Does the Avengers movie move mean death?

In a surprising move, Marvel Studios has announced the release of its next film, Avengers: Infinity War, will be moving up a week, abandoning the traditional First weekend in May slot for an April 27 launch date It’s great! It’s wonderful! And the more I think about it, the more certain I am that this means somebody is going to die.

ininity war group

Marvel, of course, has teased us with the possibility that someone major might die in this movie for quite some time. And in the interest of suspense, it’s always best to leave that window open, because if your heroes are never in real peril it’s harder to get caught up in the action. But the films of the MCU have a track record almost as bad as their comic book counterparts when it comes to keeping the good guys below ground. Agent Coulson was resurrected on TV, Nick Fury came back before the movie in which he died even ended, and although Groot is technically dead, he was replaced with an offspring similar enough that a lot of people evidently didn’t even realize they were two different organisms.

“Sure, death in superhero movies is cheap, Blake. And the price of bacon just keeps going up! So what? What does that have to do with the release date?” Well, if you’d stop interrupting my blog posts with your bizarre pork-based analogies, I’ll tell you.

I think it comes down to Rotten Tomatoes and The Walking Dead. Oh, and also Europe.

I should probably explain. A large number of the MCU movies have opened in Europe a week earlier than they have in the US. This hasn’t really been a big deal, except for the occasional communique from across the pond that threatens to reveal information about a film that has yet to be glimpsed by American eyes. For most of the Marvel movies, these posts haven’t been anything of Earth-shattering importance:

“Zendaya is Mary Jane!” — Rumors That Have Been Circulating For Months Quarterly

“Blimey, that Black Panther is a bit of all right!” — Cockney Stereotype Magazine

“Yondu is Mary Poppins, y’all!” — Out of Context Quotes Online

But what if Infinity War has something that truly is of monumental importance to the MCU? What if, for example, Steve Rogers were to die? It’s certainly possible. Chris Evans’s contract is up and the MCU already has two other characters running around who have replaced him as Captain America in the comics at one point or another. It’s possible, I think, that they decided to close the gap in release dates because they knew there was no way to keep that secret (or a similar one) under wraps once the film hits the theaters in the UK, so they needed to make things mesh up.

Is it that big a deal, though, if the movie gets spoiled? After all, studios keep touting studies that indicate spoilers actually enhance people’s enjoyment of media, even though that’s completely insane and the people who did these studies are clearly misdosing themselves on cold medication. It’s why trailers have all the best stuff in them. It’s why casting news blurts out surprises you’d rather not know way ahead of time. It’s why Marvel and DC Comics keep announcing what’s happening in tomorrow’s comics in today’s edition of USA Today and it makes me want to kick them in their collective shins. So wouldn’t word leaking out that Steve Rogers is taking the big dirt nap, logically, improve the performance of Infinity War?

Of course not, and the studio knows it, and frankly I think this whole thing proves that they know the “spoilers make movies better” thing is a load of horseshit they use to justify leaking out just enough to try to draw in people who otherwise wouldn’t see the movie while simultaneously pissing off those of us who would rather see it for ourselves.

Over the past year or two, a lot has been made about Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator site that some people say has taken on such prominence that it can influence the performance of a movie. I’m not one of those who would go so far as to say that Rotten Tomatoes should be shut down (I like that First Amendment the way it is, after all), but I do believe that we’ve seen its work — movies that had strong buzz crashing and burning after they release their sacred percentage, DVD cases and shelves clamoring to add that “certified fresh” sticker, and most importantly, a legion of nerds on the Internet slinging around a movie’s RT score as if it was some objective measure of quality, which it isn’t. Frankly, I find the notion of using a RT score to determine a film’s worth without watching it yourself utterly absurd, but I would never deny that it’s become a force in the industry.


walking deadIn the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, Chandler Riggs’s character Carl was revealed to have been bitten by a walker. This was followed by a few months of cries, outrage, and death threats against showrunner Scott Gimple, many of them made by the same people on the internet who wouldn’t shut up about how much they hated Carl a year ago. I kid (sort of), but it’s a testament to how good an actor Chandler Riggs is that he took a character that was a meme synonymous with the obnoxious child in a life-or-death situation and turned him into someone that fans were genuinely upset to see die. And in fact, he did die in the midseason premiere last weekend… which suffered record-low ratings for the show.

I’m not saying the reason the ratings plunged is because people were angry that Carl died, but let’s face it, the reason the ratings plunged is because people were angry that Carl died. And this was after they had a couple of months to calm down and allow cooler heads to prevail.

