Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bruja Judge

This week was the anniversary of the French Recognition of Haiti, which may have been expressed as “Mon Dieu! Bonjour Haïti, je pensais que c'était toi, mais je n'étais pas sûr au début!", I’m not entirely sure, I wasn’t there at the time.

Haiti as we are told, in Dredd’s time is the island state of Bruja, approximately, which is an unfortunately auspicious name, for ‘Bruj’ means witch, and Haiti in popular culture usually boils down to drugs or voodoo. Sorry, Haiti.  The Judge Dredd Megazine of the early Nineties decided to dilute such généralisations when its turn came up and it made Bruja a merciless police state as well; as seen in Robbie Morrison’s Judge Hershey story Asylum, in which some refugees from the brutal Bruj regime land in Mega City one, are pursued by the thuggish Judge Greene (presumably named after the British author of The Comedians and, y’know, not actually someone significant from Haiti), and then some zombie stuff happens. Siku illustrated it in his colour-drenched painterly style, and consequently to this day I don’t know what colour the Bruja uniform is – it’s a sort of blue, or white, or both.

I don’t know where you go with a judicial system for a city that’s never seen and only encountered by repute and one bent copper possessed by a vodoun sorceror, so I decided to embrace it for all its schlocky Seventies exploitation vibe. Here’s Judge Durand of Bruja with his big stick, some Sugar Hill zombies (Romero-style would be inappropriate) and Baron Samedi watching over the whole thing.

One day I promise I will draw a judge that's all feet
Bruja only appeared in two stories (including a cameo in the mega-epic Judgement Day), so maybe things will have moved on since then. On the other hand, it’s still not the worst stereotype another mega city has had to suffer in the world of Dredd…

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From Strip to Screen: Cape Fear

It's often said that a week is a long time in politics; I wouldn't have thought you could say the same of superhero movies, but here we are. In the week just gone Sony have released The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to limited crowds outside the US, and already there's an indication of what The Sinister Six, who will have their movie before 2018 (the date AS-M 4 will be released) will look like. Fox of course have announced a Fantastic Four sequel for 2017, a year after the third X-Men film of the current trilogy, as well as possible spin-off movies for other X-Men characters (Mystique being a likely contender.) Combined with Marvel's schedule the on-screen superhero world looks like it's going to get very crowded

2016 is where things will really be tested, with the tent pole season for new movies looking to be a real pile-on of superhero properties, especially the contentious date of 6th of May, since Marvel confirmed their Captain America 3 release date to coincide with Warners’ now-parked Batman vs Superman film. Currently, it looks like this:

May 6 - Captain America 3
May 6 - Batman vs. Superman
May 27 - X-Men: Apocalypse
June 10 - The Amazing Spider-Man 3
July 8th - Untitled Marvel Film

Who will blink first? I think of the May releases Fox can least afford to take the risk, and may well move theirs, but it’s the 6th which is the doozy: Warners take the greatest risk with an almost-new franchise, while Marvel can afford to lose a little if CA3 under-performs because of the clash. It’s not a helpful confrontation, and a lot of commentators think Warners will be the ones to blink, but that comes from a 2014 viewpoint, with Captain America 2 now having beaten The Dark Knight’s box office record. Where will these players be, two years from now, if superhero fatigue once again strikes its general audience in the mean-time?

I think the winners may still come down to the classic rivalry of DC/Warners and Marvel Studios, probably with Marvel on top in the long run (where they already lead), but I think Warners will fare well enough – they are merging DC’s greatest two superheroes for the first time, and on paper it will be the event of the year. Unprecedented. Outside of May I think Sony will probably do well enough, also – again, on the strength of the Spider-Man brand, which has already survived a reboot in very short time. Fox, on the other hand, will be working with an aging franchise in the X-Men, and may or may not be sitting between the fortunes of a Fantastic Four reboot and its sequel – depending on the success of this current reboot. If both under-perform, that may be it for the studio’s superhero reign for a while.

