Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Spoilers ahead, beware! I’d say, with this movie the statue of limitations is short, and everybody is going to see it anyway, so there’s no point in writing a spoiler-free review 😉

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We went our friend Rodzyn to see the new Avengers movie on the very first day it was being played in Poland. It certainly is a complex, carefully constructed story of epic proportions, aiming to be a climax of the entire theatrical MCU so far. Most of the heroes we’ve met meet to fight the ultimate threat – Thanos. He’s been looming on the horizon since The Avengers, and now stepped up to become THE villain.

So… did they succeed, is it the greatest team-up, the biggest foe, the most epic struggle and the most heart-wrenching story of the MCU?

Piotrek: It… well, it is, for me. Not the best MCU movie, but definitely the proper culmination (or at least the first part of…) of all the interweaving storylines. The scale is bigger than anything that happened before, and a chaotic disaster on the DC scale was a real risk – but it works! It works, because we had a decade to prepare and now it just click together nicely.

Ola: I’m not sure if this indeed is a culmination – or, to be more precise, a final one. The superheroes surely deal with the biggest and baddest foe to date, and it is the most epic struggle of the MCU as we know it. However, the heart-wrenching part is a definite exaggeration on your part, Piotrek ;). It’s a wonderfully made, cleverly written, visually arresting, truly funny and sometimes even quite emotionally gripping – money grab 🙂

Piotrek: Isn’t everything. But it’s quite a good one, as blockbusters go. And it’s more than just a sequence of fights and quips.

Rodzyn: It’s hard not to admire the weavers behind MCU mentioned by Piotrek . After all those years we get to the skilfully crafted final stage, one that avid viewer can enjoy immensely. But neither the decor of epic battlefields nor the sheer number of assembled heroes gave me the most joy. In my eyes the best part of MCU are the relations and dynamics between our protagonists, ‘family drama’ feel of supernatural gathering.

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David Petersen, Mouse Guard (2005-?)

Piotrek: I was very satisfied with myself when, recently, my little niece asked: why is it only uncle Piotr who knows comics? I try to keep Madzia (her sisters are too young) supplied with age-appropriate comics, stuff like Zita the Spacergirl or Yotsuba&, which means I get to read them, out loud and often multiple times 😉 And, since I’m the one to choose, it’s usually something I enjoy myself, but obviously, not things I read in my own reading time. The topic of this review is different. This is a series of graphic novels for everyone to enjoy. I’m not going to leave the verdict for the final parts, I’ll admit straight away: I really like David Petersen’s Eisner-winning Mouse Guard series.

Mysia straż

Ola: Don’t forget it’s my find! 😛 It’s indeed a perfect comic book for all ages 7 and up – first, it definitely helps if you can read on your own ;), and second, the plot, themes and execution are best understood when one is at least a tiny bit learned in the ways of the world, having read or listened to Hobbit, for example, or at least made a passing acquaintance with the material culture of medieval times… On the other hand, the educational aspects and the straightforwardness of the plot suggest a younger cant to the target audience. However, I believe that being young at heart is absolutely sufficient to properly appreciate the Mouse Guard story. It’s a decidedly different read to your average superhero comic books, but the heroic and quite adult themes are very much present in David Petersen’s work.

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Bill Willingham, Peter & Max (2009)

I’ve already mentioned that I love Fables, a comic book series by Bill Willingham.

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Fables are real. And, exiled from their worlds by (initially) unknown Adversary, they live in our world. Mainly New York, as usual ;), but not only. Centuries ago a huge army started to conquer one world after another (in a kind of multiverse where every legend has its place, and Earth acts as an Amber of sorts, the core reality where mundane people live, creating and remembering stories*). Many Fables were killed, most subjugated, some serve the new regime, but some escaped to Earth – and dream of regaining what they lost. They formed a government of sorts, with HQ in NY, and they live among us. At least those of them, who can maintain human-like form, the rest live on animal farm in the wilderness of New York State countryside.

*Willingham uses popular system, where the strength of belief in something influences its power. Popular Fables are really powerful, forgotten – decline in time.

Yes, so the comics are great, and I also recommended most of the spin-offs. The novel occupied its place on my shelves for a few years, but I’ve only read it recently. Not that I was worried it would be bad – there just always was something else. Now I’ve read it and I’m quite happy about it, but convinced Willingham should stick to comics.

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Logan (2017)

Piotrek: Times are good for comic book fans. Old stuff is easily available, new things are often good, and movies/tv… our genre is probably the strongest one today, with so much being done, everyone can find something nice. Solid stories, visual experiments (Dr Strange, Legion!), profane (Deadpool) and civil (Guardians) comedies… and now Logan.

Ola: The newest instalment in XXth Century Fox X-Men franchise is a story loosely based on the premise of Old Man Logan, one of the most famous graphic novels about Wolverine. It features a post-apocalyptic near future, where United States are in turmoil, symbolized by the absence of the Statue of Liberty, regular institutions such as police or National Guard or medical help no longer work, and the world once again becomes an arena of fight between the weak and the strong. The mutant gene has been suppressed; superheroes are no longer around; and those who stayed behind are not what they used to be.

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Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, The Ultimates (2002)

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The famous reimagining of the mightiest Marvel’s heroes, the Avengers, was the love child of Millar, praised here for his work on Civil War, and Hitch, a British comic book artist known mostly for his detailed, and usually late, work ;). The comic book turned out to be as controversial as popular. The authors’ ideas on how should the contemporary Avengers look like inspired the movies’ creators and through them – made a huge impact on the whole Marvel universe. Can you imagine a different Nick Fury than Samuel L. Jackson?

