The Eve Of Marvel’s Phase Four

MCU Phase 4

It is hard to believe that the last official offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was well over a year ago (Spider-Man: Far From Home). We fans underwent a severe drought thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which left most theaters closed and films delayed. Thanks to the pandemic there weren’t any offerings from the MCU last year unless the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is counted, and there are valid arguments that the show is no longer part of the MCU. However, all this will change later this week with the debut of WandaVision on the streaming app, Disney+.

It feels a bit strange that the MCU event that will kick off its Phase Four will be a TV show instead of a film, but that was inevitable given COVID-19. Black Widow was supposed to launch Phase Four last year followed by the show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but many delays killed that plan. Many believed Disney would air Black Widow during the holidays on Disney+ but that never happened. Instead Marvel Studios and its head Kevin Feige were determined that the cinematic start of the MCU’s fourth phase would happen with Black Widow, which is currently scheduled to premiere on May 7. Of course, this is not guaranteed given the nature of the pandemic. Sure, there are vaccines available but the distribution has been awful and unless it ramps up, at this rate our society will not be protected enough by spring. However, if efforts to speed up vaccinations follow through as promised by President-elect Biden and others then it could be safe for a significant portion of the population to go back to theaters by the late spring or summer. Let’s hope so because there already is a scheduling casualty this year.

Sony announced that its Marvel film Morbius, originally scheduled to be released last fall and moved to this March, will be moved again to October 8 now. This is not a severe delay and will be a better fit given the time of the year and the fact that Morbius stars a vampiric anti-hero. But this is concerning. Does this mean other films will be shuffled again? So far, the MCU films slated for this year (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals) are still on schedule. What helps is that after Black Widow, the other two MCU films will premiere in the second half of 2021, The pandemic better be winding down by then. If it isn’t, then Disney may not have a choice but to release Black Widow and maybe the other two films on Disney+ to avoid creating a backlog with 2022’s scheduled releases and causing more delays.

With that said, Marvel Studios has quite a trove of MCU fare for waiting fans. Except for the third MCU Spider-Man film from Sony, the MCU films slated for this year may not be eagerly anticipated like Thor: Love and Thunder, but the TV shows coming out this year will more than make up for that until 2022. The 2021 shows will feature beloved MCU heroes and villains played by the same actors and boasting movie-quality production values and effects. However, many of the shows promise to be quite…unique. The trailers for WandaVision have shown that it will be as unconventional and bizarre as Legion or Doom Patrol, which will be a creative boost for the MCU. Although the MCU films are revered worldwide, they can be faulted for following a familiar formula and look. WandaVision, Loki and What If…? should push the envelope and take chances as promised by Feige and Marvel Studios. 

Meanwhile for the more conventional shows, it is rumored that mutants will make their MCU debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Some have observed from BTS set photos that part of the show seems to take place in Madripoor, a country heavily featured in the Wolverine comics. The enemy mutant Omega Red is supposedly appearing either in this show or in the Shang-Chi movie. The final TV shows scheduled for late 2021, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel will debut more modern and popular heroes, such as Kate Bishop and Kamala Khan. 

hawkeye kate bishop and pizza dog

 

Disney+ will premiere new TV shows next year starring other popular Marvel heroes making their live-action debuts. These are Moon Knight (with Oscar Isaac playing the psychotic title hero), She-Hulk (supposedly a legal comedy…the jury is out if this is the case, pun intended), Ironheart (perhaps this will have Robert Downey, Jr. coming back as an AI mentor this time?) and the event series based on important storylines from the Marvel comics Secret Invasion and Armor Wars. One other TV special will be mentioned below.

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Films & TV Shows of 2021

Alright, time to put 2020 behind us with its bleak film landscape (and boom for television) and look ahead to this year. Obviously, after undegoing a drought we are in for a rich offering of genre films to make up for the lost year of 2020. Meanwhile, the television field will continue enthralling with even more new programs. Bear in mind, with the COVID-19 still going on, it’s not guaranteed these films or TV shows will come out this year, but they will if the pandemic subsides as we all get our vaccinations. Here are the most highly anticipated films and TV shows of 2021:

Films

10. The Matrix 4

Keanu Reeves and others stars from the original films return in The Matrix 4. Given the definitive ending of the less-than-well-recieved third film, it is a puzzle on how Neo and his human freedom fighters will return to battle once more against their AI oppressors in virtual reality. But it should be entertaining.

9. The Tomorrow War

A holdover from 2020, this sci-fi military film stars Chris Pratt as a soldier drafted into a future war against aliens. According to its premise, humanity in the future is losing a war and must recruit warriors from the past to help turn the tide against the aliens. It sounds like a great concept, hopefully the film will deliver thrills, action, and memorable sci-fi trappings.

8. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

The first Venom was a terrific guilty pleasure that surprised many audiences. It was an enjoyable superhero/anti-hero film thanks to Tom Hardy’s performance and for delivering genuine excitement. The Venom sequel hopes to capture that same excitement with Woody Harrelson featured as Carnage, Venom’s greatest nemesis. And if Spider-Man appears in the film as many think then all bets are off!

7. Little Fish

A young couple struggle to hold onto their memories of each other and their relationship after contracting a virus that causes people to lose their memories. Sounds like a great compromise film to watch for geeks and their dates. If it is anything like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, then this romance with a relevant sci-fi twist will be just a memorable.

6. BIOS

Tom Hanks stars in another 2020 holdover as a dying scientist who has to train an android on how to care for his dog.  Miguel Sapochnik, a Game of Thrones director, helms this sci-fi film which might evoke the retrospective nature of Hanks’ classic Cast Away.

5. The Suicide Squad

James Gunn directs this sequel/soft reboot of the original Suicide Squad but now with more flavor! After he was temporarily fired by Disney, Warner Bros. scooped him up and he picked this film about captured DC supervillains forced to undertake a secret mission for the U.S. but now The Suicide Squad will be more brazen and outrageous since the film will boast Gunn’s comedic tone that made his Guardians of the Galaxy films so beloved.

4. A Quiet Place, Part II

One of the most highly anticipated films of 2020 was delayed just as the COVID-19 pandemic took effect, which frustrated many who were anxious to see the sequel to the successful sci-fi/horror film from actor/director John Krasinski. The sequel showcases the further adventures of the lone family struggling to survive after savage aliens have overrun Earth and as hinted in the trailers they also have other humans to worry about.

3. Godzilla Vs. Kong

Frankly, who cares if this film will debut on HBO Max at the same time as it’s released in theaters? This film must be seen on the ginormous silver screen as is befitting the two legendary behemoths starring in the film! Not much is known about the film except that it will be the conclusion of Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse saga that culminates in an epic showdown between the silver screen’s greatest giant monsters.

2. The third untitled MCU Spider-Man film

Whatever the third film featuring Spider-Man (Tom Holland) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) winds up being called, it does not matter at this point. Not only will we finally get a followup to the cliffhanger ending that Spider-Man: Far From Home left us, with Spider-Man’s identity revealed to the world, but the the film will deliver much more. Apparently, it will be a live-action version of sorts to the Spider-Verse saga, meaning it will probably focus on different realities.

It’s already a fact that villains from the previous incarnations of the Spider-Man film will turn up, as well as Doctor Strange (played once more by Benedict Cumberbatch), but the hottest rumors have it that the previous actors who played Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) will reprise their roles. Now throw in live-action versions of Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen and we will have a bonafide treat for Spider-Man fans. BTW, the third MCU Spider-Man film allegedly is tied to the WandaVision TV show and next year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. 

1. Dune

Even though there have been two previous adaptations of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece novel, this version by director Denis Villeneuve might be the definitive and most faithful version. This version of Dune was originally supposed to be the big release for the holidays last year but has been bumped to later this year and a guaranteed theatrical release. No HBO Max for Villeneuve’s Dune, thankfully. 

For anyone who has not read the book or seen the previous film and TV mini-series, Dune is truly an epic sci-fi story of  political intrigue and how a young man became a messianic figure and upends the universe. The look of the film is just stunning and meticulous and its subject matter and adult themes elevates Dune above the standard sci-fi fare of action scenes. This could be one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time and we cannot wait to see if it lives up to the anticipation. 

Other Noteworthy Films

Black Widow, Eternals, Free Guy, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Infinite, Last Night in Soho, Luca, Malignant, Morbius, Old, Raya and the Last Dragon, Samaritan, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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Marvel (MCU) & Star Wars Have A Bright Future At Disney

By now, everyone reading this must have heard of the Disney 2020 Investor Day announcements on Decelber 10, which left us geeks and nerds salivating and tickled pink with excitement over what Disney has planned with our favorite IPs in their Disney+ streaming platform and theatrically. That last point alone is enough to hearten us since Disney more or less declared that the theatrical viewing experience will not die out. The best example of their commitment came when presenter and Marvel Studios head, Kevin Fiege, affirmed that the long-delayed Black Widow film will debut in theaters next May. This squashed any rumors that the film would premiere first on Disney+ and marks a return of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

MCU Phase 4

Marvelous News

Kevin Feige gave perhaps the most anticipated presentation since we’ve all been suffering from MCU withdrawal this year. Fortunately the wait will soon end as WandaVision will finally stream next month on Disney+ and the new trailer shown on Disney 2020 Investor Day was just as bizarre and trippy as the previous trailers. WandaVision looks like it will be a pivotal anchor in the MCU going forward and is rumored to be the first of a multiverse-connecting trilogy that will be further explored in the next Spider-Man film before concluding with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It was confirmed that the Doctor Strange sequel will feature America Chavez.

