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Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord podcast

“In a post-apocalyptic future, Marvel’s Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord finds Peter Quill and Rocket a little paunchier, a little slower, and a lot saltier than they were during the glory days of the Guardians of the Galaxy. They quickly discover the Earth isn’t what it used to be either, when they crash land 30 years after all the world’s super villains seized control.”

I’ve been very pleased with Marvel podcasts- Wolverine: The Long Night, Wolverine: The Lost Trail, Marvels and Black Widow: Bad Blood. On a whim, I checked if a new podcast was out and was pleased to see that Wastelanders had just started. Not typically a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I gave it a try because I had felt the same way about the Fantastic Four and still enjoyed Marvels.

Record of a Fallen World

Quill and Rocket are sent to Earth on on mercenary mission, under threat of death to find a sacred object called the Black Vortex, just to find Earth in ruins and controlled by Doctor Doom. An alien-created “skinbot”, nicknamed Cora, accompanies them, and it is through her narration of record keeping that we find out a lot of background information. This introductory episode gave us a lot of worldbuilding but in a way that didn’t seem like huge info dump and seems to correlate with the Old Man Logan graphic novel timeline.

The Wastelands

Bickering constantly, Quill and Rocket explore South Dakota’s Badlands and are helped by a local named Red. Past trouble is inferred, but we are in the dark about what happened to the former Guardians of the Galaxy or the fates of their former teammates. At times the actor’s voice are hard to distinguish between Quill and Rocket, as they sound very similar.

Blood Farmer

Red gives them refuge on his farm, where he shares what happened thirty years ago, and how this apocalyptic world came to be. They lay some traps and lay in wait for the local thugs to come looking for them. After defeating them and taking their horses, Quill, Rocket and Cora head into the hills to begin their search for the Black Vortex.

Deer on a Spear

As Quill and Rocket head towards the contact that Red gave them they pick up on a signal for a broadcast that is televising Kraven the Hunter following the very man they were hoping to speak to in a Running Man/ Hunger Games type of scenario. Quill tries to save the man to no avail, and now their contact is gone, and Kraven is on to them. The broadcaster was so wonderfully smarmy, you could really visualize the hunt from his commentary.

Heaven and Hellfire

Although this duo is older, they are none the wiser, and luckily a former X-Men Emma Frost who owns a local bar, comes to their aide. But she is keeping her cards close to her vest, so they are unsure if she is there to help or hurt them. I do need to add that Emma’s overuse of the word darling became grating. She sounded like Joan Collins from Dynasty and isn’t how I imagined she’d talk.

Trust Exercise

Splitting up to see if they can obtain the Black Vortex and get their guillotine collars off, nothings goes as planned (of course). But Cora ascertains that Emma is there to help, so there’s that.

Catching Fire

A Quill-centric episode establishes that Emma’s powers are fading as she ages, but she has given Quill and Rocket a window of opportunity after putting Kraven the Hunter out of commission for a few days. Quill thinks he has a lead on where the Black Vortex is located after interviewing the town’s forgotten librarian. Hell yea- a librarian to the rescue!

Buried

Some backstory on what happened with the Guardians is established showing how Quill is racked with guilt and wants to atone for the deaths of his friends. An ally returns, but so does a foe, so all paths are converging as they try to infiltrate Doom’s compound.

Kraven’s Hunt

In this penultimate episode, Quill and Rocket are moving towards discovering the Black Vortex with Kraven on their heels, in another narrated hunt. Cora and Emma Frost rally their allies that include the Ghost Riders to prevent Kraven from killing the duo. Rocket’s poor health can’t be hidden anymore and he tries to prepare Quill for a future without him.

Dawn and Doom

Sacrifices are made, with a devastating death, but Quill and Emma Frost prevail. So although they have scored a victory, we know it’s not over, as the episode is only half over. There is a surprising double-cross with a new villain emerging, with definite tie-ins to what has happened (or will happen-I’m unclear exactly of the timeline) in Logan’s story. I am left wanting more, but that’s good storytelling, for I will definitely tune into future podcasts.

I started this podcast apprehensively, as I’ve never been a big fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the bickering between Quill and Rocket was annoying to me. Yet, this podcast grew on me so kudos to Benjamin Percy who also wrote the two Wolverine podcasts I enjoyed last year. In fact, I recently read a short story horror collection by Percy, Suicide Woods, that I found excellent. This podcast is supposed to be the lead-in to a new universe set in the Old Man Logan future with Hawkeye, Wolverine, Black Widow and Star-Lord. I’m excited, as Susan Sarandon will be voicing Black Widow and I can’t wait for that story and how they will all tie-in together!

-Nancy

Voice Cast:

Timothy Busfield as Star-Lord

Chris Elliott as Rocket

Nadine Malouf as Cora 

Patrick Page as Kraven the Hunter

Vanessa Williams as Emma Frost

Danny Glover as Red

Elizabeth Francis as Joanna Forge

Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wolverine, Star-Lord

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

I consider Chris Claremont’s God Loves, Man Kills an outstanding and definitive X-Men story, but had never picked up another classic by the same author, Days of Future Past, despite a 2014 movie being based off it. Reading through this 1980 story was both wonderful and a bit cringy as it was so very dated, as it is now considered part of the Bronze Era of comics, before a more modern way of storytelling began in the mid 80s.

There are actually five stories found in the graphic novel- stories are added at the beginning and end to pad the book. The first story is narrated by Cyclops after Jean’s death, and he gives a very thorough retelling of the X-Men’s story as he prepares to leave the team. The second story has Storm take over as team leader and features Dr. Strange who helps when an enemy wants revenge against Nightcrawler. We are introduced to Kitty Pryde at this time, only thirteen, and brand new to Professor X’s school. The third story has Wolverine heading to Canada and helping the Alpha Flight team battle Wendigo. The last story is a strange little tale about Kitty fighting some demons the night before Christmas when she is alone at the school.

