Comics

“Go. Don’t be what they made you.”

It’s always tempting, when a creator reveals themselves to be a bit of a shit, to look back on their past work and say “ah, I never liked ’em anyway”. This was certainly the case with comic book creator Frank Miller, whose politics took a hard right turn after 9/11 resulting in such works as Holy Terror, initially intended as a Batman story for DC before they dropped it like a hot, extremely Islamaphobic potato. This in turn led to many comics fans deciding that Miller had never been that good or important a comics creator to begin with. And, frankly, that’s not entirely unwarranted. Dodgy politics aside, a lot of Miller’s back catalogue simply hasn’t aged that well. There were always dodgy undercurrents of racism and misogyny in Miller’s work (he wrote origin stories for Batman and Daredevil that both had scenes of the protagonist fighting prostitutes), and knowing the path he went down makes those elements a lot harder to overlook now. Also, whereas Alan Moore (Miller’s contemporary and the creator he is probably most often compared to) brought a real intellectual and emotional richness to the comics genre, Miller’s most successful works were often empty showcases of style over substance. Sin City and 300 are visually striking as all hell. But ultimately, they’re hollow, emotionally stunted things. That said, there is at least one work that I will defend as still holding up (mostly).

dark knight

There are female characters in this that AREN’T prostitutes! I swear ta God.

The Dark Knight Returns depicts an aged and embittered Bruce Wayne, coming out of retirement to fight the sky-rocketing crime and urban malaise that was such a feature of Reagan’s America. As he becomes increasingly violent and unhinged in his methods, the US Government sends in the only man they think can stop him:

darkknight

What gives the story its power is the incredible weight of the history of these characters and an overwhelming, almost crushing sense of despair. This, Miller, seems to be saying, is how your heroes will always end; either bitter fanatics who were unable to change, or corrupted, toothless stooges who sold out to a corrupt status quo. This is how the World’s Finest Team ends, two old men beating each other to death in an alley way. And it’s depressing, and it’s cruel but it also feels true. And the inescapable knowledge that all those decades upon decades of stories and triumphs and battles of these, THE two greatest superheroes, that it was all leading to this awful, final confrontation? That’s when the story stops being merely tragic and becomes proper, classical, Tragedy. It’s Twilight of the Gods. It’s Ragnarok. It’s epic as fuck.

And that’s why Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice is fucking terrible.

batman-v-superman-batman

Sorry, that’s one of VERY MANY reasons why that movie is terrible but I will never, for the life of me, understand why no one twigged that a fight between Batman and Superman means nothing if they don’t even know each other. That’s what gave the final confrontation in DKR its power. The weight of history. The tragedy of watching two men who once loved each other as brothers reduced to this brutal slugfest. All that goes out the window if they’ve just fucking met.

Sarcastic Map of Wartime Europe

“Uh Mouse, isn’t this supposed to be about Wolverine or something?”

I’m getting there. Okay, with DKR Frank Millar created (possibly?) and popularised (definitely) the stock superhero trope of the Last Story. The Last Story is a tale (almost always out of continuity), that shows you how a certain superhero ends. They are almost always set in a bleak future, and will usually depict the hero coming out of retirement for One Last Job. These stories often will try to serve as a capstone, and a summation of the meaning of that hero. When they work, they work because they are able to deliver the things that most superhero stories by their very nature can’t; climax. Conclusion. Finality. Stakes. Characters can finally die and be at peace without an inevitable resurrection on the horizon. Arcs can be concluded. The story can finally end (at least, in this one corner of continuity). Pretty much every major character you can think of by this point has had a Last Story; Superman, Spider-Man, Punisher and of course, Wolverine, who’s died more times than Kenny McCormack and so has had plenty of opportunity for “Last Stories”. One of these, Old Man Logan was a miniseries that released in 2009 and was written by Mark Millar.

frank miller

unlikely

This series sees an aged Wolverine having renounced violence and living in a dystopian future where the villains won and everything’s awful and the Hulk’s an incestous cannibal who fucked his own cousin and spawned a whole tribe of inbred hulk hillbillies and Jesus Christ we made Mark Millar one of the most successful comic writers of the aughts what the fuck were we thinking?

