A long goodbye: a review of Avengers Infinity War Part 1

In a rare change, I saw a movie on the weekend of its release. I kept Friday free because I had a bit of a cold and an eye abrasion that I wanted some quiet time to heal (no court, in other words).

I slept in and by mid-morning felt so much better that I wanted something to do. Since the Avengers movie debuted the night before, I thought I would see if an afternoon show would be too crowded.

The theater was half-full even at 1:30 on a Friday afternoon with school in session. It was not too crowded and sat back with my popcorn to enjoy the show.

Wikipedia has a nice plot summary, so I am using this with my own comments added. If you are concerned about SPOILERS skip the regular font – my comments are in italics on the right side of the page.

I hate continued movies (Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean), paying full price for half a film … but I must admit I liked this movie very much and cannot wait for the conclusion.

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SPOILERS AHEAD!

From Wikipedia:

Having acquired the Power Stone from the planet Xandar, Thanos and his followers—Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive—intercept the ship carrying the survivors of Asgard’s destruction. Thor, Loki and Hulk are powerless to protect the Asgardians. Heimdall uses the Bifröst to send Hulk to Earth before being killed. Loki gives Thanos the Tesseract to spare Thor’s life, but is killed after attempting to kill Thanos, who departs with his followers and obliterates the ship.

The movie starts about twenty minutes after Uncle Thor’s Goofy House of Wacky Fun (e.g. Thor: Ragnarok) – hereinafter called GHWF – leaves off. The so-called humor of GHWF still infects this scene like a late-stage venereal disease. But it does not last long. Perhaps the producers finally realized that the genocide of an entire culture is not the place for fart jokes.

Hulk crash-lands at the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City, reverting to Bruce Banner. He warns Stephen Strange and Wong about Thanos’ plan to kill half of all life in the universe. In response, Strange recruits Tony Stark. Maw and Obsidian arrive to retrieve the Time Stone from Strange. After a battle including Peter Parker, Maw captures Strange; Stark and Parker pursue Maw’s spaceship, while Banner contacts Steve Rogers.

Thus tying in the excellent Doctor Strange movie and bringing into conflict the two most egotistical characters in the Marvel CU: Stephen Strange and Tony Stark. Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr excel here.  It is a joy watching these two superb actors relishing their roles.   It almost makes you forget their equally wonderful casting choice for Spider-Man.  Here the humor is in character and appropriately placed – it would have to be with Strange and Iron Man trying to out-pompous each other!

Oddly, Mark Ruffalo is given little to do – intimating the Hulk does NOT want to metamorphose back. Is he scared? Will this tiny but interesting bit of characterization be explored in the second movie? I hope so.

In Scotland, Midnight and Glaive ambush Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson rescue them, and they take shelter with James Rhodes at the new Avengers Facility. Vision offers to sacrifice himself by having Maximoff destroy the Mind Stone in his forehead to keep Thanos from retrieving it. Rogers suggests they travel to Wakanda, which he believes has the resources to remove the stone without destroying Vision.

Seeing Captain America is the thrill of this scene. Chris Evans captures the essence of Cap as much as Downey does Iron Man’s. Viewing CA: Civil War is VITAL to understanding the interactions between most of the characters in this and later scenes.

The Guardians of the Galaxy respond to a distress call from the Asgardian ship and rescue Thor. He surmises Thanos seeks the Reality Stone, which is in the possession of the Collector at Knowhere. Rocket and Groot accompany Thor to Nidavellir to retrieve a weapon to kill Thanos. There, they and Eitri create Stormbreaker, an enchanted axe. Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis find Thanos at Knowhere with the Reality Stone already in his possession. Thanos kidnaps Gamora, his adoptive daughter, who reveals the location of the Soul Stone to save her captive adoptive sister Nebula from torture. Thanos and Gamora travel to Vormir, a planet where Red Skull, keeper of the Soul Stone, informs him the stone can only be retrieved by sacrificing someone he loves. Thanos reluctantly throws Gamora to her death, granting him the Soul Stone.

