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: 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: 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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On the Strong Female Character™

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I have a lot of feelings about the idea of the Strong Female Character, and what that means for female role models and the cultural perception of women in general. So I’m going to try and make this make as much sense as possible, so bear with me if I go off on weird tangents, because I’ll come back, I promise, to the idea of the Strong Female Character, what she is, and how she’s affecting pop culture.

Let me start by saying that Joss Whedon does not have the monopoly on writing Strong Female Characters. Sure, his characters are excellent examples of women who don’t take no shit from anybody, but even in my lifetime there have been scores of examples of women who are like that, and they don’t necessarily get any recognition.

I open with this because my thoughts on this matter began to properly coalesce around the same time Marvel’s The Avengers came out, and the clip of Scarlett Johanssen talking about Joss Whedon’s Strong Female Characters. Every time I see that clip (or any of the million GIFs thereof), I get really happy that Johanssen doesn’t use the phrase Strong Female Character. And then she does.

Here’s the thing about Strong Female Characters: they’re not only one thing. The vast majority of characters bearing the label are fighters – the Black Widow, Arya Stark, Bayonetta, Evelyn Salt, Zoe Washburne. All fabulous women, and well worthy of the role model position they’ve been placed in. But fighting isn’t everything.

Strong Female Characters aren’t just fighters. They’re sacrificers. They’re the ones who do anything, use any tools at their disposal, to survive. They’re the ones who don’t take any shit. I’m thinking characters like Sansa Stark, Inara Serra, Pepper Potts – characters who don’t have fighting skills to fall back on, but who kick ass and take names nevertheless. In real life, the types of women who are making a name for themselves are these, the Sheryl Sandbergs and Arianna Huffingtons and Beyonces of the world, who use their femininity as part of their taking-on-the-world arsenal.

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To go back to my first example, about the Avengers press conference and how Scarlett Johanssen felt about playing one of Joss Whedon’s Strong Female Characters. Clearly Joss Whedon has made a name for himself creating female characters who are more than just decoration. Indeed, I named three of his characters in my examples above. (Okay, two and a half. The Black Widow already existed, he just did her justice.) But how many of you would have included Inara in a list of Strong Female Characters? Even though her entire entire character arc is about her protecting whoever of the crew she can from Reavers and not letting Mal push her around even a little bit? I only thought of her because I was thinking really hard about recognisable feminine characters. I’m not proud of that, but it is part of my point – Strong Female Characters are considered to be those who pick up masculine traits, martial skills and witty one-liners and being the one who kills rather than gets killed. The wolf in sheep’s clothing.

My word count is getting up there (yay for you if you’re still with me!), but I want to talk about one more example, and then we’ll see if we can’t pull a conclusion out of this ranty mess.

Let’s talk Sansa Stark. She’s up there with Joffrey as one of the most hated characters on Game of Thrones, and I’m not really sure why. Sure, she messes up, has dreams of marrying the prince and living happily ever after, is kind of a bitch to her Septa Mordane – but on the other hand, she’s also twelve. She also learns pretty quickly that her prince is a homicidal maniac, and in pretty much the same breath, figures out that the best way to protect herself is to go along with whatever he wants. And that both of those things also go for the rest of the royal family.

People hate Sansa not because she messes up, but because she has the audacity to do so while acting like a girl. (via)

This is not the face of a wilting flower. This girl is going to rip your throat out the minute she gets a chance.

Then there’s Arya Stark. Younger, cuter, and more of a tomboy than her sister will ever be, there’s still nothing about Arya’s situation that is more dangerous than the one her sister is in. They’re both cast adrift in a dangerous, dangerous world, and yet Arya’s response makes her a hero, a Strong Female Character, while Sansa’s makes her a whiny bitch.

I’m not an athlete. I don’t have a razor sharp tongue. I don’t fight, or swear much, and I can’t match the boys drink for drink. But I am strong. I don’t take shit. I guess I just want to see my kind of strength – feminine, adaptable, capable – represented in the media I like to watch. For that kind of strength to be acknowledged as a characteristic of the Strong Female Character.

At the end of the day, any female character is a Strong Female Character in her own right. So why do we laud those masculine characteristics as her defining traits?

My reflexes are too fast

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I went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy tonight. It was pretty awesome. It was funny and action-y and it felt like watching a comic book come to life. The pacing and the way locations were labelled was very much in the style of an actual comic, which is quite liked and which I thought lent quite a lot to the overall feel of the film. The main actors were fantastic in their roles, and I have he feeling I’ll be quoting the script at random intervals for the next few weeks.

The thing I love about the Marvel universe – but especially the Marvel Cinematic Universe – is the way the stories all click together without being codependent. I love that the films and comics all layer together to form a much bigger whole than their parts, that there are little cameos and throwaways in one film that fill in tiny blanks from the one before it.

I love the Marvel movies because they’re fun, and funny, and have great fight scenes and the everyone involved seems to have a wonderful time making them. I feel like that comes out in the finished product. I’m excited to see where in the current MCU the Guardians fit, and especially the Collector. I have a feeling he’ll keep popping up as the MCU moves into it’s next phase.