Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy…

Guardians of the Galaxy: not a review, just some thoughts…

                 What gives, Mike? You boast that your blog is about comic books, science fiction, fantasy and all things nerdy and what have we gotten lately? Reviews of historical fiction, updates on your book Abby’s Road (now available as a Nook and in paperback from Amazon – gee, this corporate whore stuff is getting easier and easier!) and blogs about your health!! Where’s the nerdly goodness!?

                OK, OK, good point. This will make up for it. It has Marvel, Star Wars, Superman, lots of memes and links to websites – geeky enough for ya?

guardians2

                Along with .02% of the world’s population, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend. I enjoyed it very much – I will likely get the blu-ray when it comes out and will look forward to its inevitable sequels.

                The web is filled with reviews of the movie – Entertainment Weekly gave it a wonderful review and an A- rating. That’s the magazine’s highest rating possible for a non-Harry Potter or non-Tom Hanks movie. This blog review is probably the best and closest to the truth:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/08/03/an-academic-critique-of-the-film-guardians-of-the-galaxy/

                (really captures the feeling while watching it, doesn’t it?)

                So I’m not going to review the film itself – there’s plenty of those out there. Instead I’ll share the thoughts that popped in my mind before and during the film whilst munching my popcorn.

                1) this is Marvel’s first foray into its current movie blitz with unknown characters. I’m a big comic book fan, but even I did not know much about these characters. My Marvel Universe knowledge is not as great as some, I will admit. And my knowledge of current comicdom (especially with the “Big 2”: Marvel and DC) is certainly lacking. But if you are stuck on a game show question regarding DC in the 1970s, phone-a-friend me.

                We’ve seen all the Marvel big guns lately from the various film companies that own the rights – X-Men, various Avengers (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man) and Spider-Man. (And I think it’s time – especially considering the success of Guardians – to give serious thought to a Fantastic Four redo).

                I wouldn’t put the Guardians even on Marvel’s second tier – they’re third or fourth-rate characters down there with the Squadron Supreme, Omega the Unknown and Night Nurse (don’t ask).

                “Horse Hockey!” you say. “I’m a huge fan of the Guardians! And they have a fan base that makes the Legion of Superheroes pale in comparison!” I’m glad you enjoy it; and no, they don’t.

                I barely knew most of the characters: Star Lord was more a science fiction than a superhero character from the Marvel magazine line. Gamora was a secondary character from Jim Starlin’s superb Warlock saga. Drax was a villain who fought Captain Marvel (Marvel’s Captain Marvel, not the Shazam guy), Rocket Raccoon came along during the 1980s when I stopped reading most “Big 2” comics who was in (I think) the Hulk comics. Groot was in a few Marvel horror comics in the 1950s and 1960s: one of a long line of atomic monsters with names akin to onomatopoeias of bowel movements (“Behold the Terror of Vluum!” or “And Now Comes Splart!”).

                And this is ME, who is a bit of a comics historian! I, along with most movie audiences, walked into this film with NO expectations or knowledge of the character’s history. Captain America these folks ain’t. No baggage or history to fume over. “But Bucky was a kid!” “Nick Fury’s BLACK!!??”

                THESE were my Guardians, published at the beginning of my comic book fandom:

guardians

                Recognize and remember any of them? Frankly, neither do I.

                So if the producers wanted to coast – they certainly could have. With expectations much lower than with the Avengers (expectations they met, by the way), there was no reason they needed to put on their A-game. Let’s have some fun, make a good story, use the budget we have and be satisfied with a job well done. The movie-goers would say, “It has a lot of heart and I liked it.”

                But they put on an A-game. They put as much time and consideration into all parts of the movie as they have with each of the Marvel franchise movies to date. Instead of making a movie that was good (“At least it was still better than the two Hulks”), they made a movie as good as Avengers or Winter Soldier.  They kept the fun in while telling a good story, too. The movie goers said, “It has a lot of heart and I LOVED it!”

                Putting humor in a science fiction movie is a dangerous thing to do. It could very quickly turn campy. But here (as with any good story) the humor was driven by the characters. The storyline was played straight – the humor came from the character’s reaction to their situation. This is where most humor works well and kept us riding along. It kept us connected in this alien setting.

                2) Comparisons to DC comics movies.

rocket

                I hate to join in on all the DC comics bashing, but dammit DC deserves it. I saw Guardians with a friend who saw the movie earlier that weekend. He commented that when he left Man of Steel, the audience was still woeful during the “happy” ending and bloggers argued over the movie’s merits and controversial ending (the destruction porn, Superman doesn’t take a life, etc.). People left Guardians smiling and the blogs continued the raves. You leave Guardians feeling good – you just spent a fun two-plus hours enjoying yourself. No one left Man of Steel feeling good.

                3) A peaceful world attacked by a brutal and near-omnipotent overlord and his powerful minions. Spaceship dogfight battles! Swordfights! Blasters blasting! Wretched hives of scum and villainy!

star wars

                The producers of the new Star Wars movie are tugging at their collars right now. “Eep.” Stop production right now, take pad and pencil and everyone – that means you, too, Hamill, Fisher and Ford (someone may have to help Harrison limp along) – go see it and take notes. And don’t sit near the producers of the upcoming Superman vs Batman movie – you’re there to learn how it’s done, not to listen to them mope about “but at least we have a built-in audience of basement-dwellers …”

                4) There are lots of 1970s tunes on the soundtrack. I didn’t like that too much when I first heard about it – it would lend to camp – but it fit. It gave us a connection to the main character (the only earthling) and linked us normal earthlings to the story. It was also cannily explained in the movie too. I liked that – too many movies forget about things like that!

                But it got me thinking about creator’s rights. During the movie and afterward I said how ironic that David Bowie and Eric Carmen will probably make more money from this film than Jim Starlin (who created Thanos and Gamora) and Bill Mantlo (Rocket Raccoon) will.

                This story is making the rounds:

http://io9.com/marvel-screened-guardians-of-the-galaxy-for-the-co-crea-1615584469?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

                The brother sounds a bit too satisfied, doesn’t he? He was likely blinking “SOS” into the camera.

                Go see it. Enjoy yourself during a movie. That will make for a nice change, won’t it? Go home and read about the actors and the history of the characters and the movie. Give Bill Mantlo the exact amount you spent on admission and snacks as a donation. He needs it. http://gregpak.com/love-rocket-raccoon-please-consider-donating-to-writer-bill-mantlos-ongoing-care/

                Then eagerly await the sequel. I’ll be in line with you.

