2012 MOVIE Review : THE Verdict is in! AVENGERS… Avenged!!! :)

You are reading this either because you saw the film and want to compare your experience with others, or haven’t seen the film, and want to get a general idea of what people thought of it. I’ll answer both demographics, without going into details about the film.

I think most of you coming to this blog know, my grumpy persona aside I’m not a contrarian. I’m not one of these IMDB idiots who rate all films either 1 or 5 (on a 5 star system, I use a 4 star system), the concept of grading and gradations seemingly lost on them.

That said neither am I a bandwagon jumper who is going to praise a film when it’s trendy to do so, and eviscerate it when it is trendy to do so.(SUPERMAN RETURNS and TITANIC being two movies with more than their share of flip-floppers).

I often listen to pod-casts, and it is amazing how often you can hear one person excited by a film, but then his friends don’t like the film, so you can hear the person backtrack from his/her position, so they can be in line with the likes of their ‘friends’.

An anthropologist might define it as a clannish race survival technique (“Bubba let’s go lynch that thar 12 year old boy, for looking at that thar white woman.” “Why Bubba Senior, that thar’s a fine idea. Hyuck. Hyuck. Hyuck.”), I’ve always just defined it as cowardice.

I’m saying my good opinion or my bad is not formed by the whims of the mob.

Never has been. Never will be.

So if I give you a review you can be sure it is my review, my considered opinion… and I stand behind it.

So my considered opinion on the AVENGERS movie?

Joss Whedon, whose other film this year CABIN IN THE WOODS I wasn’t a fan of (more due to the first time Director on that film, than to Whedon’s script), here in his role as Director and Writer, knocks this film out of the park.

THE AVENGERS is… I’m trying to avoid hyperbole here, leaving that to everyone else, but it has to be said… it is a FANTASTIC film.

It’s as smart as CABIN IN THE WOODS, but with Whedon behind the camera you also get characters and moments you really care about. You get the pathos to go with the pomp and circumstance.

I mean how do you pull this off? The culmination of all these films, all this planning, all these actors, how do you pull it together and make it work and make it live up to expectations? It is really an amazingly ambitious film, a daunting prospect, and Joss Whedon… does it.

It’s really rare for me to laugh out loud in a film, I laughed out loud numerous times in this film, just because it is so knowing, and so sharp, and so biting, and so friggin fun!!!

I’m so glad I went into this film without watching a bunch of trailers or features, or ruining any surprises because I just had a ball. And along with the fun, Whedon gave space and weight to the tragedy, something that is glossed over sometimes in epic films. The weight and cost of this battle. Whedon never loses sight of the street level view, the common men and women caught in the midst of a war of Gods and Monsters.

The humanity he imbues the attack scene with is reminiscent of Mimi Leder’s phenomenal direction in the criminally underrated Clooney action film PEACEMAKER. Where every loss and every life… was felt.


The Peacemaker (Widescreen Edition)

And going along with that, for a big, loud, blow stuff up action flick on par with Bay’s TRANSFORMERS:DARK OF THE MOON (which the battle scenes bear a resemblance to) everyone gets a chance to actually act and emote in this film. Whedon’s TV/Buffy dialog/experience serving the film well.

Every principal actor really gets a chance to shine, Scarlett Johanson, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo (Who I didn’t think could fill Ed Norton’s shoes, is phenomenal. Both as Banner and the Jade Giant he has some of the great scenes/lines in the film), Downey, they all bring it. And big kudos to Tom Hiddleston who plays Loki as more than one dimensional, but with charm and depth to match his machinations.

Anything more would be me… gushing. Suffice to say, if my math is correct this is the 6th Marvel Studios film, the culmination of half a dozen years, and their shared Universe experiment, and they pull it off. Creating a cinematic climax to this multi-year and multi-film storyline that is actually bigger and better than the films leading up to it.

I’m seldom the guy to tip my hat to MARVEL, but you have to give them their due. STAR WARS couldn’t do it (RETURN not quite living up to the greatness of EMPIRE), STAR TREK every other film is bad and they are all one off stories, BOND also is one off stories, INDIANA JONES no, MATRIX… no, LORD OF THE RINGS … no, but Marvel Studios managed to end their ambitious story… even stronger than they began it (Though it is worth noting that the heart of this whole AVENGERS cinematic concept, starts with one writer, Mark Millar of WANTED and KICK-ASS fame. His vision is what Marvel Studios followed from page to screen. And in the dozen years since his ULTIMATES comics, his involvement is perhaps not credited as much as it should be).

The AVENGERS storyline that began with the first IRON MAN, went out on a high-note with this film. Arguably only Harry Potter could claim to have as effectively told a story over multiple films. Plus they give us a great teaser at the end, can you say…. awww but that would be telling! :)

Go see the film. It’s earned its praise. Highest Recommendation A+.

And read more about the Avengers, here [Definite spoilers :)]:

The Ultimates: Ultimate Collection

The Ultimates 2: Ultimate Collection

Ultimate Comics Avengers by Mark Millar Omnibus

Avengers: Kree/Skrull War

And these books will get you up to speed with the teaser at the end of the film:

Essential Warlock – Volume 1

Essential Captain Marvel, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials) (v. 1)

Essential Captain Marvel, Vol. 2 (Marvel Essentials)

Infinity Gauntlet

Favorite AVENGERS Comic Book Covers! Pt 3 of 3: The Years 1977 to 1996

Working on the next MONARCHS OF MAYHEM in-between real life stuff, it’s going to come out tomorrow 14 Mar 2012, just because it’s going to take more hours to get ready. These posts take a LONG time, In the interim enjoy the following:

Podcast of the Day: John’s Old Time Radio Show #9! It’s a great podcast. After listening swing by John’s site leave him some good words and tell him where you heard about him. Thanks! -HT

And wrapping up my favorite AVENGERS covers from the original series, is pretty easy. Because after 1977, with very few exceptions the covers are just uninteresting at best and plain awful at worst. Much like the book itself, it was just stumbling from weakness to weakness.

