2014 may only be a few weeks old, but there’s already been enough big comic book news this year to fill the entire first quarter. The problem with a weekly column is that sometimes the news cycle kicks into overdrive, speeding past me like Quicksilver if he were late for his appointment at the wacky hair salon. A lot has happened in the past few weeks and I’ve missed commenting on all of it!
In the interest of catching up, I’m going to run through some of the biggest headlines of the year and offer up my thoughts on them. Yeah, for the first time ever, IN YOUR FACE JAM is going full-on Comic Book Commentary Lightning Round. The headlines in question have been broken up into three bluntly descriptive categories, and to leave you readers on a positive note, I’m going to get what I consider to be the worst news out of the way first.
Ready? Set? Go!
Things just aren’t going well, are they? From the commercially successful but critically iffy reaction to “Man of Steel” to the controversial castings of Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot as Batman and Wonder Woman, the movie unofficially dubbed “Batman Vs. Superman” has had fans worried. Now the film’s been delayed until May 6, 2016, in order to give the filmmakers “time to realize fully their vision.” Normally I’d say that’s a good thing; I definitely don’t want a movie as important to DC’s fledgling cinematic universe as this one to be rushed into production. But this is bad news because it effectively kills any momentum Warner Bros. had following “Man of Steel’s” box office boom. What’s also worrying is why this story is so complex. Rumors are now swirling that everyone from Aquaman to Green Lantern will be in this film, as the “Man of Steel” sequel has apparently grown from a mere Batman/Superman team-up to WB/DC’s attempt to Trojan Horse a whole movie-verse into existence in one film. If the film’s been delayed because the filmmakers can’t figure out how to introduce all these new heroes into an already crowded film, they might really need more than one year.
So not only is Wonder Woman’s big screen debut (in which she plays a supporting character, mind you) delayed, but the execs at the CW still think they don’t have the correct take on her yet. Dear people that claim that sexism doesn’t exist in Hollywood anymore — here it is. When it comes down to it, male characters are never described as needing more work or care to make it to an adaptation. Wonder Woman’s under constant scrutiny every time a project of hers gets mentioned, yet the first time we ever heard mention of a Flash or Constantine TV series was an announcement saying they were already pretty much a done deal. No worries about getting Barry Allen “just right,” no waiting for Constantine to get the perfect script, just greenlit from the get-go. And the thing is, can you think of any other time the CW or WB have been so “caring” when it comes to adapting a superhero? Which brings me to my next point in the next section…
THE I DON’T KNOW
Right, see? Wonder Woman has to wait until everything’s exactly right, but Batman gets to be on television again in a series with a premise that completely unravels one of the most important aspects of Batman’s mythos — that Batman’s rogue’s gallery came into being because of Batman. Now Riddler, Catwoman, and the Penguin will be causing mayhem in a pre-Batman Gotham, coming into conflict with the GCPD or twelve year-old Bruce Wayne, which in my head looks a lot like “Home Alone: Gotham.” But I’m mixed about this news because, continuity quibbles aside, this could be a fun show. At the very least, Fox is making it known up front that this series will involve characters fans are familiar with, which means it already has an advantage over “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
I’ve read a few pieces highlighting very real concerns about Hank Pym being ousted as the primary Ant-Man and Marvel going for big name stars over unknown powerhouse talents, but I’m not ready to write this decision off just yet. Part of me thinks it’s cool that Marvel’s success means they can cast legends like Douglas, Robert Redford and Glenn Close in bit roles, some of which are in the studio’s most bananas movies to date. I mean, Glenn Close is playing a space cop! My big problem with this casting can be summed up in one word: Wasp. Marvel’s been under a lot of pressure over the past year to diversify their superhero lineup, and with no female-driven film in the works just yet, they need to fill out their existing lineup with more well rounded female characters. Hank Pym being aged out of active duty poses a bit of concern for his partner, Janet Van Dyne. If they cast someone in Douglas’ age range, that might remove Wasp from potential active Avengers duty. If they cast someone younger, then they perpetuate the classic Old Man/Young Woman movie trope. If they cast a young woman and pair her romantically with Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, they run the risk of reducing a vital Avenger to a generic love interest, a woman around for any Ant-Man that needs to do some smooching. As the First Lady of the Avengers, Wasp deserves to be treated with as much respect as Cap, Iron Man, Thor and company. I’m still waiting to find out if that’s going to happen.