                 One final thought: 

firefly

 

 

Original Material 2014 Michael Curry

 

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield Cause and Effect, Part Two

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield
Cause and Effect, Part Two
            Agents of Shield has two more episodes to go before its season finale as of this blog post. The last few episodes have gained a lot of buzz among the nerdy types – more buzz than it had since before the first episode aired.
            All because of the events of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier that opened last month to good-to-great reviews.  Here is my blog about the movie: http://michaelgcurry.blogspot.com/2014/05/captain-america-2-winter-soldier-and.html
            I was unaware of the events of the Captain America movie and was as stunned as the characters from Agents of Shield about its effect on the show. It was a complete game-changer. The show had to adjust accordingly and move into a completely different direction. I wonder when the producers were told. I wonder how the writers and other cast and staff reacted.
            I can’t recall any television program in which such a change to its very premise happened mid-season. A few Doctor Whos have changed Doctors mid-series, but the show was still about a time lord fighting bad guys. Characters move or change jobs at the beginning of a new season all the time; and Bob Hartley awoke in his apartment in Chicago after a long dream about running a New England motel; but that doesn’t count. What if Hawaii-Five-Oh decided to move the show to Seattle and they become private detectives? What if they followed George Clooney’s character when he left ER instead of staying with the … er … ER? What if the war REALLY ended in the middle of season one of Hogan’s Heroes (they had that hilarious show where they fooled the Nazis into thinking the war had ended, but you get my point)?
            Back to Agents of Shield; honestly, Hydra’s take-over was a good thing. Agents of Shield has finally achieved the glowing reviews most shows only dream of getting – including (except for the awe-inducing first episode) Agents of Shield. The reviews before that were fair at best; even from Marvel front-facers (that’s what we old folks used to call fanboys). Since Winter Soldier, the internet is lit up with gleeful fanboys, fangirls and professional gushing about the show. For example: http://observationdeck.io9.com/agents-of-shield-huh-1569666169
            The ratings are still in question – although it is #3 for the year with young adults and one of the top shows with men 18-49; overall it is not doing well – the last episode as of this writing came in fourth of six with its lowest ratings to date.
            Is all the hoopla too little, too late? One thinks if it were not for the Marvel connection the show would not have made it past Christmas. ABC has not (to date) announced the renewal of ANY of its shows.  Whether Agents of Shield will see a second season is up for grabs. And I can see arguments for both. Current events would make a canny place to finish the series. Then again, a group of loose-cannon-former-agents working outside of the law without a strong backing has worked in the past. As long as one of the Agents doesn’t grow a Mohawk and starts saying, “No way you getting’ me on no plane!” “Drink this, Fitz…”
            But I’m getting ahead of myself…
            When the new shows for the 2013 television season were announced – only two shows intrigued me. Among the shows glorifying gore-porn, bad singing and white trash were Sleepy Hollow and Agents of Shield. I thought I would enjoy Sleepy Hollow for the three weeks it would air before cancellation; but it ended up being a hit and was already renewed by October. I like it; didn’t love it. Its premise intrigued me but by the last show I was a bit lost in the huge back story it developed (I missed an episode, god help me).
            Agents of Shield started with a bang and lots of buzz in its first episode. Then the fans sat back down as their eyes started to glaze. The show was created as a spin-off of The Avengers movie. The shows main character is Phil Coulson – who Loki killed in the movie. Now he was feeling much better and assembled a team to help find and fight trouble through-out the world. Fans were ecstatic! Non-fans rolled their eyes.
            The producers made a wise choice – they DIDN’T appeal to the fans. Remember Enterprise? When it debuted the producers said if they came out as a straight Star Trek show only Star Trek fans would watch it. If they keep it quiet it will build up a larger base and by the time the non-fans realize their watching a Star Trek show it will be too late! Mwhah-hah-hah!  It worked, a little. It gained the fanboys as well as non-fans.
            Same with Agents of Shield. Didn’t work, though. Fanboys were alienated and non-fans still didn’t buy it. A cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and name-drops of our favorite Avengers didn’t help.
            But they weren’t BAD stories. I enjoyed Agents of Shield more than Sleep Hollow. I see the detractors point, though: by the Christmas break, the shows were suffering with a villain-of-the-week syndrome (being comic book-y that made sense to me…) OR we wallowed in a character’s dark, hidden past. Meh. The show tried to intrigue us with a secret organization determined to ferret out Shield’s secrets. It started as “The Centipede” but then we discover it was run by a mysterious super-villain called “The Clairvoyant”. I hate continued stories like that. I enjoy story progression; I’m old fashioned that way: give me a beginning, middle and an end, please. I usually don’t return to TV shows that provide no resolution. Soap operas are for afternoon TV viewers…
            The agents themselves were a pretty canny mix: Coulson – the fan favorite from Avengers, two typical brooding loners with deep, dark secrets, two young social-skill-less techies and a non-agent who starts out bad but we quickly find out has a heart of gold and joins the good guys.
            In an early episode, we call into question her (Skye’s) real loyalty (boy, would they come to visit THAT plotline again in the future); but she’s solidly in Shield’s corner.
            As were the others; although the two brooders (and Coulson) had pasts they didn’t discuss. Those were eventually revealed. Meh.
            Coulson’s secret was he was resurrected through alien technology.
            May’s secret was she suffers PTSD of a sort after killing an entire warehouse of bad guys (I think). She kept another secret revealed later.
            Ward’s deep, dark secret …
            And here where the fun begins.
            As discussed in my previous blog, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldierreveals that Hydra had infiltrated Shield since the beginning. The rot was so bad Shield was dissolved until Hydra could be put down once and for all.
            Who was good? Who was evil? A great scene in the movie shows agents of both stripes holding guns on one another in a control room. “You shoot him, I’ll shoot you.” “Oh yeah? I’m evil too! You shoot him and I’ll shoot YOU!”
            It reminded me of those great paranoia films from the 50s. Who is a body snatcher? Is your wife really your wife or a commie spy – er – alien?
            Bill Paxton had a recurring role as an agent on equal level to Coulson named John Garrett. He was once Ward’s commanding officer. Paxton played the role well – eschewing his usual method of acting-through-lethargy.  After Winter Soldier he reveals himself as Hydra. Ward and Coulson’s higher-up Agent Hand personally escort Garrett to lock-up.
            But wait! Ward kills Hand! He rescues his former boss and they join other Hydra minions to raid a Shield prison and weapons cache – releasing all the bad guys (including some villains from previous episodes). Hail Hydra!
            Ward returns to his buddies. Skye finds out about his Hydra-ness and tries to coax him back to the good guys based on their growing relationship.
            So all this time we are wondering – is Ward a triple agent? Is he really Shield pretending to be Hydra after being Hydra pretending to be Shield? He’s killed Shield agents, sure, but he’s also killed Hydra agents. He’s hurt his fellow co-stars but caused no real permanent damage. How will it go?
            Will his love for Skye change him back? “My mind says Hydra, but my heart and dick say Shield!”
            In the meantime, Coulson discovers May has been spying on him all along (her second deep dark secret much more interesting than her first deep dark secret) – to make sure his alien-aided resurrection had no quirky side-effects. She was working for Nick Fury. “Yeah right!” Coulson says. And for a time we weren’t sure where she stood. She may have even been Hydra; but that plot was laid to rest.
            It brings another interesting sub-plot in the show: knowledge of Fury being alive or dead. Agent Maria Hill from Winter Soldier appeared in this last episode. She tells Coulson that Fury is dead. Coulson was told Fury is alive. I watched Soldier to see if Maria Hill knew Fury was still alive and it was left unclear.
            The pause when Maria told Coulson Fury was dead was well done. Was he going to tell her? Did she know? Did she not know Coulson knew? We are still left wondering.
            We have two more episodes to go before the season (series?) finale. We will probably get plenty more surprises.
            The back and forth of who is Hydra and who is Shield may still surprise me. But there are times – especially trying to guess the outcome of Ward’s alliances – which I feel like Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bride. Which glass has the poison – yours or mine?
             
