This was a good one. Yes, I did finally score a copy of Martin Scorsese's New York New York, but I decided to get focused - devoting almost my entire attention upon comic books and comic book movies. Iron Man 3 launched the summer season, and as stated a few weeks back, Shane Black's entry into the Marvel Universe had my curiosity all a flutter. The king of the 1980s buddy cop dynamic backing the canned frontman of Marvel's Avengers? What can the man who wrote Lethal Weapon & Last Action Hero offer the bombastics of Super Hero cinema? Well, I'm happy to report that he succeeds in carrying the weight of The Avengers, and Robert Downey Jr discovers new depths to plummet Tony Stark. It's a damn solid sequel.
It's been almost a year since I attended AvengersFest, and I was really craving another spandex lead-in to the next Marvel Blockbuster. Rather than killing a day with a bombardment of heroics, I spread the Marvel mania across the week, allowing each entry its proper space to soak into the brain (as if it wasn't addled enough). As you'll see below, films I used to place above others have slipped, and films I once scoffed have taken the top spot in my heart. Don't worry, The Avengers still rules my fanboygasms. The other great thing about devoting this week to costumed shenanigans was that it would also climax in Free Comic Book Day, the ultimate celebration of the four color form. And, oh yeah, The Alamo Drafthouse DC has finally landed in the neighborhood. Time to Happy Dance.
Iron Man: "You think you're the only super hero in the world?" The Marvel Cinematic Universe is unleashed with what is, for the most part, a rather routine super hero origin story. But to crap on ol' Shellhead would be unfair. Where was the genre in 2008? Richard Donner's Superman. Tim Burton's Batman. Bryan Singer's X-Men. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (the best of the bunch). And a bevy of flicks not even worth mentioning other than to belittle or vehemently scorn (I'm looking at you Ghost Rider). What Jon Favreau's Iron Man really offered was a fresh personality. Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark is undoubtably charming - the Marvel James Bond - bedding ladies & knocking down the rogues out to cause global trouble. The film doesn't excite so much on the rewatches. It's got solid action, an endearing relationship in Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, and a decent enough baddie in Jeff Bridges's bushy beard. But as The Avengers Initiative post-credit tag promises, Iron Man is simply a stepping stone into a comic book kingdom popcorn audiences were just simply not aware of, but one fanboys had been craving for decades.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: "I want you to picture a bullet inside your head!" Having supplied most of my boob tube youth with its bitter snark, screenwriter Shane Black steps behind the camera to show all the pretenders how its really done. Robert Downey Jr leaps out of movie jail with this perfectly biting jackass performance. Tony Stark is born in Harry Lockhart, small time crook turned actor turned gumshoe. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a mean little miracle of a meta comedy - a film that expertly mixes chuckles & violence, more so than the best of Lethal Weapons or the smiling hate of The Last Boy Scout. Val Kilmer delivers his final hurrah of charm as PI Gay Perry, the Abbott to Downey's Costello...or is he Costello to Downey's Abbott. Whatever. They're beautiful together. It's all winks, but they're seriously strong winks. "For all you good people in the midwest, sorry we said 'Fuck' so much."
Iron Man 2: This film gets dumped on as a meandering mess of improvisation and world building, and yes, the strain is certainly felt during drunken party brawling & "Please Exit The Donut" S.H.I.E.L.D encounters, but in the aftermath of The Avengers' blockbusting success Iron Man 2 is an entertaining brick in Marvel's castle. Tony Stark's descent into ego, triggered by the first film's "I Am Iron Man" climax, is a fresh idea not previously explored in the movies. And Robert Downey Jr manages to keep the audience on his side even when he's behaving like an absolute ass. It helps that Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer is prancing on the stage around him, squirming & slithering his way to nebbish villainy. He's certainly more engaging than Mickey Rourke's whip cracking behemoth; if anyone gets the short end of the stick in this film it is certainly the big bad. He's relegated to two half-ass cgi encounters, and is mostly used as a slobbering foil to Sam Rockwell's bewilderment. Iron Man 2 is far from a cohesive picture, but I still find it more enjoyable to the run-of-a-mill origin of the first film. It's a dip into Marvel crazy. A hint of something bigger; something never attempted before in Hollywood.
