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My 12 for ’13: Iron Man 3 & Shane Black’s Christmas in April

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 9…

While Tim Burton’s underrated Batman Returns remains the definitive superhero Christmas movie, Iron Man 3 comes pretty darn close. Which is very strange, for a movie released in towards the end of April in Europe and in the United States in early May. This paradoxical festivity is just one of the many ways that Iron Man 3 feels more like a Shane Black film than a piece of the expansive and ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And that’s a good thing.

ironman3a

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – F.Z.Z.T. (Review)

F.Z.Z.T. is a reminder that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a genre show still in its first season. That might not sound like a good thing, and F.Z.Z.T. isn’t the strongest of the mediocre crop of episodes so far, but it does indicate that there is still potential. The Girl in the Flower Dress teased the possibility that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might have settled into its own incredibly unambitious niche, and any evidence to the contrary should be welcomed.

F.Z.Z.T. is boring and generic, but at least it’s boring and generic in a way that is different from most of the boring and generic episodes so far. So that’s something.

A Gemma of an idea...?

A Gemma of an idea…?

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West Coast Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

I’ve never been especially fond of the classic Avengers. The group has always seemed particularly insular and self-centred for a comic book superhero team, with so much emphasis on their by-laws and regulations, their posh fifth avenue mansion and the strange sense of pride that second-tier characters like Hawkeye seem to place on their own importance within the Avengers franchise. There have been great runs, and there have been comics that I have enjoyed a great deal, but I will concede that I am not a fan of the Silver and Bronze Age Avengers aesthetic.

West Coast Avengers is a clear attempt to develop the franchise, to give Marvel a second high-profile Avengers book. Launched in 1984 and running for a decade, the book followed the establishment of a second superhero team branded on the classic Avengers model. Of course, part of me suspects that this was all just a plan to get Hawkeye out of the mansion (“you and Mockingbird can relocate quickly… and the sooner you do — the sooner our west coast team is operational — the better!” Vision insists).

There are moments of wry self-awareness in West Coast Avengers, but far too much of it reads far too earnestly.

And yet somehow this guy has appeared in two of the biggest superhero blockbusters of the past five years...

And yet somehow this guy has appeared in two of the biggest superhero blockbusters of the past five years…

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Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck’s Avengers – Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

It’s always fascinating to go back and read the original sixties Marvel comic books, to get a sense of just how influential or informative they were on the generations of writers and artists who followed. While it’s not quite as spectacular a mess as The Incredible Hulk or The X-Men, I’ll admit that I never entirely warmed to the classic version of The Avengers. I like select stories – Roy Thomas’ Kree-Skrull War, Starlin’s Infinity trilogy – but, as a whole, these classic Avengers comics never really grabbed me.

Don’t get me wrong. These are massively iconic and influential books, and they’re well constructed, laying down a blueprint for decades of adventures to follow. There’s a sense of wry self-awareness here, and there’s no denying that these are vitally important classic superhero comics books. However, I could just never bring myself to love them.

Holding it all together...

Holding it all together…

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Jonathan Hickman’s Run on Ultimate Comics: Ultimates (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

There’s something to be said for keeping Marvel’s Ultimate Universe as a “do anything you want” sandbox for up-and-coming creators, a chance for writers and artists to demonstrate their ability to tell comic book stories without worrying too much about the status quo or putting everything back in something resembling the way they found it. After all, the Ultimate Universe provided a fertile starting point for creators like Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis and Brian K. Vaughn to demonstrate they could tell big bombastic superhero stories, with Millar and Bendis going on to radically shape  the mainstream Marvel continuity.

As such, Jonathan Hickman’s run on the awkwardly-titled Ultimate Comics: Ultimates feels like an audition. It’s very clearly a weird alternate-universe take on many of the ideas that he would carry over to his run on Avengers and New Avengers when he succeeded creator Brian Michael Bendis. Hickman’s Ultimates is bristling with big ideas, and an exciting willingness to tear down and build up without any hesitation. The only real problem is that it feels like a story sorely missing an ending.

Thor smash!

Thor smash!

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Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson’s Avengers – Steed & Mrs. Peel (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

I feel a little bit cheeky describing this as “Grant Morrison’s Avengers.” After all, it’s this sort of confusion that led Disney to somewhat clumsily try to rebrand last year’s Avengers as Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in Ireland and the UK, afraid that easily-confused cinema-goers might be confused by the absence of the character my better half describes as “umbrella man”, while those more emersed in classic Britannia will recognise him as John Steed.

In fact, the comic was actually branded as Steed and Ms. Peel to avoid confusion, both in the original 1990 Eclipse miniseries and in the recent BOOM! studios reissue. That said, while legal matters prevent the release of a comic called “The Avengers”, BOOM! have hardly been shy about the original television show, with advertisements for Mark Waid’s recent revival teasing “the original Avengers” and “the original Hell Fire Club.” (Which is a little misleading itself, since the Hell Fire Club is actually a much older (real life) institution. Ah well.)

Still, Morrison and Gibson’s Steed & Mrs. Peel is a delightfully fun romp very much in the style of the original show. It is, by no means, the smartest or most essential of Morrison’s work – but it’s still clever and betrays an obvious affection for the source material.

Wheel of misfortune...

Wheel of misfortune…

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Avengers vs. X-Men – Consequences (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine this month, we’re taking a look at some new and classic X-Men and Wolverine comics. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences feels like it really should be a light event cash-in, designed to generate some quick sales off the popularity of the latest gigantic crossover story arc. However, writer Kieron Gillen takes advantage of the five-issue miniseries’ location – situated between Avengers vs. X-Men and Marvel’s high-profile Marvel NOW relaunch – to turn the comic into something of a transition. It represents a clear shift from Kieron Gillen’s run on Uncanny X-Men to the relaunch of the book (and the spin-off All-New X-Men) by writer Brian Michael Bendis.

Oddly enough, thanks to Gillen’s skill, Consequences plays out as a character-centric storyline, capping off Gillen’s work on the mutant hero Cyclops and positioning him for his role future role in the shared Marvel universe.

Cyke out!

Cyke out!

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