The Avengers: Age of Ultron
based on characters by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
2015 • 141 minutes • Marvel Studios
A lot of critics—especially those outside of fandom in general and sf in particular—have criticized The Avengers: Age of Ultron for being overstuffed. And that’s true. The crown jewel of Marvel’s Phase Two is stuffed, crammed, and otherwise jam-packed in such a way that, as Captain Cinema told me on our way out of the theater, that it felt like we’d been in that screening room for years. (I can only imagine what the brave souls who endured the twenty-eight hour long While Joss Whedon did succeed in his fanatical desire to make it shorter than The Avengers, but only by sixty seconds. (And that’s not including the extended and alternate endings promised on the DVD.)
But I only think that’s a downside if you’re coming to it from a context that does not value and reward serialization and attention the way that mainstream superhero comics do. Despite DC and Marvel’s intermittent attempts to clean up their universes (behold Marvel’s Ultimates, DC’s All Stars, and this summer’s Convergence and Divergence events at both companies) in order to attract new readers who might otherwise hesitate to leap into a genre that seems like it comes with a lot of homework, that backlog, once you manage to make the initial leap, is actually one of the great delights of comics fandom. (Although you have it to admit, it’s a lot easier with the Internet. I would have never hacked it in pre-Internet fandom, y’all.) As much as Marvel Studios gets deserved flack for the time it spends building the foundation for the next film during the film you’re actually watching, it’s that foundation that makes it great. Not, perhaps, in terms of film (especially standalone films), but in terms of what Marvel Studios is trying to do—it’s trying to recreate great comic book storytelling in a different medium.
Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Promise: Part 2
by Gene Luen Yang and Studio Gurihiru
2012 • 76 pages • Dark Horse Books
Of all the magnificently drawn characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, I might like Toph Bei Fong and Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe the most. I have a soft spot for nearly all of them, but Toph and Sokka face particular challenges that make them stand out. Toph is a girl whose blindness and status has made people refuse to see her as a whole human being, keeping her from achieving her full potential as the greatest earthbender the world has ever seen. Sokka, besides being a glorious nerd with a penchant for shopping, is the only member of the Gaang who isn’t a bender and occasionally feels ignored, set aside, or just lesser because of it. The series doesn’t go too far down that path, but it’s present enough to form the foundation for the first series of Legend of Korra.
(Which I still haven’t finished. Yes, I know, bad fandom queer, bad!)
Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Promise: Part 2 (punctuation is taking quite a bruising today here on the blog), obviously, furthers the A plot of the comic—the psychological torment of Fire Lord Zuko as he tries to determine what’s best for the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom and Aang circling the question of keeping his promise to kill Zuko should the Fire Lord begin behaving like his tyrannical father. Unfortunately, the only way Zuko can get any information about his presumedly deceased mother is by visiting his imprisoned father daily, and his father’s theories about morality (namely, that those in power get to determine what is and isn’t moral) are seeping into his unconsciousness. Aang tries to run interference with the Earth King, but the Earth King’s previous blindness to the Fire Nation’s invasion of the Earth Kingdom has made him determined to fight fire with fire. (Pun entirely intended.)
This Is Us
2013 • 92 minutes • Columbia
I learned about Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction via Arabelle Sicardi’s Twitter feed, which, since she delivered it with images of Zayn frolicking with dogs, was one of the better ways to learn about the news.
“Oh, no,” I moaned. “This is all my fault. I start researching One Direction conspiracy theories and the whole damn thing’s gone up in flames!” (I soothed myself via Damn Yankees’ “High Enough” for the rest of the afternoon.)
A week prior, Captain Cinema and I had watched A Hard Day’s Night, finally utilizing her Hulu Plus subscription for something other than classic Saturday Night Live. A Hard Day’s Night could not be a more joyous film; energetic, wry, and just getting better with age. If you haven’t watched it or just haven’t watched it recently, please go do so at your earliest convenience. I think it must be very good luck to start off spring with a picture like that. (I’m aware that the spring solstice was in March, but, as an early Aries, I more or less believe that spring starts after I’ve gotten my tax refund, Easter candy goes on sale, and I’ve eaten my birthday cake.) It got a conversation about boy bands going, which, naturally, led to the both of us independently deciding that we should watch One Direction’s feature film debut, This Is Us. Conspiracy theory research followed.
based on Captain America: The First Avenger
2015 • 8 episodes • ABC
Do I really need to tell you Agent Carter is amazing?
