Superheroes again: Captain America

I could probably turn this into a comic book blog (a la Dave’s Long Box) with a focus on Captain America if I had a mind to (and if I wanted to scare away the half-dozen people who actually visit the site on a regular basis). There’s no denying it: I love Captain America in an entirely platonic manner. ((Seriously, they’re going to have to get someone other than Matt Salinger to play him on the big screen before I switch teams for the Star Spangled Avenger.))

Captain America may not be the coolest hero to put on a pair of tights, ((I believe that honor goes to Ralph Dibny.)) and some might consider the patriotism that he embodies to be a bit passé in the post-modern world, but something about the Star Spangled Avenger strikes an idealistic chord deep inside my psyche. The country that Steve Rogers tirelessly defends may not be perfect, but I admire his values, determination and personal strength, not to mention his ability to kick every known subspecies of ass.

Cap also has the single coolest offensive and defensive weapon ever conceived. Forget about power rings, adamantium claws, batarangs, trick arrows and golden lariats, I’m talking about Captain America’s shield. The nigh-indestructible disc is so incredible that it has its own Wikipedia entry. In the hands of Captain America, the red, white and blue shield not only deflects bullets, it can disarm or disable multiple foes when thrown. Cap’s intuitive understanding of physics is so great that the thrown shield will almost unerringly return to his had after bouncing off any number of walls, bad guys or other objects. I spent many an afternoon in my youth attempting to coax all manner of discs—from aluminum garbage can lids to Frisbees to plastic coffee can covers—to bounce off the barn wall, a parked tractor, then my brother’s head and return to my hand. Unfortunately for me (and fortunately for my brother), the projectiles I flung rarely made it beyond the first bounce.

Captain America LunchboxLike most costumed heroes, Captain America has often appeared outside of the comic books in which he was created. I’m not what you’d call an avid collector of Captain America merchandise, but I do have a couple of things emblazoned with his patriotic visage. The first is my lunchbox, which I actually use on a fairly regular basis. The lunchbox in the picture has a blue handle, but mine is the rarer, “red handle” version, which generally fetches top dollar on eBay. ((No, not really.)) Second, I have a pair of Captain America pajama bottoms. Sadly, I couldn’t find a picture of these on the Internet and if blogging about Captain America doesn’t scare people away, pictures of me in my star spangled PJs almost certainly will.

Captain America (1991)Speaking of scary, I own a VHS copy of the 1991 film version of Captain America, which I won in an eBay auction a couple of years ago. ((Yes, really. After I’d made the winning bid, the seller e-mailed me to ask if I really knew what I was bidding on, and if I actually wanted to spend money on it. Oh yeah, the movie is that good.)) That version isn’t exactly easy to find and I doubt it will ever be available on DVD. Also in my VHS library are the two made-for-television movies, Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon, which co-starred none other than Saruman himself, Christopher Lee. The movies—starring Reb Brown as Captain America—were produced in the late 1970’s, and it shows. I’m not holding my breath for a DVD release on those, either.

Last but not least is the 1944 serial starring Dick Purcell as Captain America. This version bears almost no resemblence to its comic book forbearer. Captain America is not Private Steve Rogers of the United States army, but a district attorney named Grant Gardner; instead of the signature shield, the black and white serial version wields a pistol; where the comic book Cap is a living symbol of America, the Republic Pictures Cap is just a guy in a costume punching out thugs. The only real resemblance is superficial: the Purcell version wears a costume that is nearly identical to the one found in the comic books. Still, it’s Captain America, and the tapes sit on the shelf beside his other video incarnations.

Perhaps when (or if) the new Captain America movie is released in 2009 some of the older versions will be made available on DVD (as the Batman & Robin serial was when Batman Begins was released) and I’ll be able to move one step closer to a VHS-free household. Until then, the tapes (along with an unspecial edition Star Wars trilogy) are just about the only reason there’s still a VCR in the house.

I guess that about covers it for Captain America. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I suppose I can go back to talking about video games and crappy science fiction movies.

The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security

The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland SecurityThe Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security

Written by Mark Millar

Illustrated by Bryan Hitch

I clearly don’t purchase enough comic books. Some people (my wife, in particular) might question the accuracy of that statement, but “enough” is a subjective term and is currently subject to my parameters. Thus, the statement is valid.

The upside of not purchasing enough comic books is that the titles that I might be inclined to purchase are often collected in trade paperbacks that are convenient and largely advertisement-free. This is the case with Marvel’s Ultimate universe. I’ve never purchased a single standalone issue of any series in the universe, but I’ve purchase trade paperback collections of The Ultimates, Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men. Ultimate Fantastic Four is next on my list.

