Did “Captain America: Civil War” Liberate the Black Super Hero?

Civil War_cap_iron man

If it’s not Marvel’s best movie, Captain America: Civil War sits high on the very short list of their best.   This was the Avengers movie Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been.

It’s a four star flick and I will be going to see it again and I never go see movies a second time. Marvel’s Captain America series is the first where each film improves on the previous installment.

When Sharon Carter referenced a condensed version of Cap’s most Captain America  speech, I leaned over and punched my son in the shoulder giggling, “THEY DID THE SPEECH!!!!” My inner comic book geek was tickled, but there’s a considerable amount of fan-service Easter eggs throughout the movie.

The best decision the screenwriters and directors made was to take the framework of the Civil War comic book and strip it down to the basics and rebuild it into something comprehensible for the movie. This is kind of the same thing what happened to another Mark Millar project, Wanted. By the time it got to the screen with Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy it jettisoned all the vile bile of the Millar graphic novel and pretty much kept the name and little else.

Hey, where's OUR solo movie?

Hey, where’s OUR solo movie?

Millar loves being offensive and shocking for the sake of it and while Civil War was neither, it was poorly written and executed for the most part and sent Marvel Comics into a never ending series of “Big Events” that reset their universe.   Thank God they said, “Like the idea. Hate everything else.”   It spared us the sorry sight of a Thor clone brutally murdering a fourth-rate nobody called  Black Goliath.   “Who?” you ask?  Trust me when I say this: nobody cares.

In Civil War the comic book,  Black superheroes were scenery and stiffs.   In Civil War the movie, they play an essential part in the story and they’re more than just diversity hires.

I’m saying all this not to review the movie, because there’s more than enough of those all over the web and if you need another you won’t have to look hard to find one.   What I want to point out how much I appreciate how damn COOL it is to see a superhero movie with not one, not two, but THREE Black superheroes in it.

Don Cheadle’s War Machine is back and so is Anthony Mackie as The Falcon.  No insult intended (okay, a little insult), but War Machine and the Falcon are sidekicks Iron Man and Cap.   That’s just who they are, so if you’re Cheadle and Mackie don’t hold your breath hoping for a standalone movie because you’re strictly back-up, guys.  Go ask Hawkeye how that works.

The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is nobody’s back-up and he don’t do “sidekick.”  He’s the freakin’ KING of Wakanda, the most advanced nation on Earth.

I don’t DO the “sidekick” thing.

Now that might not mean a lot to some viewers, but I bet to a young Black kid geeking out on it, it means everything.

Even if it’s only in yet another super-hero flick, I’m hyped to see Lupita Nyong’o in a live-action film instead of voice work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book. Since blowing up the spot in 12 Years A Slave and winning a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress award, she’s only been in front of the camera once. Hollywood really has no clue what to do with a Black actress.

As for who Nyong’o plays in the Black Panther movie, I’d rule out Storm completely. Though the X-Men’s favorite wind-rider married Tchalla in the comic books, it’s unlikely she’d even show up in the movie as an a X-Man character she’s the exclusive property of 20th Century Fox and considering the cold war between Fox and Disney, I wouldn’t count on Storm flying over Wakanda anytime soon. It could happen, but it probably won’t.

Ryan Coogler is directing Black Panther and since he’s done two of my favorite movies of the past five years (Fruitvale Station, Creed), I am very interested in what he will do with a super-hero movie. I can only hope Marvel overlord Kevin Feige and the rest of the execs at the Mouse House aren’t too heavy-handed in throwing in too many shout-outs to future films in the pipeline. One good sign is this from Feige about the Black Panther’s diversity, “That will be amongst the best ensembles we’ve ever had. And 90% of the cast is either African or African-American.”

It’s not as though there haven’t been Black super heroes in movies before, but not since Blade 3 in 2004 has one been featured in their own movie.  Not even an Academy Award-winning Halle Berry could get a Storm franchise out of Development Hell and into pre-production.    Maybe the Falcon or War Machine could.  If  Ant-Man can get made, why not?  And Ant-Man sucks.

There’s a lot riding on the Panthers’ vibramium-padded shoulders.   Marvel has had it’s fair share of underwhelming films (Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and both Thor entries) but even Ant-Man made money.  If it hadn’t it wouldn’t have been a fatal wound to Marvel.   Paul Rudd would just be sent back to the bench until the next Avengers entry.    Let the Black Panther tank and we’ll wait another dozen years for Hollywood to try that again.

