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My Week in Comics: Avengers Assemble

The moment has arrived. The follow up to 2009 smash hit blockbuster has officially landed in cinemas. Grossing $44.8 million at the international box office in just two days, Age of Ultron is already a hulk-sized success, so it’s no surprise that this week the majority of comics’ news is centred around the Marvel super-group!

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

My past week has focused almost exclusively on the return of the Avengers. As the team assembled in London this week for the international premiere, my sights were set on getting a glimpse of the stars in person. (Not as a creepy stalker: see previous post on fandom here: https://faceittiger.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/embrace-the-fandom/.)

On Tuesday night, I scored a ticket to the filming of the Graham Norton show, which promised Avengers star guests. Of course, I was front and centre – and I wasn’t disappointed as Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Elizabeth Olsen settled themselves on the infamous red couch. Straight from the premiere at Shepherd’s Bush, the trio were in good form, and shared some fantastic stories. We were in the studio for well over 2 hours, but you can see the cut version now on iplayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05s769y/the-graham-norton-show-series-17-episode-3.

There have been a number of heated talking points around the Avengers’ various press junkets this past week. From sexist slurs to unprofessional and inappropriate journalism, it’s all been covered, making the Avengers a bigger talking point than just a new movie.

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Let’s begin with the area that bothered me the most. The sexism. May I begin by pointing out that Black Widow has once again been left off all the Age of Ultron merchandise? There are no toys, no t-shirts, no lunchboxes. She’s a big part of the movies, and even has a more independent storyline in this instalment (with rumours of her own film surfacing once again – yes please!), and the only major female connection girls have into the MCU Avengers franchise. So why is she not being included? There’s a market for it – a loud and proud one – so why is Black Widow being pushed to the side in favour of Iron Man, Cap, and Hawkeye (seriously – HAWKEYE.)

This leads nicely into Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans’ ignorant response regarding Black Widow in an interview earlier in the week. The pair were asked about Black Widow’s new relationship in the movie, and how surprised the interviewer was that it wasn’t with Hawkeye or Captain America, given their close relationships in past movies. Renner and Evans responded in a juvenile manner, explaining that Johansson’s character is a “whore” and “slut”, laughing the question off. Now, press junkets must be boring. I can’t even imagine how tedious it must be to answer the same questions repeatedly throughout a press tour around the globe. So, yes, I understand how having a laugh probably eases the monotony of this. But – these people have a responsibility. Particularly when you’re embodying Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in one of the biggest franchises of our time. It’s not okay to speak about women – or anyone – like that. They need to remember they are role models and real life heroes for so many people.

Their comments were particularly damaging considering what I’ve already stated about Black Widow’s underrepresentation. It’s only further highlighting the problems we have with the representation of women in media, particularly in comics and film. It seems Johansson’s character can’t be defined by her ass-kicking ability, her dark history and how she’s overcome it, or her independent character. Nope, it’s about men and who she’s dating. And the response didn’t even acknowledge the fact that she’s her own person: an independent woman capable of making her own choices that don’t need to be justified to anyone. I have to admit, I wasn’t overly surprised Renner was involved in this, and his insincere apology has only furthered this opinion on the actor. But Chris Evans is a different story. A strong actor who interviews well (this incident aside…) and comes across favourably in social media, Evans is one of the last men on earth I want to be upset with. He’s Captain America for goodness sake! He has since apologised for the comments, and seems to understand how damaging they can be. Want to read more? There’s a fantastic article on Nerdist recapping the incident and its impact which you can read here: http://nerdist.com/yes-jeremy-renner-and-chris-evans-black-widow-comments-are-problematic/

Sometimes it’s the interviewer, rather than the interviewee, who can get it totally wrong. Yes, I’m talking about channel 4’s interview with Robert Downey Jr, conducted by Krishnan Guru-Murphy. Now, warning signals tend to go off whenever Guru-Murphy’s involved. A terrible “journalist” who seeks to provoke rather than investigate, he appears to be increasingly relying on controversy to remain relevant and, well, on TV rather than actually doing a good job as a reporter. From provoking Tarantino on his use of violence in movies (when he should have been talking about Django Unchained), to questioning Richard Ayoade about being a black man in the British entertainment industry (when he should’ve been talking about Ayoade’s book), he frequently strays from the topic at hand to provoke and annoy his interviewees. Tarantino famously “shut his butt down”, and Ayoade handled it very well, flipping the interview onto Guru-Murphy, clearly making him uncomfortable with his own journalistic “style” – or lack thereof. Perhaps he’s gunning to be the Katie Hopkins of Channel 4. But, next on his hit list was Robert Downey Jr. In the press room to promote Age of Ultron, Downey Jr gladly answered questions about Iron Man and his relationship with the character. The interview was going well, and Downey Jr was perfectly polite and responsive to the questions. But then it turned, Guru-Murphy hulked out – but not in a cool, green, building-smashing giant way. In a completely idiotic way: a way that he knew would get him thousands of hits on youtube (it’s interesting to note Channel 4 have disabled comments from being posted on the video).