And now back to the main attraction-Days of Future Past! The story opens in a devastated NYC in 2013 (I love when we pass the future imagined years ago, such as in the book 1984 or even the movie Back to the Future) and Kitty is now a woman in her 40s secretly meeting Wolverine for a power jammer, to combat the power-dampening collar she and other mutants are forced to wear. We find out most mutants and Avengers are long dead because of a political assassination years ago that led to anti-mutant sentiment and the Sentinels being activated. The plan is to send Kitty’s soul back in time to 1980 to her young body to warn the X-Men and prevent the sequence of events that led to the current apocalypse. Of course it works, and without too much trouble she convinces her team to fight the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants led by Mystique. An all-out war entails but Senator Kelly is saved, whose new fate should pivot the timeline, although a new threat is hinted at. Going back in time to right a wrong is a popular plot device, but it works here. The 2014 movie changed the person going back in time to Wolverine, but in this comic Kitty was a good choice, and she was incorporated into all the stories in some way in this novel so I enjoyed a more in-depth look at a character I wasn’t as familiar with.

The artwork by John Byrne was classic Marvel of that era, with great costumes and fight scenes. The modern day clothing and hairdos that the X-Men wear around town are so deliciously dated, but hey, it was high fashion then. Kitty’s eyes were extremely large and odd looking to me. Kitty crushs hard on Peter/Colossus at way too young of an age and it came off as quite creepy, although there is mention that they marry in the future in the chapters of DOFP. (Aside- why then did they call off their wedding at the very last moment in a recent storyline, when they have been established for years as a couple??) This was a fun blast from the past, as this and God Loves, Man Kills are must reads for Marvel fans!

-Nancy

Look at these (now) retro costumes! 😉

WandaVision

I loved this nine-episode television series about one of my favorite Marvel couples, Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision! It was quirky, ambitious and a treat to watch. Released weekly, I waited a few weeks to start the series, so I ended up binging all the episodes in a two-week span.  I’ve read many posts about this series, and I frankly have nothing new to add to the mix, so this will be not quite a summary of each episode but more an ode to a series that I found fresh and fun. 

Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

In the first episode, we are introduced to Wanda and Vision as newlyweds in what appears to be a 1950s setting, similar to sitcoms of that era, with a distinct The Dick Van Dyke Show vibe.  They attempt to blend in to their new community, despite Vision being an android and Wanda having magical abilities, so naturally, hijinks occur. It was a pleasure seeing familiar television tropes, as I remember watching these fake sitcoms in reruns when I was a child. As a member of Generation X, I have memories of these shows that were already quite dated when I watched them, but will younger generations be familiar with the references? 

Don’t Touch That Dial

We’re in what seems to be the 1960s with a delightful animated Bewitched introduction! This episode is still in black and white despite the color we saw in the long end-credits in the previous episode. Nosy neighbor Agatha is there for comedic relief, as the neighborhood puts on a talent show. This show is a comedy of errors with additional I Dream of Jeannie jokes, as a magical woman tries to fool everyone when the audience is privy to all. But reality is starting to creep in with a few splashes of color and a radio message to Wanda. And then the surprise pregnancy in the last few minutes- one minute Wanda is svelte, the next moment she has a full belly! 

Now in Color

As the title states, the show is now in color as this was a big change for shows in the 70s, of which we are now in. There are some Brady Bunch references, and their changing decor in the house had a stairwell that is very Brady’s. Loved the hiding of the pregnancy from neighbors, in an all too familiar trope (even today) as shows don’t always want to acknowledge a real-life pregnancy in an actress if it doesn’t fit the storyline. Luckily neighbor Geraldine shows up when she does because Wanda goes into labor. I wish my labor and deliveries had been as easy, as Wanda and Vision are proud parents to twin boys in five minutes. But when Geraldine talks to Wanda about a few things that she shouldn’t know, Wanda pushes her out of her reality and into the real world. 

We Interrupt This Program

I was pleased to realize that Geraldine was actually Monica Rambeau, the daughter of Maria Rambeau, who we last saw as a child in the movie Captain Marvel. I have to give it to Marvel who are playing the long game as they continue to build the MCU. They make connections between all the movies (and now television series), and building on that we meet FBI Agent Jimmy Woo from the Antman and the Wasp movies and Dr. Darcy Lewis from the Thor movies. This is the first episode that takes us away from Westview and into the modern-day where the world is still adjusting to the “blip” that made people disappear and then reappear years later. 

On a Very Special Episode…

We are now up to the 80s, so young viewers might vaguely be familiar with the Family Ties and Full House references. So these shows are as old to them as The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched were to me when I was a child! There continue to be glitches as Agatha asks mid-scene if they should start over as if they were actors on a set and the twins suddenly age up twice in one episode. And then at the last minute, we are introduced to Pietro, Wanda’s twin, but it’s not the actor from the Avenger movies, it’s the actor who played Quicksilver from the X-Men movies. What???

All-New Halloween Spooktacular!

You know, I’ve barely mentioned Vision! While he plays a central role, it has become clear at this point that Wanda has placed a hex on the town and has recreated Vision and imagined the twins into existence. The episodes continue to spoof sitcoms, with a Malcolm in the Middle introduction and a homage to Halloween episodes that many 90s and beyond sitcoms celebrate. But it gives the entire family an excuse to dress up and pay tribute to their original costumes of yester-year and makes the first definite connection that the twins are (future) Wiccan and Speed. Wanda questions Pietro trying to figure out why her own illusions would re-cast her brother. 

Breaking the Fourth Wall

We are up to the 2000s with Modern Family and The Office references, and Vision has now discovered the outside world and has teamed up briefly with Darcy to try to figure out what his wife is up to. In the outside world, Monica and Jimmy are trying to work with S.W.O.R.D. but are finding the leader Hayward does not have the best of intentions, so Monica breaks into Westview which seems to give her some super-powers. And then that reveal at the end…Agatha All Along!!!!

