Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Guest Review: "Avengers: Endgame"

   Most of us in the U.S. won't see the new Avengers movie until Thursday - but my friend Mark lives on the other side of the world (in Australia), and he's just seen it and kindly provides his (spoiler-free) thoughts. What a guy! Take it away, Mark:

   To start with the obvious - this is a film that needs no real introduction. Everyone has been waiting for it, and everyone knows basically what it’s about. However, Marvel Studios has been leading up to this for - what? - 11 years and umpteen films. So will it meet your expectations?

   I think the likely answer to that is “yes.”

   Avengers: Endgame contains many developments that most viewers were likely expecting. But it has a lot of twists, turns, highlights and tragedies that I certainly wasn’t anticipating, along with a genuine emotional depth.

   The film commences shortly after the conclusion of its predecessor, as the surviving cast members regroup to consider how they can strike back against Thanos.

   The action kicks in almost immediately - and after a few minutes, takes a completely unexpected turn.

   The next half hour is grim and downbeat. It manages to show the impact of Thanos’ actions not just on the heroes, but on the general population. However “idealistic” Thanos’ motives were in destroying half the population of the Universe, the outcomes are not what he envisaged.

   Perhaps aptly, the film’s emotional upswing begins with the reappearance of the star of one of the more lighthearted Marvel movies - Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, who plays a quite substantial role (as does Rocket Racoon, whose interactions with other characters remain a joy).

   From there on things being to really click into high gear, as the heroes devise a plan to perhaps - just maybe - manage to reverse Thanos’ actions…..

   It would venture into genuine spoiler territory to give away any more story detail, but rest assured that the following lengthy build-up leads to a climax that is both well worth the wait and literally earth-shattering.

   In a film with such a multitude of characters, many other than the core cast obviously have only a relatively brief screen-time.  Nonetheless, nearly all get their moments to shine. Captain Marvel appears early on but is not featured as much as one might expect - given her power levels, it’s perhaps understandable she’d be used sparingly.

   The female heroes aren’t ignored though; the climactic battle against Thanos features probably the best depiction I’ve yet seen of the power of the Scarlet Witch, and there’s one panoramic scene with all the female heroes standing against the Mad Titan - an obvious response from the film’s makers to criticism of underutilisation of women characters in earlier Marvel productions.

   There were also cameos by quite a few key supporting characters from earlier Marvel films. It may be worth refreshing your memories of those earlier films, as a few key scenes are revisited - though they’ll probably come flooding back to you.

   Naturally, all the biggies -  the original “Avengers” - get their turn in the spotlight. Yes, that includes Hawkeye, who has a much more prominent role than many would have expected. I felt it did a lot to counter the sneers about him being a perennial afterthought.  Jeremy Renner’s scenes and interplay with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow worked particularly well, showing a real depth of feeling between their characters.

   The character highlight for me was Thor, a shattered man / god who gradually rebuilds his confidence and self-worth, while still managing to provide the film’s comedy highlights. For me, Chris Hemsworth will now and forevermore be “The Dude of Thunder”.

   The treatment of Banner and the Hulk may generate some controversy. Some will hate it while others will love it (particularly Peter David fans), but it’s completely in keeping with the character’s long history. Of the main characters I thought he was the most under-utilised, though Mark Ruffalo delivered another fine performance.

   Once again, Robert Downey Jr delivers a wonderfully prickly performance as Tony Stark, who has nonetheless grown emotionally over the course of his time as Iron Man. He retains his “opposites attract” relationship with Captain America - very different characters, frequently in conflict, but ultimately friends and allies.

   Perhaps not surprisingly, Chris Evans’ Cap is the emotional heart of the film. He’s the everyman who tries to help people deal with the aftermath of Thanos’ actions, he has at least one truly heartbreaking moment in the course of the action, and if you don’t find that you’ve something in your eye during one particular scene in the film…  well, you’re harder than I am. Plus as we’re told, he has “The Ass of America” (though in my part of the world we’d pronounce it “Arse”).

   “Endgame” is a long film - including credits, just on three hours - and while that zipped by, it meant that there was a lot to take in.  I’m still trying to process everything that occurred, and figure out exactly how it was structured. Though I’m sure there will already be dozens of YouTube analyses, at the time it was just one huge, majestic rush. In any case however it’s a film to allow to flood over you, and save the analysis until later.

   So, just how actually _good_ was “Endgame”? Well, I’m sure that I could nitpick over a few plot details, but really…. for a film like this, I lose all my critical faculties. At this point I honestly can’t think of any substantial criticisms.

   Frankly I thought it was bloody fantastic, and could happily go back to see it again tomorrow.  

   Just not at 8:30 a.m. again - that’s a little early for me.

   In the words of an old Australian TV host - “Do yourself a favour!”  Go and see it.

Mark Cannon
Canberra, Australia
24 April 2019

PS - 
Oh, and on the important things from a comics fan’s perspective - there’s a nice tribute to Stan at the start, along with his usual cameo. There are also plentiful creator acknowledgements in the end credits, with a prominent one to Stan and Jack early on. Others are buried a bit deeper, though nevertheless still there, including a pretty prominent one for Jim Starlin. Good to see.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Barbarian Life by Roy Thomas

   I've written before about my love for the original Lancer paperback reprints of Conan stories, and the 1970s comics series from Marvel.