Now, what I find totally, completely and utterly inappropriate about this is not that he’s questioning Robert Downey Jr about his difficult and dark past – a topic which has been covered a zillion times before. But the fact that he wanted to pry into his family life, asking if he still blames his father for his drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not investigative journalism, or professional etiquette in the slightest. That’s poking a bear with a pointy stick in the hope it attacks. RDJ was totally right to walk out. He wasn’t rude or unjustified. The actor has pulled himself out of a difficult place and really made something of himself. He’s secured himself in a successful franchise, and started a family. He regularly does charity work, and he supports independent films to aid rising stars of the industry. If you really need to reopen the scar which has been picked at for years now, ask him how he feels about the change he’s made in his life and how he’s going to continue to improve. Provoking him by asking how he feels about his relationship with his father is unnecessary, irrelevant and unprofessional – particularly when he’s there to talk about the film.

But there are occasionally moments of brilliance in times of interviewing crisis. Cosmopolitan magazine (Yes, I was shocked too) decided to flip the table when talking to Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson this week, and it was great. They both entered into the spirit of it, and I think Ruffalo’s embracing and accepting of the idea was fantastic, fully acknowledging inherently sexist habits in celebrity interviews. Hopefully this will open the doors to a world where both men and women can answer the thought provoking questions, and no one will ever be asked again “who are you wearing?!” – because, really, who cares?

But the controversy doesn’t stop there! Nope, Age of Ultron has kicked up a storm! Some loud voices are angry at a comment made by Iron Man during the movie as he tries to lift Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. He refers to “reinstating Prima Nocta”, and the ‘mewling quim’ doors from the Avengers have been reopened and JOSS WHEDON IS A HORRIBLE SEXIST PIG!

No. Let’s calm down.

First of all – let’s have a show of hands of who, off the top of their heads, knows what Prima Nocta means? Who, as soon as the words slipped from Tony Starks’ mouth as he joked with his friends, stormed out of the cinema, cursing Whedon and his family?

Not being one of these people, I googled the phrase when I saw people were unhappy about it. Apparently best known for its use in the absolutely 100% historically accurate movie Braveheart, it refers to the practise of a nobleman being with a peasant woman on her wedding night instead of her new husband. These traditions have been referred to throughout history, but it’s disputed as to whether or not it was ever actually a real law, leaning closer to the ‘it’s not real’ camp.

Regardless, it was referenced in Age of Ultron, and voices have cried “rape!” It seems very unlikely to me that Whedon, the openly feminist writer and director who has created some of the most kick-ass women in film and television history (Buffy, hello!), would deliberately celebrate the idea of reinstating laws where a nobleman could take a peasant woman against her will on her wedding night. It could well be a poke at the idea Whedon didn’t know what ‘mewling quim’ meant when he wrote it into Avengers Assemble, using an old-world term of phrase that sounds impressive, but is incredibly tongue in cheek. It could be a reflection of Iron Man’s arrogance – and the fact he’s a notorious playboy. Or yes, it could be a throwaway rape joke that shouldn’t be there. Words are powerful and have meaning, but taken in the grander scheme of things, this has gotten a little out of hand. Rape jokes are not funny, and completely unnecessary, but in context of the film, that’s not what this is. It’s possibly people looking a bit too far into something which isn’t there. The lesson: don’t take Braveheart as gospel truth.

MARVELous

It’s not all Avenger news this week though! Let’s take a look at what else has been going on.

Netflix’s super series, Daredevil, has already been signed for a second season! Hopefully we won’t have to wait until the other Hells Kitchen shows have aired to meet the bigger bads in Daredevil’s world!

In All-New X-Men, Iceman (Bobby Drake) has officially come out! This has obviously caused some outrage and confusion amongst X-Men readers and fans, but the character’s sexuality has been in question since the late 1980’s. Exploring the internet, the outrage is evident: many are convinced it’s a marketing ploy, some believe it is exploiting sexuality to sell more issues, and others believe it’s the devils work. But it’s encouraging to see some embracing the change and celebrating the fact there’s an openly homosexual character in a popular comic book. Long-running comics like the X-Men pass through so many different hands of writers, artists, editors, and producers that change will happen; good and bad. I don’t believe it’s an event to sell more issues, but to reflect our changing times and how diverse and tolerant the Western World is becoming.

Marvel has also announced that they have officially teamed up with Telltale Games for a 2017 release! More news will be coming soon!

HAHAHA – Don’t Make Me Laugh

Jared Leto’s new look as the Joker in upcoming film, Suicide Squad, has officially been released. The internet doesn’t quite know how to feel – and to be honest, neither do I. The Joker has had so many changes and inconsistencies over the years, it’s difficult to say “that’s not the Joker”. His constant state of flux is a large part of his appeal. But it’s not the Joker. It’s an embarrassing attempt to be edgy. Yes, I understand at this point he will have been through years of mental and physical struggles, and yeah, he’s crazy. But who is dumb enough to tattoo the Joker – stick moving pins in and out of his skin?! I can’t really see him sitting in a chair for a few hours, or picking out fonts to have ‘Damaged’ scrolled across his forehead. I also don’t see him as believing himself to be damaged. If anyone with dyed hair and tattoos is a psychotic criminal, we should probably all be locked up. Although it’s clearly a reference to Brian Bolland’s art in The Killing Joke, it doesn’t work. Nope. I’m not a fan. But I’m reserving full judgement until we’ve seen the trailer.