            We have two possibilities regardless – what will the show do if it continues to a second season and what if it ends next week?
            I vote for letting the show end this spring. Kill off Ward and Garrett and let the troupe go their separate ways. Everyone is happy where they end up except Coulson – doing security for Stark Industries or some such. Perhaps at the end Samuel L. Jackson will approach Coulson in the same way he did at the end of the various Marvel superhero movies over the past several years. “We’re getting the band back together…” A cliffhanger worthy of the Marvel movies.
            If it continues we are faced with, as I said, an A-Team-like show of people not-necessarily on the run but still fighting bad guys –whether or not that includes Garrett and Ward. I have a feeling that, even if done well, since Agents started off on the wrong foot in the ratings at inception, it will not carry over into a full second season. But then I thought Sleepy Hollowwould flop. And if Ward ends up being a bad guy after all, or even killed at the season finale – we have a dandy replacement in Agent Sitwell, Wade’s equal and another Garrett protégé.
            Unless he is a Hydra double-agent as well. Vizinni’s voice is in my head again: If he IS I fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”.  And even less well-known: “Never second guess the producers of a low-rated show when a billion dollar franchise is involved”.
            Hail Hydra.
Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
             


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Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield Cause and Effect, Part One

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield
Cause and Effect, Part One
            This little review contains lots of SPOILERS – not just for the movie but for the ABC television program Agents of Shield, which, since the release of Cap 2, has continued the story.
            But the movie has been out now for several weeks, and its events have rippled – more like ripped – through Agents of Shieldever since. So I’m not revealing anything you could not find out elsewhere. If you REALLY want to wait to know what is going to happen until you see the movie and TV show during your own time … frankly I think it is past your being able to do that by now. But go back to your sensory deprivation tank and you can come back and read this afterward.
            I enjoyed the first Captain Americamovie. I saw it when it came out on DVD and thought it similar to The Rocketeer – another World War II-based superhero movie. I mentioned that to my friend and fellow comic-book enthusiast Clyde and he told me they were both directed by the same man. This would explain why they both had the same hue. They would make a fun double-bill on a cold Saturday night with friends.
            The story is well-known in comicdom: weakling Steve Rogers wanted to fight for his country during WWII-the-Big-One, but was labeled forever 4F. He volunteered to take an injection of an experimental super-soldier formula. It worked: he grew ten inches and gained a hundred pounds of pure muscle. He also developed beyond-Olympic level strength, endurance and athletic (fighting) ability as well as supreme mental/tactical abilities. The inventor of the formula was killed by Nazi spies and the secret died with him.
            Captain Americaand his best friend Bucky (and an elite troop called the Howling Commandoes) fought the Axis Powers. Bucky died in a fall and Cap crashed in an experimental Nazi bomber in the Arctic.
            The bomber was found 70 years later. Cap’s super-soldier-infused metabolism left him alive but frozen. He was thawed and found himself in modern Manhattan. That’s where the first movie ended. A deleted scene from The Avengers shows Cap wanting to call his still-alive girlfriend Peggy Carter, but that was the only non-action character-development he had in that tremendous film. His character development in that movie was showing the audience his leadership and tactical abilities were enough to impress a Norse god and a narcissistic genius).
            Captain America 2 opens with Steve Rogers meeting Sam Wilson as they jog. Sam recommends a great Marvin Gaye song to help Rogerslearn about modern times. Steve adds it to his list – a very brief shot of the list reveals, for example, “Star Trek/Wars”. I only caught a few more: Steve Jobs/Apple, Thai food, disco, etc. This was the movies only nod to the “man out of time” aspect of Steve’s character. It had bigger plots to move …
            True to the Mighty Marvel Way there are co-stars from the Marvel Universe: Black Widow and Nick Fury are given more than cameos but less than equal roles to Cap – it’s his movie after all. Name drops abound: Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, even Stephen Strange – the yet-to-be-seen Dr. Strange!
            Cap, Black Widow and an elite Shield troop fly to a research ship hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean. The pirates are led by Batroc – one of Cap’s earlier and sillier villains. In the movie he was a terrorist and expert martial artist; enough to take on Cap one-on-one for several minutes. As with the recent spate of Marvel movies – Batroc was taken seriously – hee wuss meeseeing hees seelee cahstoom, narrow moostash-eh and out-ray-jee-uhs aksent!  
            During the battle, Black Widow was downloading files onto a flash drive. In a confrontation with her and later Nick Fury, Cap expresses his outrage at someone under his command having alternate orders of which he knew nothing. Nick explains compartmentalization – a concept alien to Cap. No one under his command should have alternative agendas other than the task at hand. That’s the (Captain) American way!
            And it was … in the 1940s. Times change.
            Nick Fury learns of something incoherent going on in the Shield hierarchy. So much so he sees his superior – played by Robert Redford – and asks him and the international Shield council to delay deployment of three helicarriers armed with the latest weaponry and technology. “You don’t want those things in the air if this is as bad as I think it is.”
            It is. Nick Fury is attacked by an unknown organized group of terrorists. He escapes to tell Cap what he knows (well, he gives Cap the flashdrive and warns him to trust no one) and is shot by the Winter Soldier. Cap gives chase but fails to catch him. Black Widow recognized the Soldier’s m.o. and tells us and Cap what she knows about this 70-year-old-Soviet assassin.
            Nick Fury dies of his wounds on the operating table while Cap, Black Widow and Maria Hill watch. We later learn he faked his death to allow him to ferret out who is infiltrating Shield.
            It is Hydra! Hydra was an eeeee-vil organization formed by the Red Skull in the first movie.  But it eeled it’s way into Shield and penetrated into it’s every level. Who is a good guy? Who is a bad guy? Cap and Black Widow high-tail it out of HQ with the bad guys armed to the teeth with Shield goodies!
            Through information on the flash-drive, they discover a hidden Shield/Hydra base in which hides Arnim Zola!
            Zola (who was also featured in the first movie) is one of comic-book-Captain-America’s stranger villains. His rendering in the comics is quintessential Jack Kirby – looking something like a malignant Teletubbie.  
            But in this movie Zola moved his mental essence into a bank of computers. He explains Hydra’s motives and how they manipulated their way into Shield. Anyone who could have (or did) discover their presence was eliminated – it is implied that Tony Stark’s father was killed for that reason.
            Anrim Zola created an algorithmic program that found the perfect recruits – family history, emotional and genetic outlook and attitudes are evaluated. To paraphrase a line in the movie: it uses your past to accurately predict your future. They pick recruits who will NOT say no to joining them.
            Hydra spent the next 70 years creating terror. I expected to see the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files in the montage. And now finally, America, nay, the world, is ready to embrace Hydra – happily giving up their freedom in exchange for safety. If you think the anal-cavity searches of the TSA in airports is bad … mwhah-hah-hah!!!
            Hydra will launch the three helicarriers, but will use Zola’s algorithmic program to find not bad guys, but good guys.  People genetically inclined to fight them. The helicarriers will take them out. Thousands at a time. Hydra will kill millions to “save” billions.
            Cap, Widow and Fury have a plan: switch around the hard drives of the carriers and their plan is forever foiled!
            Boy, is that a simplistic way of putting it!
            Cap and Widow are aided by their only friend – the only one they can trust: Sam Wilson (from the jogging scene, remember?). Sam digs out his old uniform – by the way, he wasn’t just a soldier, he had a flying suit! Enter the Falcon – who was Cap’s partner in the 1970s comic.
            This is all done better than it sounds, by the way.
            Meantime, the chief bad-guy is revealed (this isn’t ALL spoilers, you know) and the Winter Soldier attacks! Cap discovers the Soldier is … Bucky? How is that possible? How can Bucky still be Cap’s age unless … Zola!!!
            This leads to the climactic fight in Shield HQ and a helicarrier.
            The movie was comic-book fun with the action and effects on par with previous Disney/Marvel productions. If you liked the previous Thor, Iron Man and Avengers movies, you’ll like this one, too. The special effect and CGIare top-of-the-line.
            Characterization is lacking – except for Captain America’s outrage as to the assault on his black-and-white sense of good and justice in a grey world. But you take his side and in the end believe him – right is right, wrong is wrong.
            Still, the movie poses some interesting questions: if a terrorist is going to kidnap your family tomorrow and you could stop him today, would you? If you could stop him before he even formulates his plan? It goes back to the old question of would you kill Hitler’s parents?
            The small attempts of characterization are brief but well done. Widow niggles Cap about asking staff-members of Shield out on dates (the nurse-neighbor Widow frequently mentions ends up being Sharon Carter – Caps’ girlfriend in the comics … and when I say comics I mean the 1960s and 1970s, god knows what Sharon Carter is now; if she’s even in the current canon).
            Steve Rogers finally meeting up with Peggy Carter after 70 years was moving and sad.  I would have liked more of this, but in a movie of this type I knew it wasn’t possible. Ordinary People this isn’t, Redford’s presence aside…
            I came away from the movie enjoying it. If you are a huge fan of the Marvel movie/TV franchise, go see it (if you are huge fan you already have). Wait to see it on DVD otherwise, it’s a great popcorn movie.
            I may be alone in this criticism – and it’s not really a criticism – but I had one nagging problem with the movie.
            Calling Captain America 2’s subtitle “The Winter Soldier” was, to me, akin to subtitling Lord of the Rings with “A Trip to the Prancing Pony”. The titular villain of the movie was an incidental character. They played on his Bucky-ness: provided an origin, showed a bit of his mental anguish and sowed the seeds of his reformation – particularly at the end saving Cap and the now-mandatory after-credit tease.
            But for me the fall of Shield and the rise of Hydra were the focus of my attention; particularly because of the effect of this story-line on Agents of Shield.  I will discuss that in my next blog …
            To be continued!
                       
