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Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

hr_Captain_America-_The_Winter_Soldier_138I waited months to see Captain America: The First Avenger. I was worried that they would take one of Marvel’s great characters, and make a film that took his title literally and create something that ultimately boiled down to US propaganda, rather than really explore what Steve Rogers is about. The first time around, I wanted to hate it. I mocked everything – laughed at the dialogue, joked about how one scene in particular was awfully reminiscent of Return of the Jedi, rolled my eyes at Hugo Weaving’s scenery chewing – but at the end I turned to my husband and said that was awesome, let’s watch it again.

I feel bad about my lack of faith in Marvel Studios now. While I still try to go in to MCU films with no hope other than to be entertained, they consistently and effectively deliver exactly what the audience is wanting. What does the audience want? A film that shows us superheroes that exist here in the real world. A universe that is so close to ours, that sometimes it’s easy to suspend your disbelief, and imagine that these events are really happening, while we’re sitting in the comfort of our living rooms watching the destruction on the news.

To say Winter Soldier is a game changer is a bit of an understatement really, but it’s difficult to elaborate on that idea without offering up some pretty huge spoilers for the end of the film. What I will say, however, is that it cements the concept of these characters existing around us. From Sam Wilson’s uncannily plausible flight suit, through to Frank Grillo’s likeable but sinister portrayal of Brock Rumlow (the name Crossbones is never mentioned outside of a bit of symbolism for comics fans), and Robert Redford’s brilliant turn as Alexander Pierce – someone you can really see heading up an intelligence agency. They’re written well, they’re acted well, and most importantly, they talk like real people, which are key elements missing from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the Marvel property with the closest ties to Winter Soldier.

Chris-EVans-vai-gostarHow can a film that contains such a ridiculous character as Batroc the Leaper do this so well though? Through brave interpretations of characters whom we have seen as jokes, caricatures, and ridiculously implausible technological developments. Just wait until you see how they brought Arnim Zola into the modern day – it’s genius, and not at all what I was expecting.

While the peripheral characters are the icing on a rather large cake, the main characters have plenty of time to shine. With a running time of over two hours, there’s never any doubt that everyone gets their share of the limelight. Nick Fury gets his own action sequence, Maria Hill has a key role to play in the final act and somehow there’s still time to explore how the events of the Battle of New York have affected Cap and Black Widow’s – both personally and publicly. There’s a glaring lack of Black Widow backstory, but Johansson’s character actually gets to be a person here, rather than a means to an end, or a Whedon Woman trope, which gives me hope that those Black Widow movie rumours may come to fruition after all. Chris Evans handles bringing the role of Steve into the modern world very well, he plays him with just the right combination of righteousness and sass, and that’s exactly what I think Cap is all about.

The real stars of this show, however, are Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, as Sam Wilson, and Bucky Barnes respectively. Mackie’s clear excitement at being able to play in the sandbox carries over to his portrayal of Wilson, who has a kind of fanboy excitement about being included in Cap and Widow’s team. Stan does an impressive job of a role that, for most of the film, involves a lot of empty, angry, or irritated gazes, and the delivery of one particular choice line lifted from the comic. Both actors fit their roles perfectly, yet another example of Marvel choosing the right actors, and developing the right characters.

bwposter2From a technical standpoint, this is probably Marvel’s most ambitious project to date. If you think The Avengers was a large project CG wise, forget it. Winter Soldier has not one, but three helicarriers, more action sequences than I can remember, and while it may not have Iron Man 3 scale supersuits, the work on Falcon’s wings, and The Winter Soldier’s arm, is pretty impressive. There are certainly a few missteps in the larger scale shots that are more visible when viewing the film in 2D, but overall the CG is great.

The score is adequate, with moments of greatness when building tension, but there are points where it could have done with dropping out completely. Over all, Winter Soldier has a post-Cold War action thriller vibe to it, and sometimes the score doesn’t quite fit, particularly during a lot of Cap’s dialogue. I found myself wanting a bit less soaring patriotism, and a bit more understated disillusionment.

On paper, it’s hard to believe this film would work. The guys who made You, Me and Dupree direct an espionage thriller based off a comic book, where half of the long standing characters either aren’t cast in the film, or are only just being introduced, and the only way you won’t know what the big reveal will be is if you live under a rock. Forget about it. Wry humour, innovative use of characters, and a big reveal that has so much more large scale fallout than what you’re thinking of, make this film quite possibly the best that we’ve seen from Marvel Studios yet.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes excellent use of one of Brubaker’s great storylines, but never once feels like the core concept came from a comic. Anthony and Joe Russo may be mostly known for directing such classics of modern cult television comedy as Arrested Development, Happy Endings, and Community, but don’t let that make you think they can’t handle a big budget action epic.

