Learning the Wrong Lessons From Deadpool

Deadpool Movie PosterIn case you somehow missed it, the Deadpool movie was released last weekend and immediately began shattering box office records: best February opening of all time, best opening ever for an R-rated movie, best opening ever for a first-time director (that’d be Tim Miller), and it came in third in the swimsuit competition. And of course, as always, the movie industry began to thoughtfully and meticulously scrutinize the film’s success to determine what qualities helped it reap the bounty, then implement carefully-considered strategies to create new content that may also be prosperous for the studios.

Ha! I’m kidding, of course. No, the movie studios immediately concluded that the American public wants superhero movies to be full of F-words and Ryan Reynolds’s ass. So today, in what could easily be the first in an infinite series of columns, I would like to discuss how 20th Century Fox – and probably every other major studio – has completely missed the point of what made Deadpool kick butt.

Let’s start with what is probably the least significant part of its success: the timing. Like I said, Deadpool’s $135 million broke the record for the highest February opening of all time. But look at the competition: Zoolander 2, the sequel nobody asked for, and How to Be Single, a movie built around Rebel Wilson playing the only character she ever plays, and who wasn’t even entertaining the first time she did it. That’s not to say Deadpool wasn’t a good movie – in fact, that’s my whole point. January and February, traditionally, have been cinematic graveyards where studios try to bury movies they don’t think anybody will want to see in a season where they don’t think people want to go to the movies. I’ve long believed this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not that people don’t want to go to the movies in February, it’s that the studios don’t give them movies worth watching. Deadpool demonstrates that if you make a movie people want to see, they’ll come out to see it no matter when it is released.

WolverineAnd that brings us to the second question: why was Deadpool a movie people wanted to see? The blood? We have the news for that. The nudity? We have the Internet. The profanity? We have public high schools. All of these are easy answers, and all of these are wrong. And yet, when Fox immediately followed the box office number announcement by saying the third Wolverine movie will be rated R, they’re essentially saying that’s the reason that Deadpool worked. This is incredibly small-minded.

(To be fair, making an R-rated Wolverine was at least under discussion as far back as the first solo movie starring the character. It’s not a new idea. But man, they made sure to let everybody know that after the weekend box office closed, didn’t they?)

The reason those elements worked in Deadpool is because all of the hyper-violence and irreverent dialogue helped to create a tone that is faithful to the character. We didn’t want to see violence, necessarily, we just wanted to see the Deadpool we love. In fact, I’m going to be a little controversial here: I don’t even think Deadpool needed to be an R-rated movie. I don’t mind that it was, I very much enjoyed it, but despite what a lot of people seem to think the majority of his comic book appearances have not been full of F-bombs and boobs. (Sure, the violence is there, but the MPAA is way less concerned with violence than sex or language. Chop off all the limbs you want, but God forbid you show a nipple.)

What are they going to do in an R-rated Wolverine movie that will make it better than the first two? Curse more? The word he’s most associated with in the comics is “bub.” Bury him in naked women? Wolverine’s romantic relationships are classically tortured. Sure the fighting may be more explicit, but does anybody really think X-Men Origins: Wolverine would have been a good movie if only they showed more blood when Hugh Jackman cut off Ryan Reynolds’s head?

Superman the MovieThe best superhero movies (and in fact, most of the best adaptations of any kind) are those that maintain the spirit and feel of the source material: Richard Donner’s Superman, the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe work for precisely this reason. People who have read about a character for years – decades even – don’t want to see a version of a character whipped up by committee, they want to see the version they love. (This, of course, will cause debate when a character has been around long enough that there are multiple valid interpretations, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Compare that to the most epic failure of recent years, the 2015 Fantastic Four. The movie takes a comic whose best stories are about a family of explorers and turns them into a militarized unit who barely share any screen time. Director Josh Trank maintains that studio meddling sank his movie. I tend to think that when the director reportedly tells his actors not to read the comics the movie is based on, there isn’t much more a studio can do to screw it up.