Original Material Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
             


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A review of “Thor – the Dark World” (no spoilers edition)

A review of “Thor – the Dark World” (no spoilers edition)

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});             The movie starts with a voice-over recounting an epic battle from ages past. The Lord of all things evil wants to take the world back to the darkness over which he rules. He takes a part of his dark essence and creates a tangible symbol of his power.
            Eventually he is defeated by the powers of good and his symbol is hidden through the ages.
            The symbol is found by a citizen of Middle Earth; a citizen who appears to be one of its weakest members but contains hidden strength. 
            The re-discovery of his symbol awakens the Dark Lord, who again masses all things evil into another pitched battle against the forces of good. Should good fail, the entire universe will be taken over by darkness… 
            But enough about “Lord of the Rings”, this is a review of “Thor, the Dark World”.
            Oh, wait, they both start out like that.
            In “Thor…” Sauron is called Malekith, played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, whose make-up is reminiscent of 2009’s “Star Trek” baddie Nero.  For a time during the show I thought it may have been the same actor. I doubted the producers would have been that dumb to cast the same actor in a similar role with identical make-up, though.
            Malekith the Accursed was created by the superb comic book writer/artist Walter Simonson. He received a byline deep into the closing credits. I hope Marvel managed to pry open its billion-dollar coffer to give him his complementary free ticket as thanks for the millions of dollars this movie will rake in with the help of his creation.
            The movie picks up where the last “Thor” movie and “The Avengers” left off. As is and will be the routine for these Marvel movies (and for Marvel Comics as well), these are shared-world movies – it is all interconnected. Events from one movie spill into the other movies. There is even a cameo/crossover to wonderful affect with a certain shield-slinging Avenger.
            The plot – after the battle at the end of the Second Age – er – the battle with Malekith, the One Ring – er – the Aether is discovered by Deagol – er – Jane Foster. It takes over her body and will eventually destroy her if a cure is not found.
            Just as had happened five thousand years ago during the first battle with Malekith, the Nine Worlds are converging. Physics will go awry and it will be easy to travel amongst the worlds.
            So Thor finds Jane and takes her to Asgard. Not coincidentally, Malekith invades Asgard to get back the Aether out of Miss Jane. Chaos ensues.
            Beating back the invasion is costly and Thor wants to take the battle to Malekith. Odin forbids it. So Thor, as any son would, sneaks behind his father’s back with the help of his friends and his imprisoned brother Loki.
            Meanwhile, Malekith travels to earth to begin the process that will envelope the universe in darkness. The Convergence will make this easier since, from Midgard, he will have access to all realms.
            Thor, Jane and her seemingly incompetent scientific team are all that stand in the way of the coming darkness.
           
            Chris Hemsworth does an excellent job in his third go-round as the Thunder God. I like him better here than in the first movie. It is nice seeing Thor at full power.
            Anthony Hopkins returns as the scene-chewing Odin –ever barking and snapping at his lines with his usual gusto. I love him as Odin and hoped he would have a bigger role in the battle scenes. Alas.
            We DO get to see Rene Russo as Thor’s mother Frigga kick some ass though.
            Idris Elba as Heimdall also as a bigger role here. I hope to see more of him in future movies.
            The aforesaid Eccleston as Malekith makes a very good villain, but there’s not much else for him to do other than thrust the Aether at Thor time and again. There’s not much motivation for him in this movie other than to “destroy the universe”. Yeah, get in line. There is a small bit about his wanting to avenge his people, but, ye gods (pardon the pun), his people started it. This isn’t about revenge – this is just a second go-round. Perhaps if we were to feel more empathy for a dying race Malekith would have been a bit more well-rounded as a villain.
            Jane’s compatriots return in this movie – Dr. Selvig still recovering from his role in helping Loki in “The Avengers” and Jane’s intern, the annoying Darcy (her comic relief is unnecessary; this is meant as to the character not the actress portraying her). And now Darcy has her own intern, an equally annoying and incompetent Britisher. Of course after all this comic relief we then have to take them seriously during the final battle. It baffles me that filmmakers think after two hours of laughing at these dolts we will suddenly accept their sudden conversion to adequacy.
            Loki is again played by Tom Hiddleston and as with both “Thor” and “The Avengers” he steals every scene his is in. Here is a villain whose motivations are as clear as they are complex – unlike Sauron or Malekith.  Throughout the film, until its very end, you have no idea whose side he is on.  Well, that’s not true – you know he is always on HIS side, but his alliances have so many twists and turns it keeps your attention during the movie.  Oh, and the aforementioned “get in line”? One of Loki’s best cracks in the film…
            And the movie keeps your attention. It’s not a great film – not as jaw-dropping as Thor’s last film appearance, but on par with the other Marvel movies to date (only the first “Iron Man” has yet to raise the same goose bumps as “The Avengers” did).
            The effects are smashing, pun intended. The faux-Shakespearian dialogue is still a hoot and Thor is easy to cheer on as he battles to save us all.
            It is worth waiting until after the first few minutes of credits (after an excellently-done cast roll call) to watch a set-up of either a future Thor or Avengers movie plot. The final scene after the rolling credits – where we learn the names of the grips and gaffers – is not as satisfying and is worth waiting until it is out of DVD or on-line viewing. It is not worth the dirty looks from the theater crew waiting for you to leave so they can sweep up your popcorn. There’s no Nick Fury asking Thor to join the Avengers; there’s no surprise guest-hero or guest-villain – the bit after the casting credits takes care of that.
            Good movie. Go see it in the theaters to get the whole effect of the vastness of the subject. Enjoy.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

 

Cover Charges: My favorite comic book covers…

Cover Charges: My favorite comic book covers…
               Recently Facebook pages and groups devoted to comic books have listed “Top Ten Comic Book covers” from professionals and fans.
               My friend Clyde and I discussed this topic one Saturday night and resulted in his blog post that you can view here. http://playmst3kforme.blogspot.com/2013/06/weve-got-you-covered-10-great-comic.html
               I stand by what I said. It would be very hard to do. But as I flogged my memory it became easier. I ended up with quite a long list. I could either go with comic book covers that have become iconic – Brave & Bold #28, Amazing Fantasy #16 and Action Comics #1 …

I could have gone with comics that I love as a work of art, such as this beauty – Batman #241 with
art by Neal Adams. It’s a comic I do not own, but is definitely one of my favorite covers. Wow!