With Michael B. Jordan looking to reunite with Coogler and possibly playing the villain (Killmonger? The White Wolf?), I’ve got reasons to be even MORE hyped. To get me outta the house, you need to show me something special and more than blowing shit up real good CGI style.  A predominantly Black cast in a film with Coogler, Nyong’o and Jordan?   Hey, that’s all you had to say, Negro!  The Black Panther is shaping up to be that something special.

black-panther-captain-america-civil-war

“I understand you’re looking for a sidekick much cooler than Bucky or the Falcon, Cap, but it’s not my thing. “

 

Relax. It Only LOOKS Like Diversity.

These are not your father’s Avengers. Or anybody’s father’s Avengers.

Here’s how the comic books dividing lines worked in my house when I was a kid.    The boys started off with DC and Batman and Superman and Superboy and then we got sophisticated and left Lois Lane’s 1000th stupid scheme to find out Superman’s secret identity and Jimmy Olsen being turned in a cockroach or something and moved over to  Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men,  and the wondrous splendor of Stan Lee/Jack Kirby’s Marvel Universe.

My sisters read Archie Comics.  And they were welcome to it.   Which reminds me…ever notice you never see Jimmy Olsen and Archie at any of the same parties?  Archie Andrews has never been cool, never been hip, or anything but a series of unfunny gags  from the world’s oldest teenager.  The dilemma was how to make anybody give a damn about this terribly trite ccomic book.

The solution to this problem was to create an alternate universe with an adult Archie.   It’s Middle Age Archie is going to get taken out as he courageously bites the dust saving his gay friend, a U.S. Senator from an assassination attempt.

This is the standard go-to move for the comic book companies to drum up buzz.   Take a beloved character  like Superman, Batman, Captain America,  announce they are going to be killed off and wait for the headlines.   And it works!   But what nobody bothered with was diggging into why Adult Archie was really about to bite it and it turns out because the title flat out doesn’t sell.   According sales figures from May, Life With Archie was #386 out of #439 comic books in sales.   It sold an impressive  2,064 copies.

To put it another way, if Adult Archie wasn’t about to die, they would have to kill him.  Shooting Archie is a mercy killing.

Far less of a contrived stunt is the Secret Life of Archie.   What secret?    There’s a pretty good reason he never chose between Betty and Veronica.



Hey kids! Suggestively Gay Comics!  I’m not saying.  I’m just saying.

Whether its offing Archie and Wolverine,  making Captain America a brother or Thor a woman, it’s all about pandering and pandering desperately for a little bit of attention.  Comics exist primarily as intellectual property for films and to tell the same stories in ever more expensive formats.     Whether they call it The New 52 or Marvel Now,  what comics primarily provide is not occasionally innovative fun, but meaningless “event” after meaningless event.

It’s 2014 and there is still only one monthly title from the majors with an openly gay hero. It’s hard enough to get the heterosexual White males that make up the core of the comics audience to support titles with women or racial minority heroes. When Marvel replaced the Ultimate Comics version of Peter Parker with Miles Morales, a Black and Hispanic teen that was a major change and I recall the howls of outrage fueled in part from racist comic fans. It’s no accident a lesbian lead character is as far as pushing the envelope with sexual orientation goes. A homosexual super hero’s got no shot.

Change the gender, change the race, change nothing else.

Change the gender, change the race, change nothing else.

Homophobia is one reason  the concept of gays in comics is confined primarily to second-stringers, supporting characters and heroes which can be created, discarded and forgotten.

The takeaway from all this is its okay to kill off a long-running established characters (because they always come back) and its okay to give over their name and uniforms to a woman or person of color (because they will eventually take the name and uniform back) or to marry them off, rape and murder their wives, husbands and family members, impregnate them, body swap them, paralyze them, lop off a limb, steal their sight, make them old and infirm, and pretty much do any blessed thing to a long-running established character because you can always retcon it out of existence.

Don’t stress over Dead Archie,  Muslim Ms. Marvel, Thor with breasts in her breastplate or Afro Cap.  Before you can start to hate it, it’ll be over.

Just don’t make them gay.  Phony diversity is cool, but that is the Line of Death which must never be crossed.   There are straight fans who would riot if a major super hero came out.   Or create really angry Tweets.   The prospect of  pissing off all those timid editors and misogynist, homophobic fanboys would be reason enough to do it.   Every group wants to see themselves in their heroes and not only the ones whom are popular with the majority and  comics shouldn’t pander  exclusively to the majority while the minority settles for tokens and table scraps.

