The Avengers Assemble to Celebrate Fifty Years Of Teaming Up

 

perez avengers

“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were bornto fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Through the years, their roster has prospered, changing many times, their glory has never been denied! Heed the call, thenfor now, the Avengers Assemble!”– Monthly prologue inserted in every issue of The Avengers

Most fans know the story behind Marvel Comics’ famous group of superheroes, the Avengers. In the early ’60s Marvel’s rival DC Comics had a huge hit with their own superhero team the Justice League of America (JLA). In a desire to compete with JLA’s strong sales, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman directed editor Stan Lee to put out their own brand of superhero comics like The Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men. Thus, the creation of what general readers know as The Marvel Comic Book Universe was in progress. The popular storylines readers love about Marvel hadn’t been written yet, but the Marvel characters were just created and began their journey of adventures while inhabiting a shared Marvel universe. As successful as these comic books were, the company didn’t have an equivalent to the JLA. In other words, a comic book that featured their most popular heroes teaming up against a huge threat.

avengers issue 1To remedy this, Stan worked with his long-time collaborator, co-plotter and penciller Jack Kirby to create the Avengers. When Marvel published the first issue of The Avengers Marvel found its equivalent to JLA. Right before the Avengers were created, Marvel had popular heroes like the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man and so it was feasible to do a team-up book since these core members would make a good fit as a team. The comic book was a huge hit with readers because of a formula it followed. The main characters, like the Fantastic Four, didn’t see eye-to-eye with each other. In fact, they fought each other, starting with the very first issue when the Hulk was attacked by the other founding members (it was all part of a ruse engineered by Thor’s wicked step brother Loki). But in the end, the heroes would put aside their differences to battle a force that each of them couldn’t handle alone. What’s more is that these heroes had character flaws, as all heroes from the original Silver Age roster of the Marvel Universe. This contrasted dramatically from the members of the JLA- who were viewed by readers as perfect personalities with no character flaws. Plus, it didn’t hurt that fans loved the famous battle cry “Avengers Assemble!” made by the team.

Enter Captain America

Still, as successful as the book was, Lee and Goodman knew something was missing. There wasn’t anyone who had the ability of keeping the team together; there was no strong leader. They needed someone who had a long-established history to be part of the team. Enter Captain America; co-created in the 1940’s by writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby. Cap’s greatest run at that point, was in the 40’s, when he was popular as a patriotic superhero. But after WWII, sales dwindled for his comic books and he only appeared in comic books occasionally during the 1950s. His return to the Marvel Universe in issue 4 of The Avengers is not just a pivotal moment in Avengers history but in comic book history as well. This was because he is a pop icon who symbolized what was best about America and his heroics dated back to World War II.

His induction into the team changed the tone of The Avengers, too. The stories had more depth and introduced a fish-out-of-water element. What also became apparent is that Captain America was a natural leader and he helped usher in the next important change to the title.

Changing Lineup

Somewhat of a hallmark today for The Avengers is the title’s ever-changing lineup. Lee realized that it was difficult to have so many popular characters in The Avengers while they had their own adventures in their own titles. It was hard to keep up with the continuity and in the end might dilute their popularity. So it was decided to remove the popular characters except for Captain America. The question was who would replace the superstars? In The Avengers #16, photo3Captain America needed to bring in new recruits after the core members left the team. They ended up being Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye. These choices were out of the ordinary because at that time, they were more known for being villains. Adding to that dilemma was that Hawkeye’s abrasive attitude served as a perfect foil to true-blue, all-American Captain America. Previously, he would give out orders and no one would question him, but now Hawkeye would do so, which added conflict. This element was a big hit with readers and made the book even more successful and reinforced the winning formula: likeable heroes who bicker, but in the end use teamwork to defeat a common foe. Continue reading

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The Star Trek Movies Ranked, Part II

Continuing this ranking of Star Trek films, we go from the undeniable classics to the lesser entries in the Star Trek film series. They range from being just okay to junk best seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000. As explained in the previous article, tier three films have their flaws but also boast some admirable qualities about them. Meanwhile, the tier four flicks are absolute junk that should only be seen by hardcore fans or the morbidly curious who want sleep aids.

Tier Three

7. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984): The second Star Trek sequel has so many elements going for it, but for some reason it doesn’t search for spocktake off. After the triumph of Star Trek II, this direct sequel is a huge letdown. Trying to follow up Star Trek II is a difficult task and try as it did, Star Trek III couldn’t equal it, much less top it. For me, it’s hard to pinpoint why this film is a misfire, but for all the important plot developments it doesn’t have much passion.

