Will Supervillains Be on the Final?

Will Supervillains Be on the FinalImagine a world where people with powers could attend a school for superhero training.  Wait, that’s textbook Sky High, X-Men, and even Harry Potter.  So, what is it that makes Will Supervillains Be on the Final: Liberty Vocational, Vol. 1 by Naomi Novik unique?

Picture instead a young superhero entering a prestigious college at 16 because of her unique powers.  Little does she know that one of the teachers and one of her classmates are working together to ruin her academic career.  And the greatest superhero Calvin Washington recently lost his powers after using them to absorb a terrorist bombing, while his archenemy Alexander Bane remains on the loose.  Then add to it all that Leah Taymore’s parents, and even the staff at her new university, expect Leah to fill Washington’s place once she completes her training, while Leah would rather be at her old school instead of a heralded prodigy at the prestigious Liberty Vocational.

While parts of Novik’s graphic novel may feel familiar with the recent inundation of superhero stories, the characters and premise of Will Supervillains Be on the Final? are nevertheless fun and compelling.  I especially like Leah’s roommate Yuzana, an extroverted empath whose superpower enables her to read people’s emotions.

I think Novik’s book, which is listed as volume one of the Liberty Vocational series, has potential.  I was really disappointed that just as the story began to take off, volume one ended and I discovered that a sequel was never printed.  Even though it appears that there may never be a sequel (Will Supervillains Be on the Final? came out in 2011), I hope that maybe one day there will be one.  I’m always sad when a series with promise comes to an untimely end, like Ruse or Herobear and the Kid, but I don’t think that means the books aren’t worth reading, and I always hold onto a faint hope that maybe if enough people demonstrate their interest, the series may someday reignite.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Besides a chance trailer and a friend’s hearty recommendation, I began Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with very few expectations and little info.  I came out of it quite satisfied, with many pros and only a few cons.

Positives

One of the best bits of this reboot is that it is a fun celebration of the character Spider-man and the comic world.  The film provides an entertaining exploration of parallel universes and how many ways the Peter Parker Spider-Man we all know could have turned out differently.  In fact, I noticed that the film created an unstated Spider-Man formula.  The hero is not one person.  Peter Parker doesn’t equal Spider-Man.  Instead, power from a radioactive spider + a desire to help others + personal loss + a leap of faith = Spider-Man.  This creates an “everyman” theme, reminding the audience that a hero can be anyone.

Spider-Man poster

In fact, this formula ties directly into some of the movie’s other key themes.  When Miles Morales attempts to quote “with great power comes great responsibility” to a disillusioned Spider-Man, Peter Parker abruptly cuts him off.  Previous Spider-Man movies, especially the Tobey Maguire trilogy, emphasized this theme, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse instead focuses on “leaps of faith,” perseverance, and second chances.  While those may sound cheesy, I found the themes more broadly applicable to real life than the original heroic themes.  After all, we constantly take risks and choose to be vulnerable.  Being determined enough to try in the first place and try again when something doesn’t work out the way you want it to is critical in life.  Yet, as the movie shows, fear often paralyzes us from taking the leap.  Pride stops us from asking for second chances or trying again.  And our relationships and lives suffer, even as we attempt to protect ourselves.

Another aspect of the movie I enjoyed was the style and artwork.  Into the Spider-Verse introduced me to a fresh perspective on Spider-Man movies as it incorporated comic-style animation in an impressive, creative, and entertaining way.  I especially like the way the movie uses comic panels and textboxes to make the movie appear to be a literal comic book come to life.

Negatives

I only have a few minor criticisms.  First, if you have a tendency to experience ocular migraines, you may not want to watch this movie, or at least parts of it.  Several scenes are headache-inducing with their psychedelic palettes and flashing lights.  Also, I occasionally found the soundtrack very jarring, and the grating moments in the music seemed disconnected from the rest of the movie and its overall style.  And a final tiny criticism I have is that the final fight scene felt really long, and the action was hard to follow during it.

