Monday, April 29, 2013

Iron Man 3's Comic Book Origins

This weekend in America, one of the most highly anticipated film sequels in comicdom history will open. IRON MAN 3 has already taken the rest of the world by storm, earning 195.3 million US dollars in 42 countries, crossing the $185.1 million opening threshold set by AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (the worldwide title) and breaking a number of records for the biggest opening weekend ever in countries throughout Asia and South America as well as the UK. The film opens state-side this coming weekend and looks to replicate the ambition of the last Marvel film–if on a far less cosmic scale.

You'll notice in the UK trailer above the appearance of longtime Iron Man antagonist, The Mandarin, whose existence was hinted in the first IRON MAN film via the terrorist group "The Ten Rings," referencing the source of the super villain's power. It's great to see Sir Ben Kingsley entering the Marvel Universe after a false start in the aborted original SPIDER-MAN 3, which would have seen him in the role of The Vulture. Producer Avi Arad in a textbook example of poor judgment chose to swap The Vulture for Venom and then mysteriously added Gwen Stacy as well, which helped make a mess of things even if the massive box-office didn't reflect it. Future disagreements between production and original series director Sam Raimi led to a parting of company and the unfortunate reboot of the series by director Marc Webb. The moral of the story: don't swap an Oscar winner for a sitcom star. Ever.

by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca
Issue #18, Page 22: Splash
Graphite and ink on board
11" x 17"
You may also notice another mobile, armored, and militarized suit from the comics, The Iron Patriot. In this incarnation, which is reportedly adapted from the Warren Ellis "Extremis" story arc, The Iron Patriot is an upgrade to the War Machine armor, rather than an enemy (as originally depicted in the Matt Fraction / Salvador Larroca series Invincible Iron Man), which may arise from Sony holding the rights to the Norman Osbourne character as part of their Spider-Man deal, and this franchise is part of Walt Disney Studios' Marvel Cinematic Universe. So in IRON MAN 3, Iron Patriot will be the new armor of Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, used to put a patriotic face on America's super soldiers following the events of THE AVENGERS. Regardless, it's nice to see a great costume gracing the big screen, and personally gratifying because the first appearance of the Iron Patriot (from Invincible Iron Man #18) was featured in the first Pop-Sequentialism exhibition and show catalog. It's still available, too. Contact me for purchase details.

I've begun negotiations to curate a museum exhibition in Southern California of the next incarnation of Pop-Sequentialism, so look for details here soon.

Another trailer to hit the world of fandom with a great, big bang is THOR: DARK WORLD, which will be the eighth film in the Disney/Marvel Universe. Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor helms a script from Saving Private Ryan writer Robert Rodat. And it looks appropriately badass:

THOR (2009)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Olivier Coipel
Issue #10, Page 9: Splash Page
Graphite and ink on board
17" x 11"
There doesn't seem to be a direct connection to a specific run of the comics–but the movie rights to the Fantastic Four have reverted to Marvel Studios, so a post-credit Doctor Doom sequence can't be ruled out just yet. With CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and AVENGERS 2 all forthcoming and leading up to a Thanos Infinity Gauntlet War, it wouldn't be quite right in my book if everybody's favorite Latverian dictator wasn't involved. If so, it's possible that this new Thor film may take some more incidental points from J. Michael Straczynski's great run in the comics. Among my favorites is this splash page of Balder confronting his brother Thor over his rightful claim to the throne of Asgard. Since Marvel hasn't divulged plans for a third Thor film, and industry insiders speculate that team films will be the preferred format following AVENGERS 2, Ragnarok could be a big plot point in THOR: DARK WORLD, and if so, this event which helps to kick-off those events may be featured prominently. With Brian Michael Bendis calling most of the shots at Marvel these days, and with so many opportunities to work some of his own plots into the cinematic timeline, it would seem like a grave mistake to not try to weave the likely looming FF reboot into the box office megablockbusters already on schedule.

Since Siege is unlikely to come to fruition as long as Sony holds the rights to all X-MEN properties, the Loki and Doctor Doom team-up in the MJS run on THOR seems like the most transitionable storyline.