And that's the question I find myself asking right now - when will the second shoe hit the floor and the current age of big screen superheroes close again? It's not a question I relish, but there's an inevitability about it, and possibly the only reason it hasn't yet happened is down to the inventiveness and genre mobility of the current crop - Marvel, obviously, and the Nolan Batman trilogy, but the fate of more traditionally-plotted movies (Green Lantern? Fantastic Four?) may bear that out, too.

We'll see. Comic fans themselves know the medium is far more flexible than its big screen adaptations often end up being, but maybe the success of these latest movies points towards a further maturing of the film genre. Perhaps in the right hands, this golden age of heroes will be a long-lived one as well.

In the mean-time, I'm on a break from capes and body armour. I went to The Grand Budapest Hotel over the weekend and loved the change of scene. Vive la difference!

Until the next hero movie, of course...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Exorcist Judges

Yesterday, in case you didn't know, was the birthday of Father Damien Karras. You did know that, of course, but I'm just saying.

I toyed with the idea of putting this up around the time of Harold Ramis' unfortunate passing, but thankfully my good taste circuits kicked in, and so here we are, now, with the Exorcist Judges of Mega City One.

In fact, outside of Psi Judges (of which the Exorcists are a division) who are an almost global phenomenon, the Exorcists are one of the few types of judge which have an overseas equivalent, as there is a form of Exorcist specialist in the East Meg judge system. But here we are in Dredd's home, and his compatriots are a scattered and odd lot. Adopters of religious symbolism and ritual, they're nevertheless not that religious by behaviour. The Exorcists made their debut in a Judge Anderson story, Alan Grant and Brett Ewins' The Possessed. Unfortunately, the two enlisted in The Possessed do an early bunk to set our heroine up for the big task, and that pretty much sets the Exorcists up for future appearances as second fiddle to the main Psi Judge of the day, whether it's Anderson or more recently her pretender Karyn (art duties imaginatively handled by Adrian Salmon), but as the years have passed things have got a little more interesting for this division. Firstly, the Megazine has featured the Exorcists more than the parent comic, and in its pages they have proved to be a small but fanatical unit, rubbing shoulders grudgingly with their Psi Division masters, and secondly, we finally have a female Exorcist to look upon and admire in the spectral form of Judge Lamia, so that's pretty cool.
My Exorcists, above aren't based on anyone in particular - although you might recognise a nod or two to one of my all-time favourites. And if you think that's all there is to see about living judges facing off againt the unquiet dead this week, then you ain't seen nothin' yet...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

From Strip to Screen 4: Amazing Sony-Men

In a few days the next stage in one studio's strategy of expanding its superhero universe will unfold, with Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2. My final look at Marvel Studio's rivals to their domination of superhero movies concerns Sony Pictures, a studio with arguably one of the biggest drawcards from the Marvel Comics universe.

Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, has done since the first Sam Raimi film, and continues to, thanks to the controversial reboot of 2012 which recast and re-set the Spider-Man universe to the version we know today, and which Sony have recently notified of their intention to expand. But when is an expanded universe genuinely an expanded universe?

Chiefly Sony’s sights are set on six headlining villains of our web-slinging hero, known by a very Marvel affectation:  The Sinister Six. Planned alongside their movie is one featuring Spiderman villain/antihero Venom, last seen in Spider-Man 3 the final Raimi movie. In addition to these, at least two more Spider-Man movies are slated, totaling at least four movies to come.

Sony’s universe is the smallest in terms of its nucleus – one hero (that’s assuming Universal never get off their chuffs with the lesser-known Namor the Submariner, as I hinted in my last post; I see no reason why they would, really), but Spider-Man’s universe is a very rich one, with some great villains which, despite the generally poor reception of Spider-Man 3, has been borne out in the cinema outings to date. The fact that Sony’s Marc Webb-directed reboot didn’t lazily fall on a similarly rebooted Green Goblin to kick things off but went with the then as-yet unseen Lizard as villain was refreshing, and outside of the gripes by fans about the cynical nature of the reboot itself, The Amazing Spider-Man did go out of its way to steer the franchise in new directions. Included in this is the conscious through-line of the shady scientific research facility that is Oscorp, and its influence on Peter Parker’s/Spider-Man’s world. As we’ll see in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (I wish they’d given the sequel a better title!), the future Sinister Six owe their existence to this very organisation as, of course, does Spider-man himself. Not bad, as world-building devices go.