Here then are the best covers in the last 20+ years of the books original run:

George Perez’s finest AVENGERS cover, and one of the most iconic covers of all time. Would make a great poster! This is the last GREAT A+ Cover of the AVENGERS!


Memorable.


Fun.

It says a lot that the numbers jump over a hundred issues, before I list another cover. And this is gimmicky mess, but it was better than all the previous 100 covers. It just clarifies how bad the book got.


A mercy post.


The last one I could find even something remotely interesting in.

So needless to say you want great AVENGERS covers (and comics) stick to issues #181 and before. At least for the first Volume.

In 1998 creators Kurt Busiek and George Perez would launch a new AVENGERS series that largely just pays homage to the great years of the series, You can look at them almost as a remake of the Jim Shooter and George Perez run, that I mentioned in the previous post. But it’s done well enough by Busiek and Perez to be entertaining in its own right.

And then later would come the Bendis’ years, But that is a story for another installment. :)

Revisit the earlier posts here:

PT 1 of 3
PT 2 of 3

Favorite AVENGERS Comic Book Covers! 2nd Decade Pt.A 1973-1977!

Per the previous post, in keeping with the upcoming AVENGERS movie, I’ve decided to cover my favorite AVENGERS comic book covers of all time. And this is part 2:

Okay I had intended to tackle all the great covers in the 2nd decade of AVENGERS comics, however that’s not going to happen, there are just too many great covers. So this post will cover the first five years of the 2nd decade of AVENGERS comics. The years from 1973 to 1977.

Enjoy!

AVENGERS 117- I believe this cover is by Sal Buscema. He was drawing the DEFENDERS and this issue is part of a great AVENGERS/DEFENDERS crossover.

AVENGERS 127- Another great Gil Kane cover.

AVENGERS 131- Fun LEGION OF THE LIVING Frankenstein monster cover is pretty fun. At a guess I’d say this is also a Gil Kane cover.

AVENGERS 134- Gil Kane up to bat again, with this cover featuring the always popular golden age Human Torch.

AVENGERS 136- The floating heads is always a nice touch. And even without Gil Kane signing his work, those elbows at jaunty fighting angles even in repose, screams Gil Kane. :) (turns out the floating heads are done by a different artist, John Romita, and that’s what was making some of these covers hard to call as completely Gil Kane)

AVENGERS 139- Here’s another example, the main drawing with that exagerrated action (somebody gets hit and their knees fly into their chest, and elbows shoot out)is vintage, powerful Gil Kane. But those floating heads are by Spiderman artist John Romita. A favorite comic as a kid, so that may be swaying my appreciation for the cover, which is not Kane’s best. I’m going to have to start grading harder or I’m going to end up listing every cover Gil Kane does. :)

AVENGERS 141- There have been many face off covers, this is one of the standout ones. A nice Gil Kane cover, his typical hard angles, lessened a bit, being inked by Jazzy John Romita.

AVENGERS 142- I promise you I’m grading harder, but what can I tell you, 1975 and Gil Kane was just knocking these covers out of the park. Add cowboys to it, or people in normal clothes and Gil was in his element. Notice the difference between this cover and the previous. The inker here was more faithful to Gil Kane’s hard angles and musculature, which I think looks more striking. Great cover.

AVENGERS 145- What?! Do you see this cover? I’m trying to avoid anymore Gil kane covers but that’s like trying not to give the MVP to Michael Jordan when he’s playing. It can’t be done. Great Kane cover, inked by Dan Adkins. Wonderful use of word balloons and typography. Something you don’t see too much in modern comics.

AVENGERS 146- Tell me this cover doesn’t have ‘buy me’ all over it? It’s a great design. However you notice how it’s rounded a bit, inked by Al Milgrom, you lose some of the angularity and power that Kane’s pencils are full of. But even subdued Kane is great.

Don’t worry Gil stops doing covers with this issue, so we should be able to jump ahead a few years before we get any more covers this good right? WRRRRRROOOOONNNGGGGG!! Cause the artist they bring in to replace him on covers is…..

AVENGERS 147-148 Last time he made this list was all the way back in issue #20, Jack the King Kirby is back doing the covers! Definitely with 148! 147 however is attributed to Buckler and Adkins, but what I’m seeing in 147 is Kirby and Milgrom.

So I’m going with my gut and attribute the penciling on both of these to Jack the King Kirby. He’s not as sophisticated as Gil Kane or John Buscema, but there is just so much life and energy in these covers, so much going on, that they are just a joy to a young kid stumbling across these issues in the libraries back issue bins or on newsstands.

And the interiors were done by Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter on scripts and George Perez and John Byrne on pencils, from this point till issue 166, almost twenty issues, they are mostly home-runs. I guess the best way to put it in perspective is… all of the comics I’ve mentioned previously… I’ve sold. This run from 147 to 166, are not for sale. In the age of digital these are the comics that are worth having as paper. :)

I won’t list all those covers here are the standouts:

As mentioned 147-148 are great, we bypass 149-150 (these are credited to George Perez, possibly George Perez’s earliest work. Look nothing like his great work now, quite frankly they are not good) and from 151-158 we get great Jack Kirby Covers. The best being the following:

158 being Kirby’s last cover for the AVENGERS and he goes out with one of my favorites of his run!

159 So Kirby leaves or is let go, it’s unclear which, who the heck can they bring in till a new regular cover artist is chosen. Who else but the best? Gil Kane returns, and like he always does… he blows the doors off the place! Look at what he’s doing in this cover. It’s just a clinic on great art. Add to that the interior art by George Perez and story by Jim Shooter and you have… classic defined.

162-163 After a couple lackluster covers, George Perez steps in to knock it out of the park with great covers to match his great interior art.