The Guardians provide most of the humor of the movie and it works wonderfully. Most of Thor’s quips are pulled back to his pre-GHWF days: calling Rocket a rabbit, etc. (Gee, a funny comment in keeping with his chraracter? To quote Thor in his previous movie: “What the hell?!”) The humor of Drax, Starlord and Mantis, are so appropriate ad in-character it finally reveals how forced Thor’s “comic” quips (I will never call these exchanges “dialogue”) are. Fortunately, it appears the adult writers threw out the childish ones when the scene shifted to Nidavellir and Thor became the more serious character he was meant to be.

And Nidavellir was exactly as I imagined it to be since the first Thor movie said the nine realms were really nine planets – steampunk on a cosmic scale! Peter Dinklage’s cameo as a dwarf was a highlight – as was making this “dwarf” tower over everyone else!

It was during the Nidavellir scene I realized what was happening. Three groups (the two Avenger splinters and the Guardians) split up and tackle different parts of the problem – holy moley! It’s a Gardner Fox JLA-JSA team-up!

Nebula escapes captivity and requests the remaining Guardians meet her on Titan, Thanos’ destroyed homeworld. Stark and Parker eject Maw from his ship and rescue Strange. Landing at Titan, they meet Quill, Drax, and Mantis. Strange uses the Time Stone to view millions of possible futures and states there is only one in which Thanos loses. The group forms a plan to confront Thanos and remove the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos arrives, justifying his plans to Strange as necessary to ensure the survival of a universe threatened by overpopulation. The group subdues him until Nebula deduces Thanos has killed Gamora. Enraged, Quill retaliates, which breaks the group’s hold on Thanos, and he overpowers them. After Strange surrenders the Time Stone in exchange for Thanos sparing Stark, Thanos departs for Earth.

Another superb battle scene!

Upon arriving in Wakanda, Rogers reunites with Bucky Barnes. The Avengers task Shuri with extracting the Mind Stone. Thanos’ army invades and the Avengers mount a defense alongside King T’Challa and the Wakandan forces. Banner, unable to transform into the Hulk, fights in Stark’s upgraded Hulkbuster armor. Thor, Rocket, and Groot arrive on Earth and rally the defenders. Midnight, Obsidian and Glaive are killed and their army is routed. Thanos arrives and retrieves the Mind Stone from Vision, destroying him. Despite being severely wounded by Thor, Thanos activates the complete Infinity Gauntlet and teleports away.

There were prior battle scenes? The fight for Wakanda is so massive and incredible it makes us forget all that came before it. It compares with the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in Return of the King. Yes, I am comparing this movie to Return of the King.

Awesome. I am using the word in its original sense.

Watch Captain America and Black Panther run ahead of the other warriors. Pure athleticism and a wonderful small bit that will stick with me every time I think of this movie.

Thor’s appearance almost made me stand and cheer. Here is the son of Odin as he should be.

Thanos’ plan comes to fruition as half of all life across the universe disintegrates, including Barnes, Drax, Groot, Mantis, Maximoff, Parker, Quill, Strange, T’Challa, and Wilson. Nebula and Stark remain on Titan, while Banner, M’Baku, Okoye, Rhodes, Rocket, Rogers, Romanoff, and Thor are left on the Wakandan battlefield. Thanos, healed, retreats to a small nipa hut as he watches the sunset in satisfaction.

Omnipotent villains in comics always bugged me. Why doesn’t Thanos just wipe out ALL of the Avengers/Guardians and/or wipe them from existence since he has the power? It will be interesting to see what the remaining heroes do.

In the post-credits scene, Nick Fury transmits a distress signal as he and Maria Hill, amongst others, disintegrate. The device displays a red-and-blue star insignia.

This is what the post-credit scene should be – a tease of thing to come. “James Bond will return”. It introduces (kind of) Captain Marvel.

***

So there it is.

I liked the movie very much but will hold off until the movie is “done” with the second part before I decide on a scale. It is always a thrill to see Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man –  and since Evans has already said he is “resigning” as Cap we must enjoy them while we can. Both actors have yet to disappoint even if their movies do.