So, then, we have a movie about six villains, presumably with minimal Spider-Man involvement, to look forward to. I’m not sure what The Sinister Six movie could be about, much less how you make a movie about six super villains (could be fun, could be…confusing?) but I’d guess it’s going to be connected to this Spider-Man/Oscorp dichotomy, and therefore I wonder whether the Venom movie might be the break-out opportunity to genuinely expand the Sony Marvel universe? Inasmuch as it expands Sony’s universe, it does leave ‘Spidey’ without many allies, however. And the second through-line of this trilogy is, presumably, the secret of what happened to Peter Parker’s parents, who also had Oscorp connections. It’s a tangled web, so to speak, but like Fox’s X-Men franchise, a reasonably self-contained one.

If I were around the creators’ table, I’d be looking at Oscorp, too, but also at a name which does appear in one of the many, many teaser clips for the upcoming sequel – that of Doctor Michael Morbius. Morbius, a colleague of Dr Curt ‘Lizard’ Connors, is infected by an Oscorp virus and becomes Morbius the Living Vampire. He too is a sometime enemy of Spider-Man, but isn’t formally a member of the Sinister Six and has had his own comics line; he’s an ideal anti-hero, and like Venom, is one of the best hopes to spin the Spider-Man universe farther than New York and its skyscrapers. And, of course, vampire superheroes are a recent phenomenon well-overdue a further reinvention.  Beyond Venom and Morbius there is also Black Cat, an anti-heroine cut from very similar cloth to Batman's Catwoman, and in a franchise which to date has produced no female superheroes or villains (and with the likelihood that DC/Warners might delay a rebooted Catwoman in the interim), Felicia Hardy's amoral cat burglar seems an apt addition.
We might also ask who the yet-to-be-named Six could be up against in their own movie – another hero from the Spider-Man franchise whom Sony might have the rights to (e.g. Black Cat, who is implied to be given an Oscorp connection in ASM2), or someone like Morbius? Or maybe Oscorp itself, with the storyline involving the corporation’s attempt to harness or control these new superfiends? I’m guessing the latter, only because so little is known, and because six players is already a lot for one movie without throwing more heroes in on the act. This isn’t The Avengers, but played carefully, Sony might have an effective universe to play with yet.

We'll see in a few short days.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

From Strip to Screen 3: The Fantastic Fox-Men

So far in this series I’ve talked about Marvel and DC Comics’ respective film franchise, two universes almost equally populated with big name superheroes. What follows is a summing up of the first of two other players in this arena suffering from, what The Hollywood Reporter drily dubbed “Marvel envy”, Fox Studios. For simplicity’s sake I’m sticking to the movie franchises, as Fox themselves appear to have no TV commitments to superheroes outside of their joint venture with DC toward the forthcoming Gotham series. In other words, it’s Fox’s Marvel universe.

Fox’s Marvel output to date includes:
The X-Men (now excluding the character Quicksilver, who will soon be added to Marvel’s Avengers) – five movies to date
Wolverine as a solo property – two movies to date, and
The Fantastic Four (including the Silver Surfer) – two movies to date, with a reboot in pre-production

Recently Fox gave away their rights to Daredevil and its spin-off Elektra after two respectively underperforming movies.

Even so, that’s an impressive roster, but shaping them into a shared universe with some key connecting players (Spider-Man and the Avengers) vetoed makes for an interesting challenge. I think this is Fox’s biggest obstacle, in that both of their prize movies properties don’t appear to mesh too well. On the one side, the X-Men and their fight for human rights, their struggle for a long time co-opted as a comic strip playing out of several real world civil rights campaigns. On the other side: the Fantastic Four – vividly coloured high adventure on Earth and in space, often involving some very far out extra-terrestrial foes. I reduce both sides a little too much, but my point stands.

