By Glenn Walker
Remember that time, way back in the Avengers Bendis-verse when the most powerful beings on Marvel Earth got together and decided they needed to stand in the shadows and run things for everyone else? You had Reed (Mr. Fantastic) Richards, Professor X, Tony (Iron Man) Stark, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, and the Black Panther - and they called themselves, ominously enough, the Illuminati. It was a step in what they considered the right direction, a way to prevent misunderstandings between various super-teams, between nations, and to unify forces when Earth itself was attacked.
As shown on the first page of the brand new New Avengers #1, part of the Marvel NOW! initiative, by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Steve Epting, the Black Panther immediately thought it was a bad idea, and he bailed on the first meeting. Turns out the Panther was right, as this Illuminati failed to function during the Skrull Secret Invasion, and it certainly didn't stop this past year's battle to end all battles, Avengers Vs. X-Men. Now, however, in this issue, the Black Panther needs them.
Hickman and Epting produce, in New Avengers #1 (the third first issue of this title in a decade, I think), one of the best Black Panther stories I've read in a while. Now I'm a sucker for the Black Panther, and I love him in the Avengers, because there he embodies the perfect melding of Batman-like fighting prowess, scientific know-how, superhero pro-activity, and that classy regal-ness that running one of the world's most highly advanced civilizations brings with it. Gotta love the Panther. Usually will get one or two of these qualities, but Hickman gets it. This is the Black Panther done right.
Artist Steve Epting is also a star here. As an old school Avengers fan, I loved his art on the title back in the 1990s, and when I next saw his work, it was much tighter and smoother as he worked with Ed Brubaker on the now legendary Captain America series of the last decade. A peek back a year or so at Fantastic Four proves how well he works with Hickman as well. Here in New Avengers, he delivers his best work so far in my opinion.
Together the two spin a tale of the Black Panther and his Wakandan scientists as they discover a gateway to another planet, where dangerous forces seek to destroy the Earth, and possibly all Earths. Hey, who you gonna call? The Illuminati, of course. This is an awesome comic, and one of my picks for the week. Special bonus, there are even clues here to the origins of one of the new members over in Hickman's Marvel NOW! Avengers. New Avengers #1, on the shelves at All Things Fun!, and other comic shops (but ATF! is the best!). Do not miss!
By Glenn Walker
Christmas decorations are everywhere, Christmas music is on the radio, everyone is running from store to store to get all the good bargains. Yes, it's that time of year again - it's time to spend time with the family, whether you like it or not.
The holiday season is here, and the holidays are all about family. The Avengers is my favorite superhero team, and in a way, they are a family of sorts. In my opinion, the Avengers has always worked better as soap opera in superhero trappings, after all, superhero comics are the bastard stepchild of mythology and soap opera. The problem is, when you get right down to the roots, the Avengers family tree is rather twisted and dysfunctional. What better time to explore this nest of incest and insanity than the holidays, right?
Let's start with the team's inaugural couple, and while they are no longer officially or romantically still together (depending on the writer), Dr. Henry Pym (known alternately as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, Doctor Pym, or the Wasp) and Janet Van Dyne, the original and best known Wasp, have had no children, and yet they leave quite a family legacy.
Pym created an artificial intelligence called Ultron, soon to be the big bad in the next big Marvel crossover event, who would become the Earth's Mightiest Heroes' deadliest foe. This machine menace wanted only two things, the complete and total eradication of the human race… and daddy's love. Hank was not forthcoming, leading to an Oedipal complex of catastrophic proportions. I'm being vague, and sarcastic, but trust me, this covers it.
Ultron considered Pym his father, and in a twisted way, that made the Wasp his mother. Since it's likely Ultron was programmed with Pym's brain patterns, he wanted his mother, and eventually, rather than 'have' her, he created a bride of his own - the aptly named Jocasta, a machine woman programmed with Janet's brain patterns. Jocasta would eventually turn against her master, join the Avengers, and creepily become enamored with Hank Pym. Ew.
It gets worse. In an attempt to be more like his own 'father,' Ultron endeavored to become a father himself, and created the Vision. While more of a reactivation than a creation, Ultron still would call the Vision his 'son' for decades.
