Screaming for Avengers: Two Confessions

I have a confession to make.

I never read comic books as a kid.

The earliest I remember was picking up an issue of Star Brand for 35 cents in junior high, trying to get into it, and failing. I always liked the Hulk, but that was from the TV show. Same with the Superman movies, and the Batman TV show. I came into it second hand. I’ve enjoyed many comics and graphic novels since, from The Dark Knight Returns, to the first Marshal Law books, to Kurt Busiek’s excellent Astro City, which remains my favorite superhero series. And if you don’t like superheroes, his standalone “The Tarnished Angel” is a great noir story.

But as someone who didn’t grow up with comics, or love them wholeheartedly later, I have some unpopular opinions. I think Zak Snyder’s ending to Watchmen was an improvement. I like Ang Lee’s Hulk movie better than the Ed Norton one. I find the X-Men annoying, because the mutie as race minority allegory is patronizing and doesn’t make sense when mutants can zap you to dust by forgetting to wear their sunglasses. We have reason to fear them. But that’s an argument for another day, maybe when the Wolverine movie comes out.

I was not sold on Marvel’s lead-ups to the Avengers. Iron Man, I loved that movie. The rest were all flawed in some way. Captain America probably the least, but it needed more action and less montage. And he should have punched out Hitler. Thor was good fun, but there was a lot of running and silliness and the Devastator was a boring villain. The Incredible Hulk had its moments, but I doubt I’d watch it again.

I was worried about the Avengers when the opening and villain introduction were rather tepid. Nick Fury and SHIELD were not sufficiently bad-ass. That is rectified by the end of the movie, thank goodness. My review will be short and sweet. Every character shines in this one. Much has been said of the fantastic interplay of the heroes, and that is a great strength. But even alone, they are the best incarnation on-screen, even Stark as Iron Man. Let’s face it, they all have issues and spending time with any of these guys gets tiresome. It’s a testament to Robert Downey Jr.’s characterization that we don’t want Rhodey to drop a deuce in every one of Stark’s suits by the end of an Iron Man movie. And that’s fine, he should be a flawed man.

But in the Avengers, they can be more annoying than ever, because the doses are smaller. Cap can be an out of touch goody-good. Banner can be aloof, condescending and always have “You won’t like me when I’m angry” unspoken, on the tip of his tongue, a passive-aggressive bully. Thor’s elevated speech and godliness can be more than a joke. The best scene is likely when the gang is all arguing due to trickster god Loki’s manipulations, aboard SHIELD’s hovercraft air carrier. And that includes the Hulk going apeshit, which should be my favorite scene.

Well played, Whedon. That’s confession two. Despite being a Firefly fan, I’ve always been very critical of Joss Whedon’s writing. It’s very good, but there was always fan service, which rubs me the wrong way. I find it condescending, especially when superhero movies have been blockbusters for a decade. But I will humbly say this is his best script yet. I forgot he was attached to it until an hour in. He’s very subtle, he is respectful to the material, but makes it his own. And he has given us iconic characterizations of superhero icons that will be the measuring stick for many years to come; they all come into their own. He makes Black Widow much more than sexy kick-ass window dressing, and damn, he knows how to use effects. This is the first movie in years where the CG effects haven’t required me to forcibly suspend disbelief.

And this is a comic book movie. It is not a movie with superheroes in it. The heroes clobber each other, change sides multiple times, begrudgingly become a team, just like they do in the comics. It’s like pro wrestling. They get a lot of things pitch perfect. The Hulk is played as terrifying to anyone who’s not a god or wearing armor. The bad guys, armored aliens, aren’t just ugly, violent and stupid, but they have a goofy menace to them like all good comic book cannon fodder does, laughing and shooting their laser guns right up until the Hulk pops their head like a grape. The dialogue is fantastic, and the back and forth banter in battle makes the long, repetitive slugfest remain exciting.

The film is full of nice touches, and I plan on watching it enough times to catch them all. Now if you don’t mind, I want to go get some shawarma.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Top Ten Favorite TV Characters Meme

I caught this from retrospace, my favorite nostalgia blog. I don’t watch a lot of television except food shows to hunt down fodder for the Greasy Spoons column, and a few cable series. And Lost, of course. I’m not made of stone! So most of these characters are ancient, but I remember them all well and would like to honor their contribution to my formative years.