Equal parts tense dialogue, thrilling action, and character development, Captain America: The Winter Soldier pushes the Marvel Cinematic Universe one step closer to the audience, and continues to reinforce the idea that superhero movies don’t need to exist in their own genre.

Retrospective – Wolverine: Old Man Logan (2008/09 Millar/McNiven)

250px-OldManLoganI was talked into reading Old Man Logan back in 2011, after much hesitation and more than a few I promise, I’ll read it next week‘s. Honestly, it’s not a book I ever gave a second glance to, mostly because the only part that looked up my alley was Steve McNiven’s art. Mark Millar has always been a writer I’ve felt at odds with, and Wolverine has never been on my list of favourite characters, so while I like a good bit of blood and gore, I decided to push it to the back of the pile until I was short on reading material.

At this point, it would be timely to remind everyone that previously when McNiven and Millar teamed up for Marvel, we got Civil War. Love it or hate it, it contains some of the most iconic panels in recent comics history, and it was this that convinced me to finally give Old Man Logan a read.

At its heart, this is a western road movie. A gory, frantic actioner, that only stops briefly for a few pages of exposition, before building to its bloody, viscera splattered conclusion.

It’s brilliant, and shameless, and never once tries to be something more than an excuse for a couple of hundred or so pages of extreme violence. The plot itself exists for little reason other than to facilitate the carnage at the very end, but that doesn’t mean you ever feel any lack of sympathy or connection for road trip buddies Wolverine and Hawkeye.

old-man-loganMillar’s writing is solid, if nothing spectacular, mostly because the star of the show here is McNiven’s incredible art. Every panel is finely detailed, but never feels fussy. The dirt and grime of a future without superheroes mixes with all the blood and guts, to create a really stunningly beautiful book. Each spray of red across the page feels like it’s been flung from the tip of a paintbrush, rather than finely pencilled, inked, and coloured.

The ability to toe the line between comic art, and realism, is something that has always impressed me about McNiven. Unlike artists like Adi Granov, or Alex Ross, whose hyper-realistic style can often seem cold and unmoving, or John Romita Jr or Frank Miller’s, whose work can be quite cartoonish, McNiven’s keeps his work pulpy, yet real. Just the right amount of bright colours and sharp definition to offer up plenty of movement and visual chaos, while still being realistic enough to make you really lose yourself in the page.

As previously mentioned, the plot of Old Man Logan is secondary to the art, and it’s really pointless talking about it. It’s so thin, that even a few words on the story will really give you an idea of how the whole thing ends.

All you really need to know about Old Man Logan, is that it’s a great ride. The perfect book for someone who wants some mindless escapism, in the form of gratuitous and extreme violence. This was my third time reading this book, and I still give it ten out of ten.

Black Widow #1 and #2 – Nathan Edmonson/Phil Noto

black-widow-012014 heralds the return of solo titles for two characters I have long been a fan of. In February, She-Hulk hits the racks, with what looks to be a promising new series. First off though, Black Widow is in the spotlight, continuing the trend of character focused, intensely personal solo arcs that kicked off with Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye in 2012.

With the more subtle theme of loneliness and isolation undercutting Natasha Romanova’s quest for atonement, and Phil Noto’s delicate, almost retro art style, the whole book feels like a bleak seventies thriller. Exactly the tone I expected from a book aiming to be unique, despite clear influences from titles such as Hawkeye and Captain Marvel. It’s an engaging, violent, and visually stunning book, that in two issues has already earned a permanent space on my pull list.

The first issue is classic set-up and exposition, introducing Widow to newer readers in a way that doesn’t feel forced or tedious to those who are already familiar with (at least some) of her long and complex story. As someone who hasn’t read any of Nathan Edmonson’s previous work, this was a pleasant surprise. Introductions are made, motivations are set, and like the influential titles mentioned above, something resembling a normal home life is established.

Issue two moves straight on from the set-up, and headlong into a deeper exploration of Natasha’s motivation, while also offering an insight into the man aiding her quest – apparently unassuming lawyer Isaiah. Isaiah’s story is a more subtle, understated contrast, inter-cut throughout Natasha’s overt, public fight with the main villain of the issue. Issue two also cements the idea of home, something we perhaps may not have associated with Black Widow in the past, with a return to her apartment in the final scene.

natWhile the writing here is solid, the real star of the show is Phil Noto’s magnificent, elegant artwork. His style is fine and almost fragile, ideas I had perhaps not associated with Natasha in the past, but it fits so perfectly here. Noto’s colours effectively convey tone, and the washed out, muted look of the whole book really gives it the feel of that seventies espionage thriller. His consistency with character design, sketchy, movement filled panels, and ability to convey emotion are what elevate Black Widow from very good, to excellent.