Anyway, apart from both featuring Old Men Named Logan there is actually very little connecting Old Man Logan and the movie that it nominally inspired (thank fuck). Logan arose out of a desire of Hugh Jackman and The Wolverine director James Mangold to do something radically different with the character and genre. That is, after all, the great strength of a Last Story. You get to take some risks.

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“Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.”

Alan Moore. I honestly doubt whether there is a single writer for whom the gap is wider between the strength of their work and the quality of the adaptations based on that work. If I read you off Moore’s bibliography it forms a perfectly acceptable list of greatest comics of all time:

Watchmen, From Hell, The Killing Joke, League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

I read you the list of the corresponding adaptations (for movies at least):

Watchmen, From Hell, The Killing Joke, LXG

and you start looking for the fire extinguisher to put out this garbage fire. There is a reason why Alan Moore refuses to even be credited on works based on his comics and it’s not because he is now just a beard suspended in mid-air by a floating energy field of old man cussedness. He has been done dirty by Hollywood like few writers before him. But, amid all the terrible adaptations there is of course one exception. Or is there?

Uncovering V, The Revolutionary Leader in V for Vendetta

“Verily”.

Or maybe not. Sorry, I’m vascillating. Here’s what I find fascinating about V for Vendetta. It is, was, and probably will remain an incredibly divisive film and that is so much rarer than it used to be. In the pre-internet days, film criticism was the domain of a relative handful of newspaper and TV film critics. The masses would vote with their wallets, but their actual opinion on any given movie was largely silent. No one was taking big polls of thousands or millions of ordinary movie-goers to gauge their opinions on a given film. That was left to the critics who would often disagree wildly with each other on the merits of any one work.

Nowadays, of course, everyone is a film critic. Everyone writes about film, whether it’s on Twitter or Rotten Tomatoes or Facebook or or any of the million and one new social media platforms that are just sprouting up everywhere like little markers on my path to the grave.

Analysis: Why TikTok is open for business

“Hi there.”

“Fuck off.”

You would think that this would mean an even greater diversity of opinions on every single film but on the contrary, the opposite tends to happen. Consensus usually builds around a film very rapidly. Either it’s universally acclaimed, universally pilloried or (if it’s anything remotely political) it gets stripped for parts in the never-ending culture war with two camps forming who will defend it to the death regardless of its merits or flaws as long as it triggers the libs/smashes the whitecispatriarchy.

This, you will probably not be surprised to learn, is not a conducive enviroment for insightful, nuanced film critique. So what I really appreciate about V for Vendetta is that it’s a rare film in that it does actually provoke a very diverse range of responses from people. Opinions on it run the full gamut from Travesty to “Capital G” Great Film.

I’m pretty sure most people would agree that it is the best Alan Moore cinematic adaptation, but after that consensus ends. I’m going to keep my opinion on the film to myself until the end (largely because at the time of writing I’m still trying to figure out that very thing). But regardless of its quality it is an absolutely fascinating film to discuss and I’m looking forward to it tremendously.

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“Well, at least we can all agree the third one’s always the worst.”

“2021! We made it, people! We beat the hell year!”

“Everything’s going to be great now, and we don’t have to worry about that awful coronavirus anymore because it just magically vanished at the stroke of midnight like a Fairy Godmother’s pumpkin coach!”

“Uh, Mouse?”

“Who dares interrupt my hubris?”

“Sorry, but it looks like the virus heard we’d created a vaccine and took it…kinda…personally…”

“YAAAAAAAAAAARGGHHHH!!”

“Oh please. So this “mutant strain” is a touch more virulent, how bad can it really be?”

“Oh crap.”

***

Hi. Welcome to the blog. Make yourselves at home. WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS AND DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING IT MAY BE TRANSMITTABLE THROUGH THE INTERNET BY THIS POINT WHO KNOWS YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT CAN DO.

Ahem. So, here in Ireland we’re back in full lockdown as the virus runs rampant through the streets, overturning cars and making lewd comments at our gentle lady folk. As a result, we’re keeping Mini and Micro Mouse at home which means I’ve been full time Dadding it for the last few weeks. Which is my weasely way of saying that this review is going to be very short as I’ve been spending every waking hour minding my awful time sucking monsters sweet, darling little angels.