Previously On

Agatha is a witch herself, dating back to the Salem Witch Trials. Although it was Wanda that put a hex on Westview and recreated her family, it’s been Agatha pulling the strings and causing disruptions. We get flashbacks to Wanda’s early life with (the Avenger’s) Pietro and how her many losses- her parents, her brother, and finally Vision- broke her. Agatha now holds the twins hostage and we find out Hayward, who has become more of an asshole each episode, recreated Vision with his original parts, but now is White Vision. 

The Series Finale

Wanda’s chaos magic reveals her to be the Scarlet Witch and she battles Agatha, while the two Vision’s fight it out. Monica shows up at a key moment to help the twins, although they had been holding their own. I love the family scenes so very much! In fact, I am glad they kept other Marvel characters to a minimum so the show could center on Wanda and Vision. Although both Wanda and Vision win their battles, they realize this artificial life and how Wanda had taken over the real-life residents of Westview can not be sustained and the family heads back to their home for some poignant farewells. Yes, I cried as they said goodnight to Tommy and Billy and then said their goodbyes to one another. Vision’s earlier comment  “What is grief, if not love persevering?” is so spot-on, and is a perfect summary of what the series was all about. Just typing in this line makes me tear up, as I lost my mother six months ago, and describes what many grieving people feel. Despite this melancholy ending, and knowing Wanda is alone again, we know the story is not over for this family. White Vision lives on and Wanda hears her boys calling to her in the end credits, so I believe their story is far from over. 

Bravo to Marvel for telling this unique and layered story! The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series will be next, but I don’t know if I will watch it, for I do not care for a typical superheroes-fighting-it-out series after the poignancy of WandaVision. Until we meet again, Wanda and Vision! 

-Nancy

Marvels

Happy New Year! 2020 proved to be a trash year, so I am hoping that this new year will be as marvelous as this graphic novel is!

After enjoying two podcasts about Wolverine last year, I heard Marvel had put one out about The Fantastic Four without realizing it was based partly on this graphic novel. I enjoyed the Marvels podcast and picked up this source material to accompany it. I was in a bit of a reading slump at the time, so after skimming it and seeing it was worth a deeper read, I put it aside to read after the holidays. 

This amazing story gives the perspective of everyday people living in a world populated with superheroes, villains and mutants. We see the world through their eyes as they try to make sense of the incredible things happening around them. Begining in 1939, we first meet Phil Sheldon a young photojournalist and his friend Jonah Jameson who are amazed when superheroes begin to appear in New York City. The populace is at first scared and then in awe of these costumed avengers and soon admire them as they help fight for American freedom in World War II. But as the decades go by, in a 35-year span, perception of them waxes and wanes. The Fantastic Four are beloved for awhile but later pilloried. Later, the poor mutants get the brunt of the public’s hate. 

Divided into four chapters, the narrative moves forward chronologically with Sheldon marrying and having two daughters as he follows and photographs the heroes, that he calls the Marvels, both for his career and for a book he is planning about them. He is an everyman, who at times succumbs to mob mentality but as the years go by he thinks critically about what having heroes in his world means, despite losing an eye when he gets too close to a fight between Namor and the Torch. There is a poignant scene set in the 60s where Sheldon recounts seeing a mob react during a Sentinals attack, and a riot breaks out. Sheldon comments: “The real story was the people who’d been scared too long…who’d been wound too tight and cut loose”. This has uncomfortable parallels to today, 25+ years after this graphic novel came out, as a certain populace seems to be glorying in a changed America and violence is a daily worry during this contested election. 

Alex Ross’s work is a marvel! He did for the Marvel universe what he would do again later in  DC’s Kingdom Come– he made all the heroes fleshed out and real. His trademark painted photo-realism style is exquisite, as each panel is a work of art. The research he did was evident, showing the heroes in their original costumes from the Golden and Silver eras of comics. He also is great at recreating period pieces, as the narrative takes place from 1939-1974 and he gets the clothing styles and the inevitable aging of the characters spot-on. 

To further strengthen this unique story, author Kurt Busiek shares his thoughts about creating this tale. He plumbs the Marvel comic universe for a timeline on how the heroes developed, and they are worked into the story. Thus, the book becomes an encyclopedia of sorts as heroes and villains move in and out of the narrative in cameos as Sheldon, his family and regular people are the true main characters in this story. In addition, Marvel great Stan Lee adds an introduction and other artists share their insight during chapter breaks. The story is then bookended with comic sources for all the hero references and Ross shares his artistic process. While the podcast based on this graphic novel was interesting, it centered on the second and third chapters only, and this entire book fleshes out the story more thoroughly.  Although only one day into 2021, I’m guessing this book will be a contender for my Best Reads at the end of the year!

-Nancy

Marvels podcast

“Based on the graphic novel by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross Marvels takes place in the aftermath of the Fantastic Four’s battle with Galactus, high above New York City, for the fate of the world. One intrepid photographer, an ambitious college student, and a cynical journalist embark on an investigation to confirm or debunk one of the most super-powered conspiracy theories of all time”

I was a big fan of the Wolverine podcasts, The Long Night and The Lost Trail, so I aimed to listen to another podcast, this time about the Fantastic Four (although I’m not a fan of them, esp Reed). This podcast gives the perspective of everyday people living in a world populated with superheroes, villains and mutants. We see the world through their eyes as they try to make sense of the incredible things happening around them. *Some spoilers ahead*

Galactus Cometh

Set in NYC in the 60s, reporters Phil Sheldon and Ben Urich witness the villain Galactus fight the Fantastic Four which brings down ruin and chaos on the city. Each chapter opens with snippets of radio broadcasts that are an effective way to convey background knowledge. 

Retribution

Although the battle could be the story of the century, photographer Phil rushes back home to be with his wife and daughters, feeling his priority is with them in what could be their last hours. Although Galactus is later defeated, he doesn’t regret his choice although it hurts him professionally.