In a way you may never see two such diametrically-clashing comic movie styles; in the comics the X-Men compliment the Fantastic Four much better – they’re gaudier in costume and much less brooding, and indeed the two families have merged in the past and share characters, if not actual members (rather neatly, Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s child is a mutant due to their exposure to space radiation, and is thus a player in the X-men story.) On the big screen since the early 21st century, however, the look for the mutants has been a dogged black leather ensemble, which the Four were still their comic-originated, peppy blue and orange outfits; indeed the first FF movie predated Batman Begins, which itself ushered in a grittier, more solemn take on superheroes, the stylistic change effectively dooming the now-dated looking FF sequel.

The X-Men movies, continuity glitches aside, have spun along for around ten years with very few casting changes – younger versions of Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, Beast and Cyclops notwithstanding, only the first movie’s Sabretooth has been replaced. But it’s now a long-lived franchise, and the two Wolverine spin-offs had mixed responses. Is the X-Men mutant angle played out now, as a movie through-line? It strikes me that the convoluted dynastic angle of the X-Men movies is a strong identifier, but effectively contains the universe to being all about mutants and their extended families and non-mutant society. With X-Men Apocalypse (referencing 2012’s X-Men: First Class) set to screen in 2016 it’s still some time before that theme might change.

I’m curious to see how blending these properties will work out – especially when both the X-Men and the Four number so many, and the current X-Men series, a sort of ‘from there to here’ time-travelling history of the group, takes in two generations of mutants. Large-cast match-ups have a very third-act feel to them, and perhaps the simplest answer is that Fox intends their superhero universes to merge organically. It seems to me that the best way for both the X universe and the FF universe to be ‘shared’ is a re-tooling of the franchise which will handle a dramatic reboot, and that outside the issue of rights this is what we are seeing, with the remounted Four the ‘Ultimates’ version providing necessary points of difference (the Four are younger, have different origins, personalities and dynamics) with the earlier franchise. Regarding Michael B Jordan cast as Kata Mara’s brother, I find with every bone-headed fan braying online about his skin colour and ethnicity being irreconcilable with his character and the Caucasian Sue Storm being blood siblings, the less I care about the perceived disjoin.

The Fantastic Four seems to me a good franchise to revive, and perhaps enough time has passed to sweep the earlier iteration under the carpet. They have some fun, outlandish villains – Dr Doom is recognisable, Galactus… may be realised a little better this time around, and the shape-changing Skrulls have another tenuous X-Men connection. Doom appears to be the villain for the forthcoming movie, however, and a sequel has already been greenlit for 2017, so off we go.

Could Fox make a bid for other heroes not currently licensed to Marvel – e.g. Universal’s Namor, who has a strong X-Men and Fantastic Four connection? If I were sitting around the boardroom table, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Mirky Dozen: Seeing the Wood for the Trees

Having decided to convert my existing Wood Elves, what, you might ask, is my problem with them exactly?

The first thing you notice about the Wood Elves is their size – they are small, smaller in fact than their metal equivalents. This isn’t unusual in itself, and in fact there are plenty of other examples in the GW range that exhibit the same disparity; but these miniatures seem smaller than their human counterparts, and indeed their orc enemies, which hardly seems fair. On top of this they seem slight – a common issue with the early days of figure sculpting was that so-called ’heroic’ proportions led to what became known in modelling circles as ‘pumpkinhead’ syndrome – disproportionately large craniums, even for the exaggerated scale of heroic. In the case of these Wood Elves it’s almost the reverse – they seem a little pin-headed, and their short size doesn’t help things. Yeah, I get it – Elves are slender folk and demand small, more naturalistic proportions, but I can’t help feeling that if they’d been scaled up a bit this wouldn’t matter so much.