164-166 There’s a lot of nonsense about great comics out there. Here’s the straight dope… this three part storyline, issues 164-166, is the best AVENGERS storyline. Full stop. With Jim Shooter as writer, George Perez on covers, and John Byrne on interior art, they together created the throwdown for the ages. People like to use the term wide-screen entertainment to define something blockbuster in scope, these three issues from the summer of 1977… were wide-screen entertainment before the term existed. If you own only three Avengers comics… make them these three. Highest recommendation. Now that said, while all three of the covers are at least good, only one is great. This one:

AVENGERS 164- And with that cover the legendary John Byrne created the last great AVENGERS cover of 1977!

Come back next time as we finish off the 2nd decade of AVENGERS comics. the years from 1977-1983, and we also tackle the third decade, the years from 1983 to 1993.

Ya’ll come back now ya here!

p.s. As far as purchasing issues, per my previous post (scroll down) Marvel has the first 30 issues available in their oversized hardcover format they call an omnibus. It’s a good deal. However they don’t have omnibuses out for issues 31-164, so getting these issues is a little more difficult. You would think with Marvel’s AVENGERS movie due out this year they would capitalize on interest and release Omnibuses for most of these early issues. But… Noooooo. So failing that look at the links in the first post and this:

Essential Avengers, Vol. 7 (Marvel Essentials)

Essential Avengers – Volume 8

The above two are black and white collections, which is just about sacrilege, the color being such a part of these issues, but if you can’t afford the original issues, and can’t wait for the expensive hardcovers or omnibuses… they are a cheap way to read a bunch of issues.

Hold the presses!!! Here are some better color options to read these issues:

Avengers: The Coming of the Beast – Avengers (1963) #137-140, #145-146

Avengers: The Serpent Crown – Collecting AVENGERS (1963) #141-144 and #147-149.

Avengers: The Private War of Dr. Doom- contains Avengers 150-156, Annual 6; Super -Villain Team – Up 9

If you do choose to buy, please support this blog by using the links provided. This blog generates a couple dimes from each sale, so you guys using the links is definitely appreciated and definitely necessary to keep the blog going. Thanks!

Favorite AVENGERS Comic Book Covers! The First 10 Years 1963-1973!

Well with the AVENGERS movie on the horizon, I thought a nice posting would be on (come’on you can guess) my favorite AVENGERS comic book covers. And plus it’s a nice look at how typography and art styles change over time.

What typically defines a great cover for me is, is it something I would pay to have as a poster. Surprisingly enough, most covers fail this criteria.

Take a gander at the ones that don’t :) :

AVENGERS 20- While you can make an argument for a lot of the early issues because of nostalgia, this one I think stands out, primarily because of Jack Kirby’s great use of perspective to make for an exciting cover.

AVENGERS 44- This is the next standout issue, by big John Buscema.

AVENGERS 63- Excellent Gene Colan Cover!

Avengers 66- Beautiful John Buscema cover. Dig that crazy perspective. :)

AVENGERS 92- I used to own this issue. Early cover art by Neal Adams.

AVENGERS 96- Another great Neal Adams cover.

AVENGERS 99- Another great cover, mixing excellent typography with the artwork of Big John Buscema.

AVENGERS 107- Great Rich Buckler cover.

AVENGERS 110- And cometh Gil Kane. A series known for its great covers and artists, and here was Gil Kane blowing them all out of the water. Decades later and it still remains one of the great covers of all time.

AVENGERS 113- The art isn’t the greatest here, but the typography and storytelling of the scene makes this an attractive and attention getting cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott.

The Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1- This collects the first thirty issues of the AVENGERS in a deluxe hardcover format. These tend to sell out quickly.

More omnibuses are not available as of yet, so if you want to get issues 31 to 113, outside of buying individual issues (prohibitively expensive for most of us) the two ways to get the issues are:

I. MASTERWORKS- Masterworks are highquality hardcover (and lately sc) books that collect on average 6 issues on quality, glossy paper. So can be a bit pricey trying to get a lot of issues in that format, so it’s best for just getting specific must have issues.

Such as these:

Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume 10 (Marvel Masterworks) Deluxe hardcover edition collecting The Avengers, nos. 89-100. These guys tend to sell out as well, and prices can go up when that happens

Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume 11- This volume of the Avengers Masterworks reprints issue numbers 101-111, and Daredevil #99, from July 1972 to May 1973, Including issue#110 mentioned above

II. DIGITAL COMICS

40 years of the Avengers on DVD Rom- These tend to sell out quickly as well. So pick them up before they sell out and the price goes up

Well that’s all for this installment. Come back next time as we tackle the years from 1973 to 1983!

Best Comics Ever! John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR!

I’m just going through some of my old comics, and am catching up on John Byrne’s run on FANTASTIC FOUR.

It has to be years since I’ve looked through some of these books, but some of the images and lines are ever quotable in my head.

But Byrne’s run, beyond the sound-bytes in my head, not only holds up, but reread it remains just fantastic comics (no pun intended).

John Byrne will be the first to praise Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s seminal run on the Fantastic Four, and I am a huge fan of that run, but John Byrne’s FF is all that magic just polished a bit, and is my personal favorite. It’s a phenomenal body of work with Byrne both penciling and writing. It does peter out a bit in his last couple years on the book, but those first 3 years from issue 232 to roughly issue 270, are just essential comics.

And all the more impressive because this was one man, writing, penciling, and often inking these comics, a crushing workload to try and do monthly… any one of those things, how he managed to do all three for YEARS, (and do all three brilliantly, this wasn’t today’s hack artist or writer just throwing anything at the wall. Byrne was bringing his A game every issue) is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Whatever you think of Byrne the man, for his often abrasive opinions, Byrne the creator is the real friggin deal. He’s the Iron Man (As in Cal Ripken, not Tony Stark) of comics, and Fantastic Four is the best of a lauded and laudable body of work.

If you’ve never read the issues, I highly recommend picking up the recently released John Byrne FANTASTIC FOUR OMNIBUS here!

