Friday, May 20, 2011

New Avengers: Illuminati

Got this graphic novel compilation for the fact that my favorite Marvel character, Dr. Strange figures prominently in it. And to have other Marvel heavy hitters like Iron Man, Professor Charles Xavier and Reed Richards in it was just too tempting to pass up.


I wouldn’t say that it was a must read but given that it prefigures into the reason behind the Secret Invasion, I say that that alone was price of admission.

This edition collects Illuminati 1-5 and shows the collective force of Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Iron man, Namor, Professor X and Black Bolt of the Inhumans and how they operate along the sidelines, if not, behind the scenes at some of the cataclysmic Marvel events and how they were able to do some damage control thereby proving to be a worthy force to be reckoned with. And reckon with and deal with extraterrestrial events this secret group sure did; from handling the Infinity Gems of the Gauntlet (love that the Gauntlet resurfaces albeit briefly), the encounter with the Beyonder during the Secret Wars saga of the 80’s, to the “reforming” of Captain Mar-vell and more recently, the discovery of the Skrull presence on Earth.

But as such with power come both the responsibility in wielding it and the line that one has to draw to prevent such wanton misuse and thereby blurring that same line and changes the hero from champion into a walking power hungry ego with legs and superhuman ability.

The Civil War penned Bendis storyline has shown that our heroes aren’t perfect and are subject to the same flaws and judgement-error phases that ordinary people go through and this compilation is no different. Is that credit to Bendis’ writing? Perhaps. Or is it the natural progression of heroes nowdays in Comics to embody their real life reader counterparts and be given angst, pride, distrust and all other emotional facets that make us tick.

So did the compilation do its trick or job to clue me in? It didn’t exactly tick me off and made me conclude that it would be a useless gesture to read this because it doesn’t supplement or create more depth to the Secret Invasion. But what it did show me that this Marvel crisis was something that was painstakingly planned well. The foundations were certainly laid down well and justified the progression of the Skrull crisis.

For an added history lesson into that crisis and ties to the Skrul-Kree dynamic and how they relate to Earth, then yes read it. But if you don’t really want to know the laying-in of bricks and mortar to the whole scene and would just want to stroll into the building itself and get to the heart of the conflict, then by all means, walk along and go straight to Secret Invasion.

But then again a little more knowledge never hurt anyone. So still try it out. Who knows you may like it and appreciate Secret Invasion. I know I did. Only after reading it a second time. I may even have appreciated it the first time, had I read this first.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Catching up with SEIGE

Finally catching up with the Marvel event that shook the Marvel Universe, I must say that this is another must collect event from Brian Michael Bendis.

Following events from Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Civil War and the recent return of Thor courtesy of J.Michael Strazynski's run, this hardcover collection comes in the heels of mixed opinions regarding the presence of Asgard in Midgard. In the vernacular, it means that THOR has revived his kingdom of Asgard and had it floating atop the plains of Oklahoma and this in turn doesn't sit well with Norman Osborne, aka GreenGoblin and now head of H.A.M.M.E.R., an organization that replaced Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D. following the events of Secret Invasion and Civil War.

Just when you think that it couldn't get any worse (for the characters) and any better (for us readers), Bendis just gives us another event to die for and worth collecting.

Osborne has made a deal with Thor's duplicitous brother, Loki, to "remove" Asgard from Earth and has agreed that Osborne's forces will do the deed as it will be also to Loki's benefit to return Asgard to its rightful place, minus THOR, who currently was in exile following his actions in his own title, and thus leaving Balder his brother to rule Asgard in his stead and fully receptive to Loki's suggestions.

And this is where you get your bucks worth of the Bang you have come to enjoy since Bendis has written event after event for Marvel. Expect Superheroes like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and other Avengers fighting to counter the attack on Asgard made by Osborne in his own iron suit.

Who wins? Well, both sides suffer losses for sure but not for naught.

Read on to know what SIEGE is all about as we anticipate the next MARVEL event to be collected, which is currently running called, FEAR ITSELF, and features the machinations of the Red Skull and appearance of the God of Fear!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thor: To be or Not to be...

It seems I may have to recant my earlier statement in a blog about Lightning never striking in the same place twice. In my case, most recently in the most recent viewing of the movie version of Thor, based on the Marvel comic superhero, I gladly put myself out there to be struck again, again and again.

The summer movie has obviously begun and Thor, among other Superhero films was just one of the films that had a lot going for it, much less the anticipation of the treatment much lauded by initial articles chronicling the journey of its making by Shakespearean veteran actor and director, Kenneth Branagh.

Prior to the film, I already did my homework by getting whatever material, meaning graphic novel I can in order to know more about this iconic Marvel character. To label him as such & to attribute some groundbreaking element to the character by Marvel may be somewhat misplaced as Thor is an actual character, depicted in the mythical stories of the Viking lands. Yes, he is that same Thor in Norse mythology.

