Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Last Avengers - A Reflection!

And that's a wrap folks. The long winding and often convoluted saga of the Marvel cinematic universe reached a breaking point with the distribution of Avengers Endgame. The movie is a long one, that's for sure. I at first was going to wait a week or so to see it, but it was clear that details of the story were going to shake loose sooner than later, so I found a front row center seat at a early morning screening and enjoyed it mightily. There are great laughs and there are tears, lots and lots of tears. sagas we've been following for some years now have found some degree of resolution and yes there is  death, both for the benefit of the world and otherwise. Below is a spoiler rich discussion of some thoughts about this ultimate movie and what it says about the nature of heroism and about humanity.


Someone told a friend of mine that they'd not need to have seen earlier movies to enjoy this one. That's not even remotely true. The earlier Avengers films are needed, along with Iron Man, Captain Ameica: The First Avenger, and Thor. Others certainly help, but without knowing the themes of both the Shellhead, Cap, and Thor story lines, apprehending the meaning of this one will be elusive I suspect. And there was also the Black Widow who found her way into many if not most of these tales. What are those themes?

For Iron Man or better yet Tony Stark it's about learning the limits of life and finding humility which comes with love. The Stark we meet in Iron Man is a cock-sure genius who is dead certain he knows everything about everything and if he doesn't he can in mere moments. His universe is one he controls utterly and there are no problems he cannot solve. He is given a second chance at life by Yinsen, a man who sacrifices his life for the greater good and for his family as well. Stark and Cap debated in the first Avengers movie about the nature of heroes and need to fall on the barbed wire for others, to sacrifice your life for others. Despite his origin, Stark is certain he can find a way to solve all equations and to come extent he does, though it creates startling shifts in his understanding of the world. In Endgame he goes there, he gives his life intentionally for the benefit of others, others he cares about more than himself and it's suggested that's because he's now a father. Parenthood can change you they say and it seems to have changed Tony Stark. He wanted to build a shield around the world, to keep it safe in anticipation of any danger, but it always seemed his efforts were thwarted by the whims of life and death. In Endgame he finally understands what Yinsen showed him so long before, there is no protection which is absolute, no shield strong enough, there is only what individuals do when they are required and for the first time, Tony Stark lays his body on the wire.

For Captain America it's been a different journey. He's always been the hero's hero, the template for bravery and goodness. But in order to become the hero he had to give up his life and his love. He did it, he made the choice but in this movie he gets the chance to choose again. I won't pretend to understand all the vagaries of the plot here, with its time-traveling details, but somehow Steve Rogers is able to make the universe safe and still find time to live life slowly. While some aspect of him slept in the ice, some other aspect found marriage and happiness and sadness and grief and all the rest of that bittersweet package we call the daily life. He was not just the hero anymore, he was the man named Steve Rogers. He's not the perfect warrior, he became the imperfect human and had the humility to become just a guy from Brooklyn, which in the final analysis was all he ever was. The heart of these movies has always been their success in tapping the emotions of the audience and the saga of Captain America or more properly Steve Rogers does that in spades. Who knows what the future has in store for those who remain, but that's life ain't it.

For Thor, it was always about meeting the obligations which were his as the son of the mighty lord of Asgard, Odin. We meet him as a callow youth who bellows and brags and fights with vigor and bristling stupidity. His strength is his weakness, his pride is his downfall and we see him in the first story learn that leaders are not born, they are made. He becomes in that first story worthy to accept the mantle and in later stories he does just that. In this one, the burden has become too much and he's lost his way again as many of us do. He's a god but he's not perfect and he hides from his pain behind the balm of drink and distraction and ignores what must come next. By being pulled back into the larger story he slowly and reluctantly again learns that gods are just people too. In the end he gives up his leadership, he chooses to do it and that's the difference. He is pointed in the way of the future and into the depths of time and space.

