Logan (2017)

Piotrek: Times are good for comic book fans. Old stuff is easily available, new things are often good, and movies/tv… our genre is probably the strongest one today, with so much being done, everyone can find something nice. Solid stories, visual experiments (Dr Strange, Legion!), profane (Deadpool) and civil (Guardians) comedies… and now Logan.

Ola: The newest instalment in XXth Century Fox X-Men franchise is a story loosely based on the premise of Old Man Logan, one of the most famous graphic novels about Wolverine. It features a post-apocalyptic near future, where United States are in turmoil, symbolized by the absence of the Statue of Liberty, regular institutions such as police or National Guard or medical help no longer work, and the world once again becomes an arena of fight between the weak and the strong. The mutant gene has been suppressed; superheroes are no longer around; and those who stayed behind are not what they used to be.

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Doctor Strange (2016)

Piotrek: After 6 weeks of playing Witcher I finally left home, to go to the cinema. I’ve arrived there late enough not to see the regular commercials, but early enough to enjoy two trailers: Guardians of Galaxy 2 and Rogue One. Both movies look great so far and it was worth half the price of admission 😉 And than Doctor Strange started. Good times continued for the rest of the evening.

Ola: Well, I guess I should start with congratulations! 😛 Did you take a sword or two with you? The roads are so unsafe these days 😉 At least you chose well the reason for leaving your safe harbor for the evening…

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Piotrek: Another solid part of the MCU. Not the best, but one of the very good movies we can count on to hit cinemas a couple times a year. When the comic book movies bubble bursts, I’ll miss it.

Ola: Yeah, Doctor Strange is solid. A curious blend of Inception, Batman Begins, and typical Marvel flavour… One cannot but start to wonder what the movie would look like if Nolan made it… As for the bubble… well, good things come and go ;). And the times we live in promote escapism, so I don’t readily see the end of the trend. I cannot say it saddens me though 😛

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Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, The Ultimates (2002)

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The famous reimagining of the mightiest Marvel’s heroes, the Avengers, was the love child of Millar, praised here for his work on Civil War, and Hitch, a British comic book artist known mostly for his detailed, and usually late, work ;). The comic book turned out to be as controversial as popular. The authors’ ideas on how should the contemporary Avengers look like inspired the movies’ creators and through them – made a huge impact on the whole Marvel universe. Can you imagine a different Nick Fury than Samuel L. Jackson?

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Jackson served as the model for the comic book Nick Fury long before he even dreamt of appearing in this role in the movies. Before that, Nick Fury was white and looked a lot like a good-bad western sheriff. A bit like Sam Vimes, actually 😉 And it all leads us to Clint Eastwood ;).

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The primary idea was simple, tested earlier by Spidey, for who else could take the risk and survive? 😉 In the early years of the XXI century there was a deep, a bit anxious feeling among the Marvel moguls that their beloved heroes got old and slightly outdated. That their stories became so convoluted that only the most hardcore fans even cared about them any longer and could count all the times the heroes died and were brought back to life. The idea of a new, fresh start seemed all of sudden very promising.

And lo and behold, here they are. But changed rather more than we would expect.

[Attention! Mild spoiler alert!]

Meet the Cap, a rather brutish, straightforward guy with a tiny, shameful penchant for cruelty. A hero as a soldier, as a civilian… well, I don’t think I would like to cross him. Meet Hank Pym, a self-assured, conceited genius and a secret wife-beater. Meet his wife, the famous Wasp, who can change into a tiny, sparks-flinging creature not due to any marvels of technology, but to her mutant genes. And meet Thor, an ex-patient of a psychiatric hospital, an anti-globalist and anarchist who has delusions of being a God’s son. But best, or worst, of all, is Hulk.

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Bruce Banner is such an insecure weakling with a gigantic inferiority complex that you wouldn’t believe he can also change into a cannibalistic monster driven by the lowest animal urges. And his Mister Hyde side, by the way, reminds me a lot of Cú Chulainn in his warp spasm:

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[End of spoilers]

Well, the idea of updating the old, well-known and well-liked heroes certainly paid off. The first thirteen issues had been a huge commercial success and were soon followed by two sequels, each thirteen issues long, which later even got their own sequels ;). The graphic novels served as an outright visual inspiration for the cinematic Marvel universe, from the first Avengers movie through Captain America: The Winter Soldier and to Avengers: Age of Ultron. The movies didn’t follow the dark, at times cynical story line of the Ultimates, opting for safer and less controversial depictions of the superheroes. I can’t say I fault them: Ultimates are dark indeed and it’s sometimes difficult to reconcile the traditional images of the heroes with the ones proposed by Millar and Hitch. The new Thor was endearing, but the nasty side of Hank Pym or the brutal monstrosity of Hulk took a lot from their original charm… You can’t help but start to ask the question: what it means to be a hero? Which, in the end, is the question all fans of superheroes should ask themselves ;).

