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Comics

Marvel Joins Amazon Prime Reading

Just a head’s up for anybody who likes to get their money’s worth out of their Amazon Prime subscription, Marvel is now partnered with Amazon to have their comics show up there (as well as some selections in Kindle Unlimited and Comixology Unlimited).  Those are cool if you already pay the extra subscription fee for either service, but even if you don’t, there’s some very good stuff to check out in Prime Reading.  Here’s my favorites:

Star Wars, Volume 1 and Darth Vader, Volume 1:  When Marvel got the license to publish Star Wars comics, they went big.  Assigning some of their best writers and artists (Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron, Salvador Larroca, John Cassaday, Adi Granov, and others).  These comics both follow on straight out of A New Hope, and they go a long way to re-establishing Darth Vader as the pre-eminent menace in that galaxy far, far away.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1:  If you haven’t read this yet, there’s no excuse.  Kamala Khan matters more than ever in our current political climate, a daughter of Muslim immigrants who fights crime not because of some great tragedy, but was inspired by other heroism in the world.  And the story is a ton of fun, to boot.  G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona made a great creative team (along with Stephen Wacker and Sana Amanat editing and helping to create the character).

Hawkeye, Volume 1:  I’ve evangelized this series before, so hopefully you’ve already read it, but here’s yet another chance.

There’s also some Iron Fist, Deadpool, the first volume of Alias (Jessica Jones), and a few other solid comics.  If you are already subscribed to Amazon Prime, there’s no reason not to use Prime Reading.

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Comics

Marvel’s Biggest Missed Opportunity

It’s kind of shocking how quickly the tables have turned on the big two in the comics industry.  Just a few years ago, while DC was languishing under the “New 52”, Marvel was having a creative boom.  Whether it was Matt Fraction and David Aja bringing a fresh take to Hawkeye, their first headlining Muslim hero, or amazing women taking on important roles in their universe (Carol as Captain Marvel, Jane Foster Thor, SQUIRREL GIRL), things seemed to be looking up for the House of Ideas.  It all came to a satisfying crescendo with 2015’s Secret Wars event, which should’ve allowed Marvel to set up their new universe exactly as they saw fit.  Somebody dead that you need alive?  Go for it.  It was a golden opportunity.

So what went wrong?  To me, it comes down to one thing, and that’s the constant stream of events.  Crossover events can be fun, no doubt, but when you are ALWAYS preparing for the next big thing (and there’s 2 or 3 of them every year), you’re not able to do any justice to the stories of the individual characters.  A rebooted universe, renumbered and starting over to boot, should be all about bringing new readers into the fold.  The guy reading Spider-Man for the past 10 years is in, you know?  The grognards might roll their eyes at yet another renumbering, but as long as the book is still there and Spidey is still himself, they’ll stick around.  A new number 1 issue should be a jumping-on point for the MCU fans, or kids, or whoever it is you want to start reading comics.  But with the constant event cycle churning, you never give that new reader a chance to get to know the character before their life and story are interrupted.

Post-Secret Wars, you rolled straight into Avengers: Standoff!, with Spider-Women and Apocalypse Wars disrupting some of the Spider-centric and X-Men books.  That all led into Civil War II, a sequel event nobody asked for, which included some character assassination of Captain Marvel to boot.  But you barely caught your breath before the Spider-books were disrupted by another event, a Clone Conspiracy revival.  The X-Men and Inhumans fought, a bunch of monsters were fought, and then you may have heard about that whole Secret Empire thing.  It’s exhausting just to read all of that.  Imagine you are a new comics fan, how do you reconcile all of that?  If fifteen to twenty books every month have some event banner on ’em, and put the character building on hold for some other story, why would you keep reading?

I stopped reading comics as a teen mostly because of the event cycle.  While Infinity Gauntlet was classic, I got annoyed at having things happening across multiple books that I couldn’t afford to buy (and that was when comic books were only $1-$1.50).  Your choice was either to not know what was going on, or to stop buying.  What brought me back to comics was my friends raving about the Matt Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye series, which did it’s own thing and built a deep, interesting story about Clint and Kate.  It was funny, it was experimental, and I fell back in love with comics.  I branched out from there, but always with an eye to comics that had a solid running story of their own (Tom King’s The Vision series for example).  The thing is, whenever I might start to get invested in a more mainline comic, it would get interrupted and I would throw up my hands and decide to trade-wait it, or at least see if the event as a whole that was pre-empting my normal programming was worth it.  Spoiler alert:  most of them haven’t been, so I’ve pretty much stopped buying Marvel comics.  There are still some gems here and there (Black Widow, Ms. Marvel although she’s well and truly embedded in the event cycle now, one or two others) but most I’m content to wait for Marvel Unlimited to go on sale again to catch up.

