Friday, March 29, 2013

Mousey Movies - Argo

Movie poster showing a close up of Ben Affleck
Argo directed and starring Ben Affleck may be an odd pick for a Mousey Movie, but it is Mousey through and through despite being released by Warner Brothers. Sure, there are no cartoon animals, no plots full of gags, and I would not show it to the Between Tween because I think she would miss the historical contexts. But Argo has numerous ties to the House of Mouse and they cannot be ignored. In fact Sully (John Goodman) and Father in Law Christmas (Alan Arkin) both have significant roles and tie into some of my favorite Disney franchises.

Argo recounts the story of Central Intelligence Agency agent Tony Menedez, played by Affleck, and his efforts to lead six United States Embassy employees out of Tehran, Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979. The six had fled the embassy and were in hiding at the Canadian Embassy. Menedez works with contacts in Hollywood to stage the production of a fake movie, Argo, so Mendez can spirit them out of the country as Canadian production staff. The movie is full of tension as the audience worries if Mendez and the six passengers will make it out of the country safely.

You know as I think about it, this movie is really in the mold of Disney movies. There is some violence, but Menedez’s strained relationship with his family is highlighted along with his desire to be closer to them. He easily could be the dad in a PG movie fighting the balance of work and family. And the action and escape plot kind of reminds me of Touchstone’s (which means Disney’s) 1988 film The Rescue, a film in which teenagers save their Navy SEAL fathers from North Korean captivity, a film that was introduced to by Uncle Mike on The Wonderful World of Disney (or whatever version existed at the time).

Mousey connections to Argo include:

  • Action Hero: So Ben Affleck really does not have typical “Disney” credentials. But Disney has other labels they release films through. Touchstone Pictures was established by Disney in 1984 for the release of more mature films. Affleck has appeared in two mega-hits for Touchstone. These hits were 1998’s Armageddon and 2001’s Pearl Harbor. When I rode The Studio Backlot Tour at Disney-MGM Studios (yeah, it’s been that long), it was Pearl Harbor that was plastered throughout the attraction. Both of these films were produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who now makes movies with the Disney label and makes buckets and buckets of money for the mouse. Disney actually helped Affleck in his big break. Affleck won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) with Matt Damon for 1997’s Good Will Hunting which was distributed by Miramax Films. Disney owned Miramax from 1993 to 2010, which they purchased as a studio to produce independent minded films with an adult edge. Affleck would later appear in Miramax’s 1998 Shakespeare in Love, which won the Academy Award for best picture, which I am still angry about today since Saving Private Ryan was clearly the better movie.
  • Plush: Menedez’s fake movie Argo is targeted due to the success of Star Wars. Basically everyone is trying to copy that success, including the CIA. Of course Disney itself tried to grab the coattails of Lucas’ success by offering up the underrated The Black Hole. The fact that Argo is a Star Wars rip off is clear at a table read which includes a character that can only be described as Purple Chewbacca! The impact of Star Wars goes past Purple Chewy, as Menedez’s son has a collection of Star Wars action figures that I am quite jealous of. Even as a grown adult I would really love his X-Wing, Millennium Falcon and the tall Boba Fett we see out of boxes in his bedroom!
  • Crossroads: When you visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios the Imagineers want to put you into Hollywood even though you are in Florida. To set the scene they use a number of Los Angeles’ landmarks to set the scene. One of these is a replica of the Crossroads of the World, which some claim is the world’s first shopping mall. The icon is a tower with a spinning glob on top and is found inside the entrance to the theme park. In Argo the icon can be seen as Mendez and his producing partner Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, attempt to purchase the Argo script. 
The Crossroads of the World Icon - A spire with a spinning globe on top
Crossroads of the World
  • Old Guys: Of course a plan this crazy requires approval. So Menedez and his boss played by Bryan Cranston report to two senior CIA executives to get approval for them to kickoff their Hollywood plan. Cranston notes, “It’s like talking to the old guys on the Muppets.” The pair clearly are grumpy old men.
  • Tough Security: Anyone who has flown to Anaheim and Orlando knows that security can be strict. Ironically during the time period that Argo covers, airport security was less strict with friends and family visiting passengers at the gate. If you want to see tough security, you have to check out the multiple checks at the Tehran Airport as Menedez attempts to bring his passengers out of Tehran. Once when a TSA agent at John Wayne grilled my kids I thought it odd, but I appreciated that he was confirming they were who I said they were. But Argo makes it clear that security in today’s America is a lot more convenient than revolutionary Iran.

