Comic Book Mondays: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron

It may come as no surprise to you that each time a new movie arc is announced, I get really excited. I’m early enough in my comic reading that I tend to use the movies as inspiration for what to buy next, so when The Avengers: Age of Ultron was announced, I pretty much hopped on over to my local comic book store and bought the whole arc. Plus the Skottie Young edition of #1. Because it’s adorable.

So I read the comic version of Age of Ultron before seeing the movie, and while I knew it couldn’t possibly be the same – Wolverine being the copyright property of 20th Century Fox and Hank Pym not having been introduced yet – I had very high hopes for this movie. Very. High. Hopes.

Ultron is my favourite comic villain so far. He’s clever, he’s driven, and he’s in the internet. All of these things make him absolutely terrifying, and I spent most of the comics biting my lip, hoping to God that the good guys would succeed. They did, of course, but the road to success was littered with time travel and heart-wrenching battles.

The movie Ultron, however, is not very scary at all. Spoiler alert, but it took the Vision seconds to eradicate him from the internet and keep him out of there, and as visually arresting as it is, the army of Ultron-clones just wasn’t as scary as I think Joss Whedon intended it to be. Sure, the battle scenes were epic, and I loved the Maximoff twins, but Ultron was declawed with absolutely no trouble. And that made me really sad.

I get that time-travel is not something that the cinematic universe has yet (Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m looking at you for this one). I get that watching a guy mashing at a computer keyboard doesn’t exactly make for riveting cinema. But the parts where a disembodied Ultron took out a disembodied JARVIS were great, and when they introduced their unknown ally protecting the nuclear codes, my heart leapt in excitement. Surely it wouldn’t have been that much trouble to introduce just a little tension regarding Ultron’s biggest strength?

Having said all that, Age of Ultron is a solid movie, and I enjoyed it enough to see it twice at the cinema and another time since then. I love the character-building that we got from Wanda’s nightmare-thingy, I love Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (I s2g if Pietro doesn’t get miraculously revived the way Coulson did I will be seriously upset). I even enjoyed the “Language!” gag, though I do wonder about Cap being cast as an old man in a young man’s body. I’m sorry, but he’s not. He’s in the army. He would have used plenty of foul language in the war – probably still does, amongst his team.

I don’t love Age of Ultron the way I love The Avengers, but I think that’s okay. I had a high expectations of Age of Ultron, both as a fan of the preceeding films and as a budding comic book fan, and Ultron didn’t quite manage to meet them all. But that doesn’t dampen my excitement over the direction the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going in at all.

Comic Book Mondays: Ant-Man

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So I wanted to write about the Ant-Man movie because that’s what I do. I watch comic book movies, and then I squee about them, and then I blog about them. But the thing is, I don’t really have any strong feelings about Ant-Man. Maybe that’s just because I don’t have any strong feelings about Ant-Man himself.

The premise of the film is pretty standard comic book stuff – a scientist creates a technology which has the potential to change the world; he refuses to patent it because he’s sure it will be used for evil; then someone manages to recreate it and intends to sell it to the highest bidder.

I like Ant-Man because it stays true to the comic book origins of the Avengers as a team, adding depth to SHIELD’s background while not altering the fabric of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it stands. By this, of course, I mean that Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne are in this universe crucial to the development of SHIELD, but by the present day, Hank Pym is an old man whose days of death-defying acts of heroism are beyond him.

Enter Scott Lang, the hero of this story and the man who takes up the Ant-Man mantle after Hank Pym. his story arc is very much of the redemption variety – he’s just gotten out of prison for theft, and is desperately trying to reintegrate into society so that he can pick up his relationship with his daughter, who is still young enough that she totally hero-worships her daddy.

I feel like Ant-Man can pretty much be summed up in this exchange:

Hank: I believe that everyone deserves a shot at redemption. Do you?

Scott: Absolutely. My days of breaking into places and stealing stuff are over. What do you want me to do?

Hank: I want you to break into a place and steal some stuff.

I particularly like the part where, after Hank Pym outlines the terrible consequences if their plan to steal the Pym Particles back, Scott’s immediate reaction is, “I think we should call the Avengers.” Good plan, Scotty. Too bad they’re too high-profile (or whatever).

I feel like every time Marvel debuts a new superhero, they ask us to have faith in them all over again. Here’s this actor, they say, you may have seen him before. He’s not super famous, but we think he’ll be the perfect Scott Lang. Trust us, they say. Okay, we say – I mean, we know by now that the teams working on these movies have as much love for the comics as we do. I wasn’t sure about Paul Rudd, hadn’t really seen him in anything, I don’t think, but I was totally sold by the end.

