The Fifth Color
This time I think I’m going to be less biased. That’s not to say I wasn’t fair to the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie; in fact, I thought it was a pretty ingenious way to honor the past while divorcing it from your present. There’s something to be said for discovering that balance between old and new, continuity and change, that’s so hard to find when adapting something as well-chronicled as Star Trek. We’re looking at years of television history, hours of movies, and shelves and shelves of novels to work into the mix, and 2009′s Star Trek managed to juggle all of that to an extent I wouldn’t have expected to work. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it tried, and it got the heart of this new universe centered into its own final frontier.
Also, I was in that movie, so like I said, this time I’m going to be less biased.
I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness (no colons needed!) in the finest format I could think of: true IMAX and in real 3D. It was vivid and full of life; as the closing credits rolled and I watched the names of countless CGI artists and editing staff go by, I was once again thinking of that balance between the old and the new. The 2009 Trek brought in boatloads of new fans, a whole new generation to enjoy the adventures of the Starship Enterprise. Die-hard Trekkies and Trekkers had a breath of fresh air and something of their favorite television show back in the public eye, giving us new life and new civilizations to explore. While I’m sure there are plenty of opinionated people on the Internet that prefer one or the other, there’s been a resurgence in the Star Trek community that has benefited from Abrams’ new vision. And as I can wax rhapsodical about what the new movie means and how it will effects fans and the stories to come, it’s really important to take a moment and talk about Star Trek Into Darkness for what it is right here and now. Is this a good movie? Regardless of impact on science fiction or as a litmus test for what the Star Wars franchise is in for now that Abrams is tapped to work in a galaxy far, far away, join me as I look at what we see on screen and if it works just as well the second time around.
WARNING: SPOILERS for Star Trek Into Darkness ahead! Lots and lots of SPOILERS!! We’re talking plot, major scenes and character arcs, so for those who haven’t gotten to see the movie yet, please be warned. Everyone else? Let’s boldly go …
Not too long ago, Comic Book Resources talked to director Shane Black about Marvel’s Iron Man 3, which arrives in theaters today. When asked about David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s infamous “Demon in a Bottle” storyline, considered the darkest and deepest Tony Stark of them all, and its potential adaptation to the big screen, Black said, “No, because if we go there — it’s part of Tony’s character, but I think the ‘Demon in a Bottle; aspect, if you go there, you really have to go there. The film then becomes about that, because the journey that involves recovering from alcoholism is an entire movie. I mean, I want to keep it dark and interesting and edgy and spicy and all those things, but I don’t think we want to go as far as to deal with Tony’s descent into alcoholic madness. That’s maybe not where we want to be.”
This turned some heads, triggering accusations that Disney demanded sobriety, that Black forswore any alcohol in Iron Man 3 and insistence that it was a big deal that this issue wasn’t going to be addressed at all. I can see where the director is coming from on this: Iron Man has a lot on his plate already with four films’ worth of continuity and troubles following him, and to stop in the middle of all of that to take that turn down a dark and lonely path isn’t where we want to be in our Marvel movie medley.
Believe it or not, Iron Man 3 deals with a lot with demons, just not the particular demon of alcoholism. There are demons that are spawned from poor decision-making and from being a bit of a bastard in one’s younger years. There are demons that terrify us but, at heart, are completely manufactured from insecurity and doubt. And there are even more personal demons than that, ones that drive us into the night and can slowly crush you from the inside.
Seeing Iron Man 3 last night taught me something very important about myself and heroism, and those great, grand concepts I love to take from comics about dudes punching each other. Because, while the spectacle is fantastic, the effects and details are dead on, the acting is challenging and sly, it’s those message moments done just right that make viewers realize they just might have seen a different movie than everyone else.
WARNING: Iron Man 3 will be discussed below! I’m keeping out as many details as possible, but if you’re remaining spoiler-free, you might want to bookmark this one for later. To the brave, read on!