I saw it in 3D. Don’t bother … except for the Wakanda battle the movie is darkly filmed – so much that I had to remove the glasses in some scenes just to see what was going on. Perhaps the lack of lighting helped keep them under budget?

Thanos was an excellent villain – he was not a raving lunatic but determined, pensive and … thoughtful. We have no doubt he thinks he is doing the right thing. Well, perhaps not the RIGHT thing, but the ONLY thing that resolves the problems of the universe as he sees it. Someone has to make the hard decisions, no one else can do it but him. It makes him even scarier…

The plot of infinity War is well-thought-out, the heroes each have their time to shine (which granted is not long). Given the scope of the movie, the action and characterization is VERY well-balanced.

And damn that entire Wakandan battle scene was cool!

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***

About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Captain America: The Great Gold Steal by Ted White, a review.

Bantam Books published July 1968; 118 pages; the story starts on page 1! There are no illustrations or ads in the book.

This paperback book was NOT part of the Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books Marvel Novel series. In fact, this book was released ten years prior.

Because of the phenomenal success of the Batman TV show, in 1966 and 1967 everything comic book-y was all the rage.

Marvel wanted to cash in on the rage by publishing novel-length prose paperbacks of their superhero line. For some unknown reason, Marvel’s owner, Martin Goodman, did not want to license his two best-sellers – Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four – but he allowed an Avengers book, published in 1967 as The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker by legendary comic book writer Otto Binder.

The book tanked – either because of the poor-writing style (hard to believe with Otto Binder, but supposedly Binder knew nothing of the “Marvel Style” and Stan Lee did not approve of the assigned writer) or lack of promotion on Marvel’s part (perhaps because of Lee’s dislike of choice of author). The latter argument has some meat to it. If Marvel hyped this paperback the way it hyped its comics and cartoons, it would have done reasonably well. It would not have outsold One Hundred Years of Solitude, but …

Because the Avengers book was such a bust, the follow-up novel with Captain America was not published until July of 1968. It sold about 98,000 copies and only had one printing.

Author Ted White is the Hugo-award winning author of the Qanar series published by Lancer. He acknowledges his homage to Doc Savage in this Captain America novel.

The unsigned cover is by Mitchell Hooks who also did, among his many other works, the movie poster for Doctor No. Ted White also acknowledges his love of Ian Fleming in this Captain America novel.

And what a fun mix of Doc Savage-pulp and James Bond this story is!

Throughout this series of novels I read the book before looking up anything about it. That way I am not influenced by the reviews and commentary of others. All through the story I imagined this could have been re-written as a Doc Savage story with very little effort.

And I knew I was onto a Doc Savage homage when one of the characters was named Monk.

The prior (later) Captain America novel Holocaust for Hire was also pulpy fun, but for a younger audience. This novel was aimed at all ages.

A “tsk-tsk” goes to Mr. White for his dedication: “To Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, without whom there would be no Captain America”. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Captain America. Without them, there would be no Captain America. Even Stan would admit that.

An unidentified man was mysteriously killed searching for Captain America. The police and Cap discover he was killed by a laser to the back!! He had a gold ingot in his pocket – from the US Federal Reserve in the heart of New York.

Cap and some police officers head down to the vaults containing the billions of gold bars and find the thieves access from an abandoned subway tunnel – they had already stolen millions of dollars of bars.

Cap goes into the tunnel to find a thief still there! After dispatching the crook, Cap lifts the receiver of the radio in the tunnel. One of the lieutenants on the other end detonates an explosive in the tunnel – they think Captain America is killed!

But because of his incredible training and physique, Cap works his way out of the rubble.

The lieutenants of the gold thieves were named Sparrow, Starling and Raven. We learn they work for the Eagle – all very pulpish, too!

They eventually capture Captain America and resume their theft of the gold. Captain America escapes and follows the lieutenants to their lair on Staten Island where the identity of the Eagle is finally revealed!

The revelation and conclusion literally takes place in the last four pages of the story.

I particularly enjoyed the prose on Cap’s physical abilities – something straight out of a Doc Savage novel! For example – controlling his healing ability and consciously increasing his adrenaline to work his way out of the rubble caused him to lose seven pounds.