John Amos

Yup, Dad on Good Times. I’ve written about him a few times. The man has presence. He’s a bit scary and intense, so much that in Coming to America (full review) they gave him a Cosby sweater and glasses so James Earl Jones would be the imperious one! He was funny, but you never knew if he was gonna whup your ass if you stepped out of line. The perfect father figure for the ’70s, when that was still allowed.

Uncle Floyd

You can’t be from New Jersey and not like Uncle Floyd! The man’s an institution. Floyd Vivino’s corny, cheesy show on local access was an ’80s staple, with crazy musical numbers and guests- including the Ramones, among countless others- and characters such as Eddie Meatball, and Oogie the hand puppet. He inspired me to be wacky, because he didn’t care what people thought, and he made it to TV! He still performs at lounges, and this reminds me I need to drag Firecracker to one.

The Incredible Hulk
I wanted to be the Hulk’s sidekick, Scrappy Hulk.

I liked him best the way Lou Ferrigno played him. The smoldering hulk from the comics? Bah. Lou’s Hulk was more of a giant baby, gentle to the weak and unmerciful to the cruel. I still want to grow up to be the incredible hulk someday, I’m just waiting for technology to pelt me with gamma rays and allow it.

Shirley Hemphill

Shirl from What’s Happening?! was the best. Sure Raj, Duwayne and Re-Run were funny, but mean ol’ Shirl could cut them off at the knees with a single outburst. I had the luck to see her perform at a comedy club at the Mall of America before she died, and she was still funny as hell.
Archie Bunker

My grandfather, who I called “Abby” because he used to say “Yabba Dabba Do” to me as a little kid, looked a lot like ol’ Arch. And he was just as grumpy. All in the Family was one of the most groundbreaking TV shows, and by making this grumpy old bigot the lovable misguided Falstaff of blue collar America, they helped make the world a better place.
Dorothy from the Golden Girls


Bea Arthur recently passed away, but she was part of the popular culture thanks to her acerbic wit and tough attitude which began as “Maude,” one of many spinoffs of “All in the Family,” but was solidified in “The Golden Girls.” Who’da thunk a sit-com about a bunch of retirees would be so funny? All four of these gals were hilarious, but Dorothy was the best. She made the show. And she reminded me of my grandmother, who wasn’t as tall, but had the same attitude.

Mama

The Carol Burnett Show was one of the great skit shows of the ’70s and ’80s, and one of the best characters to come out of it was “Mama,” another nasty old woman. Mama’s Place was a great spinoff, with Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett showing up as her hapless children.

KITT

Who wouldn’t want a car this cool? Though I never watched St. Elsewhere, where the voice of KITT was revealed, I’d still love to have my car or GPS talk in his calming voice. His aloof attitude and subtle humor made Hoff’s cluelessness tolerable. My Dad had a Firebird, so my ’80s fantasies of being Knight Rider were fulfilled every time we drove to Chuck E. Cheese.
John Peter McAllister, aka The Master

Lee Van Cleef as a ninja master? Damn right. Angel Eyes and Colonel Hawk combined to be one grey-haired bad-ass mofo. I think my Dad was happy that a balding gray-haired old dude could still kick ass, so we watched this a lot. Ninjas were big in the ’80s, with the awful Enter the Ninja movies. Sho Kosugi was everywhere. We got in trouble for bringing throwing stars to school, which our Junior High Principal (who looked a lot like Milhouse’s Dad) called “Weapons of Death.”

Soupy Sales
Old Soupy was a weird children’s show host. On Little Steven’s Underground Garage on satellite, they often play one of many novelty hits he sang, “Do the Mouse (yeah),” an infectious little tune that makes as much sense as his show did. He got in trouble for joking that kids should go into their parents room and mail him all the green pieces of paper they found, but his show attracted all sorts of guests, including Alice Cooper:

So if you read this, consider yourself tagged. Who are your favorites, and why? Put ’em on your blog or do it on facebook.