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus – Volume 1

The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Kenneth Branagh or Marvel Studios Thor and Black Norse Gods!


Mavel Studios 2011 feature THOR, will be the latest film from director Kenneth Branagh, following up his 2007 film SLEUTH. SLEUTH met with uneven reviews at best, generally considered to suffer in comparison to the original.

I haven’t seen Branagh’s SLEUTH, and indeed have not followed a film by Kenneth Branagh since his 1996 film HAMLET. I consider Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 debut film, HENRY THE V, to be an undisputed masterpiece. It’s one of those rare debuts that is so good, that the rest of a filmmakers filmography can, if he is not careful, suffer in comparison.

It is a fate that befalls many a great director:

Orson Welles spent all his life in the shadow of the success of his first film, CITIZEN KANE.

Tobe Hooper has never quite crafted anything to rival, much less exceed the filmic power of his first film 1974’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

Michael Bay who made himself a Hollywood Power, on the strength of the blockbuster success of his first film, 1995’s BAD BOYS, but arguably (while his films get bigger) he hasn’t yet made one better, than that early buddy film.

And that brings us back to Branagh. Following up his debut with DEAD AGAIN (Branagh’s most financially successful film to date. Nearly tripling its 15million Dollar budget, with its US take alone), PETER’S FRIENDS, and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (A theatrical hit, doubling its budget in US sales alone), all good films, but all paling in critical comparison to his first film, and then releasing his first unquestioned financial and critical failure in 1994’s FRANKENSTEIN (which in the years since has managed to recoup its cost in Worldwide sales).

FRANKENSTEIN is the kind of film that can easily end careers, however Branagh, being Branagh, follows it up with a beloved comedy A MIDWINTER’S TALE and his best film since his debut, the magnificent, audacious 4 hour magnum opus HAMLET.

Long before LORD OF THE RINGS sold America on extended length films, in 1996 Branagh, backed by three brave production companies (The now defunct Turner Pictures and Fishmonger Films, and the still swinging Castle Rock Entertainment) released this stunning production on an unprepared America (Distributed by Sony Films and Columbia Pictures) . It did Katherine Hepburn type business (critically acclaimed, but too high-faluting for middle America, the theaters that did show it, showing it in a butchered 150min print), which is to say it lost money theatrically.

However on DVD the film would gain a new life, and continues to be considered not just one of the most ambitious Shakespearean productions ever staged, but one of the best. You can make a strong argument for HAMLET being Branagh’s best film. And I think the more often you watch it, the better it gets. Though personally for me, HENRY THE V is the stronger film. Part of it being, it’s no fat on it, it’s gripping from beginning to end. That said HAMLET is a brilliant and strong film, and is deserving of all accolades, and is a very close 2nd.

It is obvious Branagh put his heart and soul into this film, and its theatrical failure was a clear disappointment and setback to the director, as he would not make another film for 4 years, the 2000 film LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. By all accounts a good film, but on a 13million dollar budget, the film would receive virtually no distribution, only being released in less than 200 screens in the UK, and only TWO SCREENS in the USA. Needless to say the film was a financial disaster.

Following this Branagh would not make another film for six years, 2006 ‘s AS YOU LIKE IT for HBO Films, and 2006’s THE MAGIC FLUTE (a French/Uk production, Branagh’s most expensive film to that time, at a reported 27 Million Dollars) both films, virtually unknown in the US, generating little theatrical business. Though both films, as well as LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST I’m in the process of acquiring the DVDs to, and viewing, as they all sound compelling.

So That brings us to 2007’s SLEUTH. Five different production companies, including Sony, an undisclosed budget, and Branagh coming off a string of Eight theatrical misses, and a piecemeal distribution schedule, the film did not have hit written over it, and unfortunately it wasn’t. Managing to gross only a sickly $343,000 in the US. And considering the actors involved the budget was most likely between 18 and 30 million dollars, the loss can only be called… staggering. Whatever its actual budget it’s clear the film was yet another crushing theatrical failure, Branagh’s 9th in a row.

With a budget of $150,000,000 Dollars Marvel Studios’ THOR is yet another of their very expensive super-hero franchise films, and kenneth Branagh has been chosen to helm it.

To date Marvel Studios, since taking over production in-house at the end of 2007 (with David Maisel as Chairman and Kevin Feige as Head of Production) , has been hitting all homeruns, starting with 2008’s Iron Man which grossed $319 Million domestically, followed by HULK in the same year, it was a powerful and successful one-two punch. Followed in 2010 by the equally successful IRON MAN II. 2011 year sees the release of the latest Blockbuster films from Marvel Studios: THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. At budgets of a $150 Million and a $140 Million respectively, no one is going to confuse these with cheap movies. And it is clear THOR is the one they are banking on , hoping to be this year’s IRON MAN.

Marvel’s choice of directors for both films is quite interesting.

Branagh for THOR and Joe Johnston for CAPTAIN AMERICA.

Their choice of directors from day one has been unusual to say the least. Their choice of Jon Favreau to helm their first film, a huge expensive action blockbuster, IRON MAN, when Favreau’s filmography didn’t hint at the background to pull it off, had many people seeing a repeat of Tim Story and The Fantastic Four films (Which are better films than Story is given credit for, the issues being not directorial, but script and production). However Favreau steers the ship, creating one of the best films of the year, and duplicating his success with 2010s IRON MAN II. So not sure what made someone think Favreau could do the job, but they were correct. Or was it just a case of economics? Was Favreau the right price? Much like Branagh for THOR and Joe Johnston for CAPTAIN AMERICA, Favreau was coming off of a movie that was a theatrical disappointment.

While I personally was a huge fan of Joe Johnston’s WOLFMAN, it was a theatrical failure.

Could Marvel be selecting directors that have fallen on hard times, coming off theatrical failures, directors they can control? Directors that have name recognition among fans for films done early in their career, but have not been successful of late. This extends to Joss Whedon, that both the big screen and small screen, have been not exactly favorable to in recent years.