Argo is a great movie, and I would be more than happy to let Affleck participate in the Marvel or Star Wars universes after this fantastic offering. I look forward to seeing Affleck’s next project, which is not scheduled for Disney but Warner Brothers. But hopefully it will be just as Mousey and as entertaining as Argo.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Between Books - Art Afterpieces

Book cover showing Whistler's Mother sitting in front of a tv.
Clearly to Ward Kimball nothing was sacred.

In his book Art Afterpieces, Kimball completes classic works of art. For example, in Kimball’s revised version of William M. Harnett’s After the Hunt, Kimball adds Donald Duck to the hunter’s bounty. To the familiar Blue Boy he adds a jazzy goatee and sunglasses. And in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, God lights up Adam’s cigarette. The point of the book is not necessarily to be funny. In fact Walt Kelly in his foreword recounts Kimball’s statement that if others found his artwork funny, he has failed in his task. Kimball himself recounts a story from his childhood in which he looked to complete a classic painting. And that is what Kimball has done, added to classical art in a way that matches the late Disney legend’s personality.
After the hunt, a hunters bounty including Donald Duck

Art Afterpieces is a short book, and you likely can find one of two editions for a few bucks. I am not an art guy, so I was able to run through the book in around 20 minutes. I did chuckle a few times, especially when Kimball added Disney images to the artwork. So I guess I missed the point! I would likely suggest this book to fans of Ward Kimball as it helps show off his cracked view of the world. A reading of the book helps give you insight into the mind of the very quirky Kimball, and may lead you to want more (cough cough where’s the bio). But for the casual Disney fan, this is probably not something that would be enjoyable.
Portrait of a Man with a Medal, Man from Middle Age wearing Mickey Mouse Ears and holding Mickey Mouse Club medal

I just wonder how the late Kimball got some of these images past (cough cough) Disney legal!

For more on Ward Kimball see:
Between Books - Walt Disney's Nine Old Men: The Flipbooks
Between Books - Who's Afraid of the Song of the South 
Walt's Windows - Kimball's Engines
Walt's Windows - Ward and Groucho 


Friday, March 22, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Luke's Change: an Inside Job

Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker
You know, the story that a small one man fighter destroyed the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope sounds very suspicious when you start to think about it! 

A new short film, Luke's Change: an Inside Job, blows this conspircacy wide open!

Prepare to have your mind blown!

Clearly something suspicous occurred that day near Yavin!  That's one magic X-Wing!  And who can deny all of these connections to one family, who also represents the survivors of this incident. 

Seriously, I love this.  I love that a fan put together a super smart Star Wars satire.  I love the fact that it feels real world.  My only real complete is I know Wedge Antilles, and that sir is not Wedge Antilles!
Photo of two different actors who played Wedge Antilles.
Will the real Wedge Stand Up?
Part of the recent Star Wars announcement that included the cancellation of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was that Star Wars: Detours was on hold since Disney/Lucasfilm questioned if now was the best time to put out a humorous Star Wars project.  I think Luke's Change proves if it is smart and actually funny, it's always a good time to laugh!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mousey Movie Review - Oz the Great and Poweful

Movie poster showing the cast of Oz the Great and Powerful
Sometimes I worry that I might get labeled a Disney apologist. Maybe some of you might think I like everything with a Disney label on it. It’s not true. Sometimes if I don’t like it I simply do not waste words on it. But with Oz the Great and Powerful, I feel since I have posted a few trailers I have to share my thoughts.

Part of me thinks my thoughts do not matter on this issue. First, it is not like everyone agreed with my thoughts on last March’s movie John Carter. It’s not like I could save it. Second, since Oz the Great and Powerful has now dominated two weekend box offices I know my words will fall on deaf ears. But nonetheless just let me lay out my Mousey Movie Review of the latest visit to Oz.