Last week I bought a copy of The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security, which collects issues 7 – 13 of The Ultimates comic book. Now that I’ve read Homeland Security (how many Google hits am I going to get from that phrase?), I can see that The Ultimate Avengers animated movie was pretty much based on the first thirteen issues of the comic book.

If you read my review of The Ultimate Avengers, you may recall me mentioning the alien invasion storyarc that wasn’t evident in the first six issues of The Ultimates. That’s because the aliens weren’t a factor in the series until about issue eight, when Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much retconned the latter half of the 20th century. The big difference between the movie and the comic book is that the shape-shifting aliens (called the Chitauri, though in some cultures they are known as Skrulls) aren’t shy about revealing their true form on the screen, something they almost never do in the comics.

The pesky aliens, as it turns out, have been around for quite a while and frequently try to stir up all kinds of trouble. Such a stir has begun and Nick Fury wants The Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D. to put an end to it. On the roster are Captain America, Iron Man, the Black Widow and Thor. Team members Giant Man, Wasp, Hawkeye and the Hulk are largely uninvolved this time out, for various reasons. I say “largely” because all of them figure into the story at one point or another, though not necessarily into the “defend Earth from alien invasion” bit. Also, I’m not entirely certain that Hawkeye is officially a member of The Ultimates.

It’s not a new story, by any means, but that doesn’t make it any less entertain. Mark Millar spins a decent yarn, and his “Ultimate” take on the characters is interesting. Captain America, for instance, is still an uberpatriot, but he’s also not going to put up with any shit from his teammates, and he’ll pound the point home very literally, if need be. Bruce Banner starts the series almost entirely wrapped up in his own little (well, big) problems, but has begun to appreciate the consequences of having an angry, destructive force living within himself. Thor is a hammer-wielding hippie who may or may not be an escaped mental patient and/or the son of Odin.

To go along with Millar’s imaginative interpretations of these classic heroes, the artwork by Bryan Hitch is beautiful. Taking a cue from Alex Ross and other comic book artists who lean toward photorealism (and, perhaps, from the X-Men movies), Hitch’s heroes aren’t running around in spandex. Their uniforms appear far more practical and (with the exception of Captain America and Iron Man) far less flashy. They look more like clothing and less like a second skin, which works very well for the series.

I believe that The Ultimates wrapped after thirteen issues, followed by The Ultimates 2, which picks up a year after the alien invasion is resolved and features a bunch of new characters. Whether the sequel to The Ultimate Avengers movie will continue to follow the comic books remains to be seen. All I know is that I don’t purchase nearly enough comics and The Ultimates 2 Vol. 1: Gods and Monsters is on bookshelves now.

Non Sequitur: X2 Cameo

For some reason, I was reflecting on X2: X-Men United earlier this week when I had a minor epiphany: Wolverine meets Snowbird at Alkali Lake.

If your eyes just glazed over, perhaps some explanation is necessary.

At the end of X-Men, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) tells Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) that he may be able to find clues to his past at “an abandoned military compound at Alkali Lake in the Canadian Rockies”, and at the beginning of X2 Wolverine has traveled to Alkali Lake.

Snowbird is a member of the Canadian supergroup, Alpha Flight. The daughter of an Inuit goddess and a mortal man, Snowbird has the power to transform into any animal native to Canada.

Following me so far? Good.

When he arrives at the military compound, Wolverine encounters a wolf.

Wolverine at Alkali Lake

The wolf doesn’t appear to be bothered by Wolverine’s presence, neither attacking nor running away. Instead, it just lopes calmly into the abandoned compound. Wolverine follows and finds that Alkali Lake does seem to be truly abandoned.

As an aside, Wolverine’s investigation of the Alkali Lake compound bugs me. The compound isn’t actually abandoned; William Stryker has an entire underground base there in which he builds a copy of Xavier’s mutant-detecting device, Cerebro. If Stryker’s people had been moving in and out of the underground base, Wolverine would have detected the scent of people or (more likely) vehicles that had passed through recently. If, however, Stryker only reactivated the facility after Wolverine was at Alkali Lake looking for answers, would he and his people have had time to get everything up and running and then build Cerebro 2? I don’t know.

I seem to have digressed. Let’s recap:

  • Wolverine is in Canada.
  • He encounters a wolf that behaves in a distinctly un-wolflike fashion.
  • Alpha Flight is a group of Canadian superheroes.
  • One of the member of Alpha Flight is Snowbird.
  • Snowbird can transform into any animal native to Canada (such as a wolf).

