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.

Steve Rogers Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 1 & Fallen Son

Secret Avengers Volume 1: Mission To Mars (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato, Will Conrad, David Aja, Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano
Collects Secret Avengers #1-5

After getting a good deal on the second volume of Secret Avengers from Thwipster, I was pretty excited to check out the first volume. So, right after finishing, I went on Sequential Swap and set up a trade for the book. When it came in the mail on Saturday, I read it pretty much immediately. This is basically the perfect team book for Ed Brubaker to write because it’s perfectly set in his wheelhouse. Not only does it star Steve Rogers, the character he revolutionized over in the excellent Captain America, but it’s all about the black ops side of the Marvel Universe and includes characters that fit in that world either obviously like Moon Knight, Sharon Jones, Black Widow and Ant-Man (the most recent one) in ways that make a lot of sense even if you didn’t think about it like Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie and Nova. The idea is for the team to be more pro-active, a buzz concept in comics that always sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always deliver because, how do you stop crime before it happens?

So, with that team and that idea in mind, Brubaker kicks the first adventure off with a trip to Mars! It’s the kind of story that might not seem he’s suited for, but it still deals with evil corporations, brainwashed henchmen, a secret organization and heroes fighting other brainwashed heroes. Here’s the actual story: Roxxon has a mining operation on Mars, but all the workers disappeared and Rogers thinks something’s up. He sends his space guy–Nova–to check it out and he finds a crown very similar to the Serpent Crown that instantly takes over Nova and results in the rest of the team–minus Sharon Jones who is back on earth getting ambushed–heading into space. It turns out that Roxxon made a deal with a Hydra-like organization called The Shadow Council to mine there, but they accidentally stumbled upon a prophecy or something that will lead to the end of the universe. So, it’s up to Commander Rogers (don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, not that I need to), Moon Knight, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, War Machine and Beast–all in pretty awesome looking space suits, by the way–to stop Nova and save the universe, which includes seeing Steve put on Nova’s helmet and get a Nova-based costume, which I dug. It sounds like a straight forward superhero story and it is, but it’s also got a lot of those awesome espionage flavored moments that signify a great Bru comic. That really gets focused on in the fifth issue that explains who the Nick Fury lookalike that’s working for the Shadow Council is. Really fun stuff.

I talked about Deodato’s art in the last post and I feel the same way with this earlier volume. I think he’s a great choice for this book if you want to get away from the Steve Epting style set up in Captain America, or the Michael Lark/David Aja look that is actually used in the fifth issue. He’s doing great on the big superhero stuff, but also–and this might be thanks to the inking or coloring–things look shadowy, which fits the theme of the book perfectly. At first it was a little distracting, but once I started thinking that way, I was in it all the way. It’s not noir by any means, but shadows are impotant for a black ops team.

Fallen Son: The Dead Of Captain America (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, drawn by John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr. & Leinil Francis Yu
Collects Fallen Son: Wolverine, Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man & Iron Man

I am a very big fan of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. If you’re into espionage super hero comics, I don’t think you can find a better one than that. I was disappointed when Steve Rogers got killed off a few years back, but, I mean, it’s comics, so you know he’s going to come back, it’s just a matter of when and how. Plus, Bru did an excellent job making me care about Bucky Barnes just as much, so I was okay. But, when I heard that someone else was going to be writing a series of one-shots showing what Cap’s death meant to a variety of heroes in the Marvel U, I wasn’t super excited. I think I read the issues when they came out and I was working at Wizard, but didn’t remember much about them, so I was curious to see how they played out a few years later and with Steve Rogers back in the land of the living.

I gotta say, it’s a pretty melodramatic thing to read which feels somewhat unnecessary, especially considering the fact that Steve Rogers is back. I get the idea behind it, putting together one of the best selling writers in comics with a series of big time artists on the subject of the death of a popular characters. And, as a story, it’s interesting how the issues tie into one another (something I didn’t remember from the first read), and there are some cool moments and ideas like Hawkeye thinking about becoming the new Cap at Iron Man’s request and Spider-Man remembering how Cap helped him out, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to carry any weight now. It also features at least one character issue actually saying “The death of Captain America,” out loud which just never sounds right.