Batman-The Killing 1Let’s not forget that tone is dependent on the individual story as well. There was a lot of buzz last year when the producers of the upcoming Batman: The Killing Joke animated movie announced they were given permission by the studio to go for an R-rated film. It doesn’t have to be, but this is the story that forever entrenched the Joker as a true icon of evil. Gone was the bank robbing clown of the Silver Age – now he was a horrific, unhinged psychopath acting out on a twisted fixation with Batman by torturing his friends. It would be hard to tell that story faithfully and still maintain a PG-13. But that doesn’t mean a Ben Affleck Batman movie or an animated version of the first appearance of Bat-Mite should suddenly be rated R.

All of this is to say that, yes, you probably could make a good R-rated Wolverine movie, but it won’t be good because it’s rated R. The other elements need to be there too.

But what about all of the people who enjoyed Deadpool but don’t read comics? They don’t know if the depiction on screen is faithful to the comic book, and most of them wouldn’t care if they did. So why did they come out in force to see this movie? For one thing, of course, the marketing campaign was as brilliant as the marketing for John Carter was abysmal, but good marketing will only get you so far. People also liked the movie. Why? Obviously, the answer for each individual person will differ, but if I were to venture a guess for the majority, I would say it’s because it’s something different. Look, I would be perfectly happy all day long if they just took the scripts of my favorite comics and put them on screen in front of me, but I also know I’m a 10th-level nerd and what I want probably doesn’t apply to the public at large.

Spider-Man BittenWhat does apply, however, is that people get tired of seeing the same thing. Origin stories, for example. Not just comic fans, but viewers in general are done with origin stories. Nobody needs to see Krypton blow up, Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down, or Peter Parker bitten by a spider ever again. We get it.

Even with less iconic characters, origin stories are largely unnecessary at this point. If a character in a movie is a cop, a firefighter, or a baseball player, people don’t demand we spend half the movie explaining how we get to that point before the real plot begins. Granted, superheroes follow a less conventional path than those other occupations, but at this point the public is familiar enough with the tropes that all but the most convoluted of origins can usually be dealt with in a quick flashback or a few lines of expository dialogue.

“But Blake,” you say, “Deadpool was an origin movie. Doesn’t that contradict your point?” Man, you can be kind of a jerk sometimes. But no, it doesn’t contradict my point. I said that origins are unnecessary, not that they can’t be done well. Audiences – myself included – will accept even the most tired premise if the execution is entertaining and original enough.

M Payoff 1shtAnd that brings me to the most important part of Deadpool’s success. It didn’t matter that it was an origin, because it still felt different from any other superhero movie of the last 17 years. (I consider the modern era of superhero movie to have begun with 1999’s Blade. You know, that other R-rated Marvel movie everybody seems to have forgotten about.) Look at the major successes since then. After the first few years, when superheroes were still a novelty, the biggest movies all brought something new to the table. Iron Man was cocky, witty, and did away with that secret identity jazz right away. It was unique at the time. What’s more, the after-credits stinger (another novelty in 2008) opened the doors for the then-revolutionary Marvel Cinematic Universe. That eventually led to Avengers, another mega-hit, because we had never before seen six superheroes from four different movies come together as a team. The best movies of the eight years since Iron Man all bring something different to the superhero. Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller. The Dark Knight was an epic crime drama. And none of them – even the ones that were sequels to other movies – felt like anything else we had ever seen.

SuicideSquadPoster-181c2In an odd way, this actually makes Suicide Squad the most interesting superhero movie for the rest of 2016. I’m the most die-hard Superman fan you’ll find, and I’ve been waiting to see him on screen with Batman and Wonder Woman since I learned how to read. I couldn’t be more excited for that movie. But Suicide Squad is the first time, as far as I can remember, that a superhero movie has actually starred the villains. (You could make an argument for Magneto and Mystique in the most recent X-Men movies, but the moral ambiguity in those films is so thick that nobody could hear you anyway.) We’ve seen villain-starring comics plenty of times, but it’s never really happened on screen. That means the success or failure of this movie will be one for the books. The trailer was very well-received and people seem to be excited about it.