Truth & Consequences

Ben tries to help an elderly woman to safety amidst the rubble of the city when Galactus suddenly disappears. Did the Fantastic Four defeat him? Was it an illusion? Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle newspaper, believes it was all a hoax and public opinion seems to agree. Ben and Phil want the truth, for the clues don’t add up. 

Monsters

Phil and Ben along with Marcia Hardesty, a budding college journalist, interview Ben Grimm aka The Thing, about the day of the invasion. He seems to be toeing the party line in what he shares, but an overheard conversation that he later has with his girlfriend Alicia seems to poke some holes in the hoax theory.  Aside- it was cool earlier in the podcast to hear Grimm’s trademark “It’s clobbering time!” during audio of the fight overhead in NYC. 

Warheads

Marcia recounts the protest against mutants (X-Men) she attended on her campus led by Senator Byrd that devolved into anarchy right as Galcutus invaded Earth. Anti-mutant sentiment is high, and she counsels a good friend of hers, Gary, not to reveal his fire-making abilities. But he wishes to stand with his fellow mutants and tragedy befalls him as the crowd erupts in violence. That the protestors wanted to send mutants to serve in the Vietnam War as “warheads”- weaponizing their powers for evil and avoiding the draft themselves was heartbreaking. 

Interference

The trio of journalists, Phil, Ben and Marcia (plus Peter Parker tags along) separately interview Sue Richards and her brother Johnny the Human Torch about what happened between them and the fight with Galactus. They too don’t know where Reed was for some time. Sue’s statement “Genius is best left alone” could prove prophetic.

I Feel Fine

Our intrepid journalists visit high school student Charlie Martinez, a genius who is a protegee of Richard Reed. One of her experiments that manipulates reality in large ways might have been used by Reed without her authorization. She feels he would be too moral to do so, but the other three disagree. 

Limits

Phil and Ben have the opportunity to interview Dr. Richards and his arrogance reinforces my distaste for him. He has Godlike illusions about his part in the battle and seems to reinforce the hoax theory because mere humans couldn’t comprehend his true intentions. Did he use Charlie’s “ignifier” (not sure I’m spelling that right)?

The Herald

Phil, Ben and Marcia get a chance to interview the Silver Surfer, who used to be in league with Galactus and would herald his arrival on planets that were to be destroyed. But he broke with Galcutus on Earth and turned against him helping the F4 defeat him. Earthbound for now, genius Charle helps him be able to speak, as his communication wavelengths had been compromised. Aside- The Silver Surfer has been largely absent from the Marvel universe movies, except for the 2007 Fantastic Four movie sequel. I’m surprised he hasn’t been utilized in the Avenger movies. 

Eyes Open

The truth is revealed to the public by Dr. Reed at a rally held by Senator Byrd. Reed reveals he made a deal with Byrd as to prevent more anti-mutant violence and thus took the blame for the attack. While Reed came off as the good guy at the end, I still think he’s a prick. Marcia gives a heartfelt speech about her boyfriend Gary and the journalists are redeemed. Phil thoughtfully shares about how even heroes are flawed, and yet everyday people can be heroes too, or as he calls them Marvels. Make sure you stick around for the credits, for as Marvel movies do, there is a major reveal at the end, that could lead to the next story/podcast!

While not as good as the Wolverine podcasts, Marvels was very worthwhile and I already have the graphic novel that this story is based off on reserve. I liked the different perspectives of everyday citizens and how they deal with all the chaos that results from living in the Marvel universe! 

-Nancy

Voice Cast: 

Seth Barrish as Phil Sheldon                                                                                                  

Anna Sophia Robb as Marcia Hardesty                                                                                          

Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith as Ben Urich                                                                                   

Ethan Peck as Reed Richards (he plays a young Spock on Star Trek: Discovery!!!)

Gabriella Ortega as Charlie Martinez

Jake Hart as Ben Grimm

Louisa Krause as Sue Storm Richards 

Ehad Berisha as Johnny Storm

Teo Rapp-Olson as Peter Parker 

Daniel Molina as Silver Surfer 

Karl Kenzler as Senator Byrd 

 

X-Men: Origins

This graphic novel gives us the origins of six X-Men: Colossus, Jean Grey, Beast, Sabretooth, Wolverine and Gambit. Each story is told by different authors and illustrators, thus there was some inconsistency in how each story unfolds.

Colossus by Chris Yost and Trevor Hairsine

Pioter is a young Siberian teen who is devastated when his older brother Mikhail is killed in the line of duty and during his grief turns into Colossus for the first time. A friend of Mikhail witnesses it but keeps the secret, but the Russian secret police suspect something. A baby sister Illyana is born and Pioter finds it harder to hide his powers so this gentle giant leaves his home and joins the X-Men to keep her safe. This story was my favorite, for despite its short length told a cohesive story that gave you enough details on his origins. The art was well done, especially a splash page of Pioter saving Illyana’s life. 

Jean Grey by Sean McKeever and Mike Mayhew

The story introduces Jean Grey as a teen who is so overwhelmed by her psychic abilities that she has become a recluse so her parents reach out to Professor X to help her learn how to control her abilities. He gets her past her trauma of feeling a friend’s death and teachers her to harness her gifts. But as a teen, she is still unpredictable and leaves the academy alone where she needs to use her powers to help when a crisis occurs. While chastised at the end by the Professor, you see Jean is healing. The art in this story was the best of the six, with a photo-realism style similar to Alex Ross. 

Beast by Mike Carey and J.K. Woodward

We are introduced to Beast as a burly high school genius named Hank who is mocked for his appearance but then heralded as a hero when he helps the football team win State. A bit of an explanation of his origins is given when it is revealed that his Dad was exposed to a high amount of radiation before he was born, thus genetically passing it on to him. Then there is a villain who wants to use Hank as his pawn and Professor X gets involved. Without Hank’s consent, he wipes the memory of Hank from his parents and the community and enlists him to join the X-Men. I hated the Professor for doing that, how cruel to rip Hank away from his family without warning. The art was hideous in this story- the artist was aiming for a photo-realism style found in the Jean Grey story, but it was muddy and distorted. 