The plastic is its own issue, too. Small, plastic figures with fine detail tend to be subject to all sorts of abuse – mis-moulds, damage in transit, and even just plain ham-fisted modelling. The Wood Elves are pretty okay, but their spear bearers seem lumped with some pretty flimsy, tapering weapons, and I must admit I’d have rather more thought had been put into their look, maybe carrying a leaf motif throughout the weapon and offering some variety, rather than the spears terminating at a pretty unremarkable point.

In converting these I can see I’ll have my work cut out for me, but on the other hand the style of these figures doesn’t lend to much chopping and swapping. They’re all to a man wearing heavy, pretty uninteresting cloaks, and few show any waist or leg to perform transplants with, so I’m pretty much stuck with these poses. I do think I’ll attend to the cloaks a little though – taking inspiration from the metal Wood Elf Sentinels I’ll attempt a leafy, ‘jagged’ outline in the cloaks that allow it, and may scrape some back to re-layer them with green stuff in kind. I can’t make these Elves look at all lithe or wispy like the new Mirkwood Hunters, but I can hope to break up some of those drab and uninspiring spaces. One clear advantage with plastic models is that they are dead easy to chop up and play around with, and are lightweight (and cheap!) enough to take some radical reposing without collapsing under a new weight distribution.

I dare say there’s not been a lot of thought put into the weapons, either. Weta’s new aesthetic for The Desolation of Smaug offers a lot of options for unique blades and scabbard placement, but GW clearly went for the traditional. Tolkien in The Hobbit remarks that the Elves of Mirkwood do not have work metal, not being miners, nor trade much in it, so while I remodel them I’ll also attempt to reduce the bling on these guys. For the purpose of strengthening, I’ll consider replacing the spears, which then begs the question of how to tip them; in modelling as in travel I am a poor tipper indeed. Wish me luck.

Regarding the heads these models are a mixed bag: there are some rather nice examples with fine features, well-defined ears and good hair – and then there are the poor examples. Chiefly of course there’s my complaint about size – so, taking my cue from these examples on CoolMiniOrNot, I’m going to make some green stuff hoods for them. Yeah, they might end up looking like Rangers more than Elves, but maybe I can fix that too – and these examples I’ve linked to do certainly improve things I reckon.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

From Strip to Screen 2: Building a DC Universe

Hey. it's Batman's 75th birthday! Happy birthday, Bru- oops.

In my last post I described the Marvel Comic superhero universe on film - an ever-growing franchise that has led other studios with superhero products to rethink their own superhero franchises. And contrary to my promise, in this post it's the turn of Marvel's main comics rival, DC Comics.

One of these guys is the hero, I think.
From the outset I should confess that I think I have an almost pathological identification problem with underdogs. Not, I stress, underdogs in the classic Hollywood/Superbowl tradition of teams or people winning simply because they are underdogs (because that’s ridiculous), but actual underdogs. Give me your tired, your downtrodden, your oppressed, your doomed to ignominy and I’ll sign up as a supporter despite all cautions of good sense. So, with a history of backing the loser every time I present to you the second installment of my Superhero Movies essay, internet fandom's whipping boy du jour:

DC superheroes are simpler and less divided, but while they are contractually less-fraught, there’s a world of hurt involved, if you believe the highly tribal comic geek community. DC’s known and so far used heroes include:
Warner Studios (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern,,[whisper it!] Catwoman.)
Warner Bros Television ([Green] Arrow, The Flash)
Warners/Fox also have Gotham

It's no surprise that outside of Marvel Studios, DC and their studio ally Warner Bros have the longest history of putting capes on screen, both large and small - as Jamas is currently blogging. To date on the large screen this has led to seven Batman movies, six Superman movies and one Green Lantern picture, and on the small screen we've seen Wonder Woman in the seventies, The Flash in the Eighties, Smallville and Birds of Prey in the Nineties and early 2000s, and most recently Arrow and the forthcoming Flash and Gotham (with Fox.) If movies were all that counted though, the small pool of heroes featured plus the long gestation time of these two main products (the next movie, Man of Steel's sequel is still two years away) makes DC look the underperfoming rivals to Marvel's wunderkind.