And finally for the Black Widow the saga ends. She has been in many the most fascinating character in all of these movies, first appearing in the second Iron Man flick and becoming a linchpin of the Avengers team. Her guilt over the grim past  always weighs heavily it seemed, even as she quipped with a particular gallows humor. Her special history and unique connection to Hawkeye, in many the most normal and "human" of the characters proved her worth, though she doubted it always. Her romance with Bruce Banner seemed to be a special match, two "monsters" trying to hide themselves behind human faces. She said once that her "ledger was full of red", and the movies are a relentless march toward her salvation which comes with her self-sacrifice, meant to save the world itself. She is dead in that distant dimension and somewhat forgotten at the film's conclusion. But that's the way she was considered within the narrative flow of the movies, always crucial but often underestimated and sadly all too often overlooked. The depth of character in the Natasha "Nat" Romanova has been one of the true revelations in the movie universe.

Other heroes came and fought and will fight again. Thor will certainly find a place of some kind with or without Chris Hemsworth with the Guardians of the Galaxy. But for Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Natasha  Romonova the road seems well and truly to have ended, or at least it has for the nonce. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johanson are gone, but with any delightful fictional character there is a more than a tiny bit of immortality.

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Monday, April 29, 2019

A Day In The Anti-Life - Anti-Socialist Tendencies!

The buzzword within the ranks of the "conservative" talkers (they hardly deserved the description "conservative" much anymore as they kneel before the antics of the foolhardy Trump) is "Socialist". They insert it into as many sentences as possible, to make certain the word sticks onto the gray matter of  their devoted listeners, folks who only like what they are told to like and hate what they are told to hate.  Much to my surprise frankly, they Republicans, led by Trump are again attacking "Obamacare" or more accurately "The Affordable Care Act" which marginally improved access to healthcare in these United States.

The absurdity of all these screams of "Socialism" is that of course the United States has been "Socialist" for a very long time, in an effort to blunt the savage effects of raw Capitalism which is the idol of most unthinking greedy Americans. The safety net which was put into place eighty years ago (over the cries of "Socialism from Republicans yet again) have given the U.S. one of the longest and steadiest periods of economic power in world history.

Ten years ago the utter ruin which is the United State healthcare system for too many of its citizens was deemed dire enough that newly elected President Barack Obama was able to put through Congress a scheme first developed by Conservative Republican think tanks as a possible middle-ground solution. This success was met with crazed rejection which was steamed up to such a degree that any attempts to refine or fine tune the program were met with utter contempt. Now they want to (yet again) throw it out.

There is no replacement for the current programs -- none! When asked to identify what they will replace Obamacare with, Republicans go silent and mumble about free-market solutions without identifying a single one which has proven successful. They have no solution, but instead resort to name calling. The name has been "Liberal", "Progressive", and even "Radical". The word that seems to have caught on recently is "Socialist", so they say it as loudly and as often as possible with no regard to the reality of circumstances on the ground.

I wish I could say such scare tactics would not be rewarded, but alas I cannot with certainty suggest that. We suffer under a leader now who got there by scaring folks about the imagined loss of their ethnic identity and by pointing to a scapegoat to heap all their woes upon. Now once again the boogeyman comes out when those in power want to keep us back from the fences, the fences they make a little stronger and a little higher each and every day. One day the rich and powerful might well need those fences.

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Day In The Anti-Life - Full House!

There's a commonplace complaint running rampant in many quarters in the media that there are just too damn many candidates running for the Democratic option to oppose the odious Trump for President of these United States. Hogwash I say!

How can there be too many candidates? For most of my lifetime various sages and pundits and whatnot have decried the failure of the citizenry of this republic for showcasing a relative disdain for politics and consequently ignoring for the most part or casting only a sneer in the direction of public service. Those were relatively good times (might seem like a utopia when the water runs out) and so folks didn't feel the necessity of taking matters into their own hands. Decades of semi-decent practices and a general respect for the typically observed norms of governance suggested that things would only ever get so bad or so good, so why bother.

The arrival of the odious Trump has changed all that lazy thinking. Now folks realize that sitting on their haunches and leaving it up to others has created a potentially dangerous world in which race-baiting, gold-grubbing demagogues take the lead. And the next generation of leaders have just said "No!" to that terrifying proposition. And since the odious Trump has proven that no real qualifications of any significant kind are required for the job, a herd of people think that they are ready. Hell, I'm more qualified to be President than the odious Trump. (Don't fear-- I'm not running.)

