Captain America: Civil War Is a Super-Hero Fight Done Right

civil-war-poster3I was a little hesitant to do my third post in a row on a superhero movie, especially since I usually only post on a monthly basis, so I try to keep my topics varied. But then I thought: Well, superheroes ARE pretty much dominating pop culture right now…and this post actually will tie in the last two quite neatly so…I quickly convinced myself to go ahead with it.

And now that the dust has settled from 2016’s third (but definitely not last) superhero box office assault, Captain America: Civil War has surprised absolutely no one by dominating its debut weekend with a domestic gross of $179 million (adding to its already-impressive global tally, which Box Office Mojo reports is currently at $494 million). So now let’s take a look at the other impressive feat the movie accomplished:

Namely, where this year’s other hero vs hero spectacle (Batman v Superman) went wrong, Captain America: Civil War went right. Many times, in fact – so let’s take a closer look. (Fair warning: minor spoilers ahoy!)

The Reason for Conflict

Civil War kicks off with an Avengers mission that results in the deaths of multiple innocent bystanders. This, in addition to civilian casualties from the events in the previous Avengers films, causes the United Nations to say that super-powered individuals need to be kept in check and should not be able to act with autonomy however they please. Thus, the team has a choice: work under the United Nations and only on approved missions or hang up their costumes and retire (or otherwise face arrest). The issue not only divides Captain America and Iron Man and the rest of team, but it is also gives the viewers something to weigh the pros and cons of and see which side they would support.

The conflict of BvS however, was between two superheroes who felt each other needed to be taken down because their methods proved that they were a threat to society. The fact that they were both correct – Superman has his carelessness about collateral damage and Batman’s overly violent tactics lead to many unnecessary deaths – are lost on both of them, and as a result the audience gets no one to really root for or even an issue to side with. Both are in the wrong and it becomes just two thick-headed heroes in grudge match.

The Battle

The big face-off in Civil War is simply glorious. It’s a comic book splash page come to life as each side of heroes charge into battle on a deserted airport runaway in the bright light of day. And while it’s a serious battle, there are still light-hearted moments to be had and even more amazingly, it involves 12 heroes flying and jumping and zapping and punching yet it never feels overcrowded, each hero gets a chance to shine and the action is crisp and clear and easy to follow.

Apparently Hawkeye didn't get the memo about red being Team Cap's signature colour

Apparently Hawkeye didn’t get the memo about red being Team Cap’s signature colour

The muddled big battle of BvS just looks even worse by comparison. Dark and gloomy and set mostly inside crumbling buildings – it’s sometimes hard to pick out exactly what’s going on, even though it’s just a one-on-one battle.

Subplots and Introductions

It wouldn’t be a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie if there wasn’t a set-up for new characters and/or spin-off films, and Civil War keeps the status quo. At the risk of overcrowding a film bursting with returning characters, the filmmakers added two new ones – Black Panther and the rebooted-for-the-MCU Spider-Man – to the mix. But unlike BvS, which shoehorned in a lame side story that went nowhere and had nothing to do with main plot at all in order to tease the future Justice League members, the new debuts in Civil War are more organic and connect to the plot

Black Panther/T’Challa is royalty from Wakanda, the nation which lost a number of citizens in the tragedy depicted in the opening mission and he is present, along with Black Widow, when a bomb goes off at the UN and kills his father, the king of Wakanda. This gives him his own agenda which then crosses paths with the rest of the Avengers.  And Tony Stark, needing to beef up his ranks for the impending smack down with Cap’s own beefed-up team of supporters, heads out to Queens, NY to have a little chat with one Peter Parker – a nervous, techie teen who lives with his Aunt May (hello, Marisa Tomei!). Tony (with the help from many StarkTech surveillance gadgets) has correctly sussed out that Parker is the new spider-themed hero that has been cleaning up crime in New York. A quick recruitment drive later and Spidey is on Team Iron Man (and easily one of the best parts of the big smackdown).