As a study in the deconstruction of super-heroism, Ultimates fall short of the ideal, which in this case is unequivocally Watchmen ;). But as a story in the what-if genre, a slightly darker type of tongue-in-the-cheek, brutal fun, Ultimates are a pretty decent entertainment. The story, as usually in Millar’s case, is solid and intriguing, touching on many contemporary problems. Watchmen are a clear inspiration here, with the heroes being simultaneously the cause and the solution of the problem. As for the graphics… Hats off to Hitch, because the visual side is stunning, with wide, dynamic frames instantly bringing to mind panoramic shots from action movies. The British artist might be slow-working and always late, but his work is worth waiting for.

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All in all, Ultimates, at least #1, is a must-read for the Marvel cinematic universe fans, and a nice-to-read for the hardcore fans of the comics. Published fourteen years ago it’s really old news by now, really, but if anyone out there haven’t read it yet, it’s high time they do it now :).

Score: 8/10

Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Marvel 1602 (2003)

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In the wake of last night’s match (Poland vs. Portugal in EURO2016, for those who didn’t watch, it was 1:1 and Poland lost in the penalties) I decided it was high time to take a closer look at certain aspects of alternative reality. Let’s indulge into a bit of “what-if”, shall we? 😉

Neil Gaiman is known mostly as an author of very popular and critically acclaimed fantasy/horror novels, such as American Gods, the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards winner, but he’s also a great comic book writer. His series The Sandman, an imprint of DC’s Vertigo, had been one of the most influential – and popular graphic novels of late 90’s and 00’s. But this post is not about The Sandman ;), besides I’m sure Piotrek has much more to say about it than I ever will. No, this post is about a one-off job Gaiman did for Marvel in 2003, a few years after The Sandman ended.

Marvel 1602 is a traditional, albeit a bit tongue-in-the-cheek, what-if story. In an alternative reality, Marvel superheroes live in the Elizabethan times, fighting against threats from this and other worlds. The main story arc revolves around the discovery that their sole existence, which happened 400 years too early, is inseparably linked to a lethal threat to their whole world.

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Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Daredevil: Born Again (1986)

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Widely considered the best Daredevil comic storyline ever (just check the tvtropes site if you have any doubts), Born Again also holds the 11th place on the list of 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time. Ostensibly, this is the graphic novel which saved Daredevil series from closing down. And also the one which very heavily influenced the recent Netflix TV series and most probably will continue to do so.

A story in 7 parts, clearly designed as a whole, with one overarching story masterfully linked to Roman Catholic concepts of sin, guilt, salvation and redemption, plus the requisite and remarkably tasty additions of Apocalypse and Armageddon. That Catholic inspiration is very strong not only in the narrative, but also in the visuals; Mazzucchelli directly links Daredevil’s experience to the life and death of Christ, creating poignant images of Pieta, a bit unorthodox Holy Trinity or of the dead body of Christ. There are even very emotional portrayals of Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. And a few mysteries along the way.

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Daredevil (2015-present)

Piotrek: Daredevil. “The Man Without Fear”. One of the better known Marvel superheroes, created, no surprise there, by Stan Lee. His MCU cameos are sometimes annoying, but his is an impressive resume.

Back to Daredevil though. Matt Murdock is one of the most inspiring Marvel heroes. The only child of a single, poor father, blinded young, when a radioactive substance got into his eyes, he managed to create a dual persona of ace attorney and protector of New York’s innocents.

His blindness does not make him helpless. Just the opposite, as a result of the accident in which he lost his vision the rest of his senses were supernaturally heightened. This allowed him to become the protector of his neighborhood, New York’s Hell’s Kitchen district.

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Ola: Daredevil, a TV series from Netflix, was the first in a planned string of MCU Netflix entries, soon to be followed by Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Punisher and Luke Cage, and leading to the team-up Defenders. I had watched a few MCU TV series, from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. through Agent Carter to Jessica Jones, and I can say with full responsibility that Daredevil is by far the best of the lot.

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Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Civil War (2006)

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Civil War was – and is – one of the biggest events in Marvel Universe, and that says something after over half a century of modern Marvel history and many epic, all-encompassing story arcs.

Ola: Marvel Civil War spans over a hundred separate comics – from Spider-Man through Fantastic Four, Wolverine, Captain America and Iron Man or New Avengers to less-known titles, such as Deadpool and Cable or Thunderbolts.And of course, the big cross-over thing binding them all: 7-part Civil War. Mark Millar, asked to sum up the subject matter of his opus magnum, said:

Civil War is about what happens when the Marvel heroes are forced to grow up. It’s as simple as that. The public need and want the heroes. They couldn’t survive without them in a world filled with super-villains and alien invasions. However, the wild west fantasy these guys have been having, where they put on a mask and fight whoever they like just doesn’t cut it in the modern world.

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