Homicide - Life on the Street Season 5: Introduced at the tail end of the last season, Erik Dellums's Luther Mahoney takes over season 5 as the looming crime boss of Baltimore. He's a monster for sure. Suave, cool, all confidence. His smile is as violent as any drive-by shooting. Reed Diamond's Detective Kellerman begins his slippery descent into hell with arson corruption charges and concludes the season with a gun pointed at the kingpin. He was one of my favorite new characters of last season, but Kellerman eventually morphs into the most despicable and utterly pathetic Detective of the series. How his partner Lewis manages to scrape the filth from his coat is beyond me - the most baffling, but acceptable television script doctoring, I guess. Other highlights from the season are the past villains in the "Prison Riot" reunion, Elijah Wood's boarding school killer ("The True Test"), and the climactic investigation into Detective Beau Felton's suicide...or murder? Of the seasons I've rewatched so far, this is easily my favorite. Kellerman's internal struggle, the straining Pembleton marriage, and the parade of casually evil killings make this one of the most tense, and painful runs of television. Just the way I like my Homicide.
Detective Comics #20: Seven issues into his run and writer John Layman brings his Emperor Penguin arc to a conclusion...or at least an end to a beginning. His run on Detective has been plagued with crossovers ("Death of the Family" & "Requiem"), but when it's not distracted it's been exceptional and this single issue might be the highlight. Goon turned pooh-bah, Ignatius Ogilvy had a good run of it and his mixing of the Man-Bat syrum with both Poison Ivy's toxin & Bane's venom transformed him into an exceptional Silver Age villain for the New 52. 'Course the real Penguin is not going to sit by and let his empire be stolen, and even if Ogilvy appears down for the count I'm betting Layman's got dastardly plans for his new creation. I'm totally on board.
Hawkeye #10: ITMOD favorite Francesco Francavilla stops by for a fill-in story surrounding the background of the killer Clown. From what I've gathered we've never encountered this guy before but he certainly seems familiar. And I'm still pissed about last issue's Grills finale. Looks like Matt Fraction is building to some serious drama amongst all this lighthearted entertainment, and I'm happy to see the larger arc starting to form. This issue sees another perspective on The Bros, and Kate Bishop takes more of the spotlight from Barton. Sure, this is David Aja's book, but Francavilla is always a treat. His art is a little in contrast to Aja's, but it's beautiful, colorful yet moody work. He can fill in anytime.
Age of Ultron #7: Logan & Sue Storm return from the Hank Pym murdered past to discover yet another age, but this one birthed from their own devious actions. I've enjoyed this series pretty much from the beginning, but I certainly haven't loved it. This is really the first issue that perked my alternative realities interest - one eyed Colonel America, Cyclops Cable, holey Ben Grimm, Iron Man's armada - but I'm afraid they spent too much time in the first half reveling in the devastation and now that the book is getting crazy it's gonna rush a climax. Only three issues left, a whole lotta story leftover.
Indestructible Hulk #7: I'm still waiting for Mark Waid to kick ass on this book. I was hoping the departure of "serious" artist Leinil Yu & the return of demi-god Walt Simonson would bring some much needed levity to the story. As much fun as it was to see the "Hulk Worthy" last issue, the revelation of Thor's Mjolnir manipulation got a sad shrug outta this reader. It's a fun enough tale, but it doesn't take the adventure to the next level the way Waid's Daredevil or his Rocketeer managed to do on a monthly basis. So-so.