Sabretooth by Kieron Gillen and Dan Panosian

Long-lived Sabretooth is seen as a child in the rural late 1800s who kills his older brother over a piece of pie on his brother’s birthday. Horrified, his parents lock him away but he grows into a feral and cruel teen who eventually escapes and kills them. As an adult, he meets Logan who he befriends but then betrays and begins a tradition of finding him every year to fight on his birthday (or perhaps his brother’s birthday?). I was quite put-off when Logan’s lady love is a sexy Native American with the name of Silver Fox. It was a racist and inaccurate depiction of Native women of that era and took me out of the story.

Wolverine by Chris Yost and Mark Texeira

This story draws from the 2001 story Wolverine: Origin and how Logan’s power came to him as a child in Canada when he witnessed his parents being killed. The story then deals with later years and how Professor X tries to show him that he is more than a killing machine and that he needs to tap into his morality and become an X-Men. The art is solid with good depictions of Logan throughout the years along with his iconic yellow costume. 

Gambit by Mike Carey, David Yardin and Ibraim Roberson 

I love me some Gambit, so I was willing to overlook that the story didn’t truly show his origins. Instead, it begins with his marriage to Bella Donna. The whole idea of them marrying didn’t make sense, as they were from feuding clans – the Thieves Guild vs the Assassin’s Guild. It was supposed to have a Romeo and Juliet vibe but I think the marriage would have been stopped before the ceremony, not immediately afterward. But…the rest of the story shows while Remy briefly works for bad people, his goodness wins out at the end. The art was decent, but sometimes facial features were oddly puffy looking.

This wasn’t the strongest collection of stories, as the shift in writing and art styles kept it from being consistent. I felt the Colossus and Jean Grey stories were the strongest, both in writing and art. The X-Men were one of my first comic loves, and even though I haven’t been reading a lot about them in recent years, I noticed inconsistencies in the stories. It was an interesting early look at some X-Men heroes and villains but not what I would consider canon. 

-Nancy

Black Widow: Bad Blood

I belong to the Goodread’s group, I Read Comic Books, and entered a contest to win a free podcast about the Black Widow. I was pleased to find out I won a free subscription to the premium digital audio and reading platform Serial Box for the fourteen episode series Black Widow: Bad Blood. While I am familiar with her through the Avenger movies and am looking forward to the delayed solo movie about her, I actually have not read any graphic novels about just her.

Warning- some spoilers

Episode One: Blackout Protocol

We are introduced to Natasha Romanoff, who as a freelance spy, is wrapping up a job in Chicago in which she was tasked with catching online espionage. She fights a modified villain Viscose, contacts Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D. to report in, and then plans how to disengage from her undercover job that had lasted months. During her time as a mild-mannered IT employee, she had made friends with several other women and heads out for the last night out with them, as she has told them she is moving for another job opportunity.  But the night ends badly…

Episode Two: Something Stolen, Something Red

Waking up from her mysterious attack, Natasha is weak and unclear as to what happened. She barely remembers what happened or how she escaped, but she knows she needs answers. She makes her way to Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, a scientist who she hopes will help her discover what was done to her. There she finds out her blood was removed for some sinister reason. But why?

Episode Three: Bury Me Face Down

Natasha realizes that if she is being targeted, another enhanced human would be too- Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier. She has a history with Barnes, as he was loaned out from Hydra to trains future widows in the Red Room. She heads to Albania where Barnes is hiding out and tracks him down.

Episode Four: Sleep When I’m Dead

Natasha finds Barnes’s hideout, but not him, but clues lead her to believe he was attacked. Banner lets her know there have been other thefts of biological data, and she heads to the VECTOR Institute for more answers.

Episode Five: Flashback City

Novosibirsk, Russia, is her next location and it brings back memories of her training in the Red Room. On the outskirts of the Institute, she encounters Barnes and he attacks her. But he seems off, as he seems not to remember her and physically he isn’t in top form, which allows her to escape him. She is able to bring him back to reality and convinces him to partner with her so they find out what happened to them both.

Episode Six: A Trap with a View

Natasha relives her shared experiences with Barnes, as they both deal with the trauma of their training and the guilt they carry for their past actions when they were part of evil organizations. She decides not to let S.H.I.E.L.D. in on her plan and starts to pull together the threads of her Chicago job together with what is happened to her and Barnes now. Are they being led towards something?

Episode Seven: Of Monsters and Men

Leaving Barnes briefly to recuperate from his ongoing illness, Natasha explores the area and is disappointed with herself when she falls prey to two thugs. But she quickly turns the table on them, and during her interrogation of them is pointed to a female scientist from VECTOR who might have some answers she is looking for.

Episode Eight: Old Friends

Utilizing several costume changes to gain access to the VECTOR compound, Natasha infiltrates the government building. But she doesn’t get all the answers she is looking from, despite finding the scientist she was clued into by the thugs from the previous episode.

Episode Nine: Black Tie

This was a bit of a filler episode- Natasha and Barnes head to Geneva, Switzerland, to infiltrate a black-tie event that the philanthropist that might be behind the stolen blood will be at. They get fancy duds, look great and the chemistry between the two is obvious. That’s it.

Episode Ten: White Nights

This episode made up for the last one, with Natasha and Barnes meeting Holt, who was waiting for them despite all their precautions. Turns out he has been leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow so he could meet them, along with a certain associate that Natasha had dealt with earlier. A second wave of sickness prevents her from learning more.

Episode Eleven: The Carrot and the Stick

Scheduled to meet with Holt the next day, Natasha recovers enough for her and Barnes to head to his laboratory. Holt’s pleasant demeanor masks his ulterior methods as he leads them deep into his bunker to reveal his reason for taking these two soldier’s blood. Although they are wary, Natasha and Barnes want answers, but are they putting themselves at the mercy of Holt?