It’s really not very good! Everyone that I have talked to except for one friend seems to agree, and I cannot believe those of you who saw it did not tell your friends (or me) so they could avoid it during weekend number two. You are mean America:

The Wizard of Oz
  • Leading Men: John Franco playing Oz has a tough mountain to climb. Let us be honest, two men currently define the Disney leading man. First you have Johnny Depp who crushed two Marches ago with Alice in Wonderland. Second, you have Robert Downey Jr., who could bring emotion and character to paint drying. Franco simply does not match up to these high standards. At times I felt like I could tell that he was delivering lines in stale green screen sets. I just never fully bought him as Oz. Additionally, the writing behind the magician turned Wizard does not help. The writers never provide Oz with the true turn around in his character. He is just as flawed when the movie is over then when it begins.  
  • Strange Looks: The CGI also does not help the movie. Yes there are plenty of breathtaking backgrounds. But some of those seem blurry and fake at times. Additionally the matching of live action to computer-animated images is poor. In one scene as the Wizard was holding China Girl you can see a gap between the fragile youngster and Oz’s hand. It simply does not always look right.
  • Flying Monkeys: The best part of Oz the Great and Powerful is Finley the flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff. Finley amongst all of the characters is the most “real” and dare I say human. He is loyal, compassionate, funny, faithful, realistic, and warm. The fact that Finley has the best showing makes me sad since he is a CGI character with a voice over. Yet Braff seems to do a better job conveying emotion with just his voice where many of those around him fail with their entire selves.
  • Fantasy Faire: In many ways I felt like Oz was a secondary character. To me the interesting characters were the witches Theodora played by Mila Kunis, Evanora played by Rachel Wiesz and Glenda played by Michelle Williams. Despite the fact that Oz is the one they state will bring the prophecy to free Oz from evil about, it really feels like the women are driving the action. Honestly, the battle for Oz feels like it could have been waged without the male lead. 
The Wicked Witch
  • Dark Ride: Oz’s arrival in Oz may have been one of the best moments to me. His journey through the river in his balloon feels like it could be a dark ride. Imagineers could easily craft an attraction that is part Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland and part Peter Pan’s Flight to offer us something really wonderful. Sadly, a 4-minute ride may do a better job depicting this story to its audience! I am not the only one that saw this as the Between Kid yelled out, “I would ride this”.
  • White Elephant Gifts: The Between Wife changed her status after the movie to “The Wizard gives the worst gifts ever.” In the original MGM Wizard of Oz we have a gift scene in which objects represent something bigger like brains, heart, and courage. Here we have a similar gift scene, but the gifts really do not have a label that indentifies a bigger idea. For example, one gift could be labeled joy or happiness. Instead, the Wizard just basically says it is something that everybody could use sometimes and gives it to a grumpy character. Please Wizard, try harder when you shop!
  • Bookends: This offering clearly pays tribute to the MGM classic The Wizard of Oz. Like this classic film, Oz the Great and Powerful opens in black and white and in Kansas. We see Oz’s problems in our world and he makes some mistakes in his relationships. In the original, we return to Kansas and we get those storylines wrapped up in a little bow. Here, not at all. In my mind, we got 3/4ths of a movie. And the fact that Oz really does not reform much just helps push that impression.
There are some really cute things here, like Oz working for the Baum Brothers Circus a tribute to Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum. And I was pretty excited to see Oz the Great and Powerful. But for me it feel flat, felt slow and had numerous story problems. With a sequel confirmed, I have already made my viewing plans for the next installment. I will be renting the next Oz film!  Do you agree?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Walt's Windows - Disneyland Resort: Remember the Moments a Magical Souvenir

DVD cover showing scenese from Disneyland.
When the Between Family first visited the Disneyland Resort we picked up a DVD in Adventureland that I have not seen since. Disneyland Resort: Remember the Moments a Magical Souvenir provides a glimpse of the full resort including Disneyland Park, Disney’s California Adventure (DCA) as it was named at that time, Downtown Disney and the Disney hotels. Our tour guides Karen and Mile provide a land by land, park by park tour of the Disneyland resort with video and narration highlighting the attractions and features of the park. Additionally, facts about the current topic of discuss graphically pop onto the screen as the video plays. Honestly, it is a pretty straight forward promotional tour of the park. And this fact can somewhat be found in the special features which includes “Making the Video Guide”, “The Twilight Tower of Terror Time Lapse”, “Two Great Shows” which provides information about the Snow White and Aladdin stage shows, and “Traveling with Preschoolers”. Many of these would be useful to someone planning a trip.