Iron Man #9: God Dammit! I'm still reading this crappy title! If anything, this Week In Dork should prove to you that I can seriously love Tony Stark. What Robert Downey Jr & company have proved is that Stark can be a fascinatingly flawed individual. Through the years I have not followed every action of the Marvel Comics character, but I've enjoyed his tenure in Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers & I really liked what Mark Millar did with him in Civil War. And since I've been loving Matt Fraction's work in Hawkeye & FF, I think it's time I devoured his Incredible Iron Man run. But I gotta say, this Marvel Now Kieron Gillen incarnation is just the absolute pits. Stark travels the Cosmos in search of Celestial killer 451, he teams up with the ridiculous Death's Head & avoids the Guardians of the Galaxy. How does this all tie into "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark?" SPOILERS if you care...Well, a robot knew his dad once. Lame. Gillen is dragging Tony all over the place with this book and maybe we're starting to discover an arc here, but I really don't care. I've given you nine lukewarm months, Marvel. And cuz I'm a sap and I want to love this character so damn much, I'm probably going to give you nine more. I should vote with my dollars and drop this sucker, but I'm a dope - a fanboy, and I'm gonna keep reading and keep bitching until it gets worse or better. God dammit!
Green Arrow #20: Holy Cow, now this book is kick ass. But unlike Iron Man I've never delved into the world of Oliver Queen before...well, there is that appearance in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and I think I read Kevin Smith's short run some time back but I don't remember a dang thing about it. As Fraction is doing in Hawkeye, writer Jeff Lemire is making me care for a character I once thought of as nothing more than a boring Robin Hood wannabe. I still don't quite get Queen. He's another rich playboy playing vigilante. But Lemire is definitely putting this costumed hero through the wringer. The purple archer Komodo is taking the good boy to task, beating, bashing, torturing his way to Oliver Queen's soul. And then there's the mysterious starfish-eyed Magus. What's his deal? Mysterious seems to be equalling sinister, but we'll see. And as violent as Lemire's script can be, artist Andrea Sorrentino's panels are just as vicious - selling the plight when the mystery is not enough.
Thor: "It's a good look." This is the key film in Marvel's march towards The Avengers. Here we move beyond the "reality" of science based heroes (Iron Man, Hulk) and into the realm of batshit fantasy. If Thor had failed in its depictions of Asgard, Frost Giants, & Rainbow Bridges than The Mighty Myth would have remained an outcast of the super group. However, Kenneth Branagh and screenwriters Miller, Stentz, & Payne sell the insanity of such a universe with high adventure grounded in humor. Littlest pet shops, Renaissance Fair jabs, Asgardian butt shots. Not to mention Chris Hemsworth's smile. Those supernatural pearly whites are enough to make the manliest fanboys (as if those exist) swoon. And with the exception of a shoehorned Hawkeye, the S.H.I.E.L.D. presence feels organic to the script and Clark Gregg succeeds in bringing the band together. There are bits to quibble - budgetary constraints result in a claustrophobic small town setting with Asgard not getting its due, the climactic architectural devastation results with the wrong folks on the wrong sides, and it's more charm than Badass. But I'd also say that Thor is the one film post-Iron Man 1 and pre-Avengers that feels the most solid; it's certainly the only building block that could exist on its own. A shock given my original blase attitude towards the whacky classical icon's existence in the superhero realm.
Captain America - The First Avenger: Probably the most frustrating film in the series, Captain America never quite sells its period setting or the grandness of its adventure. Still the first half of the film, the origin story, is a real corker. Chris Evans excels as scrawny Steve Rodgers, a kid sick of sitting on the sidelines as the global bully Adolf Hitler consumes the best of American youth. When Stanley Tucci's exiled scientist offers him a seat in his man machine, puny Steve Rodgers is evolved into the super human Captain America. There is heart in their conversations over good nature, and the film peaks with their final moment together. From that point in the film we get glimpses of iconic WWII battlescapes, and a series of tepid montages that tease rather than exhilarate. Monstrous CGI Tanks and a running stream of blue screens gives the entire proceedings an artificial taste, the threat of World War nothing more than a first person shooter. The Red Skull's Hydra hides the evil of the nazis, stripping the story of history as well as cinema's greatest villain, and diluting the triumph of our hero. When the two rivals finally meet in the unfriendly skies, their conflict is as satisfying as those montages. Quick. Fleeting. Just another link to The Avengers.