Which means the weekend after it comes out, expect Fox to announce a new X-Factor movie, starring the classic line-up of Sabertooth, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike, Toad, and Galactus. Because they just don’t seem to get it.

What Makes the Four Fantastic

Fantastic Four 2015I have not yet seen Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four movie. Judging by the Friday box office numbers, that by no means puts me in an exclusive club. But I think I should be up-front about that, as much of what I’m about to write is a reaction to it. I know I’ll see it eventually, but after having read a number of spoiler-filled reviews, unable to look away in the same way that a passerby is unable to look away from a traffic accident, I really don’t have any inclination to spend money on it, lest anybody at 20th Century Fox erroneously think I’ve condoned their efforts. I will see it, not to “hate watch” it, as I’ve heard many people use the phrase, but so that I can offer an informed opinion of the movie… at this point, however, watching the 2015 Fantastic Four is kind of like getting a prostate exam. It’s something I know I’ll have to do sooner or later, but that doesn’t mean I have to look forward to it. Also, like a prostate exam, I intend to wait for it to come to Netflix or HBO.

Sadly, when the final weekend tally comes in on Monday morning you know that somebody is going to point at it and say this is proof that the fans don’t want to see a Fantastic Four movie. This is nonsense, of course. You can’t possibly know that until they actually make a movie that resembles the Fantastic Four. When Marvel cancelled the comic earlier this year (largely to spite Fox), the one thing I kept hearing people say was “Nobody even reads Fantastic Four anymore. Who cares?” I was the one in the back of the room, hand held up, hoping to be called on. I love this property. I love these characters. They are, in fact, one of my favorite comics of all time, second only to Superman. And I see how remarkably, beautifully simple it is to grasp those characters… but Hollywood keeps getting it wrong.

So now, friends, I’m going to explain my vision of the Fantastic Four. This is how I see these characters, why I love them, and what makes them special even beyond the fact that they are in fact Marvel’s First Family. These are the characters I want to see on screen someday, whether it’s yet another Fox reboot or a grand homecoming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These are the characters I hope will soon reinhabit the world of Marvel Comics (and I happen to know the job of writing them is currently open, so if anyone from Marvel is interested, give me a buzz). But most importantly, these are the characters that I want everyone else to finally get the chance to see.

Fantastic Four 509First and foremost, let’s think about the team itself. What is the Fantastic Four? The FF are not soldiers. Again, I haven’t seen the new movie, but I’ve read a lot about it. It’s not really fair of me to base my analysis on spoilers I’ve read on the internet, I admit that, and if I feel any differently when I finally see the movie I will gratefully write an update, but the very notion of them working on military applications of their technology is the first thing that makes me believe the tone of the movie is entirely wrong. True, many of the great superhero characters combine the tropes of that genre with those of another archetype: Batman is the superhero/detective, Thor the superhero/warrior, Superman the superhero/paladin. And there’s room for a great superhero/soldier out there. His name is Captain America.

The Fantastic Four, however, are the superhero/explorers. It’s the classic trope of the Big Brain and his team – Doc Savage, Buckaroo Banzai, even Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars all come from this archetype. You begin with a person dedicated to knowledge and surround him with people who are willing to devote their lives to helping him achieve that goal. And in that way, Mr. Fantastic is the reason the team exists.

Fantastic Four V3 52Reed’s not just an explorer, but he and his team are scientific explorers. Their purpose, their drive is based on their desire to push back the boundaries of knowledge and eradicate the unknown. Reed Richards is a man who is utterly incapable of leaving a mystery unsolved, and will pursue the answers he needs at any cost. One vital part of their origin, one that I think a lot of people forget, is that in Fantastic Four #1 Reed decides to steal the spaceship that leads to the FF gaining their powers. The man simply couldn’t live with the fact that outer space was right freaking there and he hadn’t seen it yet.