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Jackson served as the model for the comic book Nick Fury long before he even dreamt of appearing in this role in the movies. Before that, Nick Fury was white and looked a lot like a good-bad western sheriff. A bit like Sam Vimes, actually 😉 And it all leads us to Clint Eastwood ;).

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The primary idea was simple, tested earlier by Spidey, for who else could take the risk and survive? 😉 In the early years of the XXI century there was a deep, a bit anxious feeling among the Marvel moguls that their beloved heroes got old and slightly outdated. That their stories became so convoluted that only the most hardcore fans even cared about them any longer and could count all the times the heroes died and were brought back to life. The idea of a new, fresh start seemed all of sudden very promising.

And lo and behold, here they are. But changed rather more than we would expect.

[Attention! Mild spoiler alert!]

Meet the Cap, a rather brutish, straightforward guy with a tiny, shameful penchant for cruelty. A hero as a soldier, as a civilian… well, I don’t think I would like to cross him. Meet Hank Pym, a self-assured, conceited genius and a secret wife-beater. Meet his wife, the famous Wasp, who can change into a tiny, sparks-flinging creature not due to any marvels of technology, but to her mutant genes. And meet Thor, an ex-patient of a psychiatric hospital, an anti-globalist and anarchist who has delusions of being a God’s son. But best, or worst, of all, is Hulk.

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Bruce Banner is such an insecure weakling with a gigantic inferiority complex that you wouldn’t believe he can also change into a cannibalistic monster driven by the lowest animal urges. And his Mister Hyde side, by the way, reminds me a lot of Cú Chulainn in his warp spasm:

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[End of spoilers]

Well, the idea of updating the old, well-known and well-liked heroes certainly paid off. The first thirteen issues had been a huge commercial success and were soon followed by two sequels, each thirteen issues long, which later even got their own sequels ;). The graphic novels served as an outright visual inspiration for the cinematic Marvel universe, from the first Avengers movie through Captain America: The Winter Soldier and to Avengers: Age of Ultron. The movies didn’t follow the dark, at times cynical story line of the Ultimates, opting for safer and less controversial depictions of the superheroes. I can’t say I fault them: Ultimates are dark indeed and it’s sometimes difficult to reconcile the traditional images of the heroes with the ones proposed by Millar and Hitch. The new Thor was endearing, but the nasty side of Hank Pym or the brutal monstrosity of Hulk took a lot from their original charm… You can’t help but start to ask the question: what it means to be a hero? Which, in the end, is the question all fans of superheroes should ask themselves ;).

As a study in the deconstruction of super-heroism, Ultimates fall short of the ideal, which in this case is unequivocally Watchmen ;). But as a story in the what-if genre, a slightly darker type of tongue-in-the-cheek, brutal fun, Ultimates are a pretty decent entertainment. The story, as usually in Millar’s case, is solid and intriguing, touching on many contemporary problems. Watchmen are a clear inspiration here, with the heroes being simultaneously the cause and the solution of the problem. As for the graphics… Hats off to Hitch, because the visual side is stunning, with wide, dynamic frames instantly bringing to mind panoramic shots from action movies. The British artist might be slow-working and always late, but his work is worth waiting for.

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All in all, Ultimates, at least #1, is a must-read for the Marvel cinematic universe fans, and a nice-to-read for the hardcore fans of the comics. Published fourteen years ago it’s really old news by now, really, but if anyone out there haven’t read it yet, it’s high time they do it now :).

Score: 8/10

Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Marvel 1602 (2003)

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In the wake of last night’s match (Poland vs. Portugal in EURO2016, for those who didn’t watch, it was 1:1 and Poland lost in the penalties) I decided it was high time to take a closer look at certain aspects of alternative reality. Let’s indulge into a bit of “what-if”, shall we? 😉

Neil Gaiman is known mostly as an author of very popular and critically acclaimed fantasy/horror novels, such as American Gods, the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards winner, but he’s also a great comic book writer. His series The Sandman, an imprint of DC’s Vertigo, had been one of the most influential – and popular graphic novels of late 90’s and 00’s. But this post is not about The Sandman ;), besides I’m sure Piotrek has much more to say about it than I ever will. No, this post is about a one-off job Gaiman did for Marvel in 2003, a few years after The Sandman ended.

Marvel 1602 is a traditional, albeit a bit tongue-in-the-cheek, what-if story. In an alternative reality, Marvel superheroes live in the Elizabethan times, fighting against threats from this and other worlds. The main story arc revolves around the discovery that their sole existence, which happened 400 years too early, is inseparably linked to a lethal threat to their whole world.

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Spidey! (1962 – present)

Spidey

© John Romita Jr.

He’s a mature man now, Spider-Man – after all, he’s over half a century old already. But he keeps his youthful appearance and spirit as well as Wolverine or even better – clearly he must be a Chosen One. And he is. One of the all-time fan favorites, appealing to readers of all ages and genders, Marvel’s mascot and ultimate scapegoat – Spider-Man has never had an easy life. He started out as a nerdy, bullied teenager, for God’s sake! And that’s everything but easy. He didn’t have a chance to become someone’s sidekick, learning from the best of the best, but  set out to begin his superheroic life as an angsty, pimply, awkward boy who suddenly was given (or cursed with) mysterious superpowers. He had to learn everything by himself, and paid a steep price for that knowledge. After all, the only people in Marvel universe who died and stayed dead are Parker’s uncle and his girlfriend. Even he himself died at one point, rather gruesomely at that. Clearly someone in the Marvel team has it in for him. And yet, he endures it all, and has the guts to make wisecracks about it. Arguably, he’s also the funniest Marvel character which, coupled with his unwavering, absolutely uncompromising morals, makes him a lot more convincing and likeable than Cap (yes, even after Civil War :P).

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