Marvel’s comic books are in fairly dire straits right now – a gimmick Spider-Man issue was number 1, but beyond that, the top 25 is dominated by DC.  Star Wars comics are helping Marvel from being totally embarrassed in the top 100.  When DC can put both double-shipped Batman comics ahead of every Marvel comic but the aforementioned gimmick Spider-Man, you need to make changes.  Some suggestions:

  1. Pare down the lineup.  Marvel released 94 different comics in March.  There were seven different Avengers or related books if you count Great Lakes Avengers (and I’m not counting the Avengers cartoon tie-in book).  Deadpool (or a Deadpool-adjacent character such as Deadpool the Duck) appears in at least 5 or 6 books.  Doctor Strange was in 3!  If you love a specific character, it’s ridiculous to try and follow them.  Trim it down.
  2. Let the stories develop.  I would put this to Marvel as a challenge – the next time the universe is rebooted (and you know they will), let all the comics go one full calendar year telling their own story.  Let the characters shine and develop a following before smashing them against a planet- or universe-destroying entity.
  3. Retain your talent.  Tom King.  Tim Seeley.  Sam Humphries.  James Tynion IV.  It seemed for a while in 2016 you couldn’t go a week without someone new signing an exclusive deal with DC, many of whom had been creating for both companies.  Tom King and Sam Humphries were huge losses in particular.  Marvel has their own stable of talent, but you can’t keep losing creators without it affecting quality.  The same 6 people can’t write all your books, especially if you are releasing 100 a month.
  4. Count the trades and digital sales.  I know they look at the sales, but they are still mostly concerned with monthly sales at your local shop.  Sorry, but not everyone goes to the local comic shop for individual floppy issues.  Especially since they aren’t particularly collectible in modern times.  I much prefer sturdier trade paperbacks, as I share a lot of my comics with my kids.  I also have quite a few in the digital format from various sources (Comixology/Amazon sales, Humble Bundles, etc.).
  5. Keep the diversity going.  Any media is improved by having other viewpoints, so efforts need to be re-doubled to engage with and retain writers and artists of color, women, and LGBTQ+ creators.

Look, as quickly as things went south for Marvel, they can turn it around.  They’ve got a built in audience thanks to the MCU that would love to engage with them, and they only need the content to be there.  This time next year, the roles could be reverse – or we could have a new golden age where Marvel and DC are both high quality at the same time.  Imagine that!Marvel versus DC

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Captain America: Civil War

note:  some spoilers

There’s a huge reason Captain America: Civil War works and Batman v Superman doesn’t, and that’s emotional investment.  I know Zack Snyder and DC/WB wanted to do thing their own way and not ape Marvel’s so far successful approach, but when you are rebooting two legendary characters and making significant changes, you need to get the fans used to these new versions.  We KNOW Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.  We’ve seen them overcome numerous obstacles, both separately and together.  They’ve fallen on hard times, been betrayed, beaten, come back stronger.  Mistakes were made, characters have evolved, things have changed.  It’s why we can believe Captain America, the guy who wears flag colors and beat the snot out of Nazis and HYDRA for his country, would now decide “the safest hands are still our own”.  Why we can believe Tony Stark, the rebel genius whose not a team player, admonished for his ‘ready-fire-aim’ mentality, would toe the line this time after never even looking for the line before.  Cap, since being unfrozen, was lied to by Fury, found out SHIELD was infiltrated by his greatest enemy, and then had to bail Tony’s ass out after one of his creations came within a hair’s breadth of destroying the Earth.  Tony for his part, finally has to come to grips with the fact that his first impulse may not always be his best.  And this time, it wasn’t just his own life getting torn to shreds, but the entire planet.

Batman V Superman just didn’t have that weight behind it.  WB wanted us to care about them fighting, and spent a lot of words during the movie hyping it up, and trying to tell us how important it was, but during Civil War?  Didn’t need a word of it.  I felt every punch in that final battle especially.  Tony, GUTTED by the horrific video of the Winter Soldier killing his parents, feeling the sting of their death again, the betrayal that Steve knew about it (remember in CA:TWS it was shown by Zola), lashes out.  The battle, which had so far been over an idea, becomes brutally personal.  I was enjoying the movie to that point, but at that point?  Riveted.

