Posts Tagged Marvel Comics

A dream of flying

Miracleman 2014 #1This week I got to read the first chapter of a truly legendary comic (insert cliche story hook here).

Imagine two of the greatest comics writers pouring their twisted genius into an epic tale, one that redefines what people think about superheroes. Yet the story is lost, and never finished.

Miracleman is that book. A revival of a British superhero from the 1950s (originally called Marvelman, and based on Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel), the title was resurrected by Alan Moore in 1982, and passed on to Neil Gaiman before its publisher went broke.

More than a decade of legal wrangling ensued, putting Miracleman at the center of an intractable copyright dispute, even by the standards of an industry that seems to thrive on litigiousness.

The battle ended earlier this week when the first reprinted issue–published by Marvel Comics–hit the stands. Gaiman will also get to finish his original story, an event that may be without precedent in the comics world.

So what’s the big deal?

In the Digital Age, it’s rare to be denied access to information or media, but since Miracleman was locked down in the 1990s, it’s been off limits until now.

The feeling was a lot like reading about a new sports car in a magazine, but never being able to drive it.

Any work by Alan Moore (or Neil Gaiman) is worth reading, but Miracleman is legendary because of Moore’s unhinged reconstitution of the superhero. It probably won’t be uplifting (no pun intended) but it promises to be as radical and unusual as anything with panels and word bubbles can be.

It all begins with a man who dreams of flying. For better or worse, that dream is about to become reality once again.

Advertisements

, , , ,

Leave a comment

Super serious

Iron Man 3I never thought I’d say this, but people are taking superheroes way too seriously.

By people, I mean film critics. They don’t seem to understand that superhero movies are based on comic books.

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark won an impressive victory over a fire-breathing Aldrich Killian, but according to certain critics, he destroyed American culture in the process.

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis said the film exploited imagery of terrorism for cheap thrills, without addressing any of the issues behind that imagery, and said that releasing the film so soon after the Boston Marathon bombing shows that Hollywood is out of touch with the real world.

NPR’s Linda Holmes criticized Tony himself, lamenting that his egotism, wealth, and use of technology to cocoon himself make him the “new Captain America.” Steve Rogers doesn’t use remote controlled drones to fight his battles, right?

I’m not saying that Iron Man 3 deserves critical praise, in fact quite the opposite. For movies like this, being faithful to the comic books that form the source material is as important as artistic merit.

Tales of Suspense 50No movie with as many explosions as Iron Man 3 deserves a critic’s approval, but because dodging explosions is what Iron Man does in the comic books, that’s what he should be doing on the big screen.

While writers and directors do have to make certain decisions about how to transform a comic book character into a movie character, or even about which comic books to make movies of, critics still need to stop treating the resulting movies as if they materialized from thin air.

Certain things about Iron Man simply can’t be changed, like the fact that he’s a rich white guy, or that his arch enemy is a guy called The Mandarin, or that he fights people. Without those elements, the cinematic Iron Man might be more nuanced, but he wouldn’t be Iron Man.

Iron Man and most of his colleagues predate the movie craze that is enriching their owners, and many of the political issues they are now accused of exploiting. When Iron Man debuted in 1963, Osama bin Laden was six, and America was in the middle of the Cold War.

People seem to be aware of this. In “The Amazing Spider-Man and the Modern Comic Book Movie,” a dialogue with Dargis, the Times’ A.O. Scott notes that “our superheroes have been around for a very long time.”

Of course, superheroes are capable of changing with the times. Tony fought Soviet-themed villains like the Crimson Dynamo when they were still relevant, and The Mandarin has gradually shifted from an old school megalomaniacal villain into a terrorist.

Still, there are certain things that cannot be changed. In the same article on the “Modern Comic Book Movie,” Dargis acknowledges that superheroes predate the movies that depict them, and claims that is he problem.

“The world has moved on — there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office, a woman is the secretary of state — but the movie superhero remains stuck in a pre-feminist, pre-civil rights logic that dictates that a bunch of white dudes, as in “The Avengers,” will save the world for the grateful multiracial, multicultural multitudes. What a bunch of super-nonsense,” she says.Iron Man first appearance

A team of white guys saving the world does seem inappropriate in our post-feminist, post-civil rights world, but this isn’t just any team of white guys, it’s the Avengers. They resonate because of who they are, not because they are white and male.

Superheroes are popular because people like them. They like the idea of them, and more importantly, they like specific characters like Iron Man and Captain America. That’s why, when a movie that does them justice (no pun intended) appears, they turn out in droves.

While it’s not impossible for a superhero movie to have an important message, or to meaningfully engage with important issues, that is all secondary to the “superhero” part of it.

If you’re looking for cultural critiques, Iron Man 3 is not the movie for you. If you want to see Iron Man in a movie, it is.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Book review: “Superman is Jewish?” by Harry Brod

It’s common knowledge that most of the world’s greatest superheroes were created by Jews. The list of famous Jewish comics creators includes Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Stan Lee, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman. These Jews created comic books, but what, if anything, about those books is specifically Jewish? That’s what Harry Brod tries to find out in Superman is Jewish?