I would  be a lot more interested if we were about to get a Black writer on Captain America. Or about any comic book from Marvel and DC.  I’m  over diversity for the sake of appearances thing

If Lois Lane can turn into a Black woman it’s equally possible for Superman and Batman to look deeply in the others eyes and tenderly whisper, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”  Is that an image that disturbs you, dead reader?  Perhaps, but enough with  seven decades of the side eye and vague hints. Go big or go home.

It’s only a comic book and comic fans like difference in their comics.  Just not the radical kind.

Collision Course: Captain America vs. Superman vs. Batman

superheroes

There are plenty of reviews for Captain America: The Winter Soldier that opened last weekend to kick off the summer movie season (in April?) and pocketed a tidy $93 million dollars even before I sat down in my seat. This isn’t another one of them. It’s just a few thoughts I had that aren’t spoilers, but one might be “spoilerish.”

Saw the fuck out of the flick on Sunday. It’s really good, though I wouldn’t go so far as some to call it “Marvel’s Dark Knight.” Pump ya brakes and slow ya roll.   It is a fun time in the dark, but there’s no Heath Ledger performance anywhere in sight. Certainly not from the Winter Soldier.

If Kevin Feige reads this, it is time for a Black Widow movie. I was surprised by how much screen time Scarlett Johannson had but this was far and away her best turn as Natasha Romanoff. If we wait for DC to finally give Wonder Woman her shot, we’ll be waiting around for another five years or so. I’m convinced the audience will turn out for Black Widow kicking ass in her own movie.

Come on, Kev. Make it happen!

DC/Warner Bros. is in a completely reactive mode where they have squandered their advantages of having a line of iconic super heroes, yet have utterly and completely failed to exploit that edge into successful franchise films without Batman or Superman.

Over the next two years movies featuring Marvel properties include The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man(?!) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron all up and taking swings at box office supremacy before Superman vs. Batman finally get up to deck in 2016. Two years with nothing to offer is an eternity for a genre of films that has to peak sometime (but hasn’t as of yet).

Oh, and Captain America 3 is already claiming the same 2016 opening week as Supes vs. Bats (does Cap die and Bucky/Winter Soldier pick up the shield as it played out in the comics?). You would think Marvel has to be nuts to go mano a mano against DC’s biggest guns, but they claimed the release date first.

Both of these 500 pound gorillas can’t occupy the same weekend without one being severely wounded by the other. Someone is going to blink and move out of this opening week and I’m willing to bet it will be the one that already moved once already.

Cap ain't afraid of no Superman and his Bat-Buddy either.

Cap ain’t afraid of no Superman and his Bat-Buddy either.

I would expect in a head-to-head competition, Captain America 3 would falter against the joint might of Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman and whomever else the hell DC stuffs into the movie, but if blunts their box office momentum and it doesn’t open to somewhere in the $100 million range, Warner Brothers will need real superheroes to catch all the falling bodies being tossed out of hi-rise office towers.

The trap DC is in is they have bet their entire superhero film future on one movie. This movie can’t underperform or fall short the way Man of Steel did which barely edged out Thor: The Dark World in profitability.    If you’re a Superman fan, how does a Thunder God most people associate with their high school class on mythology give the Last Son of Krypton a run for the money?

It’s because Marvel has followed a plan to build a universe where even it’s “B”list characters can battle DC’s “A” list heroes to a virtual draw.

Marvel has been able to load its gun with several bullets so even if  Thor misses they still have Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers locked and loaded with more possibilities for The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Falcon. Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige says they have their movies planned out to 2028! The fact that actors like Sebastian Stan (Bucky/Winter Soldier) are signed to do six to nine pictures makes it clear than when Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and others “age out” or are done slipping on the spandex, the franchises will go on and on and on…

I don’t see a similar game plan from DC/Warner. They are dealing with a recast Batman, David Goyer and Zack Snyder turned loose without a Christopher Nolan to reign in their worst excesses (and Nolan disagreed with their decision to have Superman kill Zod).

Nolan is gone to pursue his own vision and while the hope is Snyder/Goyer will successfully set up a Justice League franchise it all hinges on Supes/Bats doing billion dollar business.

It could all come together as planned. But if it doesn’t DC isn’t as well-positioned as Marvel to overcome a cinematic setback.

As for Captain America: The Winter Solider, it’s really good. Easily the best superhero movie I’ve seen since The Avengers. Chris Evans has really grown into the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is good. Samuel Jackson finally gets to do more as Nick Fury than stand around and glower. Scarlett Johannson surprised me in how central her role was in my enjoyment of the flick.

I give it a solid “B+” and I’d take my wife with me for a second viewing.