Some writers like to toy with the idea that the powers the FF developed in that cosmic ray storm were subconsciously based on their personalities. There’s no reason to spell that out in a movie, but it would be remarkably easy to present the evidence. Why did Reed gain the ability to stretch? Because he constantly seeks to expand and adapt. Because he’s always reaching in every direction at once, trying to clutch at those things that are beyond the grasp of ordinary men. He’s the smartest man in the world, but he may well forget his own wife’s birthday because he can’t stop thinking of too many things at once.

Speaking of his wife, let’s talk about Susan Storm Richards, the Invisible Woman. Sue’s place here is simple: she’s the team mom. Some people might think that term is derogatory. These people don’t know a damn thing about Sue Richards (or moms, for that matter). She’s not some Leave it to Beaver housewife, existing only to put dinner on the table, although admittedly, in the earlier years she was written as little more than that. Sue, to borrow a metaphor from Chris Claremont’s phenomenal Fantastic Four Vs. the X-Men miniseries, is like a lioness, ready to protect her mate and her cubs, and unrelentingly ferocious in doing so.

Sue Kicks AssIt’s true, she can be overshadowed at times, easily overlooked when standing next to her brilliant husband – there again is the personality-based power, the overlooked woman became literally invisible. (If there’s anything about Josh Trank’s version of the team I don’t mind it’s that Sue is a scientist in her own right, making her more of an equal partner with Reed.) But more importantly, she’s fiercely loyal and willing to risk anything to protect her husband, her brother, her children, her best friend. And what’s the secondary power developed by this woman whose prime motivation is to protect someone? A force field. A force field which can be used as a remarkable defense or as a devastating offense if you piss her off enough.

Fantastic Four 645aThen there’s her brother Johnny, the hothead. Johnny is young, brash, and impulsive. He rushes into things without thinking, craving danger and risking his own well-being in pursuit of a thrill. He’s probably the easiest member of the team to pin down: the boy who thirsts for danger becomes a man on fire, a Human Torch. (Incidentally, the fact that Johnny has probably spent his entire life stumbling into one dangerous situation after another is no doubt a major contributing factor to Sue’s unwavering commitment to defend her family.)

Ironically, the fact that he’s so easy to grasp has also made him one of the more problematic characters for writers over the years. What kind of character arc do you give a reckless, irresponsible character? You force him to grow up. And it’s been done wonderfully in the comics. Sadly, it’s been done several times. Almost every writer who has any long run on the Fantastic Four comic book has done a story arc about Johnny going through some sort of trials and coming out of it a more mature, levelheaded hero. But then the next writer eventually takes over the book and inevitably pretends none of that characterization ever happened, resetting him to the immature hothead status so he can learn to grow up all over again. Future writers need to find a different arc for Johnny. If it were me, for instance, rather than have Johnny regress to a man-child again, I’d start the story with Johnny as mature and dedicated as the previous writer left him, but then bring up some consequence of his reckless past for him to deal with. Not an illegitimate child, that’s far too clichéd, but something else – maybe a villain who wants revenge for some faux pas the young Johnny committed, something like that.

Fantastic Four 274And that leaves my favorite character, Stan and Jack’s greatest creation, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed idol of millions: Benjamin J. Grimm. The Thing. From most accounts, Ben is the hero who suffers the most in the new movie, taking orders and killing for the military. I both respect and admire the members of the armed forces, and it’s true that in the comics both Ben and Reed were originally portrayed as World War II veterans. But it was 1961, it would have been strange for an able-bodied man of his age to not have been a vet. Let’s look at who Ben Grimm is, and it’s a hell of a lot more than a pile of orange stone that can be pointed and fired like a gun.

Ben isn’t a thrillseeker or a scientist, and he certainly never had the drive to explore that Reed did. He was on that flight because his friend asked him to be. His best friend. A man who was like a brother to him – Ben risked his life not for knowledge or excitement, but out of devotion.

And look how he was repaid.

