Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the sequel to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and the ensemble film The Avengers, is full of all those things you like to see in a comic book spinoff film: lots of action sequences and plenty of banter between superheroes. It’s a good addition to the Marvel Studios universe of films. But compared to past entries it begs the question of where Marvel is heading with all its Avengers-based films.
Not as viscerally compelling as The First Avenger, the story in The Winter Soldier seems disjointed, as if it is a stitched together batch of scenes instead of a clearly thought out story. We have one villain with the Winter Soldier, another with a government wonk played by Robert Redford, another with a would-be S.H.I.E.L.D. enforcer played by the who-would ever-trust-a-guy that-looks-like-that Frank Grillo, and pretty much every government lawman around, including scenes with too-many-to-count police cars destroyed and demolished by the good guys. Oh, yeah–and Hydra. Again. Is it a complex story or just too many unnecessary plot threads? The first Captain America was a complete story, showing the weak young man who wanted to fight for all that’s right as he moved along a path to become a supersoldier, working with an incredible group of comrades, and experiencing love and loss along the way–character driven, not action driven. The basic story here has been over-used lately–stop the criminals who believe destroying the world (or the city, etc.) is the only way to save it. In what world does that logic make sense?
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”.
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.
By Art Schmidt
I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about comic book movies and the slow transition of the formulas for the ones which have succeeded to television format. My friend was grumbling about the lack of costumed heroes on popular shows such as Arrow or the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I have to admit, I hadn’t really noticed the lack of costumes in those shows, loving the first season of Arrow despite very few folks with traditional comic book costumes, and enjoying the first couple of episodes of A.O.S. (can you acronym an acronym?).
But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I was. Why weren’t there more costumes in Arrow? Certainly Deathstroke’s mask was a pivotal prop in the series, and the Dark Archer had a cool getup, but they weren’t costumes so much as work attire fitting the villain’s nature. And of course A.O.S. is a show about normal people, super spies and highly-skilled to be sure, but not superheroes. And certainly without costumes outside of May’s black leather suit, akin to Fury’s normal wardrobe and the attire seen by many personnel aboard the Heli-carrier in The Avengers.
Speaking of which, The Avengers is a perfect case in point. The evolution of the superhero sans costume. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Tonight, at last, ABC premieres Joss Whedon’s new TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Expanding from the mega-hit movie series of superhero flicks that led up to last year’s The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is taking a queue from the CW’s DC Comics series Arrow: It will focus on the non-superhero aspects of the comic book universe, introducing a new team of characters to help explain this shadow organization called S.H.I.E.L.D.
We work the cases S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t classified. We investigate the bizarre. The strange. The unknown. To protect the ordinary from the extraordinary. Welcome to Level 7.
Don’t look for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury or Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, or any of the other major Marvel superheroes, at least in the initial episodes, although there may be known Marvel villains in the first season. But look for two major links to the Marvel movies in tonight’s premiere. First is a visit from Agent Maria Hill, played by Cobie Smulders. Smulders’ performance as Hill elevated the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to near-superhero status in The Avengers. Her major role and performance left us all begging for more, so we hope we get to see her more than in just the series pilot.
Agent Coulson lives!
Like all characters in comic books, dead doesn’t really mean dead. And we couldn’t be happier that Marvel Studios is bringing back Agent Phil Coulson, who, played by Clarke Gregg, was the unlikely lynchpin of every one of the recent interconnected movies based on Marvel Comics’ characters.
In the marathon opening night for The Avengers, Agent Coulson served as our guide, speaking directly to viewers as he introduced Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man 2, and Captain America: The First Avenger. In The Avengers, we saw what was unquestionably the most emotional scene of the franchise as Coulson was killed by Loki. Or so we thought.
Check out the preview for the ABC Network’s new TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
Rounding out our week of dark-themed 2013 movie previews, Marvel Studios just released the first trailer for Thor: The Dark World, sequel to the hit film Thor that we reviewed here at borg.com back in 2011. We liked the first big screen run at translating the classic popular comic book series starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, and Anthony Hopkins. It’s probably the most notable for giving us the backstory of Hiddleston’s Loki, who became the villain bent on Earth’s destruction in 2012’s megahit The Avengers.
Hemsworth, Portman, Hiddleston, Skarsgård, and Hopkins all return as Thor, Jane Foster, Loki, Dr. Selvig, and Odin in Thor: The Dark World, and are joined by Chuck’s Zachary Levi as Fandral, Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston as Malekith, Get Shorty’s Rene Russo as Frigga, and Lost’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Algrim.
Check out the first studio preview for Thor: The Dark World:
Thor: The Dark World hits theaters November 8, 2013.
With DC Comics having wrapped it first year with the New 52, it is now releasing the second hardcover volume of its flagship title, Justice League. If you don’t read the monthly series, now is the time to catch up on the full first year with Volumes 1 and 2 now on the shelves. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin reprinted Issues 1-6, and now Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain’s Journey reprints Issues 7-12, both volumes including variant covers and cover sketch art by the popular artist Jim Lee.
Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin, now available in both hardcover and trade paperback, began the entire New 52, a new DC Universe unveiled first 5 years ago, a reality which may or may not have been manipulated from the universe we’ve known all along by the red-hooded Pandora, who has managed to flit in and out of nearly every DC Comics series since the reboot in September 2011. In Volume 1 we met the new original seven members of the League–first a comical run-in of Batman and Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who then have their own run-in with Superman (run-in meaning lots of bruises and destruction of property). Then Barry Allen’s Flash entered the picture as probably the most interesting character in the new League. He formed a relationship with buddy Hal Jordan which provided many of the most entertaining scenes of the series so far. Then we met Wonder Woman, who in this incarnation of the DCU is far more Valkyrie than Amazon, and this plays nicely off of Aquaman’s entrance, whose Atlantis origins are here very much influenced by the world of Thor. This is all tied together by a new League entrant, the young Vic Stone, transformed by happenstance into a cyborg, now known as the League member Cyborg. And they all must come together to protect the world from being devastated by none other than classic villain Darkseid. We reviewed the monthly series at borg.com least year here.
In a year where we saw Hollywood market the worst titled movies to us–Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and yes, Silver Linings Playbook, it’s probably no surprise the Oscar nominations were going to be strange this year. Like always there are really glaring oddities, and after a lot of speculation that we’d see more of the same with the new round of selections, Oscar again fell into its normal traps.
The key problems with the Academy Awards include the marketing barrage that occurs, productions pushing advertising to encourage votes, and even the desire to position the Oscars toward a new, younger audience that becomes evident in more popular than critical nominees. Over the course of several years of Oscars you see unmistakable patterns that develop and the Academy Awards nominations, if not by design then at least as a result, is its own club that favors past nominees over new entrants. Same old news this year and more yawns than excitement. So let’s see what they got right.
Argo for Seven Nominations. Argo was nominated for seven categories, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. So this is all fitting for such a brilliant film. But no nomination for director Ben Affleck? You look at his work on Argo compared to the ultimate films up for best director and you really have to shake your head.