Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
August 2012

Presents A Vigorous Defense of Bad Taste!

Summer Superhero Movies 2012 Edition!

Summer! Movies! Spandex! All spandex! Apologies once again for the lack of a column in July. 'Tis a troublesome month.

Avengers: People who didn't like the Avengers movie must be the same people who don't like S'mores. Both have lots of overflowing ingredients, perfectly suited to summer. Both verge on overkill, but in the right circumstances, can be all things for everyone.

We can take this further. In this metapher, Iron Man is the chocolate -- everyone's favorite guilty pleasure. Thor is the marshmallow, a dominating figure in the presence of other, lesser confections. Captain America is the vaguely healthy graham cracker. Can I push this any further? Is the Hulk the campfire? Is there a Pulitzer for labored metaphors? Perhaps Black Widow and Hawkeye are the camping trip itself -- you didn't know you needed them, but the S'mores just taste better.

Anyway, Avengers was a blast, especially from a comic guy's perspective. Joss Whedon knew all the sweet spots for his audience, especially longtime Avengers geeks.

See, Cap and Iron Man have always represented a clash of ideologies and classes. Thor and the Hulk have always been wild cards as well as muscle, and Hawkeye and Black Widow were always a bit tormented by their (comic-canonical) bad guy past.

And by Odin, Whedon can write one-liners. My very favorite is Cap's grandfatherly correction to Black Widow: "There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm fairly sure He doesn't dress like that." This is followed closely by Iron Man's snark to Thor: "Doth mother know thou wearest her drapes?" If anyone reading this hasn't seen the movie (for shame!) I won't spoil the Hulk's best line.

And you genuinely like Black Widow, Hawkeye, Agent Phil Coulson, and the other bit players.

The plot has enough holes for a flock of pelicans to fly through, but one of Whedon's triumphs seems to have been in letting the audience know that it was okay to have a goofy plot.

As a fan, my only complaint is how pedestrian the threat was, in the face of all the madness that could have been. Loki just brought through a bunch of alien ships -- granted, really cool alien ships that staged a crazy invasion -- but these are the Avengers! They were meant to do more than blow up flying barracuda Transformers.

I'm already drooling at the thought of a big-screen Operation Galactic Storm, in which the Avengers fought intergalactic war to make Star Wars a minor skirmish, or the Infinity Gauntlet, in which the Avengers battled time and space itself, or Kurt Busiek's inaugural arc, in which the Avengers were transformed into medieval crusaders.

You get the idea. It was pretty cool to see the Avengers all together, dodging Loki's scheming. It was extremely cool to see Black Widow and Hawkeye get some depth, and Hulk finally done right. But it would be even cooler to see the Avengers take on a threat worth their coolness.

Let's hope Whedon directs it. Actually, let's all hope his next contract reads: "In exchange for Marvel Studios funding seven more seasons of Firefly, Whedon shall direct Avengers 2 & 3." Also, maybe we could get a caveat in there that forces George R.R. Martin to write the next Thor movie.

It would be like . . . some other awesome metaphor.

Amazing Spider-Man:

Here is my confession. A dark, squirming confession like a worm grown to intestinal lengths in the depths of your cabbage.

I don't like the first Spider-Man movie.

Take a minute to punch me or whatever it is you're going to do in response to that. I won't mind.

It's not a bad movie. It's just not a good Spider-Man movie. Raimi uses the fun stuff in the comics to his advantage. Uncle Ben and Aunt May are note-perfect, as is Peter's heartbreaking origin.

But it's all cut from the pattern that was already there.

The material that Raimi has to modify a bit from its comic origins -- the Green Goblin arc, and the romance -- is a complete retread of previous superhero movies.

Mary Jane falls for Spider-Man, behind the mask, in the same way Lois Lane falls for Superman without ever noticing Clark Kent. And though Peter and Spidey have a different dynamic, it's still a Superman move.

Meanwhile, the Green Goblin goes slowly looney, chewing scenery with a manner that was so close to 1989's Joker that I almost expected him to say "Where does he get those wonderful toys?"

I wanted Norman Osborne to be dangerous but in control, and I wanted Mary Jane to know Peter was Spider-Man!

One of my very favorite comic stories in the worldy world is the 1987 issue in which MJ revealed to Peter that she knew his secret. She'd always known, since she saw him, in a moment of carelessness, don the costume and clamber out his window.

At the time, the story was a bit of a patch for some previous plotholes -- it was obvious that Spidey's writers had not been planning this twist for years -- but it served to add a great deal of depth to Mary Jane, who had previously been a flakey party girl. And it gave them the foundation of a lasting, unique marriage . . . grumble grumble.

So when, in the movie, Mary Jane wrestled with her love for Spider-Man and her love for Peter, I rolled my eyes. Spider-Man has some odd relationships with the ladies, but the classic Clark/Superman dynamic was never one of them.

In the comics, Gwen Stacy and Betty Brant blamed Spider-Man for the deaths of loved ones. The Black Cat was in love with Spider-Man, but repulsed by the notion of nerdy little Peter Parker, not just put off.

And Mary Jane loved Peter deeply, and was scared of just how well they could understand each other, so she ran from him until she accepted that understanding, and then they got married. Until 2007, and . . . grumble.

Also in 2002, I wanted more chemistry from Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire. The sparks didn't even come close to Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder's.

For that matter, Tobey Maguire acted a little shellshocked to play someone who's supposed to be really, really smart -- and a lot more cunning than he lets on.

And Kirsten Dunst just isn't as hot as Emma Stone.

I could go on.

Amazing Spider-Man is the movie I wanted in 2002. And I will take the minority stand that it's a far, far better movie than Raimi's Spider-Man, and if it had come out in 2002 it would be remembered even more favorably than the first.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone just light up the screen. Their chemistry crackles, even when they're stuttering through their lines like awkward teenagers. (Yes, they look doctorate-age, but they're in high school. It's the movies.)

Gwen Stacy is clever and courageous and responsible, an excellent foil for a more hotheaded, impetuous Peter. Peter's Uncle Ben, played by Martin Sheen, has an interesting twist on the original Ben. Not only is he out of his depth raising a child not his own, he's a simple blue-collar dude raising the brilliant child of an equally brilliant and different brother.

I did want some justification for why Ben immediately leaps to take the gun from the eponymous burglar. None of his lines quite gave the impression that he was a man prone to immediate physical action when a gun is involved. Why not stand back, protect himself for his family's sake and call the cops?

Ben could have used a throwaway line about army service. Not only would we know that he was a man who could handle himself with a gun, it would reinforce the image of him as a man who didn't see the world from the college classroom Peter's father did.

I missed JK Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, although there isn't much room for him in this movie. I was absolutely fangasmed, though, to see Captain George Stacy, played with astonishing depth by Dennis Leary. He does a good job of portraying everything that makes a cop a cop -- the single-minded determination to maintain order, with little luxury to stop and ponder the specifics of that order.

In short, the only way I could have loved Amazing Spider-Man more would have been if I got it in 2002. So. Chew on that, all you people who think it's an unnecessary reboot. They made it for ME.

Next: Dark Knight Somethings!

Read more by Spencer Ellsworth


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