Comic Review: New X-Men – E is for Extinction (2001)

New X-MenE is for Extinction (2001)
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quitely

Rating: A-

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely becoming the creative team of the newly retitled New X-Men was a very successful effort to revitalize the X-Men brand. After a few years of being relatively forgettable, Morrison and Quitely made changes to the team that still play a major part in the comics more than ten years later, and created elements that would be incorporated into the up-and-down film franchise.

E is for Extinction is the first story arch of their sizable tenure. It introduces the concept of secondary evolution, which has X-Men mainstay Beast changing from his old self into a more feline body, while telepath Emma Frost develops the secondary ability to change her whole body into nearly impenetrable diamond (a trait that is also shown in her minor appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and her supporting role in X-Men First Class). Perhaps a more obvious change for the crew is that with this shift in creative teams the group has also shifted from individualized outfits to more basic and matching suits that emphasize that they are indeed a team of superheroes and don’t operate as individuals.

The story of E is for Extinction is outstanding; a new villain called Cassandra Nova is hellbent on destroying mutants to make way for what she claims will be the next phase of evolution. Although she doesn’t have the same level of charisma as Magneto or the pure cool factor of Apocalypse, she is a strong villain on the basis of the fact that she is so powerful that it is pretty terrifying. By the end of the three issues worth that comprise the storyline (and three-quarters of the trade release), she has managed to rack up a body count in the millions.

Morrison and Quitely have worked together a lot since this run, but E is for Extinction really made the X-Men cool again. The spirit of this book is so important because it modernized the X-Men in a way that was later carried on into Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men and is still an important part of what the X-Men are. With all of this in mind, it is really essential reading for anyone with an interest in the X-Men in print.

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves

Rating: B+

Rebooting a franchise that had three films making just about a billion dollars each in box office sales only five years after the last in the series doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Despite terrible reviews for the final chapter, Sam Raimi’s film version of Spider-man was popular and made a completely ridiculous amount of money. Why start fresh? It was hard not to wonder before going in to see The Amazing Spider-man, but now it makes a lot more sense.

While the Raimi trilogy was enjoyable in spite of some problems (Tobey Maguire was never great as Spidey, Kirsten Dunst was cute at times and unbearable at others), this new reboot of Spider-man directed by Marc Webb is the real Spider-man that comic book readers have been hoping for since the web-slinger originally made it to the big screen. It is a significantly more faithful adaptation, featuring Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy rather than Mary Jane (who was a much later girlfriend in the comics), and getting rid of the film Spider-man’s natural web-slinging ability in favor of the technology based wrist attachments of the comics. Most importantly, though, is the tone; Raimi’s trilogy was too light to be taken seriously, while Webb has just enough grit and the right kind of humor to make a film that feels decidedly more like the real Spider-man.

Andrew Garfield is a perfect encapsulation of the two major versions of Spider-man in comics, the traditional Earth-616 incarnate that you would see in any Spider-man comic, and Ultimate Spider-man, the slightly younger modern reimagining that started not long before the Raimi franchise. Garfield has the awkward nerdiness and the humor exactly right, with much help from a really great script. Emma Stone is absolutely perfect, adorable, and brilliant as Gwen Stacy, which makes for her inevitable exit in some film to come all the more unfortunate.

If The Lizard is a villain you appreciated from the comics or the animated show, you are significantly more likely to be pleased with him as a villain in The Amazing Spider-man. Fans who are more used to Venom or Dr. Octopus may find him a little tepid, and his character could have been slightly better executed in the new film, but anyone who grew up watching the Spider-man cartoon in the 90’s probably got as excited as I did seeing the Lizard wearing that battered lab coat. Rhys Ifans plays the part of Dr. Curt Connors perfectly, although the visual representation of the Lizard following his transformation sometimes looks a bit awkward.

The type of viewer who never reads a comic book and whose only exposure to Spider-man is his appearances in live action films is much more likely to be disappointed with this movie than someone who reads the stories or watched the cartoons. The Amazing Spider-man is really the Spider-man for comic books fans, whereas Raimi’s trilogy was the Spider-man for popcorn movie goers. Both have their merits but the fact is that, aside from Alfred Molina’s outstanding role as Doc Ock in Spider-man 2, The Amazing Spider-man improves in every department.

Improbable Avengers Astonishes Almost Everyone

The idea of making a strong super hero “team” film like The Avengers seemed just about impossible. By the very nature of a comic book team like the Avengers, it is a rather daunting task to fit all the characters into ANY medium without making it seem cluttered or just like it has too much going on. Films like the much-maligned Spiderman 3 are criticized for having too many villains (at a whopping three), and Avengers is suppose to have seven heroes (if you count leader Nick Fury)? Even in the television version of Justice League, DC Comics’ super hero all-star team equivalent, the storylines tend to have two or three primary heroes and spotlight someone else the next time out. It is just a more logical way to get good storytelling and character development.

Somehow, Joss Whedon managed to give every single character on the team a very fair amount of screen time. You would probably have a hard time finding any Marvel fan who felt that their favorite character was slighted. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man may have gotten slightly more than anyone else, but it wasn’t a dramatic difference, and it made perfect sense considering the success of the Iron Man films and his general star power. Whedon at this point has essentially put his name in the running for the most important nerd writer for his era. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is arguably the best urban fantasy series ever. Firefly is a cult classic and held by many in high esteem among all science fiction shows. Serenity, the film version of Firefly, is often placed very high on lists of the greatest science fiction films of all time, and Whedon’s comic book runs on Astonishing X-Men and the continuation of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have been absolutely thrilling critics since they began. Now he has managed to write and direct what is arguably the best superhero movie of all time— the only real competition for it being Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

Saying anything bad at all about the film seems like grasping at straws. Some have criticized that it appeals too much to comic book fans and doesn’t have a lot for non-comic book readers, but the general fan reaction has pretty much put the kibosh on that. Maybe there should have been some memory refreshing in terms of the Tesseract and how it came into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s possession, but eh. Is it really that important? There was some worry about the casting change of Mark Ruffalo taking over for Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, but Ruffalo is actually superior to Norton in the role. Loki didn’t sound like he would the most excellent villain for the film, but he was sinister and pretty brilliant. Does anyone have anything bad to say about The Avengers?