Comic Book Movies 2017

I thought I would start off the new year taking a look at some of the new comic book properties coming out in 2017. There are a lot of sequels and re-makes in the bunch I know but there is quite a lot to look forward to from animation to live action, comedy to drama. 2017 is beginning to look like a banner year in Hollywood's continual efforts to make cinema look a hell of a lot like the glossy colored books with letters that you can only get in a comic book store. I know the complaints about these movies continue to grow but I believe strongly that as long as they put the characters and stories first they will never get a complaint from me. No matter if it's Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, Sony or Disney. 

The Lego Batman Movie (Feb 20) - As a man in his late 30s I proclaim loud and proud that I still watch and enjoy animated movies and TV. Sometimes the animated medium surpasses the live action versions. Like Batman the Animated Series from the 90's which is by the far the best and most consistent interpretation of Batman on the big or little screen. Now if you've seen the Lego Batman movie trailer I would say it's akin to the 60's Adam West Batman then any current iteration. But that's its intent. Warner Brothers is cashing in on the success of Lego Movie and Batman was one of the fun supporting characters in that movie so naturally it makes sense to make a Lego Batman movie. I'm certainly taking my three kids to see this cause it looks silly and fun and like the Lego movie, probably plays to both young and old audiences simultaneously. I'm always of the mind to get the kids into superheroes and comics early and Lego Batman will help that tremendously. 

Lego Batman trailer: https://youtu.be/rGQUKzSDhrg 

Logan (March 3) It's been a long road for the X-Men franchise and for me the franchise is kind of a mixed bag. My favorites so far, not including Deadpool,  have been in this order: X-Men: First Class, X-Men 2, X-Men, Days of Future Past, The Wolverine, Age of Apocalypse, Wolverine Origins and finally one of the worst comic book movies ever X-Men: Last Stand. When I first saw the trailer for Logan with the haunting voice of Johnny Cash singing a cover of Trent Reznor's Hurt it just changed everything for me. Logan is loosely based on the comic Old Man Logan an 8 part series by writer Miles Millar and artist Steve McNiven which puts Wolverine in an alternate timeline which surmises that Earth's super villains have conquered the Earth and carved it out into territories. The Super Heroes you know like Captain America and Spider-Man are all gone, but of course Wolverine remains. Obviously given the Hulk, Red Skull and Hawkeye are very prominent in the comic version they will have to be cut out of the film due to copyright issues between Disney/Marvel and Fox. Which is for the better, I think, it would be impossible to make a coherent adaptation of Old Man Logan on the big screen which it looks like Director James Mangold did not do. Doesn't mean you shouldn't read it, but some things just aren't filmable and this is one of them. From what I've seen so far it looks amazing and it is definitely one I'm looking forward to. It's finally a worthy redemption story for Logan that feels like it has real stakes. Logan ever the reluctant hero must protect what I assume is X-23. A young girl clone of the rampaging Canuck himself. Along for the ride is a very old and seemingly infirm Professor X. What's really amazing is that this doesn't look or feel like a conventional superhero tale. If I didn't know the character I would have thought it was a dark dystopian drama in the vein of the Road or I Am Legend. I loved everything about the Wolverine except for the end with Silver Samurai and it always felt like studio meddling to me. Hopefully Mangold is able to keep them out of his cut for Logan and if it is as good as the trailers suggest this could be the best of the entire series.

Logan trailer: https://youtu.be/Div0iP65aZo   

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5) Marvel is still clicking on all thrusters with each movie they come out with. The trailer for the second installment of Guardians feels like coming home. Expectations for this one is high and I hope it excels past the first one in quality and scope. The weak link in the first one was probably the villain Ronan the Accuser. He was ably played by Lee Pace but he wasn't given enough character to give him three dimensions I hope they learn from that in the new one. But let's be honest the ensemble cast here is the best part: Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and now baby Groot. The second best thing is the music and the song they picked for the 2nd trailer was perfect in "Fox on the Run" by Sweet. In fact it's so good it hit number 1 on ITunes almost immediately. Also with the added casting of Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone I gotta believe it'll be huge. Honestly I can't wait to see how they depict Ego the Living Planet in a movie. He's a character I would never have expected them to pick given that he is, you know, a living Planet. How the hell does that work? 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 trailer: https://youtu.be/2cv2ueYnKjg