By the way, very little information was given about the new Spider-Man, probably because it’s a Sony film, but the non-stop reports about cast members from all the previous Spider-Man  films coming back just leaves us very ecstatic.

Other highlights from Feige’s presentation were the news that the She-Hulk TV show will star Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, have appearances by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and Tim Roth will return as the Abomination; two mini-series about the Secret Invasion and Armor Wars comic book events will stream on Disney+; the third Ant-Man film (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) will feature Kang the Conqueror as the villain; Christian Bale will play Gorr the God Butcher in Thor: Love and Thunder; and from the footage shown the best were the previews of the new Loki series which will deal with the Time Variance Authority, the animated What If…, and the tantalizing behind-the-scenes footage of Ms. Marvel, who will also appear in Captain Marvel 2. Perhaps the most exciting news was the confirmation that Marvel Studios will produce a proper Fantastic Four film to be directed by Jon Watts, who directed the MCU Spider-Man films. Finally, a chance to do the Fab Four correct! Hopefully Spidey can make an appearance in that film!

Aside from Black Widow it is at this point too early to go into the release dates announced by Feige because we all know the schedule can change. But it is exciting and comforting to know that Marvel Studios is plowing full-steam ahead with their productions and 2021 will mark the Great MCU Comeback. Continue reading

The Current State And Future Of Comic Books, Part I

It was well known by fans that the comic book industry faced declining sales in the past few years. Then this pandemic struck. Now, comic book shops all over are closed down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Major comic book companies like Marvel and DC will not release comic books digitally, and this has resulted in the entire industry coming to a standstill. We have not had any released comic books for several weeks and this has cascaded to lost jobs, revenue and products. On top of that, the San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions have been cancelled.

This crisis will pass at some point. But will its damage be too much for the comic book industry? Even without this pandemic the industry had many challenges and was running on inertia and good will from other media, notably the films and TV shows based on their comic book characters. It was in a fragile place and it may only take an outside factor like the coronavirus to be the kill the industry.

So, what happened to the comic book industry and where does its future go? If it even has one.

Modern State

When the American comic book first came into existence back in the 1930s they were aimed at children and at first reprinted newspaper strips. This changed with Action Comics #1 in 1938 as it introduced Superman, the first genuine superhero. After a lull in the 1950s superheroes dominated the medium to this day. However, comic books continued to change as new styles and ideas were introduced, and readers’ tastes changed, as well.

Currently, we are in the Modern Age and just as in the 1990s it is defined by an overreliance on speculators and comic books geared to please them. There are differences between the two time periods. The speculators during the Copper Age in the 1990s were mostly outside investors who hoped to retire by buying comic books with gimmick incentives like hologram covers, inserted trading cards, and numerous guest appearances by popular characters like Wolverine or Venom. This period was infamous for the Great Comics Crash of 1996 as investors were unable to sell their comics and left. Sales dropped so hard that comic books’ continued existence was in doubt.

Exclusive Variants

While those investors are long gone, today many hardcore collectors are encouraged to seek out very expensive variant comics. These are issues of certain key titles with different covers that are given out to retailers as incentives by distributors like Diamond Comics and publishers to encourage retailers to buy large volumes of comics. The retailers in turn sell these exclusive variants at premium prices, but are stuck with too many comics that will not sell. That is one of the reasons why comic book stores have so many sales with comics selling for $1 or so.

A new type of variants are blank cover comics that can be used for signatures or sketches by artists. This means that these comic books become unique pieces of art and thus more valuable. On average an individual title will have roughly eight to ten variant covers released. It can be hard to discern which is the regular cover for a title for a collector not interested in the variants.

These days collectors submit their coveted titles for grading to the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). This company uses experts who thoroughly examine comics and assigned a number grade before the comics are sealed in hard plastic cases. This has led to collectors with large wallets to chase after these high-value items. Lately, CGC is selling comic books that are exclusives with black and white sketch variant covers of regular issues.

While some can profit handsomely with these graded comics, one has to wonder about the future of this niche market. After all, the average collector cannot afford to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars for these CGC exclusives, let alone the fee to have their precious comics graded.