               Or this famous cover from World’s Finest #7 from the 1940s. It’s another comic I do not own, but it IS one of my favorite covers. If only because it never fails to elicit a sophomoric giggle. Hee-heehee-

hee…

               Robin does look quite proud, doesn’t he?

 

               I wanted to do something more personal. These are ten comic book covers that made me want to buy the comics. Something about the cover attracted me enough to say, “Oh I’ve got to get that.” Some are iconic, some are beautiful pieces of art; some just pressed my buttons (in a good way). If a comic book cover is supposed to entice you to purchase and/or read it, these worked … for me …
               You may notice the distinct lack of Marvel comics. This is because I did not read much Marvel growing up. I got most of my comics for free from Sparta Printing – who printed National Comics (they officially changed their name to DC Comics in 1976), Harvey and Archie. So Marvel comics were only picked up in the grocery store.
               And all of the comics were from the 1970s. This was when I was a boy into my very early teens; comic book covers mattered more to me than they do now. I haven’t been excited by a comic book cover in many decades. Maybe older and wise, maybe not.  A cover may intrigue me but it is the interior art or story that catches my imagination. That is too bad, I suppose, but it helps keep impulse buying in check…
                Someone might say, “How could this cover excite you? It’s silly! Now Spiderman #28 – THAT gave me the willies!”  Really? Tell me more about it! I’d love to read your lists!
               So these are personal favorites only. Maybe someday I’ll do my favorite list of “iconic” or “classic” covers, but for now, this is all about me! Haha!
               These are in no particular order:
Superman vs Spider-Man: the Battle of the Century. 1976.  What comic book fan did not soil themselves upon seeing this cover? Even the house ads in other DC and Marvel comics brought a chill. It was this iconic cover with the words, “THIS … SAYS IT ALL!!” It helped that it was a rollicking good read that lived up to the hype! The cover was by Carmine Infantino (layout), Ross Andru (finishing and pencils) and inked by Dick Giordano – all hall-of-famers.
               Occasionally a comic cover lives up to its hype. This is one of them.
 
 
 
 
Superman #317. 1977? Neal Adams art. A later part of a multi-part issue, which was a better-than average story; so I would have gotten the issue anyway.  , but I was so wooed by the cover! An angry Superman!?  Wouldn’t you run away, too?
               Adams is a wonderful artist. Look at those muscles.  You can almost hear the cords creak as Superman flexes…
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-56). 1978. How can you look at this and NOT say, “Oh, I’ve got to see what the hell this is about…”. Iconic cover by Neal Adams. He was asked to redo this for a millennial-end issue of “Sports Illustrated” with the 20th century’s greatest sports legends. Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan boxed in that one. Babe Ruth was in the forefront. In the audience were Sandy Koufax and a legion of others.
 
 
Superman Family #182, 1978? Neal Adams art. Are you sensing a theme here? This was DC’s first “Dollar Comic”. A dollar? For a comic book? Yeek! It would blow the budget of any teenager, but I couldn’t resist the cover. The stories inside ranged from great to mediocre. Neal Adams draws Supergirl.  Ooo-la-la. Plus it had Krypto on the cover.
               You gotta love Krypto!

 
 
 
Marvel Team-Up #74. 1978. “Is this a joke?” Talk about a cover that

screams “I’ve GOT to get this one.” Art by Dave Cockrum & Marie Severin. A fun issue that never wallowed in silliness.

Justice League of America #137. 1977. Ernie Chua (Chan) pencils and Frank McLaughlin inks.
               Nowadays Superman and Captain Marvel (Shazam) fight each other annually. But this was the first time they shared a story – how could I resist it? It was also the first time they “really” shared a cover (earlier comics had Supes “introducing” Cap or their posters were hanging side-by-side, that sort of thing…).
This was part 3 of the traditional JLA/JSA team-up with Cap and other Fawcett characters appearing and fighting alongside our favorite heroes. It was the first time I had heard of or read about Spy Smasher and Ibis the Invincible – who have gone on to become two of my favorite comic book characters!

Batman #253. 1973
Oh.
My.
GOD!!!
Mike Kaluta art (no one – NO ONE – would have been able to do this better).
 
 
 
 
Richie Rich and Casper #1. 1974. Artist unknown. Oh, wow! Together! Oh, WOW, said my nine-year-old self!
               The story was fun and the artwork well done. Surprised to see a non-superhero comic on the list? Me too. But I still remember how thrilled I was seeing this and reading it. Forty years later I still remember the entire series with fondness.
 
 
Detective Comics #468. 1978? It’s hard to believe this is the only comic on this list drawn by my beloved Jim Aparo, inked by Tatjana Wood.
               The Calculator! Over the past five issues this villain fought other DC heroes in the back-up feature (Green Arrow, Hawkman, etc. – all of them beaten and lying unconscious on the cover) and NOW he’s fighting Batman in a book-length battle! I was so excited seeing this cover when it came out! Great conclusion to a fun story line! It is in no way an iconic cover or a legendary story – but this youngster loved it!
 
 
 
Star Wars #1. 1977. Cover by the legendary Howard Chaykin, inked by Tom Palmer.
               Great cover as always by Chaykin, especially considering the flood of Star Wars comic art to come. But imagine the impact of this cover on this 12 year old kid …
               Star Wars? As a comic book? Star Wars! As a comic book! STARWARSASACOMICBOOK!! “Earl to Aisle 3, Earl to Aisle 3. We have another boy passed out in front of the book stand. Earl to Aisle 3.”
Oh, ok, one more.
 
 

Batman #291. 1979 or 1980? Look at this beautiful Jim Aparo art (I felt bad about only having one other Aparo cover on the list and this issue immediately sprang to mind…). Tatjana Wood again inked.

               The cover made me snap this up – only to find out it was part one of four! Rats! Even so, it was a great story arc. I wish it would be released in a graphic novel. The Bronze Age gets a bad rap nowadays and that is too bad. There were some wonderful stories that a lot of fans missed during that late-1970s era. This is one of them!
Honorable Mention:  Power Records, 1975. This is not a comic book, but dig the cover! Another Neal Adams classic. When I saw this album I had to have it! It took the Beatles (or my discovery of them in 1979) to knock this off of my record player once and for all. I still have it!
                If this were a comic book cover it would rank in any Top Ten!
 Honorable Mention #2 – the entire run of Marvel’s “What If…” 1978?  The whole point of this comic series – tales of alternate endings to the various Marvel Universe mythos – was to goad the reader into buying this anthology series. “Ooh, aah,” was often heard at the newstands when a new issue came out – What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four? What if Captain Ameria had not “disappeared” after WWII? What if Shang Chi served Fu Manchu? What if Bruce Banner had always kept Bruce Banner’s intelligence? What if the New X-Men never formed? What if someone else had been bitten by that radioactive spider?
               Others will muse over “great” covers and “iconic” covers, but these captured by heart and imagination more than the others. There have been better covers – there have certainly been better stories on the inside. But just looking at the covers on my list brings back good memories.
               Isn’t that the whole point?