My only hesitation is that I feel like this is the film we should have had. Marvel has taken a risk in giving Natasha her own solo – and that’s great – but when are they going to take that leap from page to screen? Black Widow is a wonderful, grim, introspective look at a character still surrounded by a lot of mystery, despite her long history in Marvel Comics canon. Could this book be the test run for a Black Widow film? I sure hope so.

Review: Avengers Annual #1 – Immonen/LaFuente

avengers-annual-01-300x461Avengers Annual #1 is a welcome bit of light relief, after the convoluted complexity porn that was Hickman’s Infinity. It’s equal parts action packed, witty, poignant, and bizarrely adorable.

Writer Katherine Immonen has written a fun and charming stand alone story, that could have easily been as preachy as an after school special, but instead had me grinning from start to finish. David LaFuente’s art fits nicely with Immonen’s at times chaotic plot, and some of his panels are the funniest sight gags I’ve seen so far this year.

The plot centres around Zamira, a student of Shang-Chi who stows away after a tour of Avengers Tower for unclear reasons, and Steve, who drew the short straw and has been left behind to stand guard over Christmas. Somehow Immonen has managed to pack an affecting, almost depressing sub-plot for Steve, in to what is otherwise a chaotic and action packed book. I was expecting something with as much substance as candyfloss, but instead this is a surprisingly character-driven issue, that takes a moment to look behind the superhero persona.

While I didn’t really think much of Zamira, the manifestations of her power – self styled copies of existing heroes – delivered some genuinely funny one liners, often full of innuendo, and always poking more than a little fun at characterisation. Subsequent reactions from each Avenger sometimes feel like you’re sitting through a semi-satirical DVD commentary, with real life versions of characters commenting on their on screen personalities.

BWhile I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and laughed out loud at a lot of the dialogue, what I enjoyed most however, was LaFuente’s art. He does a great job of conveying the disorderly mess that Zamira’s power creates (although visually this may be a bit much for some readers), and I liked the exaggerated cartoonish style a lot. Facial expressions are over the top, movement is well conveyed, and as previously mentioned, the sight gags are just hilarious.

Some may find this book a bit too much of a departure from the serious plot of Avengers as a whole, but perhaps a light-hearted one-shot is just what we need after Infinity and its long, drawn out lead up.

If you want to read a book where Cap wears an apron, Tony wears a crab-shaped pool ring, and Natasha tells tall tales about herself, then this is the book for you.

Review – Thor: The Dark World

thor-the-dark-world-posterThis probably won’t come as a great shock, considering my propensity for the more human side of the Marvel Universe than the cosmic, but Thor: The Dark World is the ‘phase 2’ film I have been looking forward to the least. While I enjoyed the first instalment, it doesn’t go on my all time favourites list with Iron Man, The Avengers, and Captain America. I’ve never been particularly interested in Asgardians – I prefer technology over magic – so I guess I wasn’t really expecting The Dark World to be my ‘thing’.

So, while I saw Iron Man 3 on opening day, I waited until I had a day off work to see Thor. I didn’t show up at the theatre until the trailers were nearly over, and almost missed the opening scene. That’s not to say I was completely blasé – I was still bouncing in my seat with excitement by the time the Marvel logo appeared. I think my husband was struggling not to groan at my predictable enthusiasm and excited chatter which, I’ll be honest, was mostly due to seeing Sif, and Darcy Lewis back on screen.

Spending as much time on the internet as I do, it’s hard to avoid being spoiled for huge releases such as this, but I managed to stay almost entirely in the dark over the few days between release, and my trip to the cinema. I had seen a few mentions of events, but without context, had no idea of their impact. This lack of spoilers, combined with the mostly middling to negative responses I’d seen glimpses of from critics, meant I had limited expectations. If anything, I guess I kind of expected it to be a bit crap, which is why I’m so pleased to be able to give The Dark World heavy praise.

What this movie is, is fun. It’s filled with great battle sequences, clever dialogue, and some seriously unexpected moments of hilarity. Actually, over all, the entire film is really, genuinely funny. I laughed all the way through, sometimes on my own thanks to my warped sense of humour, and sometimes with the rest of the audience when the more overt jokes dropped.