Of course, that's not the machine monster's only son. Each time Ultron rebuilt himself, he gave himself a number designation. The Ultron Mark 12 seemed to have gained some form of evolution and wanted to be a good son to Pym. Unfortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook), this model sacrificed itself to save the Avengers from a resurrected Ultron-11.
Speaking of the Vision, he is another source of incest and conflict in the Avengers family. I've talked before on this blog about his romance with the Scarlet Witch, their marriage, their children, her breakdown, and then how she tried to destroy the whole team.
If that's not enough to make things uncomfortable at holiday dinner, there's also Wonder Man. His brain patterns were originally used to program the Vision, he fell for the Scarlet Witch, and his first and last encounters with the team have involved trying to destroy them. I'm sensing a theme here…
The Vision isn't innocent here either when it comes to relationships outside of Wanda either. He's also been involved with Mantis, Stature, and the aforementioned Jocasta as well. If that's not difficult enough, imagine the Vision sitting at the same table with Wonder Man, with whom he has shared a mind, and the original Human Torch, with whom he has shared an android body. Go ahead, just imagine the small talk.
Let's talk about the Scarlet Witch's family a little bit now. There are her two children, Young Avengers Wiccan and Speed, whose continuity are better left untouched, especially if you're running low on Tylenol. There's also her brother, fellow Avenger Quicksilver, and of course her dear old dad, arch-foe and sometimes ally of the X-Men, Magneto. Mags notably enslaved Wanda and her brother as members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and has also battled the Avengers more times than this vast storehouse of useless comics knowledge can count.
Quicksilver eventually left the Avengers for a time because he resented his sister's love for the Vision, because he was a machine. Imagine that, a racist mutant. He then fell for Crystal of the Inhumans. Hmmm… sounds like someone could use an attitude adjustment. It's okay though, karma is a bitch, just like his wife Crystal, herself a jilted romance of the Human Torch, she eventually found solace in the arms of fellow Avenger, the Black Knight.
If you want to talk about relationship hopping, no one does it like the Black Widow. She was originally one of Iron Man's enemies, who reformed along with erstwhile romance Hawkeye, to join the team. When she was later briefly rejected by Daredevil, she finally joined the Avengers before going back to him. Notably, her ex-husband, the Red Guardian fought the Avengers on occasion. She's had close relationships with Captain America, Hercules, and is currently with Winter Soldier. Is your scorecard filled up yet? Turn it over, there's more.
Speaking of villains who have reformed, especially after fighting the Avengers, there's the original Thunderbolts, who were also the same Masters of Evil team who attacked the Mansion and nearly beat Jarvis and Hercules to death. Just sayin'. Hawkeye later led that team. There's also the Swordsman, who spent most of his career as an enemy of the Avengers before joining the team. Just for the record, he trained Hawkeye, and also brought Mantis onto the team.
And then there's Kang. Like the other Avengers greatest foe, Ultron, Kang the Conqueror is also family, although we're not sure exactly how. Kang is many people, due to the vagaries of time travel and the paradoxes involved, he's also Rama Tut, Immortus, the Scarlet Centurion, possibly even the Justice League of America foe the Lord of Time, and many, many alternate versions of himself. But the arguing point is who was he originally?
For decades the conventional wisdom at Marvel Comics suggested that Kang was Nathaniel Richards, but that might not be completely or even still correct. You know how comic book continuity changes every other day. Since the brilliant and award winning Young Avengers series by Allan Heinberg, there is much speculation that he may in fact be Iron Man or a descendent of Tony Stark. I bet that makes Hank Pym feel better about his sins.
Kang has other more sinister relationships with Avengers though. In the infamous Avengers #200, Immortus, a version of Kang, kidnapped Carol Danvers - then known as Ms. Marvel, now known as Captain Marvel - and took her to his home in Limbo, brainwashed her, impregnated her, returned her to Earth, and then she (I'm not making this up) gave birth to him, whereupon he swept her off her feet and returned with her to Limbo to supposedly live happily ever after. And for the most part, the Avengers let him get away with it. This dark point in comics history is known as The Rape of Ms. Marvel.
You think it's rough with your family, be glad you're not having a holiday dinner with the Avengers family. Yeah, imagine what's going on at that holiday dinner table. Ya gotta admit, the conversation is going to be interesting… at least before combat breaks out. As I said, I love the Avengers, but man, they are soooo not the kind of family I would want to sit down with for the holidays...