Photo Stolen from The Birchmere's Facebook Page. Thanks.
John Hodgman @ The Birchmere: I'm not a fan like The Wife, but I've always found "something" tremendously appealing about Hodgman's brand of humor. He works the nerd crowd - hipstery, but you know, in a good way. He comes on stage flashing his ridiculous amount of showbiz swag, taking pot shots at himself and the celebrity world he sometimes inhabits. He makes references to Ayn Rand as quickly as he does Battlestar Galactica - flaunting his cred as wildly as he does his AWEsome mustache. He's not a barrel-laughs kinda guy, but I found myself eating up the show with the rest of his crowd. He's a goofball in the same vein as Jim Gaffigan, but instead of feeling the comfort of a fellow Hot Pockets devouring buffoon, I am fully aware listening to his comedy that this man is far smarter than I am. But that can be a comfort too. A level of nerdom to strive towards.
The Avengers: "That's my secret Captain, I'm always angry." After a half dozen rewatches I have yet to tire of the comic book joy overflowing from the screen in this crowning achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Years in the making, The Avengers is the Damn Yankees of Super Hero movies. Nothing quite like it has ever been attempted before, and thankfully this big beast succeeds where it surely could have floundered. Joss Whedon dips his pen into the Marvel U and scrawls the quintessential Avengers campaign. Two mad scientists, a super soldier, a god, and a couple of grunts. Toss them into a floating aircraft carrier and you're going to get a kerfuffle, especially when you've got Loki and his mind gem space stick influencing matters - that's the cliche done right. You've seen these beats before, but never executed so perfectly or with so much reverence to the source material. Is it just fan servicing? Probably. But dammit, I'm the fan here and I'm uncontrollably delighted when Iron Man bounces repulser beams off of Cap's shield or when Banner announces his control of The Hulk. And I absolutely dig the downfall of Tom Hiddleston's Loki. (SPOILERS folks, but why the hell haven't you seen this film already?) He may be the cock of the walk, but in the end he's just a whiney brat taken out by Hawkeye's arrow & the Hulk's smashing rage. A pawn in The Mad Titan's invasion of Earth. Thanos!?!?! What's next, Rocket Raccoon? Oh wait...
Free Comic Book Day: Woke up too damn early on Saturday morning, but it's that time of year again! FCBD!!!! Matt & I did our annual Comic Shop crawl through the Northern Virginia area. First stop was Laughing Ogre (formerly Phoenix Comics & Toys) in Fairfax. They had a serious line of kids, adults, & hipsters (the bad kind this time) waiting to get inside. They also put up a three book limit - snagged Marvel's Infinity, 2000 AD's Judge Dredd, & the weak Snyder/Lee Superman Unchained preview. A couple cosplayers lurked inside: Venom & Scarecrow were buddies, there was a Sharon Carter Agent 13, and Black Widow actually worked the counter. Next on the crawl was Big Planet Comics in Vienna. That's my shop. And they're the best. They allowed one of each of the Free Comic Book Day selections and I took them up on that promise. Scored almost everything including Pippi Longstocking, Prince Valiant, and Marble Season. Why the hell not, right? Not as much cosplay here - a lone Winter Soldier guarded the entrance. From there we went to the Laughing Ogre mothership is Sterling - things were dying down, upped their take to five books a customer. No cosplay. Then a late lunch break and a final trip out to Gainsville to Comics & Gaming. They had a massive selection of Free Comics dating back several years. Grabbed some Bone & Archies. And, of course, along the way Matt & I made sure to support the local businesses; paying our hard earned cash for books like Jonathan Hickman's The Manhattan Project, Lincoln Washington Free Man, and Scott C's Double Fine Action Comics. Overall, the Free Comic Book Day selections don't seem as strong as last year's but I have yet to really mull them over. The free stuff is not really the point anyway. It's about getting the rest of the world excited about funny books. Haven't talked to my guys yet, but this year seemed to be a success. Each store was hopping. Hopefully some money was flowing their way too.