The author spends almost a quarter of the novel on Captain America’s origin. Since it was so well done I am not complaining. I enjoyed how he added more pulpish-ness to the origin. It was not just a chemical formula injected into weak Steve Rogers, but Rogers was also – prior to the injection of the super-serum – put through months of physical training, examination of his bio systems and even his DNA and RNA (acknowledging that Dr. Erskine was decades ahead of his time).  Interestingly, steel rods were put into his bone marrow for strength and to allow his bones to support the extra musculature. Early shades of Wolverine there …

Odd that the book begins with a two-page recap of the Captain’s origin, but then given much more details beginning on page 13.

As a super-hero book, The Great Gold Steal is good but not great. As the Marvel Novel Series shows, it is hard to transfer the visual impact of a comic book into prose form – as good as some of the stories are. The weaker novels are simply prose versions of the comic book.

However, as a pulp book, The Great Gold Steal is wonderful fun! Narrow escapes, bone-crunching battles and a dum-dum-duuuuummmm-style reveal of the true villain – not once but twice! Some bad guys are not as they seem!

Better to think of this book as a pulp novel. If this were a new Doc Savage or Avenger (Richard Benson, not the Marvel super-team) tale, it might have been better received.

Original Material Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Bantam Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

Captain America: Holocaust for Hire!!

#4: Captain America: Holocaust for Hire by Joseph Silva.

Released April 1, 1979

The book is 191 pages long, although the story begins at page 9.

Joseph Silva is a pseudonym for Ron Goulart. From Wikipedia: “Ron Goulart (born January 13, 1933) is an American popular culture historian and mystery, fantasy and science fiction author. … (of) … many novelizations and other routine work under various pseudonyms: Kenneth Robeson (pen name), Con Steffanson (pen name), Chad Calhoun, R.T. Edwards, Ian R. Jamieson, Josephine Kains, Jillian Kearny, Howard Lee, Zeke Masters, Frank S. Shawn, and … Joseph Silva.”  He also wrote (as Silva) #2 Stalker from the Stars.

The cover artist is Dave Cockrum, a comic book artist known for his legendary stints on Legion of Super-heroes and X-Men.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

Gratmens: character Jake Sheridan mentions “great teams” and includes Rodgers & Hart, Laurel & Hardy and Simon & Kirby. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America.

 

An African city is destroyed by an earthquake. We learn that it MAY have been a sonic device created by Dr. Gregory Crandall, a sonic scientist who has disappeared. We meet Dr. Crandall and his daughter being held hostage in a wintry villa.

Captain America, meanwhile, batters his way through New York’s underworld to find the doctor.

Also meanwhile, a Nazi (no spoilers, it is obvious with his mentions of a Fourth Reich and a Master Race), who we met in Chapter 1, was responsible for the African earthquake, as well as others throughout the world; makes a deal with a Texas millionaire.

Captain America reports to Nick Fury and Shield before heading to the chalet in which Dr. Crandall may be kept. They suspect the involvement of Cap’s old enemy – the Red Skull

Cap, Fury and Shield fight off the Skull’s forces in the chalet before the villain can escape with Dr. Crandall in tow. Some detective work leads our heroes on separate paths to Skull Island in the Pacific, but not before Nick Fury and the two reporters also investigating the story are kidnapped!

Can Captain America make it to Skull Island and rescue all the hostages before the Red Skull can use his sonic machine to destroy the world?

 

By page 45 we flash back to World War II and a ten-page origin story for Captain America.  A little further along we learn the origin of the Red Skull. More pages are spent on the Skull’s story than Cap’s. Perhaps the average reader would not know about how the Red Skull became the Red Skull and survived after WWII. True, it showed the depth of evil within the Skull, but was not integral to the plot (compared to Doctor Doom’s thorough origin story in book #5 Fantastic Four Doomsday).

Nor is there much made of how Captain America still exists in the present day (he was frozen in ice near the end of WWII) and is only mentioned in a few lines. Perhaps the writer thought that was not as important or that most readers would KNOW that fact, but NOT know his origins.

Caroline’s escape from the chalet was VERY well-paced and exciting! Kudos to Silva!