The presentation is set around 2005. There are references to the Disneyland 50th anniversary, the Parade of the Stars which ran from 1999 to 2005, and Snow White an Enchanting Musical which ran from 2004 to 2006. For me this is a Disneyland that I never saw, despite that fact that it is relatively modern. For me that most interesting portion of the video is Disney’s California Adventure still in its youth. With a Sun Wheel, the Orange Stinger and the Maliboomer all prominently featured, it show me how much DCA has changed and greatly improved. It is amazing how quickly this park has matured.

I do not know if I would advocate purchasing this video. We picked it up in the park for a reasonable price and do not know if it is still available. A search on Amazon uncovered copies for $50. Now I will admit that the Between Kid really likes this title. But he likes it just as much as the most current Disney Parks Planning video, which is free. The value in trip planning is also limited since it almost a decade old. So, as much as I enjoy the early DCA video, financially I would not spend a lot on this window to the past.

Disneyland Resort: Remember the Moments a Magical Souvenir provides a peak at Disneyland in the years before I visited. I am sure for many of you, you remember this Disneyland Resort well. Viewing this again and again and again over the last three years has helped remind me that these parks do change quickly and for some of us a window looking a few years back is the only way we will see an era of the parks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Between Books - Our Kingdom of Dust

Cover images showing Snow White next to castle made of white dust.
Several months ago I was emailing with publisher Leonard Kinsey discussing a review copy that he was sending to me. I felt bad because I noted I did not want to review his first fiction offering, Our Kingdom of Dust. I said no for two reasons. First, I did not feel comfortable reviewing fiction at that time. Second, the subject matter just did not feel like a good fit for me. But despite the fact I wanted nothing to do with this title, I could not resist picking up a Kindle copy from Amazon due to the really affordable price and the fact that Leonard has been very kind to me, which made me want to check out what he had put together.

Despite the fact that I had purchased it, it sat on my Kindle shelf for months. In the meantime, I enjoyed another Disney fictional story and some history, but I never cracked the virtual cover. Then I found myself on a family trip reading a fiction book in another genre and I found myself a little bored with that title. After this realization, I decided one morning to finally crack open Our Kingdom of Dust, even though I knew I would hate it! But, it would help pass the time until I was ready for the other book again. Several hours later, I found that I had finished the book and had not even considered Star Wars. Well played Leonard Kinsey, well played!

Our Kingdom of Dust follows the fictional Blaine McKinnon. Blaine had been successful in the business world, making his millions young. But on the personal front, his life could only be called tragic. After one last straw, McKinnon decides to take his fortune and retreat to the Walt Disney World Resort, a location filled with many happy childhood memories with his late parents. While holding up indefinitely at the Boardwalk, he befriends Jay, a tattooed Disney superfan (I mention the tattoos only because they are all Disney themed) and drug dealer. Blaine, who has not been lucky in love, falls for Jay’s girlfriend Lisa, who is a friend of Snow White. Through Jay and Lisa, Blaine enters a world of deeply broken people who use Jay’s custom drug, Pixie Dust. Pixie Dust does what all real world drugs do in that it helps Jay’s customers hide from their real world problems. Blaine is faced with overcoming his own issues and helping Jay face his demons, all while contemplating if he should seek a future with Lisa. The story successfully wraps ups the threads of every character’s story, though not everyone receives a Walt Disney designed happy ending!

For a first fictional offering, I really have to applaud Kinsey. In the first ten pages he hooked me as a reader, in a genre I would typically never read. He had left me feeling for Blaine and feeling sorrow for his many many loses. Additionally, he built pictures in my mind that took me to a dark sad place. I felt sorrow for his characters. Honestly, as a dog fan, the last scene of Blaine and his dog, Sam, rocked me to the core. As the pages progressed, he brought me into the mood of the story. Honestly, at one point, I had to read with an adult beverage in hand in order to escape the fictional world in which I was spending so much time. I also found myself telling the Between Wife things being done to Blaine, especially in the early pages. I was reminded she planned on reading it later and I needed to avoid spoilers. I think it is safe to say that I was really drawn into Kinsey’s world and placed the book of a bestselling Sci-Fi author in an universe that I love aside for a Saturday. No idea what this last sentence means