However, if you are an art fan, this is a pretty fantastic book. I love Leinil Francis Yu, David Finch and Ed McGuinness and seeing them tackle a wide variety of characters is a lot of fun, especially since they’re one-shots and you don’t have to worry about them missing a future issue. I’m not the biggest John Romita Jr. or John Cassaday fan, but they turn it on full blast too.

KEEP OR DUMP? So, the big question every time I read a trade is: will I keep this book and I’m split on these two. I will definitely save both Secret Avengers trades because I think they’re great continuations of Brubaker’s run on Cap with a lot of fun other elements thrown in. On the other hand, cool art just isn’t enough to keep a book in my collection, with very few exceptions.

Late To The Xbox Live Party: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

To give you an idea as to how slow I am when it comes to finishing video games, I got Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 for Christmas last year and just finished it last night. There was many-month gap there were I didn’t even both playing it for a few reasons. First off, I had trouble with the save aspect of the game and wound up having to play the same level several times even though I thought I had reached a save point. Even after that I had a little trouble with the save/load menus because they give you two options that seem to be the same thing: load and continue. What’s the damn difference? I never quite figured that out. My other problem was that I loved the original game and this one didn’t come anywhere near that one for several reasons which I’ll get into shortly.

When the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance came out, I was working at Wizard. Though I had gotten there a little late for the epic Halo 2 marathons that I still hear about now from a few folks, the game makers sent a special Xbox 360 to the office and allowed us to play an advanced copy of the game which was such a fun experience. Tons of huge comic book fans all in one room surrounding a TV and cheering on their friends and coworkers beating up on various Marvel minions was so much fun and, of course, jumping in and playing ourselves, was great. That game spanned the breadth and depth of the Marvel Universe and really gave us a lot to have fun with. Eventually we had to send the 360 back, but after the game officially came out, Activision sent a bunch of copies to the office and I got to play through on my own. I had fun with the game even though it was pretty much the same kind of game as X-Men Legacy.

So, as you can tell, I had high hopes for the sequel. I was also hoping to play online with some friends, but I didn’t really push the issue too much (the one time I get a new game around the time it comes out and no one else is playing it!). The story of the game kind of follows the story behind Civil War, but actually has a more sensible ending and wasn’t nearly as meandering as the actual comic book story. That’s about all of the good things I have to say about the game. I mean, it wasn’t bad. I had a good enough time beating up on the never-ending parade of goons to fight, but I had a LOT of problems with it.

First off, video games starring superheroes should start off more powerful right off the bat in games like this. I understand that there need to be elements that can be upgraded as the game goes on, but it felt like if you weren’t playing one group of characters for most of the game, you’d be kind of screwed by the end of the game. Basically what I’m saying is that the Thing should never get killed in four seconds of any battle and that happened to me a number of times later on in the game. Leveling characters up is cool, but having to do so to survive later sections of the game takes a lot of the fun out of the whole endeavor. They give you all these awesome characters to play with, but you’re more rewarded for keeping the same team throughout the game. I got Venom and Green Goblin pretty late in the game and wanted to play with them, but they were so weak that it wasn’t worth it, they also didn’t have all their powers. I will claim ignorance and blame a little of that problem on myself because I forgot about the upgrade mechanics until just before I finished the game, but still, I’d rather just have powers that kick ass and go from there. The characters you’re given to play with also don’t seem powerful enough to play the game. I mean, I love Iron Fist and Gambit, but they’re not the guys I would recruit if I was fighting a supposedly world threatening enemy.

My other big problem with the game was how small it felt compared to the previous one. In MUA you went from Hell to Asgard and just about everywhere in between. This time around you go to Wakanda and Latveria. Woopdeedo. I know it’s hard to top such a huge story but fighting some heroes and villains who have been overtaken by Nanites really isn’t the way to do it. The lack of scope spread to the game’s end too. Anyone who played the first one will remember that, as you went through the game, there were a series of choices you had to make, whether to save this character or that and at the end of the game you were given a big overview as to how your decisions changed the entire Marvel Universe. This time around there was none of that.

