The grand experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been trucking along since 2008. The first nine films (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) combined have earned over 6 billion (with a “B”) dollars worldwide. These movies are a great financial success, but more and more they are starting to feel creatively dull. The most recent film from Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy, looks to break that trend. Based on an incredibly obscure comic book team, Guardians of the Galaxy is unlike any movie Marvel has put out, and it feels like it, too.
This is a big summer for comic book movies – though it seems more and more like every summer is a big summer for the genre. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (fine) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (not-so-fine) have already seen release, while Marvel Studios’ great experiment Guardians of the Galaxy is forthcoming. But tucked into Memorial Day weekend is a new entry in a franchise that a lot of people may have forgotten about. X-Men: Days of Future Past is not only the latest installment in the adventures of the merry mutants, it is also the return of director Bryan Singer to series. Singer, screenwriter Simon Kinberg, and everyone else involved produce a movie that is everything a summer blockbuster should be.
A little over a year ago Peter Parker died. It was a very sad day, but after 700 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, one of his rogues finally got the better of the titular hero. Doctor Otto “Octopus” Octavius found a way to switch bodies with the wall-crawler, inhabiting Peter’s form before killing off his own ailing shell with Peter’s mind inside. Thus began a new era of web-slinging, as Doc Ock became a hero himself, hoping to prove he could be a superior Spider-Man in a book appropriately dubbed Superior Spider-Man. But now – just in time for the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Peter has triumphantly returned to his own assemblage of skin, muscle, and bones. Let’s hope this effort is more successful than that of his cinematic counterpart.
When The Amazing Spider-Man was released in 2012, many cried foul the fact that it had only been 5 years since the last Raimi/Maguire. It was too soon, people said. Regardless, that uneven movie managed to entertain, mostly based on the performances by Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s first true love from the comics. I remember thinking that the movie was rough (possibly due to last-minute edits that excised a lot of backstory), but that it ended with a lot of potential for the future. Sony clearly agrees, hoping to build an entire Avengers-esque mega-franchise around the character. Does The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deliver on the promise that the studio has (and more importantly, that I have) built up for it?
Mainstream comics are a medium characterized by unceasing long-term consistency. Both Marvel and DC experience small changes now and then – last year’s “death” of Peter Parker comes to mind – but eventually everything returns to the status quo – as did Peter Parker in yesterday’s Amazing Spider-Man (2014) #1, which I will be reviewing in the coming days (I’m such a tease!). Crossover events are the source of these temporary shake-ups. Back when big events became popular in the mid to late 80s (DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths kind of began the trend) they were few and far between, but their effects were actually lasting to some extent. These days, though, both companies put out at least one crossover a year, encompassing most of their characters, and leading to changes that will be negated by the time the next one rolls around. Marvel’s last event, Infinity, wrapped up in November, but they are already prepping for the next one, with the prelude issue #0 of Original Sin.
That’s Doop. That guy. The one that looks like Slimer from Ghostbusters. Doop was created by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred, and debuted in X-Force (1991) #116 as the cameraman for a reality show about a team of mutants. Doop has a mysterious origin and speaks in a language only he can understand (and any reader with access to a DoopSpeak Translator). Doop recently appeared as a behind the scenes force in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men (2011). But now, Doop is front and center in his very own title, written by his creator, Milligan, and drawn by David Lafuente. This is All-New Doop. Doop.
After the debacle that was Survive!, writer Brian Michael Bendis returns to the the book that he does best – Ultimate Spider-Man. The series has been running near-continuously since 2000, originally featuring a younger, more modern version of Peter Parker, before Peter died and his title was passed on to a boy named Miles Morales. Back when he debuted in 2011, Miles, a young man of both African-American and Latino descent – seemed to be a direct response to the racist backlash against the movement to cast Donald Glover as Spider-Man. Since then Miles has become his own hero, with his own supporting cast and storylines. Ultimate Spider-Man #200 (which purports to be the third or fourth “final issue” of Ultimate Spider-Man) is more of a reflection of what came before than anything else.
Some of my previous posts should indicate that I am pretty big fan of Marvel Comics. Have been since the days of the X-Men cartoon. When producer Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios began their grand movie experiment with Iron Man in 2008, I was immediately on board. Sure, there have been some lows (The Incredible Hulk, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), but highs have been much higher (the aforementioned Iron Man, The Avengers). Marvel Studios is right smack in the middle of what it refers to as “Phase Two” of its project: Captain America: The Winter Soldier follows Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, and precedes Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron. This new movie featuring Steve Rogers, the soldier out of time, has the responsibility of being both a sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger and a stepping stone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Under the dual directorship of Anthony and Joe Russo, it does a pretty good job.
Marvel Studios, the division of the mainstream comics company that produces the box-office bashing mega-franchise, has a problem. That problem starts with “m” and ends with “utants.” Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto, and the whole host of outcasts are an integral part of the Marvel Comics universe, but as long as 20th Century Fox continues to churn out movies based on the characters, they will continue to own the rights to the X-Men and the hundreds of mutants that come along for the ride. So what is a budding world superpower to do? Why, make new mutants of course! That is how many cynics view the fore-fronting of the Inhuman characters in the comic book realm. Initially created as a higher form of humanity to face off against the Fantastic Four, the new series Inhuman sees thousands of genetically Inhuman people develop abilities all across the world. A world that fears and mistrusts them, perhaps?
Marvel Comics has the upper hand these days when it comes to quality and creativity. Their main competitors at DC are mired in grit and gristle, more concerned with pandering to their established fanbase than seeking out new readership. Marvel was the same way for a long time; in an unexpected twist the great success of the Marvel Studios films has spurred them to try new things in search of new properties to turn into blockbuster films. Marvel’s old ways are still evident in some corners of their product line, particularly in their Ultimate universe. After a cataclysmic event in the Ultimate Universe (appropriately titled Cataclysm), Marvel is preparing to shake things up in that group of books, starting with the Survive! one-shot.