Cap never takes off his mask – we never see anything about Steve Rogers and his private life. This echoes the comics at the time, too…

This book is the most pulpy of the Marvel Novel Series published to date. Perhaps it is the involvement of neo-Nazis wanting to conquer the world and our masked hero with no real civilian identity. Regardless, it was a fun read!

But something nagged me while reading the novel: a scientist was captured, our hero befriends the daughter of the scientist and, with the help of original characters and his frenemy from the comic book series (in this case, Nick Fury), confront and win over the mad dictator before he can use the scientist’s invention to rule (or if not rule, destroy) the world!  Sound familiar? It was also the plot to Novel #3: The Incredible Hulk: Cry of the Beast!

Red Skull discussing New York City:  “To crush them all beneath brick and stone and concrete, to send their steel and glass towers crashing down on them … “.  Well, reading THAT was uncomfortable…

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

Celebrating the 200th issue of … every comic book ever!

200 and counting!

My 200th blog. That may not be a big deal for writers who blog every day – they’d hit 200 by July of their first year of blogging. But it’s a big deal for me! That’s a lot of writing!

Ironically I am in the middle of a blog series commemorating the comic books released by DC comics during the US Bicentennial of July 1976. If you collected 25 of the 33 comics published with the Bicentennial banner cover and you will get a free Superman belt buckle.

A comic book reaching its 200th milestone is a big deal. Probably more so nowadays with the constant rebooting and relaunching of titles, it is not likely we’ll see many comics go all the way to number 200. It still happens, though: Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man released its 200th issue on June 2014.

#200 anniversary issues were usually a larger-than-normal-sized comic (with a larger price tag of course) and a special story or the rip-roaring conclusion of a story arc. But that was usually in the bronze age and beyond. Earlier comics (before 1970) usually didn’t care about their 200th issue.

Some of these comics didn’t even mention their 200th anniversary issue other than their standard numbering:

Action_Comics_200

Action Comics: January 1955

Adventure_Comics_200

Adventure Comics: May 1954

Detective_Comics_200

Detective Comics: October 1953

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House of Mystery: May 1972. Great cover by Neal Adams here.

Strange_Adventures_200

Strange Adventures: May 1967

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Star Spangled War Stories: July 1976.

This in particular was a real shame at a missed opportunity. Dated July 1976, the 200th anniversary of the USA and this landmark was not even mentioned in a cover blurb, only the letter column gave it some attention.

Compare that to Captain America #200 with an August 1976 cover date:

 Captain_America_Vol_1_200

Others included:

Blackhawk_Vol_1_200

Blackhawk: September 1964

Millie_the_Model_Vol_1_200

Millie the Model: February 1973

and Superman: October 1967 and Wonder Woman: June 1972 (reprinted below)

Older Archie comics were not known for celebrating their 200th issues:

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Archie: June 1970

Betty & Veronic

Archie’s Girls Betty & Veronica: August 1972

Laugh Archie

Laugh: November 1967

Pep

Pep: December 1966

Jughead

Jughead: January 1972

Life with Archie

Life with Archie: December 1978

betty-and-me

Betty & Me: August 1992

 

Cotber 72

October 1972

 

May 2005

May 2005

Again, this could be a Bronze Age or later thing … in fact, only Betty & Me from 1992 gives the anniversary even a cover blurb.

Harvey comics? Only three of the comics they published made it to 200: their two main stars Richie Rich and Casper. And … Sad Sack!

Richie RichJuly 68Casper

But other Harvey comics? Wendy the Good Little Witch made it to the 50s in number of issues, Little Dot over 100…

The big two – Marvel & DC – being mostly in the superhero vein, were the ones who celebrated 200th anniversaries the most. Three characters – Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash – had two eponymous comics hit #200.

Wonder_Woman_Vol_1_200Wonder_Woman_Vol_2_200

Superman 200Superman_v.2_200

Flash_v.1_200Flash_v.2_200

 

Other DC comics that hit #200:

Batman_200

Batman: March 1968 (note this early celebration, but this was at the end of the Batman TV show craze …)

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Green Lantern: May 1986

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Our Army At War: December 1968

Superboy_Vol_1_200

Superboy starring the Legion of Superheroes 200: February 1974. Featuring the marriage of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel and starring all members, the Substitutes, the Wanderers and others!