Hey Comics! Kids!

Hey Comics! Kids!
  d113b-batslap-bmp
              The recent death of Robin the Boy Wonder got me thinking about superheroes and children. This Robin was the illegitimate love child of Batman/Bruce Wayne and Talia al-Ghul, the daughter of his enemy Ras Al-Ghul.
                My favorite comic book eras were the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, roughly comics released from 1956 – 1985.  During those eras, superheroes did not have children; with only two exceptions. The end of the Bronze Age saw the end of that – but more of that later. “World’s Finest” brought us the sons of Superman and Batman; and Superman and Lois seemed to have a super-powered kid every few issues; but these were imaginary stories (as opposed to the “real” stories), not canonical progeny.
                And during those years we had the adventures of Superbaby and Wondertot (no lie), but those were our beloved heroes as toddlers, not the children of an existing superhero.
                Why no kids?  It was probably because of the readership – oh, yes, some comic book readers enjoyed romance comics. Also, at this time Archie was always pining over Betty or Veronica. But to actually marry? And have a baby?
                No. Keep your reality out of my fantasy.
                Did we want to see Superman changing a diaper? Did we want to see Flash literally racing to the store to buy more formula? Probably not.
                The two exceptions signify the two extremes why such things did not happen otherwise in those eras…
                In the “Fantastic Four”, Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) married Sue Storm (Invisible Girl/Woman). An entire special issue (an Annual) was made of their wedding. The birth of their first baby, Franklin, was on the blurb of their comic a few years later. It wasn’t an event on par with Lucy and Ricky’s on early television, but in comicbookdom it was big stuff. It was a superhero’s (and thus comic books) first baby. Every few issues the child was threatened; or he and his babysitter were kidnapped or disappeared. The stories always turned out well, but the easy plot devise was used again and again.
                Aquaman was not so lucky.
                He married Mera and had Arthur Jr. Sometimes Junior would be called Aquababy.
                 In the mid-1970s, some years after the cancellation of his own title, Aquaman was revived in “Adventure Comics”. The creators kept the cast intact: Mera, Vulko, and Arthur Junior.
                 Like Franklin Richards, Arthur Junior was shown at the beginning and ending of most tales playing with Mommy and Daddy or their friends/partners/sidekicks. But Aquaman wasn’t the Fantastic Four. He was a secondary character in a low-selling magazine. Writers could get away with things here they couldn’t elsewhere.
                Baby Arthur was kidnapped. Ho-hum. Aquaman vows vengeance. Yeah yeah.
                Aquaman smacks the shit out of Black Manta and opens up the pod in which Manta put Arthur.
                He was too late. Arthur Jr. was dead.
                Whoa.
                What? He’s a baby! Well, a toddler. That can’t be. This is a comic book for chrissakes!
                That’s the trouble with children in comics even today.  I’ll be frank: putting children in life-threatening jeopardy should be off-limits. Isn’t it bad enough I have to see talking heads blather about the children of Sandy Hook on the idiot box? I don’t want to read about this stuff in my comics.
                Maybe I’m just turning into a crabby old man, but that’s my stand on that subject. Superheroes having kids can make for wonderful stories and great personal drama – but once born, leave them alone.
                Was the death of Arthur Junior done for shock value or publicity or a sales boost? Probably not. It was a second-string character in a second-tier comic book. The cover gave no indication as to what would happen. It wasn’t hyped in other comics in the line or other media (such hype was non-existent then anyway…). The next issue’s cover showed Aquaman in mourning at the gravesite of his son with a furious Mera in the background.
                As mentioned in a previous blog, death in a comic book is not always a bad thing. Most of the time, yes, but occasionally it can make for a great story. Arthur Junior’s death shadowed Aquaman for the next thirty years. It was even part of Aquaman’s legacy in the Batman TV cartoon “The Brave and The Bold”.
***
                By 1980 or so – the end of the Bronze Age – a child of a superhero was not such a rare thing.
                The Batman from the 1940s had a daughter. By the time we meet her she was a grown woman and fighting crime on her own as the Huntress. We saw more and more children of superheroes, but not as infants ripe for kidnapping. These were adults fighting crime on their own. Either flesh-and blood progeny, step-children or foster kids put on the cowl and became the next generation of crime-fighters.
                Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, even the Atom all had kids. They formed their own group called Infinity Inc.
                This was all DC Comics. The other big comic book producer took a different tact.
                Their children came from the future – alternate futures. The comic book based on the upcoming X-Men movie “Days of Future Past” featured a grown Franklin Richards. Scott Summer/Cyclops has so many children-from-alternate-futures-who-now-live-in-the-present they could form their own comic book line.  He has five at last count – if you count the clone of one of his sons.  And why wouldn’t you count the clone of one of your sons as your own?  I managed to say that with a straight face…
***
                In the Modern Age – the past twenty-plus years – our comic book heroes have lots of babies. Franklin Richards has a sister. “Astro City” featured a story arc with superhero Jack-in-the-Box and his pregnant wife. And more and more superheroes find their children taking up the trade – the aforementioned Robin, Green Arrow has a son in spandex, so does Plastic Man.
                Yes, Plastic Man … I expect that was one satisfied woman…
***
                Looking back at the later Bronze Age, I wonder why they didn’t tinker more with the caped ones having children? Especially so-called second-stringers?  Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman were one of the few married comic book characters around. They were married when introduced! Why didn’t they have a baby? Granted they didn’t have a regular feature of their own at the time, but it could have been done in the pages of “Justice League of America” or “Detective”.
                Same with the Flash. He and his wife Iris exemplified the white-picket-fence existence. Their parents appeared frequently, as did other family members. Kid Flash was Iris’ nephew. A child would have been a perfect fit in that book. Then again, they did (temporarily) kill off Iris at the end of the Bronze Age … I wouldn’t expect a comic book editor to be merciful to their child …
                I am surprised a young man didn’t walk up to the Silver-Age Green Lantern and say, “Hi, I’m your son.”  It could have been from the days Hal Jordan was a truck driver or an insurance salesman when he and his original/current paramour Carol Farris were broken up.
                I think they would have made for some great stories. But with “The New 52” rebooting the entire line, the Silver Age/Bronze Age characters and their characteristics are gone, perhaps for good.
                A son for Hal Jordan would still make a good story though – make him a late teen or older. The power ring could check his DNA.  The son could be the reader’s link to GL’s world. We could see it through his eyes.
                Jordan would have to hide his identity again. The son would look for him in the months GL was away on a space mission. Jordan could start to feel … worried? Is that the phrase? Fear? Me?
                The conversation with Batman would make for an iconic scene, especially with the slight animosity between the two (which is getting better – the subject of another blog):
                This could take place in Justice League HQ.
“Are you sure he’s yours?”
                “Yes, the ring (taps at his ring) and Clark verified it.  Well, see you at the next meeting, Batman.”
                “Jordan…”
                “Here we go”, GL thinks. “Yeah?”
                “Hal.  Don’t give him a ring. Don’t let him put on a mask. Make him go to school, go to work. Make him get married, give you a grandson or granddaughter. Don’t turn him into one of us.”
                Trouble is, nowadays, within three or four years someone would kill him off. Or make him yet another Green Lantern. Or a different hero altogether. But it would make for some fine issues if done well; if they respected the characters and the genre.
                Aye, there’s the rub.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