When I first walked out of the theatre, I wasn’t sure what I thought – Ant-Man wasn’t slapstick like Iron Man; it wasn’t earnest like Captain America: the First Avenger. Sure, the stakes were global-devastation huge, but that wasn’t why Scott Lang accepted the Ant-Man mantle. He didn’t feel a responsibility for the world, he felt a responsibility to pick his life up and be a good influence for his daughter. The fact that Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne (van Dyne? Van Dyne? help!) don’t have a great relationship, giving Hank Pym an element of genuine empathy with Scott Lang, was a great emotional thread that ran throughout the whole film, shrinking the scale to something more relatable than “Oh no, the world might end!”

I’m not sure how to wrap up this post. I enjoyed watching Ant-Man, but I didn’t walk out of the theatre gushing about it. Now every time I think about it, I like it even more. The feel of it is, immediately, quite different from other Marvel movies, but now that I’ve had time to adjust to it, I feel like that’s a strength rather than a weakness. I mean, we’re in Phase 3 now. We’ve been through enough in the MCU that we don’t need everything to be as grand as Phase 1 was.

Comic Book Mondays: Civil War

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I’m a Captain America fangirl. This is a known fact about me. So knowing that, you can imagine how difficult it was for me to jump into Civil War – an event I had very high hopes for, given that it forms the premise of the next Captain America movie – and find that I actively, vigorously disagreed with the stance that Captain America took.

Civil War centres around the political debate regarding whether or not superheroes and mutants – superhumans, let’s call them – should be registered and given mandatory government training in order to be allowed to mingle with the regular-human public in their day-to-day lives. You get the impression that this debate has raged in the Marvel background for a long time before the tragedy that levels a primary school and kicks off Civil War takes place. But here it is – a group of low-level mutants are filming a reality TV show. They enrage some villains, and the fallout levels a primary school and kills dozens. The public, understandably, is furious, and the superhuman registration debate explodes.

In the midst of this, we have the superhumans we know and love. On the one hand, Iron Man, who wrestles with his own responsibility for public safety as a superhero and as an ex-weapons developer. On the other, Captain America, who for all he was developed as a weapon, has an impressive moral compass and respect for civilian life. Tony Stark believes that the safety of the many is more important than the comfort of the few, and is all for registration. Steve Rogers believes that the privacy of superhumans must be respected, and rejects registration out of hand.

Civil War puts the reader in the uncomfortable position of having their favourite duo – Cap and Shellhead – at odds for almost the whole event. Cap fights, and hides underground, gathering a collective of superhumans – both heroes and villains – who also disagree with registration. It’s a weird and uncomfortable feeling, having Cap in the role of Bad Guy, seeing what the science cohort does without Cap standing there saying, “Really, Tony? You think that’s a good idea?”

I read Civil War in about two days, I think. Two big chunks. The art was beautiful, the storyline gave me all the information without slowing down, I got to meet heaps of cool characters (like the Punisher; let me just say OMG); but best of all, I think, was that Civil War gave me an opportunity to really reflect on why Captain America – Steve Rogers, really – is one of my faves, and to understand that just because he is my fave doesn’t mean he’s perfect or that all of his ideas are good.

Comic book Mondays: Winter Soldier #9

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I’ve been trying to write about Winter Soldier for more than a year – not because I didn’t love the comic, but because I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. My discovery of this comic is wrapped up in a lot of extra stuff – there was going to be a whole cute narrative about my partner’s any my tenth anniversary trip to Tasmania, wandering around Launceston and stumbling upon a cute little pop culture store with boxes and boxes of unsorted comic back issues that hadn’t sold yet. We stood there for hours, going through those boxes, and at the end of it I had two Winter Soldier editions, #9 and #10, and a whole new understanding of the joy it is to be a comic book nerd.

Before Winter Soldier, I’d never read any of Ed Brubaker’s comics. I know he’s a giant in the industry, and he written volumes upon volumes of our favourite musclebound heroes, including Captain AmericaDaredevil, and Uncanny X-Men. But I hadn’t (still haven’t) gotten around to reading any of his, so it was great to discover a well-known writer for the first time.

Winter Soldier ticks all the boxes – tortured hero, conspiracy, old enemies, mind control, great fight scenes (courtesy of Mike Lang). It also has the Winter Soldier fighting for, with, and against the Black Widow, who is another great character who I can’t wait to get to know.