Episode Twelve: A Rock and a Hard Place

Bleh, it was the typical crap villain plot in which an evil leader wants to create a master race just minus the race and religion aspect of it. But then another villain gets into the action and chaos erupts.

Episode Thirteen: Fast and Dirty

Natasha and Barnes escape and use Holt’s state-of-the-art helicopter to chase down the parasite from being unleashed on the world. Of course, they know how to fly the helicopter- don’t all good spies and assassins know how to?  They grudgingly agree to let Nick Fury in on the details and ask for his help.

Episode Fourteen: Friends in High Places

Natasha and Barnes locate the two trucks carrying the parasite in the Alps, and fight Viscose to prevent the parasite from being released into the world. While dealing with a realistic recovery afterward, the ending hints at further adventures…

This was a highly enjoyable podcast that was wonderfully voiced by Sarah Natochenny and  I looked forward to weekly, as new episodes dropped. Natasha was fleshed out, she wasn’t just some unrealistic superhero hottie who could win any battle and had a quip for every comment. Barnes was as much an unknown character to me as Natasha, so his involvement gave me some additional insight into him too. One thing that I very much appreciated in this story was the emphasis on Natasha’s friends in Chicago. Typically a loner because of her spy status she had allowed herself to make friends during her undercover job and missed them. A problem with so many books and movies is the lack of authentic female friendships, so their inclusion in the story was indeed refreshing (although the depth of their friendship in just two months was unrealistic). That these friendships were brought up in the last minutes, make me wonder what is in store for them, if and when a second season is produced.

-Nancy

Written by Lindsay Smith, Margaret Dunlap, Mikki Kendall, L.L. McKinney, and Taylor Stevens. Edited by Taylor Stevens. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Narrated by Sarah Natochenny.

Wonder Woman² – With a Comparison to Captain Marvel

***There are spoilers for both movies ahead***

Check out Nancy’s take on Captain Marvel, which she wrote shortly after it came out in theaters.

On our quarantine weekends, Fiancé and I have been marathoning movies. We pull out the couch (it doubles as a futon), sprawl out with pillows and snacks, and go to town. So far we’ve marathoned Lord of the Rings (extended editions, obvs), Batman (pre-Nolan and Nolan directed), Christopher Reeves’ Superman saga, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, bounced around between some DC animated movies we haven’t seen yet, and now we’re working on the DC Cinematic Universe that started with Man of Steel.

I’m sure this has been done, because how could it not have been, but I couldn’t help thinking while watching Captain Marvel of the comparisons it drew to Wonder Woman. Watching Wonder Woman again only threw the differences into greater relief.

Wonder Woman is the DCU’s take on Diana’s origins. Set during World War I, Diana leaves her home, Themyscira, when she rescues a pilot named Steve Trevor. He carries important information that could end the course of the war. Believing that Ares, the god of war, is behind the rampant destruction, Diana spirits Steve off the island and pursues Ares to fulfill the Amazon’s sacred duty of protecting the world from the vengeful god.

Captain Marvel follows the story of Vers/Carol Danvers, a Kree Starforce member/human fighter pilot. After absorbing a vast amount of energy from an experimental engine, she gains incredible powers but loses the memory of her life on Earth. What she does remember comes back to her in dreams and short flashes. In 1995 she winds up back on Earth, escaping from the Skrull (with whom the Kree are at war), and instead of trying to get back to Kree, decides to team up with a man named Nick Fury to find out more about her past.

The simplest way to explain the plots of both movies is perhaps: flagship female superhero finds herself out of her element, and must find a way to save the world while simultaneously working within the confines of a setting she’s unfamiliar with.

Wonder Woman did this SO much better than Captain Marvel did, and here’s why.

The first reason is in the portrayal of the heroines by their actresses, and how they interact with their mentor of the world they are unaccustomed to. Gal Gadot’s performance of Diana suggested naive innocence and idealism. Diana is doggedly determined to rid Man’s World of Aries’ influence and stop the war, but she has very different ideas of how to do it than everyone else. She doesn’t understand all the hoops and red tape Steve knows they need to navigate, and gets frustrated with the inconveniences. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is cynical, world-weary, yet focused and determined to do something too – and he’s willing to indulge Diana’s seemingly crazy ideas if she’ll help.

Watching these two – it’s magical. There’s real chemistry between these characters. Half the fun of watching this movie is watching Steve’s exaggerated, exasperated patience with Diana asking a million questions a minute, like a petulant child. Yet, you can’t help but love them each for it. Their relationship progressed organically from mentor/student to friends to lovers, all while remaining mostly equals, making it seem more real and believable.

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Steve Trevor and Diana Prince after saving the village of Veld.

Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol was, to put it nicely, unemotional to the point of being flat. I suppose it was to show how the Kree are generally in strict control of their emotions… but Carol is human and not Kree, right? So despite her thinking she was Kree for most of the movie, it would stand to reason that we would see some excess of emotion from her at some point, right? Even if it was on accident?? Even in moments where it’s completely warranted and expected, such as her reuniting with her best friend, Maria – right???

The vibe I got from Carol and Nick Fury’s interactions were more of almost a buddy cop dynamic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s just less of that mentor-ship that we see going on with Diana and Steve. It’s clear both Carol and Nick have been around the block, albeit in different ways and in different galaxies. However, their connection seemed a bit forced to me; yes, they teamed up out of necessity, but if I felt Carol was feeling anything at all, it was smug arrogance, solely through her interactions with Fury. More on this in a moment.

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Nick Fury and Carol Danvers infiltrating a U.S. Air Force Base.

Though both Diana and Carol are superhuman beings, and warriors to boot, Diana is shown to be more well-rounded in the emotions department. There was never any point in Captain Marvel where I felt emotionally connected to Carol. I think this is more the fault of the writing more than it is Larson’s portrayal, which leads me to my second point:

The way misogyny is handled in both movies is VASTLY different, and makes a HUGE impact on the way the titular characters interact with their environments, and the emotional weight of each story.