Who will win the day? Someone will rise eventually and prevail, and this inviting Chinese restaurant menu of candidates will be whittled down. Guess what -- just like in Highlander, there can be only one! So what's the problem with a lot of folks vying for the job? Most know they won't make the cut, but this is a good way to find out what it takes to run for President and build a profile for future leadership, and if you cannot cut that mustard then the job itself will be much too much. The odious Trump for his avalanche of miserable defects, at least knew how to campaign -- he just doesn't have one fucking clue how to govern.

So it's not that there are too many folks running for President, it's merely that those who have stood by and watched the republic fall victim to the vile pack of hyenas who have masqueraded as legislators in recent years need to fall back and make room for new blood. I welcome one and all, I welcome the spectacle. Contrary to what many folks truly believe in their heart of hearts, I for one have faith in democracy and despite some terrifying glitches now and again, overall it beats the alternatives. Just ask the folks desperate still to find a safe haven here.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Aquaman - Desperately Seeking A Sea King!

I missed out on this installment in the ever-expanding DC movie universe when it hit theaters. I was going with a friend to see it and it was sold out save for seats right at the screen. I like those, but she opted out and decided to delay -- we never went back. So I was eager to get hold of the dvd to see what this was all about. I wasn't disappointed, but I can see issues with the movie. Spoilers be below me hearties!

First off let me express my gobsmackiness that such a movie even exists. As the 21st century has tumbled along, the superhero movie only continues to pick up steam and projects which as  longtime comics fanboy I'd like to see have actually shown up much to my amazement. Aquaman was absolutely of the kind of the league of leftover heroes when I stumbled across the DCU. But he never stopped trying and creators kept at it until they stumbled onto ways to express the character.

Jason Mamoa is an exceedingly charming actor and does a spitfire job here as the lead, but he's surrounded by lots of characters doing lots of things and believe it or not I think Aquaman gets lost a little bit in the debut movie bearing his name. (But I do love that he wears the gold shirt.) Making of with some of his time is Mera who is another kickass woman hero to inspire the girls out there. But perhaps stealing the show with relatively little screen time are the romance of Arthur Curry and Atlanna, the parents of our hero. Played by Temura Morrison and Nicole Kidman, the heart of the movie is with them and their indestructible romance. Also the origin of Black Manta was a sight to see and I am hungry for more from this take-no-prisoners villain. Ocean Master was great too, but as you can see the list grows long and there are even more characters to contend with. It's a crowded movie, with lots going on under the sea.

And that's the real star of this show, the ocean itself which thanks to the magic of CG is as real as anything else I've ever encountered on cinema. The creators here do a crackerjack job of keeping us mindful of the alien nature of the environment Aquaman lives and works in and his powers are on display plenty. In fact if anything there almost too many environments explored, getting a tiny bit confusing toward the end with some not getting a proper showcase. But that said and done, this movie not disappoint, but elevated the character, no mean feat in a universe brimming with heroes.

Image result for sub-mariner the quest

An afterthought is that the movie reminds me more than bit of one of Namor the Sub-Mariner's famous quests across the seas to find a trident. I've not read any recent Aquaman and assumed the plot was from relatively recent issues.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

An Essential Rat Pack!

Alongside Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse cartoon, I'd love to have a nifty collection of these comics from Marvel, which carried forward the zany self-referential humor of the cartoon series. I think I have the Crisis parodies around here somewhere, but I was not savvy enough to capture most of the issues. The series was actually a revival of sorts, since Marvel had during the 40's published some Mighty Mouse comics (along with about everyone it seems).

The revival featured the art of Ernie Colon, though other fan favorites such as George Perez, Steve Lightle, and John Byrne. Even one of my heroes George Wildman, an artist on Popeye and important editor at Charlton Comics lent a brush to the doings. These look to be some fun fun comics. Admit it, you want one too.