This way the studio gets a name director, but without the prima-donna stance that is typically the director’s right. An auteur as hired gun.

The only exception to this being Louis Leterrier, director of 2008’s Hulk, unofficially co-written and co-directed by Edward Norton. Leterrier coming to the table with a short filmography, but a filmography of films that make money domestically. Unfortunately THE HULK, which I found to be a great film due to what Norton and Leterrier brought to it, and tried to bring to it (the conflict between director/star and studio being well known), didn’t recoup its $150000000 cost domestically. But I see this as less supporting Marvel’s producer heavy style, and more indicating the flaws of handicapping your director/star.

I’m still waiting to see THE HULK director’s cut.

The least interesting part of the Hulk film was the 30 minute CGI fight at the end. What was interesting about that film was Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner, the journey he took that character on. So the fact that Marvel Studios is quick to flex their producer muscles, and throw actors under the bus they deem difficult, ignores the fact that those actors may be difficult, beyond just monetary reasons (we’re not talking Terrence Howard here) but because they invest themselves in those characters, and they really deeply care. And in the case of Ed Norton, they may be completely right about how that character should be played.

Kevin Feige came out with a pretty scummy press release about Ed Norton back in 2010, trying to label him a troublemaker, and justify the studio’s, I feel, bad decision to replace him. Kevin later on stating they wanted basically a weaselly, simplistic Bruce Banner, who basically will just be there as a place holder for their CGI nonsense. In essense playing up what didn’t work about the previous two Hulk films, which was the Hulk, and discarding the thing that did, which was the heroism and humanity Ed Norton imbued the character of Bruce Banner with.

It is a bad decision by Kevin Feige and a bad decision on Marvel Studios part, and shows the first chink in their armor, the chink being a mentality of treating directors and actors as commodities that should obey, rather than as collaborators that should care. It’s a policy of hubris, that if not watched, will begin to chip away at the studios… successes.

Already in IRON MAN II you begin to hear the grumbling, and the diminishing returns of just special effects. Of just CGI. The film cost more than IRON MAN I and made less. A movie needs a heart. That means actors of the level of Ed Norton, who care enough to tell you when you can do better. And you need a head of production, who is not so full of himself, that he is actually capable of listening, and letting the director do what he is paid to do, which is make the decisions on set, and make the best film he possibly can.

Which, again, brings us back to Branagh.

I do think it was a great idea, recent films notwithstanding, to hire Kenneth Branagh for the THOR film.

For my money they could not have chosen a better director to get people excited about this film. Branagh’s name, and his Shakespearean Pedigree, brings an air of legitimacy, that will attract people with no interest in a comic movie. People who want more from their films than CG/Video game action.

I think Branagh can deliver that.

And the cast is beyond reproach. I too was a bit up in arms by the choice of Idris Elba as a Norse God. Nothing to do with his acting, it’s understood that Idris Elba is one of the best actors of his generation, but there was some, justifiable question, about a Black guy playing a Norse God.

But I’ve seen the trailer, and it’s not just Idris, there are Asian characters as well, they are going for a whole multi-cutural feel, and I had a chance to think a bit, and especially weighed against some extremely stupid, moronic comments I read online, I can see the casting making sense.

Some less than enlightened individual (I won’t credit him, because he is undeserving of credit) posted the following (his mistakes of spelling left in), regarding Kenneth Branagh and Thor:

“if he really loved the character and world of thor he wouldnt have casted Idris Elba as Heimdall. and dont give me all this racist crap everyone here always does. Heimdall is white, the actor should be white, Norwegians are white, do you know what ancient Norwegians called black people? NOTHING because they didnt know they [frick]ING EXISTED! so go bring on your hate “

The problem with the above is it is written by someone who sees but poorly. But it helped, by its moronic and belligerent stance, clarify the problem I initially had with Idris’ casting. Yes Norwegians are white, and yes Norwegians were ignorant of Black people. But the film is not about Norwegians, it is about the Gods they worshiped.

I was hung up on this idea that Gods are extensions of the men that worship them. In short we make them up, so they should look like those who worship them.

But here in this fiction, Gods are real tangible things. Which means they are not extensions of the limitations of men, therefore our definitions of them, encompass them but poorly. And let us assume Gods are not as limited or ignorant as men. Let us assume the Gods the Norwegians prayed to, were real gods, of real colors, and that they were not ignorant. That they were the real spacefaring fact, behind the Norwegians flawed and biased fantasy, and the Norwegians being only human made in their own image… those who were not of their image.

Same way even today Hollywood portrays Nubian Queens with Elizabeth Taylor, or Black Scouts with John Wayne. Or for that matter the way churches still propogate the idea of a white Jesus Christ, of the straight hair and the blue eye, which goes contrary to his description in the bible. So let us assume the ancient Norwegians were as close-minded when recounting their tales of Gods and heroes as modern day man. Were as willing to whitewash the truth.

Now I’m saying all this without having read the script, or having seen anything more than the trailer, but just throwing out some ways the casting of Asiatics and Nubians could work.

So yeah, I can totally see that these Gods adopted by the ancient Norwegians, were not then, nor now, Norwegian. They were Gods, or Advanced Aliens ( The Trailer looks like they may be going for that), they don’t have Norwegian names, Norwegians adopted their names. and as such the multicutural cast works fine.

So if you go into the movie, with that perspective, it works fine. But I can definitely see how initially that casting, sans anytype of explanation like what I just gave you, could cause issues.

I personally have a bit of an issue, everytime I see a White person playing an Ancient Egyptian/Nubian. And I would have similar issues seeing a Black person playing a historical Norwegian. However if we accept my previous hypothesis that the Gods (Aliens) are not the men, and the Men are not the Gods, you know a nifty scifi explanation, then I can work with it.

Going back to Elba for a second and the heat he has been taking; he’s an actor, it is not his job to justify the roles he chooses to accept, it is his job to do those roles credit. And Elba has made a career of doing that job well.