 I feel for DC and their films because through Warner Bros being a larger studio they have pressures that Marvel simply don’t. Also, compare and contrast the wildly successful, youthful and self-aware success of Marvel’s various cinematic heroes to the more realistic, and recently rather grim trappings of DC’s movie heroes, following in the rigid real-world setting of The Dark Knight and even Man of Steel. With such staid, upright/conflicted heroes where can they go, particularly when a popular criticism of MoS was that, against the knowing humour of Marvel’s outings the one thing it lacked was a sense of ‘fun’? The answer is there, but as far as I can see it lies in minor or side-lined characters – in other words, heroes we haven’t yet met. I think there’s a spot here to be occupied by the anarchic but brilliant detective Elongated Man or the ridiculously narcissistic Booster Gold (a role for Sam Rockwell, please, who surely auditioned for it in both Galaxy Quest and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) – even a rebooted Guy Gardner Green Lantern. But in order to get there, DC has to overcome its greatest obstacle – its rather po-faced Big Three heroes. On the small screen it's hardly any better.

SMIIIL- oh I give up.
Without other studios to lighten the load with their own franchises, I think that unless DC promotes its second-tier heroes as Marvel has, the brand is seemingly stuck with Warners, a studio which doesn’t just do super hero movies (or fantasy, come to mention the Hobbit franchise), but has a broader yearly schedule and so can’t and probably won’t commit to filling an annual roster to one genre. What’s the solution? The risky formation of a smaller interest in the Warners camp alongside Disney’s creation of Marvel Studios, or franchising to a friendly studio (such as Fox) – if one exists? Or Should DC and Warners bite the bullet and free up some other superheroes to other groups and keep the fans happy there – but why would they want to do that? The name of the game of course is money, not in pleasing a squawking fanbase of overly-invested comic book readers.

Smirk! There, that's better!
For me I think the answer mean-time lies in boosting the healthy profile of Arrow and buzz of Flash to small-scale movie adaptations which can feature cameos by one or more of the Big Three. But why movies at all, when alternative entertainment streams like TV and Netflix are already an option? I don’t know – maybe because they’re more of an event? Big premieres, big audience candy, big budget. The question is still to be answered as to whether those TV heroes would work on the big screen...
What would I do? Maybe treat the TV heroes in the same way Doctor Who treated its adult spin-off  Torchwood – mentions in the ‘parent’ series (i.e. the films) are okay, and cameos by the spin-off (the TV series) can appear in the movies, but to put cards on the table, direct cross-overs are highly unlikely. Concentrate the movie universe to further expansion – a rebooted Green Lantern, perhaps (cough*John Stewart version!*cough) with a possible second hero as an ally (potential here for Green Arrow cameo), and likewise for Wonder Woman.

Then, and only then will we have a movie franchise gutsy enough to tackle... Aquaman.

[coming up next: Fox!]

Friday, April 4, 2014

From Strip to Screen - Superhero movies post-Avengers

In the barren wilderness that is the dawning reality of No Dredd Sequel I have recently turned to the more fertile ground of superhero movies – namely, the shared movie universes of those two giants of the superhero comic industry, DC and Marvel. This is a big subject, so I might take turns to go over the landscape as it were, post-Marvel Studios, or perhaps more accurately, post-Avengers. It seems to be the enormous success of this particular movie that has led to the studio owners of various Marvel and DC characters to sit up, take notice, and in their own ways follow suit. It’s a big subject with a lot of players both on and off-screen, so let’s start with Marvel.