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Mighty Mouse - The New Adventures!

God Almighty! I'd kind of forgotten about Ralph Bakshi's revival of vintage Terrytoons super critter dubbed Mighty Mouse back in the late 80's. Then I chanced upon it on Amazon and a few keystrokes later this nifty DVD was rolling in my direction. I've taken the time to sit down and enjoy these far too few cartoons (a mere nineteen episodes).

Now the project was a bit under the gun and slapdash and frankly that shows in the first season's episodes which are really aspiring to be what the show could become.  A number of old Terrytoon cartoons were dusted off, and integrated into the new stuff to fill time, but with the second season which was incomplete, you can tell what a truly "mighty" endeavor this was going to become.

The satire was sharp and sometimes nasty, and the creators were well steeped in popular culture and made good use of that arcane understanding. As I'm sure almost everyone knows, much of the talent on this show went on to create Ren and Stimpy, another show that made us all think twice about picking our noses. I would be hard pressed to pick just one episode but like most folks I'd likely choose the revival (of sorts) of the Mighty Heroes who like the JSA at DC had fallen victim to the rigors of time. (Why is there not a Mighty Heroes dvd out there for me to buy?) These are really good cartoons, not always great, but sometmes. I'm glad I finally picked up a collection. Now I need to read the comics. More on that tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Spirit Of Television!

Sam Jones was quite something. He burst into my consciousness with his outlandish but irrepressible take on Alex Raymond's classic hero Flash Gordon in the early 80's movie which attempted to revive the franchise and earned many an admirer in doing so. It has a vintage charm nowadays for me, and I've always thought Max Von Sydow the ideal Ming, but Jones always looked a little bit in over his thespian head in that one. Well with The Spirit, a presumably failed ABC pilot he does a little better in my estimation. There are some pretty big problems with this one, but for the most part they ain't at the feet of Sam Jones.

Being a TV production it seems the problem might have been budget. The highlights of this show are the settings in Wildwood Cemetary and a few othe noirish settings which felt spot on for The Spirit as established by Eisner oily pen. But also on hand were many bright daylight scenes in the heart of suburbia which totally compromised the effect. And let's talk about the Spirit's suit, it's supposed to be black isn't it. I always assumed the blue was the classic blue-for-black conundrum which early comics faced. Having Sam Jones show up in the bright afternoon to Central City in a bright blue suit we know will become the Spirit's togs really created a breakdown in tone. On the plus side is Ellen Dolan who is lovely and sexy and P'Gell who is arguably even more so. I also liked the top thug in this one, a guy dubbed "Bruno". Ebony shows up as a frisky kid who helps the Spirit survive his origin and then mostly disappears.

I wanted to really like this one, didn't expect to do so, but ended more pleased than I expected -- if all that makes any sense.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Spirit Of The Movies!

It startles me a little to think it's been a decade since Frank Miller's distinctive take on Will Eisner's class The Spirit hit the theaters. Despite Miller's cache from hits like 300 and Sin City, this movie was deemed by most folks I encountered as a mild flop. I don't know what it did in business, and I'm not that interested, but since we've not seen a sequel I suspect not well. The Central City presented in this movies is sure memorable, eternally washed in a dark and usually storm night, the city is filled with crime and violence and ripe for a hero to take hold of the grim situation. The Octopus is enemy number one and crazy as a bug. He's assisted by Silken Floss in a scheme to get hold of the blood of the mythological demi-god Heracles. In his way is The Spirit and the sometimes the cops of Central City led by Inspector Dolan. Also vying for mythic treasure is Sand Saref and patching up the endlessly injured Spirit is the loyal and weary Ellen Dolan. Lorelei shows up to claim Denny Colt's soul and Plaster of Paris tries to claim his head. As you can tell there are a lot of dames in this one.