So any questions, concerns shouldn’t be directed at him in the first place, but the filmmakers. And I’m confused why Elba is the only one getting heat. As I pointed out, he is not the only actor of color cast in this film as a ‘Norse’ God, however he’s the only actor to get any grief about it. So I would say… back off. Those issues need to be taken up with the producers, not the actors.

Anyhow, Marvel Studios, Branagh, I gave you guys a way to make this casting right for the complainers. You can put my check in the mail. :)

Okay I hope I’ve put that argument to rest.

I am looking forward to the THOR movie. Based on the trailer, and Branagh’s track record with the dramatic and Shakespearean I think it will be a good film, and I definitely think it will make money. At least as much as IRON MAN II. My only concern is the budget of these Marvel Studio’s films. I think with budgets of 150million and 200million, you have to do a lot more to make a sizeable return on that investment. I think from a business standpoint if they could bring these films in for 100million or under, it would take a lot of pressure off of needing the film to crack 300 million domestically.

Now the question is could they bring it in and still get the quality actors and directors, and special effects? Well Look at DISTRICT 9, that was done relatively affordably and it looks great. So I would think it can be done. Of course, I guess being backed by Disney these days, money is no object for Marvel Studios.

Though I tend to think extravagance, for extravagance sake, does not usually translate into great film-making. Look at TERMINATOR 3. Very expensive film at the time, pales in comparison to the first two films.

So in summation, very excited for a good THOR film, and more than that I’m excited for a strong showing from Branagh. Here’s hoping we get both.

The return of UNDER THE RADAR Vol2 Issue 2! Part 1 of 2!

“Must we start every sup, with who we love and who we don’t?” —Peter O’Toole in the LION IN WINTER


Okay it’s that time again. My recommendation for comic books/graphic novels to preorder now for January 2011 arrival.

If while going though the below list you see any titles that you want to purchase current or backissues of go

here.

But first, what is UNDER THE RADAR?

UNDER THE RADAR was an experiment I started a while ago that I was quite proud of. Basically a very cool PDF I launched out to comic book retailers and fans to highlight titles you would otherwise miss, or get lost in the deluge from bigger publishers flooding the market.

It was fun, and very intensive, and very time consuming, so when time became an issue it fell by the wayside.

But I notice my old UNDER THE RADAR posts get a lot of hits, and even though a lot of people are doing preview podcasts (audio/radio-like programs dedicated to recommending items to preorder), those can be quite time consuming, when what most people are looking for is a quickly viewed list of recommended items they might otherwise miss.

So with that in mind, UNDER THE RADAR is back, but in a FAR simpler format. No PDF, no long diatribes. just a monthly listing of new titles to preorder or be on the lookout for.

Okay without further ado, this is a list of titles you can preorder this month through your local retailer for January 2011 arrival.


Marvel

No letters pages, no back matter, ads breaking up the story.

All these odd decisions from Marvel give no incentive to buy marvel issues monthly. Seemingly, they don’t care enough to give you a something beyond what you would get in the trade paperback, a real sense of a Stan Lee dialog, or sense of a monthly behind the scenes look at the creative process, so generally I say eff em. I’m talking about the publishing policies and policy makers of Marvel, not generally the creators, (as marvel has some great creators, but perhaps in service of not the greatest decision makers) but rather the lackluster way the creations are fed to you.

So even though Marvel floods the market with well over a hundred titles a month, their policies make it very easy to dismiss most of them from purchase consideration. The exceptions for this month?

$4.99 INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #500

Written by MATT FRACTION Art & 50/50 Covers by SALVADOR LARROCA Variant Covers by MARKO DJURDJEVIC, JOE QUESADA & JOHN ROMITA JR. GIANT-SIZED ANNIVERSARY ISSUE! Three generations of Starks face their ultimate foe, seventy-some years in the future while, in the present, Spider-Man joins Iron Man as he tries to fill in the blanks of his missing memory. What if amnesia was a weapon? What if the smartest man in the land had ten nightmares that all came true? Who is the son of Tony Stark? What’s inside of the rings? The future starts now, for the Marvel Universe’s favorite futurist. The Eisner-award-winning series makes a four-hundred-something-issue leap and raises a glass of non-alcoholic champale in salute to Ol’ Shell-head! By Matt Fraction (THOR, UNCANNY X-MEN, CASANOVA) and Salvador Larroca (UNCANNY X-MEN, FANTASTIC FOUR), with special guests Howard X, Y and Z! 104 PGS./Rated A …$4.99

100 pgs for $5. Not great, but I do like what Matt Fraction is doing with this book. Hopefully it isn’t full of reprints to pad out the page count, but figure the odds of that. A lukewarm recommendation.

* Marvel had a couple interesting trades, but their pricing is outrageous. For 4 and 5 issues of content they are trying to charge $20 to $30 for a collected edition, trade, or hc. Which basically boils down to them trying to charge you between $4 and $6 per issue collected. To that I say, hell no. A trade should, with rare eceptions, be no more than $2 per issue collected. So if you are only collecting 4 issues you’re only going to get $8 from me. And if it costs more than that you get nothing from me.

So Marvel trades get nothing from me this month.

*I’m interested in Matt Fraction’s THOR but not interested enough to pay $4 an issue, they can keep it.

$1.95 (save $1.04) THUNDERBOLTS #152
Written by JEFF PARKER Penciled by KEV WALKER Cover by GREG LAND The T-Bolts leap into HULK’s “Scorched Earth”! At the request of Steve Rogers, Luke Cage must take his hardened team to deal with a doomsday scenario unleashed in the pages of HULK! And now that the squad is a man short, Cage finally uses his power to recruit another prisoner to duty–and his pick will shock you! Will the Thunderbolts accept this new member as a part of their force? Or will this heavy duty wild card destroy the balance of power? Find out in the series that Newsarama.com’s Best Shots calls “The Avengers title that not enough people are raving about…it’s one of the best of the bunch.” 32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99 (preview artwork is available)

The reason I’m picking up this title is it has potential, it has Luke Cage:Power Man (They need to go back to calling him that), Jeff Parker is a good writer, storyline sounds like a good jumping on point, and the price is $2.99. So to keep me picking it up monthly they’ll need to add letterpages or backmatter, or I’ll be hopping off of it relatively soon.