Wrapping It Up

Until my friend recommended Into the Spider-Verse, I hadn’t seriously considered watching it.  The trailers and other ads hadn’t really piqued my interest, and I was becoming more and more burnt out on superheroes in general and Spider-Man in particular.  But I ended up having a blast watching the 2018 animated reboot.  I hadn’t expected that moviemakers would be able to add anything worthwhile to the current Spider-Man film portfolio.  With its creative aesthetic, thoughtful themes, fun characters, and freshened up storyline, though, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a pleasant surprise.

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A Marvel Movie Trio

In the midst of a busy summer, I have managed to explore some new (to me) Marvel cinematic creations.  Here are some of my impressions.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor-ragnarok-920x518I had wanted to watch Thor: Ragnarok ever since it came out but only just saw it for the first time earlier this summer.  After hearing so many positive recommendations of this movie from friends, you might think my expectations would have been disappointed, but I found Thor: Ragnarok to be as much good fun as I had hoped.  From the opening to the closing shot, the movie is packed with hilarity and adventure.  I think the tone of Ragnarok is reminiscent of the first Thor movie with its comedic flair, in contrast to the more serious Dark World.  Plus, the rock music soundtrack perfectly complements the film and adds to the action sequences and overall humor of the movie.  If you haven’t already, be sure to look up the lyrics to the Led Zeppelin “Immigrant Song” that the movie features as it is surprisingly suited to the characters and story.

Black Panther

Black Panther poster

Black Panther is another movie I had been meaning to watch and had heard positive comments about.  When I finally saw it for myself, I did like it, but I found the character development a bit lacking.  The movie spends too much time on Wakanda’s flashy technology at the expense of the characters and even the plot.  While I admit Wakandan culture and futuristic gadgets are interesting and worth exploring, I feel like focusing on these takes too much time and attention away from more important elements of the story.  Also, I think T’Challa’s antagonist could have been much more compelling; he has a lot of potential but fails to live up to it.  All that said, though, I do like Black Panther as a superhero and think he and Wakanda are a valuable addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.  I especially like the Wakandan “special forces” the Dora Milaje, and I enjoy how the movie pays homage to African culture and traditions.

X-Men: Apocalypse

https_blogs-images.forbes.comscottmendelsonfiles201605X-Men-Apocalypse-launch-quad-poster-1200x903Any movie with an ancient Egyptian villain automatically tempts me to laugh, but ancient mutant En Sabah Nur aside, I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse.  As always, the exploration of X-Men characters’ backstories is intriguing, and I appreciate the depth the latest film series has given characters like Raven (Mystique) and Erik (Magneto).  My favorite installations of the latest movies are still First Class and Days of Future Past (in that order), but I think this film shares some of the same worthwhile elements as the first two.  If you can endure the somewhat laughable villain, Apocalypse is another enjoyable and interesting addition to the latest X-Men series.


All in all, my Marvel movie summer has been fun, and I’m glad to have finally caught up on these three films.  Now, I’m ready to jump into the next one I have heard so much about:  Avengers: Infinity War (Bone’s review of this is available here).

Happy viewing!

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Across Five Decades: Old and New Black Panther Comics

Black Panther coverIntrigued by the release of the new Black Panther film earlier this year, I decided to try out some of the Black Panther comics which have preceded it.  I started with the only comic book I could find at my local library that had “book one” in the title, which turned out to be a 2016 rejuvenation of the series.  The slender volume I picked up was Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

While I did not find A Nation Under Our Feet particularly coherent or artistically impressive, the comic does provide an intro into the Black Panther world for those who, like me, are curious about the latest superhero Marvel has transferred from comic book to silver screen.  Perhaps the best part of the comic is the last half, which includes a map and history of Wakanda and concludes with a snippet from the very first 1966 comic Black Panther appeared in, where Black Panther features as a character the Fantastic Four encounter.  (Or should I say face?  Black Panther has changed a lot since his first debut 🙂 .)

1966 Black Panther comicIn spite of cartoonish colors and somewhat cheesy dialogue, I found myself enjoying the older comic more than the new one.  The authors (Stan Lee being a prominent one) have a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and use their powers as narrators to talk directly to the audience.  Further, although the artwork is not nearly as slick as in more recent Black Panther installments, I thought it was laid out well and kept the story easy to follow.  Finally, while certain tidbits—such as asbestos being an innovative material—certainly date the comic, I actually found these aspects to be part of the appeal.

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Highs and Lows of “Hilo: The Great Big Boom”

The Great Big BoomJudd Winick’s third Hilo book has its ups and downs.  Compared to the first two books, Hilo: The Great Big Boom has a much weaker opening.  However, I think the plot of the third book is stronger than the second.  The story is more interesting, and I appreciate the change of scenery that accompanies Hilo and D.J.’s journey to rescue Gina, who was sucked into a portal at the end of the second book.  As Hilo and D.J. search for Gina on a strange planet, readers get to ride along into a new setting, meeting unusual interplanetary creatures along the way.  In addition to the stronger plot and revitalized setting, I think it’s necessary to note that, because this is a series in which humor is important, the third book has better jokes than Saving the Whole Wide World.

One aspect of the series that has drawn me on has been the larger story arc that encompasses all the books.  I like how Winick reveals more about Hilo’s past as the robot’s elusive memories return.  Some of the developments in The Great Big Boom feel a bit silly—including the explanation for the book’s title—, but Winick does introduce some intriguing elements.  For example, Hilo becomes hesitant to use his powers in fights, and this places his friends in danger.  Hilo’s self-doubts are sympathetic flaws, and I like how Winick uses them to round out Hilo’s character.  Hilo has to wrestle with the question, “What do you do when you don’t want to harm anyone by using your powers but could endanger your friends by inaction?”  Hilo’s struggles bring surprising depth to this children’s book.

When I began this series, I thought it was a trilogy.  I must admit I was a bit disappointed to learn that it wasn’t because I think more than three books is a bit excessive.  The second and third book might have been stronger if Winick had packed more into them and finished the story with The Great Big Boom.  However, time and the next book (or books) in the series will tell whether or not Winick was wise to stretch the story out.

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Redefining Wonder Woman

WW posterPrior to this spring, my image of Wonder Woman consisted of a woman with poufy hair wearing starry spandex, spouting cardboard dialogue, and wielding a laughable “Lasso of Truth.”  This year’s movie adaptation of the comic book heroine, however, paints a different picture.  Now, Diana Prince displays dignity and strength and is simultaneously a warrior and a woman.  Together, all the elements of the movie combine to reflect the change of tone.

Wonder Woman’s plot focuses on Diana Prince’s Amazonian backstory, including a comic book version of the Greek myths.  While DC’s retelling of Greek myths is at times a bit cheesy, the other aspects of the Amazonian world are very captivating, and as Diana enters the chaos and modernity of WWI, the scriptwriters keep the audience wondering whether Diana’s Amazonian stories have any bearing on the modern world.  Particularly, viewers question Diana’s claim that Ares is the cause of the war.  Although the plot can be predictable, the characters and dialogue carry the story well.  American pilot Steve Trevor and the other members of Diana’s ragtag team back Diana up with skill and plenty of humor.  Most importantly, Gal Gadot fills her role as Diana Prince amazingly, bringing character to a caricature.  With her smiles and seriousness, Gadot transforms Diana Prince into a real person.

Gal Gadot

Diana’s reaction to her first taste of ice cream and her first encounter with a revolving door are hilariously believable thanks to Gadot’s acting, and the new character of Diana Prince brings with it freshness and vitality.  Another interesting sign of the movie’s novel approach to Wonder Woman is that throughout the movie Diana Prince is known by her personal name, not by her title “Wonder Woman.”