"Let's tell Disney to give you your own film right now!"

“Let’s tell Disney to give you your own film right now!”

 

 

 

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“Hi, I’m Iron Man. Give Me All Your Money.”

Just a couple of bros hangin’ out chillaxin.

The calendar says May but as far as Hollywood goes it’s officially summer.   That’s what happens when the first huge movie of the year  comes out and stomps the snot out of every other film in sight.   Iron Man 3 has big heavy metal boots and with a $175 million opening week and over $600 million worldwide, it’s stepping all over what we will laughingly call “the competition.”

The family rolled out for a Sunday matinee and everyone  seemed to dig the hell out of the latest adventures of Tony Stark and friends.  I’ve waited three years to wipe away the bad taste Iron Man 2 left . And since it pulled down $175 million in Week One, it’s set the bar high for “Man of Steel.”   IM3 had the same problem the Bond franchise had with “Quantum of So What?” All  Skyfall had to be was better than that  last piece of crap and that was a low bar to clear.

It was definitely more entertaining than The Dark Knight RisesYeah I went there because that was the last super-hero movie I saw with a crime-fighting billionaire in the lead so it’s a natural comparison to  IM 3.   It’s been almost a year and I’m still convinced  Christopher Nolan didn’t stick the landing to his  end of  the Batman trilogy.   Iron Man 3 improved on everything that was weak about Iron Man 2.  The villains were better.  Don Cheadle was better replacing Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes.   Even Gwenyth Paltrow was better as Pepper Potts (Pepper Potts…oh, that Stan Lee!) and usually all Paltrow elicits from me is drumming my fingers impatiently until she’s off-screen and Iron Man is hitting something.

The problem now for Marvel is can they resign Downey for “Avengers 2.”  He’s certainly in an excellent negotiating position if he’s interested in returning.   Why shouldn’t he be?  Downey’s resurgence as a superstar is based upon how natural he is as Tony Stark.  The executives at Disney may have a short list of possible replacements for Downey if he doesn’t return and Kevin Feige, the main man of Marvel Films has hinted the ability to swap out actors as their heroes is a cue they have taken from the James Bond franchise.

Maybe Marvel is right.  Maybe Downey is replaceable as Tony Stark (because anyone can play a computer generated Iron Man).   Since Christopher Reeve made us believe a man can fly in Superman, two other actors have sported the “S” on the chest in feature films.  Four actors have suited up as Batman,  three as Bruce Banner/The Hulk and two swinging around as Spider-Man.

But no actor has inhabited the alter ego of the hero as well as Robert Downey Jr.  has worn the skin of Tony Stark.  Stark is more essential to the success of the Iron Man franchise than Iron Man is.  If Stan Lee, Larry Lieber,  Don Heck and Jack Kirby didn’t create Stark with Downey in mind, they should have.   When you’ve made a movie that has grossed a billion with a big “B” as The Avengers has, do you really want to risk that success of the franchise based upon an actor’s possible salary demands?

Downey pocketed an amazing $50 million payday for The Avengers, more than the rest of the principal actors put together and is the unquestioned first among equals.  In a GQ interview, Downey indicated he might be nearing the end of his super-hero days as the 47-year-old wondered how many more times he wants to suit up in the red and gold armor.  The ankle injury he sustained on the set of IM3 during a stunt shut down production for several weeks and put Downey in a reflective mood.

“It got me thinking about how big the message from your cosmic sponsor needs to be before you pick it up. How many genre movies can I do? How many follow-ups to a successful follow-up are actually fun?”

Downey says he wants to win an Oscar some day and it doesn’t matter if playing Iron Man is a license to print money.    Playing a billionaire has made Downey a millionaire, but it won’t win him the prize and recognition he really wants.   However, don’t take that to mean if he’s done with all this super-hero stuff he’ll walk away without a few regrets.

“At whatever point I’m done with this, I’m going to have a bit of a crisis, because I probably haven’t even fully ingested how much I’ve enjoyed it, how much it’s meant. It so came out of kind of relative obscurity as this second-tier character from the Marvel universe, and I feel I was part of making it something more. But it also to me was just good filmmaking,”  Downey said.

If The Avengers is going to make its 2015 release date, Disney won’t have too long to make up their mind whether they’re going to need a fleet of Brink’s trucks to get Downey to re-up.    Whether or not he does is an open question.

As for the big SPOILER in the movie I’ll say this much about it.  The only people who will be left slack-jawed and pissed off by it are comic book purists.   Nobody else will notice or care.   Not one blessed soul.