Wonder Woman (June 2) Warner Brothers has not been off to an impressive start with their DC Universe. Man of Steel was good enough but a pattern begin to form throughout that Snyder was not understanding the man in the red and blue tights. It deepened further when Snyder took on the reigns of Batman V Superman and in my opinion cocked it up. Wonder Woman's role, although short and without real purpose, still managed to make me feel excited to explore her character further. Literally Snyder just threw her in the movie with hopes that people would like her. Thankfully it was Gal Gadot and we did. Which is why I got even more excited to see the trailer for Wonder Woman, which was heavy on action and intrigue and most importantly didn't have Zach Snyder's name on it. Director Patty Jenkins is making her mark with the woman with the golden lasso and it looks pretty bad ass. Yes, the first trailer  seemed to strike a semblance to Captain America: The First Avenger given that it is a World War, just the first one this time. But the second trailer put most of that to rest. You got Chris Pine as dashing love interest Steve Trevor. It looks like it has a good sense of itself balancing the action, drama and the humor nicely, at least in the trailer. Wonder Woman looks truly fantastic and I can't wait to see what she can do. 

Wonder Woman trailer: https://youtu.be/T1j7qWUQjog

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) I will admit I have multiple biases with this character. I thought it only fair to put my cards on the table. Firstly Spider-Man is my favorite hero. As far back as I can remember Spider-Man was a part of my life. When I was four I named my first dog, a black lab, Spider. I was obsessed with the nerdy kid with coke bottle glasses that would change into red and blue spandex and climb walls. We were nerds, social outcasts, sensitive. I identified with Peter Parker immediately. I loved him when he did his guest spot on Electric Company with a young Morgan Freeman. I loved the cartoons the comics over the years and my prized Amazing Spidey collection which I threatened my mother not to destroy. She did not. I enjoyed the Raimi/McGuire Spider-Man run with an asterisk on that third one.  The Webb/Garfield duo-logy was not too shabby but I had major issues with that second one. My biggest problem with all of these franchise however was consistency. Tobey McGuire was a great Peter Parker but his Spidey was lacking grit. He was almost too sensitive. I wanted the wisecracking Spidey. Andrew Garfield was fairly decent at both, especially the smart ass part which is essential but he too was lacking except on the Peter Parker side. Tom Holland changed that. Yes, his Spider-Man is younger and a teenager again but in the short time he was on screen in Civil War he nailed both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, wise ass with enough sensitivity and damnit he feels more like a New Yorker even though the actor is British. So that brings us to the Homecoming trailer. It looks so good, I'm almost worried that it might be too good to be true. It feels, as they promised, like John Hughes wrote a Spider-Man movie which in my mind is a wonderful thing. The icing on the cake is Michael Keaton's return to comic book movies as the Vulture and of course RDJ showing up as Tony Stark mentoring Peter and getting a little Iron Man action as well. Sign me up, I admit I'm ready to drink the kool-aid.

Spider-Man: Homecoming: https://youtu.be/oNE0zRNyXuc

Thor: Ragnarok (Nov 3) We don't have a trailer for this yet although some Comic-Con footage did leak out that show Bruce Banner in the woods under attack by creatures and what looked like two of the Warrior's Three, Fandral and Hogun kicking some ass. According to reports this movie takes place on various worlds with multiple heroes and villains joining Thor. Jeff Goldblum will be playing the Grandmaster who is similar to Mongul of DC fame. Grandmaster likes Gladiatorial style combat and the rumor is he makes Thor fight Hulk in such a battle. Kevin Feige and company at Marvel pretty much admitted it's World War Hulk. Doctor Strange will be making an appearance and if you've seen his movie you'll know his involvement. He is charged by Thor to locate Odin in New York. All of the key heroes from the previous installments will be here as well; Sif, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg, Heimdall as well as a new Asgardian, Valkyrie. Plus Loki is returning and Cate Blanchett as the ruler of the Underworld, Hela.  This is hands down shaping up to be the best in the Thor franchise, so stay tuned for that trailer. 

