Invincible Is Incredible!

Anyone unfamiliar with the Robert Kirkman Image Comics series Invincible might find the first episode of the animated TV Show Invincible to be your typical superhero yarn. It starts out generic enough except for some wittier than normal dialogue; Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) a young teenage son of the world’s mightiest hero, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), develops his own superpowers and juggles teenage life with learning to be superhero called Invincible. Adding to the familiarity is that Omni-Man is clearly inspired by Superman and his comrades in the superhero team, the Guardians of the Globe, are stand-ins for the Justice League.

Then the first episode concluded, and Invincible veered off violently into a completely new direction. Fans of the comic book series should enjoy the adaptation now streaming on Amazon Prime, since it is fairly faithful with a few differences as to the timing of certain character developments and events.

Without going into spoilers, the plot lines in the show are surprising as are the revelations about certain characters. For instance, in the episode “That Actually Hurt” Invincible is convinced to help a low-level supervillain to take out a dangerous criminal kingpin. What followed was one of the most wincing and savage fights as Invincible and his allies are nearly killed by the kingpin’s hired supervillains. But as graphic and epic the fights were what was more shocking were the final reveals which called into question Mark’s judgement.

Invincible is decidedly not for children as it is brutally violent in the vein of The Boys but in a more graphic extreme since the show is not limited by a live-action budget. In fact, some may complain Invincible may be too graphic with its violence. However, the show shows just enough restraint to keep it from going overboard.

As violent as the show is, it takes a mature approach to its character development. Mark goes through the well-known but perfectly executed tropes of a teenage superhero which explore the headaches of having a secret identity as his busy superhero life interferes with his ability to hold down a job or being honest with this girlfriend Amber (Zazie Beetz) or his growing relationship with Omni-Man and his perfectly normal mother (Sandra Oh). To the show’s credit, the characters are well explored and are captivating.

The secondary characters such as demon investigator Damien Darkblood (Clancy Brown), Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins), and Robot (Zachary Quinto) sometimes outshine the main characters. Damien is an interesting combo of John Constantine, Hellboy and DC’s the Demon. Atom Eve/Samantha Wilkins is a classmate of Mark and has an existential crisis over whether or not to remain a superhero or do meaningful work to help people. The stoic Robot trains the new version of the Guardians, but exhibits a surprising humanity, both good and bad and his final revelation was a genuine surprise. Meanwhile, Cecil is a dark yet humane version of Nick Fury and runs a super secret government organization that supports and monitors superhumans. It is very easy for viewers to get invested in these characters’ arcs and with minor appearances from other characters. One stand out was Allen the Alien (Seth Rogen), who becomes a relatable friend to Mark after the two initially fought on the moon. The actor’s easygoing, stoner vibe was emanated in his voice performance which made Allen so likeable.

Rather than mocking its superhero tropes, Invincible embraces them. It actually feels like a comic book while at the same time it functions as a deconstruction of the supehero genre.

To be honest, Invincible is not for everyone. The graphic violence can be offputting and the animation is not the most sophisticated, though its well done. The fact that the first episode “It’s About Time” feels like a retread of a Justice League story may lull people into thinking they’ve seen this before. But stick with the episode to the end. If the shock twist is not enticing enough to learn more about the show, then move on. Otherwise, sit back and explore the refreshing and hard-edged world of Invincible. By the time, the final episode “Where I Really Come From” is watched, viewers will be desperate to find out what happens next. Thankfully, Amazon Prime renewed Invincible for two more seasons.

Captains America And The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the second Disney+ TV series based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) just finished streaming its inaugural season. On the whole, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is another winner for Disney+ despite its flaws. As fans speculate, discuss and laud the series, it is pretty clear that it sets a new direction for the MCU. Spoilers will follow below for anyone who has not watched the show in its entirety.

The series takes place several months after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, is now “gone” (it is never clearly stated if he died) and his two best friends Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) were left to pick up the pieces after Steve’s absence.

In the end of the last Avengers film, Steve Rogers passed on his nearly mystical shield to Sam Wilson to carry on the legacy of Captain America. However, when the series starts, Sam is very uncomfortable with that mantle and donates his shield to the U.S. government as he carries on juggling his private life with his contract superhero work for the government. At the same time, Bucky is grappling with guilt from his previous life as the Winter Soldier, where he carried out brutal assassinations.