In keeping with the movie’s plot and tone, the costumes and music blend with the times and cultures the movie represents.  When fighting, Diana dons Greek-style armor, not tights, and the outfits she wears while “fitting in” with London and German society are pretty much historically accurate (although no woman would be able to wear a sword down the back of her dress without anyone noticing).  Both the costumes and music capture elements of the ancient Greek and WWI eras, and I especially like the theme song’s Eastern air.  Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams expertly crafts a score that complements and represents the film’s titular character.  Like Diana Prince, the music is an exotic blend of cultures and is impressive, beautiful, and inspiring with its swelling themes and incorporation of brass, strings, choir, and percussion.

Wonder Woman photoMore surprising than the production quality, acting, or story, though, are the themes that the movie incorporates.  Diana Prince has an attachment to truth that goes beyond her golden lasso, and she demonstrates this in her blunt honesty, questions, and actions.  Throughout the movie, she is searching for truth and the difference between right and wrong.  When she faces the enemy, she refuses to believe his twisted representations of the truth.  Yet, she is willing to change her beliefs when she discovers she is wrong.  From the opening to the closing lines, Diana reveals her struggle with the truth that humans don’t deserve to be rescued, for they have created their own problems and wickedness.  Mankind is not basically good, and no matter what enemies she defeats, she will never be able to change that.  Men don’t deserve to be saved—a truth that Diana reluctantly admits.  This truth is evident, even in the banter of three of the main character soldiers, who joke, “May we get what we want…and may we get what we need…But may we never get what we deserve” (“Quotes”).  Diana doesn’t end there, though, for she realizes another, greater truth:  love is the reason to fight to save mankind.

Surprisingly, though imperfectly, Wonder Woman points to realities about love, mercy, truth, and man’s condition which I would never have expected to find in a pagan superhero movie.  While Wonder Woman lacks the ultimate answer to man’s problems, I think its discussion of these themes is valuable.  If more people understood what Diana learns in this fictional story, history and the world would be drastically different, for all too often, people assume that mankind is essentially good and blame every problem on the government, greedy businesses, or a few particularly evil people.

Diana Prince

Wonder Woman’s themes create a thoughtful movie that impacts viewers with more than just jokes or exciting action scenes.  In the midst of recent antihero movies, Wonder Woman stands out with its heroine and themes.  Diana Prince has honesty and heart.  In her actions, she uses her principles as much as her weapons, and throughout the story she emanates a dignity, strength, and compassion which give her title “Wonder Woman” a whole new meaning.


Works Cited

Wonder Woman (2017) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2017.  Internet Movie Database.  30 Aug. 2017, imdb.com/title/tt0451279/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.

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Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World

Who would have thought Hilo could crash back to Earth with even less than when he arrived the first time (a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia)?  Yet somehow, Hilo manages to do just that when he returns to Earth (or at least his toe does) in Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick.

Hilo pageHilo has returned, but as his friend D.J. explains, “It was a little weird” (1).  After disappearing through a portal at the end of The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, Hilo returns to Earth in pieces.  For normal little boys, returning in bits might be a problem, but not for alien robot Hilo, who quickly reassembles and warns his friends D.J. and Gina that his nemesis Razorwark is coming to Earth.  To keep Razorwark away from Earth, Hilo ends up stranding himself in the human world and must begin adjusting to everyday human life.  However, bullies at school, Hilo’s slowly returning memories, and aliens invading Earth through portals keep life far from peaceful or ordinary for Hilo and his friends.

As with the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy by Ben Hatke, the second installment of the Hilo series lacks some of the novelty of the pilot book.  That said, though, Saving the Whole Wide World is still an entertaining read and a fitting sequel to The Boy Who Crashed to Earth.  New characters like a magical warrior cat named Pollandra add a touch of freshness to the story, and the focus on friendship and courage provides the story with heartwarming and constructive themes.

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