You ever wonder why the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman is so powerful? Why you cry like a baby every time you watch it? Admit it, you know it’s not just me 😉

It’s because, for the entire movie up until that point, we see Diana being told “no.”

  • No, you can’t be a warrior
  • No, you can’t leave home
  • No, you can’t dress that way
  • No, you can’t come into this war council
  • No, you can’t go to the front

Now, no one says these things in so many words, and it’s not always that obvious. It may be only on your second or third viewing that you REALLY pick up on all the subtle ways that Diana is being restricted – which mirrors what happens in real-life with instances of misogyny. It’s not always being told “no” exactly, more often it’s being dismissed or sidebarred – which we see Diana go through. When we get to the No Man’s Land scene, and Steve tells Diana they are not going to help the village of Veld, Diana has heard her last “no.”

It’s so powerful because Diana is FINALLY standing up for herself, what she believes in, her mission, and she is going to do it no matter what anyone says. It’s so powerful because she has tried to assimilate into Man’s World and to their ways, but she finally realizes that their ways don’t work, and she carves herself a new path, her own way. It’s so powerful because she is embracing her feminine power to save the world, and her ultimate superpower: not her brute strength, but her ability to provide hope in a completely hopeless situation.

The brilliancy and beauty of this scene is in the movie’s moves up until this point to try and hem Diana in, so subtle that it’s nearly subconscious. When you see her finally break free in this scene, the movie has earned all the ugly tears you shed over it, and then some.

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Yup, it’s right about here that I always start sobbing

Captain Marvel didn’t have an equivalent scene, though it tried to. Near the end of the movie, Carol confronts the Supreme Intelligence and breaks her inhibitor chip. It also gave us a slew of flashbacks to Carol’s childhood in which we are shown in quick succession how Carol has been told “no,” and that’s what’s allows her to break free and come into her full power, which we then see in the next scene: the “I’m Just a Girl” scene, where Carol fights her former Kree squadron for the Tesseract.

The problem with this scene – and with the movie in general – is Carol is explicitly told “no,” in so many words, in those flashbacks. We are beaten over the head with scenes like this:

  • Carol and Maria getting hit on by a sleazy guy at a bar
  • Carol and Maria can’t become fighter pilots
  • Carol needs to control her emotions
  • Carol can’t play baseball
  • Carol can’t go that fast on a go-kart track
  • … All because they are girls or women.

Carol, and the audience, are explicitly told these things, instead of being shown them. The subtlety that worked so well in Wonder Woman is missing altogether from Captain Marvel. The obviousness of the misogyny in this movie strip much of the meaning away from the instances in which they occur, or their motivation for Carol.

I mentioned above that I felt Carol to be a cold, arrogant presence throughout this movie – this is why. It felt as if she was so hell-bent on proving her worth, despite her being a woman, that that’s all her character became. This crippled her relationship with Fury. Instead of Fury becoming a guide to Carol when she returns to Earth, he became the receiving end of the superiority she picked up from her time as a Kree. It felt as if he was reduced to a comic relief sidekick alongside Carol, instead of the force of nature we had previously seen and known him to be. Though this is a prequel movie for Fury, and he arguably doesn’t quite have the experience to be a mentor yet as he’s early in his career, the fact remains that as far as she knows, he is still Carol’s bridge between Kree and Earth – and to me it felt like Carol knew better than he did.

Now, I know Carol was brainwashed to believe she was really a Kree. It seemed as if all the flashbacks from Carol’s former life on Earth shown in the movie were instances like these: blatant misogyny. What it really needed was more of Carol being a badass like Maria talked about during the kitchen scene. The Carol Maria talked about sounded awesome! She was a pain in her best friend’s butt! She was an amazing pilot! She loved to go out and dance and do kareoke! She was an aunt figure to Maria’s daughter, Monica! THAT’S the Carol we needed to see – the truly human Carol!!!

In fact, the one thing Captain Marvel did better than Wonder Woman was the inclusion of Maria’s character. What little we saw of Maria and Carol’s friendship was AMAZING!!! They had such a great friendship, of two women (one of them of color!!!) LOVING AND SUPPORTING EACH OTHER UNCONDITIONALLY!!! There wasn’t enough time spent on any female characters other than Diana in Wonder Woman for us to see any friendships form between her and another woman (though I am hopeful we see this between Diana and Barbara Ann Minerva in WW84, coming out in October at time of posting).

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What Captain Marvel really needed: more Maria

The movie needed more of this truly human Carol. The pre-brainwashed Carol as seen through Maria and Monica’s eyes, to make the audience care about her, and to make us believe that she is more than a single dimension: that of being a woman with something to prove. It’s otherwise difficult for the audience to remember that she IS supposed to be human, and therefore it’s difficult for the audience to emotionally connect with her.

The heavy-handed misogyny in Captain Marvel also strips away any and all emotional impact we are supposed to feel from anything – especially the final fight scenes, after Carol finally comes into her full power. The movie tried SO HARD to show us Carol’s girl power that that’s all her character was reduced to. When we finally get to the “I’m Just a Girl” fight scene, we just roll our eyes at yet ANOTHER in-your-face instance of Carol’s femininity. Captain Marvel hamstrung itself on its’ own feminism.

The dynamic of each movie within its’ respective universe is also interesting to think about. The DCEU was okay at best until Wonder Woman (the 4th installment) finally helped them to find their stride. While no DCEU movie they create afterward will come close to being on the same level, their subsequent movies have become overall lighter and more fun in tone than their predecessors – and more like the MCU.

The DCEU tried too hard in their beginnings to become what the MCU was in their middle that they rushed into a huge crossover with no other basis than Man of Steel, and failed at it.