I kind of feel weird reviewing it, to be honest. Part of it is its obvious awesomeness to everyone I come in contact with on a regular day. Part of it is that it feels so long ago. Okay, it’s only been a month, but that’s like a year in fandom time. (I mean, the first blush of Sherlock fandom feels like another decade entirely.) And part of that is because Agent Carter is the closest thing to an original television show I’ve decided to review for the blog, being based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe instead of a specific comic, and that makes me a little nervous. Like everything that makes me nervous, that’s preposterous—it’s not as if I’m reading the Sailor Moon manga to give the anime series greater context…yet.
The Promise: Part One
by Gene Luen Yang and Studio Gurihiru
2012 • 80 pages • Dark Horse Books
Was there ever a dreamier team better suited to writing and illustrating Avatar: The Last Airbender comics as Gene Luen Yang and Studio Gurihiru? Yang, the amazing Chinese-American comics writer, has written eloquently in support of boycotting the heinously whitewashed The Last Airbender movie and in glowing praise of the original show drawing on actual Asian history in a respectful way for its stories in the same comic. And Studio Gurihiru (composed of Japanese artists Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) is known for its endearing, lyrical, and slightly cartoonish art style, making it the perfect choice to translate the stunning gorgeous and dynamic animation of the original cartoon series. Fittingly, the two have remained joined at the hip throughout the run of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, from “The Promise” to “The Search.”
The Promise: Part One picks up where Avatar: The Last Airbender leaves off—with the Fire Nation safely out of the hands of the tyrannical Lord Ozai and in the hands of his son, Lord Zuko. Terrified that he’ll repeat the mistakes his father did, Zuko makes Avatar Aang promise to kill him if he shows signs of repeating the past. Aang promises, of course. A year later, Aang, the Earth King, and Zuko are working towards the peaceful repatriation of the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. But repairing the damage the Fire Nation’s century long war against the rest of the world has caused is more complex than any of them thought.
Sailor Moon R
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi
1993-1994 • 43 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media
When Toei Animation asked Sailor Moon author Naoko Takeuchi to adapt her manga into a one season anime series, neither of them knew how successful it would be. Toei, not one to miss an opportunity, asked Takeuchi to keep working on the manga. Eventually, the manga and the anime found a rhythm that worked, with the anime following the manga closely enough that only the production time created a month or so long lag.
But, at first, the anime demand exceeded the manga supply, necessitating two filler arcs before Takeuchi and her editor hit upon the main idea for the Black Moon arc. The first is the delightful Makaiju arc, where two aliens, Ail and Ann, infiltrate Tokyo to feed human energy to the alien tree that sustains them. And the second is the infuriating subplot where Mamoru breaks up with Usagi due to a prophecy, never mentions that to her, and she spends most of her energy tearfully trying to win him back. It’s a hard side to see to the normally brash Usagi, especially when she’s only dealt this crap hand in the anime for the flimsiest of reasons. (Oh, and he’s a college student dating a fourteen year old. This kind of stuff doesn’t make me like you, Mamoru. Step it up.)
by Stephanie Hemphill
2013 • 320 pages • Balzer + Bray
Oh, Mary Shelley. Daughter of fundamental English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, inventor of science fiction, and all around literary—dare I say it—monster. I only grow fonder of her the more I learn about her. I even might be biased towards The Bride of Frankenstein not for the Bride herself, but for the film opening with Elsa Lanchester’s Mary Shelley primly accepting Lord Byron’s stilted praise in one of the most stunning gowns of early Hollywood. (Even if it’s mostly to underline that there’s a moral point to the proceedings to free it from guilt.) I note the century-spanning gap of eighty-one years between that depiction of Shelley and the forthcoming dueling 2016 biopics A Storm in the Stars and Mary Shelley’s Monster with the most cutting of side eyes.
So Stephanie Hemphill’s young adult novel about Shelley, Hideous Love, with its near pre-Raphaelite cover of a redheaded young woman bent in a pose that recalls both Atlas and Prometheus, was catnip to me. I was always happy when the economies of space allowed me to face it out in the young adult nook back at the Tattered Cover. But, as ever, I dragged my feet about actually reading the darn thing. Although “drag my feet” is a poor metaphor for my reading habits—“got distracted by other books like a concussed magpie” is more like it. It’s a useful, if disorganized, methodology, because it lets me come to books fresh.