She's got her own fan art already! @marcusthevisual
She’s got her own fan art already! @marcusthevisual

Shifting gears a bit, it’s kind of amazing that I can be this far in and only now discussing everything else that happened in the movie.  We meet Spider-Man!  And it’s a poor, nerdy kid whose quippy yet awkward.  Tom Holland nails it.  BLACK PANTHER, I mean, come on.  His moves are unreal, he dismantles Bucky, but even in the midst of righteous anger over the death of his father, T’Challa can step back from his vengeance to serve justice.  What an example for the two sides fighting, eh?  The Russos made Florence Kasumba’s “Security Chief” (gotta be one of the Dora Milaje) more interesting in one scene with one line than BvS did for 90% of the characters in it.

If you are concerned this sounds too heavy, well, it’s got more weight than a lot of Marvel movies, but rest assured, it brings the funny.  Many of the best lines aren’t in the trailers, including the scene with Falcon and Bucky in the car, or Falcon fighting Spider-Man.  Or Ant-Man and the truck.  Even crazier, there was a character building moment or two for everybody.  OH, and much has already been said about the Vision and his dapper look – his relaxed home attire always slays me in his current comic, and I’m glad to see it here, but it’s his interactions with Wanda that are most interesting.  He isn’t yet to “even an android can cry” territory yet, but the groundwork is there.

Zemo, technically the villain since he really sets in motion the acts that get Avengers fighting Avengers, fares better than some of the recent Marvel villains.  Quite different from the comics but built with real, complex motivations.

As for flaws, I think the movie wasn’t as well paced out as The Winter Soldier.  Considering the sheer amount of content, that’s understandable.  With that, Captain America: Civil War can’t quite dethrone Iron Man and The Winter Soldier as my go-to Marvel movies, but it gets massive, Giant-Man sized points for being to pull off as many heroes and storylines as it did.

Categories
Comics Review

Why you should be reading Hawkeye

Hawkeye 11 Pizza Dog SaluteI went a long time without reading an actual comic book.  I gave up on them when they started to get too expensive.  They cost a buck when I did most of my collecting, and individual issues routinely go for $3-4 now.  But I really wanted to get into them again thanks to the pure awesome that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Where to begin?  Strangely, Hawkeye kept coming up in my twitter feed as being awesome, so I started there.  It helped that #1 was free (there have been several chances to get cheap or free #1 issues of Marvel comics recently) so I checked it out.  I quickly snapped up the rest that were out at the time, and have been camping the Marvel app on my tablet for the new issues as they come.

So why Hawkeye?  For one, it was easy to get into – the new comic was kind of a clean slate for him, after his appearance in The Avengers movie.  Yes, his backstory is still there, but you don’t need to know it to enjoy.  That’s big for a book with a hero you don’t really know that well.  Spider-Man, you can just kind of jump into, and as long as there’s not some big event you are in the middle of, you’re safe.  We’ve been learning about Peter Parker and great responsibility for decades.  Hawkeye’s been around the block, but not the star.  Issue 11 (the one the images are from) just came out, so you don’t have much catching up (the first collection is out, with the second due out in July, if you prefer trades to individual issues).  The next thing that grabbed me was the art.  The flat coloring, combined with the bold lines really stands out to me.  A lot of modern comics turn me off with the advanced shading and ultra-realism.  David Aja is your principal artist, with appearances by Francesco Francavilla and Annie Wu.  Matt Hollingsworth is your colorist.

Hawkeye01_002
“Okay…this looks bad.” A recurring theme for our hero. And they had this shot planned before the movie.

What keeps me coming back, though, is the story.  Matt Fraction (who had acclaimed runs on The Immortal Iron Fist and Invincible Iron Man) tells some great tales about the ‘normal guy’ Avenger, along with Kate Bishop, who is also Hawkeye.  Add in Pizza Dog, the tracksuit-wearing ‘Bro’ mafia, and the cast of characters who live in the building in Bed-Stuy and you’ve got a great cast of real people.  Lots of humor, Clint doing dumb things, and a great look at what a mortal, non-armored or invulnerable Avenger’s life might be like.  The individual issues can stand alone (other than the two-parter) but that doesn’t mean things don’t change from one to the next.  It’s a good balance.  I’m having a lot of fun with Hawkguy, and I hope you join me.  I need more people to talk about it with!