While the scenes on Asgard, Vanaheim, and Svartalfheim are pretty spectacular, it was the Earth based sequences that really had me hooked. The entirety of these take place in London – a refreshing change from events continually returning to the US – and mostly involve Jane, Darcy and Darcy’s ‘intern’ (his name’s Ian, okay?) running around London doing science. Eric Selvig is back as well, and has some of the funniest moments in the film, despite (or thanks to) the fact he’s still a bit messed up after the Battle of New York. The Earth based scenes having a real potential to be dull and tedious, but they actually contain a more exciting, wonder-filled tone than those off-world. Add to this, Kat Dennings’ (Darcy Lewis) excellent comic timing, and Stellan Skarsgård’s manic and bewildered portrayal of Dr. Selvig, and I found myself wanting to rewind and watch some scenes over and over.

The plot itself isn’t anything special, but it’s serviceable, and does its job in helping bring together a film that’s more about the characters than the actual storyline. It really boils down to bad guy wants the thing, good guy doesn’t want the bad guy to get the thing, good guy gets other bad guy to help, humans save the day while good guy and bad guy beat the crap out of each other, which isn’t a bad road to go down. In fact, the simplicity of the core plot actually helps offer more expansion for asides throughout the movie, to offer more insight into the characters, and what could be coming next in this universe.

Malekith and his dark elves aren’t particularly dastardly villains, and are really just an allegory for modern-day religious warfare. Doing what you believe is right because of an antiquated or skewed view of the universe. Christopher Eccleston struggles to act beneath the layers of makeup, and comes across as reasonably uninteresting, but then I don’t believe he was ever really supposed to be the centrepiece of this film. He’s really more of a plot device than a character, and I’m completely okay with that.

The return of Loki will be welcome to most, and Tom Hiddleston is really at his best here. I’m not one of the legions of Loki fans who are ready to kneel for him, but I can give credit where it’s due. Hiddleston feels like he’s toned down some of his over-the-top, borderline scenery chewing antics, which made me enjoy his performance a lot more this time around. I was disappointed by the sparing use of Sif and the Warriors Three (or Warriors Two – Hogun is glimpsed twice, on his home realm), but with a film as brief and packed full as this was, I can see why they weren’t featured more prominently. One good thing came from this though, and that’s the omission of a love triangle between Sif, Thor, and Jane, which would have been a heavy weight around Dark World’s neck.

The strength of The Dark World’s secondary characters, is what made me go from pleased to thrilled, though. Between the science crew of Selvig, Darcy, and Ian, the quiet and menacing strength of Frigga, and a couple of moments of perfection from The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd as Jane’s date Richard, there’s plenty to keep the viewer interested between fight sequences and Loki’s smarmy one liners. I also appreciated the strength displayed by all the women in this film, and the focus placed on them, even though it’s supposed to be a movie about Thor. There’s also a brilliant (sort of) cameo that was so unexpected, the entire audience dissolved into excited exclamations and almost uncontrollable laughter.

On the technical side of things, the film succeeds on almost every front. It looks stunning, the visual effects are great, and the score fits nicely with the overall tone. The costuming is almost flawless, although at some points Odin and Thor’s armour looks a little like it was on sale for $99 at The Warehouse after Halloween. The only real downer for me was the 3D, which did little to add to the depth of the scenes, and at times was a bit fuzzy in places. As it was a post-production conversion, this wasn’t really surprising, and I don’t think it was necessary.

As a whole, Dark World is a very successful film, that proves a movie doesn’t need to have a strong villain or revolutionary plot to be thoroughly entertaining. The action sequences are spectacular – particularly the final battle, which starts to make your head spin after a couple of minutes, the characters are interesting and multi-faceted, and there’s a sub-plot that you could be forgiven for forgetting about until the very end. Stay right to the end of the credits to catch the very last from the science crew – there’s two credit scenes, so you could easily think the teaser for Guardians is the final word.

Thor: The Dark World is yet another example of Marvel doing its version of the comic book superhero genre right, by not making superhero films. Just as the Iron Man films are action comedies, Captain America: The First Avenger a war movie, and the first instalment of Thor a fish out of water story, The Dark World sits firmly in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy, never once feeling like it needs to be defined by the word superhero.

Rating: 8/10

Avengers: Endless Wartime – Warren Ellis and Mike McCone

Avengers_Endless_Wartime_Vol_1_1Endless Wartime is a strange book. It exists in the murky subspace between the primary Marvel continuity, and the cinematic universe – despite being ‘officially’ a part of the former – and as such, needs to be viewed from two different perspectives.

Existing fans of Marvel comics may find the overdone exposition and apparent regression of the characters grating, and out of place, while people entering the format for the first time may find that it’s a great way to ease in to the 616 versions of the characters they know from on screen.

As a whole, Endless Wartime is a good looking book, with a solid plot, and some great dialogue. The art is reasonably pleasing, if a little inconsistent, and Ellis’ political and social commentary throughout never feels forced or like it’s being shoved down your throat.

