Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Comics (Honorable Mention): Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF COMICS (HONORABLE MENTION): WANDA MAXIMOFF / SCARLET WITCH

 

A witch called Wanda…

 

Outside of comics, Wanda Maximoff or the Scarlet Witch is best known as superheroine and Avengers team member played by Elizabeth Olsen in Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or not, since she’s not exactly prominent there, surfacing only as recently as Avengers: Age of Ultron. Perhaps you might know her better as the female other than Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow breaking up the Avengers’ sausage party.

 

 

Which is unfortunate, because in the comics, Wanda is one of the most powerful superhumans on the planet – with her power of being able to alter reality in unspecified ways, so…magic! It was originally written as her hex power – or dare I say it, hex appeal? – which consisted of pointing in some direction and some unfortunate event would occur. (Although that pretty much sounds like my everyday life). That then evolved into a mutant power of probability, which in turn evolved into actual magic – and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having red glowing light from her hands and being “weird”.

 

Art by Greg Horn

 

 

Like anything else in the Marvel Universe, her backstory is incredibly convoluted and subject to change, even more so when you factor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She originated as a mutant – which is complicated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Marvel sold off its mutants or X-men to Twentieth Century Fox. That typically included the actual mutant characters themselves, but through some strange loophole Marvel retained the rights to Wanda and her brother Pietro or Quicksilver – although there are two versions of Quicksilver, a Twentieth Century Fox Quicksilver (in the X-men films) and a Marvel Cinematic Universe Quicksilver, with the former being much cooler (and less dead-er) than the latter.

 

 

Art by ‘Artgerm’ or Stanley Lau

 

In the comics, they were famously the children of recurring X-men adversary (or ally as it keeps changing) Magneto – but Fox owns him too so they’re orphaned in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, Marvel could have gone with the cinematic adaptation reflecting that she was originally the daughter of Golden Age superhero the Whizzer – but no one could have referred to her as the daughter of the Whizzer without laughing. She and Quicksilver have been subsequently ret-conned as non-mutants kidnapped and experimented on by the High Evolutionary, which makes one glad that they keep this sort of crap out of the cinematic adaptations. They were then misled to believe that Magneto was their father. Well, that was needlessly complicated.

 

 

In the comics, she has a relationship with the Vision, the Avenger’s resident android – and it looks as if she’s headed that way in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the Vision (played by Paul Bettany) wearing his best sweaters to impress her.

 

 

Speaking of clothing, Wanda has had a variety of costumes, if by variety one means primarily variations of swimsuit. Her signature costume in the comics is ridiculous, although in fairness all costumes in comics are ridiculous, but arguably more so for female characters. In this case, it essentially consists of a red leotard, pink stockings and…what is that, a wimple? Anyway, in the words of TV Tropes, “Wanda has the dubious distinction of being one of the least dressed Avengers”, which led to her more practical design in the cinematic adaptations in which she dresses in everyday clothes. Apparently director Joss Whedon reassured actress Elizabeth Olsen that she would never wear the “red bathing suit”.

 

 

I have to confess that I’m almost more intrigued by the guys in the background – who are they meant to be?

 

Interestingly, the “red bathing suit” style of costume seems to be the costume of choice for cosplay models.

Mega-City Law – Judge Child Quest 11: The Hungry Planet (Complete Case Files Volume 4: Prog 166

 

MEGA-CITY LAW – JUDGE CHILD QUEST 11: THE HUNGRY PLANET

(COMPLETE CASE FILES VOLUME 4: PROG 166)

 

Judge Dredd is pulp SF, deliberately so as a dystopian SF satire. Everything is, in a phrase, over the top – from the Mega-City Judges (including their uniforms, their Lawmaster cycles and their Lawgiver guns) to Mega-City One itself, a future world where every single thing has become overwhelming.

 

And that is even more so in the Judge Child Quest Oracle Spice Quest, where Judge Dredd is IN SPACE!

 

So far we’ve already seen Dredd as the dread face of god and on a planet of body-brokers. Now we encounter a living planet.

 

 

No, not Ego the Living Planet – although Marvel Comics is similarly over the top IN SPACE, as recently popularized by the second Guardians of the Galaxy film.

 

This living planet is more along the lines of that giant spaceship eating asteroid worm that almost slurps down the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back. And it similarly begs the question of how such an entity survives, let alone grows to its cosmic size, on a diet of spaceships that just happen to fly into its mouth (literally in the case of The Empire Strikes Back) in the vastness of space.

 

Which is what happens to Judge Dredd’s Justice One here as it enters the Hadean system – the planet literally opens and swallows the ship inside its stomach with its tentacles. At which point, it then becomes Judge Dredd’s version of the Fantastic Voyage, with the planet’s anatomy fortunately resembling that of terrestrial biology, and Dredd directing the pilot through some radical surgery – using an armor-piercing nuclear missile and blasters to get the ship into a blood vein and then dropping nuclear depth charges (they have those on a spaceship?) to float to the planet’s heart, killing the planet as they blast out of it.

 

 

Dredd’s post-operative bedside manner is droll – “Let’s skip the celebrations and get moving! If that’s a sample of what we can expect in this system, the sooner we find the Oracle Spice and get out the better!”

 

TO BE CONTINUED: WELCOME TO THE WAR

Top 10 Girls of Comics & Honorable Mentions

 

TOP 10 GIRLS OF COMICS AND HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

With my Fantasy Girl entry for Black Canary, I’ve revamped my Top 10 Girls of Comics and Honorable Mentions, which you can find linked through the page menu:

(10) Black Cat (I’ve promoted her from honorable mention, particularly with the potential Silver & Black film on the way with her and Silver Sable. She replaces Empowered – the latter is now a special mention)

(9) Harley Quinn

(8) Black Widow

(7) X-men – Emma Frost (Mystique & Psylocke)

(6) Witchblade (Angelus)

(5) Lady Death (Purgatori)

(4) Vampirella (Pantha & Blood-Red Queen of Hearts)

(3) Red Sonja

(2) Catwoman

(1) Wonder Woman

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

 

DC COMICS

Black Canary

Zatanna

Poison Ivy

Starfire

 

MARVEL COMICS

Fantastic Four – Susan Storm / Invisible Woman

Ms Marvel / Captain Marvel

Elektra

 

IMAGE COMICS & OTHER

Gen 13 – Caitlin Fairchild

Aphrodite IX

Aspen Matthews

Danger Girl – Abbey Chase & Sydney Savage

Cassie Hack

Sin City – Nancy Callahan

Shi

 

Top 10 Comic Book Films (Revised)

 

TOP 10 COMIC BOOK FILMS (REVISED)

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2017 promises to be a big year in comic book films, so much so that I am anticipating quite a few shake-ups in my Top 10 Comic Book Films.

 

There’s the upcoming Spiderman: Homecoming, which may see that Marvel movie magic erase that bad taste of those Amazing Spiderman films and perhaps see the character return to the heights of the Sam Raimi films – or even better, given that Tom Holland appears to be a much better fit for the character than Toby Maguire.

 

There’s the first female superhero film Wonder Woman, which may be the DC Cinematic Universe’s saving grace, if it escapes the, ah, mixed results of that universe to date – particularly given Gal Gadot’s portray of its title character, one of the few positive things in critical assessments of Batman v Superman.

 

Thor: Ragnarok even promises to pique my interest in what has previously been one of the less interesting parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for me.

 

And then there is the more exotic fare of Ghost in the Shell (which has looked visually spectacular in trailers, although I’m not quite so confident in its direction) and Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets (although I’m equally not so confident in Cara Delevingne in it)

 

However, first up this year has been Logan – a film that has shaken up my standing Top 10 Comic Book Films so much that it has leapt up to the top three (and becoming my new favorite film from the X-men franchise). Yes – I liked it that much, better than The Dark Knight or Captain America: Civil War.

