Review by C.J. Bunce
BOULEVARD DRIVE-IN — It’s hard to believe it has only been six years since Jon Favreau surprised the world, taking a typically underwhelming character like Tony Stark, casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, and making the best modern superhero movie. Although fanboy director Favreau made the Christmas classic Elf before Iron Man, who knew he was going to change how we evaluate the modern superhero film? So it shouldn’t be surprising that a proven genre director like Bryan Singer, with titles under his belt like The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X-Men 2, X-men Origins: Wolverine, Superman Returns, and Valkyrie, has set the new standard in the summer blockbuster sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero sphere with his latest X-title, X-Men: Days of Future Past. You don’t even need to be an X-Men or Marvel fan to realize what a triumph Singer has achieved.
The movie is gigantic from the opening set-up. The giant mechanical Sentinels of the comic books take over Earth in the distant future, weeding out once and for all the small bands of survivors, creating a very Terminator-influenced opening. Now see if you can spot a theme here. A band of what you might call Tier 3 X-Men, led by Kitty Pryde (played by Oscar nominee Ellen Page), find a way to send something back into the past to save themselves from Sentinel strikes. Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, Oscar nominee Ian McKellen’s Magneto and Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman’s Logan aka Wolverine take Pryde’s method to come up with a time travel plan that results in dual casts trying to save their world, one in 1973, the other in the future. Storm, played by returning Oscar winner Halle Berry, tries to fend off the Sentinels to allow the time travel trick to work.
If you watched last night’s season finale of Arrow on the CW Network, you already know how well superhero stories can be translated to television. Arrow will likely go down as the best adaptation of a comic book property to hit the small screen. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to find the same spark but unfortunately couldn’t make it happen. After all, superhero series need superheroes at least once in a while.
The ABC Network released 12 previews for new Fall shows this week, including many that seem likely not to make it very far, including Selfie, starring Karen Gillan and John Cho. With these two mega-genre stars, someone should make a series that is more than a fluffy comedy. Cho has already shown through a variety of TV appearances, such as in Sleepy Hollow last year, that he has plenty of range beyond his movie roles. Gillan needs to move beyond the role of model, and we think Guardians of the Galaxy will give fans more of what they are after.
Here’s the Selfie preview, but you’ve been warned: ABC did not yet release a preview yet for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff Agent Carter featuring Hayley Atwell’s character from Captain America: The First Avenger as she builds S.H.I.E.L.D. in the aftermath of World War II.
But the NBC Network did release this preview of another DC Comics series, Constantine, to replace the unfortunately cancelled Dracula (which featured Arrow’s Huntress actress Jessica De Gouw and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) for the Friday night line-up with Grimm: Continue reading
Back in the 1970s Marvel Comics released the first new entry in the Star Wars universe for the franchise which then consisted of the original movie alone. With Star Wars Issue #7, Marvel followed Han Solo and Chewbacca beyond the movie adaptation, as they explored the seedier elements of society–the kinds of places a Corellian would roam with fellow smugglers and other dregs. When Disney recently announced the coming continuation of Star Wars in a third trilogy, everyone knew it had to take place in the far away galaxy decades away from the events in Return of the Jedi. Then Disney hinted at other movies in the Star Wars universe, and possibly a Han Solo story.
A Han Solo movie is intriguing. Although the filmmakers are likely to target a younger audience with a young actor for Han Solo, I can’t help think how much fun it would be to see Firefly’s Nathan Fillion play our favorite scoundrel. Comic book writer Matt Kindt (Mind Mgmt) is now writing one of the last of Dark Horse Comics’s Star Wars stories before Disney pulls the franchise away at year end, and Issue #1 follows Han Solo almost from the view of a modern fanboy googly-eyed as he meets Han Solo in person. And the Han that is admired could easily be a Han played by Fillion. Think Fillion playing Han Solo in a Blade Runner noir vibe.