By Glenn Walker
How do you follow up a blockbuster maxi-series like AvsX where the Avengers fight the X-Men? How about a title where they be nice to each other? It may sound like I'm kidding here, but that's exactly what Marvel Comics is doing with this two huge franchises.
In A+X, Marvel has created a fun team-up book seemingly in the spirit of the successful Avenging Spider-Man. In each issue of A+X, we'll see an Avenger and an X-Man teamed together fighting a common foe. It is sort of like the complete opposite of AvsX's companion title Vs. that featured them fighting each other.
A+X #1 starts with a bang, with two stories and Avengers and X-Men teaming up, both by creative superstars of the moment. The first story has the World War II vintage Captain America and Bucky working together with the time-traveling Cable by writer Dan Slott from Amazing Spider-Man and artist Ron Garney, who has done his share of Cap tales in the past.
The second story turns a Marvel classic on its head. In Wolverine's first comics appearance, he fought the Hulk, now the two must team up and work together to defeat… future versions of themselves! This one's by writer Jeph Loeb and an artist whose well known for his work on the green goliath, Dale Keown!
Don't miss this great double-shot of time travelling goodness featuring Avengers and X-Men on the same side for a change. A+X #1 from Marvel Comics is on sale this week from All Things Fun! Get your copy today!
By Glenn Walker
In the wake of the cataclysmic conclusion of AvsX, to continue Professor Xavier's dream and protect the new mutants of Earth, Captain America forms a new team of Avengers, including X-Men - the Uncanny Avengers. Among the potential members are Thor, Havok, Wolverine, Rogue, and the Scarlet Witch.
This exciting new dynamic by writer Rick Remender and artist John Cassaday starts with a boom this week. See Avalanche's rampage, Professor Xavier's funeral, former Dark Phoenix Cyclops in his ruby quartz prison, Rogue vs. the Scarlet Witch, and a dangerous new team of super-villains. And that's not all, all this and more is in this spectacular first issue.
You've all heard about the previews, you've all heard about what most have assumed is Cyclops' lobotomy, but... Let me warn you, it's not what you think, and it is so much worse, so much more frightening, and so much cooler. It's the return of a classic Marvel super-villain with a diabolical new plan. This Avengers fan is excited about Avengers again, even with the X-Men along for the ride. Do not miss Uncanny Avengers #1, available at All Things Fun!.
By Glenn Walker
It is a good time to be a comic book archer. Green Arrow is coming back to the TV screen with a series called "Arrow" in the fall, and this summer Oscar winner Jeremy Renner blew us all away as Hawkeye in the big screen version of Marvel's The Avengers. They have both come a long way from being just Batman with a bow and the low man in Iron Man's rogues gallery.
The Archer, or the Bow and Arrow Guy, is one of the comic book hero templates. When the average comic book reader thinks 'archer' or 'bow and arrow guy,' they think Green Arrow or Hawkeye, depending on whether you're a DC or Marvel fanperson. The truth is that's only the tip of the arrow so to speak. Welcome to a handy tour of the bow and arrow folks of the comic book world, and trust me, there are a lot of them… but we'll start with the big guns, ahem, bows…
Green Arrow has been rebooted, revamped, re-thought and (this one is for you, Allison) re-jiggered several times, but for the most part, his origins remain the same. Green Arrow was created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp, and first appeared in 1941's More Fun Comics #73, which coincidentally also featured the first appearance of Aquaman. Spoiled brat millionaire Oliver Queen was stranded on a deserted island (or another similar isolated nowheresville) and had to learn archery to survive. His rescue usually happens at the hands of criminals whom Queen takes down with his mad archery skillz, and is thus inspired to become a full-time crimefighter, the Green Arrow.
Along the way, Queen built an arsenal of trick arrows, a secret headquarters the Arrowcave, specialized vehicles like the Arrowcar, the Arrowplane, and even the Arrowboat, and his adopted ward, also trained in archery, became his sidekick, Speedy. Quickly Green Arrow was looked upon as nothing more than Batman with a bow, or worse yet, a knock-off Batman.
Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams changed all that with their late 1960s take on the character, giving him a new costume, facial hair unheard of for superheroes, and a liberal attitude in a time when comic book characters did not have social consciousnesses. The new Green Arrow became wildly popular, was eventually paired up with both Green Lantern and romantic interest Black Canary in the award-winning Green Lantern/Green Arrow series. In one story, he was conflicted by Speedy's heroin addiction, an event which would follow that character for the rest of his career.
The Justice League's resident archer and left wing voice of reason remains an iconic hero today, recently conquering live action prime time as supporting cast in "Smallville," and soon to return in a new vision in "Arrow." In the comics, he has his own title in DC Comics' New 52, albeit younger, slicker, and less liberal - more Tony Stark than Oliver Queen. Times change, I guess.
I've talked about Hawkeye the Marksman here before briefly. Hawkeye AKA Clint Barton was introduced as a reluctant foe of Iron Man in 1964's Tales of Suspense #57, and created by Stan Lee and Don Heck. After a few more less villainous appearances, he became an Avenger in the first major membership shake-up of that team, becoming one of 'Cap's Kooky Quartet.' There, training by Captain America was joined by his weapons mastery taught him by the villain Trick Shot (another archer) and future Avenger the Swordsman.
While like Green Arrow, Hawkeye made use of gimmicked arrows, his character was more fleshed out by his abrasive personality. He was always the stirrer, the smart aleck, and always bucking to lead the Avengers over Captain America. Ironically, years later, Hawkeye would become the leader of the West Coast Avengers, a product of having Cap as a role model. While Green Arrow may have preceded Hawkeye by decades, the latter's emergence as a fully formed character preceded that of the former. Also on the copycat scale, Hawkeye's romantic interest for some time was the Black Widow, and later he married Mockingbird, both characters having more than a passing similarity to Green Arrow's Black Canary.
The Avengers resident archer has become one of the most reliable and stalwart members of the team. Whether he goes by the name Hawkeye, Goliath, or Ronin, he can usually be found at the front of the fight, charging headlong into battle, no matter if Ultron or Kang will just laugh off a trick arrow or not. That's just our Hawkeye, brave beyond reason.
Archers of the Golden Age
Back over at DC, that company published adventures of the original heroic archer, Robin Hood, as early as 1938. Robin Hood Tales was originally published by Quality Comics but eventually by DC after they acquired several of their characters and magazines. Of course, Robin Hood being a public legend, copyright is kinda off the table, but there you go.
Quality also had a feature called "Alias the Spider" in Crack Comics. Created by Paul Gustavson, Tom Halloway fought crime with his bow and arrows, his valet Chuck, and a cool car called the Black Widow. In modern times writer James Robinson retconned the Spider into a foe of The Shade, and not necessarily a hero or even a nice guy at all, in his amazing Starman series. Grant Morrison also created a legacy of the character with I, Spyder, however briefly, in his Seven Soldiers.
Quality also had The Marksman. Fawcett Comics featured Golden Arrow. Centaur Publications had The Arrow, also created by Paul Gustavson, who was briefly revived in the 1990s by Malibu Comics. He can also be seen in Dynamite's comic featuring public domain heroes, Project Superpowers. There was also the Huntress in Yellowjacket Comics from Charlton, not to mention Young Robin Hood, and the Green Knight, all costumed crimefighters of the Golden Age who used the bow and arrows.
Sidekicks and Legacies
The aforementioned Speedy was Roy Harper, Oliver Queen's ward. He had two different origins, both similar, much like his mentor's various beginnings. Eventually he grew up to become Arsenal, and then Red Arrow, a full-fledged member of the Justice League. Later GA took on another sidekick named Speedy, this time the teenaged runaway, Mia Dearden. The second Speedy was notable for being both a child prostitute and one of the few HIV positive characters in comics.
Much like Batman in this regard, Green Arrow has not only been sidekicked by three kids, but one of them is also his son. While GA was dead (don't ask, you know how death works in comic books, it's temporary at best) his son Connor Hawke took up the bow and mantle of Green Arrow, and like Roy Harper years later, Connor also took Ollie's place in the Justice League for a while.