Now apply this same logic to the MCU. What if people knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Steve Rogers was going to die in Infinity War. It’s not a tease, it’s not a possibility, I heard it from a guy in England that this is absolutely what happens in this movie. Sure, some people (myself included) would see the movie no matter what, but isn’t it possible that a lot of those same people who walked out in anger over Carl would boycott Infinity War if they heard the news? Enough of them to tank the movie’s all-important opening weekend numbers? (The fact that a movie’s fate is decided by the take of a single weekend is even more absurd than the fact that it is decided by a review aggregator, but that’s another conversation entirely.)

Please keep in mind, nothing I’m saying here should be construed as a condemnation of Infinity War. I obviously haven’t seen it and don’t know any more about it than you do, but I love what the Russo Brothers did in their two Captain America movies and I’m excited as hell to see what they do with the whole of the MCU as their playground. But I do think that this is a case where Marvel saw the writing on the wall and decided to get ahead of it.

Thanks to my lovely wife, Erin, for casually asking me why I thought they changed the release date and inadvertently inspiring this whole post. I’m sure she’s glad she had to go to work and didn’t have to listen to me thinking this all out loud.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.


Three Wishes: Frexit

DisfoxFor most of 2017, it feels like we’ve been strapped into Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and forbidden from getting off (the Haunted Mansion just taunting us in the distance, people casually chomping on Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, enormous turkey legs, and Dole Whips while we starve to death in our carts… man, I’ve got to stop writing these things before lunch). And just when you thought it couldn’t get crazier, after weeks of rumors and negotiations, it seems all but certain that the Fox company is ready to sell off its entertainment branches to the Walt Disney Corporation and Shadow Government. This is a huge deal with massive implications for many aspects of media and popular culture, and frankly, I’m not in the mind to talk about all of them considering how many poop-filled diapers I’ve had to deal with lately.

Disney has been an acquisition machine for years now, gobbling up Pixar, then the Muppets, then Marvel and Lucasfilm. Let’s face it, they’re one Walmart merger away from total world domination. And certainly, with the Fox entertainment properties under the Disney roof, a lot of things would change. But there are a million thinkpieces out there about that. Instead, let’s take a minute to mention a couple of the things I hope don’t change too much with the new Disney-Fox Global Consortium firmly in place.

1. The autonomy of the 20th Century Fox movie studio: Fox is one of the grand old dames of the movie business, having been around since 1935 and giving us hundreds of classic, timeless, unforgettable films, and also James Cameron’s Avatar. Disney, of course, has its own cinematic pedigree. The big difference here is that Fox’s films have run the gamut of genre and audience types. The Disney brand, however, is far more associated with family fare. Even bringing in Marvel and Star Wars hasn’t changed that dramatically — while those properties may hit an older audience than The Little Mermaid, there’s still nothing there you may be uncomfortable watching with your mom in the room.

Fox, on the other hand, gave us the likes of Aliens, Predator, Planet of the Apes, Die Hard, and hundreds of other films (both wonderful and terrible) that would be an odd fit under the Disney banner. If Disney simply folds all of these into their current operations, it seems unlikely that these franchises or others of a similar temperament would have a home. On the other hand, Disney doesn’t really have an arm that makes entertainment for older audiences anymore. Miramax was sold off a few years ago, and their Touchstone banner is basically just a distribution arm these days, not having made any films of its own in nearly a decade. If 20th Century Fox is allowed to continue, it could fill that niche in the Disney portfolio of films for older audiences.

2. Animation “Domination.” Disney, for decades, was the undisputed juggernaut of animation in film. Its television competitors — even when the likes of Hanna-Barbera created memorable characters — often paled in comparison to Disney quality. That has changed drastically in the last two decades, with Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, Universal, and — yep — Fox stepping up their game to create franchises that legitimately compete with Disney. And on TV, Fox has a foot in something that Disney has never truly dabbled in: animation for grown-ups.

The Simpsons, obviously, is the perennial classic. Futurama was even better. King of the Hill is remembered fondly, Bob’s Burgers is the current Emmy-winning darling. Family Guy is… also a thing. Hopefully, Disney won’t curtail these things or try to reshape them into the mold of their own animated properties. Things like Ducktales, Gravity Falls, Phineas and Ferb and Milo Murphy’s Law are great, but it would be a shame if the rules that govern those shows were to be shifted over to the Belcher family.