 

And so, these are my top ten comic book films, revised for the addition of 2017’s Logan (and some shuffling of other entries)

 

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(10) DEADPOOL (2016)

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What better wildcard entry  for tenth place than Deadpool?

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The character himself is a wildcard, above all because he knows that he is a fictional character in a comic, or in this case, comic book movie, and engages the audience as such. As he quips about the presence of only two X-men in the movie – “It’s almost as if the studio couldn’t afford another X-man”.

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The title character, Marvel Comics’ Wade Wilson or Deadpool, is known at the Merc with a Mouth, for his constant wisecracking and breaking the fourth wall, which the film’s script (for which the writers are credited as “the true heroes”) used to good effect. His superhuman ability is his healing factor, although that’s nothing compared to his cinematic resurrection from the mess that was Wolverine: Origins – a mess both generally and also particularly with respect to his character. It’s not easy coming back from a film that notoriously made his character unrecognizable, while being the cinematic equivalent of punching its audience in the head – amongst other things by sewing his trademark mouth shut. Characteristically, the Deadpool film casually mocks the former film with a figurine of its version of the character.

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As for the film itself, it’s just pure, R-rated subversive fun and demonstrated that by becoming the highest grossing R-rated movie ever (as well as the highest grossing movie in the X-men franchise), while embracing the character’s appearance and personality – “Fast, funny and gleefully profane, the fourth-wall busting Deadpool subverts the superhero film formula with wildly entertaining – and decidedly non-family friendly – results”.

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Above all, it gets its superhero landing right!

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(9) KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)

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For my ninth place entry, we have Kingsman: The Secret Service, a playful and subversive parody of  spy films in general and James Bond in particular – adapted from a comic by Mark Millar (similarly to another Millar work, Kickass, a playful and subversive parody of superhero film).

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The film apparently originated when Millar and director Matthew Vaughn were at a bar discussing how the spy film genre was too serious and they wanted to do a fun one. And boy did they deliver on that premise – as Guardian writer Jordan Hoffman quipped, “no one in the production can believe that they’re getting away with such a batshit Bond”. It takes all the elements of a Bond film and ramps them up with its tongue firmly in its cheek – Bond on crack.

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Of course, there is the eponymous spy agency – stylish (“manners maketh man”) and quintessentially British (named for Arthurian characters), with Colin Firth’s Galahad in a superb action role. However, it is Samuel L. Jackson who steals the spotlight, hamming it up with his lisping, megalomaniac supervillain Valentine – such that he makes Bond villains look positively tame by comparison (although his blade-legged henchwoman Gazelle comes a close second). Valentine’s supervillain scheme is to fix global warming (yay!) by killing most of the world’s population (um – not so yay?) – the mechanism for this is revealed in a frenzied continuous action scene so good that Cinema Sins did one of its rare deduction of five sins for it.

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Per Rolling Stone magazine – “This slam-bang action movie about British secret agents is deliriously shaken, not stirred … Even when it stops making sense, Kingsman is unstoppable fun”.

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(8) IRON MAN (2008)

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“The truth is…I am Iron Man!”

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Iron Man kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, with Robert Downey Jr. in the role to which he was perfectly suited (heh). Few people outside comics fandom were aware of Iron Man or Tony Stark prior to Robert Downey Jr’s debut as the character in the Iron Man film. Thanks to his portrayal of the character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now everyone knows about Iron Man. The original character was created in 1963 as a counterpoint to the counterculture at the time, and he sure showed those hippies – an American billionaire playboy, arms dealing business magnate and technological genius. Like Batman, he relies on his money and gadgets, particularly the armored powered suits that give him his superhero identity.  Of course, it doesn’t explain how he has managed to suspend the laws of physics inside his suits and avoid being mashed inside them (like any other vehicular collision). Yeah, they’d be pouring him out of his suit afterwards.

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Anyway, the first film retells his origin story from the comics, only updated from Tony Stark creating his first Iron Man suit to escape captivity by dirty commies in Vietnam, to escaping captivity by dirty terrorists in Afghanistan. From there on, it’s essentially about Tony creating better suits to become a superhero, until he gets in a suit-swinging contest with the primary villain – “my suit is bigger than yours!”

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Thereafter, Iron Man has predominated not only his own movies, but also in the Avengers films (including the de facto Avengers film in Captain America Civil War). As Tony Stark quips in the Avengers Age of Ultron film (the source of my title image) – “I just pay for everything and design everything and make everyone look cooler”. Indeed, he does. Also, as we see in his first film, he has a stripper pole for stewardesses in his private jet – and if that doesn’t make him a superhero, I don’t know what does…

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(7) SPIDERMAN (2002)

It wouldn’t be a top ten comic book film list without the screen incarnation of everyone’s favorite web-slinging, wise-cracking friendly neighborhood Spiderman.

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The 1990’s have been dubbed the Dark Age of Comics for thematic (and quality) reasons, but they were a darker age in comic book movies much more for quality reasons. DC Comics, which predominated comic book films at that time, had ground to a halt with the execrable sequels to Superman (especially the fourth) and the even more execrable sequels to Batman (again especially the fourth, infamously killing the franchise until it was resurrected by Christopher Nolan). Marvel Comics then revived comic book movies in the new millennium – although not with the properties it had in its own name in the present Marvel Cinematic Universe, but with its properties that it had sold off to other studios, X-men (to Fox) and Spiderman (to Sony).

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Spiderman has had a checkered cinematic history since, but who can forget the pure enjoyment of Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman movie in 2002? It engagingly told the now familiar origin story of Spiderman (Uncle Ben and “with great power comes great responsibility), although with some modifications – Spiderman’s web-shooting was now organic rather than by his own invention, which I found to be both more plausible (as well as more consistent with his origin story) and more entertaining as adolescent sexual innuendo (Spiderman splurging his web about the place, particularly when Mary Jane was on the scene). And it engagingly presented the young superhero, one who brought out the best in New York City (if not J. Jonah Jameson), in his battle against the Green Goblin, perfectly played by Willem Dafoe. Man – he even looked like the Green Goblin before his transformation. (Why did they bother with the mask?)

 

 

Some enjoy the sequel with Doctor Octopus even more – I certainly enjoyed it, although to me the original eclipsed it with its fresh quality. The third Raimi movie…doesn’t get so much love. And yes, we’ll all like to forget Spiderman’s envenomed evil dancing, but I still enjoyed the movie, mainly because I also love Venom (even if the film badly fumbled him, as well as shoehorning him into a movie crowded with villains). Also, it doesn’t look so bad now after the rebooted Amazing Spiderman sequel essentially did the same thing, only worse, with Electro. Although even then, I didn’t hate that movie, and liked the first one (particularly with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy). That’s just how much I love Spiderman.

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And I have high expectations of Spiderman assuming his rightful place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the aptly named and upcoming Homecoming, particularly given how that Universe and Tom Holland nailed the character in his appearance in the Captain America Civil War film.

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(6) DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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The Doctor is in!