Did director Bryan Singer and the writers of X2: X-Men United actually intend to include Snowbird in the movie, or is that just a regular old wolf? I can’t say for sure. Singer doesn’t make any mention of it in the director’s commentary on the X2 DVD. Maybe it is mentioned elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it.

But here is the icing on the cake:

Alpha Flight Folder

That’s an enlarged portion of the desktop of Lady Deathstrike’s (Kelly Hu) computer, and there’s a folder labeled “Alpha Flight” right in the middle. Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) has broken into Deathstrike’s office in order to find a way to free Magneto (Ian McKellen) when she stumbles across plans for Stryker’s copy of Cerebro. The computer holds a treasure trove of names related to the X-Men and Marvel comic books in general. The folder directly above the one labeled “Alpha Flight” is labeled “Franklin Richards”. Franklin is the son of Reed and Sue Richards, also known as Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman, half of the Fantastic Four.

I’m digressing again.

To conclude: Weird wolf + Canada + Alpha Flight folder = Snowbird

At least to me it does.

Man, I love being a geek.

Welcome to Parenthood: Shutterbug

We haven’t taken nearly as many pictures of Kyle in the last few weeks as we did way back in January. Laura snapped a few on Friday, including a couple of Kyle and his father spending some quality time together. Swing on over to The Photo Album for a peek.

I also took some video of Kyle’s first bath last month, but due to some technical difficulties I’m not able to digitize video at this time. Once I get the problem straightened out, I’ll see about posting some highlights.

Welcome to Parenthood: Too young to begin the training.

At seven weeks old, my son Kyle isn’t quite ready to watch Star Wars yet, but I have given the matter of his first exposure to George Lucas’ space opera some serious thought. The core question is this: which episode should be Kyle’s introduction to the Star Wars films? The idea of my own flesh and blood watching the prequels before the original trilogy gives me the willies.

I was four years old in 1977, so I didn’t see Star Wars in a movie theater. In fact, Return of the Jedi was the first of the original trilogy that I saw on the big screen. My first viewing of Star Wars was on HBO. We didn’t have a television, much less cable, so the whole family piled into the car and drove twenty-five miles to Hancock, Michigan, where my aunt and uncle lived. We watched Star Wars on a big, old, cabinet-style television and the movie completely blew my pre-adolescent mind. It must have been at least 1980, because I do recall asking my aunt to let me know the minute The Empire Strikes Back was on HBO so we could all come over and watch it.

I seriously doubt The Phantom Menace would have had that effect on me, and that’s part of why I am loath to begin my son’s Star Wars indoctrination with Episode I.

Then there’s the fact that the prequel trilogy utterly ruins what is arguably the single biggest reveal in the history of film. What kind of a Star Wars fan would I be if I just trotted out the series in numerical order, thus transforming what should be the ultimate “Oh… my… God!” moment into a “Well, duh!” moment? To say the idea rubs me the wrong way is something of an understatement.

So, we should begin where it began for me: Star Wars. Call it Episode IV or A New Hope, but to some of us it will always be simply Star Wars. Laura and I have a pre-THX, pre-Special Edition copy of the original trilogy on VHS tape; a copy that was rescued at the last minute from the pile of VHS tapes we were bringing to Half Price Books. This version is as close as I can get to what I saw on HBO twenty-odd years ago.

Of course, it’s not as simple as sitting Kyle down in front of the television and pressing “Play” on the VCR, is it? The world is full of people just waiting to talk to my young apprentice and ruin everything. In order to protect him from the prequel trilogy, I’ll have to lock him away until he is of sufficient age to appreciate Star Wars. This idea is attractive because I would be protecting him from any number of dangers that the outside world holds; attractive and most likely illegal (or, at the very least, frowned upon by Children’s Services). I guess I’ll just have to accept that there are factors outside of my control. Kyle will one day go to school, and what he learns about the Star Wars universe there may not be to my liking. It’s a risk that simply cannot be mitigated.

External influences aside, I’ll do my best to ensure that my young apprentice’s first Star Wars experience is as memorable and awe-inspiring as my own was. I think I’ll go home and burn my copy of The Phantom Menace, for starters.

New Look (Part 2)

I created a new logo for the masthead, which is hopefully eye-catching and… big. I also tweaked the colors on the site a bit, bumped up the font size and brought back some graphical links. Finally, I added a toggle section for the Recent Comments and Tag Cloud features, which just looked weird over in the navigation columns. Mad props to Chris Miller over at Unquiet Desperation for the snippet of Javascript that makes the toggling work.

So, what do you think?