So it’s good then, right? Ehhh… not so much. My conflicted feelings about this title most likely stem from my dislike of the increasingly blurry lines between universes, so I’m going to set that aside for a moment, and look at it from two viewpoints. First, from that of an existing fan of Marvel comics, and secondly, from someone who is coming to dip their toes in the graphic form of these characters for the first time.

From the perspective of a long time fan, this book is almost illogical in places. Unless I had known this book is intended to fit into the mainstream continuity, I could easily have assumed it was intended to exist in its own universe – a mash up of 616 and the MCU – or possibly a way to introduce other characters (ie Wolverine), into the MCU in a way that isn’t impinged by film rights. While it shows the characters in their current 616 incarnations and costumes, their interaction does little to demonstrate a long standing association and camaraderie.

Now, obviously these characters haven’t always played for the same side, but in Endless Wartime they genuinely seem to dislike each other, which is pretty contradictory to what we’re reading at the moment in Marvel NOW! Add to that the pages and pages of Steve suffering from man out of time-itis, and Carol checking in about her genetic make-up, and it feels almost like we’ve slipped back into the seventies for a hundred or so pages. Clint though, well. Considering his current disaster of a life, I guess waking up in a dumpster is about par for the course.

Apart from the introduction of the threat in the first few pages, the front third of the book almost deals exclusively with Steve, and his struggle to integrate into the modern world. What? Not only is this awful characterisation, it pretty much flies in the face of decades of character development. More than ten years of Marvel time in the future, and he still hasn’t figured out how to use a coffee machine? Most of my thoughts boiled down to oh god why no stop this is just nope argh for the first twenty or so pages.

EW1

There are some absolutely brilliant lines, but they’re overshadowed by Ellis’ struggle to introduce the characters to new readers without it feeling like ten pages of clunky exposition. Lines like Clint, we both know I couldn’t possibly be your mother. You certainly never acted like I was, and …yes, I am a genetically stable fusion of human pilot and an alien soldier race from the Large Magellanic Cloud, are so bad, I almost shut the book and tossed it under my bed, to lie in wait for rediscovery next time I vacuum under there (hint: that will be in about two years).

What about the rest of it? It’s an okay story. The violence was certainly toned down to appeal to a younger audience, but there are some great action scenes, and towards the end I felt that the Avengers were starting to feel like a team again, even if Steve was still blatantly mischaracterised, and it felt like it ended with a whimper rather than the bang I was hoping for.

Mike McCone’s art is very good in places, but flat and not particularly dynamic in others. The action scenes are well put together, but some of the more dialogue heavy pages feel rushed and inconsistent. I kind of wish they had chosen to take a risk with the art in this book, rather than going with someone who has a pretty unremarkable (but still skilled) style.

Taking a look from a person picking up a Marvel book for the first time though, things are a little different. While I think the exposition at the start is still overdone, it’s certainly something that’s needed to introduce Carol and Logan (although I’m sure most fans of the MCU have also seen the X-Men films). Tony’s very similar to his MCU counterpart here which, considering Robert Downey Jr’s success in the role, is probably a smart move.

Clint’s pretty much a blank slate from an MCU fan’s perspective, seeing as he was possessed by Loki for much of The Avengers, so they’ve gone for full on ‘hot mess wisecracker with a death wish’, which will only endear him even more to an already rabid fanbase. Sadly, he’s also bullied an awful lot during this book, which won’t go down well with anyone with a conscience. Thor is Thor, and I quite enjoyed how Ellis presented Bruce.

The women are great, with both Carol and Natasha being featured throughout the book. They both have some great lines, and hold their own with the guys, although like everyone else, they are needlessly mean from time to time. They’re drawn respectfully, rather than ridiculously (apart from a couple of borderline panels), and Natasha always has her (MCU inspired) suit zipped up, which is a pleasant suprise.

They’re also however, overshadowed by the men. Half way through Endless Wartime, even the least observant reader will recognise Steve and Thor being heavily featured, a clear ploy at generating interest in Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Nice try, guys, but it’s a fail on the female representation front, sorry. I get why you did it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like your reasons.

So really, what I guess I’m saying is that the characterisation is a problem no matter what perspective you take. If you know the history of the characters, then much of the interaction feels forced and uncomfortable. If you don’t, then even the characters who have been written reasonably well, feel like overused tropes that only has one setting – snark.

EW3Most new readers will probably find the plot interesting and intriguing, and be pleasantly surprised by the political commentary throughout. Ellis’ story is completely bizarre, but strangely believable as usual, but it’s still missing a real hook that would make someone want to pick up one of Marvel’s monthly titles. Despite it’s weirdness, the core concept seems unremarkable. My apathy for the plot itself is demonstrated by my inability to really say all that much about it.