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The focus of the film is the titular Doctor, perfectly cast as Benedict Cumberbatch (and his cheekbones). The plot revolves around his origin, mirroring that in the comics. Unlike other titled doctors in comics, Doctor Strange is actually a medical doctor – his origin story is that he was a brilliant (and arrogant) neurosurgeon, but a car accident smashed the bones in his hands so that he couldn’t perform surgery. He then obsessively searched the world for a cure, but instead found something much cooler – magic! He is accepted as student by the Tibetan Master known as the Ancient One, somewhat incongruously played by the white and female Tilda Swinton, although she carries it off with her characteristic aplomb. He becomes a practitioner of the mystical arts, aided by such artifacts as the time-bending Eye of Agamotto and the show-stealing Cloak of Levitation, ultimately rising to Marvel’s mystical champion and punching out the Marvel Comics equivalent of Cthulhu while travelling psychedelic magical landscapes. (Or not, since the finale involves something refreshingly different from the usual superhero modus operandi of literally punching out the supervillain antagonist).

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Admittedly, on the one hand, it’s a little like magic Iron Man (or, in the words of Honest Trailers, Iron Man on weed), but on the other hand – MAGIC! It’s the introduction of magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – well, more so than Norse gods, the Scarlet Witch, mysterious powers and every other fantasy element in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, including those nominally based on ‘fuzzy’ science (even more so when you throw in Spiderman and the X-men).

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And what an introduction! The magic, and the aforementioned psychedelic magical landscapes, are characterized by, in the phrase of TV Tropes, visual effects of awesome – typically (and accurately) described in reviews as a combination of The Matrix and Inception. Although – if only it had stuck with the literally flame-headed Balrog-style Dormammu from the comics…

IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(5) CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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And so we come to the core of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its superhero team assembled over the course of its films – Iron Man, Captain America and the Avengers.

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You all know the achievements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least in terms of box office predominance and positive critical reception, but these reflect the ability to translate a diverse and extensive storied universe (spanning decades in the comics) to the screen.

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And at its peak to date is the recent Captain America: Civil War. It continued the successful ensemble tradition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while introducing the new character of African Batman Catman Black Panther. Although, like Wolverine, his superhero weapon of choice is…claws? Hello kitty! And introducing Marvel’s Spiderman into his rightful place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also continued the Marvel Cinematic Universe tradition of compacting complex story and themes from the comics into a cinematic adaptation.

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Although, in your heart, you known Iron Man had the moral high ground in the Civil War storyline. Well, perhaps not in the comics, which were a little more nuanced (although is it so outrageous having some sort of government registration for people with potentially destructive or lethal powers?), but definitely in the film. I mean, come on Cap, what is your problem with the United Nations wanting a little accountability? You know, tapping you on the shoulder and asking why so many civilians were killed as collateral damage? Instead, Cap throws his petulant hissy fit – even more so when it’s to save his precious Bucky. Just get a room already, you two!

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And Team Iron Man totally should have won that airport battle hands down. I mean, it was nice of Captain America to handicap his team by picking the most useless Avenger, Hawkeye. Although, come to think of it, what exactly is Bucky’s power? A metal arm?! Apart from the Scarlet Witch and Ant Man, Cap’s team was really a law of diminishing returns. Falcon? Hawkeye?! Bucky?!?! That battle should have been over by the time it took Spiderman to splurge them all with his web, as How It Should Have Ended pointed out. (Ewww, sticky!)

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(4) THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

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Why so serious?

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It wouldn’t be a comic book movie top ten list without Batman.

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Matching the diversity and different moods of the Batman mythos, Batman has come in different flavors in his screen adaptations. (And no, get your mind out of the Bat-nippled Joel Schumacher gutter). There was the incredibly camp film originating from the equally camp TV series of the sixties. In contrast, the Tim Burton films took a dark Gothic direction to match the name of Batman’s city, although they retained a certain Gothic camp quality, particularly in the second (and somewhat incoherent) film – before Joel Schumacher took the franchise into the aforementioned gutter, (infamously “killing the franchise”)

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Looming above them all – and reviving the franchise – is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, with its centerpiece film, The Dark Knight. Indeed, the film is considered by critics to be one of the best movies of the decade as well as one of the best superhero movies ever – taking Batman into a gritty, realistic direction (almost plausible – or as plausible as a billionaire in a batsuit can get).

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You all know the film. You all know the quotes – and the memes (the memes the Internet deserves, but not the ones it needs right now). And capering as a force of pure chaotic evil at the heart of it all was Heath Ledger’s Joker. O yes – some men just want to watch the world burn…

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(3) LOGAN (2017)

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I liked this 2017 X-men film so much that it has leapt into the top three, as well as becoming my favorite film from the franchise. Based on the X-men comic storyline, Old Man Logan, the film is set in a dystopian future United States (rather than the post-apocalyptic future of the comics).

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Why do I like it so much? Well, it helps that it abandons the ensemble cast of the previous films of the franchise (always a difficult task to balance or juggle) to focus on its two most intriguing characters, fan favorite Wolverine (the titular Logan), played by Hugh Jackman and Charles Xavier (or Professor X), played by Patrick Stewart. As the film opens, Wolverine’s mutant healing factor (which includes longevity) has gone awry and he has aged, as he is being slowly poisoned by the adamantium in his skeleton. Charles Xavier been even less fortunate – as the film opens with him a fugitive tended to by Wolverine, his former telepathic abilities now turned against himself (and others – to the extent that it has been classified as a weapon of mass destruction) due to neurogenerative disease. It also helps that both Jackman and Stewart are at the top of their game at portraying the depths of their respective characters.

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The plot doesn’t always hang together (and is hard to reconcile with the previous X-men film franchise – what has become of the other X-men?!). It helps that it mixes genre effectively as a neo-Western superhero road movie. The Western elements particularly loom large, with the classic Western film Shane a point of reference on a number of occasions – not to mention the cybernetic Reavers (who, as one of those aforementioned plot points, don’t appear to actually be any good at, ah, reaving).

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Above all, it has more heart than any other film in the franchise, even if at times it is a raw and broken one. And I have a particular soft spot for stories of heroes at the end of their days, but who still rise to the call of heroism one last time (or for one last chance of redemption) – or in the context of the Western, one last ride into the sunset.

 

“We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved heaven and earth, that which we are, we are:

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” –

Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE: 4 STARS****

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(2) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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Marvel Comics got cosmic, baby, with The Guardians of the Galaxy.

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And it’s particularly striking that this film works as well as it does – given that it takes an ensemble from Marvel Comics C-list roster into its equally bizarre and eclectic cosmic setting. As I said at the outset of my top ten, I tend to stay aware of a wide range of comics, and I hadn’t heard of the Guardians (although I was aware of elements of Marvel’s cosmic setting).

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How does it work so well?

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Well, there’s that cosmic setting with its visual effects.

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There’s the funky sixties and seventies soundtrack on its protagonist’s impossibly durable mixtape (and for which he is prepared to risk death)

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There’s Chris Pratt’s charismatic and comedic performance as the protagonist Peter Quill or Star-Lord (although the latter doesn’t quite catch on as well as he would like, much to his disappointment) – with such highlights as dancing off the villain.

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There’s Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, with my personal favorite highlights including when she proclaims their heroism “we’re just like Kevin Bacon” (from a reference by Quill to Footloose) – and when she dances, ever so slightly, at the end (after rejecting the idea of dancing – prompting Quill’s Footloose reference)

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There’s Dave Batista’s incredibly literal-minded Drax the Destroyer. (“Nothing goes over my head – my reflexes are too fast”).

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There’s Bradley Cooper’s voiced (and spotlight-stealing) Rocket Racoon.

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And then there’s Groot. Just Groot. I love Groot. Vin Diesel-voiced three-worded vocabulary tree-thing Groot. While the rest of the Guardians start off as rogues at best, Groot is the innocent and true hero amongst them – with a heart at big as he is. Cinema Sins did its rare reversal of sin count for Groot, not once but twice – firstly, when he offers a beggar girl a flower grown from his hand (“I’ll take a sin off for Groot being awesome – I’m not made of stone”, the narrator quips as he knocks off a sin), and secondly, when he beams with a beautiful child-like grin to his colleagues after saving them from a wave of attackers.