NYC Comicon – Venture Bros. panel

I haven’t been to a Comic con before, but there was a Venture Bros. panel, so I decided to go with Milky and Darth Dross this weekend. While I am still recovering from geek overload, I do not regret it. We began Tick Tock Diner, home of the English Breakfast Burger, Eggs Arepas, and other fine fare. We knew we were close, because a fat Jedi waddled past the window. At the Javits Center, the line to the dealer floor was enormous, but they kept it moving quickly. Soon enough we were in the dealer’s room, with all their wonderful toys.

Things got off to the wrong foot when I saw my old high school pal C.C. Banana while I was on the escalator. I’d seen his website, but I was not prepared for my old friend to be dressed as a giant fruit. We didn’t have a chance to talk, or for me to see his act. Then again, with the amount of grown men dressed as Inuyasha, I shouldn’t single him out. There were plenty of good costumers there, from the 501st Legion- Star Wars costumers- to a guy on stilts as an actual-size Hulk. And of course, plenty of Venture Bros. fans.

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I only fanboyed over a few people. Lou Ferrigno was there signing photos, and the Hulk was my childhood idol, as those who know me when I’m angry can attest. It was $30 for a photo with him, so I opted for an autographed one of the Hulk instead. I snagged a photo of him anyway. He was friendly enough, but it’s got to suck making money this way, so I don’t hold it against him.
While I’m more of a fan of the Conan movies and books than the comics, when I saw Will Conrad was there selling sketches, I got one of the Cimmerian. Milky got a headshot of Leonardo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle from the artists there, too. I also met animator Bill Plympton, one of my favorite animators. His sick sense of humor still cracks me up. He was showing off his newest, Idiots and Angels.
Of course Watchmen was a big thing- Dave Gibbons the artist from the original comic was there- but I was surprised there wasn’t more. No actors promoting it, or anything like that. I guess NYC ain’t as big as the San Diego one yet. Thankfully there weren’t any Dr. Manhattans going around in blue body paint, either. Here’s Milky’s Rorschach costume and a guy dressed as the Comedian.
The panel was very crowded- I had no idea Venture Bros. was this popular! Doc Hammer was there in his multicolor-haired and scrawny-limbed glory (hey, he spent like 5 minutes talking about how a men’s size small fits him like a circus tent, so don’t blame me for commenting on his gangliness). They showed some clips from the upcoming Season 3 DVD and Blu-Ray, the first HD release. The Blu-Ray will come with the soundtrack CD included; DVD set buyers will have to get it separately. The deleted scenes were pretty funny, and I’m sure I’ll be getting the set soon. I wonder how many will convert to Hi-Def to see Dr. Girlfriend in her Mrs. The Monarch outfit.
The panel was good fun- Doc, Jackson Publick, and Michael Sinterniklaas (voice of Dean, among others) answered many questions from fans who are a hell of a lot more obsessive than I’ll ever be. We didn’t learn much about Season 4, as expected. They repeated that #24 was dead so many times that I have an inkling he’ll be returning somehow. You can’t break up a good team like that. One of the more amusing questions was about how they’d cast a live-action movie of the show, and it seems they are big fans of Lost, since Hurley would be #21. And all the fans who lust after Dr. Girlfriend, the voluptuous villainess voiced by Doc Hammer with a throatful of gravel, got taken to task when a guy asked Doc if “he’d do her,” because of her voice. Doc replied, “would you have sex with me if I had a sexy girl voice?”
They did autographs afterward but I didn’t bring anything, and the line was limited to 1 hour- and moved glacially slow. So we went to see Fanboys instead. I’ll post a full review tomorrow, but I loved it. It was hilarious, somewhere between Detroit Rock City and Role Models. Certainly funnier for Star Wars nerds, but even Firecracker liked it. If you’re nerdy at all, you ought to go see it so it’ll get a wider release.
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The Incredible Hulk

Hulk you, too!

I’ve been a fan of the Hulk since before I can remember. I mean the TV show, of course. Bill Bixby was the man, as Banner. Seeing his ice blue eyes turn green in the requisite 2 times per episode was the highlight of my childhood evening. Lou Ferrigno is still one of my childhood heroes, and I’m glad that both Hulk movies have used him in a small cameo.