So fresh, in fact, that I had no idea that Hideous Love is a verse novel.
based on the 1950 motion picture and the fairy tale by Charles Perrault
2015 • 112 minutes • Walt Disney Pictures
Despite my fervently fevered hopes, there was never any real chance that Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella would follow in the radically feminist footsteps of Maleficent. While Sleeping Beauty is widely considered one of the best Disney films, Cinderella is the film that saved Walt Disney Animation from shutting down in the early fifties. The film and the character are so intertwined with the company that Walt Disney World is crowned by her castle. Letting Linda Woolverton turn in a script that is literally about destroying the patriarchy for Maleficent is one thing; letting Christ Weitz radically change what Jess Plummer calls the “ur-Disney movie” is quite another.
So Branagh’s Cinderella doesn’t make many changes to the original film. We do get a bit more of Ella’s childhood (including a kind turn by Hayley Atwell as Ella’s mother), an adorable meet-cute in the forest between Ella and the Prince, a more fleshed out relationship between the Prince and his father, and some half-hearted court intrigue involving the Grand Duke. Any commentary on the original text is largely kept to Ella’s characterization. The film deepens her already established compassion, best expressed in the scene where Lady Tremaine is horrified to discover that Ella pities her. She questions why things are the way they are, but the most radical implication of that is that Ella is a vegetarian. Lady Tremaine gets a sympathetic backstory in one brief scene, but a pointedly feminist retelling it is not.
Wayne’s World 2
1993 • 95 minutes • Paramount Pictures
I think Mike Myers invented teenage boys. Specifically, both flavors of teenage boy that I encountered in my childhood seem traceable back to him—the just under the wire snarky Gen Xers known as my brother and his friends, as well as the masculine Millennials I actually went to class with. Both variants were capable of easy charm and smug, self-satisfied snark; the difference was the ratio. As someone roughly a decade younger than her older brother, I was not privy to the exact ratio those frost-tipped Gen X boys had, but it was certainly more balanced than the Millennial snots I actually suffered through class with. (Were they all snots? Probably not, but boys were afraid of me in middle school. As nature intended.)
Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2 both have that same kind of charm and smugness, but it works in Wayne’s World because the smugness comes across as a production team simply delighted that they get to make this movie—Mike Myers bringing Wayne to the big screen, Tia Carrere getting a chance to play a well-rounded female lead in a big summer movie, and director Penelope Spheeris getting to do a comedy. There’s a bit in the brief behind-the-scenes featurette on the Wayne’s World DVD where Myers talks about how he and Carvey had to figure out how Wayne and Garth, previously always seated, walked, and he simply lights up at that little detail. (Myers went for the subtle front half of a centaur gait.) Plus, Wayne’s World never feels like it’s punching down; Wayne and Garth rarely goof off at the expense of other people. I mean, it happens, don’t get me wrong, but they’re just as much the butt of the joke as other people.
Wayne’s World 2, however, is almost all smug, self-satisfied snark. Is it because the turnaround between both films was, frankly, absurdly quick? Is it because the gentling punk rock hand of Penelope Spheeris is absent? Is it because the movie forgets that Wayne and Garth enjoy their lives as is? It’s because of all of those things, and more.
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
2012 • 313 pages • Dutton Books
The thing about my incredibly long lead time on most media (imposed on me by both library wait lists and my own reticence to do as I am told) is that I get to see both the thing itself and the response to it. When The Fault in Our Stars dropped in 2012, it was hot. White hot. So white hot, in fact, that even while I was working at the Tattered Cover a year later, we could barely keep the damn thing on the shelves. (To be fair, the post-humously constructed Esther Earl memoir This Star Won’t Go Out had just been released, boosting sales.) I still have the occasional waking nightmare of the rickety overstock stacks I had to make over the John Green section in the young adult nook. Tumbling, bright blue, entirely hardcover overstock stacks.
But, to quote The Dark Knight, The Fault in Our Stars has lived long enough to become the villain. Specifically, John Green has. Where he was once recommended to me, he’s, of late, been side-eyed. Some of it is his own behavior—Green’s misjudged breathless declaration that the kiss in the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars is the first lady-initiated kiss in ALL OF CINEMATIC TEEN ROMANCE, anyone?—but a lot of it is how the work of a cisgendered straight white dude is being used by the mainstream to legitimize young adult fiction. (Which is not his fault, obviously, but is still something to take into account.) This backlash eventually came to his books, especially The Fault in Our Stars. After the film hit, I saw many a tumblrina rolling her eyes at “metaphors,” although I had no idea what they were talking about.
So when I finally got around to reading the darn thing, I was prepared for the worst. After all, I did not care for Will Grayson, Will Grayson, his collaboration with David Levithan, whose work I otherwise enjoy. And fifty pages into it, I may have immediately texted a known Green unfan of my acquaintance that Augustus Waters was a total turd.