Coming next Wednesday, Kindt plus penciller Marco Castiello, inker Dan Parsons, and colorist Gabe Eltaeb take us back to the days before The Empire Strikes Back with Star Wars: Rebel Heist. After the break take a look at these preview pages from Dark Horse Comics:
Were I Joe Hollywood, that puppet master that controls the destiny of all things in Entertainmentland, who has infinite resources and influence and what he says goes, I’d put Bryan Singer forward as the next director of the next movie release for Star Trek, Star Wars, or any DC Comics property. The guy behind the X-Men movies, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, House, M.D., and The Usual Suspects could make magic out of any mega-franchise. And yes, I do believe his Superman Returns dances circles around last year’s feeble attempt at rebooting the Superman mythos.
Were I Bryan Singer, I’d use the new X-Men: Days of Future Past trailer as my business card, as page one of my portfolio for the new mega-franchise gig. Unlike the earlier Days of Future Past trailers released, this new preview gives us a major glimpse of the scope of this new story, and some brilliantly designed sets and character interactions. Not to mention more of that 1970s retro that moviemakers can’t seem to get enough of recently. As a child of the 1970s, I am all for that (although it would be nice to see a real view of the decade at some point and not just what the 1970s looked like in New York City and Los Angeles over and over again).
But it’s all really about bringing Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey back for a Phoenix movie, right? Why else go to all this trouble to change “this” timeline?
You can definitely get the feel that this new time travel story could get the “fixing the past” concept right. There’s not much better for a sci-fi aficionado than a killer time travel story, so here’s hoping Days of Future Past is as good as it looks. Maybe even good enough to propel Singer into some other big franchises.
Here’s the latest trailer for Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past:
In the same way that Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye series took us by surprise as the best new series of 2012 (and hasn’t let up in 2014), Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s Black Widow monthly comic book series is proving to be at the top of the 2014 titles. Strange that the duo of Hawkeye and Black Widow is well-known to be a second tier partnership within the Avengers, yet they are the stars of some of the best monthlies the Marvel universe has to offer.
The Black Widow series follows Natasha Romanova and her attempt to atone for her past sins as a mercenary, assassin, general all-around “bad guy.” She selects missions these days very carefully. Her goal is making money but not hurting anyone in the process. And that money goes into trust funds and pays off her web of back-up operatives around the world—nothing in her plans is about profit-taking.
That doesn’t mean she won’t be tapped for S.H.I.E.L.D. or Avengers projects from time to time. Former agent and now director Maria Hill (who you’ll recall is played by Cobie Smulders in the live-action Marvel universe) brings her in on a few missions. They make a great team. Edmondson has a great feel for Romanova. In the same way Fraction was able to show the personal side of Hawkeye, Edmondson scratches the surface of what makes this lethal heroine tick, but her character shows great depth. Yet as she says at the beginning of her series “my full story will never be told”.
From the previews of the 2014 theatrical release of Guardians of the Galaxy, we get the feel we’re dealing with the motley crew of a Firefly class-inspired vessel, Marvel universe style. Along with that we see plenty of “bounty hunters” or assassin types previewed. Fans of the Eleventh Doctor on the Doctor Who TV series are particularly eager to watch the actress who played the beloved Amelia Pond—Karen Gillan—as the very futuristic looking alien assassin Nebula. Gillan even shaved her head for the role.
We don’t know how great Nebula’s role will be in the film, but she gets center spotlight in the first of two “prelude” comic book issues from Marvel Comics.
Like Darth Vader, Mara Jade, and Anakin Skywalker were subjects of the Emperor, we meet up first with Nebula as she is being guided by the villainous Thanos. And similar to the plot the previews have promised us for the new Tom Cruise summer release Edge of Tomorrow, this warrior fights and loses and is somehow recycled to live and fight on another day. Like Vader and Skywalker, Nebula, too, is part cybernetic.
If you’re still waiting to see who is going to pick up the reins and turn Gentle Giant’s Honey Trap Army into a comic book series, the next best thing may be at your local comic book store right now. It’s Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s new Black Widow biweekly series from Marvel Comics. What does it have to do with the Honey Trap Army? Nothing really, except that Natasha Romanoff as realized by the 1960s style art of Phil Noto would fit right in with the mod-inspired team of high-end assassin action figures.