SOME THOUGHTS ON RELIGION AND SUPERHEROES…

SOME THOUGHTS ON RELIGION AND SUPERHEROES…
             My gaming group was playing the RPG DC Superheroes, which the GM set during WWII.  Some of us played original characters while others played established golden age DC folks: Dr. Mid-Nite, Green Lantern, Phantom Lady, etc. I played the Shining Knight.
            During the game Nazis stole a book by one of Copernicus’ protégés and in the course of the adventure I asked if I could read it. I said my character could probably read or understand Latin because as a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table he would have been at mass at least once per day!
            “He’s Catholic?” someone asked.
            There was no Catholic Church back in the seventh century; there was only “the church”. Sir Justin (the Shining Knight’s real name) lived during King Arthur’s reign. Whether he wanted to or not, if he lived back then, he probably attended mass in Latin.
            That got me thinking about superheroes and religion: what religion would our favorite superheroes be? In what faiths were they raised, if at all?
            I read the Fantastic Four graphic novel of Marvel’s Civil War where the Thing talked about being Jewish. This was the first reference to the Thing’s religion I knew of (not being up on Marvel over the past decades I don’t know when they first mentioned that).
            There are some superheroes (scant, but some) whose religion is central to their character. The current Dr. Mid-Nite, for example: in the pages of the last version of JSA he used his Catholicism to help Mr. Terrific deal with the loss of his wife (see my previous blog regarding good and bad deaths of comic book characters…).
            Religion is (was) strongly emphasized with the X-Men. Magneto’s Jewish-ness (is that a word?) and Nightcrawler’s Catholicism has been used well for story fodder.
            Like they did with the Thing, Marvel may have established religions for all their characters. I will freely admit if I am wrong. So this is a purely objective list subject to only my whims and generalizations! Feel free to argue! And note this gets sillier as it goes along (as said: if a character’s religion has reallybeen established in the comics, let me know!).
            Also this is from a Silver and Bronze Age fan. The post-Crisis and post-New 52 (for DC) and post annual reboot (for Marvel) have changed the personalities and backgrounds of all these characters thus making my generalizations questionable, haha:
            SUPERMAN: raised in a Kansas farm town? Baptist. Maybe Methodist. Currently, not attending a church. Rao was a Kryptonian god and Superman would sometimes shout out “Great Rao” in times of shock and stress, but otherwise the comics never showed Supes really worshipping him per se.
            BATMAN: I imagine his unbelievably rich and isolated childhood (pre-Crime Alley obviously) to be much like Teddy Roosevelt. “Gotham City – home of high crime and the cod, where the Ryders talk only to the Waynes, and the Waynes talk only to God.” Episcopalian.  Currently? … oh c’mon! Agnostic is being kind.
            WONDER WOMAN: Pagan. Pretty obvious there.
            FLASH (Barry Allen): Solidly set in the Midwest. Methodist or Lutheran. But with the last name Allen being of Irish extraction, I would guess Presbyterian or Catholic. Same with Wally West. However, the various weddings of family and friends throughout the 60s and 70s do not show the usual Catholic trappings (I don’t mean that in a bad way), so I would guess Protestant.
            Jay Garrick? What is Garrick? If a German name, Lutheran; if Irish, Presbyterian.  I would believe all Flashes would still be attending church, it fits their characters.
            GREEN LANTERN: father was in the military. I’d say non-denominational if he was given any religion at all as a child. More likely with his cavalier attitude toward life; he probably wasn’t taken to church much at all as a youngster.
            GREEN ARROW: Oh, please, with his intense hatred/aversion/suspicion over authority figures? Lapsed Catholic.
            BLACK CANARY: No opinion. Any religion (or none at all) would fit. When she married Green Arrow it wasn’t in a Catholic Church. But then GA may have vetoed a Catholic wedding. I’d bet she went to church well into adulthood and may still go on major religious holidays.
            TEEN TITANS: By this I mean the original teen sidekicks – Batman would raise ROBIN to be as irreligious as he is.
            Ditto SPEEDY.
            Probably only KID FLASH would have gone to church.
            AQUAMAN/AQUALAD: Pagan. Interesting that with his worship of Neptune he and Wonder Woman haven’t argued over the similarity/assimilation of Greek and Roman mythos.
            ATOM: Northeast Ivy Leaguer? Episcopalian. And was a regular attender until his life fell apart with the split with his wife.
            HAWKMAN/HAWKWOMAN: I think Thanagar’s religion was established, but I can’t see Katar and Cheyera being very religious.
            The original Carter Hall? Well, I suppose with his hundreds of reincarnations he has been many religions. But I suspect his worship of Horus the Hawk (really a falcon) headed god still lurks underneath.
            ELONGATED MAN: United Church of Christ. Just seems right.
            MR. FANTASTIC: He probably eschewed religion early on, but what about his heritage? If Ben Grimm is Jewish, I’ll bet Reed Richards is, too.
            INVISIBLE WOMAN AND HUMAN TORCH: Their last name Storm is probably a derivative of Strom, western German/French. Tight family with a large age disparity. I’d guess Catholic. Any brothers and sisters in between?
            ANT MAN/GIANT MAN/YELLOWJACKET: What kind of a last name is Pym? Welsh? Anglican or Catholic. Dutch? Danish National – a type of Lutheran.
            WASP: With a maiden name like Van Dyne? Danish National again – which would help explain the initial attraction of a wealthy socialite and a bookish scientist.
            THOR: Rather obvious. Is it narcissism to worship yourself if you really are a god?
            SPIDERMAN: He was probably irreligious as he got in his teens, but what denomination were Ben and May Parker? Where would they have taken Peter as a youngster? Methodist.
            X-MEN: (Other than as professed in the introduction)
            Professor X: Jewish;
            Colossus: Russian Orthodox;
            Wolverine: In Canada, Catholicism and Anglican make up 81% of the religions, so I guess lapsed Catholic – he has that distrust of authority-thing going, too;
            Storm: well, herself… (she was worshipped as a god in her tribe before joining the group);
            Kitty Pride (whatever her moniker is this week): I believe in the comics she has said she is Jewish;
            Cyclops: tough one, but I would guess a very Orthodox conservative Catholicism;
            Marvel Girl: Catholic (if only because of imagining her in the schoolgirl outfit… oy…)
            DOCTOR DOOM: Latverian Orthodox, what else?
            LEX LUTHOR: Russian Orthodox. Can’t you see that?
            THE NEW GODS: well, each other I guess.
            THE JOKER: Scientology.
            Except for the last one, none of these were meant to be for the sake of a joke or to be insulting. If I have insulted anyone, I apologize for doing so, even if unintentional. But if Marvel & DC decide to announce that most of the X-men are Catholic or that Superman was raised a Baptist, it wouldn’t surprise me. Keep in mind – if I didn’t know the Thing was Jewish, I would have guessed Catholic with his inner-city-street-gang-past-coming-straight-out-of-“Angels-with-Dirty-Faces”.
            So what do I know?
            JWhat do you think? Who would you add?
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

