Uncollected Thoughts: Avengers – Infinity War

Well, at last!

It’s been a long week of industriously avoiding spoilers and demanding that workmates don’t discuss it within twenty feet of me, but at last I can get to see Avengers – Infinity War. Admittedly, the first available performance was four hours after I booked, leaving time to fill in between, but I made use of it under a seriously sunny sun (ironic, actually, considering what else I might have to do next week).

Of course, setting a time to be back for only invoked my well-known paranoia, so getting there with only twelve minutes to spare was seriously cutting it fine in my universe. Though as I was on Screen 10, the furthest screen upstairs, about halfway back to my pokey little flat, it felt, the margin was down into single figures by the time I took my seat.

It’s also my first visit to The Light, which has replaced Showcase in Stockport. The seats are wide and luxurious, more like armchairs and if you don’t sit up, they start to slide forward, putting you, should you wish, in the semi-legendary recumbent posture.

Not until the trailer started coming at me in 3D did I realise I’d been lucky to book for a 3D performance. Though I may have to look at upgrading my 3D glasses for a pair less dirty and snaggled before The Incredibles 2.

I think that it was about Guardians of the Galaxy 2 that I said that you know what to expect from a Marvel movie, and that’s what Infinity War delivers, in spades. I could say that in terms of superhero characters, we get everything bar the kitchen sink – from memory, I think the only living ones missing are Ant-Man and Hawkeye, and they both get mentioned – but whilst that’s true, the expression does not suit the film.

Because this is bigger. And more serious. And more real. Bigger, badder, heavier, more powerful and yet in a true balance for every moment. The jokes, the quips, are less frequent but more in keeping: quick, incisive, apt, perfectly suited to the moment.

In short, this is the closest I’ve ever come to a superhero film that is exactly like the experience of getting immersed in a bloody good superhero comic. Everything is real. Everything is exact and believable, however fantastic it is. And the stakes could not be higher. This is for the Universe. And the bad guy wins.

I’ll return to that. Speaking to a workmate before going off to book, I mentioned successfully avoiding spoilers to the extent that all I knew was that there was at least one major death. He denied it, straightfacedly. He didn’t remember any deaths. I was right not to believe him: there were two in the opening scene, Heimdall and Loki.

And another one two-thirds of the way through. And a fourth in the closing phase.

That’s not counting all the still, silent, painless and passionless deaths that follow Thanos’s victory, endless in number, because although this film is over two hours long and I would have gladly welcomed another hour of it and even more characters, it’s really only half a film. Like The Fellowship of the Ring was only a third of a film. There’s another one to come, and who knows what resurrections we’ll see before it’s all done.

There’s a long wait for a single post-credits scene that’s a teaser not for Avengers 4 but for next year’s Captain Marvel movie, though that’s apparently set in the 1990s.

As for tonight, I’d happily agree with this as the best Marvel film so far, which means a great deal has to be done to top it. If we’re still here in a year’s time, I’ll tell you if I think it does.

Uncollected Thoughts: Captain America – Civil War

As you should know by now, I am a lifelong DC Comics fan, in large part by my formative comics experiences in a part of Manchester where Marvel’s titles weren’t distributed, but also because by temperament I am not fully in sympathy with Marvel’s standard tone of screaming hysteria.

Of course, when it comes to the two company’s Cinematic Universe, there’s even less of  a contrast: Marvel have it sewn up and as long as Zack Snyder is allowed to even buy DC Comics, that’s the way it will sell.

I’ve already expressed my opinion of Batman vs Superman, which is overwhelmingly the worst film starring DC characters ever made (and I speak as one who has seen the 1990 Justice League of America TV film. Seriously, even that was better).

I shalln’t waste time re-enumerating Batman vs Superman‘s faults, which I’ve had to argue with colleagues at work who held contradictory opinions. Suffice to say that this film was everything I wished a DC film starring the two most iconic characters in the world had been.

It was fast-paced, properly balanced between light and dark, properly grounded, well thought-through and not afraid for a second to have it’s characters going out during the day. It didn’t bore the arse off me, it progressed logically from stage to stage, it was joyful fun in large measures, and it managed a large cast far better than Snyder managed a cast of two.