Brod, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Northern Iowa, sets up a surprisingly sprawling narrative in just 194 pages. He links comics to a greater tradition of Jewish storytelling, including the golem and El Lissitzky’s Had Gadya, which Brod nominates as a sort of prototype graphic novel.

Of course, most attention is paid to what modern readers would readily recognize as comics. Superman gets his own chapter, where everything from the Hebraic origin of the name Kal-El to Clark Kent’s characterization as a nebbish is parsed out.

A lot of this has been explored before, particularly in Larry Tye’s Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. Brod’s Jewish lens does add a new perspective, though. He describes Superman’s postwar transformation from sadistic street fighter to big blue Boy Scout as a “whitewashing” of his ethnicity.

The section on Marvel is a little less strong. There is little explicit evidence of Jewish themes in Marvel comics (with the exception of Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing, and a few other Jewish characters), so a lot of this is based on conjecture and interpretation of tropes like Spider-Man’s snarky humor and the general liberal tone of the 1960s stories.

What really makes this book worth reading is Brod’s description of Jewish comics creators deploying all of their talents to tell Jewish stories. He makes a convincing argument not just for the literary merit of Will Eisner’s Fagin the Jew or Art Spiegelman’s Maus, but also describes the importance of the graphic novel medium to the structure of those works.

Superman is Jewish? tries to be more than just a list of outed Jewish comic book creators and characters, and it largely succeeds. Brod treats a subject that is still largely viewed as a closed-off nerdscape with seriousness, and tries to link it to a larger Jewish cultural tradition. That requires some chutzpah.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Why stop at Seven Samurai?

So, rumors are going around that Zack Snyder (director of 300 and Watchmen) is working on a Star Wars version of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. I’m assuming that means seven warriors will band together to defend a small village, only this time they’ll have lightsabers.

Whether this actually happens or not, it shows the flexibility of Kurosawa’s original story. Seeven Samurai has already been adapted as Magnificent Seven and an anime called Samurai 7. Tropes from the original have also been recycled in countless actions films.

Which begs the question: What other sci-fi adaptations of Seven Samurai are possible?

Seven Gundams: I’m thinking specifically of Gundam Wing; they’re only two pilots short of a full contingent already. The plot would involve seven laconic teenagers and their mobile suits defending an unarmed space colony, with space rice as their only payment.

Seven Redshirts: A Federation starship is dispatched to defend a small outpost from the Romulans and/or Klingons. An away team is dispatched. Everyone dies.

Seven Klingons: Klingons consider a glorious death in battle as payment. Three survive (as in Seven Samurai) and their shame is passed down for three generations.

Seven Superheroes: Pretty much a standard Avengers (Marvel) or Justice League (DC) story, but substituting an impoverished village for New York/Metropolis.

Seven Transformers: Not that Optimus Prime would ever accept payment for defending humans against a Decepticon attack, but some Energon would sweeten the deal and give Megatron a reason to attack.

Seven Mandalorians: Factional differences lead to the destruction of all seven before the Hutts get to the village.

Seven Soul Reapers: A group of Soul Reapers has a dispute with the Soul Society (it happens all the time) and redeem themselves by entering the World of the Living to stop marauding Hollows.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Superheroes in the real world

Green Lantern figureMort Weisinger had a problem. The executive in charge of National Periodical Publications’ (aka DC Comics) most prized property, Superman, was being called out by Albert Einstein. An MIT class had sent Weisinger a letter from Einstein, who said that no one, not even Superman, could fly faster than the speed of light.

No problem, Weisinger though. He convinced science fiction legend Isaac Asimov to draft a reply. “Professor Einstein’s statement is based on theory,” Asimov said. “Superman’s speed is based on fact.”

Comic book fans are often accused of having a fragile understanding of reality, but the flip side is that, aside from their otherworldly powers, superheroes have always been grounded in the real world. Why else would Einstein feel the need to play cosmological traffic cop with Superman?

The superhero comic book genre is built on an important conceit. Just as people who enjoy Broadway musicals need to take for granted characters’ tendency to break out in song and dance, so readers of comic books need to assume that their favorite heroes live in the real world.

It all began with Superman. The first superhero may be from another planet, but he grew up in a typical American town and lives in a typical American city. The only difference between Superman’s world and our world is the man himself.

The existence of utterly fantastic beings in an otherwise realistic world creates many paradoxes, and comic book writers have been dealing with them since Superman first took flight in 1938.

When the United States entered World War II each hero (through his or her writers) had to decide whether to enlist. DC’s near-omnipotent pantheon could have ended the war in five minutes, which presented a problem. That’s why most of the DC heroes stayed stateside; Clark Kent feigned poor eyesight to give Superman an honorable way out, while the Justice Society of America feared the corrupting influence of the Spear of Destiny.