“Can I watch five solid hours of Avatar the Last Airbender again?”

“Does Daddy have the strength or will to stop you?”

“No.”

“Then. Why. Ask?”

Oh and it’s a shame too, such a gosh darned shame that I won’t be able to spend much time on X-Men Apocalypse. Such a layered work. So brimming with craft and ideas and actors clearly giving it their all and happy to be there. So obviously not directed by a man giving instructions from his trailer as the chickens of his past behaviour come home to roost. So…I can’t maintain this level of sarcasm, I’m not as young as I used to be, I HATE THIS MOVIE.

Not fun hatred either. Not the kind of hate that gets you pumped and excited to tear this thing a new critic hole. Just weary, dispassionate disgust at the whole bloated mess.

But I was going to give it a full length review, honest. Just couldn’t because of the mutant corona virus. Which, shockingly, is only the second worst thing involving mutation I’ve had to contend with recently.

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“You’ll see Peter. People need to believe. And nowadays, they’ll believe anything.”

Christmas is almost upon us and so, in the spirit of the season, I will challenge the existing status quo and speak truth to power.

Mysterio sucks. Always has. Always will.

And I think I’m somewhat in the minority on this, since fans have been clamouring to see him in a Spider-Man movie since pretty early on in the Raimi films. Some people even seem to genuinely believe that Mysterio is a good villain, which in my opinion is akin to Climate Change denial or saying “Kingdom Hearts has a good story”. Not simply incorrect, but morally reprehensible. Hell, IGN even named him the 85th Greatest Comic Book Villain of all time, proof if proof were needed that the once noble art of ranking things on the internet has become a sorry, corrupt burlesque.

And, yes, he is a creation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and therefore is deserving of respect if you believe that pampered scions of privilege deserve a free ride just because of who their daddies are.

Fine, the visual design is so ridiculous that it shoots the moon and becomes kind of magnificent.

True, the cape. Is. FABULOUS.

But the whole concept of Mysterio is just a one-way train ticket to disappointment. His schtick is that he’s a special effects wizard who uses tricks and illusions to seem like he’s an actual wizard. In other words, he’s a villain who’s no real threat and uses smoke and mirrors to make you think he actually is a threat. But he’s not. He’s not a threat at all. Hit him with a crowbar, you’ll probably kill him. Doesn’t know karate or anything. Completely normal dude.  His first appearence in the Amazing Spider-Man #15 was one long game of “Got Yer Nose” and once Spider-Man realised that he did not, in truth, have his nose, I don’t really think we needed to see the character again. Once Spidey has seen through his bullshit, the only way you can bring him back is to have him secretly messing with Spider-Man from the shadows. And, once Spider-Man has figured out who’s really behind these shenanigans, it will always be anticlimactic:

  1. Oh no! The Daily Bugle is being menaced by a gigantic red snake!
  2. Huh?! The snake was just a red sock on a stick and the use of forced perspective.
  3. Oh, Mysterio was behind it all. Everyone relax, he can’t actually do anything, his powers are just lies and bullshit.

And that’s Mysterio. Disappointment in a cape and a fishbowl.

All that said, he’s not the worst choice as a villain for Far From Home. After the sturm and drang of Avengers Endgame this movie was intended to close out Phase 4 with a light little comedic palette cleanser and Mysterio is probably a better fit for that than…say, Carnage. Which, I suppose, is as good a point as any to bring up the fact that we have for the moment reached the end of our journey. This is, at the time of writing, the last released MCU film what with Black Widow‘s release having been pushed back and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings being delayed due to the world going viral in the bad way. This also means that I have to make some tricky decisions. Like; do I actually need to review Wandavision and The Falcon and Winter Soldier? I haven’t reviewed any of the TV shows thus far but all indications are that the Disney Plus shows are going to be FAR more impactful on the overall narrative than, say, Cloak and Dagger or Runaways.

Marvel's Runaways Talk Cloak & Dagger Crossover | Den of Geek

“We exist!”