Endless Wartime isn’t a bad book. It’s really good in places, actually. It looks beautiful in hardback, and has some really great design elements outside of the main story pages themselves, and I’m glad I waited to review it once my physical copy arrived, rather than based on its digital version. It’s often funny and clever, and has some excellent action scenes. It just suffers from the desire to appeal to an audience that is perhaps a little more savvy than the creative team is giving them credit for.

What Marvel is trying to do here is smart – release self contained stories, that don’t require the reader to know everyone’s back story or history to be able to make sense of the book. I’m really pleased that they are aiming to encourage new readers, but I’m just not sure they’re going the right way about it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E05 – The Girl in the Flower Dress

AoS_Girl_In_The_Flower_DressThe Girl in the Flower Dress is an insipid title for a TV episode, and that’s exactly what you can expect the fifth episode of Agents of SHIELD to be – insipid.

I found The Girl in the Flower Dress to be boring and a struggle to get through without becoming distracted, and when I was fully paying attention, I was rolling my eyes or groaning a majority of the time.  The script buckles under the weight of the corny dialogue that often breaks the elementary rule of ‘show don’t tell’. While it has potential to be a fun, fast paced, romp through Hong Kong, sadly the heavy handed cliches and scenery-chewing acting tip it over the edge from okay, to the wrong side of passable.

To get one thing straight though, I think it’s important to point out that before I write my reviews, I always ensure I’ve watched the episode at least twice. Often I can be affected by having a bad day (or the opposite), or I might just not be in the mood for the show when it’s straight out of the box. I watched the pilot three times before I realised I genuinely disliked it, and The Girl in the Flower Dress has had a similar treatment.

That’s not to say that everything about this episode is awful. There are some good moments, and some decent dialogue. Unfortunately the good points are all but drowned out by the bad.

Opening with a sweeping shot of Chinese lanterns, with a background of generic Asian music, isn’t a great start. The freak of the week is Chan Ho Yin, a street performer with the power of pyrokinesis. Considering the dynamic nature of his profession, an opening like last week’s Eye Spy would have been far more appropriate. A background of some C-Pop rather than the tired Oriental Riff would have grabbed my attention, instead of inducing the first eye roll of the episode.

This is also the moment where the titular ‘Girl in the Flower Dress’ appears. I think it’s clear from the get-go that, while the creative team was aiming for the potential romantic interest vibe, they missed the mark, instead hitting sinister a little prematurely. This means a moment which is clearly supposed to be a jump-scare loses its impact. Once again, Project Centipede is the main baddie, and they’re tinkering with Extremis again, gasp! Could they be a new incarnation of AIM? Ehhh seeing as a bunch of people have suggested this on tumblr, it’s probably likely. If it’s one thing this show consistently is, it’s predictable – not that that’s necessarily always a bad thing.

In regards to the team, there are some insights into Coulson and May’s relationship pre-stabbing, but otherwise there’s not really anything new here.

aos5Skye and Ward’s dynamic as SO and trainee is awkward and filled with all the wrong kind of tension. As you would expect, seeing as they start out playing battleship and snarking at each other at the beginning of the episode, one of them is going to do something to screw up the tentative friendship. That’s in the form of Skye doing something stupid with an old hacker buddy (you can guess what that is already, can’t you?) without seemingly considering the super-spy nature of her colleagues. There’s also some gratuitous and unnecessary underwear shots, that would be okay if they were somehow tasteful.

Fitz and Simmons finally make the leap from being a bit of light relief in a team of serious operators, to irritating. So far no writer has really made an attempt at separating the two characters, instead continuing to play on the idea that they’re two halves of a whole. I’m sure one of these days we’ll get an episode that suggests they may have their own brains, but this is not it.

Writer Brent Fletcher crams this episode with Whedonisms that drop like a sack of bricks. He also seems to forgo any sense of logic in many places – a world renowned hacker who honestly doesn’t consider someone having nefarious purposes, travel seeming to happen in the blink of an eye, Agent Cardboard acting like the most obvious spy on the planet (do I need to go back to that line about Black Widow from the pilot to express my disbelief here?) – those kind of plot points that have you shouting come on, how could you be so stupid? at your screen. While the silly suspension of disbelief moments were fine in previous episodes, I really grew tired of them here.

The development of Chan’s story is pretty predictable, his anger and disillusionment feeding his ego. The climax involves some laughable CG, and some extreme overacting on just about everyone’s part. Ruth Negga’s character Raina (flower dress girl), is clearly being set up as a big bad for the show, and this is reinforced with the after credits scene. If we’re going to see more of Raina, I hope she tones down the acting a bit, because while she certainly succeeds in being sinister, she’s also brilliant at laying it on so thick I’m afraid she’s going to suffocate herself.

