Marvel Double Feature: Avengers Age Of Ultron & Ant-Man

avengers the age of ultronRight off the bat, I’ll admit that I did not actually watch Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man as a true double feature. We probably watched the latter a month ago and just peeped the former yesterday. But, since I didn’t write about the Avengers sequel, it seemed liked a proper time.

I went into Joss Whedon’s Ultron with fairly low expectations. It seemed like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter and actually communicate with weren’t super into it. The general feeling I was picking up on seemed to be that, while it’s got all kinds of spectacle, it didn’t live up to the original.

And that was my experience as well, but then again, this is a different kind of blockbuster super hero movie. The original — which I love — seemed custom built to show that all of these series-leading, mega stars could come together, fight the bad guys and look good doing it. Meanwhile, this film seemed built with a different goal in mind: showing how said group (plus new members) can work together even when times are tough.

It’s also clearly a bigger piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle leading up to Captain America: Civil War and the Infinity War movies. To me as a viewer, the first felt like it was worked into the bigger tale while this one was more obviously built to lead to something else. This is something I’m not usually a fan of in comics and even less so in comic films and it all just boils down to a feeling I get while watching.

And yet, I still found myself enjoying this darker take on team superheroics. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision all make interesting additions to not just the team, but the universe at large. Plus, it’s not all dark. I could watch an entire TV series about the Avengers hanging out like they did at that party. I also just adore James Spader (as I mentioned here) so watching and listening to his take on the killer robot Ultron was a treat as he’s basically Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington but crazy and a robot.

I think that the problem with this movie as related to the first one comes down to this fact: I don’t want to rewatch it a bunch. I probably could have sat through another showing of Whedon’s first Avengers film right after the first one and even stop flipping or pop in for a few minutes every time I see it on TV. I don’t see that happening here. In other words, it’s not nearly as fun as the first one, which it clearly wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s still a bummer.

ant-man posterAnt-Man is far from a bummer, though, which is great. I admit, my feelings towards these movies have been a bit tainted by elements from beyond the movies themselves. I’m not sure how I feel about every single film moving forward painting towards this gigantic epic that will end Phase Three. I love the inter-connectivity between these films, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them all to be about this one big thing leading forward.

And then I watched Ant-Man and it felt like a nice step away from all that intergalactic craziness to just tell the story of a few people trying their best to not make the world a worse place. I love the approach of using this intelligent thief to wear a potentially fatal suit in an attempt to stop tech from ruining the world. It’s perfectly comic book-y, but also fits in so well with this universe and Paul Rudd just kills it. I also really enjoyed watching Michael Douglas who seemed to break the rule that every old dude in a Marvel Studios movie turns out to be bad. Oh, and how fun is Michael Pena? And how bad ass is Lilly? More of both of them please! Basically, everything came together to give me a beautiful mix of heist and hero that gets a major thumbs up from this guy.

However, all respect to director Peyton Reed who did a great job, but I still wish we would have been able to see Edgar Wright’s version of this film which we reported on all the way back in the days of Wizard and ToyFare. Yes I bet it would have been an amazing movie, but it more so bums me out that a relatively slow filmmaker like Wright spent ALL that time on a movie that just didn’t happen. He’s got such an amazing vision for what he makes that I want him to make all the movies he can and this felt like a major entanglement that resulted in a great vision for Ant-Man, but not a full-on Edgar Wright movie.

And, yes, I still remain a bit nervous about Marvel tying up too many of their films to Infinity War, but then I must remind myself that Guardians Of The Galaxy did a great job of incorporating some of that into its movie and this one basically skips over all of that. Back to what I was saying above, it feels like Ant-Man is its own thing that will get incorporated into the larger goings-on of the MCU instead of the other way around. I like that and as long as that’s the way these things go, I’ll keep enjoying them.

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Halloween Scene: The Trade Pile

wytches vol 1Even with all the Halloween-related work I had going on this season — which included healthy doses of Warren’s Eerie comics and Marvel scare books — I still had some time to read a few other things leading up to the big day. I’ll hit these up in a quick hits fashion, but still wanted to call out a few fun aspects of each book. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Trade Pile

Jason Aaron Is Awesome

GhostRiderOmnibusJasonAaron Jason Aaron’s one of those comic writers whose career has interestingly intersected with my career as a writer about comics. When I first started at Wizard one of my buddies and an editor at the magazine was huge on his Vertigo series The Other Side. I didn’t read that one, but I did check out the Ripclaw one-shot he did as part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season not too long after that and the first few books in his Scalped series.