Maybe it’s because I’ve been playing Bioshock: Infinite lately, but the choice we make now can lead to infinite worlds of harder choices in the blink of an eye. There’s a philosophical weight to certain scientific theories that takes the dryness of numbers and calculations and puts them into context for who we are as human beings. One of science fiction’s many functions is to play around with that: Robots can be used as puppets to play out our feelings about our own humanity, the aftermath of post-apocalyptic nightmares can show us how societies work at the broken point, and then there’s time travel.
Oh, man, time travel is a huge trope for the deep thinkers! The infamous “go back in time in kill Hitler” question is still debated in classrooms to this day and bandied about online forums. It’s huge temptation to think that, by changing a single thing about our past, we could create a brighter future, whether that’s saving 11 million people or simply knowing where we put our keys in the morning. It’s something we can comfortably wonder about because no one on Earth is capable of actually traveling through time to change anything.
Comics, on the other hand, can and often do. There are time-travel powers, devices, plot elements … it’s a fun topic to explore, and so our heroes jump into the time stream with little time for debate or even a basic plan. This creates the action and adventure we came to read and allows the creative team to test out a variety of scenarios for our entertainment and enlightenment. We debate, but fiction can act.
Does this make comics smarter than us for acting on these ideas or are comics more frustrating for tossing caution to the wind when any of us would pause to understand if we were doing the right thing? This is why Age of Ultron bothers me so much.
WARNING: Big reveal from last week’s Age of Ultron #6, so grab your copies and read along!
July is going to be a big month for comics. Mind you, it should be as spectacular as they can make it at the House of Ideas because the fans who have fought hard to go to Comic-Con International won’t be forgiving if it’s reprint month. Nope, all the stops need to be pulled out, questions need to be posed, if not answered (as much as plotline questions are ever answered in serial comics), because there’s going to be a large audience ready to ask the big questions about what the heck is going on and what’s coming next.
Sure, the upswing of comics produced and plotlines kicking into gear isn’t all Comic-Con armor; some of it is the sort of halfway mark between events. Summer comic events should be in full swing by the time July comes around, and this year we’re seeing the end of Age of Ultron, and the stirrings of Infinity, Jonathan Hickman’s no doubt mind-blowing event. It’s a big-time shift for the Marvel Universe … or is it?
Let’s take a look through Marvel’s July solicitations and see what clues we can find about our future, shall we?
Every so often, public opinion shifts and popular culture gets a craving. Remember when everything was all about pirates? Then we all got on this huge kick about vampires and the supernatural, and we had a variety of different television shows to slake our thirst? The remnants of those yearnings still linger (well, not so much the pirates), and now the masses have all lined up for zombies.
Zombies play into so many metaphors for the fears that plague us (death, communities turning against us, a loss of identity and so on), and they can even reflect economic shifts with consumerism and political-mob mentalities. That latter point is probably why Game of Thrones (a fantasy political drama) and The Walking Dead (a morality play on humanity versus its corrupted self) are TV-ratings gold.
Sadly, this cannot last. I’m not saying zombies are on their way out, just that the cultural craze is reached a peak and is moving toward something new — and Marvel comics has your back.
With robots! They’re fantastic and a personal favorite of my science fiction-loving heart, so the announcement of Avengers A.I. left me looking past our zombie-filled present with a hope for a new future-craze. We should be looking forward to what comes after our old rotten selves, pushing forward with our fiction to better understand the human condition. There is no better metaphor than that of the robot to help us grasp our own humanity and morality by looking through mechanical eyes; the future of our pop culture might not be full of artificial men, because who can really predict the public’s taste for fantasy or fiction? But Marvel seems primed and ready to try to take us into a new age of androids.
I’m sure that a lot of you reading these words have very strong feelings about Comic-Con International, and not all of them are joyous and pleasant. Writing this, I get that sort of “ugh” knot in my stomach thinking about all the hard work and money it takes to go on a five-day “vacation.” Getting in the doors has become this epic-level event worthy of its own video game; finding a place to stay so you can use those badges you masterfully acquired can mean camping in your car. Being inside the convention center can be overwhelming and, even worse, you may not even get inside the panel you worked so hard to get these tickets for anyway.