 Or maybe I should just accept that the film and television production and consumption landscape is almost unrecognisable from what it was when I started reviewing these movies way back in 2015 and that by this point the MCU is just too damn large for one blogger to cover and get on with it.

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Bat versus Bolts: The 2010s

Question: is the Dark Universe dead?

You remember the Dark Universe, surely? Universal’s attempt to create a shared cinematic universe with rebooted versions of their classic monsters? Is that still a thing? Because it seemed to be DOA with the failure of The Mummy. But then The Invisible Man came out this year and did really well and apparently is supposed to be part of the Dark Universe except the director says it isn’t and Universal are apparently refusing to admit its dead despite the fact that all of its upcoming movies appear to be either cancelled or delayed indefinitely and now the whole project seems (appropriately enough) neither alive nor dead.

And that kinda sucks. Not because I was particularly psyched for any of these proposed films but it’s gotta be galling for Universal to keep getting portrayed as failed Marvel wannabes considering they invented the whole concept of a shared cinematic universe all the way back in 1943. I mean obviously they wouldn’t be doing this if the MCU hadn’t made enough money to air condition Hell, but I personally feel that if any movie studio has a right to rip off Marvel, it’s Universal.

Turnabout, after all, is fair play.

In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find two non-comics characters who’ve had a bigger influence on comics as a whole than the Universal versions of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. For starters, as public domain characters, both DC and Marvel have incorporated their own versions of these characters into their respective universes. Marvel, in particular, made fantastic use of Dracula in their series Tomb of Dracula, which lasted a whopping 70 issues. And that’s not even counting the dozens (hundreds?) of characters in both of the Big Two publishers that take influence both subtle and overt from these two monsters. You can see Dracula’s lineage in Batman, Doctor Doom, Morbius and Count Nefaria whereas pretty much every hulking, misunderstood monster has a bit of Adam in him, whether we’re talking about the Thing, Bizarro, Solomon Grundy or the Incredible Hulk. So if Universal want to start turning their properties into ersatz superheroes to compete with Marvel, I say it’s less a case of stealing from your competitors than breaking into your neighbour’s house in the dead of night to take back the lawnmower that he “borrowed” from you eighty years ago and never bothered returning. And, like in that analogy, while it may be satisfying and even morally justified, it’s probably not a good idea.

I’ve spent this entire intro talking about Universal, but truth be told only one of today’s movies, 2014’s Dracula Untold, is from that studio. I would have preferred to pit two modern Universal monster movies against each other but according to the Dark Universe wiki (which is a thing that exists) the Dark Universe Frankenstein is just putting the finishing touches on.

Suuuuuuuuure it is.

so today Team Bolts is represented by I Frankenstein, a 2014 movie from Lionsgate that’s also trying to do the “shove a public domain monster into a superhero cape and see if he flies” thing. And guys, I swear to God, I’m not setting Team Bolts up to fail deliberately. After the last installment, I really didn’t want to see another curb stomp. But there’s no getting around it, I, Frankenstein is a staggeringly bad film, and leagues worse than Dracula Untold. Cunning and savvy reader that you are, you will notice that is not the same thing as saying that Dracula Untold is good.

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“Some of it is very much me. Some of it isn’t.”

One of the most persistent and unkillable myths in the history of comics is the “saving” of Batman by Frank Miller. You’ve probably heard it. The Batman comics were just a giggling campy mess after the sixties TV show and it was only with Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns in 1986 that Batman became dark and gritty again. Cool story, but complete guano (and one I’m pretty sure I helped spread at a much earlier point in my career as a semi-professional nerd rodent). Truth is, the comics had been pushing back hard against the BIF BAM KAPOW image from as early as 1970 in an attempt to bring Batman back to his roots as a grim, brooding nocturnal hero.

What The Dark Knight Returns did do was bring that darker Batman that was already present in the comics to a much wider audience. DKR was published in 1986, the year that also saw the release of Watchmen, and the release of these two comics in the still relatively new graphic novel format made about as big an impact as it is possible for comics to make.

Batman was the first attempt to reframe Batman in the popular consciousness from the Adam West incarnation into something closer to his comic depictions. Did it succeed?

“Yeah. Yeah, just a bit.”