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And of course, there’s him dancing as regrown seedling to the Jackson Five.

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(1) DREDD (2012)

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You knew this was coming – it’s my favorite comic so it’s also my favorite comic book movie. Of course, one does not necessarily follow from the other – the woeful 1995 Judge Dredd movie is a case in point. Fortunately, the 2012 Dredd movie got it right, although unfortunately it did not get the box office numbers.

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Judge Dredd is the most iconic character from the British weekly SF anthology comic, 2000 AD, ongoing since it was launched in 1977. Unfortunately, American audiences remain somewhat unfamiliar with (or unresponsive to) Judge Dredd, despite his American setting (albeit futuristic) and despite that he is effectively a quintessential American hero in the same vein as Batman – relying on superior discipline, training, experience, equipment and resources, except as a governmental lawman rather than a vigilante billionaire. (They even both effectively remain masked in their public identities, as Dredd never removes his helmet). This is despite his iconic status, particularly in Britain, and despite American audiences being familiar with many of the alumni of 2000 AD, as virtually every British writer (and artist) of note working in American comics started there (and indeed often in the Judge Dredd storyline itself) – Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar and so on.

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Even more unfortunately, the first substantial introduction of American audiences to Judge Dredd was the 1995 film, although fortunately that particular horror is fading with time. This Hollywood travesty was particularly inexcusable, because the essence of Judge Dredd is ultimately very simple – Judge Dredd is a futuristic Dirty Harry in a dystopian (and post-apocalyptic) SF satire. How hard is that, Hollywood?! On second thoughts, this simple formula is probably too much for Hollywood to handle – when they couldn’t even have Dredd keep his helmet on throughout the film.

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The 2012 film was much more effective in capturing the elements of the original comic (not least in keeping Dredd’s helmet on throughout the film). It is not perfect in this respect. For one thing, it minimizes the satire or comedy to focus on effective world building, although that was probably a matter of necessity. For another, it alters the original storyline from the comics, notably by having psi-Judge Anderson as Dredd’s Rookie. Nevertheless, it is effective in having a stripped-back storyline to the most basic of Dredd storylines, which was indeed that in the very first Dredd episode in the comics (with a length of six pages) – the entry into a building or city block to apprehend criminal perpetrators or ‘perps’. In the first comics episode, the perp was Judge-killer ‘Whitey’ in the rundown Empire State Building. In the 2012 film, it’s slo-mo drug-lord Ma-Ma – played by Lena Headey – in a lockdown of a residential city block, similar to The Raid.

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Unfortunately, the film was not as effective in capturing an audience for its cinematic release, nor in commencing a franchise (but I’ll continue to lobby for the latter with my top spot here). I mean, come on people! Karl Urban acting with his chin as Dredd. Cersei Lannister as scarred city block drug lord. What more could you want? In its own way, this is as unfortunate as the 1995 film, particularly at a time when comic book movies are in such vogue (and dystopian or post-apocalyptic movies have always been popular) – because if ever a comic deserved its own cinematic or screen universe, it’s Dredd, especially when you consider the dreck (or drokk – Judge Dredd slang in-joke alert) that does get adaptations. It has fared better as a cult film with fans and home media release, so perhaps some further adaptation is possible – perhaps a television adaptation would be better, as it suits the more episodic nature as well as longer arcs of the storyline. Whatever the case, I’ll just repeat my ten reasons why Judge Dredd is the galaxy’s greatest comic – and why it deserves its own cinematic or screen universe:

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MEGA-CITY LAW – 10 REASONS WHY JUDGE DREDD IS THE GALAXY’S GREATEST COMIC (AND DESERVES ITS OWN SCREEN UNIVERSE):

(1) APOCALYPSE WOW!

(2) SCI FI FANTASY KITCHEN SINK

(3) REAL WORLD SATIRE (OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE SEXUAL OLYMPICS)

(4) FUTURISTIC DIRTY HARRY (OR DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?)

(5) MORAL COMPLEXITY (OR JUDGE DREDD DIED FOR YOUR SINS)

(6) THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY AND THE WEIRD

(7) THERE WERE 800 MILLION STORIES IN THE MEGA-CITY

(8) ROGUES GALLERY

(9) DIVERSITY OF GENRE AND TONE (OR HOW THE DAY OF CHAOS TORE MY HEART OUT)

(10) THE TAO OF DREDD (PLATO’S REPUBLIC AND HOBBES’ LEVIATHAN)

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

Cult, Pulp & Kink: Daredevil (2015-present)

 

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CULT, PULP & KINK: DAREDEVIL (2015 – PRESENT)

 

Marvel’s Daredevil gives DC’s The Flash a run (heh) for its money as my favorite comics TV series. The Flash probably just edges forward, because it’s more wild fantasy. As opposed to most superheroes, there’s little fantasy about Daredevil, except for his hyper-sensory perception, and that pales compared to the outright magic (disguised as science) of the Speed Force in the Flash.

 

Daredevil’s first season gets off to a slow burn – protagonist Matt Murdock’s Daredevil himself has neither his costume nor even his superhero moniker (until the closing episodes), but is simply masked in black and is dubbed about halfway through the season as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, the fictional setting in New York City. His primary adversary does not have the supervillain moniker of Kingpin, but is simply Wilson Fisk.

 

And yet I liked it – gritty, raw, emotional, tense and on a believably small scale, as befitting a slum vigilante, but leavened throughout with drama, humor (much of it from Murdock’s partner in law, Foggy Nelson) and even pathos. There are genuinely touching moments of sadness or vulnerability – one of the few moments in which a screen superhero wept that I believed, and even more, felt, as Daredevil, albeit as Matt Murdock, breaks down at one point “I can’t do this alone”. A funeral for one of the characters is equally as touching – and also illustrates that, unlike much of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, there are real stakes in the battle, real consequences, real casualties. People die and they stay dead. Another advantage over much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the villains also feel real – brutal crime lords that can be devastatingly effective (and are also poised to tear each other apart), particularly the primary antagonist Wilson Fisk (although I also liked Madame Gao and the blinded legions of her drug empire). Sure, Loki is the pinup villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s only because he’s a prancing pretty boy – he never feels genuinely menacing, as opposed to the brutal, glowering menace of Wilson Fisk. (“I didn’t come here to threaten you – I came here to kill you!”). And yet Fisk also has another advantage over so many generic cinematic supervillains shooting their lasers into the sky – his origin and motivation appears genuine, and at certain angles, even sympathetic.

 

It is interesting to contrast my reaction to this series with that to Arrow, with its similar premise of a vigilante, albeit the unbelievable one of a billionaire with a bow. (Dude, just pay someone to clean up the city!). Arrow felt dull and flat, as opposed to the visceral intensity of Daredevil (particularly in its fight scenes – and injuries to the protagonist). Part of that lies in the charismatic principal cast, particularly the protagonist. And there are a number of layers of resonance to Matt Murdock’s Daredevil. For one, he is blind, a disability or vulnerability not encountered often in comics, although of course it is compensated for by the hyper-sensory perception of his other senses, albeit rendering his world a “world on fire”. For another, Matt Murdock is a lawyer hero, as all true lawyers should be. And finally, he is sympathetically portrayed as Catholic, even attending confession (albeit for what he is about to do), and his Catholicism even yields one memorable line at the aforementioned funeral. “How you holding up?” the priest asks him. “Like a good Catholic boy,” he replies. “That bad huh?” the priest quips back.