Not to be outdone, while Marvel's Hawkeye was dead (I did tell you not to ask, didn't I?), Kate Bishop in the Young Avengers took up the bow, as well as several other weapons, and began calling herself Hawkeye. It should be noted at this point, that Hawkeye, like Roy Harper, is an expert of all projectile weapons, not just arrows. Daredevil's arch-foe Bullseye's whole schtick revolves around this particular skill.
One more legacy, and it's another embarrassing reminder of the days when Green Arrow was just Batman with a bow. He too had international counterparts who were inspired by him. Where Batman has the Batmen of All Nations, which eventually evolved into Batman Inc., Green Arrow had the Green Arrows of the World. Their membership included the Ace Archer of Japan, the Phantom of France, the Bowman of the Bush, Verde Flecha, the Bowman of Britain, and the Polynesian Archer. Hey, Grant Morrison, wanna write Green Arrow next?
There have been a fair amount of baddies who have used the bow and arrow motif for evil as well. The Golden Age Superman and the 1966 television Batman were plagued by the villainous Archer. Also in the Golden Age, Wildcat's foe, the Huntress (also known as Tigress) used a crossbow. This choice of weapon was passed down to both her daughter, Artemis, as well as her heroic namesake, the Huntress.
Many of the villains with bows however were members of Green Arrow's mostly forgotten rogues gallery. Among them were Black Arrow, the Crimson Archer, Cupid, Ape Archer, Funny Arrow, the Iron Archer, John Centaur, most lost to the sands of time. The most known of these would probably be the Rainbow Archer and Red Dart (who our buddy Grant Morrison actually did dig up for his JLA run). Later on there was also Shado, GA's on again/off again lover; Natas, who trained Green Arrow and Deathstroke among others; and Merlyn the Magician of the League of Assassins, one of the hero's most dangerous foes.
In the old days Green Arrow frequently faced a female rival named Miss Arrowette, whose daughter Arrowette with a bit of retconning became a major player in Young Justice. Combined with the aforementioned Huntress' daughter, she is the inspiration for the double agent character of Artemis in Cartoon Network's "Young Justice" cartoon. There was also the Blue Bowman, in reality Batman foe the Signalman, who got the idea of being a bow and arrow villain by being cellmates with Green Arrow enemy Bull's Eye.
There are many other archers, on both sides of the law. I've haven't covered Artemis who was once Wonder Woman, Yondu the Alpha Centaurian archer from the 31st century's Guardians of the Galaxy, Firestorm foe Moonbow, White Feather of the Inferior 5, brief Justice Leaguer Maya, any of the Old West archers, Shaft, Archer (sans Armstrong), Legolas, or even Xeen Arrow, the Green Arrow of Dimension Zero yet. But there's only so much space. Be assured there have been many behind the bow in the comics, and there will be more.
I'll see y'all next time. I'm off to the movie theater to see Brave. I hear that Princess Merida is a heck of a shot too…
To say that this is a big week for Marvel Comics and the Avengers would be a serious understatement. With the release of Marvel's The Avengers this past weekend to the highest box office opening ever, I say this is the biggest week for the Avengers.
So if you haven't already, go out and see the movie, and if you've already done it, see it again, then come on down to All Things Fun! and pick up the biggest Avengers comic this week, Avengers Assemble #3.
The cinematic Avengers - Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow - go toe to toe with the new Zodiac in this story by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley, featuring the biggest last page revelation you'll see this side of a Marvel movie end credit sequence.
Do not miss Avengers Assemble #3!
By Glenn Walker
With Memorial Day looming my mind turns to the men and women who protect our nation's interests here and abroad, and to those who gave their lives for our freedom. What does this have to do with comics, you might ask. Well, whether you know it or not, there were and are a lot of comics about those folks.
Today when people think of comic books, they think of brightly costumed superheroes flying around and hitting bad guys, but comics weren’t always all about the superheroes. They covered a myriad of genres from crime fiction to romance to jungle adventures to horror to westerns to war stories. And that last category was a big seller even in the industry of the superhero.
With film, it has often been theorized that in wartime, fantasy is big because people want to escape, and in peacetime, war stories are big because people have forgotten the horror of war. This is not necessarily the case with comics. War comics have always thrived, until the past few decades at least. In some cases, like during the Vietnam War, they flourished.