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PC Games Review

Get to know an MMO: Marvel Heroes

Note:  First in a series where I look at current MMO games from a Free to Play perspective (as I’m too much of a cheapskate to pay for a monthly fee unless the game is REALLY good).

As you know from this site, I’m a big Marvel comics fan.  I read them as a kid, especially Iron Man and the Silver Surfer.  I watch the movies, I can’t wait for Agents of SHIELD, I’m all in.  The chance to play Marvel themed MMO (that I didn’t have to pay $15 a month for) was too good to pass up.

To start the game, you can pick one of five heroes:  Hawkeye (who I picked), Storm, Daredevil, Ben Grimm, and the Scarlet Witch.  You get one more of these five when you play through the early game content the first time.  Other heroes can be purchased, or appear as loot when fighting.  Same goes for alternate costumes, though there were some exclusives only available if you bought in to the game ahead of time, and I’ve gotten one Iron Man 3 themed costume (the Mark 17) from a giveaway, so that’ll probably be a thing.

As for the gameplay, it’s an action-RPG, so the Diablo comparisons are right on.  Skill trees, waypoints, loot drops, it’s all there.  In practice, the heroes and their powers don’t stray far from the usual Melee/Ranged/Magic archetypes, with some customization thanks to the skills.  Because it’s a mishmash of so many Marvel heroes, the villains are the same, so you may be fighting HYDRA here, AIM there, the Hand, the Maggia, and so on.  I’m several chapters in on the story, and there’s juuuust enough there to keep you interested.  The motion comic-style interludes are fun, and a nice change compared to the usual cutscenes.

One quirk is that the leveling is based on the individual character, so each new hero you find starts life (for you) as a level 1 hero.  The game allows you to reset the storyline to the beginning and replay it, or you can just hit the waypoints so you are fighting level appropriate enemies.  It doesn’t take long to play through, but that’s going to get repetitive quick, unless some new…what, issues?  episodes?  or whatever come quick.

There seems to be some form of grouping that happens when you enter certain instances or similar areas.  I am not doing anything with grouping or guilds beyond that, yet.

“Free” to Play Annoyance Factor:  Low.  This could shade towards medium if you REALLY want to play as a certain hero and you don’t get them in a drop, ever.  But so far there really isn’t a huge amount of paywalled stuff.  This game will live or die based on how much you really want to play as Iron Man, or if you MUST have a certain costume or armor.  People have been killing Gazillion and Marvel on the pricing for new heroes, but since I’m looking at this as a cheapskate, it bothers me not in the slightest.

I am kind of surprised I’m still playing this, but it’s fun enough.  Maybe the fact it’s an action-RPG works in it’s favor, but I’ll probably stick with it for a while.  My account is TheTickMS, and you’ll usually see me as Hawkeye.  By the way, they totally need the t-shirt/jeans/purple Chuck Taylors ‘costume’ from the current run of Hawkguy.

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Featured Movies Review

Movie Review – The Avengers

Be warned:  Spoilers, I have them.

I’ve been struggling with how to approach reviewing The Avengers.  I mean, I’m a comic guy from way back, but not an obsessive one.  Iron Man is one of my favorites, and I’m not sure I can be entirely impartial.  Had I stayed up last night (got home at 1:30am) and wrote this, my post would be peppered with ‘FUCK YEAH AVENGERS WOOOOO’ and stuff like that.  By this time, you’ve read a bunch of other reviews and know pretty much what you are getting – but I have to write something!  I thought Joss and the rest handled so many egos perfectly.  Just about everybody had a great line or three that left people guffawing.  As anyone that’s watched Firefly knows, Joss has excellent comic timing, and a way with having the unexpected happen that only amps it up.  This is funnier than you are expecting, yes, even if you like the jokes in the trailers.  There’s a few spots of real emotion, though they were kept a bit to the sideline so that the movie would keep moving (one particular scene with Agent Carter and Steve Rogers was cut as it ‘brought the movie to a halt’).