While the two men try to go about their lives, events occur that force them to get involved together. These include a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers led by a young woman named Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). In the time between the last two Avengers films, half the world population was erased from existence until they were restored. The Flag Smashers believe the world would be better if there were no borders or nations, which apparently happened in between the films. To help their cause, Karli and her comrades have taken the same super soldier serum that gave Steve Rogers his enhanced strength and agility. They also steal more of the serum to create an army.

The U.S. government commissions a new Captain America, who is John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a military vet suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and he has a major chip on his shoulder. Naturally, he clashes with Sam and Bucky as the two track down the Flag Smashers.

Their hunt for the terrorists lead them throughout the world and encountering allies and foes including the Machiavellion Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and the mercenary Batroc (real-life mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre). Zemo truly stood out as a character in the series with his cold charisma and calculating nature. His cause (a hatred and distrust of superhumans) was clearly defined and understandable from his point of view. For a villain who was dismissed by many fans in Captain America: Civil War, Zemo was elevated to become an A-list villains who had his own humorous memes, especially with his dancing at a night club. Here is an hour-long edit put out by Marvel Studios of Zemo dancing for your enjoyment!

Continue reading

Mephisto Confirmed! When Speculation Runs Amok

An interesting development over the enjoyment of recent offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and other films and TV shows is the over-the-top speculation about future properties.

Mephisto confirmed! Mutants confirmed! Reed Richards confirmed! Hexagons! There are hexagons everywhere!These were just some of the wild speculations in the internet following trailer or episode releases. This was expressly true for WandaVision where YouTubers and bloggers ran every frame of film looking for Easter eggs and potential clues of upcoming shows and characters. This is also happening now with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Godzilla vs. Kong and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. What is baffling with the last property is that it is futile to speculate since there are not any plans to continue Snyder’s vision of the DC Universe. But that is another story.

Sure, the speculation is certainly fun and adds to enjoyment of the TV show or film we are watching, but this has gone overboard to the point that it detracts from enjoying the film or TV show. Case in point, is the finale of WandaVision, which left many viewers feeling disappointed that their many theories and speculations did not pan out. It did not help that prior to the streaming of the last episode actors teased that there would be a surprise cameo that would be on the level of who appeared in the season finale of The Mandalorian. Well, no one showed up. All the specualtion about the demon Mephisto responsible for the show’s machinations did not hold up. The actors in the commericals during WandaVision were not Wanda’s parents. Reed Richards was not the engineer friend of Monica Rambeau. The few things that bore fruit were that the magical book the Darkhold did appear (and helped prove that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was not part of the MCU continuity), the white Vision was introduced, Monica Rambeau developed her superpowers and Wanda’s next door neighbor turned out to be the witch Agatha Harkness. While these revelations thrilled comic book collectors and speculators it disappointed some fans and those who spent a lot of money on Silver Surfer #3, which featured Mephisto’s first appearance.

Even though the final episode of WandaVision featured spectacular showdowns between Wanda and Agatha, and between the two Visions, many complained that the episode did not live up to their expectations. Never mind that a few of the speculations and rumors turned out to be accurate.

With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, many viewers are convinced that mutants will appear since the locale Madripoor was featured in an episode. For those that do not know, Madripoor is a fictional country in the Marvel Comics where Wolverine lived for some time under the alias of Patch. Not only did no mutants appear but neither did Wolverine. Of course, this was to expected. A huge character like Wolverine would not make his MCU debut in a TV show. Just look at how Spider-Man was introduced into the MCU. He was prominently shown in the trailers for Captain America: Civil War, he did not pop up in some TV show.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier also had its version of the cameo controversy when it was revealed that the fifth episode “Truth” would have a surprise cameo by a well-known, award-winning actor who would portray a major character never-before-seen in the MCU. Many viewers already knew better and tampered their expectations, with doubts such a person would appear. However, in “Truth” that person did appear and while it was a genuine surprise it still left many disappointed. No, it was not Wolverine or Mephisto but Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a spy in the Marvel Comics who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and was romantically involved with Nick Fury. She was played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who certainly fits the bill of being a well-known, award-winning actor. But this was not good enough except for comic book speculators who jacked up the prices of their copies of Strange Tales #159, which was where she was introduced. Still, these complainers could not enjoy the cameo appearance for what it was, which is a shame since it was one of the highlights of “Truth”, one of the series’ best episodes.