GI_Combat_Vol_1_200

GI Combat: March 1977

Hellblazer_Vol_1_200

Hellblazer: November 2004

Superman_Family_Vol_1_200

Superman Family: April 1980

 Unexpected_200

Unexpected: July 1980

World's_Finest_Comics_200

World’s Finest: February 1971

Young_Romance_Vol_1_200

Young Romance: August 1974

(note these last two also had no real focus on their 200th issue)

***

 Marvel comics had their share of 200th anniversaries, too; aside from Captain America in August 1976:

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_200

Amazing Spider-Man: January 1980

Avengers_Vol_1_200

Avengers: October 1980

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_200

Fantastic Four: November 1978. This issue featured the “final” battle between Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom. Doom was killed at the end of this issue, true, but came back (as nearly all comics villains do) some issues later.

Incredible_Hulk_Vol_1_200

Incredible Hulk: June 1976

Kid_Colt_Outlaw_Vol_1_200

Kid Colt Outlaw: November 1975

Thor_Vol_1_200

Thor: June 1972

ConantheBarbarian200

Conan the Barbarian: November 1987

Daredevil_Vol_1_200

Daredevil November 1983

Iron_Man_Vol_1_200

Iron Man: November 1985

Marvel_Tales_Vol_2_200

Marvel Tales: June 1987

SavageSword200

Savage Sword of Conan: August 1992

The_Spectacular_Spider-Man_Vol_1_200

Spectacular Spider-Man: May 1993

Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_200

Uncanny X-Men: December 1985

What_If-_Vol_1_200

What If: February 2011

X-Factor_Vol_1_200

X-Factor: February 2010

X-Men_Vol_2_200

X-Men: August 2007

Other publishers: Looney Tunes: September 2011

 Looney_Tunes_Vol_1_200

and Charleton:

October 1972

October 1972

And more …

Spawn from January 2011 and Tarzan from June 1971…

And let us not forget one of the longest running comics of all time…

 

Adventures of the Big Boy

February 1974

And finally …

cerebus_200

 

 

My personal favorites?

 JLA_v.1_200

Justice League of America: March 1982. This comic featured all members of the JLA – the original team members were hypnotized into assembling pieces of a mcguffin that will bring one of their original villains back to full power. The subsequent members try to fight off the originals. Each battle is its own chapter with a different artist. In beautiful art by Joe Kubert, for example, Hawkman fights Superman. The Phantom Stranger/Aquaman/Red Tornado battle is the only artwork by Jim Aparo in Justice League of America. Lots of great art throughout.

 Brave_and_the_bold_200

Brave & Bold: July 1983. The final issue of my favorite comic of all time. Let me cheat and use the review from my free ebook: The Brave & the Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, a Guide to the DC Comic Book.  Available here.

Batman & Batman (Earth Two), Smell of Brimstone, Stench of Death” Writer: Mike W. Barr, Art: Dave Gibbons.  …

               Earth-Two, 1955 (the year B&B began): After a series of robberies, Batman and Robin finally defeat Brimstone. Earth-Two 1983: Hate is all that has kept Brimstone alive. His hatred of Batman is so great; when he hears of Batman’s death, his mind passes into his Earth-One counterpart where another hated Batman still lives! Earth-One 1983: Brimstone causes riots in Gotham and eventually traps Batman in the same lava “hell pit” Batman escaped 28 years before! Can Batman escape – er – again – in time to save Gotham, catch Brimstone and find out who the heck Brimstone is? Well of course he can, but he never figures out Brimstone’s Earth-Two secret. And he never will.

               “Batman and the Outsiders”, Writer: Mike W. Barr, Art: Jim Aparo. Batman and the Outsiders protect Mikos from his own terrorist subordinates – who vow to kill Mikos (under his own orders) for the glory of the cause!

               Oft-requested Batmite finally appears in Brave & Bold in a one page comic.