 

And there are hints of more fantastic elements and Daredevil mythos to come in the following seasons – Elektra (in a reference to a Greek girl at college), Stick and mystical ninjas…

 

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

Cult, Pulp & Kink: Big Hero 6 (2014)

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CULT, PULP & KINK: BIG HERO 6 (2014)

 

Technically, Big Hero 6 is a comic book film. Technically, but for one thing, very few people are familiar with the Marvel Comics Japanese superhero team Big Hero 6. For another, the cinematic Big Hero 6 are only loosely based on – you know, “inspired” by – the comics superhero team. And for yet another, although I enjoy my comics and my animation, I just prefer my screen adaptations of comics in live action form. So I prefer to identify this film amongst my animated film choices. Also – it’s Disney (and the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel characters, however obscure and obliquely).

 

The plot revolves around Hiro, a teenaged robotics genius in the fused Japanese-American city of San Fransokyo (however that happened – the United States lost the Second World War? Japan bought California?), who unfortunately loses his older brother (similarly a robotics genius) as well as his revolutionary mind-controlled microbots in a fire. Fortunately, he does have his brother’s creation, the inflatable health care robot, Baymax – the most goddamn adorable robot ever on screen.

 

He and Baymax then become the kernel of the titular superhero team – after Baymax is upgraded to be more badass, including ripping off Iron Man’s suit – along with his older brother’s former robotics colleagues (using their various technological innovations, combined with that most reliable superpower – money), prompted by a mysterious villain made supervillainous by staging the fire and stealing those microbots in the first place.

 

There was talk of a sequel (Big Hero Seven?) but it appears to be extending itself franchise-wise with an animated television series due in 2017

 

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

 

Top 10 Comic Book Films

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TOP 10 COMIC BOOK FILMS

 

And I’ve revamped my top 10 comic book films, included on its own page and below. Star-Lord Peter Quill breaks out his dancing to celebrate as Guardians of the Galaxy rockets up to top the Marvel Cinematic Universe in fourth place. It’s kept out of the top three only by my personal favorite Dredd as well as two of the biggest superheroes, Batman and Spiderman. Sadly, I’ve dropped former silver medalist Hellboy to special mention, given the absence of a sequel or ongoing franchise. Doctor Strange is a new entry in fifth place, as well as Iron Man in sixth place – mainly to spite Team Cap in Civil War. Otherwise, the rest of the top ten is the essentially the same, but shuffled about the new entries. Enjoy!

 

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TOP 10 COMIC BOOK FILMS

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We are living in the golden age of comic book films, in which it seems that whole comic book universes are brought to the screen and predominate the box office – but sadly not those snobby Academy Awards. We’ll just have to knock those “serious”  dramas nobody watches out from the nominations. I mean, come on – there wasn’t enough actual Birdman in Birdman! Smells like balls indeed. (Although I actually did like that film).

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Given that I have my top ten comics AND my top ten fantasy and SF films, it stands to reason that I also have my top ten comic book movies – particularly as I excluded films based on comics from my top ten fantasy & SF films (even though they are overwhelmingly fantasy or SF in nature).

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The casual reader of Stark After Dark might get the impression that I follow more comics than I actually do. I do have a love of the medium, will have a look at anything in it and read about or up on them, but I actually read only a few comics and actively follow even fewer of them, almost entirely outside mainstream DC Comics or Marvel. Now it is true that I am aware of a wide range of comics, but with some exceptions (such as my love of comic girl art), this awareness typically comes from their cinematic or screen adaptations, which prompts my reading about them.

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The cinematic franchises do dominate the top ten, because I love a comic book universe – and even more so a comic book universe brought to cinematic life. However, there are a couple of ‘independent’ entries, although one is due for a sequel and the other (my top entry) is sorely in need of a screen franchise. (I’ll even take a television adaptation).

Anyway, these are my top ten comic book films.

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(10) DEADPOOL (2016)

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What better wildcard entry  for tenth place than Deadpool?

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The character himself is a wildcard, above all because he knows that he is a fictional character in a comic, or in this case, comic book movie, and engages the audience as such. As he quips about the presence of only two X-men in the movie – “It’s almost as if the studio couldn’t afford another X-man”.

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The title character, Marvel Comics’ Wade Wilson or Deadpool, is known at the Merc with a Mouth, for his constant wisecracking and breaking the fourth wall, which the film’s script (for which the writers are credited as “the true heroes”) used to good effect. His superhuman ability is his healing factor, although that’s nothing compared to his cinematic resurrection from the mess that was Wolverine: Origins – a mess both generally and also particularly with respect to his character. It’s not easy coming back from a film that notoriously made his character unrecognizable, while being the cinematic equivalent of punching its audience in the head – amongst other things by sewing his trademark mouth shut. Characteristically, the Deadpool film casually mocks the former film with a figurine of its version of the character.

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As for the film itself, it’s just pure, R-rated subversive fun and demonstrated that by becoming the highest grossing R-rated movie ever (as well as the highest grossing movie in the X-men franchise), while embracing the character’s appearance and personality – “Fast, funny and gleefully profane, the fourth-wall busting Deadpool subverts the superhero film formula with wildly entertaining – and decidedly non-family friendly – results”.

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Above all, it gets its superhero landing right!

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(9) KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)

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For my ninth place entry, we have Kingsman: The Secret Service, a playful and subversive parody of  spy films in general and James Bond in particular – adapted from a comic by Mark Millar (similarly to another Millar work, Kickass, a playful and subversive parody of superhero film).

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The film apparently originated when Millar and director Matthew Vaughn were at a bar discussing how the spy film genre was too serious and they wanted to do a fun one. And boy did they deliver on that premise – as Guardian writer Jordan Hoffman quipped, “no one in the production can believe that they’re getting away with such a batshit Bond”. It takes all the elements of a Bond film and ramps them up with its tongue firmly in its cheek – Bond on crack.

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Of course, there is the eponymous spy agency – stylish (“manners maketh man”) and quintessentially British (named for Arthurian characters), with Colin Firth’s Galahad in a superb action role. However, it is Samuel L. Jackson who steals the spotlight, hamming it up with his lisping, megalomaniac supervillain Valentine – such that he makes Bond villains look positively tame by comparison (although his blade-legged henchwoman Gazelle comes a close second). Valentine’s supervillain scheme is to fix global warming (yay!) by killing most of the world’s population (um – not so yay?) – the mechanism for this is revealed in a frenzied continuous action scene so good that Cinema Sins did one of its rare deduction of five sins for it.

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Per Rolling Stone magazine – “This slam-bang action movie about British secret agents is deliriously shaken, not stirred … Even when it stops making sense, Kingsman is unstoppable fun”.

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(8) X-MEN – DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

The X-men films were part of the revival of comic book movies in the new millennium by Marvel Comics, albeit by those properties they had sold to other studios, and a precursor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself.

Firstly, they effectively deployed an ensemble superhero cast or team, as opposed to a solitary superhero protagonist.

Although, let's face it, it's all about Wolverine (even if it's probably Professor X who's the most powerful mutant, sitting back with a smug smile in his wheelchair as he mindrapes everyone)

Although, let’s face it, it’s all about Wolverine (even if it’s probably Professor X who’s the most powerful mutant, sitting back with a smug smile in his wheelchair as he mindrapes everyone)

Secondly, they successfully used characters that were relatively unknown outside comics fandom and made them mainstream.

Finally, they have endured as a franchise, including spinoff films (one of which, Deadpool, has already appeared as tenth place entry), although that franchise seems to have slumped in reboot territory yet again with the somewhat disappointing X-men: Apocalypse.