At the dawn of comics, back in the Golden Age, one of the prototype heroes was the ace pilot. There was Hop Harrigan, and later semi-costumed pilots like Blackhawk, Airboy, the Phantom Eagle and Captain Midnight, and of course all of these were in the style of Tailspin Tommy. Aviators were hot when it came to war comics back in the day.
Even Steve Trevor, who was the first outsider to find Paradise Island and bring Wonder Woman to America during the Second World War, was a pilot. And Wonder Woman herself was one of the first of another kind of war hero – the patriotic superhero. Heroes who cloaked themselves in the colors of the American flag to fight not only crime, but also the enemies of America. The most famous of these would be upcoming movie star, Captain America. Others who followed in his footsteps included The Shield, Uncle Sam, Miss America (DC's and Marvel's), the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, the Patriot, the Fighting Yank, Minute-Man and the Spirit of '76, among others, just to name a few.
These heroes and others of the era would join forces to fight the war as well, at the time, and in retcon. Tales of the All-Star Squadron, the Invaders, the Justice Society/Battalion, the All-Winners Squad, the Freedom Fighters, the Young All-Stars and The Twelve are still being told today, but that's not really the kind of hero I'm talking about.
The other type of war hero back in the day was closer to the real thing, just a regular joe, the fighting man, the soldier. In World War II, comics were sent overseas to our fighting forces, just as they have been in the decades since, and these pulp heroes were the ones that our heroes could identify with.
The more famous of these soldier heroes didn't appear ironically until after the Second World War and into the 1950s and 60s, but still, their names are with us today. Marvel Comics' most famous soldier was Sgt. Fury who led the Howling Commandos in the War. He has endured and Nick Fury is one of the major players in Marvel's movie universe, played by Samuel L. Jackson in Iron Man 2 (2010) and rumored for his own movie as well. Nick Fury, as well as many of his men, formed the basis for SHIELD in the Marvel Universe.
Over at DC Comics, Fury's counterpart would be Sgt. Rock and his Easy Company. Rock forms the foundation for DC's much larger universe of WWII heroes. While Rock remains an average soldier, although with great leadership and heroic qualities, he is joined in the fight by more interesting compatriots. Among them are the Haunted Tank, the Losers, the Unknown Soldier, Mademoiselle Marie, the original Suicide Squad and later G.I. Robot and the Creature Commandos.
Veering off-topic for a moment, DC also did some innovative comics featuring the opposing forces in war with Enemy Ace and Blitzkrieg. The later, however interesting, was short-lived. These characters still appear from time to time. Rumored to have died on the last day of World War II, someone claiming to be Frank Rock led a version of the Suicide Squad and worked in the Luthor Administration. Vertigo Comics presented a new version of the Losers that proved so successful it was made into a feature film.
Most of the war comics so popular for almost four decades died out in the 1980s. I guess political correctness had taken its toll, or perhaps the stories no longer had resonance for the current generation reading comics. There have been occasional forays into the genre. Marvel's The 'Nam stands out, as do the few one-shots of Sgt. Rock that DC has done lately.
Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury, Easy Company and the Howling Commandos – those are just a few of the heroes of our armed forces in the comics, most of whom were inspired by the real heroes of our world, specifically our nation, who we remember this and every Memorial Day.
By Glenn Walker
More and more, Hollywood in recent years has been leaning on the comics industry for ideas. Superheroes and comic books are huge on the big screen, and the year 2011 is no exception. We started the year with Seth Rogan's The Green Hornet, which, while not lasting too long in theaters, was much better than this Hornet fan could have ever anticipated.
Here's a date-by-date reference of what's coming up for superheroes and comics on the big screen. I have also included some of the major players in these movies. As you'll notice, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game now extends easily into superhero genre flicks.
April 1: Super
This one isn't actually based on a comic book property, but many folks will probably scream at the similarities with last year's Kick-Ass, and unfortunately, it's not an April Fools joke. Regular guy Rainn Wilson ("The Office) takes on the superhero identity of the Crimson Bolt to rescue his wife from a drug dealer. The flick promises a cast with Nathan Fillion ("Firefly," "Castle"), Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man), Liv Tyler (Lord of the Rings), and Linda Cardellini (All-Star Superman, "Freaks and Geeks"), among others.