To put it another way, this is by far the single most influential depiction of Batman in any medium in the eighty year history of the character. This movie was where Batman went from “Flagship comic book character and star of a pretty popular TV show” to “Modern Secular God”. In terms of box office, merchandising revenue and pop culture impact it was on the Star Wars tier.  “Fine Mouse”, you say. “But what’s it done for us lately? Does it stand up?”

To which I say, “Yes. It does stand up. And then it flaps its wings, like a pretty, pretty butterfly.”

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“It doesn’t have to be good to be a classic.”

Let me tell you about the only comic book to ever make me cry in public.

From the first page of Amazing Spider-Man #121 something is off. There’s no title. Simply a sombre note from editorial telling the reader that they won’t actually learn what the name of the story is until the end. But it’s still very much a seventies Spider-Man story; bright primary colour palette, soap opera melodrama to burn and an exclamation point/period ratio of around 90 to 1. Norman Osbourne, who used to be the Green Goblin but has forgotten the whole thing because of amnesia, is undergoing a psychological breakdown because his son Harry went on a bad acid trip (did I mention that this came out in the seventies?). Suddenly, he relapses and remembers not only that he’s the Green Goblin, but that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Racing to Peter’s apartment to enact his revenge, he instead finds Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacey who he abducts. Peter desperately pursues the Goblin to a bridge (George Washington per the text, Brooklyn according to the art) and Spider-Man and Osbourne have a desperate, thrilling mid-air battle that comes to a horrific halt when Gwen Stacey is thrown of the bridge by the Goblin.

Frantically, Peter shoots his webs to catch her before she hits the ground…and he does! He’s saved her! He’s won! Good triumphs over…

No. This time it’s different. And, on the final page, we at last learn the name of the story we’ve been reading which is, of course The Night Gwen Stacey Died. This is the panel that always makes me well up. :

At this point in the comics, Peter Parker was no longer a teenager. He had graduated college, he was an adult. But he was still very much a children’s character. And I find something indescribably tragic about this child’s superhero cradling the body of the woman he loves, unable to comprehend that his world has changed and that the old rules don’t hold true anymore. Good does not always triumph over evil. The innocent are not always spared. The guilty are not always punished. The people you cannot live without will be taken nonetheless. It’s a story about the loss of innocence we all go through and it’s one of very few single issue comics that I would hold up as an absolute work of art. It’s a piece that’s moved me deeply and that I feel a real personal connection to. And I think one of the reasons why it is such a gut punch is because the brutal tragedy at the heart of story is contained in all this colourful, innocent Silver Age goofiness, like a hand grenade with a pink smiley face on it. It wouldn’t work a tenth as well if done in a moody, gritty “realistic” style.

The Night Gwen Stacey Died became an instant classic and to this day is usually considered the demarcation point between the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, a period marked by a more mature and literary style of comics that produced some of the greatest masterpieces in the genre. Unfortunately it also taught a generation of hacks that they could kill the hero’s girlfriend for some cheap drama and pathos. Nowadays, the phenomenon of female supporting characters being killed to provide motivation for the male lead is usually called “Women in Refrigerators”, a term coined by writer Gail Simone after a particularly notorious Green Lantern storyline, but before that it was called “Gwen Stacey Syndrome” because it was really this story that opened those floodgates. To be clear, this does not make The Night Gwen Stacey Died a bad story (or at least, I certainly don’t think it does). The problem is the raft of imitators who failed to realise that what made Gwen’s death so shocking and effective was that it was so rare. Hard as it might be to believe, prior to 1973 women almost never died in mainstream comics, and if they did (Batman’s mother for example) it was almost always off panel. So what does this have to do with The Killing Joke?

Well, The Killing Joke is a 1988 Batman story by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, and since its release its been frequently lauded as one of the best Batman stories, the definitive Joker story and one of the greatest comics of all time. (thanks to Clifford who pointed out that I actually put it on my list of greatest comics which I had completely forgotten). However, it has also increasingly been viewed as being somewhat…problematic…

Frau_Blucher

Why? Well, because in the course of this story the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralysing her, (possibly) sexually assaults her and then shows her father pictures of it in an attempt to break him psychologically. Like Gwen Stacey, Barbara Gordon is brutally assaulted in order to advance the story of a male character, in this case her father and Batman. So there’s quite a bit of backlash against this book, with even Alan Moore himself effectively disowning it. Although honestly, take that with a grain of salt. Despite being the most influential writer in the history of the medium not named Lee, Siegel or Finger, Alan Moore basically now regards the entire comic book industry the way Captain McAllister views the sea.