Justice League (Nov 17) I want to believe this is going to be awesome and make up for the terribleness that was Batman V. Superman, but honestly I just don't know. With all the rumors about Ben Affleck now not directing Batman to all the other rumors that Justice League is turning into a massive shit show with director Zach Snyder flailing wildly while attempting to right the ship. I thought the teaser from Comic-Con was solid enough and they had more humor and gravitas in just the first few minutes then in the entirety of BvS. So that is something. I'm keeping expectations low but I'm curious to see how Snyder brings together Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and a resurrected Superman without completely shitting the bed. Could happen. I'm hoping for the best.

Justice League Comic-Con teaser: https://youtu.be/HsCkjNOzalo 

Doctor Strange

Art by Alex Yi

By the Eye of Agamotto I declare that Dr. Strange was...Fantastic. Big shocker I know but Marvel just continues to do everything right. Whether you love the Marvel Universe or not you cannot deny that they never just phone it in. They are meticulous and they allow the characters to breathe. They start with the fundamental aspect of film-making that makes or breaks a film despite the auteur filmmaker. It's the script stupid.  

I'm going to talk a bit about the movie and there will be some SPOILERS below so be forewarned. I wanted to talk first about the relationship between the comics and the film and how Dr. Strange has evolved. Dr. Strange was created by Steve Ditko (Spider-Man, Hulk, Shade: The Changing Man) pretty much on his own. This is one of the major characters that although Stan Lee did write some issues he claims absolutely no ownership of it.  Ditko wrote and did the art for the character in 1963 that debuted in Strange Tales #110. Dr. Strange was never an A list hero but his creator made an art out of this very bizarre and odd form of storytelling . Despite his stories inability to capture mainstream comic fans his beautiful designs and colors stands as a testament to the art of comics and how Dr. Strange became a true reflection of the Warholian pop art community. Which is apropos to the man himself who in 1968 pulled a J.D. Salinger and retreated from Marvel and the mainstream for a small office in the concrete jungle of NYC. (You can read a geat article about his current whereabouts by Abraham Reisman) I really enjoyed the Strange Tales books from the 70's. They are trippy a bit goofy and very weird but in the best way possible.  After Ditko and then Bill Everett as writer/artist (Sub-Mariner, Daredevil, Marvel Classics)  in the late 60s it was artist Frank Brunner (Howard the Duck, Vampirella, Creepy) and writer Steve Engleheart's (Captain America, Avengers, Detective Comics) run that defined the series for most comic fans.

Dr. Strange was an arrogant neurosurgeon who, after a nasty car accident, loses the use of his hands and simultaneously ending his career. He seeks help in all directions but finds no cure until he comes to Kamar-Taj deep in the Himalayas and finds instruction from the Ancient One. He teaches Strange the mystical arts. He uses artifacts like the Eye of Agamotto and the Book of the Vishanti and says crazy things like "By the Hoary of Hosts of Hoggoth!" His main villains over the past 30 years include Baron Mordo, Mephisto, Nightmare, Satannish and the big bad himself Dormaummu. Doctor Strange is currently being written by Jason Aaron (Thor, Ghost Rider, Scalped) and artist Chris Bachalo (Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, Shade: The Changing Man). My all time favorite Dr. Strange in the comics are his guest spots on Spider-Man. If you've been paying attention to the blog you'll notice my connection to many characters in the Marvel Universe is through the webbed wall crawler. That is not an accident as he was my primary reading as a kid. But I always loved how much of a fish out of water Spidey was every time he had dealings with Dr. Strange. Whenever Spider-Man would get sucked into another hellish dimension with Dormammu or accidentally get thrown into the astral plane. His freak outs are legendary and I always thought they were a fun pairing so keep that in mind in the future Kevin Feige. 