May 6: Thor
Marvel Comics' first hammer strike of the summer hits with their resident thunder god's first appearance on the screen, with the next step building to the Avengers movie. Hinted at the end of Iron Man 2, this is the tale of Thor, exiled by his father to Earth from the high-tech magical world of Asgard. It seems everything we thought was just Norse mythology is real, and now the worlds are merging, as evil from that realm threaten ours. Only Thor can save us. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby magic brought to life on the screen in 3D, starring Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek), Anthony Hopkins (Beowulf), Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Star Wars prequels), and directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, star, director, screenplay) -- I can't wait for this one.
June 3: X-Men: First Class
More Marvel Comics goodness in this 1960s period piece prequel to the X-Men franchise. This is the story of Charles Xavier and Magneto's friendship and falling out, and the formation of the first X-Men team. It's very loosely based on the comics, more tied to the movies. Look for James McAvoy (Wanted), Kevin Bacon (busy summer, Kev?) and the near-perfect casting of January Jones from "Mad Men" as Emma Frost.
June 17: Green Lantern
In a summer dominated by Marvel at the movies, this is the one DC Comics fans have been waiting for. Test pilot Hal Jordan is given a magical Power Ring by a dying alien and becomes the Green Lantern, just one of thousands of space police officers commanded by the Guardians of the Universe. He undergoes training by a cadre of other alien cops and then tries to save the Earth from threats within and beyond. Ryan Reynolds, who has previous played Marvel heroes Hannibal King (Blade: Trinity) and Deadpool (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), is in the title role. Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead) is Hector Hammond, Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption) is Senator Hammond, Blake Lively (The Town) is Carol Ferris, Mark Strong (Kick-Ass) is Sinestro, Angela Bassett (Contact) is Amanda Waller, Dennis Heyspert (Jarhead, "24") voices Kilowog, and John Larroquette ("Chuck," "Night Court") reprises his voice role as Tomar-Re (from the animated Green Lantern: First Flight).
This will be a geekfest and serious eye candy -- this is the summer's must-see flick, and the first in what Warner Bros. hopes will be a new franchise.
July 22: Captain America: The First Avenger
The set-up to The Avengers film takes a step back into the past to spotlight Marvel's World War II superhero Captain America. Scrawny Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans (Fantastic Four's Human Torch, The Losers, Scott Pilgrim), can't serve in the military so volunteers as a guinea pig in the Super Soldier program. He emerges as a fighting machine of physical perfection. He defends the U.S. against the forces of the Red Skull (played by former Matrix Agent and LOTR elf Hugo Weaving) and the Nazis, before ending up stranded in the 21st century. The rest of the supporting cast boasts fanboy cred as well. Included is Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black), Stanley Tucci (Burlesque), Neal McDonough (DC Showcase: Green Arrow, Tin Man), and Dominic Cooper (the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). This one looks great.
July 29: Cowboys & Aliens
This one is based on a little-known 1990s graphic novel where cowboys and Indians in the Old West repel an alien invasion. Iron Man's Jon Faveau directs Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) and Daniel Craig (James Bond) in this Steven Spielberg/Ron Howard production. Other noteworthy players include Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy), Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2, Galaxy Quest), Noah Ringer (The Last Airbender), and Clancy Brown (Highlander, voice of Odin in "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes," and Mr. Krabs in "Spongebob Squarepants").
No Date Yet: Luke Cage
Another Marvel Studios production, Tyrese Gibson (Transformers) plays wrongly convicted man who escapes from prison after gaining superpowers. This movie does not yet have a release date or a full cast and crew listing, but is currently slated for 2011.
The summer ends the superhero movies list for 2011, but 2012 has a full slate as well. Highlights include Hugh Jackman returning to his best-known character in The Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds reprising his role as Deadpool, and Nicholas Cage returns in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Next summer finally brings The Avengers, what Marvel movies have been building to for the past few years, as well as Men in Black III, the reboot with Andrew Garfield as The Amazing Spider-Man, Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises and the year 2012 ends with something called Superman: The Man of Steel. These are good times to be a comics reader, and a film fan.
By Allison Eckel
Critics have said that Iron Man 2 has lost the lilt, irreverent attitude of its predecessor; that it relies too much on grand, CG-laden battle scenes. To that, I say, Well, duh! It’s a Hero Sequel. Of course it has lost its irreverent attitude. When we get to Part 2, it’s time to get serious, to understand the power one wields and the corresponding weight of that responsibility.