Higher & Higher Prices

The current prices of comic books is an important reason why sales are declining. Let’s put aside the CGC comics. Those are a niche market for collectors with deep pockets and the average collector is not missing anything if he or she is just trying to keep up with a collection.

Anyone buying and collecting comic books will confirm that they cost too much money. This complaint has existed ever since the Silver Age when prices increased from 10 cents up to 20 cents. As publishing, printing and distribution costs went up so did the prices. Now, the average comic book costs about $3.99.

Lately, publishers released special anniversary issues that cost anywhere from 8 to 12 dollars. These particular comics are meant to celebrate the anniversaries of long-running successful characters. These special issues which feature assorted stories by many writers and artists sold extremely well, and is why more are coming out. The latest celebrant is The Joker who will have his own special 80th anniversary comic book that will ship directly later this month. Unlike the CGC comics, the average collector will seek these out even though they are expensive.

Where does this end? Think about it, where once a comic book cost only 10 cents now on average is nearly five dollars. Then multiply that with all the individual comics a collector will buy on any given month and what is left is an expensive hobby. Surely, most comic books today are not oriented to young children and publishers have correctly figured that the average buyers are adults who can afford their product. With that said, where does it end? It is easy to see comic books in the future costing ten dollars, even twenty dollars for an average issue. Will the average collector be willing to pay that much on a monthly basis?

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Sam Raimi & Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness

A few weeks ago, many of us lamented when it was announced that Scott Derrickson, the director of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange, walked away from the sequel due next year. Known for his horror films, Derrickson promised that the sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) first horror film. While this delighted fans, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige quickly walked that back and quipped the film would be more mainstream with “scary” moments like in many 1980s genre hits.

As great as the MCU films are they can be a bit generic when mishandled by the wrong directors. Usually Marvel Studios hires talented if not well-known directors who would rise to the occasion. But for every Russo Brothers we get Alan Taylor or the duo that directed Captain Marvel. After Derrickson walked because of the dreaded and ambiguous “creative differences” reason, many worried the film was in trouble and probably delayed. This would have been a black eye for Marvel Studios because Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was one of, if not the most anticipated of the announced MCU films (seriously, is anyone excited for a Shang-Chi film?).

Who would Marvel Studios hire to take over given the short notice? The film is slated to begin filming this May. There are many terrific candidates, but one stood out and thankfully he may be the best alternative if hired.

Variety reported this week that Sam Raimi was in talks with Marvel Studios to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This would be great if the studio hired him and this must happen.

As we know, Sam Raimi directed the first Spider-Man trilogy, including Spider-Man 2, which is still considered one of the best superhero films of all time. Raimi helped introduced the modern era of superhero films with his successful Spider-Man films. Sure, he directed Spider-Man 3, which was a big disappointment and the object of Emo Peter Parker memes, but it still has its good points. Then throw in the proto-superhero film that he directed, Darkman, a goofy and original superhero film that starred Liam Neeson. So, yes, he has bonafide superhero film credentials.

However, we cannot forget his horror film resume which includes the popular Evil Dead franchise featuring the beloved hero Ash (Bruce Campbell). Raimi even spearheaded the recent TV show Ash Vs. Evil Dead and directed the pilot.

Obviously, Raimi’s experience in both genres makes him more than qualified to take over the director’s chair for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

He has a wildly kinetic directing style which fits in perfectly with superhero films, just look at any clip from his Spider-Man films. Many scenes were clearly inspired by comic book art, some of which paid homage to iconic comic book pages.

Sam Raimi is also a huge fan of Steve Ditko, the artist that created Doctor Strange (and Spider-Man) along with Stan Lee. It would be perfect if he could take on another of Ditko’s creations. Doctor Strange was even referenced in Spider-Man 2 when J. Jonah Jameson considered naming Doctor Octopus Doctor Strange, but stopped because the name was taken!

Being that the film promises a multiverse of madness, this implies out-of-this-world visuals and scenes. This may include looks at alternate versions of Marvel characters and other dimensions. Imagine if Doctor Strange is shown traveling through alternate dimensions including one where Ash is battling the Evil Dead? Or better yet the one where Raimi’s version of Spider-Man exists and is played by Tobey Maguire? Of course, this is wishful thinking but just the thought of the possibility is enough to get us more excited for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

There is the concern that Marvel Studios will try to rein in Sam Raimi and soften his unique style.. But Raimi has proven in the past he can work well with major studios and has worked with Kevin Feige during the Spider-Man films, so the filmmaking experience might be stress free for all parties involved.

But before we start celebrating and get ahead of ourselves, let’s wait and see if the negotiations are successful. Fingers crossed! 🤞