And that's fine, because there are a lot of dames in Eisner's classic comics as well. But the brew here is perhaps overly full with not enough attention being paid to some of these very intriguing characters. There's no Ebony, but we do have Wildwood Cemetary. We also have an endless gang of cloned thugs with names like "Ethos", "Pathos", "Logos", and ultimately "Adios" and "Amigos". These are all played by the same guy and is just one of the visual gimmicks which populate and eventually dominate this movie. It's a classic instance of style over substance, and in trying to manufacture a new kind of film noir, a type with worked pretty well in Sin City, Miller falls short. The visual splendor invades the story and often seems to be the point. The Spirit ain't terrible by any means, but it could've been so much better.

I fished this movie out to view again because I just got hold of the 1986 TV version of The Spirit. I'll be taking a gander at that one tomorrow.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

A Belated Mike Check!

After I'd finished composing my list of my sixty favorite artists, I found some that I'd overlooked or had to replace and they worked their way onto the nearly-made-it list. Some I think of as inkers primarily and they will show up in a separate list coming to a Dojo near you soon, but even after all of that, there was one artist who suddenly came to mind. He was one of the greats, but like so many an artist with a distinctive style and as many detractors as fans -- the one and only Mike Sekowsky. I didn't like Sekowsky all that much when I first started reading comics, but as additional reading experience began to color my opinions I began to treasure his work more and more. He did some great work on the Justice League of America before handing off the reins to Dick Dillin.

He then produced what I think is still his most consistent and fascinating work -- The New Wonder Woman. Partnered with Denny O'Neil, Diana Prince borrowed style from Diana Rigg and really became something quite different -- a heroine, not a super heroine and that made all the difference.  I've always liked his offbeat take on The Metal Men though it didn't save that series from ultimate cancellation. Later still he went to Marvel on The Inhumans and elsewhere and did some key work for the failed Atlas-Seaboard outfit.

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A Day In The Anti-Life - Criminal Behavior!

"I am not a crook." said Richard Milhouse Nixon, the President of these United States who left office in disgrace when he was faced with imminent removal by dint of impeachment. Turns out he was a crook. That said, the current Dotard-in-Chief has been sort of cleared of committing out and out actual crimes by the early interpretations of the Mueller Report, but it was not for lack of trying. Like the collusion or more properly conspiracy charges which have been so much discussed, the campaign seems to have skated because there was no quid pro quo, just giant gobs of quo. So I have learned that my morally-depraved, ethically-indifferent President is at once a "useful idiot" for the mavens of the former USSR, and too incompetent to actually commit a crime he desperately wants to commit. That  sounds about right.

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Other Captain Marvel Movie Review!

(Last week I took a lovely spring break day and spent it in the local theater. First I watched Captain Marvel with a chum and later that afternoon I caught the new Shazam movie with another friend. Today's post is the second of two which are spoiler rich so tread gently.)

What an absolute hoot of a movie this is! It's enormous fun and is enormously funny! I've long ago lost track of how "Captain Marvel" now dubbed "Shazam" sits inside the detailed continuity of the DCU, but I found plenty old-fashioned echoes here to keep a smile on my face throughout.

I went to the movie with one profound worry, that Captain Marvel (I will insist on calling him that throughout this review just to keep my head on straight) was somehow existing apart from Billy. But I pleasantly surprised to find the "kid" in all the promos was Freddy Freeman. And let me say the byplay between Cap and Freddy is hilarious. I was bugged that Cap's wisdom of "Solomon" seemed to be slow to waken, and that Billy appeared almost always to be more adult in many ways than Cap, but there is no denying the highlight of the movie is the way Freddy's desire to make Cap his friend, hero, protector, and eventually brother was the core of this one. Even Billy quest for his Mother was less significant it seemed to me. And that we get not only a Captain Marvel, but also a Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel and some assorted Lieutenant Marvels was outstanding.

Now on the villainous side, we have the dastardly Sivana and while his physical skills seemed at odds with the vintage mad scientist I know, I'm down with it for the sheer need to keep the movie on point. The ending with Mr. Mind leaves large room for the sequel and I can only hope we get at long last some version of the Monster Society into the popular culture yet again. Maybe DC will take one more stab at publishing it, but I fear that will not be the case.

Loved this movie and the comrade I watched it with, not a student of comics by any means, loved it as well. Lots of big big laughs!

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