The other three all gained powers that transformed them, but their transformations were reversible. Ben’s was not. This brave, loyal man was suddenly trapped in a body of stone, unable to touch or feel, forever set off from mankind. Ben is only human – he was angry. He blamed Reed for his misfortune, and often still blames Reed for what happened to him. At times he even hated the man. But he’s always returned. The world would and has spit on Ben Grimm, but he’s always fought to save it. He could march from one end of Yancy Street to another being pelted with rotten tomatoes and broken cinder blocks, and he’ll still stand up to defend his home.

And therein lies Ben’s true tragedy. He blames Reed for his condition, but if you accept the “subconscious power” theory, it’s not Reed’s fault at all. Look at the man I described before. Can you imagine the fortitude, the courage, the determination a man like that must have? You don’t develop that overnight. You’re born with it. It’s his own fault that he became the Thing. Ben Grimm, even before the space flight, was a man with the emotional strength of a rock.

That’s who Ben Grimm is. He’s a good, decent man who will overcome every demon and conquer every doubt in the name of what’s his: his family, his street, his city, his planet. No matter how beaten and broken he is, no matter how much he hates what he has become, he will always use that burden and rage for the greater good. He is the finest, most unselfish soul you can imagine, trapped in the body of a monster.

That’s freakin’ Shakespearean there, people.

FF 2But we’re not done yet. We can’t talk about the Fantastic Four without discussing the fifth character that constantly gets screwed up in the media. We have to talk about their greatest adversary: Victor Von Doom.

Doom is, and I say this completely without hyperbole, the greatest villain in comics. Cold, ruthless, brilliant, and utterly convinced in the righteousness of his own cause. In his opinion, his attempts to conquer the world are completely justified because, in his mind, he is the most qualified person to rule it. Who better to rule the planet, after all, than the smartest man on it?

That’s not true, of course – he’s not the smartest. Reed Richards is. And thus we see the core of his hatred of the FF. Reed is smarter than Doom, everyone knows it, even Doom knows it, but he can never be allowed to admit it to himself. To save his pride he has convinced himself that Reed has cheated somehow, that he’s jealous of Doom’s superior intellect, that he has sought to sabotage him from the very beginning.

Like all great villains, Doom has a genuinely relatable motivation. He doesn’t simply want to rule, he also wants to conquer death. More specifically, he wants to save his mother’s soul from the clutches of Mephisto, the Marvel Universe equivalent of the Devil himself. His mother is burning in Hell, he wants to save her – how could anybody possibly have issue with that motivation?In fact, even Reed wouldn’t argue with that motivation. He would even be willing to help Doom save his mother, if only Doom would stop trying to kill his family and ask for help.

That will never happen, of course, because back when they were both in school together, Reed tried to point out to young Victor that his experiment was flawed and would backfire. Unable to accept that the accursed Richards could catch him in a mistake, he went ahead anyway and destroyed his face, a consequence of his own action that he has always chalked up to Reed sabotaging his experiment.

Both of Fox’s attempts at a Fantastic Four franchise went utterly wrong in their creation of Doom. They tried to make him part of the “family,” someone who gained power in the same incident that gave that power to Reed Richards and his team. It’s completely unnecessary, but movies often try to link the villain to the hero’s origin – Tim Burton’s Batman, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man… Part of it is their very insistence on making the first movie an origin story. With so much of the film already devoted to creating the heroes, it’s more economical to link the villain to their origin than give him his own. It doesn’t work, though. Even in those aforementioned movies – both of which were legitimately entertaining – the link in the origins feels like a misstep.

With Doom it goes from a misstep to an absolute calamity. Giving Dr. Doom super powers takes away from the most chillingly terrible thing about him: the fact that he’s a self-made man who has chosen to make himself into a monster. His weapons, his armor, even his mastery of sorcery all stem from his dizzying intellect.

Perhaps that’s why Hollywood keeps screwing up Doom, because his true inciting incident (saving his mother from Mephisto) stems from an acceptance of magic and spiritualism that the movies usually try to keep at arm’s length. It’s rare that a movie universe can accept both super-science and magic – even the Marvel Cinematic Universe has dressed up the gods of Asgard as highly-advanced aliens who were merely worshipped by primitive humans as gods. But with a Doctor Strange movie on the horizon, perhaps that reluctance to merge the two will finally start to crumble.