The new movie is a lot different than Ang Lee’s introspective and arty version that came out a few years back. That’s good, and that’s bad. A lot of nerd rage has been expended on the first movie, which I think gets a bad rap. This one is above average; it’s no Iron Man but it’s much better than the Asstastic Four, and even Superman Returns as a Deadbeat Dad Stalker and Becomes Jesus.

Ang Lee’s version, Hulk, spent too much time on the origins of the big green guy and made it accidental; here they ret-con the origin over the credits, and keep the original concept that Bruce Banner bombarded himself with gamma rays intentionally, as part of an experiment. (I’m also glad that it is now acceptable to put “the” in titles again). We find Bruce (Ed Norton) hiding out in Sao Paolo in the terraced neighborhoods where City of God was filmed; he’s working at a bottling plant, and communicates with a Mr. Blue over encrypted satellite transmissions to further his research into ridding himself of the gamma poisoning. General Ross, now played by William Hurt, is on his tail again with a crack team of commandos led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a British-born Russian on loan from the Royal Marines. Not since Highander, when Sean Connery played an Egyptian named Ramirez with a Scottish accent has there been such a combo.

New Hulk made of clay!

Tim Roth’s Blonsky ends up being the best character in the movie. Ross sends him in blind, and he’s awed and surprised when he sees Banner get Angry and gets a forklift thrown at him. When he finds out that Banner’s boundless strength comes from a government project, he wants in. So while Bruce runs home to dig up his research, and accidentally bumps into old flame Betty Ross (played well by Liv Tyler’s lips), Blonsky is getting juiced up with a serum developed by the military, or perhaps Major League baseball, to make super-soldiers.

There’s little interplay with the characters, really; Ross and his daughter have an obvious conflict because he wants to puree Banner’s blood and make better super serum, while she loves him and helps him on the lam. She and Norton, who is pretty much the same character he played in Red Dragon with occasional pants-ripping episodes, have some chemistry, but he has little in the way of motivation or desires other than to be rid of the curse. We never see the kind of guy who’d shoot himself up with gamma rays for science. Later on we meet science geek Tim Blake Nelson, who’s so over the top that he ought to have an Einstein hair-do and a labcoat on. But no one goes to a Hulk movie to see characterization; they learned that with Ang Lee’s version.

Green folk gentrifyin’ the neighborhood

The battles are pretty damn good; the first encounter with the Hulk in Brazil is frightening enough to show the real mayhem that a ten foot tall invulnerable rampaging behemoth can wreak. The second battle at a college campus seems to showcase Ross’s ineptitude; while Sam Elliot’s General was cool and Machiavellian, calling in tanks, choppers, fighters and finally burying the green guy in a rockslide, the new one seems to forget that shooting Hulk is mostly just a danger to any innocent bystanders. If Blonsky didn’t show up to pull some Jet Li moves on Big Green, it would have been a wash. The final fight between Banner and Blonsky is fought out in Toronto subbing for Harlem, and it’s a treat. They throw in some fan service at the end, like Hulk claps, which are just silly. At least he gets to say “Hulk Smash!”

We of course get a Stan Lee cameo, as well handled as the one in Iron Man, and an even better Lou Ferrigno cameo as a security guard. He even gets some lines, which considering his speech, was a nice touch (he is nearly deaf due to a childhood infection, and has a slight impediment). It’s too bad we don’t get a reaction shot, since Ferrigno is still a gigantic 6’5″ beast, and it would be nice to see him dwarfed by the new Hulk.

Overall, the movie is a great summer action flick. It doesn’t invest you emotionally like Iron Man did, and I’m sure it will be blown out of the water by The Dark Knight. A lot of comic book nerds love the movie over the Ang Lee version, which had arty comic book panel designs and a lot of emotional issues with Betty, Bruce and their respective fathers. I never read any of the comics except a graphic novel my Dad grabbed from a house being demolished, which had the Army fighting the Hulk in huge power suits that had too much bio- feedback. I think between the two versions, there’s a great Hulk movie. Lee may have had the silly Hulk Dogs, which came from the comics I might add, but the tank fight in the desert is still the best Hulk battle on film.

So The Incredible Hulk gets 3 smashes out of four. Above average, and worth seeing in the theater, but we’ll have to wait for the sequel to see a balls-out Hulk fight.