In this sequel, James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his core Enterprise crew risk everything, including their careers, to retrieve Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) body from the Genesis Planet. Once there, they discover that he’s resurrected and now have to save him. There are many pivotal events in this movie; the Enterprise is destroyed, someone close to Kirk is killed, while his best friend comes back to life, and careers are jeopardized. Yet, most of these events feel ho-hum. One thing will happen, the characters reflect about it, then it’s on to the next development.

enterprise blows up

On the other hand, Star Trek III is not to be missed, not just because of what happens in the movie, but for its merits. The character interactions are fantastic and the actors all turn in solid performances. The villain of Star Trek III, a Klingon commander (Christopher Lloyd) is quite menacing and Lloyd plays him more nuanced than your typical Klingon, which was refreshing. The final battle between him and Kirk was also satisfying to watch. Production wise, Star Trek III hits the right marks and this is the movie that introduces the ubiquitous and iconic Klingon bird-of-prey ship and the Excelsior-class starship. Compared to the other films, Star Trek III is a good, but not an outstanding entry in this series.

crew8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): I’ll be frank and say this movie is boring in many parts. Yet, there is so much that I like about it. It is the one film that stays truest to creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek and humanity in the future. Out of all the films, this one is the most cerebral and takes its influence from pre-Star Wars films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it does so to a fault.

In the first Star Trek movie, an enormous, destructive energy cloud is headed towards Earth and a newly refitted Enterprise is dispatched to confront it. The lead up to encountering the cloud was pretty good. Remember, when the film came out, we hadn’t seen the original crew in anything since the series ended in 1969. So, the film reveled in re-introducing Star Trek’s many iconic characters like James T. Kirk, Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley). That reunion aspect worked very well thanks to Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic and triumphant score, special effects that still hold up today and the cast’s acting prowess–they’re clearly comfortable in their familiar roles.

Well, we’re building up to when the Enterprise confronts the energy cloud. The movie is self-indulgent at parts, enterprise refitbut it’s moving along. Then midway through it, the film comes to a snoozing halt after the first encounter reveals that the cloud is hiding an immense artificial entity that is seeking its creator. Overly long scenes of people staring at special effects plague the movie. They’re pretty to look at, but after a few minutes, it becomes overkill and enough is enough! There is a lot of pondering throughout, in fact, there’s too much of it. But in spite of its faults, Star Trek: The Motion Picture has an ethereal, contemplative quality that is hard to dismiss.

9. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002): This is probably the most underrated Star Trek film in the batch, which is unfortunate. Due to its dismal reception at the box office and with fans, this would turn out to be the last film to feature The Next Generation crew. It does have major faults, such as its by-the-numbers execution and that it outright cannibalizes plot elements from the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek II. At one point, it was the best ripoff of the first Star Trek sequel until Star Trek Into Darkness came along.

s3Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is ordered to take the Enterprise-E to the enemy Romulan homeworld and meet that empire’s new leader in a peace initiative. This leader turns out to be Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a young clone of Picard and he has a major beef with Picard and the Federation. Shinzon’s unclear motives are one of the weakest elements about Star Trek: Nemesis and that is vital since this film’s premise hangs on the villain. He just lacks the gravitas to be an effective foil for Picard. What’s worse is his lack of reason for wanting to attack the Federation. All Shinzon does is spout corny lines about being Picard’s opposite. It’s probably the film’s clumsy attempt at addressing the theme of duality. Adding to that theme is a redundant sub plot involving the android Data (Brent Spiner) and his duplicate, which already happened n the TV series. The action is unexpectedly flaccid considering that the director (Stuart Baird) was known for helming action films.

Still, this film has some merits. It features interesting character scenes and it exudes an atmosphere of impending change. The scene where the Enterprise-E is rammed enterprise fightsagainst Shinzon’s warship is pretty cool though, but a major character’s death doesn’t generate much of a reaction from me. It felt forced and trite since it tried to evoke Spock’s death in Star Trek II. With all that, somehow, it serves as a decent wrap up for films featuring The Next Generation crew.  At the very least, the film isn’t dull and has superb special effects and the last score done by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Continue reading

The Star Trek Movies Ranked, Part I

Star Trek movies have been with us since the late ’70s and have received very mixed reactions. Some are revered as the very best of sci-fi films, while others received vicious barbs from fans and critics alike. Now that there is an even dozen films, it’s time to rank them in order.

The way my rankings work are basically four tiers. The first tier includes genuine classics that still hold up today and are iconic; the second tier features films that are undeniably enjoyable and worth watching, though they have their faults; the third tier is filled with flawed but noteworthy movies that have some good qualities and are sometimes underrated; the fourth tier, naturally is littered with the bottom-dwelling movies that are just terrible with little to recommend about them.

Tier One

1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): I know this may shock most fans who expected Star Trek II to be the number pick. Choosing the trek 4 sfvery best Star Trek film was quite difficult and honestly, it’s more of a tie between the two films. To those that would argue that Star Trek II is the best one, you won’t get an argument from me, but time and time again I keep going to the fourth film in the franchise.