But which X-men film to choose? It’s a close call. The first film of course admirably achieved its important task of introducing the main characters and even more so as an exercise in building its world of mutant superhumans (even if those mutations more resemble magic than biology).

The second film is often argued to be superior to the first film.

The third film…not so much. Indeed, while it has some points of interest (and moments of unintentional humor – “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!”), I tend to concur with the opinion of it as a low point in the franchise – one in which the franchise wallowed until revived by the ‘prequel sequel’ X-men: First Class (which almost earned this place entry on the basis of Wolverine’s response to attempted recruitment by Professor X and Magneto – which also earned the deduction of a sin from the CinemaSins sin tally for the film).

And yes – there’s the latest addition to the franchise, X-men: Apocalypse, which I liked well enough, but was somewhat underwhelming.

But as my place entry indicates, I’m going with X-men: Days of Future Past. For one thing, I always loved the Sentinels as antagonists, so the Sentinel apocalypse scenario in this film was a delight.

Also, I like blue butts and I cannot lie...

Also, I like blue butts and I cannot lie…

For another, I always love time travel stories, especially desperate last-ditch time travel into the past to reverse doomsday. And time travel as a mutant power? Awesome! Although, where had Kitty Pryde been hiding that ability all along? Wouldn’t it have been useful at other points as well? And of course, its time travel effectively erased the events of the third film (and Wolverine Origins) from the past. Bravo, Days of Future Past, bra-vo! And finally, there’s that standout scene with Quicksilver (which once again, knocked off five sins from the CinemaSins sin tally).

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(7) CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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And so we come to the core of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its superhero team assembled over the course of its films – Iron Man, Captain America and the Avengers.

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You all know the achievements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least in terms of box office predominance and positive critical reception, but these reflect the ability to translate a diverse and extensive storied universe (spanning decades in the comics) to the screen.

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And at its peak to date is the recent Captain America: Civil War. It continued the successful ensemble tradition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while introducing the new character of African Batman Catman Black Panther. Although, like Wolverine, his superhero weapon of choice is…claws? Hello kitty! And introducing Marvel’s Spiderman into his rightful place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also continued the Marvel Cinematic Universe tradition of compacting complex story and themes from the comics into a cinematic adaptation.

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Although, in your heart, you known Iron Man had the moral high ground in the Civil War storyline. Well, perhaps not in the comics, which were a little more nuanced (although is it so outrageous having some sort of government registration for people with potentially destructive or lethal powers?), but definitely in the film. I mean, come on Cap, what is your problem with the United Nations wanting a little accountability? You know, tapping you on the shoulder and asking why so many civilians were killed as collateral damage? Instead, Cap throws his petulant hissy fit – even more so when it’s to save his precious Bucky. Just get a room already, you two!

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And Team Iron Man totally should have won that airport battle hands down. I mean, it was nice of Captain America to handicap his team by picking the most useless Avenger, Hawkeye. Although, come to think of it, what exactly is Bucky’s power? A metal arm?! Apart from the Scarlet Witch and Ant Man, Cap’s team was really a law of diminishing returns. Falcon? Hawkeye?! Bucky?!?! That battle should have been over by the time it took Spiderman to splurge them all with his web, as How It Should Have Ended pointed out. (Ewww, sticky!)

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(6) IRON MAN (2008)

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“The truth is…I am Iron Man!”

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And I take my revenge on behalf of Team Stark in Civil War by placing Iron Man ahead of it in my top ten comics film. But seriously, apart from the narcissistic thrill of my name, it is one thing to achieve a film such as Captain America Civil War at the peak of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Iron Man kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, with Robert Downey Jr. in the role to which he was perfectly suited (heh). Few people outside comics fandom were aware of Iron Man or Tony Stark prior to Robert Downey Jr’s debut as the character in the Iron Man film. Thanks to his portrayal of the character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now everyone knows about Iron Man. The original character was created in 1963 as a counterpoint to the counterculture at the time, and he sure showed those hippies – an American billionaire playboy, arms dealing business magnate and technological genius. Like Batman, he relies on his money and gadgets, particularly the armored powered suits that give him his superhero identity.  Of course, it doesn’t explain how he has managed to suspend the laws of physics inside his suits and avoid being mashed inside them (like any other vehicular collision). Yeah, they’d be pouring him out of his suit afterwards.

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Anyway, the first film retells his origin story from the comics, only updated from Tony Stark creating his first Iron Man suit to escape captivity by dirty commies in Vietnam, to escaping captivity by dirty terrorists in Afghanistan. From there on, it’s essentially about Tony creating better suits to become a superhero, until he gets in a suit-swinging contest with the primary villain – “my suit is bigger than yours!”

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Thereafter, Iron Man has predominated not only his own movies, but also in the Avengers films (including the de facto Avengers film in Captain America Civil War). As Tony Stark quips in the Avengers Age of Ultron film (the source of my title image) – “I just pay for everything and design everything and make everyone look cooler”. Indeed, he does. Also, as we see in his first film, he has a stripper pole for stewardesses in his private jet – and if that doesn’t make him a superhero, I don’t know what does…

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(5) DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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The Doctor is in!

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In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is, in my favorite comic book movie of 2016.

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The focus of the film is the titular Doctor, perfectly cast as Benedict Cumberbatch (and his cheekbones). The plot revolves around his origin, mirroring that in the comics. Unlike other titled doctors in comics, Doctor Strange is actually a medical doctor – his origin story is that he was a brilliant (and arrogant) neurosurgeon, but a car accident smashed the bones in his hands so that he couldn’t perform surgery. He then obsessively searched the world for a cure, but instead found something much cooler – magic! He is accepted as student by the Tibetan Master known as the Ancient One, somewhat incongruously played by the white and female Tilda Swinton, although she carries it off with her characteristic aplomb. He becomes a practitioner of the mystical arts, aided by such artifacts as the time-bending Eye of Agamotto and the show-stealing Cloak of Levitation, ultimately rising to Marvel’s mystical champion and punching out the Marvel Comics equivalent of Cthulhu while travelling psychedelic magical landscapes. (Or not, since the finale involves something refreshingly different from the usual superhero modus operandi of literally punching out the supervillain antagonist).

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So why was this my favorite comic book movie of 2016 or indeed, one of my favorite Marvel films? Well, for one thing, it was refreshingly different in its stripped back story from the increasingly convoluted plots and crowded universes of the other comic book films of 2016, even when as deftly handled as in Captain America Civil War. And for another thing, but mostly – MAGIC! It’s the introduction of magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – well, more so than Norse gods, the Scarlet Witch, mysterious powers and every other fantasy element in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, including those nominally based on ‘fuzzy’ science (even more so when you throw in Spiderman and the X-men).

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And what an introduction! The magic, and the aforementioned psychedelic magical landscapes, are characterized by, in the words of TV Tropes, visual effects of awesome – typically (and accurately) described in reviews as a combination of The Matrix and Inception. Although…if only it had stuck with the literally flame-headed Balrog-style Dormammu from the comics.

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(4) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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Marvel Comics got cosmic, baby, with The Guardians of the Galaxy.

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And it’s particularly striking that this film works as well as it does – given that it takes an ensemble from Marvel Comics C-list roster into its equally bizarre and eclectic cosmic setting. As I said at the outset of my top ten, I tend to stay aware of a wide range of comics, and I hadn’t heard of the Guardians (although I was aware of elements of Marvel’s cosmic setting).

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How does it work so well?

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Well, there’s that cosmic setting with its visual effects.