Although it said Captain America on the shingle, forget that. This was an Avengers movie, whatever the official billing. It was about the Avengers from start to finish and whilst it used Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, as its focus point, demanding a leading role from Chris Evans, it was the ensemble that carried everything through.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and it didn’t feel like two and a half hours plus, I find myself with nothing in particular to say about it. It was good fun, an entertaining way of passing several hours, and I had a whale of a time during the Avenger vs Avenger sequence at Leipzig Airport (my word, Marvel got Spider-Man absolutely perfectly though I am one with the entire Marvel fandom in finding the concept of a fanciable Aunt May as alien beyond belief), but there wasn’t much of it that was of significance. Sometimes, you don’t actually need that to have fun. Even me.

Couple of points: I haven’t read the original Civil War series but it was a little disappointing that the film didn’t try harder to set up a genuine opposition to Cap’s instinctive adherence to freedom. Tony Stark was far too easily convinced by one angry mother’s denouncement of the Avengers for one dead son in the midst of saving the Earth from being destroyed. Nor was there any principled solution to the genuine moral dilemma posed, though between the weak motivation and Cap’s escape  with ‘his’ Avengers, the film declared its position.

It reminded me very much of the 1986 DC crossover series, Legends, in which a demagogue supposedly turns America against its superheroes, a story fatally weakened by the fact that no-one connected with the production of the series could actually conceive of superheroes as anything but an absolute good, and consequently couldn’t provide a single half-decent argument for the demagogue’s case. No-one connected with the film could come up with anything they really believed in.

Never mind. Such pretensions were better sidelined and the overall fun aspect of the film made it easy to do so. Good fun was had, and I’d watch this one again if anyone was interested in taking me.


*New Series* Uncompleted Stories: Preface

Ms Bethany Cabe

Every now and then, I’ve tried to give book readers (if they are interested) an insight into the ways that comics reading differs from book reading.
One principal point cannot be emphasised too much, which is that mainstream comic book characters are corporate properties, not creative properties. They have been written by dozens, if not hundreds in the case of older creations, of writers, each with their own vision, perception, thought and preference, each tempered by an editor appointed to oversee the corporate custody of the character. And each editor has their own vision, perception, thought and preference.
Accordingly, everything the comics reader reads is a purely temporary vision, valid only so long as that individual writer is in nominal control. And sometimes not even then.
Take, for example, the case of Bethany Cabe. Bethany was a supporting character in Iron Man, during the successful late Seventies/early Eighties run by David Michelinie (writer) John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Bob Layton (inker). Bethany, a stunningly attractive redhead, was introduced intially as a new girlfriend for Tony Stark, who was also head of a bodyguarding company and a highly skilled martial artist in her own right.
Micheline et al.introduced the idea of Tony Stark as an alcoholic during their run, and Bethany became an integral part of the series with her (successful) efforts to help him go sober. It transpired that her late husband had been a drug addict, who died in a car smash after she left him: Bethany is determined not to let Stark go unsupported. During this run, she learns that Stark is Iron Man. The pair are incredibly close, and completely open with each other.
Michelinie left after issue 141. The new writer’s first story was a two parter in which Bethany Cabe suddenly became ultra-secretive, betrayed Stark and announced she was leaving him to return to her husband, who suddenly – and miraculously – was discovered to be alive. Off she went, not to be seen for ages.
It was a complete betrayal of everything that had been estalished over a two-year run, completely lacking in emotional consistency or plausibility, because the new writer didn’t want to use Cabe and wanted to bring in a girlfriend he’d create for his stories.
That’s what comics are about. Writers and artists change, abruptly, for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality, or even popularity of their work. And each new team comes in wanting to do their own stories, wanting nothing to do with the ideas and themes of their predecessors, and even less to do with building storylines that their predecessor was not able to bring to fruition.
In the Seventies and early Eighties, readers had to get used to stories that vanished out from underneath them, to certainties that reformed themselves from one issue to the next, to the expectation at any moment that a new writer would abandon something that would remain uncompleted.
The situation did start to resolve itself as the Eighties progressed: between Jim Shooter’s dictatorial regime as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel reigning in the anarchy of the Bullpen, and the Kahn-Levitz-Giordano triumvirate at DC accepting the company’s lesser market share as a given and concentrating on quality and creators as their USP, such things grew rare. Not dismissed, aswe shall see, but far less common.
These are not the only reasons why, in comics as opposed to books, stories fail to end – and I don’t mean the mainstream necessity of superheroes living endlessly in a narrative stream without conclusion.
All this musing comes about because I’ve recently been re-reading a couple of series that have failed to reach their ending, with no prospect of further work in sight, and it’s given me the urge to write about such instances, and the effect incompletion has on what we have available to read.
I’ll be starting with a story that was both uncompleted and completed: tune in to find out what series this involved.