My feelings? Well…I basically feel about The Killing Joke the way I feel about 99 Problems.

Is it misogynistic? Yes.

Noticeably so for its time and compared to the rest of its genre? Not really.

To the point where it obscures its artistic merits? No.

Of course, reading it now you have the benefit of knowing how the story ends. That Barbara Gordon was able to overcome this tragedy, and became Oracle, a wheel-chair bound superhero who became an inspiration to many disabled comic book fans and one of the most valued heroes not simply in the Bat family but in the DC universe as a whole.

Barbara Gordon | Batman Wiki | Fandom

And then Bruce just had her fixed so she could become Batgirl again, which was inspiring to comic book fans with billionaire friends who magically solve all their problems for them.

Ultimately, despite the problematic…

Frau_Blucher

…elements of the story I still think it deserves to be considered one of the all time great Batman yarns. And I was really pumped for this animated adaptation. Look at this line up! Bruce Timm, creator of the legendary Batman the Animated Series was producing, well-regarded Batman scribe Brian Azzaerello was writing the script and the voice cast was shit shot: Conroy! Tara Strong! MARK HAMILL COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO DO ALAN MOORE’S JOKER YE GODS!

But then early word had it that the animated adaptation would be greatly expanding Barbara’s role in the story and I was leery. I mean, on the one hand, it’s certainly a laudable impulse to want to address criticisms of the original by giving Barbara Gordon more agency and putting her experience front and centre. On the other hand, that is a radical change to the story. Put bluntly, The Killing Joke is not a Barbara Gordon story. Hell, it’s not even really a Batman story. It’s a story about the conflict between Moral Nihilism as represented by the Joker versus Ethical Objectivism personified by Jim Gordon. So my feeling was that if the creators doubted their source material to the point that they would make such a radical change, they probably shouldn’t be adapting it in the first place.

My worry was that we would get a more progressive, more enlightened, less problematic version of The Killing Joke but probably not a better one.

Oh, oh, oh…

I wish that was what we got.

JESUS.

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“AVENGERS! Assemble…”

Nebula Prime tries desperately to warn…

“Yeah, we’re just diving in, keep up!”

Nebula Prime tries desperately to warn Clint and Natasha but Thanos’ ship appears overhead and just scoops her up.

On Earth 2012, Scott is freaking out because they’ve lost the Tesseract and only have enough Pym particles for one more journey each. But Steve and Tony remember that Camp Lehigh (where Cap spent many an idyllic summer day knocking down flagpoles and throwing himself on grenades) held both the Tesseract and all the Pym particles they can eat. They send Scott back home with the sceptre and Steve and Tony head to their most dangerous and terrifying destination yet.

Hyuck hyuck hyuck.

While Steve goes looking to score some Pym Particle (also known by its street names: P-Dust, Shrink-a-Dink, Tom Cruise…) Tony goes looking for the Tesseract. Fortunately, the seventies were a simpler, more trusting time where people left their doors unlocked and their children near BBC presenters and the Tesseract is just stashed in a big iron box without even an alarm or anything. I’ve known packed lunches with better security. Tony runs into his father Howard and the two men talk about parenthood.

Meanwhile, Steve distracts a young Hank Pym who the movie helpfully shows was already awful in the seventies. Steve grabs a couple of test tubes of quality Smoll (as it’s sometimes called on the mean streets of the quantum realm) but has to duck into another office to avoid base security. There, he sees Peggy Carter, the lady that he abandoned for a common iceberg, the cad.

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“I love you 3000.”

One of the hardest things about telling any story is sticking the landing.

A bad ending is not only bad in and of itself, it’s like a cancer that reaches back in time and kills everything that went before it. I can’t enjoy Sherlock anymore. All the clever writing and great performances and wonderful little tricksy puzzles turn to ash when you remember that it’s all leading up to Sherlock defeating his previously unknown little sister with superpowers.