The Alamo Drafthouse DC: And how do you perfectly cap off an amazing Free Comic Book Day? Well, how about Iron Man 3 at the Grand Opening of Washington DC's very own Alamo Drafthouse!?!?!?!? Hell to the yeah!...Ok...so it really wasn't the Grand Opening, we missed that by one afternoon. And Alamo Drafthouse DC is actually Alamo Drafthouse Loudon, VA but semantics shmantics. Nearly five years ago, I visited Austin's original Drafthouse for a screening of Spider-Man 3. Whatever my opinion of that film I can at least say that they offered an amazing experience filled with specialized programming and delicious & deadly food. I'm happy to report that The Alamo has been expertly transported to NOVA. I totally dug the pre-show entertainment filled with classic (& not-so-classic) Iron Man cartoons, a weirdo Ben Kingsley Prada ad, the Don Cheadle Captain Planet Funny or Die video, and Robert Downey Jr's insane hut hut hut hut bark from god know's what movie. The food was great. Ordered a Royale w/Cheese & a Mexican Vanilla milkshake. Rocked my tastebud world. Sure, it takes a little getting used to all the servers dashing down the aisles, but once you do it's a blast to chow down on your burger while Tony Stark tinkers on screen. And the No Talking/Texting mantra is seriously appreciated. The Alamo Drafthouse has a reverence for cinema and its patrons drink the kool-aid. Frankly, I'm not sure why I would want to see a movie anywhere else at this point. They're gonna be getting a whole helluva lot of my business going forward. But what about the flick in question....
Iron Man 3: "Do you want an empty life?" After The Battle of New York (aka The Avengers), Tony Stark is a mess of stress and anxiety. He's an insomniac; what little sleep he does achieve is plagued with nightmares of wormholes & alien invaders. He spends the rest of his time tinkering in the basement, and alienating his all-too-understanding girlfriend. Shane Black takes the reigns from Jon Favreau and properly progresses the emotional chinks in Stark's armor - Robert Downey Jr is the master of character flaws and he brings the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist to his logical breaking point in this third and most successful Iron Man entry. Really the only place to go after the apocalypse of The Avengers is inward - it's not go big or go home, it's take a beating and keep on ticking cinema. Stepping out of the silver age, Ben Kingsley's The Mandarin hates America & its fortune cookie lies, but the Marvel team cleverly sheds the yellow peril Fu Man Chu slander and makes room for Guy Pearce's demonic A.I.M CEO. Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer might have been the funhouse mirror version of Tony Stark, but Pearce's Aldrich Killian is Stark's Anti-Christ. He doesn't quite steal the show from Kingsley's theatrics, but it's a pleasure to hate on Pearce. Iron Man 3 is not The Empire Strikes Back of the franchise. There is some serious brooding to help elevate the turmoil, but Shane Black puts in plenty of his patented banter. Whether he's bouncing off Happy Hogan, Gwyneth Paltrow, a bullied kid, or Don Cheadle, Tony Stark is scoring plenty of classic 80s chuckles. And speaking of Don Cheadle! His rebranded Iron Patriot finally gets some decent screentime, bracing his badass muscles and going back-to-back with Stark at the climax. He's earned a spot in Avengers 2 as far as I'm concerned, and I'm certainly ready for the next phase of Marvel: Thor 2, Cap 2, and the madness of The Guardians. Bring it.