Iron Man 3‘s $175 million opening is second only to The Avengers.  Does that make IM3 as good as The Avengers.  No, and it isn’t even  a close call.   The Avengers was something unique and I think it’s only competition is itself in the same way The Dark Knight can’t be matched.   As the end of the trilogy where does Iron Man 3 stack up?   It’s been a long time since I watched the first, but from what I can recall, Iron Man was a lot more fun than 2 (a root canal would have been too), but only slightly more than 3.

The Avengers
Iron Man
Captain America
Iron Man 3
Thor
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk (but only because I have it on DVD and have never watched it).

I almost forgot the absolutely Very Best Thing about Iron Man 3.  Not once did I hear AC/DC’s “Back in Black” or Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”  Talk about overexposure!

ironman-3

Superhero Smackdown Set for 2015?

“Standalone movies? We don’t got to make no stinkin’ standalone movies.”

From the Los Angeles Times, there now exists a strong possibility for not one, but two super hero teams slugging it out for box office supremacy in 2015.

DC Comics’ superheroes can finally team up on the big screen following yesterday’s legal victory for Warner Bros. in its long-running fight over the rights to Superman.

The studio is expected to accelerate development of a planned “Justice League” movie that would join Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and other characters, according to a knowledgeable person not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Warner hopes to shoot the film next year and release it in the summer of 2015. The studio already has a “Justice League” script in the works. Next it needs to attach a director and then cast the lead roles.

Had Warner lost its case against the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, it would not have been able to make “Justice League” or any other movies, television shows or comics featuring key elements of the Man of Steel’s mythos after 2013 unless it reached a new agreement with the estates of Shuster and co-creator Jerry Siegel.

That uncertainty made it difficult for Warner to move ahead with “Justice League,” which the studio’s motion pictures group president, Jeff Robinov, has long wanted to make as a pillar of its big-screen superhero strategy.

Robinov previously tried unsuccessfully to convince “The Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan to produce “Justice League.” Nolan is producing next year’s Superman movie “Man of Steel.” Wednesday’s court victory also makes it possible for Warner to make sequels to “Man of Steel” if the picture is successful.

With “Green Lantern” flopping and other movies featuring the Flash and Wonder Woman lingering in development, Warner has lagged behind Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios in profiting from cinematic superheroes. Only Nolan’s blockbuster Batman movie trilogy has succeeded for the Burbank studio.

The studio’s plan is to spin out other superheroes into their own movies following “Justice League.” That’s contrary to Marvel’s successful strategy of teaming up Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America in”Avengers” (which became a global blockbuster) after each character had his own film.

This is welcome news for Justice League fans who have longed to see their heroes finally make the jump from comic books and cartoons to the big screen, but the news comes with some head-scratching details in the story.  Is DC and Warners so confident they can introduce a brand-new Batman, an unproven Henry Cavill as Superman, surround them with a bunch of other actors and knock off something as eagerly anticipated as the second installment of the Avengers ?

Finally off the bench and out of Development Hell?

It is no surprise Nolan is walking away from the millions Warner is offering him.  He’s already one of the best directors working.  He has to want to be nominated for Best Director at some point in his career and it won’t happen making comic book movies. I’m sure Warner will find a good director and a capable cast. I just wonder what the strategy is if Man of Steel tanks or underperforms. Not saying it will. Just saying it could.

Marvel already has sequels in the queue for Thor, Captain America and Iron Man (with the first trailer for Iron Man 3 next Tuesday) and the Guardians of the Galaxy with all four of them priming the pump for the Avengers sequel.   It’s probable not all four will succeed, but it won’t blunt the anticipation for the next Avengers movie.

For DC and Warner there’s no similar margin of error.  If the next Superman relaunch doesn’t fly high at the box office, there’s nothing left to fall back on until Justice League in 2015. That’s why I think the “all or nothing at all” strategy is high reward and high risk. If it works, DC is set up nicely for their own standalone Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman spin-off flicks (sorry Aquaman).

A failure with either or both of their next two films and those future franchises are grounded leaving DC and Warner back in the same dilemma they’ve been in for over a decade; with only Batman and Superman as their go-to comic book movies, and nothing else primed to come off the bench to fill the void between them.

Let’s be honest.  Warners isn’t making a Justice League movie because of its artistic merit.   They’re making it because Disney made a BILLION dollars with Avengers and even if their super hero team movie is only half as good if it only makes half as much that’s a calculated risk worth taking.

Whatever it cost DC and Warner to secure the rights to keep making Superman movies will be money well spent if the Big Blue flies high at the box office.