3. Fox’s Marvel Universe. Yeah, the one thing that everybody wants is to see the X-Men interact with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hugh Jackman even suggested once that doing an Avengers movie would be the only way he’d play Wolverine again. And has any superhero franchise ever needed a new approach as desperately as the Fantastic Four?

But having said that, I honestly think it’s a good thing that, when the MCU started, Marvel didn’t have all of their big guns under one roof. If they’d had the FF, X-Men, and Spider-Man, do you think Marvel’s first film would have been Iron Man? Hell no. They played with the toys that were left in the box, and as a result, they did something excitingly different that has paid off in spades. If they could have made an X-Men movie, would they have gambled on something like the Guardians of the Galaxy? Would we have seen Ant-Man or Dr. Strange on the screen? It seems highly unlikely.

And on the other side, look at the X-Men films. Okay, Wolverine and Deadpool are popular enough that they could have probably landed their own movies eventually. But at present, Fox does two or three X-Men films a year. So does the MCU. If they’re all folded under one banner, that’s likely to halve the output. Those same three guys on the internet who keep complaining that there are too many superhero movies will probably be thrilled, of course, but what about the rest of us? With the MCU only having room for one X-movie a year, would we get weird things like the upcoming New Mutants movie (which, as per the trailer, seems more like a horror film than a superhero movie), or the Madrox film with James Franco that was just announced? No, not every Fox X-Men film has been gold, but I think it’s worth the risk of the occasional clunker to have the chance to do things like Logan, which would never fit into the MCU.

The best-case scenario, I think, would be for an arrangement similar to the Marvel/Sony deal for Spider-Man, where crossover is allowed, but each company (or in this case, each Disney subsidiary) is mostly allowed to do its own thing.

As always, though, this is just me spitballing. What actually happens with all of this is going to be up to 2018 to decide. May it be a little tamer than its predecessor, because I for one couldn’t take 2017 all over again.

At the Movies Episode 56: Spider-Man Homecoming

After stealing the show in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland returns for his first solo outing as Marvel Comics’s signature webslinger in Spider-Man: Homecoming. How does he stack up to the two previous cinematic Spiders? How does he fit into the MCU? And is it wrong to find Aunt May kinda hot?

And what’s cool this week? Kenny wants everyone to hunt down some cool stuff on Patreon, Jason is already missing the wrapped-for-the-season Silicon Valley, and Blake recommends the first issue of IDW’s Clue!

At the Movies Episode 56: Spider-Man Homecoming

At the Movies Episode 52: Doctor Strange

After a long (and unplanned) hiatus, Blake, Erin, and Kenny are back to review the latest Marvel film, Doctor Strange. How does Scott Derrickson’s film live up to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s second-most-famous creation? Does Benedict Cumberbatch earn a place among the MCU’s greats? And will Blake ever learn to pronounce Chiwetel Ejiofor?

And what’s cool this week? Kenny is all about The Flash Season 3, Erin is reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and Blake’s unabashed love for DC Rebirth continues with Flash #9.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

At the Movies Episode 52: Doctor Strange

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.

At the Movies Episode 48: Ant-Man

It may be Marvel’s biggest risk yet — this week the Showcase crew discusses how Ant-Man stacks up against the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Is it too little, too late, or will this be the movie to prove that good things come in small packages?

And what’s cool this week? In what may be the most diverse array of choices ever, Erin is in the midst of an X-Files rewatch, Jason recently discovered the classic The Manchurian Candidate, Mike is finishing a read of Jamie Delano’s Animal Man, and Blake just binged the sitcom Holliston.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

At the Movies Episode 48: Ant-Man

Ant-Man Poster

One-Shot #19: Beginning to Converge

Blake is back! After a short discussion of his absence, and a sincere thank-you to those who helped raise his spirits during his hospital stay, we get into the first week of DC’s Convergence event. What happens when the heroes of DC’s pre-Flashpoint universe encounter those from other worlds? Wally West! A pregnant Lois Lane! Captain Carrot! There’s good stuff here, guys.

And what’s cool this week? Only two episodes in, Blake is totally won over by Marvel’s first Netflix series, Daredevil.

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

One-Shot #18: A Spider in Disney’s Web

Shocking the world, this week Disney and Sony announced an unprecedented arrangement to bring Spider-Man home to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this mini-episode, Blake talks about what it means for the future of Spidey, for the MCU, and how another property that was recently relaunched with a successful film, then followed up by a disappointing sequel, may be just the thing to combine with Spider-Man.

And what’s cool this week? Spider-Verse wraps up in Amazing Spider-Man #14 and 1000 years of history are on display in Justice League 3000 #14

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

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?