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The Dark Knight Returns – AGAIN

It was announced yesterday that Frank Miller will be returning to DC for a third instalment of his Dark Knight books. Frequently hailed as some of the greatest Batman comics, fandom is abuzz with excitement to see what Miller does next. The Dark Knight III will be released Fall 2015

Drop Outs and Sign Ups

When DC manage to take a step forward, they end up backtracking about 20 steps, particularly in their movie franchises. Wonder Woman’s Emmy-award winning director, Michelle McLaren, dropped out of the project for undisclosed reasons. She has been replaced by Patty Jenkins, so it’s a relief to see a woman is still in charge of the first female-led superhero blockbuster. However, McLaren’s departure is concerning. Hopefully this switch of director means we’ll still see Wonder Woman on the big screen in 2017.

Keen to keep DC on their toes, Marvel has found its writers for Captain Marvel in Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out). They’re determined to have strong female voices resonate throughout every aspect of the film, which is very pleasing to hear. Rumour has it Angelina Jolie is forerunner for the 2018 female led-features’ director.

REVIEWS

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4

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If you’ve not picked up Squirrel Girl yet, you’re seriously missing out. It’s so much fun, I even enjoy reading the Previously page! Yes, it’s silly, but it’s also fantastic. There’s real heart behind the nuts. This issue confronts the ridiculousness of gendered language, as well as the meaning of being a hero (okay, that second one is in, like, every supers book…). But where else can you find a fun, family-friendly, female led superhero comic, where the heroine in question can defeat both Galactus and Thanos – and doesn’t always need to punch people into oblivion to do it?! Smarts, not scars. That should be her slogan!

Thor #7

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Why are you reading this instead of Thor? Stop – go pick it up now!

I particularly loved the final page of this issue, where Thor Odinson has rounded up the mightiest heroes he knows, and it’s the women of the Marvel universe. I need it as a poster to display proudly on my wall. I’m so excited for issue 8 – where we finally learn her identity!

What I particularly love about this new Thor is the fact that she is confronting the idea of being a strong female superhero, and why she constantly has to justify it. Why shouldn’t a woman be worthy of holding the power of Thor? It’s also great to see that she’s consistently drawn as muscular and athletic. I would kill for her arms. But she’s not scrawny, or scantily dressed. She’s how a female God of Thunder – or anyone who throws a heavy hammer around while beating the bad guys – would look.

Giant Days #2

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BOOM!’s new book, Giant Days, finds its stride in this second issue, which I enjoyed a lot more than the first. Confronting the horrific realities of Freshers Flu, the comic is genuinely funny and has a great dynamic. It’s a very real look at female friendships, whilst all the characters have their own independent struggles. I think this is a book which will grow more in each issue, and I plan to keep reading. The art is fantastic – a nice change from a lot of the styles in popular comics today. BOOM’s creator owned line is growing to be very strong, and I look forward to seeing what else they throw at us.

Archie vs Predator

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Well, this is a cross-over I didn’t believe until I saw it sitting on the shelf. It works, in a very weird way. Archie and the gang win a holiday to a tropical island, and accidentally bring home a Predator – literally. The idea and execution is so ridiculous that it’s fantastic. The Archie element is like a teen soap-opera from the 1940s, but the addition of Predator makes that a little more bearable and intriguing.

My only concern with AvP is that I sincerely hope it’s a parody. Having never read Archie comics, I don’t know how the usual group dynamic normally reads, but I pray it’s not like this. If it is a parody, AvP does a great job at portraying the stereotypical tropes found in the horror genre when a group of young friends go exploring together, only to run into danger. The guys are slick and sleazy, and the girls live to impress them and dress in amazing clothes. This is funny – if it’s a joke. But what troubled me is that it may not be. Archie comics could be about this world of couples, where the girls only live to impress the guys and the guys chase whatever girl looks prettiest. If that’s the case, it should have stayed in the 1940s when that was the American dream. Even when you’re fighting monstrous space creatures, your audience needs to be taken into account, no matter how crisp and clean your stories are.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2

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Another re-imagining of a classic series from Archie comics, but very different from AvP, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a chilling old-school horror/folklore feel to it. It’s creepy and reads like a Grimm fairytale. Similarly, the art style is anything but the clean lines you’d expect from Archie. Instead it’s scratchy and distressed, harking back to EC horror comics of the 1940s. This isn’t a recreation of the Melissa Joan Hart series I watched growing up as a child, but rather a dark tale of witchcraft and devilry. It almost read like an old romance comic that had gone wrong, warning the dangers of a woman scorned. I found Chilling Adventures of Sabrina neither good nor bad, but intriguing. I’m interested to see what direction they take with it long-term. Plus, you can’t fault anything with sassy Salem the cat!

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