Fantastic Four 258Even if it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean that the only way to make Doom work is to link him to the origin of the Fantastic Four. You want a Dr. Doom without the magic and sorcery, but that still maintains the emotional beats of his original origin? Strap in, here it is: Instead of trying to save his mother’s soul, in this version he’s trying to save his mother’s life. From a disease – let’s say cancer, for the sake of discussion. Cynthia Von Doom in this universe has cancer, and her son is seeking a cure. Reed finds a flaw in that experiment, Victor refuses to listen, history repeats itself. Then, as he recovers from his own accident and before he can seek an alternative cure, his mother dies. He blames Reed, the circle is complete, and we have a Doctor Doom with no magic.

I mean, if you really have to go with a magic-free Doom, that is. The important thing, really, is that his hatred of Reed Richards is based in his own jealousy and pettiness. Because the greatest villain of them all is truly a petty, petty man. In fact, this is again one of the things that makes him such a magnificent villain. People always cue in on the fact that his brilliance turned to evil makes him the flip side of Reed’s coin, and that’s true, but that’s not all there is to him. In fact, Doom is a foil for all of the members of the team. Where Johnny is rash and impulsive, Doom is patient and calculating. Susan is a stalwart defender of her family, Doom is intent on conquering those in his path. Ben is the most selfless hero of them all, and Doom’s inherent greed and selfishness, his insistence on always being right, is at the core of all of his pain. (Even Reed and Sue’s son, Franklin, was smart enough to figure that out in the aforementioned Fantastic Four Vs. the X-Men.)

Fantastic Four 1The thing about great superheroes is that most of them don’t happen overnight. If you go back and read Fantastic Four #1, you’ll only see the bare skeleton of the characters I’ve described here. But over the years, as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby developed them, they grew, became fleshed out, became people. And other writers added to the mythos – John Byrne, Tom DeFalco, Mark Waid, Jonathan Hickman and many others helped sculpt these characters into true icons. There’s so much to them, so much depth and nuance to mine, that it’s a damn tragedy that the movie studios keep screwing it up. In a perfect world, the new movie would fail miserably and Fox would enter some sort of agreement to give creative control back to Marvel Studios, either by ceding them the rights entirely or by entering into some sort of shared agreement like they made with Sony over Spider-Man. At the very least, you can trust Marvel Studios to give the characters to people who understand them.

But it hasn’t happened yet. It hasn’t happened yet.

Cutting out their genes to spite their face

As I mentioned on the podcast a while back, I recently spent some time in the hospital. Without getting into all that again, I will say that the one benefit of the experience was that I lost a great deal of weight very quickly — so much so that I needed to go out and buy new clothes because a lot of my old stuff was suddenly way too big. (My wife, Erin, particularly enjoyed this part, and she picked out about 90 percent of my new wardrobe.) And, being the nerd that I am, I added a few geek shirts in my new, smaller size.

I was surprised, then, a few days ago, when I saw that one of the shirts I’d purchased has become a point of contention over at Bleeding Cool. It concerned a shirt featuring the cover art from the original Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 (yeah, that was the full title of the original series). It was part of a large purchase of shirts and pants, and I didn’t really look that closely at it until I saw the Bleeding Cool piece… then the issue with the shirt became clear.

Left: The Shirt. Right: The Comic.

Left: The Shirt. Right: The Comic.

You’ve probably already seen what I missed when I bought the shirt — the artwork has been altered. Specifically all of the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters were stripped from the image and replaced with other characters. There’s been a lot made lately about Marvel allegedly pulling back on promoting characters from those two franchises as part of a pretty bitter dispute with 20th Century Fox, who owns the movie rights (and unlike Sony, who holds Spider-Man, Marvel’s relationship with Fox appears to be pretty cold). There has been an undeniable drop in merchandise featuring these characters, a drop that is especially noticeable among the once-golden X-Men franchise, and Marvel even made a huge deal about cancelling the Fantastic Four comic in what they solicited as “the most controversial Fantastic Four story of all time”! (It wasn’t. It was actually a very good story, courtesy of James Robinson and Leonard Kirk, but there wasn’t anything remotely controversial — or even final — about it.)