The violin of Eurus Holmes (Sian Brooke) in Sherlock S04E03 | Spotern

I’d say “spoilers”, but shit doesn’t spoil.

If I had had to write the script for Endgame I’d probably have gone mad with the pressure. I remember marvelling (heh) at Joss Whedon’s script for Avengers back in 2012 and how it managed to juggle seven (SEVEN!) main characters and serve as a satisfying conclusion to five (FIVE!) films. My, how young we were. So imagine the weight of expectation resting on the shoulders of Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and the Russo Brothers, having to juggle a story with dozens upon dozens of named characters AND has to serve as a capstone to a 22 film cycle. I mean, Christ. I’ve only had to review these things and it feels like I’ve climbed Everest.

Did they pull it off? You probably have your own opinions on that but, well…this thing made 2.8 billion dollars at the box-office so somebody liked it.

So, because this thing is over three hours long, this review is going to be a two-parter. Also, I’m not going to do a big introduction explaining the history of these characters and the background to this movie because, well…

“What do you think I’ve been DOING for the last five years?!”

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“You’re the best of all of us, Miles. You’re on your way.”

Do a google image search for “Movie stars of the 1940s” and you’ll probably get something like this.

My eyes! The glare!

But if you do a similar image search for the current decade and you get this:

So my point is, racism is over.

No, obviously not. But, over the decades there has been a definite shift in American media as film and television has come to (somewhat) more closely resemble contemporary American society. Now picture something for me. Imagine Humphry Bogart and Carey Grant and Errol Flynn were all still alive, never ageing, and still acting in movies with hundreds or thousands of roles under their belts. Imagine how difficult it would be for new actors, particularly female actors or actors of colour, to break into the business and make a name for themselves. Imagine a world where the Golden Age greats almost never died, and even if they did someone always brought them back to life.

Well obviously, who else?

Picture that world, and then you’ll understand why it’s so damnably difficult to introduce more diversity into comics. Clark Kent is never going to get old, retire and pass on the mantle to a young Hispanic boy (not permanently at least). Superman is part of the Western collective consciousness now. He’s not going anywhere, any more than Robin Hood or King Arthur. And to be clear, I don’t want him to. A world without Superman, and I mean this with absolute dead seriousness, would be a far, far worse one. But the problem remains, there are only so many comic books one company can put out in a month and there are only so many seats at the table. And opportunities for promotion are vanishingly rare.

Consider Cyborg.

Dude on the far right.

A few years back, DC rebooted their universe and established a new origin for the Justice League which now included Cyborg as a founding member, thereby implicitly placing his as one of the seven most important superheroes in the DC universe. And there was of course a lot of harrumphing that DC were pandering to political correctness by including this new Johnny-come-lately diversity hire who hadn’t earned his place on the team. Think about that. A character who first appeared FORTY GODDAMNED YEARS AGO still was deemed to have not paid his dues. Which is not to say that publishers don’t sometimes try to shoehorn diversity into their books in a way that both alienates their long-time readers while also coming off as insultingly pandering and utterly tone-dead attempts to woo a new audience they don’t remotely understand.

Marvel Fails With 'New' New Warriors | Cosmic Book News

This was like the internet’s Christmas Truce Football Match. for one brief, shining moment, everyone was able to come together and agree that this was fucking terrible.

Cyborg is a non-white character with an original gimmick who managed to break into the top tier but in that respect he is very much the exception and not the rule. Far more common is for a new character to take on the powers and costume of an older hero, what’s sometimes called a Legacy Hero.

Introducing a new character to take on the mantle of an older, storied hero is a bit like defusing a bomb. There’s only one way it can go right, and a million ways it can go wrong. Probably the best case study of how not to do this would be the passing of the Green Lantern mantle from Hal Jordan to Kyle Rayner.

Now on paper, this was a transition that had a lot going for it. Green Lantern is a fantastic concept that was often let down by a pretty dull central character. Hal Jordan was a stodgy, by-the-book military man whose most memorable storyline involved him travelling around America with Green Arrow and being wrong about literally everything. Oh, and it had the most “seventies comics” panel in the history of seventies comics.

