Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Avengers Endgame: How this film made my entire comic book reading life flash before my eyes.

Avengers Endgame: How this film made my entire comic book reading life flash before my eyes.
by rick olivares

Avengers Endgame saw my entire comic book reading life flash right in front of me. As I exited the theater, my mind was ablaze. It was equal parts, “Holy Shit! Iron Man and the Black Widow are dead. Fucking hell.” and “Damn, that was a great film.” All the way to… “They did it. Steve Rogers gave up his mantle of Captain America.” I even thought back to the article in Comics Scene magazine by Marc Shapiro dating back to 1990 (yes, I still have that issue) where he wondered why Marvel could not seem to get their films right. 

Boy, how things have changed, huh?

That’s a lot and a whole more so bear with me in what will be a long treatise about Avengers Endgame and the 22-film saga that is now known as the Infinity Saga.

Why is this the best superhero film – and one of the best in terms of fiction/action/adventure/sci-fi? 

Because as the creators have shown in previous films such as Captain America Civil War and Avengers Infinity War, they can juggle a huge cast, supply enough action, balance the story with action and levity, and now, heavy drama. 

When has there ever been a film where there are multiple moments where you punch the air and go, “Yeah!” or you feel your heart racing, and/or you feel emotion and your eyelids well up? 

As much as I am a Tolkien fan (I got my first set of the trilogy upon graduation from grade school) and of the film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, I didn’t cry or feel overly emotional with the end scenes for The Return of the King. Jeez. Outside a tearjerker fest such as Kramer Vs. Kramer, that other film that had me all emotional was Saving Private Ryan. But in a superhero film? 

That’s crazy, right?

That is because of a long-time emotional investment of the characters straight from the comic books to the films.

As a long-time comics book fan (I have been reading comics for about 46 years now), comic books have really done a number on me. 

I felt bad when Phoenix died in Uncanny X-Men #137. And yet, I didn’t write Marvel to complain about the “death.” I accepted it, after all, comic books deaths weren’t common. Furthermore, they set it up quite well. I can accept it.

I endured Karen Page’s betrayal of Matt Murdock in the opening issue of that great Daredevil saga, Born Again. And when Karen was murdered by Bullseye in the Guardian Devil arc, I too felt pained. But I continued reading my favorite character with nary a complaint.

In case you do not know, my eldest son is named Matthew. Yes, I named him after Matt Murdock who is my favorite comic book character along with Captain America and Cyclops. And the Catholic in me finds it serendipitous that the first Gospel is that of Matthew. Natch!

On the contrary, there are moments during my comic book reading history when my blood boiled and I howled for a pound of flesh. Such as when “the marriage” of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson was voided in the One More Day storyline that in my opinion stupidly rehashed a down-on-his-luck series of stories about the former, I was upset and I wrote an angry letter to Marvel and stopped reading Spider-Man. 

And there was when a certain creator who likes to fuck things up showed a startling lack of imagination and brought back the original five X-Men to the present. Clearly, he likes to disassemble things such as what he did during his stint with the Avengers when the Scarlet Witch’s mental problems suddenly return and he kills off Hawkeye, Jack of Hearts, and others in one issue. How about I disassemble that writer?

There was that last straw when they turned Captain America into a Nazi. How many Cosmic Cube stories can we do? 

In my anger, I fired off an angry goodbye letter to Marvel and I sold about 50% of my collection with many of the titles that came out in the last five-eight years. I kept the ones I liked from my youth and some good titles from today. 

About a year ago, then-incoming Marvel Comics editor-in-chief CB Cebulski who I met through good friend Jiggy Cruz asked me over dinner, “What can I do to get you to read comic books again?” CB and I grew up reading the same comics and felt the same way about all these haphazard and contrived changes in the industry.

I said, “Send the original X-Men back to their timeline.” Am working on that, he said.
“Stop this Cap Nazi shit.” Done, he sounded pleased.
“Bring back good old storytelling and stop making these stories event-driven.” Working on it, he said.

And, yes, I am back, although reading far fewer stuff. Nevertheless, I am a happy man again. Doubly happy because the MCU is simply amazing. A modern epic.

So, now you get how this roller coaster ride of emotions affects me. 

Film-wise. That is another story.

On the cover of the Blu-Ray DVD of The Avengers, there is a quote from Fandango.com’s Chuck Walton that reads: “The best superhero movie of all time.”