Speaking of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man … The Hero Sequel also contains a more insidious bad guy. Meeting Otto Octavious was, at first, a dream come true for Peter Parker. The Joker was better left for the Dark Knight. Clark was getting too comfortable with Lois until Zod and his cronies gave him a serious challenge. In Iron Man 2, we have a dark-mirror counterpart to Tony Stark in Ivan, the brilliant son to a dead, brilliant inventor. One was raised with success and privilege; the other, in exile and squalor, resenting the first. When they meet, Tony as Iron Man has brought peace to the world because no nation on Earth can contend with the battle suit. Ivan proves that Iron Man is touchable, and destruction reigns.
Two elements of the typical Hero Sequel are not upheld in Iron Man 2, and I like the result. First is the illusion that the Hero has a choice whether to continue in the Good Fight or hang up the tights. In Spider-Man 2, a doctor tells Peter, “Maybe you’re not supposed to be Spider-Man climbing those walls. You always have a choice, Peter.” Peter foolishly believes him and puts the suit in the garbage. He thought that when his powers left him he could go back to a “normal” life. But comics readers know that the Hero really does not have a choice.
Iron Man 2 never wastes time with this. Tony tells a Senator Garry Shandling that there is no weapon suit, that the Iron Man suit is him and cannot be separate. Tony understands that there is no choice, there is only the consequences. When something begins to go wrong with his mini-arc reactor, his choice is not whether to stop the hero gig but whether to eke out a few extra weeks of life or die in a fantastically fun fireball of glory.
Which brings us to the second element of the Hero Sequel not maintained in Iron Man 2: the love interest. Pepper’s back, given a new role at Stark Industries, yet she seems completely inconsequential. I bet they could have saved Paltrow’s fee, left her out of the movie, and the only difference would be the running time. I am actually glad about this. The typical Hero Sequel uses the love interest to propel the emotional elements of the Hero’s journey. Peter Parker spends a lot of time pining over Mary Jane. Superman 2 is unwatchable according to my kids because it is all about Lois. Bruce can’t be the committed Batman we all want because he has to rescue What’s-her-name. But not Tony. Iron Man 2 makes references to a relationship between Tony and Pepper (and yes, there is a brief kissing scene), but it keeps this on the side and does not let it get in the way. Tony is still Tony, with or without Pepper.
There is a third element of the Hero Sequel that usually serves to undermine the movie rather than improve it: increased character roster. With Iron Man, we were content to meet Tony and his little gang: his girl Pepper, his buddy Rhodey, and occasional cut-up Happy. The bad business man was the bad guy, so that was a tight package. The sequel, we are told time and again, has to add characters, right? So a new bad businessman works with an evil bad guy while a new tough lady in a cat suit makes eyes at our hero and displays questionable loyalties. Wait, is this Iron Man 2 or Batman Returns?
Actually, the elongated cast of characters in Iron Man 2 does have the potential of spiraling out of control, especially since we also meet Nick Fury and see further into his clandestine organization S.H.I.E.L.D. These bits provide a convenient way through a plot point while also laying the ground work for the next three Marvel Studios releases: Thor (May 2011), Captain America (July 2011) and The Avengers (May 2012). At the end of this stream, we may get a third Iron Man movie.
That is a lot of plot to fit into a neat package, all tied together with explosions and battles. The critics are a little divided as to whether it works. I wrote previously that Iron Man saved the Hero Movie genre. I won’t say that Iron Man 2 is at all ground breaking for the Hero Sequel. However, I will say that I enjoyed it and it gave my eight-year-old and me a lot to discuss in the car ride home, which to me is worth the price of admission.
Iron Man 2 does not have the level of personal brutality witnessed in the beginning of Iron Man. Nor does it have a bedroom scene. It does have a brief view of a lady in her underwear, which made my eight-year-old boy snicker. If you would like to introduce your kids to the Marvel heroes of Iron Man and upcoming films Thor (2011), Captain America (2011), and The Avengers(2012), visit the all ages comics rack at All Things Fun! for the Super Hero Squad (also a cartoon, Cartoon Network, 8pm). Another fun offering from Marvel Kids is Power Pack.