The Watchtower — Green Lantern #76 “What about the black skins?”

And yet, somehow, racism persisted.

The idea therefore was to replace Hal Jordan with Kyle Rayner, a young artist. Y’know, a guy who actually uses his imagination professionally and might be able to use a cosmic space ring to conjure something more visually interesting than a giant green fist for the billionth fucking time. Plus, you get the interesting contrast of a young man with no experience as a superhero suddenly having to deal with being one of the most powerful capes in the DC universe. Not a bad idea at all.

How did they fuck it up?

Firstly, they had Hal Jordan go insane and slaughter the entire Green Lantern Corps and become a super-villain called Parallax. Then, while Green Lantern fans were still coming to terms with a character they’d followed for thirty five years turning into Charles Fucking Manson Kyle Rayner was foisted on them without so much as a by your leave. And, to really drive the point home, every second character who met Kyle was sure to inform him that he was now the “one, true Green Lantern”.

The fans naturally enough, rolled their eyes but decided that it wasn’t worth getting all worked up over nah I’m just kidding it was like the fall of Saigon out there. The Green Lantern fandom splintered and became a toxic mess that really only healed when Hal was restored as Green Lantern in 2005.

So what’s to be learned from that? I think it boils down to respect. Rather than simply replacing Hal Jordan, or allowing him a heroic death saving the Earth, DC elected to destroy him, to trash the character so badly that readers would (they assumed) flock to Kyle Rayner as their one true lantern. They didn’t respect the character or their audience’s love for him and so they were completely unprepared for the backlash against the new guy who they (rightly) saw as the reason why Hal was done dirty.

On the flipside, for an example of a Legacy Character being introduced about as well as can be, look to the introduction of Miles Morales in Ultimate Spider-Man.

The Ultimate universe was an imprint started by Marvel at the turn of the millennium to have rebooted versions of their heroes that weren’t constrained by 6 decades of continuity. It was also intended to allow creators to take riskier approaches with classic characters and answer questions like “What if Captain America was a dick?”, “What if the Hulk ate people?” and “What if Hawkeye was just the worst?”

By far the best thing to come out of the Ultimate Universe was Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s run on Ultimate Spider-Man, a run which I will always recommend to anyone who wants to get started in comics. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel. It’s just the story of fifteen year old Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man and encountering his usual rogue’s gallery. But the art is gorgeous and the writing is sharp and sweet and funny and it’s probably my favourite run of Spider-Man and yeah, I include the original Lee-Ditko run in that. But what made Bendis and Bagley’s version of the story of Peter Parker so memorable was that they were actually able to give it an ending. The Green Goblin attacks Peter Parker’s home and tries to kill Aunt May, with Peter sacrificing his life to save his aunt.

How did the death of ultimate Spider-Man effect you? : Spiderman  Okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. Just don’t show the panel with him meeting Uncle Ben in heaven…

*UNCONTROLLABLE SOBBING*

I won’t say that there was no backlash to the introduction of Miles Morales because look what planet we’re living on, but his introduction went about as smoothly as these things can, and there’s a reason why Miles Morales was one of very few elements carried over to main Marvel continuity once the powers that be finally stuck a pillow over the Ultimate Universe’s face. Because Peter’s story was concluded on such a deeply affecting note, Miles felt less like an interloper and more like a fresh start. It also helped that Miles, like the fans, was someone who greatly admired Spider-Man and was grieving his death. That created a connection between the character and his new readers and made them more willing to accept him.

Let’s be honest, the omens for Into the Spider-Verse were not good. Firstly, it’s an animated film by Sony, who have probably the worst track record of any of the major American animation studios. Secondly, it’s a Spider-Man film by Sony, who have definitely got the worst track record of any American studio that has ever made Spider-Man movies.

3 Dev Adam.jpg

And I only said “American” because Turkey exists.

Of course, there is a simple rule in Hollywood. Think of the worst idea for a movie you can; a comedy reboot of an old police procedural? Two hour long toy commercial? Movie where weather is food? Give it to Phil Lord and Chris Miller and they will spin that shit into gold.

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