The first of his works that really captivated me, though was Ghost Rider. But it wasn’t until my second attempt at reading it. As I’ve written, I love the down-and-dirty, grindhouse-y tone of that book and the wild places he took it. I assumed for a while that that was pretty much his wheelhouse, but as I’ve learned recently from branching out into X-Men: Schism, Wolverine & The X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Thanos Rising, Incredible Hulk, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine and Thor: God Of Thunder, this guy has more tricks up his sleeve than all the magicians in Vegas. Continue reading Jason Aaron Is Awesome

Toy Commercial Tuesday: The Avengers

Over the weekend, I introduced my daughter to a bunch of Avengers toys I was sent years ago as a way of hyping the toy tie-in line from Hasbro. Everything came in a super cool, locker-like box but the toys inside proved to be a lot more interesting three years later. My daughter’s just at the right age to actually play with the smaller scale figures and get a kick out of things like a Hulk mask and Iron Man repulsor ray. We’ve also got that shield-slinging Cap which is fun, but the real highlights are the 3 3/4 inch figures which have made their way with us on various outings.

Personal story aside, I forgot how crazy the rap was in these Avengers toy commercials. Wowzers.

Trade Post: Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)

exiles ultimate collection vol 1 Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)
Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Mike McKone & Jim Calafiore
Collects Exiles #1-19

Sometimes a book comes along and just fits so perfectly in your wheelhouse that you wonder why you haven’t already mainlined the whole thing already. Exiles is that book for me. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the X-Men, but didn’t feel up to the challenge of diving into that incredibly dense continuity. I also love alternate world stories, so when Judd Winick — a writer I love — came along and combined the two in Exiles, I was on board. Well, not really because I didn’t read the book as it started coming out because I was graduating high school and heading into college at that point, but I was intrigued and kept it on my trade-watch radar. At this year’s New York Comic Con I scored the first, second, third and fifth volumes of the Exiles Ultimate Collection books for $5 each which was huge for me. I’m pretty excited about getting my hands on the two I’m missing, though maybe not the very last one which is all Chris Claremont. Still, I’ll have fun with the volumes I have (I hope) and see if I want to keep reading the rest.

The idea here is that a group of X-Men have been plucked from their alternate dimensions to work for an entity called the Time Broker who sends them on missions in other dimensions to help get the time stream back on track. If they fail, their own realities will suffer great changes that threaten their own lives. The great thing about this book is that it’s so completely in and of itself while also playing off of many of the themes and ideas presented in the main X-books as well as the Marvel Universe as a whole. Since Winick is working with a team of characters who “don’t matter” in the grand scheme of things at Marvel, he can do a lot more with them than you might expect. These first 19 issues are packed with character deaths, pregnancies, jokes, budding relationships, ridiculously difficult decisions, honest conversations and heaping helpings of ass kickery and explosions.

While building his own team, Winick also does a great job of building an interesting world within a world that explores all kinds of other worlds. There’s clearly a system at play with the Time Broker, but as the series progresses, we learn that the Exiles aren’t the only team of displaced heroes popping around dimensions. It’s one of the intriguing overarching elements that makes me want to keep reading all six volumes of the Ultimate Collection except for maybe that Claremont stuff.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Winick didn’t work in the typical six issue arc format. If a story needed one issue, he gave it one issue. If it needed three, it got three. This not only keeps the book moving at a good clip — something that’s much appreciated when reading nearly 20 issues of a comic in one collection — but also gives artists Mike McKone and Jim Calafiore the opportunity to do their own things with their own stories before trading off with one another. While McKone’s style is a lot smoother than Calafiore’s more angular one, they both excel at balancing the action scenes with the comedy gags Winick throws in via Morph, so they still feel like they’re working on the same coherent series.

This kind of book does something that not many Corporate Comics can: play with all the pieces of an existing universe and really have fun with it. By going the alternate universe route Winick was able to build his own team, while also creating a myriad of worlds worth their own miniseries’ in many cases. Since those worlds and these characters weren’t connected the main Marvel U, the stakes were much higher. Is Morph going to die in this issue? Are they going to actually save the world from Galactus? These are questions that not only get raised, but worried about because Winick didn’t have to play it safe. You feel pretty safe assuming those bad things won’t happen in a regular universe book, but pretty much anything can happen here.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Radio Controlled Hulk

The main reason I started doing Toy Commercial Tuesday posts was to take a little walk down memory lane, presenting many of the ads I remember drooling over as a kid and offering a few memories related to them. One of the unexpected bonuses of searching YouTube for toy commercials has been stumbling upon toys I never knew existed. This Radio Controlled Inflatable Hulk certainly fits into that latter category (mostly because it came out three years before I was born).

Watching this commercial I kept thinking, “Holy crap, this is such a great idea, why don’t they still do radio controlled punching bags?” Maybe it had something to do with needing to come up with two 9 volt batteries and four Cs. Heck, that right there probably doubled the cost of this thing. Plus, I’d imagine the inflatable part got popped pretty often by kids trying to prove they were the strongest one there is.