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There’s the funky sixties and seventies soundtrack on its protagonist’s impossibly durable mixtape (and for which he is prepared to risk death)

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There’s Chris Pratt’s charismatic and comedic performance as the protagonist Peter Quill or Star-Lord (although the latter doesn’t quite catch on as well as he would like, much to his disappointment) – with such highlights as dancing off the villain.

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There’s Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, with my personal favorite highlights including when she proclaims their heroism “we’re just like Kevin Bacon” (from a reference by Quill to Footloose) – and when she dances, ever so slightly, at the end (after rejecting the idea of dancing – prompting Quill’s Footloose reference)

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There’s Dave Batista’s incredibly literal-minded Drax the Destroyer. (“Nothing goes over my head – my reflexes are too fast”).

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There’s Bradley Cooper’s voiced (and spotlight-stealing) Rocket Racoon.

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And then there’s Groot. Just Groot. I love Groot. Vin Diesel-voiced three-worded vocabulary tree-thing Groot. While the rest of the Guardians start off as rogues at best, Groot is the innocent and true hero amongst them – with a heart at big as he is. Cinema Sins did its rare reversal of sin count for Groot, not once but twice – firstly, when he offers a beggar girl a flower grown from his hand (“I’ll take a sin off for Groot being awesome – I’m not made of stone”, the narrator quips as he knocks off a sin), and secondly, when he beams with a beautiful child-like grin to his colleagues after saving them from a wave of attackers.

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And of course, there’s him dancing as regrown seedling to the Jackson Five.

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(3) SPIDERMAN (2002)

It wouldn’t be a top ten comic book film list without the screen incarnation of everyone’s favorite web-slinging, wise-cracking friendly neighborhood Spiderman.

The 1990’s have been dubbed the Dark Age of Comics for thematic (and quality) reasons, but they were a darker age in comic book movies much more for quality reasons. DC Comics, which predominated comic book films at that time, had ground to a halt with the execrable sequels to Superman (especially the fourth) and the even more execrable sequels to Batman (again especially the fourth, infamously killing the franchise until it was resurrected by Christopher Nolan). Marvel Comics then revived comic book movies in the new millennium – although not with the properties it had in its own name in the present Marvel Cinematic Universe, but with its properties that it had sold off to other studios, X-men (to Fox) and Spiderman (to Sony).

Spiderman has had a checkered cinematic history since, but who can forget the pure enjoyment of Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman movie in 2002? It engagingly told the now familiar origin story of Spiderman (Uncle Ben and “with great power comes great responsibility), although with some modifications – Spiderman’s web-shooting was now organic rather than by his own invention, which I found to be both more plausible (as well as more consistent with his origin story) and more entertaining as adolescent sexual innuendo (Spiderman splurging his web about the place, particularly when Mary Jane was on the scene). And it engagingly presented the young superhero, one who brought out the best in New York City (if not J. Jonah Jameson), in his battle against the Green Goblin, perfectly played by Willem Dafoe. Man – he even looked like the Green Goblin before his transformation. (Why did they bother with the mask?)

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Some enjoy the sequel with Doctor Octopus even more – I certainly enjoyed it, although to me the original eclipsed it with its fresh quality. The third Raimi movie…doesn’t get so much love. And yes, we’ll all like to forget Spiderman’s envenomed evil dancing, but I still enjoyed the movie, mainly because I also love Venom (even if the film badly fumbled him, as well as shoehorning him into a movie crowded with villains). Also, it doesn’t look so bad now after the rebooted Amazing Spiderman sequel essentially did the same thing, only worse, with Electro. Although even then, I didn’t hate that movie, and liked the first one (particularly with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy). That’s just how much I love Spiderman.

And I have high expectations of Spiderman assuming his rightful place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the impeding and aptly named Homecoming, particularly given how that Universe and Tom Holland nailed the character in his appearance in the Captain America Civil War film.

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

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(2) THE DARK KNIGHT (2005)

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Why so serious?

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It wouldn’t be a comic book movie top ten list without Batman – and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy remains the best screen incarnation of Batman. Yes, Batman is one of the more promising aspects of the present DC Cinematic Universe, but for the moment (and until the DC Cinematic Universe delivers on that promise), the Dark Knight trilogy reigns supreme.

Matching the diversity and different moods of the Batman mythos, Batman has come in different flavors in his screen adaptations. (And no, get your mind out of the Bat-nippled Joel Schumacher gutter). There was the incredibly camp film originating from the equally camp TV series of the sixties. In contrast, the Tim Burton films took a dark Gothic direction to match the name of Batman’s city, although they retained a certain Gothic camp quality, particularly in the second (and somewhat incoherent) film – before Joel Schumacher bat-crapped all over the franchise in the sequels and took it into the aforementioned gutter, (infamously “killing the franchise”)

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Looming above them all – and reviving the franchise – is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, with its centerpiece film, The Dark Knight. Indeed, the film is considered by critics to be one of the best movies of the decade as well as one of the best superhero movies ever – taking Batman into a gritty, realistic direction (almost plausible – or as plausible as a billionaire in a bat-suit can get).

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You all know the film. You all know the quotes – and the memes (the memes the Internet deserves, but not the ones it needs right now). And capering as a force of pure chaotic evil at the heart of it all was Heath Ledger’s Joker. O yes – some men just want to watch the world burn…

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

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(1) DREDD (2012)

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You knew this was coming – it’s my favorite comic so it’s also my favorite comic book movie. Of course, one does not necessarily follow from the other – the woeful 1995 Judge Dredd movie is a case in point. Fortunately, the 2012 Dredd movie got it right, although unfortunately it did not get the box office numbers.

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Judge Dredd is the most iconic character from the British weekly SF anthology comic, 2000 AD, ongoing since it was launched in 1977. Unfortunately, American audiences remain somewhat unfamiliar with (or unresponsive to) Judge Dredd, despite his American setting (albeit futuristic) and despite that he is effectively a quintessential American hero in the same vein as Batman – relying on superior discipline, training, experience, equipment and resources, except as a governmental lawman rather than a vigilante billionaire. (They even both effectively remain masked in their public identities, as Dredd never removes his helmet). This is despite his iconic status, particularly in Britain, and despite American audiences being familiar with many of the alumni of 2000 AD, as virtually every British writer (and artist) of note working in American comics started there (and indeed often in the Judge Dredd storyline itself) – Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar and so on.

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Even more unfortunately, the first substantial introduction of American audiences to Judge Dredd was the 1995 film, although fortunately that particular horror is fading with time. This Hollywood travesty was particularly inexcusable, because the essence of Judge Dredd is ultimately very simple – Judge Dredd is a futuristic Dirty Harry in a dystopian (and post-apocalyptic) SF satire. How hard is that, Hollywood?! On second thoughts, this simple formula is probably too much for Hollywood to handle – when they couldn’t even have Dredd keep his helmet on throughout the film.

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The 2012 film was much more effective in capturing the elements of the original comic (not least in keeping Dredd’s helmet on throughout the film). It is not perfect in this respect. For one thing, it minimizes the satire or comedy to focus on effective world building, although that was probably a matter of necessity. For another, it alters the original storyline from the comics, notably by having psi-Judge Anderson as Dredd’s Rookie. Nevertheless, it is effective in having a stripped-back storyline to the most basic of Dredd storylines, which was indeed that in the very first Dredd episode in the comics (with a length of six pages) – the entry into a building or city block to apprehend criminal perpetrators or ‘perps’. In the first comics episode, the perp was Judge-killer ‘Whitey’ in the rundown Empire State Building. In the 2012 film, it’s slo-mo drug-lord Ma-Ma – played by Lena Headey – in a lockdown of a residential city block, similar to The Raid.