 

‘The Avengers’ Sticks the Landing

“Whoa. Look at all those piles of money!”

If The Avengers had been a failure no one would have been shocked.   Almost everything that happens on the screen has been seen time and again in other summer blockbusters, but this one goes somewhere no other has gone before.   It draws from no less than five previous films (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk) and incorporates key elements from all of them while simultaneously  pulling off the unlikely feat of telling its own story so well-written and self-contained that it’s not necessary to have seen any of its predecessors.

The suits at Marvel Studios can exhale and pop the bubbly.   The Avengers sticks the landing and pulls together almost flawlessly what could have been a car crash of clunky continuity and an unmanageable mess of too many characters, back stories and exposition into a superhero film that doesn’t just raise the bar but kicks it into the stratosphere.

Watching what got us to this point was an experience where none of the movies (still haven’t popped The Incredible Hulk DVD in the player yet) were bad, some were pretty good, Iron Man 2 was mediocre and none of them were outstanding.    The Avengers is outstanding.    It’s entertaining and energetic after it gets past a slow opening 30 minutes as director Joss Whedon takes time to assemble his heroes and villains before all the avenging takes off in the second and third acts.

I avoided the crowd at a 11:00 am showing with my wife (who loves her some Robert Downey, Jr.) and my know-it-all 17-year-old daughter who loves Chris Evans face and Chris Hemsworth’s arms.   I would say Scarlett Johansson’s leather clad Black Widow and to a much lesser extent, the cameo of Gwyneth Paltrow ‘s narrow butt in shorts is supposed to thrill the fan boys, but they’re going to get their nerdgasms from the sight of The Hulk throwing down with Thor.

“Didn’t Hannibal Lecter start off like this?”

My expectations were not only met but exceeded by the two hours and 22 minutes we spent in the dark and my synapses have been doing a happy dance all day long.  The Avengers has dethroned Spider-Man 2 as the second-best superhero movie of all time and by a WIDE margin. It can’t touch the force of nature known as The Dark Knight, but The Dark Knight Rises will have to be killing it to beat this.

This movie is a bad-ass thrill ride.   It thinks big, it’s full of big set pieces, big fights, and yes, Virginia, even big laughs with lots of them coming from an extremely unlikely source.

What does a $200 million budget buy? Everything I think I could have dreamed of for The Avengers and then some. It’s eye-popping entertainment and yes, even Scarlett Johansson is given something to do besides be token eye-candy for the guys. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is a great bad guy delivering his lines with Shakespehrian seriousness as he smiles like someone enjoying his own private joke.  He’s a great schemer even if his master plan doesn’t really hang together. The movie takes some time to get going but once it does, it works wonderfully until the last minute.

Captain America calls the shots in the comic book, but this isn’t a comic book and the real genius isn’t just in the impressive action scenes (and they are extremely impressive), but the interaction of a group of geniuses, soldiers, monsters, spies and gods trying to figure out how to set aside their significant differences to stave off a greater threat.   The bonding between Downey’s snarky Tony Stark and Mark Ruffalo’s surfer dude coolly contained scientist living a terrible double life works beautifully.   Chris Evans has the worst costume and the burden of trying to make these highly combustible personalities work together.   The Hulk and Thor are tough sells to pull off, but Captain America is the hero that holds it all together based upon his integrity and courage.

“Hulk want to renegotiate contract!”

Whedon knows how to balance out a diverse group of characters and do it such a way that nobody feels short-changed or disappears off-screen for extended periods of time. It’s a masterful bit of direction by him. He’s going to be able to write his own ticket after this one.

I can’t say much more about this movie but to say it’s much better than I could have hoped and I will be seeing it again. Oh, and after two movies where they couldn’t quite get the Hulk right, Whedon gets it right and then some. Hulk smash puny film up good!

This being a Marvel movie you must stay through the credits. There are two Easter eggs thrown in. One that only comic book geeks will get and another that is…kind of different.

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Dwayne McDuffie 1962 – 2011: Death of an Icon

Dwayne McDuffie: a man, not a superman.

Of the world’s guilty pleasures the guiltiest are comic books.   There are few things more useless than an old comic book.   Certainly, there are a few that are worth hundreds or thousands of dollars to a collector, but with those rare exceptions most aren’t worth the paper they’ve printed on.

But comic books can still be fun and you can’t minimize the value of simple entertainment.   On rare occasions, comics can be more than junk food for the eyes.   They can actually be educating and doggone it a source of enlightenment.