While over all I disliked this episode, I really did enjoy some parts. May’s role was once again expanded, and I enjoy seeing her in action whether it’s physical or not. Despite Skye being written pretty horribly, Chloe Bennet’s acting is improving every week, and I’m actually starting to enjoy watching her on screen. She also has an important moment of character development at the end that had me breathing a sigh of relief, although it could be a big fake out. There are some interesting themes in the story, mostly surrounding doing things for the greater good – the lives of one over the lives of many, that kind of thing – but they are handled in such a heavy-handed way that it doesn’t really work.

The Girl in the Flower Dress is the kind of episode I can see being enjoyed by many, but for me, it fell pretty flat.

Rating: 4/10

Hawkeye #13 – Fraction / Aja / Hollingsworth

2It’s been such a long wait, but finally Hawkeye #13 is here. Honestly, I adore this title so much that even a month is too long between issues. Two and a half? Be right back, I’m in the corner shaking from withdrawal and telling myself everything is going to be okay.

Hawkeye #13 revolves around the aftermath of Grills’ death, which is a bit of a backtrack after Annual #1. I’m a big fan of nonlinear storytelling, but for those who aren’t, it could take a few pages before clicking to what’s going on. Don’t expect any Pizza Dog innovation here, but Aja is in fine form with his consistently beautiful art and page design, and Fraction’s strength in dialogue and character nuance shine.

Now let’s be honest here for a minute. Clint has a lot of man-pain in this series. Like… a lot of man-pain. What I really like about Fraction’s take on Clint’s personal demons though, is that his man-pain isn’t facilitated by fridging the women in his life, and he’s never removed of his own personal agency despite outward appearances. He chooses to deal with things in a shitty way. Clint is like us – a person who makes reactionary decisions that sometimes alienate those around him – ultimately endearing him to us as readers.

This book revolves around Clint reacting an awful lot. He reacts to Grills’ death. He reacts to working with Jessica after their break up. He reacts to Kate leaving with Lucky. He doesn’t react to everything in crappy ways, but even when he does, it’s incredibly stirring, heartbreaking, and real. When he makes good choices, they become even more poignant – a hug for Grills’ father, introducing Barney to the bropartment barbecuers – touching moments in the life of someone who is so well written, I sometimes believe he could be a real person.

Aja’s art is, as usual, pretty much faultless. As an artist myself, I really do struggle to understand how someone can put so much expression into a style so (deceptively) simple. Matt Hollingsworth’s colours are consistent in their muted beauty, conveying changes in perspective and narrative without ever feeling jarring or out of place, and he’s also very skilled in creating moods with a very limited palette.

Over all, Hawkeye #13 is an excellent issue that ties together a few storylines, knitting a story that’s otherwise jumped about together very effectively, while packing a real emotional punch. Thank goodness the next part is only a couple of weeks away, because I’m only being more and more sucked in as this title progresses.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ep.3: The Asset

ustv-marvel-agents-of-shield-the-asset-1So, we have reached episode three. If my life were an episode of Friends right now, it would probably be titled ‘The one where Kim decides whether or not she gives a shit’.

And I do. Give a shit, that is. After a shaky start, I think this show is starting to figure out what it is, and where it needs to be heading. Even if it’s not exactly what I had hoped for in an MCU based show, it’s fun, silly and unpretentious. The in-universe name drops are beginning to abate, and it’s becoming self aware in a way that’s amusing, rather than grating.

I didn’t enjoy The Asset quite as much as 0-8-4, but that’s probably thanks to – following the pilot. The sudden upturn in the acting and writing cast a rose coloured tint on 0-8-4, rather than it being a particularly successful episode of a television series in its own right. Where 0-8-4 was a sharp U-turn as far as my enjoyment is concerned, The Asset holds steady despite a few speed bumps, but ultimately succeeds in being an entertaining episode.

The Asset has one huge plus on its side, and that’s the introduction of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first new character from comics canon. I really love seeing the interpretations of both the heroes and the villains’ origin stories, and while I kind of wish Franklin Hall’s plot here was a bit less cliché, it’s a decent take on Graviton’s beginnings.

The show’s core characters are still finding their feet here, but Agent Cardboard does seem to be a bit less… stiff. Not an overwhelming shift, just more going from 5mm solid board down to the double sided corrugated stuff they use for boxes. Everyone else is largely the same as in 0-8-4 – Coulson is still solid and in character, Skye is still a bit annoying but mostly pretty okay, Fitz and Simmons are still adorable motormouths, and Melinda May still doesn’t say much while continuing to be the most interesting character on the screen. Here’s hoping for a bit more development in the next episode, now that all the introductions are over.