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Unfortunately, the film was not as effective in capturing an audience for its cinematic release, nor in commencing a franchise (but I’ll continue to lobby for the latter with my top spot here). I mean, come on people! Karl Urban acting with his chin as Dredd. Cersei Lannister as scarred city block drug lord. What more could you want? In its own way, this is as unfortunate as the 1995 film, particularly at a time when comic book movies are in such vogue (and dystopian or post-apocalyptic movies have always been popular) – because if ever a comic deserved its own cinematic or screen universe, it’s Dredd, especially when you consider the dreck (or drokk – Judge Dredd slang in-joke alert) that does get adaptations. It has fared better as a cult film with fans and home media release, so perhaps some further adaptation is possible – perhaps a television adaptation would be better, as it suits the more episodic nature as well as longer arcs of the storyline. Whatever the case, I’ll just repeat my ten reasons why Judge Dredd is the galaxy’s greatest comic – and why it deserves its own cinematic or screen universe:

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MEGA-CITY LAW – 10 REASONS WHY JUDGE DREDD IS THE GALAXY’S GREATEST COMIC (AND DESERVES ITS OWN SCREEN UNIVERSE):

(1) APOCALYPSE WOW!

(2) SCI FI FANTASY KITCHEN SINK

(3) REAL WORLD SATIRE (OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE SEXUAL OLYMPICS)

(4) FUTURISTIC DIRTY HARRY (OR DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?)

(5) MORAL COMPLEXITY (OR JUDGE DREDD DIED FOR YOUR SINS)

(6) THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY AND THE WEIRD

(7) THERE WERE 800 MILLION STORIES IN THE MEGA-CITY

(8) ROGUES GALLERY

(9) DIVERSITY OF GENRE AND TONE (OR HOW THE DAY OF CHAOS TORE MY HEART OUT)

(10) THE TAO OF DREDD (PLATO’S REPUBLIC AND HOBBES’ LEVIATHAN)

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

Cult, Pulp & Kink: Iron Man (2008)

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CULT, PULP & KINK: IRON MAN (2008)

 

“The truth is…I am Iron Man!”

 

There’s villainous Starks (George Stark in Stephen King’s The Dark Half), anti-hero Starks (James Stark in Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim) and the whole House of Stark in The Game of Thrones, but when it comes to heroic Starks, few come close to Tony Stark in Iron Man.

 

Apart from the narcissistic thrill of my name, Iron Man kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut, with Robert Downey Jr. in the role to which he was perfectly suited (heh). Few people outside comics fandom were aware of Iron Man or Tony Stark prior to Robert Downey Jr’s debut as the character in the Iron Man film. Thanks to his portrayal of the character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now everyone knows about Iron Man. The original character was created in 1963 as a counterpoint to the counterculture at the time, and he sure showed those hippies – an American billionaire playboy, arms dealing business magnate and technological genius. Like Batman, he relies on his money and gadgets, particularly the armored powered suits that give him his superhero identity.  Of course, it doesn’t explain how he has managed to suspend the laws of physics inside his suits and avoid being mashed inside them (like any other vehicular collision). Yeah, they’d be pouring him out of his suit afterwards.

 

Anyway, the first film retells his origin story from the comics, only updated from Tony Stark creating his first Iron Man suit to escape captivity by dirty commies in Vietnam, to escaping captivity by dirty terrorists in Afghanistan. From there on, it’s essentially about Tony creating better suits to become a superhero, until he gets in a suit-swinging contest with the primary villain – “my suit is bigger than yours!”

 

Thereafter, Iron Man has predominated not only his own movies, but also in the Avengers films (including the de facto Avengers film in Captain America Civil War). As Tony Stark quips in the Avengers Age of Ultron film (the source of my title image) – “I just pay for everything and design everything and make everyone look cooler”. Indeed, he does. Also, as we see in his first film, he has a stripper pole for stewardesses in his private jet – and if that doesn’t make him a superhero, I don’t know what does…

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

Cult, Pulp & Kink: Doctor Strange (2016)

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CULT, PULP & KINK: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

 

The Doctor is in!

 

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is, in my favorite comic book movie of 2016.

 

The focus of the film is the titular Doctor, perfectly cast as Benedict Cumberbatch (and his cheekbones). The plot revolves around his origin, mirroring that in the comics. Unlike other titled doctors in comics, Doctor Strange is actually a medical doctor – his origin story is that he was a brilliant (and arrogant) neurosurgeon, but a car accident smashed the bones in his hands so that he couldn’t perform surgery. He then obsessively searched the world for a cure, but instead found something much cooler – magic! He is accepted as student by the Tibetan Master known as the Ancient One, somewhat incongruously played by the white and female Tilda Swinton, although she carries it off with her characteristic aplomb. He becomes a practitioner of the mystical arts, aided by such artifacts as the time-bending Eye of Agamotto and the show-stealing Cloak of Levitation, ultimately rising to Marvel’s mystical champion and punching out the Marvel Comics equivalent of Cthulhu while travelling psychedelic magical landscapes. (Or not, since the finale involves something refreshingly different from the usual superhero modus operandi of literally punching out the supervillain antagonist).

 

So why was this my favorite comic book movie of 2016 or indeed, one of my favorite Marvel films? Well, for one thing, it was refreshingly different in its stripped back story from the increasingly convoluted plots and crowded universes of the other comic book films of 2016, even when as deftly handled as in Captain America Civil War. And for another thing, but mostly – MAGIC! It’s the introduction of magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – well, more so than Norse gods, the Scarlet Witch, mysterious powers and every other fantasy element in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, including those nominally based on ‘fuzzy’ science (even more so when you throw in Spiderman and the X-men).

 

And what an introduction! The magic, and the aforementioned psychedelic magical landscapes, are characterized by, in the words of TV Tropes, visual effects of awesome – typically (and accurately) described in reviews as a combination of The Matrix and Inception. Although…if only it had stuck with the literally flame-headed Balrog-style Dormammu from the comics.

 

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RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Animation: (7) Stripperella

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FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF ANIMATION: (7) STRIPPERELLA

 

“Stripper by night. Superhero later at night”.

 

As its title might suggest, Stripperella was an “adult-oriented animated television series” created by none other than Marvel Comics doyen Stan Lee. The title character was the superheroine or secret agent alter ego of stripper Erotica Jones, voiced by none other than Pamela Anderson – and essentially an animated version of her as well, down to the tattoos. (So much so that she also played herself in the series, visiting Stripperella’s club Tender Loins with Kid Rock. Needless to say, Stripperella is a big fan and gushes how people compare them in appearance. And in fairness, she did seem to be surprisingly adept at comic voice acting).

 

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Clearly, the series had its tongue firmly in its, or at least someone’s, cheek, as a parody of the superhero and spy fiction genres. I particularly liked the recurring villain, Cheapo – the world’s cheapest supervillain

 

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Just don’t get too excited by that Season 1 DVD cover – not too surprisingly, it only had the one season of 13 episodes. And to be honest, I only caught the occasional episode.

 

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As for Stripperella herself, she not only relied on her spy gadgetry, but also a number of inexplicable superpowers (including her luxuriant hair, which also doubled as a parachute) – “she has strength and agility far beyond that of a normal human, she is impervious to all temperatures and weather conditions, and her breasts have the ability to detect when somebody is lying”.

 

A promotional Stripperella comic was also intended to run alongside the animated series, but was apparently cancelled prior to publication – although a first issue or at least images from it appear to be floating about. In it, Erotica Jones or Stripperella was not an animated adaptation of Pamela Anderson, but that recurring staple of the green-eyed redhead, albeit with a similar physique and costume.

 

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