Millions of viewers who depend on Marvel movies for all their fantasy escapism needs went home shell-shocked after Avengers: Infinity War slaughtered far, far too many of their favorite heroes and threatened to turn the Marvel Cinematic Universe into just another super-hero realm of perpetual misery like Dawn of Justice or the upcoming, dreadful-looking Titans. Now, in Ant-Man and the Wasp, two heroes who weren’t invited to Thanos’ big coming-out party are here to remind everyone that there’s still hope to be found in this world, along with heroism, teamwork, and happy endings…as long as you don’t stay for the end credits.
Comic book fans are in mourning tonight over the news that legendary artist Steve Ditko was discovered dead in his apartment on June 29th. To the majority he’s known for a variety of creations and co-creations to his name — not just Spider-Man, but Dr. Strange, Squirrel Girl, DC’s the Question, the Creeper, and a long list of lesser-known quirky, oddly dressed champions of justice.
If anyone asks what the quintessential Ditko comic is, the correct answer is Amazing Spider-Man #33, an unconventional story then and now. Our Hero spends nearly the entire issue trapped under several tons of wreckage, unable to free himself easily, despondent that this may be his last hurrah, but slowly, surely, convincing himself he can find some way to save the day.
When I heard of Ditko’s passing, Spidey #33 wasn’t the first comic that popped into my head. As my brain is wont to do, it went obscure and reached farther back in time to a comic I hadn’t thought about in years.
Writer/director Brad Bird’s 2004 The Incredibles remains one of my all-time favorite Pixar films, and not just because it was about superheroes. I could relate to a film about an aging guy who considers himself talented but thinks he should be doing something better with his life, but whose family had much more important concerns than his, and everyone has to dive deep into their conflicts but come out all the stronger for it as a unit. And a film where there are spectacular chase scenes. And just so happens to draw on seventy years of mainstream super-hero culture.
Fourteen years later Incredibles 2 brings back Bird and the family to pick up where they left off. But are the viewers in the same place fourteen years later?
The Merc with a Mouth is back! And so is Deadpool!
For any regular readers who roll their eyes whenever I have one of my “Old Man Yells at Cloud” moments when it comes to excessive profanity…well, you might wonder what in the world possessed me to go see Deadpool 2 in the first place. Perplexing question, isn’t it? I am large, I contain multitudes, there are comics involved, sometimes I like to go scavenger hunting for priceless curios in landscapes that are basically alien to me, sometimes I do things that aren’t good for me, and there are other logistics involved that are too weird to go into here, even for me.
But every film I see in theaters gets its own MCC entry. I can either write about the #1 movie in America that also happens to have scenes during the end credits, or I can finish an entry for the mostly inert Pacific Rim: Uprising that I’ve been procrastinating for six weeks and counting because I get sleepy every time I return to it, and will surely be of use to lots of moviegoers when I eventually finish it because as of tonight the film is playing in [checks notes] zero theaters, having been officially yanked after May 17th.
…so. Some thoughts on Ryan Reynolds’ latest multi-million-dollar paycheck it is, then.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: on May 5th I once again had the pleasure of once again observing Free Comic Book Day, the least fake holiday of them all, that annual celebration when comic shops nationwide offer no-strings-attached goodies as a form of community outreach in honor of that time-honored medium where words and pictures dance in unison on the printed page, whether in the form of super-heroes, monsters, cartoon all-stars, licensed merchandise, or entertaining ordinary folk. Each year, America’s remaining comic book shops (and a handful in the UK that can afford the extra shipping charges) lure fans and curious onlookers inside their brick-and-mortar hideaways with a great big batch of free new comics from all the major publishers and a bevy of smaller competitors deserving shelf space and consideration.
This year my Free Comic Book Day involvement took on a different form. My local shop offered a special deal that sounds crazy on the face of it: for a fair sum of money, we could pre-purchase a bundle of all 52 Free Comic Book Day comics that their stores planned to order. Normally these would all be free, but you’d look like a schmuck for casually walking in, picking up all 52, and walking right back out. Instead they set aside copies of all those comics, bagged ’em up, and let buyers pick them up late Saturday afternoon, once all the furor and hubbub had subsided. I went for it. I liked the idea of playing the role of patron, donating extra cash to help facilitate Free Comic Book Day for other folks in town, in a way that would help my shop offset the costs.
I spent the rest of Saturday night and nearly all of Sunday reading all 52 and then posting my impressions on Twitter after each comic, along with photo excerpts from every single comic. I took photos rather than scans because (a) our scanner sometimes ruins the hard work of comics colorists, (b) I wanted to capture the feel of comics on actual physical paper, (c) I wanted to test my new phone, and (d) snapping pics was faster than scanning. This reading/photography project took until 11:30 p.m Sunday night to complete, and would’ve taken until sometime Tuesday if I hadn’t cut corners somewhere. I had to put this entry off for a few days because I needed a break after spending so, so much time with them all.
This entry, then, is a condensed version of that epic-length tweetstorm: my ranking of the twenty best books of the bunch, followed by my six least favorites of the entire stack. I never trust a comics reviewer or website that shares nothing but relentlessly glowing opinions — nor, conversely do I trust a critic who hates all comics and can’t be pleased — so this is my way of not becoming that which I disparage.
Up first: that happy Top 20. On with the countdown!
The short version of this entry: for anyone who’s sat through all three Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America films; the first two Avengers films; both Guardians of the Galaxy flicks; Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk; Spider-Man Homecoming; Ant-Man; Dr. Strange; and the great and powerful Black Panther…as those fans hoped unanimously, Avengers: Infinity War is the ultimate, fitting culmination of all that. It ties lots of threads together, features unexpected team-ups, makes time for heroes punching heroes in the grand tradition of Marvel misunderstandings, hits hard with heavy emotional moments, allows a few quiet spaces to breathe in between the chaos, and has a few moments rigged to invite audience cheers and gasps, sometimes mere seconds apart.
However, it is not the season finale. It’s episode 19 of a 22-episode season eleven years in the making, with three more episodes to go: this summer’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, which takes place beforehand; the technical prequel Captain Marvel; and the true season finale, Avengers: Secret Subtitle. Anyone trying to approach Infinity War as a standalone work, clinging to the notion that any and every film should be a self-sufficient viewing experience in itself, will walk away disappointed. Infinity War has other objectives in mind. Comics fans are used to major crossover events and know how the game works, but some film critics are bristling at this new idea that threatens to make movies more like comics in the long term, and not necessarily like good comics.
Okay, that opening was supposed to be shorter. Even shorter version, then: upon a single viewing in IMAX, where the volume-17 sound system purged all intellectual notions out of my body, Avengers: Infinity War was extremely cool, somewhat depressing, and, as I suspected going into it, thoroughly futile on at least one ostensibly dramatic level.
That’s still too long. One more try: if you love Marvel movies to pieces, Avengers: Infinity War is more of that but quadrupled.
Caution ahead: spoilers are probably ahead if you’re the kind of deductive reader who can put two and two together too quickly. My movie entries are normally written as if I’m talking to a general audience who hasn’t seen the film, but we’re now on the nineteenth film, the biggest one yet (literally for me, since I saw none of the others in IMAX) and I don’t know if I’m about to make this entry quite so reader-friendly. I’m not indulging in stroke-for-stroke golf commentary, but a few aspects of my reactions — including my least favorite thing about it — can’t be covered coyly without rendering them into so much useless ambiguity. If you need to brake and reverse now, I’ll understand.