Now, that the trailer for the upcoming MCU film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is out, watch out for a fresh batch of speculations and rumors. Surely, somebody will spot hexagons or clues of mutants or even Mephisto himself. Here is the trailer to see for yourself.

It is always fun to speculate, theorize and go over episodes and films with a fine-tooth comb because it adds to the enjoyment. But it’s important to no go overboard because this will usually lead to disappointment. Sometimes, it is best to dampen expectations, avoid spoilers altogether and watch these films or TV shows with a fresh mind to enrich the viewing experience.

The Downfall Of Captain America

Before we get started, this post will contain huge spoilers for the most recent episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, titled “The Whole World is Watching”.

Anyone watching the latest Disney+ TV show about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) knows that the United States government introduced a new Captain America to replace Steve Rogers (last seen as a feeble old man in Avengers: Endgame). This new soldier, John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell), was instantly disliked by the characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and viewers alike. The common complaint about John Walker as Captain America was that he not only did not look the part, but he looked so goofy with his ill-fitting helmet and undeserved swagger during his introduction. The memes and dismissals were quite brutal and over the top. Frankly, the poor soldier never had a chance.

To the show’s credit, John Walker was given a back story and he is not an evil person. In the interview he gave during his introduction during the show’s second episode “The Star Spangled Man”, he came off as a person who realized he had large shoes to fill and was trying his hardest. But that was impossible to do. After all, how can you top, let alone, compare to the legendary Steve Rogers? Still, he seemed respectful of the legacy and the honor given to him, plus he had the combat experience as a soldier to be a suitable replacement. But Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) were outraged that Walker had the audacity to pick up the shield and mantle of Captain America. They and the audience felt he was not worthy. Howver, this outrage could be seen as guilt from Sam after he relinquished the shield to the government instead of replacing his friend as the new Captain America. With Bucky, he is furious because Sam gave up the shield easily and probably because he was not given the shield instead. Now, some pretender has the shield and the status of Captain America.

John Walker tried to work with Sam and Bucky, in fact, he and his partner and best friend, Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar (Clé Bennett), rescued the Falcon and the Winter Soldier later in the episode when they fought against a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers. But the duo didn’t want anything to do with the new Captain America and needlessly made him an antagonist.

Throughout the series, the new Captain America felt pressure to measure up. You could see this with subtle visual cues and the way he was treated by others, except Hoskins. What made things worse for Walker was that although he is a skilled soldier, he is not as skilled in fighting as the original Captain America. He began to feel inadequate and not up to the task. However, it was difficult to empathise with him because he displayed an arrogant swagger to the outside world. Also, he was reckless and impatient as his actions in the fourth episode escalated tense situations such as when Sam tried to negotiate with the Flag Smashers’ leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman).

The ultimate humiliation came during the same episode where he was defeated in combat by the elite Wakandan soldiers, the Dora Milaje. He felt especially chastised when he commented that they did not even have super powers yet they defeated him handily.

This led to his conflict later in “The Whole World is Watching” when he came upon a vial of the Super Soldier serum that created the first Captain America and was given to members of the Flag Smashers. To his credit, Walker did not inject the serum, though he took the vial without telling anyone. He sought advice from Hoskins about the ethics of taking the serum and Hoskins opined that he himself would take it if given the chance.

In the last act of the episode as Walker, Hoskins, Sam and Bucky faced off against the Flag Smashers, it soon became clear that Walker had taken the Super Soldier serum thanks to his feats of increased strength. However, he was not as skilled or as polished as Steve Rogers, what was worse was that he lacked control. This lack of control would be exhibited in the shocking final moments of the episode.

During the final fight, Battlestar saved Captain America from being stabbed by Karli, but she accidently killed him in another example of someone who was inexperienced with having the Super Soldier serum. Enraged, Walker chased down the closest Flag Smasher he could find and brutally killed him by bludgeoning the terrrorist with his shield out in public. The last haunting image that closed the episode had a shaken and defiant Captain America standing tall with a bloody shield in front of shocked civilians, for the whole world to see.

This development echoed similar moments in the pages of the Captain America comic book during a famous arc called Captain America: The Captain, written by Mark Gruenwald, which ran from issues #332 through 350. In the arc, Steve Rogers abandoned the Captain America identity and John Walker took over but proved to be unhinged. This was best shown in issue #345 (“Surrender”) where after his parents were murdered by a group of domestic terrorist, an enraged Walker savagely killed the terrorists, then tried to talking to his deceased parents as if he saved them.