But this seems a bit too far, I thought. This isn’t simply a case of not including the X-Men in their newest action figure line. This is a case of actively stripping the characters from the past and replacing them, notably, with characters that are currently in various stages of production from Marvel Studios: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Black Panther, the Inhumans, Dr. Strange… all characters who, it should be mentioned, didn’t have squat to do with the original Secret Wars.

They also cut out Captain Marvel II, Monica Rambeau, which makes no sense, unless they’re afraid that fans will somehow confuse this character (who isn’t even identified by name in the original artwork) with the current Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, currently in film pre-production. Most baffling of all however, was stripping the Wasp from the original image, but failing to remove her shadow from Captain America’s shield. Janet Van Dyne may not be appearing in the upcoming Ant-Man movie, but Evangeline Lily’s character seems poised to be a replacement of sorts.

All of this, it should be noted, not only strips the artwork of the characters not currently under the Marvel Studios banner, but it also removes four of the five women from the original artwork and replaces them with… well, zero. Marvel’s been under enough scrutiny lately for the way they’ve cut the Black Widow out of the Avengers: Age of Ultron merchandise, and its parent company Disney hasn’t been doing much better with their Star Wars line. I wondered, initially, why they wouldn’t at least put an 80s-era Black Widow picture on the new artwork, if they were going to alter it anyway, but I suppose I’ve answered my own question.

The story didn’t end there, though. Like I said, I’ve had to buy a lot of new clothes, and I actually bought a second shirt based on a piece of Secret Wars artwork. This one came from Destination XL, a shop for big boys like me. (I may be a smaller big boy than I used to be, but I’m still a big boy.) And lo and behold, when I went to examine it more closely, I found that once again Mephisto had evidently struck a deal with Kevin Feige to wipe out all trace of the FF or X-Men…

Left: The Shirt Part II. Right: The Comic Part II: The Sequel.

Left: The Shirt Part II. Right: The Comic Part II: The Sequel.

This one isn’t as immediately obvious, because the changes are smaller, but look in the lower left-hand corner. Mr. Fantastic and the Thing are no longer behind She-Hulk, resulting in a nicely comical Bulldozer hurtling through the air after having been hit by nothing. On the right we’ve still got a gout of flame, but the Human Torch is no longer inside it. And in the upper left-hand box with the character faces Marvel used to have on every cover (side note: am I the only one who misses that part of the trade dress? I wish they’d bring it back) Wolverine, Storm and the Thing have been replaced by Captain America, Hawkeye and Wonder Man (another character who had nothing to do with Secret Wars and, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t in movie talks at the moment), while Reed Richards has tellingly turned into a gaping hole that evaporates into nothingness.

From a purely business standpoint, I kind of understand what Marvel’s agenda is here. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to support a property that you can’t benefit from, so why go to the effort? But that’s in the case of new merchandise. This is a case where they’re taking pre-existing artwork and releasing it in a new form. In this instance it takes more effort to actively strip the characters from the artwork than it would to simply release it as-is. And although they won’t ever actually say such a thing it feels more and more like Marvel — at least as far as their merchandise department goes — is behaving like that kid who wants to take his ball and go home, spoiling the game for everybody else.

Episode #313: Summer Movie Preview 2015

Memorial Day Weekend is racing towards us, and that means it’s time for the annual Showcase Summer Movie Preview. Blake and Erin cruise through IMDB’s “Coming Soon” pages this week to talk about Avengers: Age of Ultron and several other movies that will not make as much money as Avengers: Age of Ultron. We go from the blockbusters-in-the-making like Jurassic World, Tomorrowland and San Andreas to movies like Trainwreck, in which the reviews seem to write themselves. Also: Erin shows her street cred and Blake bemoans the state of modern horror!