$2.99 BLACK PANTHER MAN WITHOUT FEAR #514

Written by DAVID LISS Penciled by FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA Cover by SIMONE BIANCHI Luke Cage guest stars as T’Challa’s new adventure in NYC continues! The former King of Wakanda has sworn to protect the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen, and while battling the mob is one thing, how does he stop a killer targeting innocent people? It’s a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, as T’Challa hunts ruthless new crime lord Vlad the Impaler, while Vlad concocts a desperate and bloody scheme to entrap the mysterious new vigilante that’s ruining his plans. T’Challa learns what it really means to be a man without fear, courtesy of award-winning thriller novelist David Liss and the pulp-tastic art of Francesco Francavilla! 32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

I think without argument Christopher Priest’s take on the Black Panther was the essential take, and Marvel’s use of this character since, has been in the shadow of that great run. And good writers not withstanding, Hudlin and Mayberry, I think it suffers from idiotic editorial decisions. Petty decisions intent, for whatever reason, on dismantling a great character. A female Black Panther? Really? That was someone’s stab at a good idea? Just indicative of the sabotaging type editorial decisions that have plagued this character.

The post-Priest series suffering from gimmics rather than gusto.

However with T’Challa back in the suit, if only in the DAREDEVIL title, I’m hoping this will be a good jumping on point. I’d love to see an entertaining, respectful run with this character. I’m unfamiliar with David Liss, but he has sense enough to toss Luke Cage:Power Man in here, and that means I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, and willing to support, until they prove otherwise.

From Marvels ICON Line

$3.99 CASANOVA GULA #1 (OF 4)

Written by MATT FRACTION Art & Cover by FABIO MOON CASANOVA is back. Or is he? Actually Casanova is gone. Gone from space, gone from time. The burning question WHEN IS CASANOVA QUINN hangs over the entire world as E.M.P.I.R.E. and W.A.S.T.E. alike race toward the horrible, inevitable, answer…The second staggering volume of CASANOVA starts here by the Eisner-laden team of Matt Fraction (THOR, UNCANNY X-MEN, THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN) and Fabio Moon (DAYTRIPPER, SUGARSHOCK) taking over art duties. Never before collected! Never before reprinted! Never before understood! In gorgeous full 4-D psychocolor! Worth a million in prizes! Change your shorts, change your life, change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy! Guaranteed!* *not actually guaranteed 40 PGS./Mature Content …$3.99


No ads breaking up the story, and loads of backmatter, and additional pages. So it’s me getting more bang for my buck, plus it’s Matt Fraction’s CASANOVA.

$14.99 CASANOVA TP LUXURIA VOL 1

Written by MATT FRACTION Penciled by FABIO MOON & GABRIEL BA Cover by GABRIEL BA Meet Casanova Quinn: prodigal son of a law-and-order family hell-bent on keeping the world safe and sound, now blackmailed into betraying his father and the international law enforcement organization he controls. LUXURIA collects the first volume of CASANOVA as its titular star transforms from devil-may-care thrill-seeker into the most dangerous man in the world. What happens when the ultimate player gets played? Find out in this genre-bending sci-spy epic. Gorgeously re-colored and re-lettered by hand, this staggering psychedelic spy-fi epic is collected for the first time as it was meant to be made. By the Eisner award-winning team of Matt Fraction (INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, THOR, UNCANNY X-MEN), Gabriel Ba (UMBRELLA ACADEMY, BPRD: 1947), and Fabio Moon (DAYTRIPPER, SUGARSHOCK). With all-new, all-different, never-before-seen bonus material! Collecting CASANOVA: LUXURIA #1-4112 PGS./Mature …$24.99 152 PGS./Mature …$14.99

And speaking of CASANOVA we also have the CASANOVA trade. At $15 and being a collection of bigger ICON issues, the price point is a doable exception.

$3.50 INCOGNITO BAD INFLUENCES #4

BY ED BRUBAKER AND SEAN PHILIPS WITH COLORS BY VAL STAPLES Zack Overkill has plunged into the super-criminal underworld on a deadly mission that’s made him question everything. Now he’s come face-to-face with his target, and things just got a hell of a lot worse. And so with every issue, our Professor of Pulp Culture, Jess Nevines is back with another great essay on forgotten pulp history, available only in the single issues of INCOGNITO. INCOGNITO, BAD INFLUENCES #4 -32 PGS/Mature Content/Np Ads … $3.50

It’s always good to see the CRIMINAL team of Brubaker and Philips releasing another issue.

Uhh, yeah and that’s all for Marvel.


DC

All the negatives I said for Marvel, goes for DC as well. Which makes it easy to disregard most of the 100 or so books they put out every month. It’s stupid, confusing, greedy, and ultimately just off-putting to have 20 different Bat Titles. You should have just 2. BATMAN, and one 100page anthology called BATMAN FAMILY. Boom, job done. And until they do this it makes it very easy for me to buy none of their titles. Thanks. :).

The exceptions?

$2.99 POWER GIRL #20

Written by JUDD WINICK Art and cover by SAMI BASRI Racing headlong into the adventure and turmoil of GENERATION LOST, Power Girl is hot on the trail of Max Lord – seeking answers and looking for payback. But a trip to Project Cadmus leaves her with a bit more than she can handle, and monstrously outnumbered. On sale JANUARY 19 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

The one big difference between Marvel and DC is in terms of art. For the most part Marvel has frigging kick ass artists and cover design, and no doubt this is due to two of the companies driving forces, Quesada and Bendis, being great artists in their own right. DC to be kind, with a few exceptions (such as the great and innovative art of Perez or Quietly), underwhelms. DC’s covers and interiors are typically a bland, uninteresting house style; and in a medium that lives and dies on art, that’s not a good thing.