Seeing a similar moment in the live-action MCU is more shocking just for the visuals and its impact. This last image could be seen as a metaphor for how far the U.S. has fallen in the eyes of the world; something that is an uncomfortable reminder of fairly recent events not just in the MCU but in real life. The moment clearly proves that John Walker is not worthy to be Captain America, who should be held to a higher ideal, a greater standard. The original Captain America represented the best of humankind thanks to his nobility and compassion. These traits were why he was chosen to receive the serum back in World War II. It is doubtful that whoever chose Walker had this in mind.

Then again, it is hard to see him as this evil man. Even as he smashed his shield down repeatedly over his victim, one can’t help feeling grief over how he and the ideal of Captain America have fallen. Circumstances beyond his control, such as facing opponents who outmatched him or how he was repeatedly disrespected, influenced him to make these fateful decisions. If things had happened differently, if Bucky and Sam had given him a chance for example, then maybe his brutal actions could have been avoided.

No matter how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concludes, or who ends up wielding the shield and the Captain America title, John Walker is an intriguing character who deserves to be showcased in future MCU productions, perhaps as the U.S.Agent to mirror the comic books.

The Last Hurrah For The Snyderverse

As much as fans of the DC films were thrilled over the release of the Snyder cut of Justice League on HBO Max, many others lamented over the news that it will be the last hurrah for the Snyderverse.

The so-called Snyderverse of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has always had a rocky existence ever since the release of its first film, Man of Steel. Most of the films in the DCEU received mixed reception and box office results. After the original cut of Justice League did not perform well in theaters the film studio, Warner Bros., began to pull back on the concept of a shared cinematic universe.

At first, many thought this was a good idea as the films Shazam!, Aquaman, Birds of Prey (or the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and Wonder Woman 1984 largely were standalone films without direct connections to the DCEU. However, that standalone nature also leads to problems such as the lack of continuity or coordination for other films. The best example of this is Wonder Woman 1984. In that film, which takes place well before the proper DCEU, you see the world undergoing massive events from the machinations of Maxwell Lord such as a third World War, huge walls appearing in the Middle East and mass deaths and destruction. Yet, even though these calamaties are undone, the collective memories of them still appeared to remain and was never referenced once in other films.

Then of course there is Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The way the film plays out contrasts severely with the original version of the film. In fact, Warner Bros. has come out and said Zack Snyder’s Justice League for better or worse is to be considered a “cul-de-sac”, a one-off or for a live-action Elseworlds. For non-DC fans that is an imprint of DC Comics that take place in alternate realities. That’s all well in good and Warner Bros. should continue pursuing more Elseworlds stories such as what they did with Joker and with next year’s The Batman. They should also pursue Justice League Mortal by George Miller or even Joss Whedon’s Justice League and give the director the chance to correct the fake upper lip travesty!

However, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was very well received and with the way it ended, the film left fans wanting more. Of course, it does not help that the ending of the film clearly set up future films and spinoffs. For Aquaman that is fine since his solo film did take place after Justice League, but for Superman. Well, Warner Bros. cannot get its act together and put out a proper Man of Steel sequel. Instead, they hired J.J. Abrams to reboot the character.

Now there are outcries not just for the DCEU but for the Snyderverse established in the new version of Justice League. People want to know what was going on with Batman’s Knightmare vision which featured him teamed up with the Joker. Was Lois Lane pregnant for certain? What is the future for Wonder Woman (her films take place in the past)? Snyder himself said he would love to continue these films but relations between him and Warner Bros. are not exactly great now.

Even if Warner Bros. relented and agreed to more films set in this alternate DCEU there are the logistical hurdles of reuniting the cast. Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg, one of the pivotal characters in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, has had a bad falling out with the film studio. Ben Affleck left the role of Batman after creative differences in the direction of the next Batman film. Instead we are getting another standalone Batman film that features the Caped Crusader as a younger man. And Warner Bros. and Superman actor, Henry Cavill, cannot seem to agree on a venue for him to return. So this is most likely the last hurrah for the Snyderverse. To transition away from the Snydervere an idea would be to have the Flash solo film use its rumored Flashpoint storyline to reboot the DCEU. It makes the most sense. Still it is nice to hope against hope that we have not seen the last of the Snyderverse.