There’s so much that can go wrong at Comic-Con that there’s a palpable sadness when you realize you don’t have it in you to fight to do it all again next year. I’m not going this year, and when I tell people at the shop that, sometimes I feel like I’ve said there’s no Santa Claus.
YouTube link-clicking has replaced channel-surfing in my house these days, so I happened upon this fantastic video from science guy Vsauce called “Is Your Red the Same As My Red?” It’s about color comparison, qualia, the explanatory gap and the theory of mind, and it’s a fantastic watch at around 10 minutes. So check it out when you’re in a Mr. Wizardy or Bill Nye-ish sort of mood and learn why painting a room with a spouse can become quite a challenge when no one can really explain what an off-white means to them.
This, of course, got me thinking about comics. Despite the basic “refracted light” of basic character bios, I’m pretty sure not every fan sees the same characters on the page. Our own influences, when we started reading, what popular culture was thinking at the time, there are so many exterior conditions that can bring a hero or villain to popularity or disuse that I can’t imagine what it’s like for the House of Ideas to try to single out a “new hit” to promote. Take Rogue, for example: At heart, she’s a scrappy Southern gal who can’t touch anyone for fear of draining their life force. Pretty basic, but when colored by the reader’s perception, this could be a metaphor for trauma survivors, an example of teenage physical anxieties, just a dangerous “bad girl” who tantalizes you by being actually physically dangerous, or a number of things. All of these reasons can catch the imaginations of fans and keep them reading, each for their own purposes.
Avengers Arena is unfair. From the initial announcement of this book, it had everything going against it. We were going to lose one of the very few strong teen books to make way for an obvious cash grab for the Hunger Games scene and, by age discrimination alone, force young heroes to hunt and kill one another. Raise your hand if you were hoping to just get a new Runaways book? These are some fan-favorite characters here, seen in drips and drabs, and when they finally get some on-panel time, we find they’re nothing more than targets in an absurd trap set by villainous joke Arcade. Arcade! Their lives were in peril thanks to low-rent Elton John with a Rube Goldberg fetish!
But the worst sin of Avengers Arena is that it’s actually really good.
Yeah, I am absolutely serious. Avengers Arena has surprising potential, and it has introduced some interesting characters and developments that keep me grudgingly coming back each issue. It’s hard to admit that, considering how much I really wanted to hate this book, based on little more than its Battle Royale cover. Despite the calm, honest words of Avengers Academy writer Christos Gage when he asked readers to give the new book a chance, the whole premise turned me off. When the first issue of Avengers Arena came out and we lost our first teen hero, that death proved how right I was. Why trust a book that’s just going to kill everything you love? And why kids?
It seems unnecessarily cruel to put together an ongoing series promoted to us as sensationally as possible. Don’t get too attached to anyone! Kids will die! They might even kill each other! The shock value of teens in terror can pull the reader right out of the narrative and forces us to look at the value of the story line than just enjoying the ride. Kids have to be killed for a reason, not just as scare tactics and and cheap heat.
So why does the death of children hit us harder than your usual comic book demise? Why is the loss of a child’s life so difficult to bear in the super-heroic medium? And why in heaven’s name do I keep reading Avengers Arena?
I don’t know much about sports. I’d like to think I’m slightly above a novice; I played sports very poorly in my younger years. As a former cheerperson for my local high school, I could tell you when players were on offense or defense. There are plenty of male sports fans in my life that I keep up on the basics (it’s Super Bowl season!) to be current with their interests. A lot of the basics were learned at my father’s knee because the people you love tend to make you care more about things you never thought you’d care about.