Kinsey also does an excellent job with the Walt Disney World Resort setting. He does an excellent job of painting the scene, which is telling of his frequent visits to the Resort. My favorite detail was him discussing the small lizards one encounters while walking from place to place. And with this story set during Epcot’s 25th Anniversary, Kinsey takes us back to that version of the park complete with Mickey’s wand attached to Spaceship Earth. I admit I really enjoyed reading Blaine’s reactions to this version of Epcot after a long absence. Additionally, Blaine’s reaction to the removal of Horizons brought a smile to my own face. And of course, his reaction to the Imagination Pavilion and his guest comment card were moments I found hilarious.

Who will enjoy Our Kingdom of Dust? I will admit it is outside of my general interests, being a realistic drama. The fact that it included the Walt Disney World Resort was the hook that brought me in. This was supported by the fact that I was happily surprised by Kinsey’s guidebook The Dark Side of Disney. Without these, I probably would have never picked up the book. I did find that the setting is very adult in nature and there are some graphic images especially around one death that I cannot shake and some may find disturbing. I think those who enjoyed the non-fiction books Mousetrapped and Cast Member Confidential would likely enjoy this fictional tale of broken people in a magical world.

Our Kingdom of Dust with its adult situations and drug storyline may not be for every Disney fan. However, Kinsey’s writing is engaging and he draws you into a world of broken souls. If one is willing to give it a chance, especially with its low Kindle price, it can take you to another place for a few hours. And it might just remind you that you are not as broken as you think.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Save the Clone Wars

The Emperor standing behind balls showing the images of the Star Wars the Clone Wars figures.
Who Will Fall?

For the last few weeks, JimmyMac of RebelForce Radio has been warning us it could be Star Wars: The Clone Wars that could fall.

I was a big Star Wars fan before Disney bought LucasFilm.  Star Wars probably shaped my childhood just as much as Disney.

And I was super excited when the purchase was announced as it seemed a no brainer to put Star Wars: The Clone Wars alongside Ultimate Spider-Man and The Avengers: The Earth's Mightiest Heroes is a super action animated programming block.  And Star Wars: Detours would have been a fantastic fit next to Gravity Falls on the Disney Channel.  Honestly, with a voice cast that includes Dee Bradley Baker, Corey Burton, and Jim Cummings has Disney written all over it!  It just all seemed to be peanut butter and jelly, a prefect fit!  

But alas it does not seem to be.  New stories are starting to break that Star Wars: The Clone Wars has been canceled.  There could be official news soon!  And honestly while there are season 6 stories in the pipeline and even season 5 episodes that have not seen the light, season 5 did end at a point that some may seen as natural.

So here are our options.  One we can sit around and know we did nothing as this Mousey program was put to rest before it could even reach a Disney network.  Or we can politely let decision makers know that we value this Disney franchise and look forward to more.

Let's join JimmyMac in writing a polite letter to:
Disney Studios
500 S Buena Vista St
Burbank, CA 91521
Attn: Bob Iger
You can also write a letter to Kathleen Kennedy…
P.O. Box 29901
San Francisco, CA 94129-0901
Attn: Kathleen Kennedy

You can also call 708-320-1RFR and provide your words of support which will be compiled on a CD RebelForce Radio is sending to Disney leadership.

We have seen a lot of changed in the last six months, but let's save Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Goofy Gadgets - Temple Run Oz

A logo showing a monkey head behind the words Oz

Recently I have been playing a lot of Temple Run 2. It’s become my time suck of choice over that last few weeks. But it’s not Mousey! Yes I do allow myself some non-Mousey things!

But then, much like Disney did with Brave, Disney had a version of Temple Run made to promote Oz The Great and Powerful. And though I have not logged the time I have with the other versions yet, I am really enjoying this version.

In Temple Run Oz, you are the wizard running down the Yellow Brick Road being chased by a flying Monkey. The game has much of the functionality as Temple Run 2 with similar bonuses and the ability to continue the run by using earned gems. The backgrounds however are very Oz focused. And there are some twists to the game, with walkways dropping before the Wizard arrives on them and obstacles that fall onto the road in front of you. Additionally some obstacles can reach out and grab the Wizard as you run. Another change is the addition of backgrounds. So instead of running through the same basic backgrounds again and again, I have already unlocked the Dark Forest background which helps to provide variety to the game.