I’m very saddened by Dwayne McDuffie’s untimely passage. I loved his Milestone work, especially Hardware and Icon. I’m going to out on a limb here, but I think it’s a pretty sturdy one: McDuffie was the most important Black man in comics.

It’s difficult to explain why McDuffie made such an impact if you have never read comics or stopped a long time ago.   When Milestone launched its first wave of comic books with Icon, Hardware, Static and the Blood Syndicate, they were simultaneously familiar, yet unique.   Icon was the Superman of the Milestone universe.  Hardware it’s Iron Man.  Static channeled Spider-Man teenage angst while Blood Syndicate was a X-Men mash-up of social misfits gifted and cursed with extraordinary powers.

Simply put, there had never been anything like Milestone Media.  Black super heroes such as Marvel’s Black Panther, Storm and Luke Cage had been around for a while (DC Comics lagged a bit behind with Black Lightning, but gained ground with the introduction of Cyborg in The Teen Titans and John Stewart as a Green Lantern).  Unfortunately, too many heroes of color were written as broadly silly and at times offensive stereotypes by White writers whose familiarity with Blacks seemed to have come from watching too much prime time television.

McDuffie (along with Denys Cowan, Derek T. Dingle and Michael Davis) formed Milestone Media in 1993, as an imprint distributed by DC Comics.   Finally, there were some super heroes for those fans whose reality was  different from millionaire playboys and their boy sidekicks.   Milestone sort of short-changed the sisters with only Icon’s teenage sidekick, Rocket, but it was refreshing to see Black super heroes who weren’t Xeroxed copies of a White one (John Stewart), angry Black men (Cyborg, Rage, Night Thrasher),  overly noble and regal (Black Panther, Storm) or exaggerated buffoons with plenty of muscle but short on brains (Luke Cage).

The problem wasn’t there were no Black super heroes.  The problem was they lacked authenticity.   McDuffie resolved that in the very first issue of Hardware.  The protagonist, Curtis Metcalf was a brilliant engineer who was very much the Angry Black Man, but his rage was spawned not because his parents had been gunned down by a thug or of some grave injustice he had suffered.  Metcalf was pissed at his boss for turning him down for a promotion and wounding his pride in the process.

As an editor and writer at Marvel, McDuffie was relegated to second and third tier comics such as Damage Control and Deathlok.  It wasn’t until later after he had established himself at Milestone and his work as a writer and story editor for the Justice League animated series did he get his shot at DC and Marvel’s premier titles.   I have the distinct feeling when McDuffie penned  these words in Hardware#1 he was articulating through the character he had created the frustrations he felt as a cog in the corporate comics machine.

“When I was a kid, I used to have this parakeet. And sometimes, when I’d open up his cage to clean it… he’d escape. The little bird would see the backyard and make his move. Invariably, he’d head straight for the window, fast as he could. And inevitably, crack his head on the windowpane… a barrier of glass, unseen and incomprehensible to him. So he’d try again, over and over… until, spent and defeated, he couldn’t try any longer. My bird made a common error. He mistook being out of his cage… for being free. The parakeet died a long time ago, without ever enjoying the freedom of the yard. The boy grew into a man, who spent many years bumping his head against a similar barrier: a ceiling of glass, unseen and incomprehensible to him. The lesson is clear: escape is impossible until one perceives all of the barriers. My name is Curtis Metcalf. But you can call me Hardware.”

An Angry Black Man, but one with a plan.

He never turned his back on comics, he worked hard to make them better, more diverse and more representative. He was proud, but not overbearing, even when Marvel gave him a raw deal by yanking him off Fantastic Four to clear the way for Mark Millar and then DC followed suit by mucking up his Justice League run.

He took it in stride. He handled it with class and didn’t stomp off in a huff. And he wrote some damn good comics and animated shows.   But he wasn’t afraid to step on toes and drop the knowledge on some knucklehead when they offended him.  Most famously, McDuffie’s sneering  “Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers” memo skewered the idiotic influx of Black heroes and their pimped out skateboards.

After I became aware McDuffie had passed away from complications following an unspecified surgical procedure, I felt a sense of loss though I had never met the man.   Maybe my familiarity with his impressive body of work made me feel like I had.   Because in the final analysis it’s the body of work that endures even when the flesh no longer does.  That kind of immortality is what every writer hopes for.