Why? To me this one showed the original cast and filmmakers at the top of their game. Everything was top notch with this film: production values, special effects, acting, and the story. The movie which was about the original Enterprise crew time traveling to San Francisco in the late 20th century to find whales was a great example of a fish-out-of-water yarn. We got to see the crew out of their element, yet persevering in the strange environment of the past. The movie presented a lighter, more comedic side but it was still exciting and engaging. It also showed that a Star Trek film didn’t need a scene-chewing villain to carry a film.

klingon ship

Finally, this film allowed all of the cast members to have their moment in the sun. They contributed to the story and had many outstanding scenes. Still, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley were the highlights, especially Shatner. His James T. Kirk wasn’t morose as in previous films, he was more confident, surprisingly funny and showed off his famous romantic, charming demeanor. By the film’s end, you feel completely satisfied. The crew had a new ship, Kirk was doing what he was meant to do and there was the promise of new beginnings as the Enterprise-A headed out to the unknown.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982): On a different day I might’ve ranked this as so many do, as the best Star Trek film ever made. trek 2This is still the most important film in the franchise because it’s the one that saved it in its infancy. After the wooden and pedestrian debut film, there was doubt another expensive Star Trek film would ever be made. The filmmakers’ challenge was to put out an exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that would leave people talking about it for a long time to come. And they succeeded.

One of Kirk’s enemies from the original show, Khan (Ricardo Montalban), commandeers a Starfleet ship and goes on a warpath against Kirk. He blames our hero for marooning him on a desolate planet and wants Kirk to suffer as he did. And boy khandoes he give it to Kirk. The battle of wits between the two adversaries became famous thanks in part to the performances from both actors. This is Shatner’s best performance as a Kirk, who finally faces middle age, while Montalban clearly relishes his role as the battered but regal Khan. His character is undeniably one of the best movie villains of all time.

Even though the special effects and Nicholas Meyer’s direction are exemplary, what makes the film endure is its focus on the characters and its themes about dealing with your past, the destructiveness of vengeance and facing the future with dignity. So why isn’t this my favorite Star Trek film? Well, it nearly is and on some days I’ll admit it. But the film feels a bit ponderous and pompous at times. The script tends to go overboard with its constant quoting from classic literature. Then there’s Spock’s (Nimoy) death, while it’s eloquent and heartfelt, given that the character returns in later films, the death feels a bit empty. Those are just minor quibbles though and this movie is a must-see classic for everyone.

picard borg queen3. Star Trek: First Contact (1996): It’s not only the best Star Trek film that features The Next Generation cast but one of the franchise’s very best efforts. Director Jonathan Frakes (who also plays Riker) and the production team hit all the right marks in this great Star Trek film. Its success started with this well-written time travel/alien invasion saga.

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his Enterprise-E crew time travel to Earth’s mid-21st century to prevent the evil cybernetic Borg from conquering the planet. Successfully incorporating action and horror elements, Star Trek: First Contact was both exciting and suspenseful with a morality tale about obsession and dealing with destiny. This film is full of so many cool moments. One of the best was when the experimental warp ship the Phoenix launches from a missile silo as its pilot, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) blasts Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”. Another was Picard’s histrionic ranting about the Borg, which forced him to look within himself. The Borg themselves are presented as the fearful, unrelenting force they were meant to be. The movie’s main villain, the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), is one of the more interesting and unique foes. She isn’t some revenge-minded madwoman but is cold, calculating, and with a strange allure.

borg battle

As with the better films, this one showcased many of the supporting characters and featured smile-inducing nods and cameos from the other Star Trek shows. The best one had to be the cameo of Star Trek: Voyager’s EMH (Robert Picardo) who appears as the Enterprise-E’s own EMH. One of his lines is also a nice tribute to Dr. McCoy. After falling short with the previous entry Star Trek Generations, the filmmakers had to get the franchise back on track and succeeded with this one. Everyone involved is to be lauded, from the actors, to the composer, to the production team and, of course, the director, who like Nimoy understood Star Trek. Continue reading

Dark Horse Presents George Lucas’ Original Vision For The Star Wars

the star wars coverThis past week, Dark Horse Comics released their latest Star Wars comic book mini-series simply titled The Star Wars. The comic is based on George Lucas’ original 1974 draft treatment for the first Star Wars film.

Looking through the first issue in this mini-series it becomes very clear that the first version of the monumental epic bears little resemblance to what wound up on screen three years later. Superficially, it’s the same basic premise: out in a distant galaxy a young Jedi fights for freedom against an evil empire. Only this young Jedi (or Jedi-Bendu as is the order’s rightful name) is called Annikin Starkiller. By the end of the first issue he comes under the tutelage of General Luke Skywalker, who in this version is more akin to the older Obi-Wan Kenobi seen in Episode IV, except he’s a revered military leader and not an old hermit.