And owning an Olivier Coipel page from one of the all time great collaborations is its own reward.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Great Influence of the Late Margaret Thatcher on Modern Comics

Maggie bought the farm yesterday, and I doubt that Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, Brendan McCarthy, or any of the UK comic writers who emerged in the mainstream in the 1980s are doing much grieving. In fact, a great deal of those writer's early work is a direct result of living under Margaret Thatcher's rule, a contentious era of upheaval which helped earn her nickname of "The Iron Lady." When sifting through the sanctimonious epitaphs that are sure to appear in newspapers and news programs between now and her funeral remember that Prime Minister Thatcher called Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela "a terrorist."

Here in the USA, Thatcher's allegiance to Ronald Reagan earned her much higher praise than she received in her own country. Of course the nightly American newscast didn't feature the constant hunger strikes, worker strikes, public rioting and general dissent that festered in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and throughout the British Isles in response to her poll tax, union busting, state-supported terror tactics and racially and economically divisive politics. While American punks blasted anti-Thatcher anthems from their Japanese boom boxes, comprehension of the British condition remained nearly non-existent. While the Clash, Elvis Costello, and U2 penned song after song attacking The Baroness to the wider pop audience, the severity of British austerity was largely lost on Americans. Her deregulation of the markets, privatization of the dockyards, and general lack of sympathy for the working class left a legacy of unemployment and heroin addiction.

But comic book fans got the straight dope from the source.

Readers of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta got a stark dose of anti-thatcherism. Moore exposed the homophobic Section 28 Law that vaguely forbade the publication or presentation of any materials that promote homosexuality. V's Larkhill Resettlement Camp is a fascistic, nightmare scenario of what many feared would be the next step. The totalitarian government presented in his groundbreaking anarchists tale is very much modeled on Thatcher's Tory party. The extent of terror-state interrogation techniques allowed by British Police remains mostly unknown to the majority of Americans–even those who read about them in V, who perhaps thought it part of the fictional aspects of the story. The anti-establishment aspects of V for Vendetta would become more prominent and more polarized in Moore's Watchmen, which featured graffiti silhouettes like Banksy's long before most people were aware of him. Banksy's most popular image of a scarfed man throwing a tear gas cannister is, itself,  straight out of the era of the Brixton Riots.  

Moore also wrote Maggie into his Miracleman/Marvelman series in issue 16, where she scoffs at the idea of market interference. It's hard to believe after the economic collapse of 2008 that the dangers of deregulation had been outlined in a superhero comic book released back in December 1989. The hero's sympathy for the aged leader in spite of her obtuse uncompromising nature is prophetic of what many Brits and most Americans saw on their televisions last night. Moore foresaw the pending candy-coating over two decades ago, not that it was so difficult to predict. The visibly shaken Thatcher depicted by American artist John Totleben in the sixth panel on the page appears moved to tears, which is consistent with reports of her state upon exiting Downing Street almost a year later following her resignation from office on November, 22 1990. Moore completists will note that Thatcher's resignation took place a mere seventeen days after Guy Fawkes Night.

Grant Morrison's visionary and rarely seen St. Swithin's Day features an assassination publicity stunt with Thatcher as the intended target. In the UK, it is illegal to depict the assassination of any actual politician in any form–satire included, so Morrison had to be very clever about the motive of his young protagonist, who in the final frame threatens her with... his finger. Morrison's Scotland was the most heavily hit by Thatch, who swept like a wrecking ball through the mines, the steel industry, the car factories, shipbuilding and engineering and oversaw the demise of the communities which had built their livelihoods around them. The poverty there was rivaled only by Northern Ireland, which held a particular Ire for the PM. Morrison would also present an unfavorable vision of Margaret in his Dare, in which Gloria Monday colludes with the Mekon for a karmic demise.

Jamie Delano criticized Thatcher's "Help yourself society" amidst satanic stockbrokers in the third issue of Hellblazer. I remember reading that series as a teen, thinking, "Wow, this is really British!" Years later while reading Canadian author Dave Sim's Cerebus: Jaka's Story I realized just how disliked Margaret Thatcher was everywhere but in the USA. By the time the Spitting Image puppeteers lampooned her, her poll numbers were so low that they might have actually helped her image. When rock band Genesis utilized the puppets in their Land of Confusion video, it succeeded in creating a buffoonery that undercut the reality of nuclear catastrophe that warhawks Reagan and Thatcher almost led us into.

So when I say "influence," I mean it in the same way that Adolph Hitler influenced Art Spiegelman's Maus. Go on, Maggie–and good riddance!

Special acknowledgment to Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool for some of the images featured on this page.