Favorite bits:

  • Stark referencing “life model decoys” from the comics
  • Captain America’s “There’s only one God, ma’am…” line
  • “Puny God” and the absolute ass-kicking Loki received just before it
  • Rogers/Cap paying up the $10 (total Joss move right there)
  • “Hulk…smash”  *grin*
  • “He’s adopted”
  • Banner on Loki:  “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.”
  • Tony’s speech to Loki at the final battle.  “You’re missing the point. There’s no throne. There is no version of this where you come out on top…”

If there’s one bit that didn’t work, it was Stark with Pepper at the beginning.  Could’ve used som polishing, and possibly Pepper should’ve worn some pants.  Not that I don’t mind the fan-service daisy dukes there, but it distracted from them as a couple.

Minor quibble, though.  I’ll be seeing this again on Wednesday, and probably again once it reaches the second-run theater, or maybe at the drive-in if there’s something good paired with it.  Highly recommended for all except the little ones.

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Featured Review

More on Thor: Come ON, Roger

Roger Ebert is one of the few critics I play attention to.  I don’t always agree with him, but he thinks really hard on even the silliest movie he has the misfortune to see.  That is, most of the time.  He didn’t review Thor officially, but mentioned in his ‘Journal’ today.  I can understand him not being familiar with the source material – neither am I, really, as I never read Thor’s standalone books – and it’s really not necessary for this movie.  Most of what you need to know is laid out for you, and if you don’t get that the ‘Barton’ dude carrying a bow is a reference to Hawkeye, so be it.  You’ll figure it out later.  But check this:

In the arena of movies about comic book superheroes, it is a desolate vastation. Nothing exciting happens, little of interest is said, and the special effects evoke not a place or a time but simply…special effects.

A ‘desolate vastation’??  I might save that for Elektra but Thor wasn’t a bad movie.

Thor to begin with is not an interesting character. The gods of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology share the same problem, which is that what you see is what you get.

This I agree with, but I thought there was enough interest with the byplay between Thor and Odin, and Thor and Loki.  Different strokes.

The land (sphere? state of mind? heaven?) known as Asgard is described in Norse mythology as being near Troy, or perhaps in Asia Minor.

Uh, in the MOVIE, it was explained pretty clearly ‘where’ Asgard is and how it connects to the other realms.  Roger also missed both the scientific description of the Bifrost and Thor’s own description of it, as that confused him too.

Later there’s a meteoric event in which Thor’s hammer hurtles to earth and becomes embedded so firmly that it can’t be pulled lose by a pickup truck or even the federal government.

Again, there’s source material that could help with this, but I thought it was made pretty clear that only someone WORTHY of wielding Mjolnir could lift it.  “Whoever wields this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”  You hear that, you see everyone NOT lifting the hammer, you get it, right?

Thor luckily speaks English and Jane and her friends take him to the local diner, where he eats lots of Pop Tarts and, when he finishes his coffee, smashes the empty cup to the ground. “We don’t do that,” Jane explains as if to a child, and advises him to simply order another cup, after which he apparently absorbs human behavior and the movie drops the Taming of the Thor angle.

Yes, he speaks English.  As a god-like alien whose people have traveled to 9 different planets over thousands of years, he might’ve learned it.  If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes…

The three scientists are thin soup. Jane flirts demurely with Thor, Darcy stands next to her and does nothing very important, and Dr. Sevig regards them gravely and looms slightly above a low-angle camera while looking on with wise concern

This I agree with, but I think both of the ladies are pretty cute, and Dr. Selvig does his job okay.  Always seems out of breath, though, he should see a doctor.

Superhero movies live and die on the quality of their villains. “Thor” has a shabby crew. The Frost Giants spend most of their time being frosty in their subzero sphere of Jotunheim and occasionally freezing their enemies.

Admittedly, the Frost Giants didn’t impress me, not seeming ‘giant’ enough.

Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is dark-haired, skinny, shifty-eyed and sadly lacking in charisma.

The Trickster god, he does a solid job of manipulating everyone, but he’s not a match in a direct fight, so he doesn’t.

These villains lack adequate interest to supply a climactic battle, so the plot provides a Metal Giant, sends him to the New Mexico town, and has him blast fiery rays that blow up gas stations real good but always miss his targets. He is apparently stopped by a sword through his spine, but why does he need a spine since when his mask lifts we can see his head is an empty cavern?

The Destroyer is stabbed by a spear, and doesn’t get killed by it.  Just wrong.  Look, there’s more here that doesn’t make sense but I guess I expect more from Roger Ebert.  I don’t expect you to read years of back issue comics to understand a comic book movie, but that’s not required here.  Just watch the movie.  It’s not the best comic book movie, but it IS a good one.