DC’s rival Marvel Comics, created a hero specifically for fighting the Nazis. In his debut issue, Captain America socked Hitler in the jaw, a moment of catharsis for his Jewish creators whether it ruined the illusion or not.

Since then, comic books have tried to address real-world political issues, from racism in Green Lantern-Green Arrow to privacy and national security in Marvel: Civil War. Just like World War II, the trick to getting these political comics to succeed is acknowledging the problems of the real world without having superheroes intervene in a totally unrealistic way.

What about the superheroes themselves, though? In theory, they are real people under their masks and capes, and they should do what they do in a somewhat plausible way.Thor figure

Since he has no powers, Batman is a popular candidate for an ultra-realistic treatment. In Batman: Year One, Frank Miller had Bruce Wayne go on a practice mission in street clothes, driving a stock Porsche instead of the Batmobile.

This approach helped inspire Christopher Nolan’s series of Batman films. Particularly in the first two movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, plausible explanations are given for Batman’s methods and technologies, and those of this enemies. The Batmobile is a discarded military prototype, and the Batsuit is made of Kevlar body armor.

However, even Batman has his limits. No matter how realistic he appears to be, he’s still a vengeful billionaire skulking around in a cape and cowl, and that, unfortunately, does not exist outside of comics.

“Once a depiction veers toward realism,” Miller said, “each new detail releases a torrent of questions that exposes the absurdity at the heart of the genre.”

Giving a superhero a realistic environment and realistic equipment isn’t enough, which brings us back to the person under the mask, and on to the Marvel movie universe.

Marvel’s movies are not as focused on realism as Batman Begins, but they still strike fans as authentic. That’s because the characters themselves are realistic.

Green Lantern and ThorWormholes may not be a convincing explanation for Thor’s arrival on Earth or his powers, but he reacts to everything the way a real person would. When confronted with the victorious Avengers, Thor’s brother, Loki, doesn’t shake his fist and twirl his nonexistent mustache, he just says, “I think I’ll have that drink now.”

That is the superhero conceit in action. The characters may be super soldiers, irradiated monsters, and gods, but they live in the same world as readers and viewers and thus act the same way.

That’s why the laws of physics don’t bother fans of Superman. His powers might be impossible, but he is not.

, , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Comic Book Cars: Acura MDX

SHIELD Acura MDXContinuing this week’s Avengers theme, I thought I’d take a look at this bruiser of an SUV. It’s actually an Acura MDX, the car Westchester moms drive to the mall. However, it has been rebuilt by S.H.I.E.L.D., the top secret security agency that watches over the United States in the Marvel Comics universe. That’s quite an endorsement, huh?

Acura has always been a low profile brand; even the current spaceship-like TL fails to turn heads. That’s why Acura is taking over the Marvel universe. Last year, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents chased Thor around a desert in a fleet of Acura SUVs. Honda’s luxury division returned as the official car of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Avengers.

This was actually a brilliant move. It got Acura plenty of exposure (Avengers broke the record for highest gross on opening weekend), particularly with an untapped market segment: nerds. Nerds generally aren’t car enthusiasts, so they don’t have any preconceived notions about the brand. They also like technology, which Acura has plenty of. They are also more than likely to buy a car just because Nick Fury drives it.

Does the car fit the role? Acuras look suitably futuristic, befitting an agency that has a helicarrier, and they look downright awesome decked out the way this show model is. Is it odd that S.H.I.E.L.D. has Japanese luxury vehicles when every other government has Fords and Chevys?

Sure, but this is a comic book movie. As long as the Avengers beat the bad guys, all be well. If anyone happens to notice the black SUVs in the background, Acura might make a few extra sales.

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

How the midnight premiere of Avengers restored my faith in humanity

Avengers movie posterThe local multiplex was full of sweat and anticipation. It was one hour before midnight on May 3, 2012, and scores of nerds were packed in a theater waiting for the first showing of Avengers to start. Many were dressed up as their favorite characters, and a beach ball was being volleyed back and forth.

Avengers, a movie about a team of superheroes based on the Marvel comic books, isn’t for everyone, and this opening act of nerdom seems to confirm that. But everyone should try to be as enthusiastic about a movie as these people were.

Every year, at least one great movie comes out, but going to see a film in theaters usually involves a lot of tedium and annoyance. There are the endless commercials and previews, and the audience. Some are abhorred by what they see on screen, others are ecstatic. Either way, they feel the need to vocalize their opinions. It’s no wonder that Netflix is so popular.

Things don’t have to be that way. There was plenty of noise at the midnight showing of Avengers, but none of it was annoying. When each hero came on screen, the crowd cheered. There was a collective gasp at every moment of suspense or tragedy. It was like watching a play: the audience engaged with the characters (and each other) as if everyone was in the same room. Imagine that.

Normal movie audiences have little in common, but everyone at Avengers could at least share their love/fanatical obsession with Captain America, Iron Man, and company. Once in awhile, it’s nice to enjoy a movie, and the companionship of fellow fans.

, , , , , ,

Leave a comment