Posts Tagged ‘Make Mine Marvel’

The Avengers – movie phenomena of the year

April 30, 2012 2 comments

Apparently, if I hadn’t gone to see the The Avengers 1 this weekend, the geek police would have turned up at my door and taken away my geek card and nerd privileges. Or something. It’s mostly pointless to pretend to review what is rapidly turning out to not only the box office smash of the year, but the younger generations equivalent of Star Wars. 2

Go see it, if not to prevent people from endlessly telling you to go and see it. If you’re a comic-book fan you’ll emit little squeals of nerdy delight, if you like big budget hero movies, you’ll love it. The rest of you will find the performances engaging, the wit sharp, the heroes pretty and the plot doing its best to not get in the way of the fun.

More interestingly, the The Avengers shows that the super-hero movie has finally reached the point where it can not only emulate the more intricate elements of the comic book format, it can excel it. Namely, the idea that you can set multiple stories in the same place. This isn’t particularly news, recurring characters have been a feature of films in the past, but this is the first time that the concept of a shared world, spread across multiple movies, has taken centre stage.

Avengers. Assembling. Never seen in Ikea.

Audiences have proven that they can ‘buy into’ a coherent world and setting, in this case the Marvel Universe. Remember, The Avengers is not just set in the same world that the Thor, Captain America and Iron Man movies were set in, it also (technically), exists in the same place that Ghost Rider and Blade exist. In theory, any of these characters could turn up in a movie with each other, and though it’s unlikely that Marvel will produce a romantic comedy featuring Spider Man’s Flash Thompson and Patty ‘Hellcat’ Walker3, it’s more possible than it was last year. Moreover, other franchises will now try the same trick. I expect to see Batman taking on Superman sometime soon. 4

The other thing it means is that comic-book geeks are now mainstream. But then they always were; The Avengers (and their corporate rivals, The Justice League) are modern versions of god-like pantheons, a repetition of the stories of heroism that we’ve been telling in different ways since we could tell stories. It’s just this time, when we tell, they are explosions.

1: Apparently it’s actually “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”, presumably to distance it from the 1998 movie “The Avengers” that completely misunderstood the classic TV series of the same name. Personally, I’ve always found comparing the British Avengers (a super-spy TV show with incredibly weird moments) with the American Avengers (a super-hero comic book with incredibly weird moments) a nice study in the differences of cultures. Also, the British Avengers actually have stuff they want to avenge, but that’s a different rant.

2: My generation’s Star Wars was Empire Strikes Back. Pity today’s adolescents, their big Hollywood movie was The Phantom Menace.

3: Patsy Walker is an interesting example of the weird adaptability of the Marvel Universe. She began life as a character in ‘teen romance’ comics, and was eventually re-imagined as Hellcat, a kick ass crime-fighter in tight spandex. Imagine if you will, a version of Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan suddenly becomes a deadly assassin, beats up Tom Hanks and then goes on to save the world from shape shifting alien monsters. I’d watch that movie.

4: Of course, a lot of TV is connected to other TV. At least according to the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis, which isn’t the name of a rock band, it’s an odd little idea that much of American TV is a child’s dream.

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Marvel grants us Annihilation

November 24, 2011 2 comments

One of the endearing things about the Marvel Comics Universe is its scale. Not only is everything stitched together so tightly if Captain America waggles his winged helmet somewhere in the Amazon then it’d probably cause a tsunami in Tokyo, but also because this sort of attention to detail applies not only to Earth, but to the entire universe.

One excellent example of this is Marvel’s epic Annihilation series. Various rows of dominos set-up in previous comic books1 get knocked down all at once, in what can be only described as epic space opera. No real knowledge of the Marvel comics are required to enjoy Annihilation, but it helps if you know who the likes of the Silver Surfer, Thanos2 and Galactus are. Don’t expect to see Marvel heroes such as The Hulk or Iron Man here, this gig is strictly for the characters who work in space, and can cope with planet sized disasters.

Annihilation is a war story on an inter-galactic scale, so the plot is anything but straight forward, but here goes: Alien bug monster Annhilus decides that his own domain, the so-called ‘Negative Universe’ could do with some expanding, and thus decides to invade normal reality, with a space fleet composing of billions of horrible bug-eyed monsters. At the same time, Thanos3, intergalactic badass, is aiming to misbehave again, and cause mayhem and devastation.

This giant purple planet eater is called Galactus. He ends worlds. And wears purple pants.

Caught up amidst this apocalyptic nightmare are entire world’s worth of innocent lives and a small band of unlikely heroes. What’s fun about Annihilation is that some of the main protagonists are out and out villains, whilst others are good men doing bad jobs, or well meaning types in way over their head. We get a real sense of depth here, and the vibe that the galaxy is indeed a big place full of people. It’s a war story, pretty much, and focuses mostly of the efforts of the heroic few against impossible odds. Like all good war stories do.

It’s worth noting that Annihilation is written by multiple authors, and comes in multiple books. Though none if it is below par, the parts I enjoyed the most tended to be written by either Keith Giffen or comic book duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Abnett and Lanning wrote the sequel to this series, Annihilation : Conquest, which in turn lead to a reboot of the Guardians of The Galaxy series, which is also worth a look, but is more a book about a team of super-heroes than massive spaceships crashing into other big things.

If you don’t mind having super-heroes in your comic books, and you like big space battles, keep an eye out for the Annihilation series. It’s a pretty big story, but a very well realised one.

1: They are tonnes of stories produced by Marvel, and the company proudly boasts to have produced the largest shared world in the world. This means that stories like this, that bring together decades of back story can be massive amounts of fun. The trick is to do this without alienating new readers, which the Annhilation series does incredibly well, without boring existing fans with stuff they already know. Marvel understands that most people will dive in and out of their books, and have become good at not bogging down stories in continuity, whilst at the same time keeping the world consistent and strong.

2: Now, I’d be the first to admit that I tend to favour Marvel over DC, but in this case, Marvel wins, no contest. The DC equivalent of Thanos is Darkseid. Whilst both look quite similar, and both are cosmic level bad asses. The thing is, Darkseid’s schtick is that he wishes to suppress all free will. Thanos, on the other hand, wants to end everything. The entire cosmos. And why? So he can court the personification of Death. That’s right, the dude is in love with Death itself (who rarely appears as a cute goth girl, just so you know).

3: Another thing I like about Thanos is the fact that he’s typically ran as an incredibly savvy villain who always has a back-up plan in case one of the plans fails. (A feature TV Tropes calls The Xanatos Gambit. ) He always wins in some way, and every plan he has to destroy all things always ends in the cosmos losing something vital (though they may go unnoticed.)

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