A few years ago, the (then) Anaheim Angels won the 2002 World Series, and my husband was ecstatic. It was like the rush and relief of the box-office success of the Avengers movie, but only for baseball. He has been a fan of the Angels since he was a kid, and had seen them through their highs and a whole lot of lows. Because the team had been a bonding point for him and his dad, they celebrated together by getting the DVD of the World Series to replay over a holiday dinner. I can barely sit through one or two pitches, but these guys pored over the games, the exclusive interviews, the documentaries and alternate camera shots. All it was missing were some deleted scenes and animatics and it could easily be mistaken for my Star Trek Blu-Ray.
On the way home from watching the World Series in hi-def with his dad, my husband lamented he’d soon be seeing a lot of “fair-weather fans,” people in Angels shirts and caps who bought them the moment the team won, then would retire them to the garage as soon as the next season rolled around. For someone who was a big fan of the Angels, it would be frustrating to see people dressed to the nines in their World Series Champs shirts who had no interest in the team unless they gained national notoriety. That lament was short-lived, as we had a friend with a San Francisco Giants devotee in their house, so the sweet taste of victory outweighed any fair-weather fan.
You can probably see where I’m going with this …
Let me explain: Young Avengers #1 came out this week, and I’d been lucky enough to see some early artwork, read some Phonogram and read some interviews with Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (man, that interviewer is so good!) in preparation for the new take on the series. After all, this is Marvel NOW! so why not get an idea of what the future will bring? While everything is certainly all-new and all-different around the House of Ideas, that doesn’t mean we’ll be in for too much of a shock as long as we follow along.
One look at all of the promotion for this book in the past few months explains the whole thing: This book will not be like anything else in the “Avengers” department. While other titles with the team name might focus on more group-based events and threats, the Young Avengers are still trying to figure out who they are before looking at what they mean together as a unit. The clean lines of the artwork suggest a more modern take on a classic teen-superhero story, the amount of detail and thought put into every fight scene and quiet character interaction — there’s just so much to see within the story and without in more of a meta fashion. Gillen and McKelvie either worked hard on making their points come across in every panel or else they are just so effortlessly cool that it dazzles nerds like me. I am amazed and bewildered by this first issue, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Issue 2.
So here I was, gentle reader, tapping away at the keyboard this morning, polishing up my thoughts on Wolverine’s current employment trajectory and comparing it to a popular comedian from the ’80s when I got a message from my distinguished colleague, Mr. Tom Bondurant.
“Why is Marvel releasing solicits Friday afternoon, like the Pentagon doing a big document-dump?” he asked via Twitter, causing me to drop everything and run to my favorite and most trusted news source, this very website. Lo and behold, Tom was right, and Marvel’s solicitations for April had gone up just in time for the weekend. Normally, these are released in a timely fashion, as we comic book fans and retailers have a rhythm worked out for peculiar way we look forward to, order and then receive comics. Having these guys show up on a Friday and, more telling, having them seemingly reiterate information we learned throughout the week feels as if that rhythm is mutating somehow — that we might get previews for events in a different way and that Marvel promotions might be delivered to us differently in the months to come. This could either be the herald of a new way to talk about our future in our present about comics that have come out in the past, like trades or reprints, or it could be a very busy week at the Bullpen and they only got this list out today.
Either way, April is waiting. Read on!
There’s something both cathartic and self-indulgent about New Year’s resolutions. On one hand, you’re revealing to the world all your shortcomings, announcing how bad you’ve been at everything for a whole year past and telling everyone you can find about how this year, you’re going to change so much about you. That method rarely works out.
On the other hand, this is also a great way to look forward to the future. After all, it’s a new start, a brand-new year with all sorts of possibilities and you’re going to do your best at making things better. You have a list!
So while I may feel a little self-conscious about posting these every year, I like to think that reading over what I hope 2013 brings might give you, Dear Reader, some idea of what you’d like to see in the coming months as well. And while you don’t have to wear your shortcomings on your sleeve, we all can at least face front and do our part. Right? Right.
At the end of every year, ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman get together over the e-mail tubes and talk Big Two comics. Part 1 is here.
Tom: Something I’ve been curious about, off and on — what did Metro‘s customers think of the Man of Steel trailer? What do you think the average superhero fan wants out of a Superman book?