It helps that there’s a romance element to it as well – Winter Soldier suggests that the Widow and the Soldier were lovers when they both worked for the Red Room, and that Bucky is trying to get that back. I love romance stories like that, so…

Also, that fight? The one pictured above? Where the Winter Soldier is fully suited and the Black Widow is only wearing a tutu? Amazing.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Winter Soldier – like I said, I’ve been trying to write about it for a year – but I can still remember how the whole time I was reading it I was grinning. I think that’s a pretty solid recommendation, don’t you?

2014 in review

Goodbye, 2014. Hate to see you leave, love to watch you go.

Wait. Nope, I’m thinking of something else.

2014’s been both a challenge and a delight. Personal problems, professional challenges, and a lot of time spent in my own head and on this blog were basically the common threads of the year. Here are some highlights.

Books I read

As this is nominally a reading blog, here are my reading highlights of the year.

Comics

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2014 was the year I finally delved into comic books, fully embracing my inner Marvel (and Chris Evans) fangirl. Comic highlights include my first, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, as well as Andy Diggle’s The Losers and Brian Michael Bendis’ Age of Ultron. Last comic of the year was Mark Millar’s Civil War, because I just can’t wait for Captain America: Civil War to come out (I may be doing a little happy dance in my seat just thinking about it).

I’ve really enjoyed branching out into comics this year. It challenged my ideas of how and why I enjoy reading – confirming some suspicions that yes, actually, I am just in it for a ripping yarn, and debunking previously held opinions about the word-to-picture ratio of a complex, gripping story.

Nonfiction

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Another way I’ve branched out this year was by properly diving into reading nonfiction. I’ve been dancing around the edges of memoir and essay for a few years now, and jumping into George Orwell’s Essays and Benjamin Law’s Gaysia only served to encourage and delight. I walked into a brand-new bookstore just up the road from my house in the week before Christmas and found not one but three nonfiction books I was interested in. I’m challenging myself to purchase and read all of them by the end of February – gotta keep that nonfiction spark burning!

Fiction

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I joined a couple of book clubs this year that broadened and challenged my choice of novel, and helped me get around to reading books that I’d been thinking about reading or that had been recommended to me a while before. I loved loved loved Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I shared with my local book club and pressed onto a good friend and both my parents with much success within weeks of finishing it. Many thanks to the Bloc Club for introducing me to Brooke Davis’ Lost and Found; other favourites include Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (I’m still puzzling over that one), and Wayne Macauley’s Demons and The Cook. Unforgettable, that last one.

Songs I couldn’t get out of my head

I love pop music aimed at teenagers and I’m not even ashamed. The only reason I’m not going to see Taylor Swift in 2015 is that I missed out on tickets – $250 is a little out of my budget. There were a lot of songs I listened to in 2014, but these three (once they came out) I listened to every day, every week, sometimes multiple times in a day, because I couldn’t get them out of my head.



2014 Highlights

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My partner and I went to Tasmania for our ten-year (ten years! What the actual deuce?!) anniversary, and it was pretty amazing. My favourite moment was walking around Lake St Clair on a drizzly, grey day, breaking in our new snow jackets, getting our jeans wet, and not even caring.

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I don’t take pictures much, but I Instagram my coffee a lot. So many instances of taking a quiet moment with a coffee and a book made up what feels like the bulk of 2014, but this one was a particular favourite, as I was taking a moment in between sessions at The Wheeler Centre’s New News journalism conference. So many great speakers from publications including the Herald Sun, The Age, the ABC and the Guardian Australia challenging, questioning, and confirming the role of Australian media in a world where anybody can be a reporter, and we all want to get our news for free. I’m still turning these panels over in my head, and I can’t wait for next year.

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So many drunken Thursdays with this angel and her seemingly neverending TV queue basically kept me from unravelling this year. Thanks, bb. You’ll be awesome in your new job.

So that’s 2014 in a nutshell. Hard to believe that 365 days of books and coffee and wine and birthdays and travel and challenges and support and pop culture and peanut butter on toast can be distilled into one short post, but that’s life, I guess. We remember moments, not days (thanks Kikki.K). Here’s to a great, challenging, decisive, wonderful 2015 filled with good books, great friends, and many bottles of wine.

Comic Book Mondays: Cap, Thor, and representation

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I’m really excited about the new Thor, and about seeing Sam Wilson as Cap – these changes are actually serving as encouragement for me to pick up two titles I had no idea where to start with. But sometimes I think we have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for things that either should be no-brainers, or for changes which seem to be more important than they are. Below are a few of my thoughts on the matter, much less organised than I would usually have them. This is one of those situations where I think I know what I’m talking about, but I’m not really convinced, you know?