Robin the Boy Wonder – the Spinal Tap drummer of comic books…

Robin the Boy Wonder – the Spinal Tap drummer of comic books…

            DC Comics is killing off Robin the Boy Wonder.
            Happy 1988 everyone!
            No wait, it’s happening AGAIN. NOW!
            This isn’t the first Robin to be killed off. The first Robin killed wasn’t even the first Robin.
            Robin the Boy Wonder, the Spinal Tap drummer of DC Comics. The first Robin was Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s ward. This was the Robin from the 1960s TV show and the cartoons up until about 1990 or so. When his character grew into manhood, he was replaced by Jason Todd. Jason was killed by the Joker as a gruesome publicity stunt. We the people called a 900-number and voted whether to off the Boy Wonder. We the people responded with a resounding yes.
            Then came Timothy Drake – a more likable character who was eased into the role. Dick Grayson was shown in the comics mentoring Tim, so that we the people would learn to like him in case of another telephonic publicity stunt.
            Tim Drake also grew up and became Red Robin – he was replaced by his fiancé.
            Then came Damian Wayne. He is the child of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al-Ghul, Ra’s Al-Ghul’s daughter. I didn’t read many comics with Damian Wayne as Robin. What little I read of him came from his appearances in other comics. Much like his father (or at least the personality of his father over the past 20 years or so), he was a smart-ass dickwad. He told Wonder Woman to put on some clothes, called her a “harlot”. That sort of thing.
            Lots of other people have dressed as Robin over the years – including Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Julie Madison and Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen.
            According to the DC press machine, Damian grew from a brat into a noble and honorable hero.
            So, of course they kill him.
            Is it a sales boost in a bottle? You bet. Will Damian be back? Sure, Jason Todd came back, Damian will to. “No, sorry,” say the DC press machine, “this one is permanent.” They lie.
            My friend Clyde Hall discusses his frustration at this publicity stunt in his blog here: http://playmst3kforme.blogspot.com/2013/03/dc-marvelstop-before-you-kill-again.html
            I applaud his letter and would sign on to it as well! But killing off Robin got me thinking in a different direction.
            Death has been a part of comic book history since the explosion of Krypton. Death can create a hero and mold their personalities and motives just as it can in a traditional story. The trouble is it can also be a cheap way to boost sales and a shortcut for real storytelling and character development.
            It hasn’t always been that way. The three most familiar characters in comic books had their origins mired in death. Superman was orphaned twice. “With all my powers,” he would opine at the gravesite of his adopted parents, the Kents, “I couldn’t save them.” His first parents, along with the billions of inhabitants of Krypton, didn’t give him the moral base that Jonathan and Martha Kent did. In later years, when the powers-that-be retconned his mother back to life, it did not seem the same. His internal moral compass became an external one. Superman would save the world from Throgg the Omnipotent, then have a slice of pie at his mother’s farm.  Eh…
            Imagine if someone retcons Batman’s origins so that his parents lived. The murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne (by Joe Chill, the future Joker, or anyone – personally I preferred it to be always unknown – a random killer; the one case Batman couldn’t solve) is vital, VITAL, to Batman’s origins, motives and personality.
            Likewise the murder of Ben Parker, Peter’s uncle, was vital to Spiderman’s origins, motives and personality. Had Ben Parker lived, Spidey would have been a sideshow attraction/stuntman. After his uncle’s death, Peter had his now-famous epiphany, “with great power comes great responsibility.” This is more dry-eyed then Superman’s epiphany, and more famous, but just as effective. “Thus a superhero was born.” Can’t you hear that in Stan Lee’s voice?
            Sometimes a death mid-series can be done without shock value or for the sake of a sales boost. And that death can affect motive and personality as much as the death of the Kents, Waynes and Ben Parker.
            Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s main squeeze and was killed in a battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Her death shadowed the Spider-Man books for decades.
            The most famous example was Bucky. When Captain America came back from post-WWII obscurity into the 1960s in the pages of the Avengers, we learned that his side-kick Bucky had been killed in an explosion just before Captain was frozen for nearly twenty years. Bucky’s death permeated everything Captain America did for the next 45 years. They brought Bucky back eventually, which (although well done) diminishes Cap’s mortality. During the excellent JLA-Avengers miniseries, Captain America and Batman worked together in the Batcave to find a solution as to what is causing all the other heroes to thrash each other. Cap stared at a mannequin of Robin’s outfit. “You lost a partner too?” Batman replied with something like a “let’s concentrate on our work” or some such. It would have been worth a panel or two later to show them drinking coffee and each discussing losing their sidekicks.
            Which brings us back to Robin. It seems most deaths in comics over the past three decades have been publicity stunts and sales boosts. Once in a great while, though, the stunt grows into an interesting few years of comic book tales.
            Take the death of the first Robin, for example. A stunt? Sure, some fan-boys probably maxxed out their credit cards calling the “kill Robin” number. But over the next few years the death of Jason Todd haunted Batman. Tim Drake’s taking over of the Robin mantle developed slowly – Batman did not want to lose a partner again.  Oh sure it was also done slowly to ingratiate him with those same fan-boys with the 900-number on their speed-dial, but it wasn’t BAD…
            Bringing Jason back to life, however, nullified any literary gains made. It turned the whole thing into the old chestnut – “No one stays dead in comic books.”  We used to say, “except Bucky.” Not even THAT is true anymore.
            I give DC comics the benefit of the doubt over the death of Superman twenty years ago. I believe DC planned to make this a year-long line-wide event.  Looking back, it was very well done after all. It created some new villains and heroes that are still around today. But even the creators admit that when the mainstream news got a hold of the story on a slow Friday and ran with it – they saw money signs flash before their eyes. “Superman dead!” screamed headlines and newscasts, as if he were an actual person. The powers-that-be knew they had a publicity blitz on their hands and milked it. Oh yes, he’s dead! No doubt about it! This is for real!
            Yeah right.
            Within days the powers-that-be were backsliding. “Well, death for a Kryptonian isn’t the same as death for we earthlings.” Ah, he’ll be back. It WAS all a stunt…
            And the bloodbath didn’t stop there. Within a few years we saw the deaths of Greens Lantern and Arrow after big build-ups. They came back eventually too.
            So did the Flash. He was killed in 1985 along with Supergirl and a few secondary characters by a universal threat that enveloped the entire line of DC comics (the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to you comic book-types).
            The original heroes of DC/National comics – the members of the Justice Society – were DC’s whipping boys all through the 1990s and on. Golden Age heroes were killed nearly annually. Dr. Midnight, Dr. Fate, the Atom, the Sandman, the original Superman, all were killed off for its shock values.  Whereas, the original Batman was killed off in the 1970s in a well-done (if not widely read) series of stories that still affected the characters involved for the next eight years (until the “Crisis…”).
            How many times has Spider-Man’s Aunt May been killed?
            So I roll my eyes when I hear news of “the Human Torch is to be killed off!” Remember that a few years back? It’s okay if you don’t… because they will all be back.  Maybe not within the year, but soon. It’ll happen when the editor runs out of ideas and needs another sales boost. After killing everyone off – the only thing left to do is bring them back.
            Marriage in comics is the same way. Superman and Lois Lanemarry. Spider-Man and Mary Jane marry. OK, what next? Umm, un-marry them. It never happened. That’s what they did. To both marriages.
            “Robin is to be killed!” Mmm-hmm. He might not be Robin when he comes back, but he’ll be back. If Bucky and Martha Kent can come back, so can Damian.
            Will anyone care? Well, was his death and eventually resurrection a good story ala Bucky? Did his death make a difference in the Batman universe? And will his return make an equal difference? If so; if it makes for quality reading and enthralling entertainment, then the answer will be yes!
            In other words, no.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry