Stan Lee: A Tribute

A 70 year writing career, an estimated net worth of over $50 million, 35 Marvel movie cameos, 121 total acting credits, 69 years of marriage to his wife Joan, and a #1 sense of humor are just some of the statistics that show how impressive Stan Lee was.  While remarkable, though, I knew about other achievements long before I ever discovered those numbers, and Lee’s comics and cameos are why his death has me looking up details about his life.

Stan Lee Civil War cameo

Stan Lee delivering some more of his characteristic humor in Captain America: Civil War

Although I have seen most of the Marvel movies from recent years, I cannot claim to be a truly dedicated Stan Lee fan, having (to my knowledge) only read one comic book he coauthored.  Nor can I rival the lengthy, well-researched bios that dot the Internet in the wake of his death, but I did want to give him a brief tribute.  And that is this: his cameos always made me smile, and the narrative voice I did encounter in the one comic I read had a tongue-in-cheek humor that was charming and timeless.

Entertaining audiences is a special gift, and Lee’s ability to do so makes me think of Donald O’Connor performing “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which claims that everyone wants to laugh and that a comedian who makes an audience laugh is greater than a critically-acclaimed Shakespeare.  Not to disparage Shakespeare, of course, but I do understand the sentiment and enjoy a good laugh like the next person.  In his work, Lee seems to understand that his audiences wanted to have fun and also to be inspired to become superheroes, whether in great or small ways or simply in their imaginations.  I expect Stan Lee will always hold a special place in the hearts of comic book enthusiasts and superhero-smitten audiences, just as he holds a place in every Marvel movie with his quirky personality and signature sunglasses.

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Resources

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0498278/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

http://time.com/money/5452625/stan-lee-net-worth-marvel-universe/

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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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A Closer Look at Captain America: Civil War

Introductory note:  I reviewed Captain America: Civil War last month.  This following article is a more detailed analysis of Captain America: Civil War and as such does give away some important parts of the plot.

Captain America Civil War poster

The latest movie in the Captain America series Captain America: Civil War is aptly named.  Beyond the visible division between members of the Avengers team as peace, alliances, and friendships crack, divisions in goals and ideals also emerge.  Even as I think about the problems the movie presents, addresses, and leaves unfinished, I find myself divided in my opinions about the story, characters, and message.  The story is more realistic (for a superhero movie), yet less satisfying, for the questions the movie poses are not simple ones to answer.

As usual, Tony Stark is the spark of trouble, but Steve Rogers (Captain America), instead of being a peacemaker, is uncharacteristically at the other end of the conflict.  Stark feels responsible for the civilian casualties he and the Avengers have left behind, and he argues that the Avengers team needs oversight and restrictions.  In Stark’s opinion, the Hero Registration Act which the United Nations proposes is the best answer to the problems the Avengers are facing.  The plan places the Avengers under an international authority, giving the Avengers the accountability they need, and Stark thinks the Avengers should take advantage of this compromise before nations begin taking more forceful actions against the Avengers.  According to many nations, the superhero team has become unpredictable and dangerous, even towards those they seek to protect, and Stark thinks the criticism is accurate.

Wanda Maximoff

Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)

On the other end of the dispute, Steve Rogers has some valid arguments.  Rogers doesn’t discount Stark’s concern about civilian casualties; in fact, Rogers has a discussion with Wanda (Scarlet Witch) early in the movie, reminding her, “This job…we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody.  But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved” (“Quotes”).  Rogers understands that civilian casualties are an almost inevitable part of conflict, but he accepts that risk.  Recalling S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption, Rogers also does not trust any organization to oversee the Avengers, for Rogers fears that such oversight will cause the Avengers to help the wrong agendas and will hinder the team from saving people.  Interestingly, in The Winter Soldier, Rogers initially wanted to be a soldier and just obey orders.  Now, in the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers seems to have swung to the opposite extreme, not wanting to obey any authority but his own conscience.

Barnes and Rogers

Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) and Steve Rogers (Captain America)

In addition to the interesting questions the movie poses about oversight and limitations of power, there are several other problems and themes that the story covers.  During one of the credit scenes, Black Panther claims Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is a “victim.”  While this is partly true, it does not acquit Barnes of the crimes he committed while under others’ control.  Barnes deserves to be tried for his crimes for the sake of those whom he killed.  In a just trial, the judge and jury would account for Barnes’s lack of control over his actions and would reduce his charges and sentencing.  Hiding Barnes only delays the problem of facing what he has done, the consequences of his actions, and his own guilt.

Another thought-provoking theme is about compromise and principles.  Partway through the movie, a character quotes Steve Rogers’ friend Peggy Carter as having said, “Compromise where you can.  Where you can’t, don’t.  Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right.  Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move.’”  This advice is quite solid.  Nevertheless, Rogers does not appear to have been listening to the first part of the speech; all he remembers is “No, you move,” and he fails to realize that he can compromise, if he and Tony Stark will only take the time to stop arguing and listen to each other.

Stark and Rogers

Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers

Captain America: Civil War has some good themes, but also some twisted interpretations of them.  Peggy Carter’s speech appears to be a call to Captain America to stick to his uncompromising choices and seems to ennoble him in his decision.  Also, even though Tony Stark is on the right road in wanting oversight for the Avengers, his ballistic behavior turns the audience and Steve Rogers against him, making the Hero Registration Act and anything like it seem to be a bad idea.  Tony Stark aims for a good end, but uses the wrong means because he acts out of guilt, a desire to hand over responsibility for his actions to other people, and fear that the world will turn against the Avengers, and him.  Several times in Civil War, the story touches on Stark’s background and reveals he is a miserable, lonely person who is full of regret and guilt and whose most common answer to problems is to ignore them or get angry.  Sadly, Steve Rogers is too focused on saving one friend and defeating villains to realize he is losing other friends who need him too, like Tony Stark.  What disappoints me most, though, is that the entire Avengers team allows their division and anger to get out of hand so that friend is fighting friend.  Even the severe injury of one of the Avengers is not enough to bring the superheroes to their senses; it is only fuel for more anger and a sharp reminder of how dangerous and destructive their war is.

In spite of all the damage the Avengers team has suffered, though, some hope remains for reconciliation.  When Captain America explains why he did the many things for which Stark may never forgive him, Cap ends by promising that he and the rogue Avengers will come if Stark ever calls for them.  Stark most likely does not accept Rogers’ reasoning as right, and I would probably agree with him, but I still hope that Stark will eventually swallow his pride and be able to forgive those who have hurt him and acknowledge some of his own mistakes as well.  What Captain America, Tony Stark, and the entire Avengers team needs now is not superpowers, but a lot of humility and forgiveness.

Works Cited

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  20 Aug. 2016 <www.imdb.com/title/tt3498820/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu>.

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Captain America: Civil War

Politics, guilt, loyalty, fear, anger, and superheroes all play a part in Captain America: Civil War, leading to the longest—and perhaps most complicated—Marvel movie yet.

Tony Stark and Steve RogersAfter an Avengers’ mission in Nigeria leads to civilian deaths, the United Nations begins pushing for a law that will restrain superhero activities.  This most recent example of collateral damage, added to Sokovia, New York, and other disastrous scenes of Avengers’ battles, leads politicians, the public, and even the superheroes themselves to question how much good the Avengers are accomplishing.  Tony Stark agrees to the Hero Registration Act, and other Avengers follow suit out of loyalty, practicality, or agreement.  Steve Rogers feels he cannot agree to the act with a clear conscience and becomes the leader of the dissenting superheroes.

Both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers make valid points about the new law, but they never really listen to each other or have productive conversations.  The two characters stubbornly stick to “I’m right—you’re wrong,” when the best answer is somewhere in between their two ideas.  Sadly, personality and circumstances disrupt each possibility of compromise.  Meanwhile, as the Avengers team breaks down and superheroes take sides against each other, a sinister man named Zemo manipulates them all, and Captain America is swept up in saving his friend Bucky Barnes from everyone who is pursuing Barnes for a crime for which Barnes has been framed.

