Monday, May 07, 2012

In Review Of: The Avengers (2012) by Joss Whedon

Be warned, spoilers included amidst the gushing.

I struggled with the opening sentence of this, but the best thing that i came up with, the truest thing, was also the first: Joss put the best part of my childhood up on the screen. Not in any Wonder Years sense, but the part of my childhood that disappeared into the four color world of the comics at the age of 7. Its 1973 and the Avengers are being tricked by Loki and Dormamu into battling the Defenders in Steve Englehart's Avengers/Defenders cross-over. I've just started reading comics, an escape from the nasty playgrounds and bullied bus rides to and from school in Houston, Texas. I'm picking up Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain Marvel, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. Daredevil and the FF are not in, how shall we put this, their creative prime. The first three? Magic. Iron Man, in the Avengers and guest starring in Captain Marvel, kicks ass and takes names, and there seems to be no end to the inventive stories. The Celestial Madonna? Thanos? The Zodiac team? It was a world of wonder.

And Joss understands everything that was cool about those comics and he's put it all up on the big screen. If the common complaint is that superheros are power fantasies, then we get to see the proper application of that power. this is something is commonly missing among the pundits who want to make a psychological hash out of those of us who loved sueprheros. "Juvenile power fantasies" the common derogatory remark. Yes, but it wasn't out of using the power to bully, we all knew that power all too well. It was how we would use the power if we, the formerly weak, the ones that no one else would protect, ever got the chance. Captain America  was a reminder of the root nature of the appeal of the superhero. Just as Joss understood the need to turn the tables on the blonde walking down the alleyway alone in Buffy, here he understands how they should act. How they should fight.

Oh and yes, how they fight. the most glorious fight scenes ever recorded with superheroes and with the proper use of their powers. From Cap's Adamantium shield to Iron Man being both smart and powerful, Stark using his mind as much as his armor. The scene where he confronts Loki out of the armor may be one of the best of the movie. And we get the team, as they become one, deferring to Cap, the ultimate soldier, who gets to turn to a weapon unlike one that any general has ever been able to wield, The Hulk, and give him an order: "Smash."

So why reference the Englehart issues? Because clearly Joss read them and loved them and knows a good moment to steal when he sees it. Here, from Defender #10, still sitting on the spinner rack in my living room, is the moment when the Hulk tries to pick up Thor's hammer... and can't. It plays beautifully on the Shield Helicarrier in the movie.

They finally got the Hulk right as well. Mark Ruffalo plays Banner with a resigned air about him, with an apparent edge underneath as well. Its a great, pocket, tour-de-force performance, hidden among all the effect laden grandeur. Hiddleston's Loki is excellent as well. If there is anything else that Joss brought to the movie it was the sense that everyone in the ensemble had to have their moment to shine, and there are really great moments for all the characters. No small feat that.

Small quibbles, because, yes, there will always be a few. The blue on Cap's uniform was way too bright. And its hard to miss. And since they nailed Iron Man's armor, Thor's Simonson outfit, and the Widow so well, its a little shocking to see that bright a blue. The uniform itself is fine design-wise, but more of a navy next time please. The middle third of the movie could be tighter. We spend a lot of time on the Helicarrier waiting for the coolness to start, and for the heroes to figure out why Loki allowed himself to be captured, and it takes a little more time than it should. Perversely, i wish that the anonymous aliens that attack were some species that we'd see before. Badoon perhaps? Just a name change would have been cool. That's about it.

And because talking about the alien race leads us to the post-credits sequence...

And because Joss knows that, if this makes money, which it has, and if you can actually get everyone back for a sequel, there are very few places that you can go to surpass Loki as a villian. The final, post credits sequence, with the alien complaining to his overlord that the humans aren't as weak as we thought leads us to  the one final twist set-up. Anyone reading the bio part of my blog knows that it was Starlin's Captain Marvel series that, literally, changed my life. So punch in the gut when the overlord turns his head and it reveals Thanos is one that, well, took my breath away. If they decide to do a second one, it will be because this makes enough money to validate them doing a film with Thanos, and all I hope is that a certain kree Captain at least gets a name check. But for now, Marvel has, astonishingly, rendered me truly speechless by making the superhero film of my dreams. Wow.

Hobgoblin by Romita & Yoakum

final touches added, here is my first work over the legendary John Romita's pencils.

I think that i could have done a hell of a Spider-man cover back in the 1970's. Given that i cuold have wrest the job away from Esposito or Giacoia for an issue.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Almost Finished: Hobgoblin by Romita and Yoakum

Almost there, just have some touches to add to this piece for a collector. Its inks over a John Romita sketch, and boy, is this fun!

