May 4, 2012

It’s An Avengers World Now

The Avengers movie is here. Resistance is futile.

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In case you haven’t noticed, I’m excited about the new Avengers movie. For example — I was in a cab yesterday and the driver was listening to 1010 WINS news radio. My first thought was — I’m being 100% honest — “why aren’t they talking about the Avengers movie?” Then sanity returned and I remembered that there are other things happening in the world. There are even people who don’t care about The Avengers.

That’s fine. Really, it is. I’ve accepted the fact that not everyone is a comic book fan, and not everyone wants to see live action super hero movies. That said, I am happy to report that anyone who skips The Avengers because they think they don’t like that sort of thing is missing out on some excellent, “Excelsior!” level entertainment. If you don’t know what “Excelsior!” means, don’t worry about it. The Avengers movie is done with a fine sense of balance, designed to please lifelong fans such as myself while simultaneously staying accessible to people who think Hawkeye is the guy from M*A*S*H. (Read Jeanne Sager’s review at Cafe Mom’s The Stir for a more detailed review from someone who is not a big Avengers fan and loved the film anyway. Possible spoilers there, if you care about such things.)

“Excelsior!” is one of the catch-phrases of Stan Lee, the creator of many of the characters on display in The Avengers. More importantly, Stan The Man is the architect of the Marvel Universe. What Joss Whedon has done in The Avengers is piece together all of the seemingly disparate elements from multiple Marvel movies and make them into a magnificient masterpiece of merry mayhem.

(Geek Gold Card Note: technically this version of The Avengers is based on Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, especially Nick Fury, who in The Ultimates comic books was drawn so that he looked like Samuel L. Jackson, the actor who has been playing him onscreen since Iron Man in 2008. Not knowing this knowledge is unlikely to diminish your enjoyment of The Avengers. However, Geek Gold Card membership rules require that I point this out.)

One of the many innovations Marvel introduced to the world of comic books is that the stories were set in the quote-unquote real world, with most of the tales taking place in New York City. Peter Parker lived in Forest Hills, Queens. The Baxter Building (home of The Fantastic Four) is in Manhattan. Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters (X-Men central) is in Westchester. There is an early ’60s issue of The X-Men where Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, and Hank McCoy, aka Beast, take their girlfriends to a beat poetry reading at Coffee A-Go-Go (named for the real-life Cafe au Go Go) in Greenwich Village. (The poet, Bernard The Poet, is even a recurring character.)

DC Comics, which are older, have made up cities for each hero. Superman is in Metropolis; Batman, Gotham City, Green Arrow, Star City; Flash, Central City… and so on. Part of the reason for this is that the DC characters were created in a different time, often by different creators, sometimes from different companies.

For the most part, the Marvel Universe comics fans know and love was created by Stan and his terrifically talented team of titanic textual troubadors. (Yeah, I know, but I wanted to keep the alliteration engine humming.) This means that the characters have a history with one another, as well as a shared sense of place. Its not that this isn’t true of the DC heroes. I’m a gigantic fan of the animated Justice League series and the entire DC Animated Universe, largely because of the way the writers skillfully pieced the various series – Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, even the oft-overlooked but quite excellent Static Shock – together.

The DCAU is a good model for what Marvel is creating onscreen. I say “is”, present-tense, because there will be many more Marvel movies, audiences and Nerdy Diety-willing. The seeds were planted in Iron Man, and they have grown into a world-tree of big screen comic book movie greatness.

In the trailer, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow tells Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, “This is nothing we were ever trained for.” For Marvel fans, the opposite is true. We’ve been waiting to see these characters played by real-live actors on the big screen for a long time. That time is now. Avengers fans… Assemble.

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