Like the original source material, the movie does introduce Thor aptly as a God. He is the son of Odin, the all father and Nordic counterpart of the Greek god Zeus and the Roman counterpart. Although he is not explicitly addressed as the God of Thunder, there really was no need to.
But what actor/director Kenneth Branagh seems to find and deem necessary was to make this God relatable to humans. Given his Shakespearean background, he was the best director needed to introduce Asgard and all its glory. Like most, my initial reaction to Hemsworth’s casting as the lead was that he was not accurately chosen and when the first still shots were released, I found Thor to be too scruffy and far from the clean cut Viking that we all have grown up with. There were also leaked preliminary pictures of the costume that had loyalists criticizing the make and the changes that were made as compared to the comic books. But in spite of the “minor” changes, Thor still had his golden mane going for him; which is why he is fondly called “Goldilocks” by the members of the Avengers in the comic books.

The still showed him to be far from the image that we all grew up and perhaps it is this dated image of Thor that Branagh consciously stepped away from in order to make him relatable to modern audiences.

Another decision of Branagh that I liked was how he humanized Thor and given these Gods human qualities and tribulations, which was my issue with Thor from the beginning and never warmed up to his characterization even during my initial “research”. I felt that these Gods were already developed as they were, inwardly and out. What more could they yearn for. What more could they work towards to. If we were a physical embodiment and representation of gods on earth, might not they be a reflection of us as well?

The film begins with Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, now an Astrophysicist, as opposed to a nurse in the comic books, is in the Nevada desert searching for weather pattern anomalies and the existence of wormholes together with her colleagues, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stella Skarsgard), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). Much to her delight and surprise an anomaly occurs, which she investigates and documents only to find Thor in the center of the maelstrom disoriented and oblivious to where he is.

But Thor has more than a good reason to be so. In fact, he has just come from an ordeal and cast out of Asgard by Odin following his impulsive decision to attack the world of Jotunheim, inhabited by his father’s arch enemy, Laufey, King of the Frost Giants.

This decision stems from an earlier and covert attempt made by Laufey’s minions to steal the Casket of Ancient Winters within Asgards vault. That attempt disrupted Thor’s ascent to the throne of Asgard and prompted him to retaliate and attack the Frost Giants along with The Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander), the Warriors Three, Volstagg, Hogun as well the dashing and debonair Fandral; and finally Thor’s own scheming brother, Loki, brilliantly played and perfectly casted by Tom Hiddleston.

Tom’s initial casting was the one thing I liked early on and was thus rewarded in the film. Apart from Hemsworth groupies, I have no doubt Hiddleston’s minions are gathering as we speak. And from the looks of it, I would be enrolling myself in both camps, willingly.

As seen in the trailer, Thor’s journey to being a better king involved him being cast out from Asgard by his Father Odin and it is here on Earth that he truly finds his potential and purpose. He learns that part of being royalty is not just rushing into things, demanding they be fixed through swift action and likewise deliver results but also in pacing oneself and seeing the wisdom in each and every act knowing that the act itself prefigures results, if not consequences.

While others may find the film “clunky” at times, I did not get such an impression and it is to Branagh’s directing that he is able to pace the story and slowly reveal the twists and history of the characters as the film progresses as opposed to the standard linear presentation of a story with the back-story starting things off and working its way to resolving conflict in the present. The score by Patrick Doyle also soars and complements the action and introspective moments of the film. And while it may not have the memorable and recurring themes of Middle Earth as done by Howard Shore, it still gives us the viewer the sense of urgency of the politics and grandeur of Asgard and the journey that this Asgardian must take to attain proper godhood.

Being Wiccan, I certainly got a kick out of it when the symbols of the Triquetra were promimently seen on the golden columns in the walls of Asgard. It was also seen on Thor’s hammer and would magically appear whenever it is in search of the “worthy” one. It was great for Branagh to observe and include that. Of course, I couldn’t help but tweet about it when I went to see the film of the first day. And we are only three in the cinema! Talk about early!

Some of the film’s emotional moments that I felt relatable to me and surprisingly got choked up and teary eyed were Thor’s discovery upon trying to lift his mystical hammer, Mjolnir; his guilt at having been the cause of Odin’s fate as presented by Loki and his own admission for the lesson that Odin had sought to teach him and thus be vindicated and recognized in the end. My friend told me that I had parent issues. Perhaps I do. It will be close to 4 years since my father had passed away and not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for the life I have and how profoundly his decisions have shaped and changed my life.

While watching the film, I felt as if I was seeing my own trial as a son working his way to seek his father’s approval, but then again don’t we all? And when we are finally left with the prospect of deciding for ourselves after being made worthy to do so, we still seek the comforting and reassuring hand of a parent on our shoulder telling us that we are on the right track and that they are proud of what we have accomplished and of the journey that we have taken thus far.

So watch it and know how it is to be struck by lightning. And like me should you find yourself wanting to be struck again, know this. You are not the only one.

For Asgard!!!