               For the first time since Nemesis, new characters were introduced – Halo, Geo-Force and Katana.  They are the first new B&B superheroes since Metamorpho, who is also a member of the new Outsiders.

               One last team-up and one last try-out.  The try-out was a success: the Outsiders going on to their own series (replacing Brave & Bold on DC’s roster along with New Talent Showcase) and lasting for several years afterward. Later incarnations link the Outsiders (still featuring the resurrected Metamorpho) as a splinter group of the Teen Titans.  Appropriately, both groups began in Brave & Bold. The third incarnation harks back to the Batman-formed play-by-their-own-rules meta group.

               It was trendy at DC for a while to introduce new groups by mixing new characters and old. At times it worked brilliantly (the Teen Titans); at times it was an utter failure (the Justice League of America). The Outsiders were another success.

 ***

Have I missed any? Most assuredly: Dell 4-Color, other Looney Tunes comics, etc.  I hope I didn’t leave out your favorite! But Happy 200 everyone!

 ***

Excerpt from The Brave & the Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, a Guide to the DC Comic Book copyright 2014 and reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Otherwise, original material copyright 2015 by Michael Curry

Images used are copyright their respective holders and reproduced here under the “Fair Use” doctrine of 17 USC 106 & 106a for the purposes of criticism and comment.

Some thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron

age of utlron

                (I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum and give you fair warning, but there’s nothing in this blog that you can’t find online elsewhere …)

I tend to see movies late in their runs. I don’t like crowded theaters so I usually wait until week two or three when the general masses have seen it once and the uber-fans have sated themselves during the week. Thus is this late review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

And not a review as such, more like some random thoughts akin to my blog on Guardians of the Galaxy.

Avengers Age of Ultron is doing very well. It is the biggest money-maker of the year so far and has grossed a billion dollars internationally.

It certainly doesn’t need me blogging about it to hype it. Fans will go see it whether I like it or not. And I did like it. A lot.

It was just like an Avengers comic book from the 1970s.

But …

What is that nagging feeling I have in the weeks after seeing it? There was something about the movie while I was watching it and afterwards that keeps pecking … and I think I finally know what it is…

***

               I certainly loved more of the movie than I disliked: casting James Spader as Ultron was a genius move – the casting director deserves a bonus! He probably already has gotten more than the artists and writers who created the characters in the movie … but that is another argument.

And the battle scenes and special effects are grand.

avengers

               I especially enjoyed the human elements of the movie – and the humanity shown by the characters – going out of their way to save innocent lives. Captain America’s line “I asked for a solution, not an escape plan” said more for heroism than any scene from the Man of Steel

Plus we finally get to see more of Hawkeye and his personal life – the one character from the first movie that had no real back story. An excellent one was provided.

The things I didn’t like about the movie were not what was niggling at me. These things didn’t ruin the movie for me; rather they made me go … “What?”

Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I was lost at the creation of Ultron. The McGuffin of this movie – apparently required in all Marvel/Disney movies – was the stone in Loki’s spear. Somehow the stone contained an artificial intelligence that Tony Stark and Bruce Banner injected into their Ultron defense system and thus activated him.

Somehow the system was imbued with Tony Stark’s personality (Ultron was referred to as an “anti-Stark” a few times). That left me scratching my head a bit. Was it because he took over Jarvis’ mentality and Jarvis had a bit of Stark’s personality? Did I miss or forget that from a previous Iron Man flick?

Regardless, it worked; James Spader’s voice-work perfectly emulated Robert Downey Jr’s vocal inflections and mannerisms. In another reality he could have been cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Brilliant stuff. And while he didn’t steal every scene he was in as was the case in the first movie with Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Spader/Ultron made a memorable villain.