Carla: It’s mixed. It really is, some love it, some are grumbly and already ready to complain. I think what the average superhero fan and what the general fan wants are entirely different. Superman’s a difficult character to get right because of his status as a cultural icon and how much that character can mean to different generations. Some people just know Smallville and, at least from the trailer, it doesn’t even seem to be that. [Producer Christopher] Nolan’s influence looks pretty strong and, as much as formula might work in the Avengers movie mythos, the same style and tone for Batman really doesn’t jibe with the Man of Steel. Well, for me. Others might totally want a deep, emotional connection to an outsider and an outcast. Mind you, I’d tell them there are some great X-Men comics out there, but eh, what do I know? It’s a trailer, and very hard to judge on what the movie is going to be like when we see the full thing this summer.
What do you think the Man of Steel trailer is all about? What kind of Superman do we need in the new millennium?
Tom: To me, the basic Superman approach is that Superman always does the right thing. It’s not about the powers. The powers just underscore that he can do whatever it takes. So it’s easy for Superman to punch something, or fly into the sun. The question should be, how can he do what’s right? I think that applies regardless of millennium.
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At the end of every year Carla Hoffman and Tom Bondurant exchange emails about the fortunes of the Big Two. Look for Part 2 on Wednesday!
Carla: Here we are, heading toward the year the Mayan calendar might not have thought would ever come: 2013. The future gets closer and closer! Technology advances! Politics change! And yet, comic books are still here. How cool is that? It’s been a heck of a year, full of ups and downs, movie premieres, new #1 issues and the never-ending race to produce better, faster comics.
I have to admit, Image has been doing a really great job keeping up with the Big Two, producing award-winning books in a variety of formats and getting involved in TV to draw new readers into a wide array of comic book genres. But we’re not here to talk about them! We’re here for the greatest shows in town, the Merry Marvel Marching Society and … our Distinguished Competitors.
My first question is kind of a no-brainer: How’s the New 52 treating you these days? And, after a year, is it still the “New 52″?
Tom: Well, as a practical matter, it’s the “New 52″ for as long as DC wants it to be. Actually, I think I have stopped seeing that little blurb on the covers. I happened to look at Aquaman #15 yesterday, kind of out of the corner of my eye, and was surprised it was there. Part of me thinks that it could confuse those hypothetical new readers, but then I thought that about “Earth One,” and that doesn’t seem to have hurt those books.
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There’s a professional wrestler named Cody Rhodes. His family has been in the wrestling business for longer than he’s been alive, his father being the legendary Dusty Rhodes and his brother the offbeat Golddust, both working for the WWE. Following family tradition, he’s a fantastic wrestler, absolutely charming and has only recently gotten the crowd’s attention through a horrible-looking mustache.
Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.
As I said, Cody Rhodes is fantastic. He’s worked with legends, played mostly heel roles and tried to work the crowd against him. He even had a stint with a Doctor Doom-esque look, complete with mask, dark hood, minions and a hatred for the ugliness of WWE fans. I thought it compelling, at least, but most crowds seemed to find it lukewarm at best. He brought a sense of prestige back to the Intercontinental Title; it’s already moved on and stagnated once more. Nothing seems to stick with a guy who has so much going for him … until this mustache. After some time off for an injury, he returned to a tag-team partnership with — gracious, just look at it. It’s horrible. It’s laughable. Patchy in places, it just doesn’t fit his face quite right, making him look less like Tom Selleck and more like a guy with candy in his unmarked van. The very night he returned, the audience seemed to wake up. A spontaneous chant of “Co-dy’s mus-tache!” broke out and has followed him since. Other wrestlers can poke fun at it, he can be angry and indignant about it, bad guy wrestlers can support this horrible decision and somewhere down the line, there can be a “Mustache Match” or something where the thing is removed and we have story line closure.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Superior Spider-Man is Cody Rhodes’ mustache.
Confused? Read on!
WARNING: We’ll be talking extensively about The Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 as well, so grab your copies and read along!