Avengers teamOne of my favorite parts of the movie is the characters, which is good because there are a lot of them.  Black Panther makes his debut, proving himself an impressive hero with some surprising character qualities.  The newest “incarnation” of Spider-Man appears several times, as well, bringing some energy and humor to the film.  Viewers also have another opportunity to enjoy Ant Man and his fun personality.  Although the story briefly develops the personalities of Scarlet Witch and Vision, most of the old characters change little, and the writers surprisingly focus, not on Cap, but on Iron Man.  Tony Stark becomes a more sympathetic, but also more frustrating, character whom anger, fear, and guilt drive more than love, courage, or compassion.

Although I appreciate that Civil War has a more interesting and complicated story than its predecessors, I miss the clarity of purpose and moral sense that Captain America displays in his two previous films.  Yet, divisive plot and themes notwithstanding, Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable movie, with lots of punchlines and interplay between the different superheroes, old and new, and plenty of fodder for those who like to think.

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Note: I will be posting another article about Captain America: Civil War in the near future in which I will look more in-depth at the themes and messages of the movie.

Three Newspaper Comics and Avengers: Age of Ultron

Flint has been busy penning articles about comic books and movies at our other writing blog this year.  Here are two reviews he has written, one of something old and one of something new.

Prince Valiant

Prince Valiant

3 Titles from the Golden Age” – Flint discusses Terry and the PiratesSecret Agent X-9, and Prince Valiant, three newspaper comic series which began in the 1930s and later became standalone comic books.  Several years ago, Flint and Bone briefly reviewed Prince Valiant in their “Ten Great Newspaper Comics” article.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – Flint analyzes the story and entertainment value of the Avengers film which came out in May of this year.

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Thor: The Dark World

2013_thor_2_the_dark_world-wide

Last week, Flint, Bone, and Arrietty went to the movies. Here are their observations on the show.

Flint’s Focus

I will be quite frank: the character Loki makes what would otherwise be a mediocre superhero movie into a pretty good one. Villains these days (apart from the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight) seem to largely be one or two dimensional characters whose existence is justified simply so that the hero has someone to thump. However, the latest Thor movie turns this around. Loki is the most interesting character in the whole film. He has emotions and desires that constantly leave me guessing as to what is real and what is a hoax. He actually feels more genuinely human than any other character in the entire movie. In contrast, Thor himself, Jane Foster, and all of the other characters remain largely unchanged throughout the movie, running through their predictable lines and choices. If all you want in a movie is a buff Chris Hemsworth saving the world and his girlfriend, then you can enjoy the movie completely.  However, if you want intriguing characters, then you’ll have to watch the movie for the sake of Loki who almost makes the movie worth watching all by himself.

Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston)

Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston)

Bone’s Blurb

Though a good movie to see in theaters (good spectacle) and with friends or family (good company), this latest movie from the Marvel universe seemed very unremarkable–perhaps it was the movie itself, or perhaps it was the knowledge going into the movie that nothing climactic would happen since Thor and the other characters will have to be present for Avengers 2. That said, as Flint notes, the character Loki dominates Thor 2. This is the first time I’ve walked out of a theater saying to myself, “That movie wasn’t particularly good as a whole, but it was worth watching because that character (Loki) was really fascinating.” This, perhaps, is the one potential advantage to creating a string of serialized movies–there’s the opportunity to create more multi-faceted, three-dimensional characters that can carry movies with their personalities even when everything else about a movie is forgettable.

Arrietty’s Angle

I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World.  Although the film’s story is far from extraordinary, thanks to its characters, it makes a fun and worthwhile movie.  After watching more and more superhero movies, I have come to realize that an excellent villain is key to a good movie.  For example, Captain America has a great protagonist and a passable story, but because its villain is underdeveloped and flat, the movie was unremarkable.  The makers of Thor have managed to avoid this flaw, for they have crafted one of the greatest super-villains ever:  Loki.  With his double-sided nature, illusions, deceptions, slipperiness, and smiles, Loki captures the viewer’s attention and catches one off-guard almost all the time.  When the movie’s over, it’s Loki that keeps one wondering, “Why did he do that?”  Loki’s the most interesting character in the movie, and I’m always hoping he’ll reform.  Some movie-goers may watch this movie for the story, for Thor, for Jane Foster, for its CGI, or maybe just because they love superhero films, but I think Loki provides a better reason for seeing this movie than anything else.