Book Review: The She-Hulk Diaries By Marta Acosta

she-hulk-diaries When I was a kid and had fallen hard for comics, I went all in. I was reading all the comics I could afford, watching every cartoon and comic-based show I could and reading books based on comic characters. At the time, Marvel ruled the roost when it came to most of these comic book subcategories. I might have been a hardcore DC comic book fan, but I could enjoyed all things comic related outside that specific format. I remember reading books about Spider-Man, the X-Men and even one by longtime Incredible Hulk scribe Peter David.

When I got an email asking if I’d be interested in reading a pair of new Marvel books from Hyperion aimed at female readers, I was certainly intrigued. I responded and the very nice woman I talked to asked if I could get both books read and reviewed by June 18th. I did really well with Marta Acosta’s The She-Hulk Diaries, but wound up hitting a series of roadblocks with Christine Woodward’s Rogue Touch, all of which revolved around work and family obligations, but I hope to get that review up on the site early next week.

I chose She-Hulk to read first not because I’m more familiar with the charcter, but because it was longer and I figured I’d knock out the biggest challenge first. Before reading much about the story or diving into the book I assumed it was going to be a Sex And The City type thing following Shulky’s wild adventures as a superheroine, city girl and big time lawyer. That’s not the case, though, which came as a relief to this review who has cringed every single time Carrie Bradshaw has appeared on his screen.

Instead the book is a first person autobiographical account of She-Hulk’s alter ego Jennifer Walters, the other side of the Jade Giantess who also happens to be a lawyer, but one with a lot more inhibitions. The concept behind this book is that Jennifer has decided to make Valentine’s Day resolutions as opposed to New Year’s ones in an effort to actually get them done. She’s writing about them in a diary because her PR woman at the Avengers gave it to her. So there you have it. Part of her list involves finding a job, finding a boyfriend, meeting new people and being more outgoing. As someone who deals with many of the insecurities revolving around those things, I could relate even though I am not a single woman in the city.

As Jennifer winds up getting a job she finds herself face to face with the lead singer of a band she had a wild weekend of passion with when she was in college. Now he’s a scientist engaged to a fellow attorney who happens to be awful. Her firm is representing a handsome guy scientist who claims that a company creating artificial organs did so knowing the organs would only last for a short time. Meanwhile, a few other masked and super powered people are hanging around though not ones anyone’s familiar with. That’s all part of the story which impressively features everything from superhero and lawyer elements to medical ones and even LARPing.

I really enjoyed all those elements, but being a longtime comic fan, I figure it makes sense that I comment on that part of the story. First and foremost, I have very little experience with She-Hulk. I have a vague understanding of what happened in the run of her book by Dan Slott that everyone loves and think there are some elements of that in here. I think it might be easier to jump into this book if you know almost nothing about Shulky or the Marvel Universe. As it is, I kept trying to figure out how everything fit together, which is not easy because the newest Marvel comic I’ve read is about a year old. However, I thought they did some really interesting things with the Avengers as an organization. Again, I’m not sure if these elements are in the comics right now, but the version of the group in this book is a massive organization where the superheroes are the main team, but there’s a gigantic bureaucracy working underneath dealing with everything from PR to vehicle rental. In addition, the group pays for the damage that its members do and also has all kinds of tunnels and hideouts throughout the city that its members — even ones like She-Hulk who aren’t officially part of the A-team anymore thanks to her hard partying ways — can use. I dug all that. I did not dig the big reveal at the end which seemed broadcast very early on, but it’s not like figuring the gist out in advance derails the rest of the ride.

greg-horn-she-hulk-2So, the question is whether a new person with little to no experience with She-Hulk as a character woud enjoy this book. As I mentioned above, I do think you could hand this book to a fresh reader and they can enjoy it (assuming you know the kinds of books they enjoy and this sounds somewhat in that vein). Acosta does a wonderful job explaining the more unusual elements while also keeping things fun and light for most of the story, dipping into melodrama and legit drama when it makes sense. Sure, some elements of Jennifer’s speech/writing patterns can get annoying, like her constant listing of items in a 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C format or using the word “ooky” or relaying the advice she gives to clients the exact same way every time, but I’m sure if you looked back at my diaries, they’d be similarly repetitive  People tend to fall back on routine when explaining and talking, so it fits for the format.

While I think that anyone CAN read this book, I’m not quite sure who will read it. I would assume some population of the superhero comic book audience will seek it out, but who else? This and Rogue Touch seem aimed at women, but is your average lady reader going to see these books on display and want to commit to reading them? I mean, people loved Hulk in Avengers, but She-Hulk’s main exposure to a wide audience came during a 90s animated series on UPN. My wife wondered the same thing, even suggesting that they could have more slyly introduced the superhero or comic elements instead of putting them right on front street. Not sure if that would work, but it could have been interesting. If these books do well, it could even point to more interesting ways of presenting these characters in television and film. An action packed romantic comedy featuring She-Hulk could be pretty awesome and bring in a whole new kind of audience (you know, for the 10 or 12 people who didn’t see Avengers).