And what’s cool this week? “Wait For the Trade” reader Erin has gotten heavily into Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye, while weekly comic junkie Blake enjoyed the heck out of Convergence #2 and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode #313: Summer Movie Preview 2015

Episode 310: Six Years of Super Cinema

A few weeks ago, Warner Bros announced their slate of planned DC Comics movies through 2020. Not to be outdone, Marvel hit us with Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe a few days later. With Sony and Fox joining the fray with their licenses, there are over three dozen superhero movies in the works that we know of. This week, the Showcasers talk about the movies that have been announced — which ones are we excited for? Which ones have us a bit concerned? And which ones will surprise us if the cameras ever actually roll?

And what’s cool this week? Kenny is into the Constantine TV show, Erin is making her way through Anne Rice‘s Vampire Chronicles, and Blake gives props to Rocket Raccoon #5 and Tooth & Claw #1.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 309: The 2014 Holiday Movie Preview

As November begins, Blake and Erin sit down once again to talk about all the upcoming movies in the big holiday season. What are they looking forward to? What will they avoid like it has the Ebola? What should you see with your loved ones?

And what’s cool this week? Erin continues Diana Rowland‘s series with White Trash Zombie Apocalypse, and Blake doubles up on Fantastic Four #12 and Justice League United #1.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

BSI Comics Podcast #20: The Great Showcase/BSI Crossover

And here’s the BSI Comics Podcast half of the great Showcase/BSI Crossover! It doesn’t actually matter which one you listen to first, but we did record the BSI half before the Showcase half, and we occasionally reference the earlier conversation in the latter episode. If you’re picky about such things.

The BSI Comics Podcast #20

Episode 306: Marvel Memories (The Showcase/BSI Comics Crossover)

With Marvel’s fan-voted list of their 75 greatest stories making the rounds, Blake joins up with Adam of the BSI Comics Podcast to give their own choices for Marvel’s finest. We discuss Adam’s picks here — to hear Blake’s choices, look for this week’s BSI Comics Podcast!

And what’s cool this week? Adam is impressed by The Wicked + The Divine and Blake enjoyed the second part of Multiversity.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 303: Free Comic Book Day 2014

Free Comic Book Day has come and gone once again! Blake and Mike hang out for a while at BSI Comics talking about the available books, DC’s Showcase series, the return of Booster Gold, changes for Star Wars‘s expanded universe and May the Fourth events under the Disney Regime, and the sad passing of Efram Zimbalist, Jr. Then, Adam from the BSI Comics Podcast hangs out for a while to talk about the challenges of a weekly title, upcoming events for Marvel and DC, and one of his favorite Time Travel stories that we didn’t talk about back in Episode 272. Finally, Blake and Kenny meet up after FCBD to watch and review The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We talk in general, then give you guys a spoiler warning before we get into the nitty gritty.

And what’s cool this week? Blake had fun with the newest relaunch from Valiant Comics, Rai #1.

Didn’t get enough free stuff on FCBD? Blake’s short story Associated Pressure is free for your Amazon Kindle from now through May 6!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 303: Free Comic Book Day 2014
(left-click to listen, right-click to download)

Episode 301: The Marvel Cinematic Universe-Now What?

Now that the guys have absorbed the cataclysmic events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they’re ready to sit back and talk about how this will affect the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How is this going to change Agents of SHIELD? What’s going to be different in the Marvel movies and TV shows from now on? Where do they go from here? The guys get super-spoilery on everything Marvel has done, make predictions about the films and TV shows already in development, talk about those projects still in the rumor stage, and then give their own suggestions for what properties they’d like to see join the MCU! Plus: what other studios are trying to duplicate the MCU’s success?

And what’s cool this week? Kenny has got his hands on the complete series of Reboot on DVD, while Blake’s ears have been immersed in the new album Music Inspired By the Life and Times of Scrooge.

You’re also all invited to join Blake’s latest adventures in Twitter-based humor @SurviveEnglishC.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 301: The Marvel Cinematic Universe-Now What?