The MCU is a carefully-crafted, decades-long cinematic event. I may be a die-hard DC fan, but even I can admit that Marvel’s movies FAR outstrip DC’s in scope, continuity, and storytelling. Captain Marvel was the third to last installment in the Phase 3 of the MCU saga – between Ant Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame (technically, but I personally consider it the second to last because I don’t count Spiderman: Far from Home as being part of Phase 3, but that’s a post for another day). My point being, this movie is smack dab between a hilarious, high-stakes heist, and the epic ending to one of the greatest cinematic sagas in all of film history, and introduces a character VITAL to that ending, just one movie before. And it unfortunately feels like a slog to get through. It feels like forced required reading just before that cinematic climax that only serves two purposes: to explain the Carol-Ex-Machina moment in Endgame (disappointing), and how Fury lost his eye (even more disappointing).

The MCU tried to recreate with Captain Marvel what the DCEU did with Wonder Woman – a first movie for a female hero in their camp – and failed at it.

– Kathleen

… Okay, now that I got my nice, objective views out of the way, I’m sorry I can’t hold it in anymore I need to say it the very biased way I said it to a friend: Captain Marvel??? More like Captain Knockoff: Superman Without Any of His Likeable Qualities Wearing a Chinese Bootleg Wonder Woman Costume

Y’all KNOW they PURPOSELY created CM’s costume to look TOO SIMILAR TO WW’S like JUST LOOK AT IT AND TRY TO TELL ME I’M WRONG

I think y’all knew which camp I was in to begin with, but I hope I explained the important differences between these two movies, and why those differences had a significant impact on each movie, sufficiently!

Avengers vs X-Men

I love both the Avengers and the X-Men- but who will come out on top in this epic battle?!

I have been meaning to read this collected edition since last year when I read Uncanny X-Men: Revolution that followed this event book. I kept picking up this series but putting it back down when other graphic novels caught my eye. But when I recently read Mr. and Mrs. X, and I had forgotten that a certain character was dead because of this storyline, I knew I needed to finally make the commitment to finish it.

This story follows House of M, when Scarlet Witch utters “No more mutants!”, thus no mutants have been born in years. When the first mutant child, Hope, is born who has the ability to psychically manipulate and mimic the powers of other mutants, current mutants divide as what to do. When it is discovered that Phoenix, the powerful being that killed Jean Grey, is headed to Earth to possibly consume Hope, the heroes are torn as what to do. What it comes down to is Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, feels that Hope is strong enough to control the Pheonix and will use its power to reignite mutantdom vs Captain America, the Avengers leader, who feels that Hope will become a threat and destroy humanity, thus she needs to be taken down.

So begins the battles- many many of them, as this graphic novel collects twelve chapters to tell the story. When you have such a large cast not everyone can properly get featured and this book follows suit. Some heroes receive small cameos, with one bit of dialogue and then they are just part of the large fighting scenes. But I was pleasantly surprised that Iron Fist had such a large role, plus Nova got a nice part too.

As I don’t wish to spoil the narrative too much, I will limit my summary. When Pheonix arrives, five mutants- Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik- take Hope’s place and all get considerable new powers that they use for improving the world. But we all know that’s not the end of the story. The Pheonix wants Hope and it is she and Scarlet Witch that finally subdue the Pheonix’s dark powers, but not before there is a lot of death and destruction.

There are powerful moments found within the story and some insightful and sometimes snappy dialogue, but it can be a slog to find them. Just as I found Captain Marvel unsufferable in Civil War II, so I found Cyclops. He has some extremely valid points, as mutants really have been persecuted, but I was really hating on him, plus…he’s the one who ends up getting briefly consumed by the Pheonix and doing something terrible.

Overall, the art was strong despite many different artists. While there are some style shifts in the different chapters, there is enough visual consistency when the various stories were pulled together in this collected edition. Although Hope sometimes varies between looking like a teen (which she was) and an older typical female hero hottie. I always enjoyed the crowd or battle scenes as its fun to see how the artists choose to portray everyone in mid-action.

In the large collected edition, there are also some tie-ins:

A vs X: This volume showcases personal battles amidst the war and has a whole slew of authors and artists detail how two connected heroes (or villains) duke it out. There is – Iron Man vs Magneto, Things vs Namor, Captain America vs Gambit, Spider-Man vs Colossus, Black Widow vs Magik, Daredevil vs Psylocke, Thor vs Emma Frost, Hawkeye vs Angel, Black Panther vs Storm, Hope vs Scarlet Witch, Cyclops vs Captain America, AvX: Science Battle, Captain America vs Havok, Red Hulk vs Domino, Toad vs Jarvis, Spider-Woman vs (several) X-Women, Iron Fist vs and Iceman and Squirrel Girl vs Pixie.

This is a motley grouping of short stories (some are only a page long), as some of the fights tie in with the preceding narrative, while others are just for laughs. The only one that I found truly memorable was the poignant Storm vs Black Panther battle because there is no winner as their marriage sadly crumbles because of their differences.

A-Babies vs X-Babies:  Skottie Young is well known for his variant covers of Marvel heroes, so this one-off is funny and good for a single read. On the corner of Fury Dr and Xavier Way is the peaceful neighborhood of Marvelous Meadows. Being tucked into bed is little Steve (Captain America) who is surrounded by his army themed stuffed bears. Wait- Bucky Bear is missing! Peering out the window he sees his neighbor Scott (Cyclops) taunting him with his beloved bear. Steve calls out “Avengers Assemble!” and quickly his team of baby friends has joined him. Scott calls for back up but laments he has no catchy phrase to get them there. Instead, he yells that there is an ice cream truck nearby, and the X-Men babies show up. A battle ensues for the bear between the two teams. There is a cuteness overload as baby representations of all famous Avengers & X-Men duke it out.

Putting this entire book down several times should have been my clue that it wasn’t for me. While I am typically a sucker for these crossover event books, I have reached a fatigue level with the fighting among team members trope. While I found Civil War fresh, this and Civil War II were anything but.

-Nancy

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