   Now there's a book written by Roy Thomas that looks back at each of the first 51 issues of that series, with essays on each issue and lots of behind-the-scenes information about how Marvel first decided to try its hand at adapting Conan's stories (thanks, multitude of readers who wrote in suggesting it).

   He goes into detail about the first choice to draw the comic - John Buscema - and why Barry Smith (now Windsor-Smith) ended up with the job. 

   Roy seems to be having fun sharing these "war stories" - he is, of course, a terrific storyteller - and it's infectious. As a longtime fan I loved each chapter as it offered a look behind the curtain to see how some of these classic stories were crafted - and how close the series came to being canceled early in its life.

   Of course, it went on to become a huge success for Marvel - one of its top sellers in the '70s - and it's great fun to get this "inside baseball" look at the creative process.

   And the good news is: there's another volume on the way covering the rest of Thomas' run on the series!

   Highly recommended to any fan of the original comic book barbarian!

Grade: A


Monday, April 22, 2019

Incursion #3 (of 4)

   This mini-series / event continues to amp up in a dismal and delightful way, as Earth faces destruction from an alien Incursion - and Gilad, the Eternal Warrior, is the last line of defense.

   That leads him to a confrontation with a tiny being who might save the Earth - but can Gilad take the terrible step required?

   Add in a fight with a mountainous warrior, an attack on the Geomancer and it looks bad for our side.

   The art by Doug Braithwaite is powerful and raw (some of the violence may be a bit much for young readers), and the story by Andy Diggle and Alex Paknadel keeps the twists, turns and terrors rolling along.

   So far, this series has been terrific (and it stands alone well if you've missed the other series). Recommended!

Grade: A-



Saturday, April 20, 2019

Naomi #4

    Now this is a Brian Michael Bendis comic book.

   (Although to be fair, the credits give co-writing credit to David F. Walker.)

   But this is a story that is rolling out at a very deliberate, decompressed rate of speed. 

   It follows the story of a teenage girl named Naomi who has a mysterious past - and she's convinced it's connected somehow to the world of superheroes.

   So she sets out to investigate, and oh so slowly, she's uncovering bits of information that indicate her origins are... interesting.

   With this, the fourth issue, she starts getting some answers - but as with such things in the real world, more answers also bring new questions - and her story is not going to be a simple one to untangle.

   With terrific, funny dialogue and fresh artwork by Jamal Campbell, this series is a lot of fun.

   It requires patience - this story is taking its sweet time rolling out - but it's fun and rewarding, fresh and different. 


Grade: A


Friday, April 19, 2019

War of the Realms #2

   Here we are, at the second issue of the latest event from Marvel - so you know what that means, right?

   Yep - time for a hero to die.

   This issue of the War of the Realms mini-series puts the focus on the battle in New York City, as vast armies of monsters invade, intent on conquering the Earth.

   The heroes rally - including everyone from the Avengers to Luke Cage, Iron Fist and a very human Jane Foster (who was, until recently, the Mighty Thor). 

   But they're overwhelmed by vast numbers of invading giants, trolls, demons and elves - and the best they can hope for is to evacuate the innocent civilians caught in the middle.

   As for that death, let's just say that as you're reading the comic, you may look at each character and think, "Is this character going to die?" The one that seems like the best candidate will indeed be the one who dies horribly.

   Other than that, the comic features terrific art and a nicely-building story. If you like big events, this is your huckleberry.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

New Comics Day

    Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:

- TONY STARK IRON MAN #10 - The impossible armor!

- NAOMI #4 - A new look at the world of superheroes!

- THOR #12 - War of the Realms rolls on!

- WAR OF REALMS #2 (OF 6) - A hero falls!

- WEST COAST AVENGERS #10 - The good, the bad and the beautiful!

    And I received these review copies:

- BLOODBORNE #11 - A song of crows!

- INCURSION #3 (OF 4) - Cosmic vs. supernatural!

- X-O MANOWAR #26 - The end (sorta)!

    And that's it!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #1

   The members of the Family McElroy have become famous for their podcasting empire, including such shows as My Brother My Brother and Me, The Adventure Zone and oh so many others (all great fun and well worth tracking down).

   The four - father Clint and sons Justin, Travis and Griffin - have also branched out into graphic novels, including an adaptation of their Adventure Zone exploits (with a new volume arriving this summer) - and now they've been lured to the halls of Marvel Comics, where they've crafted a mini-series set during the War of the Realms.

   This issue of Journey Into Mystery follows Thor's brother Balder the Brave as he's tasked with protecting Odin and Freyja's new infant daughter (the explanation for her sudden appearance is a hoot). 

   He sets out to gather a team of heroes to help with the task, but finds the world has been through some changes since his last visit. So his Spider-Man is Mikes Morales, his Hawkeye isn't a guy, and Wonder Man has had a change of attitude.

   The issue is fast-moving and has the feel of an episode of the Adventure Zone, with lots of twists and turns and (natch) lots of humor.

   The War of the Realms event books should be this good! Highly recommended!

Grade: A