All in all, it’s much more plausible and thought-out  than just having the new heroes  “show up” unannounced to join in a big fight, much to the confusion of the other players – which is exactly how Wonder Woman was brought into BvS (which was very welcome, of course – but still very clunky).

Fanboy Moments and Surprise Twists

Civil War has a number of definite, clear fanboy moments – cool shots or scenes that look fine to the average viewer but hold something more for the seasoned fan (e.g. Hawkeye + Ant-Man…’nuff said).

BvS couldn’t even make a moment out of explaining the absence of Robin by showing his defaced costume in a display case, since it wasn’t even close to recognizable as Robin’s costume in the first place.

Civil War also had an awesome surprise from Ant-Man (that was spoiled for some when it was revealed in a Lego tie-in playset, of all things) as well as a final-act twist that literally had me gasp (although, I never watch the full trailers for movies I’m going to see, so it may very well have been a twist that was already revealed).

But the big surprise in BvS is…Superman dies. And then he gets buried, but the twist is that he may not actually be dead?

Um, yeah – the dude’s in the upcoming Justice League movies and he’s also, y’know Superman…so, I can pretty much guarantee that not one person was shocked by this shocking twist.

 

Listen, I’ll always be a DC fanboy at heart, but Captain America: Civil War was just the palette cleanser that was needed after the overcooked Batman v Superman. And it somehow managed to do something pretty amazing, too – it got me actually looking forward to the next Spider-Man film (I KNOW).

 

 

Avengers Overload

avengers4

For many years Marvel Comics was content with having just two monthly Avengers titles. And whether it was the 80s-90s era of Avengers and Avengers West Coast or the 00s era of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, one thing was certain: no matter which comic you picked up, you could be guaranteed a tale about a true Avengers team made up of  legit, card-carrying super-heroes who each had earned the honour of being called an Avenger.

Nowadays, it’s a much different story. First, Marvel let their creators expand the Avengers ranks by rotating in seemingly EVERY hero who had yet to be called an Avenger. Then came the worldwide, block-busting, record-breaking mega smash film success of Marvel’s Avengers, and suddenly the comic company’s premier super hero team became hotter than ever. So naturally, Marvel has been cashing in on that popularity by peppering their line-up with as many Avengers comics as possible (current count: 12). Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if each of these titles were actual Avengers comics, but branding seems more important to Marvel execs than accuracy right now, and apparently they see no problem with taking their once-exclusive brand and diluting it by slapping “Avengers” onto every new title that comes down the pike, regardless of whether they are actual Avengers comics or not.

What’s really upsetting about this is not just the blatant cash-in, but how misleading this is to new comic readers. Anyone drawn to the comics after becoming a fan of the movie now runs the easy risk of being sorely disappointed and surely confused when they see that the Avengers comic they picked up has little or nothing at all to do with the actual team of iconic heroes.

So, how out of control is the Avengers branding? Well, let’s just take a quick look at all the different titles and see for ourselves:

These are the current titles that readers can find tales of the actual Avengers:

Avengers and Avengers World – the core membership of the Avengers now hovers somewhere around 15 and they can all be found making appearances in either of these titles – with Avengers showcasing more traditional-type team action and Avengers World focusing on the team working in conjunction with S.H.I.E.L.D. on adventures with a more worldwide scope. Features traditional, long-time Avengers like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor as well as newer members like Manifold, Smasher, Captain Universe and former X-Men, Cannonball and Sunspot.

Uncanny Avengers – a mostly inclusive title, this one features the “Avengers Unity Squad” which is a team made up of both traditional Avengers (including Wasp, Wonder Man, Scarlet Witch and Thor) and X-Men (including team leader Havok along with Rogue, Wolverine and Sunfire).

Avengers Assemble – the adventures in this title also concentrate on more inclusive tales that generally feature just a handful of the more iconic members of the Avengers like Hulk, Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel. Not to be confused with the younger-readers title Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble, which is inspired by the Avengers movie and based on the current cartoon of the same name)

Now we have the titles that start to stretch things a bit.