(Small Spoiler Alert) And the romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner didn’t bother me. After Star Trek 5: My Eyes! Out Vile Jelly!’s fling between Scotty and Uhura, nothing like that bothers me anymore…   But I will say this – if Scarlett Johansson whispered to me that it was sundown and started rubbing my hand the last thing I would do is calm down…

***

               But none of that bugged me. I put my finger on the problem some days later while trolling my wall on Facebook. “Did you catch these Easter Eggs in Avengers: Age of Ultron?” shouted one article. I did not read the article, because it was my eureka moment – the problem I had with the movie hit me:

Avengers: Age of Ultron spent so much time being the flagship of the future Marvel cinematic universe it forgot, at times, to be Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The movie was burdened with being the gateway to future Marvel movies. It gave the film an “in-betweenness” it would not have had otherwise. With the exception of Godfather II, most sequels stink, especially when compared to the first and sometimes third movie. Two words: Indiana Jones. Even The Empire Strikes Back suffered from its “in-betweenness”. Great as it was, it was still the opening act for the third movie (and what a stinker that ended up being). Like the Pirates of the Caribbean and Matrix franchises, Movie 2 was basically part one of two.

Even before Age of Ultron’s release we knew what was going to happen next. Not just the Ant-Man movie, but we knew the next Avengers film will adapt the fantastic Infinity War storyline – and do it in two movies! A Black Panther movie is in the works. Captain America’s next movie will adapt the equally fantastic Civil War storyline and may give the now-aging stars of the Captain America and Iron Man franchises an excuse to bow out with a bang. Literally.

civil-war

               Age of Ultron crams all that in. They do not take away from the film to do it; which is why it clocks in at two and a half hours.

And I’m not talking about the now-mandatory mid- and post-credit teasers. Those are just that – teasers to thrill you as to what comes next (except for Thor the Dark World – I stuck around twenty minutes for THAT!? I could’ve been home by now).

So there’s nothing wrong with end-of-the-movie teasers. “James Bond will return…”

Remember when I said the movie was much like an Avengers comic book in the 1970s? Back then the comics would have a panel or two foreshadowing what is to come. “Who is that mysterious figure lurking in Avenger’s mansion? We’ll find out next issue, pilgrim, ’cause right now it’s back to the ACTION…” Age of Ultron was burdened with them, and I do mean burdened:

Thor’s illusion leads us to the next two Avengers movie and foreshadows his own next film; Captain America’s illusion reminds us to watch the next season of Agent Carter; the ending of the movie  – heck, the entire introduction of the new Avenger members – sets up Civil War. Our heroes go to Wakanda and fight a bad guy (played by chameleon Andy Serkis) to set up the Black Panther movie.

infinity war

               Even before Age of Ultron was released we the people knew about the next Avengers and Captain America movies. By this time during the first Avengers movie we the people had no idea what the next movie was about – it wasn’t until August 2012 that were even given the title. Age of Ultron was the forgotten middle child even before it hit the theaters.

Oh, I’ll go see the next movies, don’t worry, but I wanted to see Age of Ultron.

Too many moving parts leading in too many directions. That was what was nagging me.

And even Age of Ultron’s post-credit teaser was a let down. What was the real difference between this one and the teaser from the first Avengers movie?

This was a meme posted on my Facebook wall:

 Shield

               And I responded: That’s the movies, though. If it were the TV show “Agents of Shield” it would be, “I’m here to ask you a question, but I won’t ask it until the end-of-season cliffhanger. When you answer six shows into the next season I will say, ‘and now for the follow-up question…’ which will not be asked until that next year’s cliffhanger, and if we’re renewed…” The movies aren’t getting that bad, but they planted those seeds too. It’s getting to that point.

Let the next few movies worry about themselves. And in the meantime, let me enjoy Age of Ultron.

 ***

Footnote: As is usual with sequels TV networks aired the first Avengers movie to whet our appetites. I Tivoed the movie and watched it with my 5-year-old-daughter. Her gasp when Thor was first on screen is a memory I will cherish to my dying day. She says Thor is the best good guy ever. She (along with billions of others) laughed when Hulk beat Loki into the ground – after many minutes of explaining that Loki was a bad guy) and still loves watching Thor, Iron Man and Hulk beat up the “big fish”. At first she called Iron Man Flash and now she’s reversed that.

Although she likes the scenes with Hulk, she is starting to identify with Black Widow. Thor is still her favorite. I hope it’s because Daddy cosplays as Thor…

thor

Original material copyright 2015 Michael G Curry