You’ll get the feeling you’re reading something with plenty of potential, storytelling on par with Jason Aaron’s Thor, God of Thunder. In a similar way as Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye created a story of a second-level Avenger apart from the world of the Avengers, Edmondson’s Black Widow is on her own and carving out her own life in this new series. She’s still working with the Avengers, but this story is about how she spends the rest of her time. And like Hawkeye has his pal Lucky Dog, Natasha almost has her own pet cat. Almost.
She’s an assassin turned paid killer, a distinction that has real meaning for Natasha, who is taking on her own mercenary projects for good pay but not for personal gain. It’s all part of her atonement for past sins, a process she is both forging ahead and wrestling with. She has an able if not seemingly foppish aide in this endeavor, a buttoned-shirt lawyer named Mr. Ross, who selects assignments to take any subjective influences away from what projects are selected for Natasha to pursue. At her request. And we learn even he is full of surprises.
If someone gave you the brass ring, let you write and draw your own comic book series, including combining your favorite characters and places, and heck, even an image of yourself and your college roommate, what would you do? If you were that lucky you might put something together like Savage Wolverine. So many components of Issue #1-5 of this year’s new series screamed “win” that it’s no wonder Marvel kept charging ahead with the monthly series after Frank Cho’s initial story arc.
Frank Cho is of course the biggest reason to check out the new hardcover and trade paperback edition now on newsstands. Cho is simply the best at rendering women and dinosaurs and guns and bringing them all together. And while we’re all still anxiously awaiting the long-delayed Guns & Dinos series that was supposed to land in 2011 (where the heck is that anyway?), Cho is forgiven as this is the next best thing.
From its “bad romance”-themed Issue #8 in February through an issue featuring the other Hawkeye Kate Bishop in Los Angeles in its most recent Issue #14, Marvel Comics’ monthly Hawkeye series has kept up its unique brand of high-quality storytelling all year. With its visuals led by David Aja for most of the year, other artists have stepped in to backstop Aja, including none other than another Eisner winner artist, Francisco Francavilla. But the continuity and consistency of Avenger Clint Barton and his friends is thanks to the writing of Matt Fraction, who, like J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman and their Batwoman series, took a lower tier superhero and produced the best monthly series in its publisher’s line-up.
Each issue managed to maintain a slow, downward spiral of its hero as a self-deprecating lost soul who is only understood by a dog who is then taken across the country by his friend Kate. In one issue (Issue #12) his brother Barney “Trickshot” Barton takes over the entire story and we barely see Waverly, Iowa born Clint Barton. Rarely do we see typical superhero action, like Hawkeye donning his supersuit or showing his skill with bow and arrow. When we do see it, its via West Coast Avenger Kate Bishop. Clint is virtually absent from Issue #14, as Kate, with Lucky in tow, matches wits with a strange but beautiful masked villain.
One issue (Issue #13) focused on the somber events surrounding the funeral of neighbor “Grills,” the guy who grilled on the roof for tenants of his building and referred to Clint as Hawkguy. In that issue girlfriend Jessica Drew, the Spider-woman, tries to mend fences with Clint in the car procession, only to see afterward that he had fallen asleep during her entire compelling monologue. It’s a scene that defined this year for Hawkeye–everything that could go wrong, did, and every time he was close to getting a break he missed it. Yet readers are sucked in, and stick around to cheer on this everyman and his daily efforts to get back on track in a world where he isn’t the main superhero around.
For Marvel Comics and X-Men fans, the next in the line of X-Men movies to hit the big screen looks to be an epic production, starring the stars of the first three X-Men and Wolverine movies and the younger stars of X-Men’s past in X-Men: First Class. Not only does that mean Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Halle Berry, and Ellen Page are back, but we get to meet new characters, too, including Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask, Omar Sy as Bishop, Booboo Stewart as Warpath, Bingbing Fan as Blink, and Adan Canto as Sunspot.
Check out this first full-length trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past:
We have a long wait for this one. X-Men: Days of Future Past is scheduled for release in theaters May 23, 2014.