McDuffie never publicly called out the White fanboy base out as racists.  He didn’t have to get up in their face to point it out.   There were howls of indignation when he added the Black Panther and Storm as two members of the Fantastic Four and promptly had the Panther punch out the cosmic-powered Silver Surfer.   His multi-racial Justice League was both groundbreaking and infuriating to critics who denounced it as  “affirmative action comics.”  McDuffie didn’t back down or back off as he squarely addressed the issue in this scene from the undistributed documentary, Shaft or Sidney Poitier:  Black Masculinity in Comic Books

It takes courage to bite the hand that feeds you and tell folks hard truths they would rather not here.  Comic books are supposed to be an escape from the real world, but the problems of the real world have a way of creeping into comics.    McDuffie made his point without pointing fingers.    He simply gave the reader a worldview they might never had known existed.    The tagline for the debut issue of Static was a play on the character’s name:  “STATIC:  You don’t start none, won’t be none.”

Sometimes you have to start some static.   Until someone comes along and points out what’s wrong when others see no problem at all, nothing changes and McDuffie was a game changer.   The depiction of Blacks in comics is a bit more sensitive and a lot smarter than it was when Luke Cage was running around exclaiming, “Sweet Christmas” and shuckin’ and jivin’ in ways that were painful to see.    McDuffie made the imaginary world of comics reflect the world a lot more accurately that it ever had before.

Even Clarence Thomas recognized that.   Yeah, that’s right.  That Clarence Thomas.

Godspeed, Mr. McDuffie and God bless your family.   Goodbye game changer.

“This Mouse, This MARVEL” (or when Disney bought Marvel).

Wolvermouse:  He's the best at what he does.  But what he does isn't very nice.

Wolvermouse: He's the best at what he does. But what he does isn't very nice.

There are two types of people who go see comic book movies.  There’s the small minority that knows the every tiny detail and history of the superhero on the big screen because they read  comic books and then there’s the vast majority—everybody else.

When Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion Scrooge McDuck bucks it was only the biggest thing to happen to comic books since….well, probably since TimeWarner purchased DC Comics some 40 years earlier.   Corporations don’t purchase comic book companies because they give a damn about comic books.  Corporations purchase comic book companies because they give a damn about comic book characters.

The acquisition of Marvel was a big news story on the business page.   It was a “did you hear” moment of shock and awe across the Internet and blogosphere.    Marvel fans (aka “Marvel Zombies) are fiercely loyal and knowledgeable.  They’ve been known to get seriously bent out of shape if Spider-Man’s uniform isn’t drawn with the webbing under the arms so imagine how hot and bothered they are over the possibility of the wall-crawler pairing off with Donald Duck and Goofy.

Wolverine squaring off against Peg Leg Pete?   The Sub-Mariner swimming alongside the Little Mermaid?  The Fantastic Four vs. The Incredibles?   Face front and ’nuff said, true believers!  This is the BIG one!

Actually, comic book geeks are a pretty mellow group of guys (and a few gals).   There’s a lot of trepidation and uncertainty as to what it could mean when The House of Ideas gets absorbed by The House of Mouse.   But the fact is nobody really knows what it  could mean.

Hyuk!  Fear the wrath of Goofalactus!

Hyuk! Fear the wrath of Goofalactus!

What won’t be happening anytime soon is Disney making any movies featuring Spidey, the X-Men or Iron Man.   Those properties belong to other studios such as Paramount who hold the rights to five planned films:  Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America (2011), The Avengers (2012) and Iron Man 3 (2012/2013).

Sony has three more Spider-Man flicks in production and in the pipeline and 20th Century Fox chose the day after Disney acquired Marvel to announce they were planning to relaunch the Fantastic Four and Daredevil and there are more X-Men/Wolverine flicks in the future.   As long as 20th Century Fox keeps making movies with the FF or Wolverine, the rights won’t revert back to Marvel (and Disney).

Disney didn’t spend billions of dollars because of a burning desire to turn The Great Lakes Avengers into a film franchise.   What their strategy is to buying the rights to characters they can’t make movies about for years to come isn’t immediately clear, but you can be sure the suits at Disney and Marvel behind this deal see a endgame others don’t immediately.

There is some apprehension on the part of Marvel zombies that Disney may look at the comics and want to see a kinder, gentler direction, which could signal an end to same-sex kisses, graphic acts of brutal violence and the odd sight of a super hero climbing out of a woman’s clevage.

But it’s just as likely Disney won’t meddle with Marvel’s comic line too much.   Marvel still remains the top comic company ahead of DC and since Disney wants the good will of the teenage males demographic, why fix what isn’t broken?

The only thing that is sure is for  The Punisher, Wolverine,  the Hulk and the 7000 Marvel characters that now belong to Disney, it’s Mickey Mouse’s world and they’re living in it.