At that time, I thought so too with plenty of competition from Iron Man, Captain America the First Avenger (and The Dark Knight film of Christopher Nolan; sorry, the succeeding films were a bit too much. Fuck! At the rate people were trying to destroy Gotham I would have moved to Smallville). 

Today, I have to say that Avengers Endgame wrests that title (also from Captain America The Winter Soldier, Captain America Civil War, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Black Panther) just as the Infinity Gauntlet is surely taken away from Thanos by Iron Man.

And speaking of the Armored Avenger, at the end of his first movie, when Tony Stark is confronted by pressing questions from a journalist, he pauses for a moment then declares, “I am Iron Man.”

Then Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” segues in and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first offering that becomes a massive hit is over. Boy, if Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, then Iron Man launched 22 films in a saga that cannot be compared. It’s impact on film and popular culture is immeasurable.

And yet, 21 films later, Stark’s last words in Avengers Endgame are, “I am Iron Man.” And he snaps his fingers and Thanos and his minions are space dust.

It comes at a shocking and painful price. Tony Stark is gone. He is a great character and Robert Downey Jr. got his essence and being. I just realized that Stark has cheated death on numerous occasions. When he was nearly killed by his own bombs in the Afghan desert. When he was nearly fried by an overloaded arc reactor that claimed the life of the Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane). When his home was bombed. When he was nearly consumed by nuclear fire at the end of The Avengers. He was cast adrift in space with the oxygen almost used up. He survived Thanos and the first snap. But not the third. 

And then when Cap got old. In the comics, they have done that time and again. 

In the MCU, he finally got his wish to settle down with Peggy Carter. And that dance they discussed back at the end of World War II? Done. A just reward for everything this Man Out of Time endured. How emotional was this? Man, I teared up. A perfect ending to a great saga. 

Many people surmised Cap’s death given actor Chris Evans’ expressed desire to move on since spending 11 years doing Marvel films. Ditto with Robert Downey Jr. So it stands to reason, right?

But who saw the Black Widow’s death?

The moment Black Widow and Hawkeye went to Vormir to ambush Thanos, I thought of the possibility that one of them might lose their life. After all, they weren’t super-powered. And Natasha did. But not in the manner of what I or anyone for the matter expected.

Prior to the screening, the only outcome I could predict for Avengers Endgame was Thanos was going to be beat. How, I didn’t know. Time travel? Yes. But how they did it was amazing.

When the Avengers learn that Thanos destroyed the gems (and Thor in a fit of rage decapitates him), they are once more forlorn. It seems that there is no hope to undo the damage of the snap. Until Scott Lang returns from the Quantum Realm where time has different laws.

That is when they plan this time heist. And how!

I love the fact that the Avengers had difficulty trying to achieve their objective of stealing the Infinity Gems at different intervals. That nothing was easy, that they showed other scenes behind these scenes at the Stark Tower, the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Ancient One, Morag, Vormir, Asgard, and Camp Lehigh.

To go back to certain events in the MCU and offer other scenes whether as a fan service or not is a treat. 

I loved how Tony met his dad Howard Stark and on that day where he was going to celebrate the birth of his son (Tony) was amazing. It was a great great moment considering what he lost (his parents to the Winter Soldier) and potentially to another snap. 

And to see James D’Arcy who played Jarvis in ABC’s short-lived but great series, Agent Carter, was amazing! Truly amazing cameo indeed. Nice tip of the hat to the series for the fans. Isn't it great they brought in a larger cast of people who populated the MCU Universe? Fan service indeed!

I know it was a joke when Cap said, “Hail Hydra” and I suddenly shuddered to think of that idiot’s stories that turned Cap into a murdering Nazi. So thank God when Cap finally ordered, “Avengers Assemble!” before that climactic battle with Thanos’ hordes. You kind of take that for granted in the comics.

I love how the Peter David stories of the 1990s – the smart Hulk was used. It made a lot of sense to see the Hulk look like Mark Ruffalo. I totally love what Ruffalo brought to the table as Bruce Banner. While Edward Norton – who was amazing in my opinion as he brought that fragile nature to the star-crossed scientist – was great, I think Ruffalo brings that that natural shyness and with a sense of humor as well as a hint of danger to Banner. And seeing it all coalesce into the smart Hulk was a highlight for me and for many long-time Hulk fans.

And speaking of physical changes, I loved how they gave Thor a beer belly! And they had him fight that way for the rest of the film. Thank God, he wasn’t turned into a frog the way Thor writer-artist Walt Simonson did back in the 1980s. 