MARVEL STUDIOS and Marvel heroes 
A brief summary as I understand it: Marvel superheroes are currently covered by the franchises of:
Marvel Studios (Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America (plus Hawkeye, Black Widow and Nick Fury) Guardians of the Universe, and the forthcoming Ant Man and [rumoured] Doctor Strange; also TV series Agents of SHIELD and forthcoming Netflix properties [Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist] and the ‘rested’ Ghost Rider)
Sony Pictures (Spider-Man and related forthcoming movies based on in-universe villains The Sinister Six and Venom)
Fox Studios (X-Men & Wolverine plus in-universe heroes and villains; Fantastic Four plus Silver Surfer and one undisclosed future title TBC)
And Universal Studios (Namor the Sub-Mariner)

Marvel’s properties being scattered across three to four studios has turned out to be something of a boon to Marvel Studios themselves; forcing them to dig deeper into their so-called B-list of heroes gave us the very audacious Avengers plan, whereas had rights not been an issue it might simply have been easier for them to just tackle the big hitters of, say, Spider-Man and maybe Hulk year-in. Marvel Studios not having the X-Men is an arguable misfortune, but with next to no X-Men and no Spider-Man we instead get a very charismatic Iron Man boosted up in profile, and on the strength of his success, Captain America and the improbably successful Thor. These successes seem so self-evident that there’s the sense that Marvel are simply too big to fail at this stage, but it should be noted that like DC there are properties and heroes they appear to have deliberately side-lined so as to not scare the horses – the fate of the Daredevil franchise means that Old Horny is relegated to Netflix for the mean-time, and Ghost Rider faces his own limbo.

Nevertheless, conventional wisdom has it thus: Marvel = doing splendidly, thanks. Sure, it smarts to some that they’ve once again lost Spider-man to Sony (who are EVIL and venal in keeping Spidey, etc) but what with the Avengers shared universe going gangbusters they can afford to take risks a la Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians movie is a deliberate step into the more extreme comic world of Marvel, with an off-world setting and more outlandish characters. I didn’t really get much out of the mid-credits tease in Thor 2 of The Collector because its look seemed so out of place alongside what had gone before. And yet, there’s the sense that with the Phase 3 of Marvel’s plan there’s a deliberate mission to push things further – out into space, and into a world where magic is a fact of life (Scarlet Witch paves the way for Doctor Strange). Alongside these properties the forthcoming Ant Man seems quite normal, but where to from there?

Everywhere, it seems. Hopefully, all things to everyone, especially if Marvel can make good on the expectation that their roster will soon expand to even more off-world heroes and outlandish concepts. Thor gets a pass, Guardians will probably do well on its goofy charm, but magic is pretty much untested, and a Marvel universe that incorporates elements of the genuinely supernatural (Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange, Morbius the Vampire) is also untested (unless you count the Blade movies from a long time ago) Maybe that’s a minor concern – a decade of teen vampire movies as high fantasy should probably inure audiences to such boundary-pushing.

For me however there’s the sense that the Marvel cinematic universe is also becoming less forgiving to the casual viewer. I experienced this a few weeks ago when Mrs Simian and I were watching Thor 2, not long after also watching the highly-explodey Iron Man 3, both perhaps some six months after having watched The Avengers. Already there was a need to stop play for a recap, and even then, Thor 2 seemed rather choppily edited, removing the resolution of what seemed a major subplot (the Thor-Jane-Sif love triangle) and leaving a lot of Christopher Eccleston’s one-note villain Malketh on the cutting room floor. Such fragmentation of smaller plot elements actually looks sloppier than major ones being reconvened in later movies. Some tightening up may be required, presumably while Marvel Studios are able to politely wrap up their current arcs and franchises. Chris Evans has indicated that his contract as Captain America has an end date of six movies (he is filming movie 4 now), and Robert Downey Jr is presumed to have a similar arrangement. Success is success, but the bigger the Marvel Universe gets, the more control will be needed to keep it tidy for both committed fans and casual audiences. And once superhero fatigue sets in? Latest reports indicate that Marvel Studios' president Kevin Feige has a game plan that stretches through to 2028 - that's a lot of time to see a universe grow and fall. I wuold venture to guess that the fate of other studio superheroes are bound to the success and longevity of the Marvel plan.

At least to Feige and his colleagues the other heroes Marvel Comics have in the hands of Fox, Sony and to a much lesser extent Universal, are really the concerns of others, and I’ll come to those in my next post.