The Wizard running down the yell brick road.
Running Down the Yellow Brick Road

One change between Temple Run and Temple Run 2 was the addition of non-running stages. In Temple Run 2 your runner is dropped into a mine car for a portion of their run and rides through a mine. The Oz version of the game has replaced the mine car with the Wizard’s balloon. One has to navigate the balloon between crystals to keep the balloon moving forward. Honestly I prefer this balloon phase to the mine car version, mostly because I am mastering it more quickly.

The Wizard flys his balloon.
The Wizard Takes Flight

If you enjoy Temple Run, Temple Run Brave, or Temple Run 2 you will likely find yourself wasting, I mean investing, time playing this new version. The only thing to consider is Temple Run Oz costs a whole 99 cents, while Temple Run 2 is free. So you may wish to start with the non-Disney branded version to help determine if Oz is a land you want to run through.

iOS 5.0 or later is required to run this application  

Excuse me, I need to go become unproductive now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Garlan Hulse "Where Potential Lives"

Movie Poster showing the cast of Wreck-It-Ralph

Whatever happened to Garlan Hulse? You know, Garlan Hulse, the boy who captured America’s imagination by scoring the top score on Fix-It-Felix Jr.

Rich Moore, the director of Wreck-It-Ralph, catches up with Hulse and documents his rise, fall and attempt to rise again to the top of video gaming in the expose “Garlan Hulse “Where Potential Lives”.

This mockumentary is a great tool for promoting the home video release of Wreck-It-Ralph. This 28 minute film follows the story of Garlan Hulse, a very “interesting” young man who loves his mother and held the record playing Fix-It-Felix Jr. for six weeks. Filmed in the style of the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The film is quirky, adult in humor, and a brilliant way to help market the film. Though there is part of me that wonders if the original goal was for the filmmakers to just have a really good time. If I was to criticize anything it might be a little long, I am not someone who typically watches more than a few minutes of video online.

If you are interested in Wreck-It-Ralph, you may also want to check out the Nerdist podcast which recently sat down with Moore. In the interview you learn a lot about Moore’s background, animation, reality TV shows, and the future of Wreck-It-Ralph. Spoilers, when asked about a sequel he states, “it just may happen.” But I have to warn you, Moore may be a Disney director but there is some adult language. But it is funny!

Will Garlan Hulse rise again and reclaim his childhood love? Well you should just watch to find out.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Between Books - Infinity Gauntlet