I love how the first part of the film dealt with the Avengers (and the rest of the world’s losses) with others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This was the part of the heavy acting with Rogers now taking the place of Sam Wilson in the VA counseling those going through grief, Natasha turning to drink (like Tony Stark did in the Iron Man comic book arc “Demon In A Bottle”), Hawkeye turning into Ronin but acting like the Punisher, Hulk working in a diner, Thor retired to New Asgard drinking beer and playing video games all day, and Tony the only one better for the post-snap period. And Scott Lang’s return was incredible. 

This is what makes these stories (and Marvel Comics which started this trend of four-colored storytelling by humanizing the heroes and giving them all sorts of everyday 

I love how Scott and Clint Barton were tempted by getting in touch with who they lost. And Cap fighting his younger self and quoting Lang’s quip about, “America’s ass.”

Then the second act where in true comic book fanboy style… it’s the hunt. The hunt for comics in fanboy culture and the hunt for the Infinity Gems. And it is never easy.

I loved how Thor looked so vulnerable and awkward in confronting Frigga on the day that she dies. Imagine the conflict raging inside him as he wants to save her but she will have none of it. 

Ditto with Barton who tries to give his life for the soul gem, but Natasha gives hers instead. It is one of the movie’s shocking, thought-provoking moments. 

And then there is the third and final act when Bruce Banner snaps everyone back into life. And then the old vicious Thanos who prior to collecting the Infinity Gems is brought back by the old Nebula. And a massive fight continues.

When all seems lost and Cap is facing Thanos, the Black Order, and all their hordes, he hears a familiar voice echoing what he said in The Winter Soldier, “On your left.” Aww, man! I felt my heart flutter and the old fanboy in me go, “Yeah!”

And then there’s Cap's battle cry, “Avengers Assemble!” Damn! Damn! Damn! 

The floodgates of tears, joy, excitement, and pure love of the medium, the characters, and the genre exploded. It’s a cacophony of delight and of everything I have loved all these decades. 

I thought of my very first Avengers comic (#142 written by Steve Englehart and drawn by George Perez and Vince Colletta where the Avengers go back in time courtesy of Immortus and meet Western heroes Night Rider, Rawhide Kid, Ringo Kid, and Two-Gun Kid who have hooked up with Hawkeye. This was reprinted locally and my mom bought it for me at the old Cherry Foodarama when I was five years old).

I thought of my first Cap comic (#193 that kicked off the Mad Bomb epic as written and drawn by Jack Kirby to celebrate America’s Bicentennial) that my aunt bought for me at the old Army Navy Club along Roxas Boulevard. 

I thought of my first Iron Man comic book (#123 which is part four of the Demon in a Bottle story arc) written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton with art by John Romita Jr. and Layton that my grandfather bought for me at the commissary of the old Clark Air Base.

I thought of my first Thor comic (#244 where Thor went up against the Time Twisters in a story by Len Wein and art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott) that my grandfather bought at a PX store in Tarlac.

And speaking of Thor, I love how Mjolnir finds its way into Cap’s hands (that was first teased in Avengers Age of Ultron) and he goes toe-to-toe with Thanos. But even he and Captain Marvel are beaten. Leaving it to Iron Man to save the day.

And I guess, the death adds to the impact of the story. If they all survived, it would have diminished the impact just as it did in the Infinity Gauntlet storyline in comics. Like nothing had happened. Here something did. And it hits the Avengers and it hits us as the audience. 

That is why is makes it all the more powerful. You come away touched by it. Good things touch you in so many ways. They tug at your heartstrings. And bring you back to happy places. Such as those days as a kid when I was introduced to comics and superheroes. 

And that brings me back to Iron Man.

The film version of Tony Stark might not be with us anymore (unless the make him that ghost in the machine in the early issues of Iron Heart that I stopped reading), but I have good memories.

Ones that go back even back to my first comic. To those old Lawrence-Gantray cartoons of the 1960s that I loved as only a kid can. I remember coming home from school (around Grade 1) and my mom and my younger sister would help me get dressed and these Marvel cartoons would be showing. I'd be transfixed for the next 15 minutes and they fed my imagination.

And to this day, I hum and sing those words of that old Iron Man cartoon: 
“Tony Stark makes you feel
He’s a cool exec with a heart of steel
As Iron Man all jets ablaze
He’s fighting and smiting with repulsor rays.
Amazing armor. That’s Iron Man.
A blazing power. That’s Iron Man.”

Thanks to everyone who made all these 22 films.

Thanks to everyone who built the Marvel Universe.

You made this old fanboy cry.

Love you 3000.

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