Cumberbatch nailed Dr. Strange in all aspects and you got to give the man his props for selling it so convincingly. This is by far one of the more difficult characters to bring to screen and he handled it with charm, deftness and sheer bad assery. The film looked incredible with the various worlds especially the mirror world was most spectacular. Now according to Rotten Tomatoes most of the reviews were positive. But  after looking a little closer I began to notice a theme. Apparently the movie was was too formulaic for their tastes and that Strange was too much of like Iron Man. And to this I say - huh? Yes Dr. Strange is arrogant and incredibly gifted and is charismatic like Tony Stark but that is the only thing that connects them.  He can be a smart ass which is probably why, on the surface, people liked to compare him to Tony Stark. The truth is he's a much more emotional and far less of a narcissist. Yet in some ways he excels at being an asshole, which the film proudly allows him to be. Dr. Strange is confident and understands his exemplary gifts which is why he is a snob to his fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) when asked to lend his talents to the ER. He has nobler aspirations yes,  dickish they may be, but after watching him perform such spectacular surgery it's hard to argue with his logic. There is however a particular trope in most blockbuster films, including this one, that I wish would be addressed and at least tweaked if not removed and that would be the training montage. I understand that no one wants to see Dr. Strange meditating and reading books but at the very least they can acknowledge that things are hard regardless of a photographic memory and that sometimes things take years to learn. For God's sakes you can throw up a 4 years later card or something. We aren't told exactly how long he's been there it may be months or years but it always bugs me so let's try to address that the next time Marvel. 

So what can we expect from Dr. Strange in the future of the Marvel Universe? Well it's clear that he will appear in Avengers: Infinity War given that it is revealed in the film that the Eye of Agamotto is the time stone, one of 5 of the Infinity stones. Up to this moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe we have seen the Tesseract or Cosmic Cube from the Avengers and Captain America which is the Space Stone. The Mind Stone appeared in Loki's scepter in Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron and now resides in the headpiece of the Vision. The Aether from Thor: The Dark World is discovered to be the Reality Stone. The final stone is the power gem from Guardians of the Galaxy.  All of these forces being brought together to combat Thanos who covets the 5 gems in the Infinity Gauntlet which he revealed at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, he proclaimed as he took the glove that he will have to now get them by himself. With that being said now that Strange has beat back Dormammu and is on his way to being the Sorcerer's Supreme has he created possibly two new allies for Thanos to get what he wants? The second being Baron Mordo played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who started as an ally and a mentor to Strange but by the end of the film felt betrayed by the order and is now a rogue sorcerer doing some really bad things. It sounds like he will certainly be back for the second Dr. Strange film but it would be a great twist to have him return as a heavy in Infinity War.  I appreciate that the film brought the visual style of Ditko and kept the weird while deftly bringing Strange perfectly into the Marvel Universe. Bring on Infinity War.

Will we see a Dr. Strange Villain on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D?

It looks like Agent's of S.H.I.E.L.D. is putting the Inhumans on the backburner for a bit and getting into the mystical arts for the fourth season of the show. So far, after three episodes we've been treated to Robbie Reyes' (Gabriel Luna) Ghost Rider who, I think everyone can agree, has restored the faith in the Spirit of Vengeance after Nicholas Cage. And now it seems they are taking it a step further and delving into Dr. Strange territory by introducing an ancient book of magic called the Darkhold. This book according to the comics is also called the Book of Sins written over a billion years ago by what they call an Elder God named Chthon. Apparently the book is so powerful it took the combined magic of Merlin and St. Brendan to contain it. The Book is supposed to channel the influence of Cthon himself. It is a conduit of black magic that gives the user very dark dimensional powers. Clearly writer Gerry Conway and artist Mike Ploog were sowing their Lovecraft oats with this character. Anyway this book has crossed over to many other Marvel characters including Red Sonja, Conan, Mordred and King Arthur, Blade the Marvel Zombies, Dr. Doom, Dracula and of course Dr. Strange, who according to the good book of Marvel, obtained the Darkhold at a certain point as part of his massive library. I feel fairly confident that we won't actually see Cumberbatch show up on the show as Strange but the book may come into his possession in the movie as a tie in from the show. 

The real question is will we see some Dr. Strange villains on the show this year? Robbie Reyes has already alluded a few times to the demon that he sold his soul to. He didn't mention a name but it has to be Mephisto who has tangled with Strange from time to time. Frankly it would be awesome to see some Mindless Ones come about beacause of misuse of the book which would tie in nicely to Dormammu. But even I can acknowledge that would be an insane tie-in given that Dormammu is Dr. Strange's big bad. But I really have enjoyed this turn to the dark mystical side and I've seen a vast improvement in the script and tone of the show since moving it to the 10 pm slot on Tuesday. So if you haven't started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. you can catch up on the past 3 seasons Netflix and the current 4th season on ABC.