The other important Star Wars character, Darth Vader, while dressed in black, doesn’t wear a helmet, though he still looks malicious. Thanks for that goes to the mini-series’ artist Mike Mayhew. Actually, Mayhew and writer J. W. Rinzler should be credited for presenting this intriguing alternate take on the famous Star Wars franchise. The Star Wars seems more like an updated version of the pulpy Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers newspaper strips. It really isn’t surprising considering that Lucas was inspired by those strips and, in fact, originally intended to direct a Flash Gordon movie.

The story is about an evil Empire, whose skywalkercapitol is in Alderaan, that wants to conquer the last remaining free world Aquilae, which is where the nearly extinct Jedi are located. General Skywalker has to convince the ruling king in Aquilae to marshal forces to fight the Empire. Along the way, readers are introduced to a portly Bail Antilles, a teenage Princess Leia, and Skywalker’s old friend, Kane Starkiller, who is Annikin’s father.

The Star Wars can be daunting even for someone familiar with the Star Wars lore because it’s very complex. Actually, the comic does the same thing that the original Star Wars did for audiences back in 1977, which is to throw readers into the middle of a story taking place in unfamiliar territory and we have to learn about that universe along the way.

It can be offsetting for fans because it can be the blueprint for a reboot somewhere down the line that would be more controversial than the recent Star Trek reboot. This version of Star Wars could set fandom on fire just for its different take on the universe and characters.

But for now, fans can enjoy this new, radical take of Star Wars and ponder what might’ve been.

Lewis T. Grove

Looking Ahead To Next Summer’s Films

GUARDIANS godzilla

Even though summer doesn’t officially end for another couple of weeks, the summer movie season is basically over. Gone now are the blockbuster genre releases. It’s been a mixed bag frankly for this summer. Many of this year’s summer movies were entertaining but were riddled with plot holes or had pacing issues. So without the glow of a recent movie release, we fans can only look forward to next summer’s planned schedule. These are the movies to get excited about as we count down the months.

spideyThe Amazing Spider-Man 2 After successfully rebooting the Spider-Man movie franchise, Marc Webb returns to direct the latest Spider-Man movie, which features Jamie Foxx as Electro, Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn and Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone also reprise their roles as Spider-Man and Gwen Stacey. May 2

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was one of the best reboots that reinvented the Planet Of The Apes franchise with a captivating yarn about an ape with enhanced intelligence. Andy Serkis, who stole the last film with his mo-cap performance of Ceasar the super-intelligent ape, returns as apes and humanity battle for dominion of the planet. July 18

Edge Of Tomorrow This was originally called All You Need Is Kill but some marketing genius probably thought the new title was catchier. Anyway, Tom Cruise stars as an alien-fighting soldier in the future who is forced into a time loop where he is killed over and over again. June 6

edge

Godzilla Director Gareth Edwards hopes to banish those dreary memories from the last American take on the giant Kaiju. The director promises that the iconic monster will be presented as a true destructive force of nature; plus there will be epic monster battles! May 16

The Good Dinosaur Even though the film’s director was recently removed, Pixar’s latest offering sounds terrific. Some of the studio’s recent releases weren’t too impressive but this one may be one of their better efforts. May 30
UPDATE: We just learned that The Good Dinosaur has been delayed until Nov. 2015. Bummer.

good dino

Guardians Of The Galaxy Will this Marvel film be their version of Star Wars or next year’s Pacific Rim? The clip we had on our Facebook page that was taken down was very intriguing and the brief glimpses of Rocket Raccoon captured our attention. Aug 1

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Dreamworks has proven lately that they are an animation studio to be taken seriously. The original film about a Viking boy and his pet dragon was a surprising, rousing success and the recent teaser of the sequel looks just as enthralling. June 20

Jupiter Ascending The Wachowskis, famous for The Matrix films, are looking for a big comeback. This film, which stars Mila Kunis as a futuristic cleaning lady who has a great destiny, may or may not be that coveted comeback vehicle. Too soon to tell. July 25

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Having decimated the Transformers film franchise, Michael Bay is now aiming his sights on the ’80s’ other big toy phenomenon. Only he isn’t directing the film, however it stars Megan Fox as April O’Neil.  Aug 8

Transformers: Age Of Extinction The fourth film in the reviled, yet popular franchise already sounds better than the others since it doesn’t feature Shia LaBeouf, but it’s still directed by Michael Bay. Let’s hope the shaky-cam is under control. June 27

X-Men: Days Of Future Past Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men film franchise with an epic tale involving time travel that bridges many of the franchise’s most popular characters like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy) and Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender). May 23