There are hints on what’s to come here, from Coulson’s unexplained and frustrating difficulty with a gun, through to the teaser after the final scene. I’m really thrilled that AoS is continuing with the end credits idea from the MCU films. It’s a great way to build anticipation, without relying on the obligatory next week on…

As with any show of this type, there are a bunch of plotholes, convenient coincidences, and just as many things that just don’t make any sense at all. The opening sequence shows Dr. Hall being transported in the back of a truck, driven by someone who appears to be just your run-of-the-mill truckie, but (of course) turns out to be a SHIELD agent. Skye gets an invite to a private party held by a power crazed billionaire after a few taps on her smartphone. There’s an incredibly rare element called gravitonium. Hall just happened to be FitzSimmon’s favourite teacher. Needless to say, there’s some pretty serious suspension of disbelief required, but it’s okay because The Asset is fun and entertaining.

The focus is once again mostly on our audience surrogate Skye. I get it, she’s pretty and cute, and it’s a neat thing to have a computer nerd who is a hot chick (they exist, who knew?). I really want to like her, and enjoy her story, but she’s still not quite interesting enough. I also really don’t like the forced tension being created between her and Agent Cardboard. Not only is it unnecessary, it also feels a bit condescending towards the audience.

There’s some neat scenes in the back half of the episode which feature the gravitonium (I’m sorry, I can’t not put that in italics, it’s just too funny) causing things to go haywire, while Skye is talking her way into Quinn’s (the power hungry billionaire dude) trust, and gets to have a moment where she successfully acts like an agent of SHIELD, followed by the sudden skill development being thankfully subverted. We also get a welcome character moment for Melinda May right at the end of the episode, which should mean plenty of action from her in episodes to come.

Part of the reason I was hoping for something a bit less gimmicky, and more political from this show, was because I enjoy the idea of exploring a more realistic side of the Marvel universe. Now that a precedent has been set for something a bit more OTT and less grounded, I’m happy enough to be along for the ride, but I think I’m still going to be hoping for something with a little more substance.

Rating: 7/10

Captain America: Living Legend #1 – Diggle/Granov

living-legendWhat is Captain America: Living Legend?

Well, three years late, is a good place to start. This four part miniseries was supposed to be released in the lead up to the Captain America: The First Avenger (albeit under a different title), and it’s been shelved ever since. Now, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie around the corner, I guess they figured the right time is now.

I’ve been looking forward to this title for a while, mostly because I dropped Remender’s Captain America on issue 5, not caring for his problematic, pointless, and at times out of character story, or for JRJR’s ugly art. All I was looking for in this book was a decent story and solid art – anything to wipe what’s happening in the character’s current ongoing story from my memory.

On this front, Living Legend delivers. It’s not a great title by any means, but it’s engaging and interesting enough to have me looking forward to the next issue. Diggle’s writing is solid, although the story lacks cohesiveness at times, and it’s nice to see Steve back in character again.

The story begins in 1945 Germany, skips through Soviet era Siberia, and ends up in the present day. From WWII, to space, and finally the Helicarrier. Much of the start of the issue is taken up introducing the character who will be the main protagonist, and this doesn’t leave a lot of room for Steve, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good set up for the next three issues, but if #2 doesn’t feature a less disjointed narrative, then the title may be in trouble.

The issue is illustrated by the celebrated Adi Granov. He’s best known for ultra-detailed work, and that’s certainly what you can expect here. Fans of Granov’s work will be excited to see a full issue featuring his art. Sadly, I once again found myself decidedly underwhelmed. I have never been a fan of Granov’s, and while I can appreciate the technical skill, I always find it leaving me cold. His lack of expression (and I don’t mean facial) and movement, as well as his characters looking placed in their environments, rather than interacting with them, is something I struggle with. The page design is also uninspiring – although he does take some risks in places, it just doesn’t quite work.

Living Legend is also filled with his trademark teeth baring expressions, as well as almost grotesque looking characters. I was also unsurprised to see Sharon Carter looking exactly the same as just about every female character Granov has ever drawn, just with blonde hair. Interestingly, I found the less detailed panels far better. When he takes the focus off creating something photo realistic, his work can really shine.

Living Legend is a little bit of a let down, but far, far better than Remender’s current ongoing. The sci-fi element looks like it could pan out to be interesting, and Andy Diggle’s writing is nothing to sneeze at. Those who share my opinion of Adi Granov’s art, may be pleased to hear the rest of the miniseries will be illustrated by Agustin Alessio, so here’s hoping there’s more dynamic movement between panels next issue.

Over all, definitely worth a read if you’re a Cap fan, but don’t set your expectations too high.