The announcement of a potential second villain in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” could rightfully cause fans to worry. After all, there’s a totally provable equation out there that says that the more villains in a movie, the worse that movie is. See: “Spider-Man 3,” “Batman & Robin,” etc. With that in mind, yeah, adding a second villain when Ultron is more than enough bad guy gives me pause, but I have a feeling that Marvel is taking inspiration from the comics as to how they handle their baddies. In the comics, superheroes sometimes fight a different bad guy every issue, offering up a variety of action sequences and effectively demonstrating that the hero is both good at what they do and very busy. Movies to date have demonstrated this by having superheroes take out generic bank robbers or mobsters, before moving on to the film’s primary super villain. But… why? If the Avengers start out their sequel going up against Baron Von Strucker and HYDRA before turning their attention to the main Ultron plot, I’ll be fine with that. We should only get worried if Von Strucker forms a confusing alliance with Ultron and becomes the Poison Ivy to the A.I.’s Mr. Freeze.
My only real complaint with the pleasantly entertaining “Thor: The Dark World” was that it suffered from a severe Sif shortage. Thankfully, it looks like Marvel’s ABC drama will rectify that by giving us plenty of Sif action on the small screen. This not only solves the Sif shortage crisis, but it also addresses one of the main complaints against the TV show. Fans have been clamoring for not only stronger ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but really any ties at all. For example, the previous “Thor” tie-in episode featured “Ally McBeal’s” Peter MacNicol as a Norse god. It was a good episode, but I’m more excited about a beloved character from the movies boarding the Bus.
With all the “Batman ’66” toys, comics, and merchandising popping up over the past year, we all knew this day was coming. Still, the legal rights surrounding the pioneering TV show were so confounding that it would take the world’s greatest detective to figure them out. Enter: Batman, with his Bat-Scissors to cut through all that Bat-Red Tape. There’s no release date yet, and we don’t yet know what format the entire ’60s series will be available on, but this is still news to get excited about. Even if this is the series that spawned pretty much every misconception that non-comic book readers still hold to this day about the medium, it’s still beloved thanks to its smarter-than-you-remember comedy writing and relentlessly fun tone. And thanks to decades in syndication, this series was also responsible for introducing generations of fans to Batman — me included. No matter what format, no matter what price, this will be on my shelf by the end of the year.
The best news of the year, as far as I’m concerned, has to be that Agent Peggy Carter is closer than ever to getting her own television series. I love this because it perfectly exemplifies the inherent magic in what Marvel’s been able to pull off on the big screen. Peggy Carter is nowhere near a prominent Marvel character, but Hayley Atwell’s fantastically strong performance in “Captain America: The First Avenger” earned her a loyal fanbase. The response was so strong that Marvel Studios created its first female-driven anything around her — the “Agent Carter” Marvel One-Shot on the “Iron Man 3” Blu-ray. And the response to that was so strong that here we are, with ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee name-dropping and praising a TV series pilot script at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. This magical response to a performer/character combo is very reminiscent of what happened with Clark Gregg/Agent Coulson, but it’s different in a very important way. Yes, I will state that Agent Carter’s success is pretty much entirely due to the female MCU fans, who rallied around the character. If “Agent Carter” happens, it will be because Marvel created a fierce character that transcended her love interest status, one that was portrayed with guts and brains by the dedicated Hayley Atwell, and rightfully championed by female comic book fans that were thrilled to have such a bad ass lady taking charge in an even more male-dominated time period. That’s why fans responded to her, and her success is proof that there is an audience for female-led comic book film and TV properties. With all the problems Warner Bros. continues to have with Wonder Woman, it’s heartening to read this news about Agent Peggy Carter. Here’s hoping the rest of 2014 goes as well for her as January has.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).