Thanos holding out the Infinity Gauntlets

Do we really have to wait until 2015 for The Avengers 2? Yes I know we have Iron Man 3, Thor 2: The Dark World, and Captain America 2: Winter Soldier to pass the years. But I really do not want to wait until 2015 to resolve Thanos and his plans for earth. I want to know what is going on now. So, I created my own shortcut and I read Infinity Gauntlet, collecting the Marvel mini-series from 1991. Though this series is not the introduction of the villain Thanos, it does tie into another potential plot element, the Infinity Gauntlet. The stone in Loki’s spear in The Avengers is the Soul Gem, which allows the user to control others. And in Thor the Infinity Gauntlet is seen in Odin’s vault. I have a hard time believing that they would not have left us a trail to this story without looking to adapt it in the future within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In 1991's Infinity Gauntlet, written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by George Perez and Ron Lim, Thanos acquires the Infinity Gauntlet formed of the entire set of Infinity Gems in order to fulfill his beloved’s desires. The full gauntlet makes Thanos more powerful than a Marvel universe God. He hopes to impress Death by killing half of the universe, in the blink of an eye! Earth’s heroes unite under the leadership of hero Adam Warlock, who is very familiar with the Soul Gem (he lived in it), to battle Thanos and attempt to save the universe from chaos and death. The following are speculative thoughts from the story that could have impact on a future Avengers 2, if it was actually adapted for the next movie:
  • The Stones: We have already been introduced to the Soul Gem, but there are actually six infinity gems. The full set is The Soul, The Mind, Power, Time, Reality and Space. When combined together in the Infinity Gauntlet, they give the holder unlimited Godlike power. Basically, the Gauntlet makes Thanos the badest baddy that the Avengers would fight yet.
  • Star Wars, Nothing But Star Wars: This is a cosmic tale. Seriously, it’s out of this world. Yes, there is a fair amount of action that occurs on little old earth. But the final battle occurs in space. So take Tony Stark flying into space at the end of The Avengers and add Thor and other heroes zooming through space with him. And then add in that part of the confrontation with Thanos includes a delegation of cosmic entities like Entirety, Love and Hate, the Watcher, Galactus, Kronos, and others. If they follow this cosmic setting, the budget for the film would have to be huge. Cleveland was able to sit in for New York in The Avengers, but it would require a lot of special effects to frame this story on the big screen in the same way as the comic. Or some things like the cosmic entities may not be able to be seen on screen. I do see the Marvel Cinematic Universe moving this direction with concept art from Iron Man 3, spoiler, showing Tony within a deep space version of the armor.
  • Where’s Waldo: The good news about the Infinity Gauntlet storyline is that Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk all have fairly big roles with Black Widow also in action. Now this Thor is not the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor with a storyline that if he is separated from his hammer for a set timeframe he transforms into a regular human who is not Donald Blake. This plot point is small enough I am guessing that Joss Whedon would simply ignore it. But Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye is problematic. For almost the entire story Hawkeye is gone, and somewhere where he should never return from. I am fairly certain regardless of the number of heroes they add that the Disney executives would like to keep Renner with a significant role in a future Avengers film. I think it’s the law that Renner has to have a role in every action franchise, or at least it feels that way!
  • Missing in Action: This is a big big Marvel story. It is literally cosmic and the role of heroes featured is massive. However, there are a ton of heroes who cannot be part of the story due to obligations to other studios. These missing heroes included Spider-Man, Wolverine, Professor X, and the Fantastic Four. And some characters I wonder if they have viable as they served as supporting characters on the non-Disney films. These include the Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom who have a pretty big role in this epic. I am guessing that currently these two are wrapped up with other studios and will be written out unless Disney pays a fee to access their characters.
  • Introducing: There are several characters that could be introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a very “magical” story, where it is made equal to science. Therefore Doctor Strange plays a large role in the original story, so Avengers 2 if following this story at all could be an introduction to this character. I think this is likely since Kevin Fiege has announced that Doctor Strange will be part of Wave Three after Avengers 2. Another character who could have a role is Ant Man, who’s film is also considered part of Wave Three. Though I have to admit this original Avenger is not really one of my favorite characters.
  • Leader of the Pack: What to do with Adam Warlock. He serves as the strategic leader in the conformation against Thanos. But to be honest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe he could only ever be a supporting character. And would they allow someone other than Nick Fury serve as the core leader? I do not think so. I expect that Fury might take over some of Warlock’s role if this storyline was made into Avengers 2.
  • Stan’s Soapbox: No entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be complete without the Stan Lee cameo. And this story is ready for Stan’s arrival. One frame shows that the Hulk is visiting “Smilin’ Stan’s Bar & Grill. On this alone, I would green light this story for the core of Avengers 2.
Again, this is all nothing more than speculation and none of these guesses could come to fruition. But with two years to go, Infinity Gauntlet is an enjoyable book to visit and start building assumptions on a future movie. Let's be honest, this story could not become a feature film without major rewrites.  Even if none of these guesses come true, the story itself is an enjoyable superhero adventure sure to entertain fans of the Avenger Initiative.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Comic Corner - Secret Avengers #1

Comic cover showing Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury Jr. and Maria Hill

Marvel and Disney have an interesting situation on their hands. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is widely popular, and in 2008, Samuel L. Jackson began to firmly establish himself as Nick Fury in Iron Man. Anyone who has only been exposed to this second level Marvel character, on the big screen, can only visualize Fury as Jackson. So for those who explore comics because they enjoyed the Avenger Initiative may be surprised when the stumble upon Fury in print. Yes, Nick Fury in the Ultimate Universe is stylized to look like Jackson, but in the mainline Marvel Universe, Earth 616, super spy Nick Fury is a gruff Caucasian man. In this universe Fury is more along the lines of Clint Eastwood than Samuel L. Jackson. And though this is a comic universe where things can be changed with a brush stroke and a few lines of story, his ethnicity is a little harder to change since Fury has been Caucasian since 1963. So how does one reconcile Marvel history with the expectations of those who have only seen the movies? I believe Marvel thinks they have found their solution in Secret Avengers.