And when they do get a decent artist, like Simone Bianchi, seemingly the suits are too inane or cheap to keep them, and Marvel ends up offering the artist a better deal.

Which brings us to Sam Basri.

I touched on this in the last UNDER THE RADAR, Sam Basri is one of the few absolutely amazing artists that DC has working for them. His sense of cover design on the POWER GIRL series has been blowing me away. They really are works of art by themselves, and is one of the main reasons I’m picking up this series in individual issues rather than waiting for the trade. He really is one of DCs best artists, and the company really needs to realize this and pay him accordingly, or they’ll find him working for their competition in no time. :) .

$2.99 SPIRIT #10

Written by DAVID HINE Art by MORITAT Cover by LADRONN Roscoe Kalashnikov was sure he could get away with murder – and in a town as corrupt as Central City, maybe he could. But if that’s so, why do his victim’s words still haunt him? She said something about “the spirit of justice” and now, around every corner, Roscoe is seeing a flash of trench coat and the briefest glimpse of a masked man… On sale JANUARY 19 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

David Hine on a SPIRIT comic? I’m intrigued. David Hine is a really good writer.

$2.99 THUNDER AGENTS #3

Written by NICK SPENCER Art by CAFU & BIT and HOWARD CHAYKIN Cover by CHRIS SPROUSE The new hit series by Nick Spencer (ACTION COMICS, Morning Glories) and CAFU continues! Think the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are a messed-up team? Wait until you learn the secrets of the evil organization known as Spider! This issue promises twists, turns and a sequence illustrated by the legendary Howard Chaykin! On sale JANUARY 12 * 32 pg, FC $2.99 US

I’m hearing good things about this Nick Spenser, so this issue may be worth a look.

$2.99 LOONEY TUNES #194

Written by BILL MATHENY Art by DAVID ALVAREZ Cover by SCOTT GROSS Beaky Buzzard is hungry. He thinks he’s found a nice meal in Daffy Duck, but the wacky bird has another suggestion: Bugs Bunny. So just who will be feeding the hungry buzzard family? A hint: It won’t be the ever-cool Bugs! Poor Beaky doesn’t stand a chance… On sale JANUARY 5 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

$2.99 TINY TITANS #36

Written by ART BALTAZAR & FRANCO Art and cover by ART BALTAZAR Titans to the center of the Earth! Terra uses her powers to take the “hot” Titans on the journey of a lifetime. And if Terra is involved, you know Beast Boy isn’t far behind! Don’t forget the sunscreen and the bottled water, and watch out for the Sea Trap of Doom! On sale JANUARY 19 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

I’ve started looking for books that I can give to younger readers. The above seem to fit the bill.

$2.99 ACTION COMICS #897

Written by PAUL CORNELL Art by PETE WOODS Cover by DAVID FINCH & BATT The last place Lex Luthor expected his quest for the Black Lantern energy to take him was Arkham Asylum – specifically to the cell of The Joker! What clues about Lex’s quest could The Joker have to offer, and why on Earth would Lex trust him? Get ready for a one-of-a-kind confrontation between comics’ two greatest villains, as brought to you by the twisted minds of Paul Cornell and Pete Woods! On sale JANUARY 26 * 32 pg, FC $2.99 US

$2.99 STEEL #1

Written by STEVE LYONS Art by SEAN CHEN Cover by ALEX GARNER John Henry Irons is a normal human being who managed to overcome all odds and become a hero who Superman considers a peer and colleague. What kind of determination drives a man to reach such heights? Find out here as a battered and bruised Steel defiantly stands as the only thing between Metallo and the destruction of Metropolis! Doctor Who novelist Steve Lyons and artist Sean Chen (ACTION COMICS, SALVATION RUN) deliver a story that shows why Steel is a true DC Universe icon! ONE-SHOT * On sale JANUARY 5 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

Great solicitation. Plus I really like the character of Steel.

*I’ve heard good things about Lemire’s SUPERBOY, but I’ve seen the art, and it just doesn’t work for me. May try it later in trade.

$2.99 SUPERGIRL #60

Written by NICK SPENCER Art by BERNARD CHANG Cover by AMY REEDER & RICHARD FRIEND SUPERGIRL welcomes aboard writer Nick Spencer (JIMMY OLSEN, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS, Morning Glories) and artist Bernard Chang (WONDER WOMAN, SUPERMAN) for a Girl of Steel story unlike any other! Someone is trying to kill the young heroes of the DC Universe! Who is this villain, and how can Supergirl stop him? Maybe her friends can help – namely, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Miss Martian, Static and…Robin?! Buckle up, folks, because this one puts the pedal to the metal on page one and doesn’t let up for a second! On sale JANUARY 19 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

Two things are getting me to give this a try, Nick Spenser and Static.

$2.99 HOUSE OF MYSTERY #33

Written by MATTHEW STURGES Art by WERTHER DELL’EDERA and DAVID LLOYD Cover by ESAO ANDREWS Since the Pair of the Conception first chased Fig Keele into the House of Mystery, Fig has never known who they were or what they wanted from her. Now, Fig solves a mystery that’s been lingering since the very beginning. Featuring a tale illustrated by David Lloyd (V FOR VENDETTA)! On sale JANUARY 5 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US MATURE READERS

Probably not the best place to jump in, but I’m intrigued, and have been meaning to pick this up.

Wow, I’m actually quite surprised how many DC comics I recommend this month. I guess their price drop has helped their titles to become more attractive, or at least most justifiable of the expense. Well that’s all for this installment. Catch me tomorrow for part 2 of this, and the remaining titles I recommend. Don’t miss it, as that’s where the good stuff is.