not be used anymore
  • Clean up any other hanging plot hooks that may be laying around
  • Oh yeah, and spread it all across four issues

What results is, unsurprisingly, a dreadful mess. The mild attempts to interject the same kind of local color that was so successful in Prologue comes off as both trite and overdone. The story ends up being one cold and lifeless scene after another especially when any attempt to convey any real emotion is attempted. In the eight panels across two pages near the end of issue 87 where Tony’s latest ex-love interest is killed I felt nothing. This is a character that I have followed for a large portion of my life (as scary as that is) and a major character in his recent story is killed off and I barely even noticed. I, a guy who tears up reliably near the end of even the most mediocre romantic comedy, is unaffected by what is, in theory, a major event. Is it the art, the story, the plot, the characterization, or a combination of any or all of the above that is preventing me from taking this at all seriously? I’m not sure but the rest of it is about the same: big fight, reveal of the villain, miraculous intervention by the entourage, moody aftermath, more moody aftermath, yet more moody aftermath, and still more moody aftermath with a side of faint glimmer of sunlight, finally the big reveal of the real villain for no good reason. After all of which you put the book down and forget all of it in the next five minutes, if you’re lucky. It is dull, bland, emotionless drivel from beginning to interminably late end. No wonder a reboot was needed if this is how they go out with a bang.

When I made the comment that I linked to back at the beginning of this post I had not realized that “Prologue” had been included in the collection and can almost see picking getting this collection just for that story except for people who actually care you can probably source the actual issues for less money and you won’t be left with two thirds of your purchase being essentially unreadable.

Thank goodness there were other stories in the Avengers Disassembled event that were worth reading with Thor Disassembled being my personal favorite and really worth the purchase. It also suffers from a lack of coherence with the rest of the Disassembled stories but it really stands by itself very well.

At the other end of the spectrum there are actually worse things put out in the same event with a really tough call between Spectacular Spider-Man Disassembled and Captain America and The Falcon Disassembled being the worst. Spectacular Spider-Man starts out with a good lead by using a character who is not an Avenger and having absolutely no discernible link not only to any of the other Disassembled stories but also to any of the rest of the earlier, concurrent, or following Spider-Man continuity but is quickly equaled in Cap & Falcon by incredibly bad art, ludicrous plot, and dialog most likely plagiarized from an emo 13 year old’s fanfic project for something like Liberty Meadows or Strangers in Paradise.

The Horror

I just don’t know if I can even begin to be properly pessimistic about the chance that the newly announced series of Avengers movies is going to be even watchable. Have you seen the travesty that is The Ultimate Avengers Movie? It’s not even like the recent Marvel movies have been really very good. The decline in quality is obvious, and by the time they get around to this long list it will be Captain America all over again.

A few weeks of comics all in one shot:

A few weeks of comics all in one shot:

  • Marvel Comics:
    • Avengers 52 (May 2002) & 53 (Jun 2002) – The Kang the Conqueror storyline thunders onward to it’s conclusion in issue 54. In a lot of ways I’m really looking forward to it ending, and in a lot of ways I’m not. A friend of mine was asking about team comic books the other week and I really had to recommend against him picking up the Avengers for several particular reasons. 1) Right now is a really bad time to start since it’s so close to the end of a really long and involved storyline. 2) While it would provide a good introduction to a lot of the characters, there is not a core team right now which is what usually gives the book some sort of… coherency. And not one, two, or three love stories going on right now, but far too many to count really. It’s kind of bizarre. 3) Right now they are playing fast and loose with almost 4 decades of continuity and it’s all kind of piling up into a really big rat’s nest. So, I’ve been avoiding saying whether these are any good to read, and I have to say, I’m not really sure. The payoff had better be good, and having read a lot of Busiek, I don’t think he’s going to disappoint.
    • Captain America Vol 4, No 1 (Jun 2002) – Well, it was readable. I’m going to give it another 3 or 4 issues and see how it does, but as it stands it sounds like someone heard the “Come to Jesus” crap that Rumsfeld has been spewing for the past while and picked it up and ran with it. I don’t think I’ve seen so much jingoistic poo in my life. Ick.
    • Citizen V and the V-Battalion 3 (of 4) (Jun 2002) – I really like this story. I can’t figure out why. Like the rest of the Marvel books, nothing in here seems to have any effect on anything else in the Marvel Universe anymore, but it’s actually pretty good. After I picked up The Authority recently, there are a LOT of parallels that can be drawn. This isn’t quite as good, but it’s still worth reading. Besides that, the end is in sight and FlagSmasher gets a present!
    • Fantastic Four 54 (June 2002) – YAY! The god-damned storyline from hell is finally over! Was there any real resolution? No. Was the story put together well? No. Was the art worth the effort of plowing through such horrible dialog? Not by a long shot. Should you read this book? Maybe next issue, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m giving it 1 more issue and if it doesn’t getting any better, I’m closing the box on my Fantastic Four and keeping my good memories and just going to forget the past year. Ick.
    • Iron Man 53 (May 2002) & 54 (June 2002) – Mike Grell is really hitting his stride with old Tinhead. There’s a storyline here that is interesting to read, and reasonably well drawn, even if Tony Stark once again looks like he’s barely 20. (LET THEM AGE, DAMN YOU!!) It’s the beginning of a new Mandarin dynasty, but does this look like there might just be a twist? We shall see. Good.
    • Marvel Knights 2 (Jun 2002) – I like the art pretty well, and the story is fairly interesting. I won’t get too far onto my continuity soap box, because I think you already know what I’m going to say. Definitely worth a read, if for no other reason the interaction between Daredevil and The Punisher, as mediated by the original Black Widow.
    • Taskmaster 3 (of 4) (Jun 2002) – I really like this series. A good anti-hero is just what I’ve been wanting lately, and this is filling that hole in spades. The manga influenced art is a little over the top, but what exactly did I expect? Worth reading.
    • Thunderbolts 63 (June 2002) – Things are coming together again. Hawkeye is finally going to be back in action, and that can only be good.
    • Icons: Tigra 2 (of 4) (June 2002) – I like it. It’s a lot like the Tigra of old, and it works.
  • MAX Comics
    • Black Widow Vol 3, No 1 (June 2002) – It’s a new Russian Widow, and it seems like an interesting story so far. I was a bit annoyed that they didn’t just keep with Natasha, who’s been playing the role just fine for the past 40 years, but this seems to work.
    • Howard the Duck No 4 (June 2002) – It had to happen sooner or later, but one of the better send ups of the Vertigo line of comics happens here, and is worth the read if you happen to read that other line of adult oriented comics.
  • DC Comics
    • The Power Company 3 (June 2002) – Busiek shows off that his pacing is worth the wait. The team is coming together finally, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series.
  • Dork Storm Press
    • Dork Tower 17 (March/April 2002) – The fun continues, and in good form. John Kovalic is probably the best humor comics writer in the business right now, and it shows.
    • PvP 5 (Mar 2002) – Want to read a really, really, really good Matrix parody? Want to see a cameo by Scott McCloud? You want to read this comic. Really you do.
  • Image Comics
    • Powers 19 – Wow. Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow. The secret origin of FG-3! Another death! Walker on his knees! This is just amazing stuff.
  • Vertigo Comics
    • Transmetropolitan 55 (Jun 2002) – Some better action sequences than I think I’ve seen in this book. Works well, but I really kind of wish there was just a bit more plot to bring the story along.