Thor and Cap are high profile characters, so it’s amazing that Marvel are getting their diversity on with those two. Interest in them is BIG, what with the success of the movies and, one would presume, follow-on of fans from movie to comics. The distinction about Thor, particularly, was really cool – Thor the title, not Thor the name. But aside from the obvious logistical questions (what name will Thor go by if the new Goddess of Thunder is using his?), I’ve hardly seen anything addressing the elephant in the room – what happens when Steve Rogers and the Prince of Asgard want to reclaim their previous mantles?

Captain America is a mantle that has been held by many people. Steve Rogers, obviously, but also Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton (briefly), and now Sam Wilson*. But what happens when Steve gets back from doing whatever he’s doing – questioning his faith in America, being dead, retiring, whatever – and wants to take up the mantle again?

That’s right – Captain America goes back to being a white American male, and Sam Wilson goes back to being the sidekick. Tough gig.
Same goes with Thor. Many people have been deemed worthy of wielding Mjolnir in its (her?) long and storied comic book history. So what’d the difference between wielding the power of Thor, and getting to bear his name?

Here’s the thing: I’m all for diversity in comics. People need to be represented – who knows what the world would look like if a young Oprah Winfrey hadn’t seen Nichelle Nicholls play Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on Star Trek and figured that if Nicholls could do that, she could do anything?

But I’m not sure that rewriting popular characters to incorporate diversity is the way to go. These characters are riding on the popularity of decades of being white males, and to me it smacks a bit of laziness. It’s the same with the movies. DC has released it’s six-year plan, and it looks a lot more diverse than Marvel’s. DC’s plan through to 2020 includes Cyborg, Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa), Wonder Woman, and the Suicide Squad, the current iteration of which is far more diverse than any Avengers lineup I’ve come into contact with. I don’t know, maybe DC has been waiting for Marvel to make comic book movies popular, but with Marvel planning Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and a whole bunch of sequels, it’s easy to get a bit less excited than I once was.

Marvel has a bunch of fantastic characters who aren’t white American males. Characters like Miss Marvel, Falcon, Black Panther, the Wasp, Mockingbird – I’m new to comics and I can name these six off the top of my head! – are experiencing a resurgence and even being exposed to popular media readers simply through being speculated about. Why couldn’t you push those comics, those characters, in order to promote the diversity you supposedly want/think you need/think will probably deliver on the bottom line, now that comics are cool. Why would you make Sam Wilson Cap when he’s just been in a hugely successful film as his original character? One would think that you would launch a brand-new Falcon title to coincide with renewed interest from the film, rather than recreating him as Cap. Or does he get to do both for the time being?

Comic book Mondays: Hawkeye #7

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Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye #7 was the first comic I read, ever, and to this day I think it was a perfect introduction to the lives of Hawkeye and Hawkeye. It’s a little Brooklyn v. Jersey battle, Clint Barton and Kate Bishop bickering about which is the better area while gearing up for some serious wet weather.

Hawkeye #7 opens Little Hits, the second Hawkeye trade paperback that collects Hawkeye#6-11. I didn’t notice at first that the book starts with #7, goes back to #6, and then goes happily forward from #8 onwards, but I can see why the publishers made that choice. #7 is a little bit of a detour, a day-in-the-life that doesn’t quite slot in with the rest of the story, the way natural disasters do.

I love the realtionship between the two Hawkeyes, the mentor-mentee thing that has well and truly devolved into big-brother-little-sister territory by the time this story starts. They tease and bicker and prod at one another until Clint departure from his apartment is masked by a semi-joking get out ye heathen how dare you say Brooklyn is better than Jersey that is the kind of thing you’d get from your own best friend, whether or not she was wearing a ruffled purple bridesmaid-to-be dress.

Being #7, I didn’t really understand Clint’s relationship with the secondary characters, and how they fit into the greater narrative, but the compassion with which he comforts the friend whose childhood home has been irreparably flood-damaged was wonderful for a fan who’s only seen him brainwashed and fighting to see. Of course, when I realised that Fraction’s Hawkeye series continued straight on from the movie, it got even better.

this is what he does when he’s not being an avenger, indeed.

I love Fraction’s story, and Aja’s limited palette spreads are gorgeous and easy for a comic novice to follow. Honestly, I really picked up Little Hits because I wanted more Hawkeye love than The Avengers and tumblr could give me, and I wasn’t in any way disappointed.

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