All in all, I’m not sure what the point of making this game was as it turned out to be a huge disappointment both because it didn’t live up to expectations but also because, at the end of the day, it’s just another game like a bunch of other games that didn’t improve on anything. I finished and really just thought to myself, “What was the point?”

Casting Internets

First things first, time to let you know about my friends and the cool creations they’ve been creating. Go check out Sean T. Collins‘ new monster comic “I remember when the monsters started coming for the cars” drawn by Isaac Moylan. After that, go read Justin Aclin‘s short story featuring his Dark Horse Presents-starring S.H.O.O.T. First team on Robot 666 called “The House That Ate Halloween.” That’s almost too much Halloween goodness and it’s all free!

To further blow my friends’ horns, Alex Kropinak, Ben Morse and the rest of the What The?! crew over at Marvel.com released a new Halloween themed video starring Dracula, Dracula’s son, Kitty Pryde, Blade and more. Fun stuff!

Speaking of Ben, he did a great post over on The Cool Kids Table about the Thor Corps. I also never read read the comic of the same name but inherently love the concept. Someone get on bringing this book back!

Back to Halloween for a few links, I loved Scott C’s Night of the Living Dead piece today on Great Showdowns. Are these being collected in a book or mini comic because they really should be? I haven’t watched NOTLD this season, but maybe tonight or tomorrow.  I’d never heard of these Dell interpretations of Dracula, Frankenstein or Werewolf before reading Christ Sims’ post about creepy comic characters over on Comics Alliance. I now need to track down all these issues. Saw this piece of art over on StarWars.com. It’s by Katie Cook. I kind of want to hug it and also run away from it.

This review of the Apple Trackpad on Wired.com kind of makes me want to buy one, but I might also have to start working at a desk or table. As it is, I haven’t used a mouse in over a year.

The video of Arizona senate hopeful and Tea Party member Sharron Angle I saw over on Esquire is both disturbing and funny. She says she’ll let people know her opinion of foreign policy once she’s elected and yet people are supporting her. Crazy people in power can be a dangerous thing.

Why didn’t they just get Ed Asner to play Granny Goodness on Smallville like he did on JLU? Let’s finish today’s links with some eye candy. First up, you’ve got Chris Samnee’s What If? entry for ComicTwart. Nick Fury’s Howling Avengers? I would actually go to the store and buy that comic book. That’s saying quite a bit. I want to go to there and draw Ninja Turtles with all these pencils, 6-year-old style. I don’t know if it originally came from Suicide Blonde or not, but that’s where Ffffound got it. Mine would be organized better, but that’s cause I’m a little crazy when it comes to these kinds of things. Sunken boats scare the crap out of me, specifically swimming through them or running into them while swimming (yeah, I know it’s weird). Originally posted on the loveyourchaos Tumblr (via Ffffound)

11 Rad Lines From CustomCon 26

Somehow, after having such fun checking out CustomCon 24, I completely missed the 25th installment. I also seem to have been off by a week or so because I thought 26 was happening this week, but it actually went on last week. Oh well, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to show off my favorite lines. There’s some really great stuff on there and you can check out the whole roll out here. For the record, CustomCon is an online showcase of fictional toy lines created by toy customizers. Hit the jump for the full list!

Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars by Sillof

Morrison’s Doom Patrol by Dylan Pommer AKA Rust This World

Continue reading 11 Rad Lines From CustomCon 26

Christmas Stories: MiniMate Christmas Village 2009

Well, it took longer than I expected to get these pics of this year’s MiniMate Christmas Village up. First I tried taking pics with my phone because I’m lazy and it’s easier to send them to the computer via Bluetooth than plugging the camera in. Those sucked so had to bust out the camera, but it was pretty rough because they’re so small. I also made this crappy video with my phone which probably ended up being more work than it would have been if I just got my actual camera out and used it, but what are you gonna do. It’s pretty pixelated, but it gives you a general idea. Hit the jump after the video for all the pics and brief commentary.

Continue reading Christmas Stories: MiniMate Christmas Village 2009