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.

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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?

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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Comic book Mondays: Secret Avengers #1

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There’s a lot going on in Secret Avengers #1. Near-death experiences and deep space and AIM goons and caramel gelato. I feel like it has it all, and definitely my favourite elements of the characters I love.

This Secret Avengers team-up includes a few of my favourites – Black Widow, Phil Coulson and Hawkeye, plus Spider-Woman, Nick Fury, and M.O.D.O.K., with heavy doses of Maria Hill as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s resident lying liar who lies. I loved the various relationships that were set up from the outset – the mentor-student relationship between Black Widow and Spider-Woman, the best buddy relationship between Fury and Coulson, and especially the antagonistic relationship between M.O.D.O.K. and Hill.

I was a bit unsure of this series to begin with, for two reasons. Tradd Moore’s cover art isn’t really my style, quite exaggerated and alien-like, and when I went to buy this book I was actually looking for its predecessor, Secret Avengers vol. 2, which opens with Coulson seducing Hawkeye and the Black Widow into the Secret Avengers with Pineapple and Coconut scones.

I read an article one where Ales Kot said that his Hawkeye was based on Fraction’s solo run, which has been running since 2012. I can see that in the character – Hawkeye looks and acts a lot like his Fraction self, and even his uniform has a Fraction-like update, a simple black cargo pants and black tee with a purple arrow on it. Nothing about his characterisation feels copied or forced. He’s a bit of an idiot, but is usually able to recover his footing enough to get away from the goons – and when he lags behind, Widow’s there to save his ass.

I really liked the introduction to Spider-Woman. I’m a complete Spider-Woman newbie, so introducing her as the newbie really gave me time to feel her out as a character before she was committed to the general badassery and humanity-saving of the rest of the book. Her penchant for caramel gelato kind of made me feel like we were soul sisters (even though I usually go for lemon gelato).

Kot’s storytelling is action-packed without skimping on plot, giving the reader a chance to acquaint themselves with the characters, their missions and some of their motives before jumping straight in to the goon ass-kicking. Matthew Wilson’s colouring made it easy to follow not only where the characters were, but which character arc we were following, and Michael Walsh’s sparse backgrounds and focus on the characters in the panels made the comic easy to follow and rewarding to read.

I have to say, I’m pretty hooked on Secret Avengers. I thought I’d read vol. 3 as a stand-in until I could get my hands on vol. 2, but I can see that’s not going to be the case. I’m now four books in, and can’t wait to hit the comic book store soon for more.

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