Secret Avengers – the focus here is on a small group of Avengers (Hawkeye, Black Widow, Mockingbird) that work with S.H.I.E.L.D.  on covert, espionage missions.

Mighty Avengers and New Avengers – these two are lumped together because they are both examples of one of Marvel’s favourite ploys – repurposing well-known titles to launch (or relaunch) completely different properties. In this case, New Avengers and Mighty Avengers were at one time titles of core Avengers comics. Now, Marvel has made New Avengers the new home of the secret cabal/think tank formerly known as “The Illuminati” – even though the characters within are either not new Avengers (Iron Man, Black Panther) or aren’t Avengers at all (Mister Fantastic, Black Bolt, Namor).  Mighty Avengers is now basically a relaunch of Luke Cage’s original Heroes For Hire title, and  although Cage has officially  left the Avengers, he somehow gets a free pass to call his new ad-hoc, street-level team “The Mighty Avengers” – despite the fact that the current roster features only one other former Avenger (Spectrum, aka Pulsar aka Photon aka Captain Marvel II aka Monica Rambeau) along with new legacy heroes White Tiger, Power Man and Ronin.

Avengers_A.I.

Yep, ’cause nothing says “Avengers” like a Dr. Doom knock-off.

Avengers A.I. – Charter Avengers member Hank Pym (aka the original Ant-Man, the original Giant-Man/Goliath, the original Yellowjacket and the second Wasp) also apparently gets a free pass to call his own team of techie crusaders “Avengers” as well, even though the roster includes just one other Avenger (The Vision) along with one of Dr. Doom’s decommissioned Doombots , former “Runaways” member Victor Mancha and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Monica Chang.

Next we have a couple off-shoots, which at least don’t pretend to be official “Avengers” titles.

A+X – a team up comic that usually features two short team-up stories each issue. The concept is that team-ups consist of one Avenger (“A”) and one X-Man (“X”), which is a kinda hilarious specification considering that nowadays basically every non-mutant hero has been an Avenger at some point (and even some mutant heroes as well), so it’s more like the “A” in the title can stand for “Any hero” instead of “Avenger”.

Young Avengers –this comic doesn’t feature any actual Avengers,  but they let you that’s the case right off the bat with its name. As it indicates, this title (which just wrapped up its latest run) features young, Avengers-inspired heroes like Wiccan, Hulking, Marvel Boy and the female Hawkeye.

And the grand prize for the most blatant cash-in/branding misuse/non-Avengers Avengers title:

The cast of Avengers Arena. Not pictured - any actual Avengers.

The cast of Avengers Arena. Not pictured: any actual Avengers.

Avengers Arena/Avengers Undercover – Oy, where to begin with this one. Avengers Arena represents everything that is wrong with Marvel’s Avengers branding overload. It took an unoriginal concept (lifted directly from The Hunger Games and Battle Royale) and featured a cast of 16 young heroes – none of whom were Avengers – who were kidnapped and forced to compete in an island-based deathmatch where it was “kill or be killed”.  Avengers Arena ended at issue #18 and now those who survived get to move on to Avengers Undercover (again: none of them are actual Avengers) where they will try to infiltrate the villainous Masters of Evil. Whee.

So, as you can see, there are really very few legitimate Avengers titles out there today. But will this excessive branding ever stop? Actually, I think it will – because outside of those core titles, none of the other Avengers books are actually heating up the sales charts (the most recent issues of A+X, Secret Avengers, Avengers A.I. and Young Avengers could all be found hovering around the bottom of the Top 100). Even more telling is the fact that they all seem to start off strong and then plummet with each subsequent issue – which gives strong support to the idea that the comic-buying public gets lured in by a new Avengers title and then quickly start turning away when they realize they’ve been duped. Case in point – Mighty Avengers #1 sold over 100,000 copies while its most recent issue (#4) barely broke sales of 35,000. So, hopefully Marvel will figure out sooner rather than later that the only Avengers titles that the public wants are ones that actually feature the Avengers.