I'll post the finished product tomorrow....

Thursday, May 03, 2012

In Review: Michael Chabon and the Art of the Conn

Richly imagined, in its own little constrained world, the surrogate dopplegangers of Stanley Leiber and Jacob Katzenburg reach the end of their lifes and try to reconcile or try to avoid reconciliation when little is left of the world that they had started. How does it end? Badly, as you would expect, and messy, in all the ways that you would also expect.

Finally had the chance to sit down and really read through Citizen Conn by Michael Chabon from the February 6 & 13 issue of the New Yorker and it was an interesting read, but ultimately and puzzling one. I'm not surprised by Chabon working comic book territory again, after all, he loves the stuff down to his DNA as much as I do, as much as i expect the readers of my blog to, and so, instead of being upset with him mining comic book iconography and mythology (as I am with Lichtenstein), I appreciate his take on our favorite guilty pleasure medium. He can write, really write, and its a joy to read his sentences as opposed to so many other writers.

So for him to turn to the ugly soap opera ridden uncertainty that is the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby is certainly interesting, and certainly his take on the story is the right one: rather than assigning who did what in the never-to-be-visited past (there is nothing more subject to the Roshamon effect than the origins of the Marvel Comics Group), he visits the later days of these creative giants. Days when the pages no longer fly off the board and the typewriter is still and the effects of money, time, lawyers and long ago signed backs of Work For Hire checks have long since had their way.

But, tellingly, the Kirby of the story has no Roz to take care of him. He is a prototypical loner, who toiled at his drawing board for too many years and never had the support of a wife or children, and so it is the Kirby surrogate, Morton Feather, moving into an assisted living facility while struggling with bone cancer, who has no dilution of focus. The Stan Lee of the story, Artie Conn, may be married, but we see none of that, we only see his attempts to reconnect with Feather so many years after the Fantastic Four, Thor, The Hulk, and, of course, The Avengers.

It focuses the anger that Feather feels towards Conn that neither has a spouse who walks on stage during the story to take the focus. The female rabbi who narrates wisely has a husband who stands in for us, the average fan, and we get the chance to see how ineffectual our love and devotion to those long yellow paged stories is. It puts us in our place almost instantly and takes us out of the narrative to the benefit of the story.

No, the focus, the rabbi would have us believe, is in the betrayal that was felt in the late '60's when promises were reneged on and Lee signed up to a life of solid wealth and Feather... oh, hell with it, Kirby forced to move to DC and a life of decaying freelance assignments and meager checks. After all, the rabbi's husband, and, by proxy, us, have our joy in opening those books and discovering those stories and becoming enmeshed in the world as Lee and Kirby unfolded, month after month, but, lets face it. We're nothing compared to the men who took the time to create and live in those universes first. While we merely rented an apartment there, no matter how vested we THINK we, they built the whole damn subdivision from an empty lot. Chabon's case, as i see it, is that the money and the lawyering and Stan's taking credit was secondary to the betrayal of the partnership with which those two created.

Those of us with interest in those sorts of things have read plenty of contradictory interviews regarding who did what. And its clear that it will never be settled because, for too many years, their working method was too streamlined, too overlapping, too damn quick given the deadlines to not just keep filling the pages and stay on a roll. Like your favorite band, there is no way to know who came up with that one riff that played perfectly off of the rhythm; both the bassist and guitarist will remember it as something that they came up with, when, in reality, there was a synergy that allowed the creativity to spin off into far more interesting directions even through disagreement.

And that's something that gets brought up all too often in the painful details of Stan and Jack's splintering. That there would have been a number years when the business started taking off again and the books got better and Stan and Jack were creating so much that the pages and the issues just flew by. And while it was exhausting it was probably also exhilarating with both men doing what they loved to do and seeing it all start to come together. They were in their moment and that moment would be about 6 brilliant years of sleepless nights and feverish working days and ink stained hands.

Chabon sums it up in the penultimate paragraph, when Lee's doppleganger gets to exclaim, "You know what? that wouldn't surprise me a bit. he always took everything so seriously." in reference to the idea that the partnership was the defining moment for Kirby, while Lee, more easy going in temperment, simply moved on. Kirby's desire to create was likened to a force of nature within him, so of course he'd take it all so damn seriously. And when you add in the money, oh all that money we know about, then it changes things. The story's solution is a simple solution, and one that we know works well in comic book logic: sadly, real life is so often messier and far more complicated.