With issue 1 in February 2013, Secret Avengers caught my attention for two reasons. First, it advertised that Agent Phil Coulson was featured. I am a big Coulson fan! Second, it would feature an African-American Nick Fury. The full cast of the title includes S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, Hawkeye and Black Widow. With 4 members of The Avengers cast, this title is clearly reaching out to fans of the movies. And then adding an African-American Nick Fury completes the attempt to bring movie audiences to a print title. And honestly, though Avengers is in the title, this really is a S.H.I.E.L.D. book. But I personally feel the title choice was to help readers coming from the Cinematic Universe, as they are not yet familiar with Avenger ID cards, an Avengers mansion or self-governing superheroes not backed by S.H.I.E.L.D. But the Avengers label is likely needed to help lead new readers to the concept that this title is related to the movie franchise. Another link to the movies is Hawkeye’s costume, which is far from his traditional over the top purple costume.

As the story opens in Secret Avengers #1, Hawkeye is being taken captive in a foreign land, on a mission that Hawkeye has no knowledge of, in an undisclosed location. This leads to a series of flashbacks where Coulson recruits Hawkeye and Black Widow to serve as Black Ops agents for S.H.I.E.L.D. The duo is introduced to their new field commander, an African-American Nick Fury dressed in a Captain America inspired uniform. The team hits the ground attempting to capture a dealer in black magic before his skills can be used to strike a vital title in the United States. Throughout the book we learn there are secrets upon secrets ranging from why Hawkeye and Black Widow took this assignment to what S.H.I.E.L.D.’s full motivation for using these former Avengers. The story provides hints to action that could happen in future issues and the secrets that can be revealed but the main story is fully resolved in this introductory issue.

Secret Avengers is part of the Marvel NOW! reboot, restructure, reset, or whatever "re" word you want to use. Basically this is a good opportunity to reconcile the print and the cinematic world. And since other changes are occurring, now is the time to bring an African-American Nick Fury into Marvel mainstream with the least disruption. I do understand that Nick Fury is already modeled after Jackson in the Ultimate universe, but I can see how cinema fans want their preferred Fury in the main universe and not a secondary, though exciting, Marvel storyline. At the same time, they also make it clear that this Fury is not the same one that has been around since 1963, a move which should satisfy long-term fans.
Comic book cover showing Secret Avengers as babies and baby Maria Hill asking if secret means no powers.
Baby Variant Cover - Pointing Out this Team is Low on Powers

Of course it is Fury and Coulson that I laid down my money for. This young and new Nick Fury is modeled after Jackson. He also is a character with unclear motives, much like the movie version. The biggest difference is this Fury is fighting and leading in the field while the Jackson version is largely directing from the bridge of the Helicarrier. I do have a lot of questions about this Fury. It appears that I can find answers to some of these questions in a title called Battle Scars which concluded before Secret Avengers. That series also introduces Coulson to the Marvel mainline universe. I have to admit that I did really enjoy Hawkeye’s reaction to this new Nick Fury! Hawkeye and Fury discuss if the name Nick Fury and James Bond are actually code names for agents and not specific people. It kind of cracks me up to watch a Marvel character attempt to reconcile Bond canon which is far from as complicated as Marvel fictional history. I must admit that I have not warmed up to this version of Coulson. I have seen an animated version of Coulson in Ultimate Spider-Man which is part comic relief straight man and part action hero. This Coulson in this single issue is, well, a used car salesman. I feel like the Coulson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a straight up guy. This guy on the other hand feels a little slimy as he plays let’s make a deal.

The graphics are, in my opinion, solid in this issue. They really help set the stage for a tale that it more spy story than superhero epic. The settings are dark and filled with the back alley type settings you would expect from a black ops team. Sadly, unless the images are super cutting edge, I really do not take full notice of them until they are distracting from the story.

From the business side, I can see why Marvel and Disney both want Secret Avengers. In this title, Marvel brings the movies and Marvel tradition together in a way that could bring new readers to print, paper or digital. I found Secret Avengers #1 a solid endeavor. But with limited money, and new Dole Whip shirts to buy, I will probably wait to borrow the collected trades of this series instead of following it month to month.