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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review: Road to Marvel's the Avengers

Note: After a week-long vacation in an undisclosed location, I have now returned to blogging. Please return to enjoy this blog post. Also, congratulations to my grandparents, Pat and Jeanne Sweeney, on their 50th wedding anniversary! Also, congratulations to the blog for this, the 275th post!

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This book is bad.

I just wanted to get that out there. Not only is it bad, it's boring, unoriginal, predictable, and stupid. To be totally accurate, it is precisely because of these latter deficiencies that it is bad. I originally put this collection on my graphic novel to-read list because I wanted to get the whole story on The Avengers. What I read only cemented my belief that everything we saw in the films leading up to that glorious cinematic spectacle was more than enough. I'm sure that whoever was writing this carp was just doing their job, but the least Marvel could do is get some actually good writers to put out actually good promotion material meant to represent and advertise their actually good movies.

Road to Marvel's the Avengers collects all of the cheap-as-Hades tie-in comic books that were put out to generate buzz for Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe... as if they needed anymore. We're treated to a full on, word-for-word comic book rendition of Iron Man, and background and backstory on Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Dr. Abraham Erskine, and Johann Schmidt. We're also told exactly how Black Widow infiltrated Stark International in order to become Tony's new personal assistant.

If any or all of this sounds even remotely exciting and compelling, let me assure you, it's not.

The Iron Man stuff takes up roughly half of the book, and is basically a poorly rendered version of the film of the same name, plus some stuff showing Iron Man doing his thing in-between Iron Man and Iron Man 2. This latter part is particularly dull, depicting Tony fighting... people with guns in the Congo, I guess, and Tony using his Iron Man armor to impress the ladies. At the very least, it guest stars General Ross from The Incredible Hulk, and I just love that guy.

The problem with the Iron Man stuff is that it tries too hard to be the movie. The comic book rendition of the film (titled "I Am Iron Man!") is word-for-word, scene-for-scene, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was shot-for-shot too. "I Am Iron Man!" manages to capture the basic skeletal structure of the film, but has none of its substance or style. This, I think, is the problem with book-of-the-film tie-ins, or comic-book-of-the-film tie-ins, or any kind of tie-in which recycles the film for that matter: It often leaves the writer with no room for originality, essentially copying the script. As a result, this comic feels nothing like the movie, despite all of its effort to do so.

The other Iron Man stuff has a similar problem, combined with a hackneyed and stale plot. It's obviously trying to ape the pseudo-cleverness of Iron Man 2, and unlike "I Am Iron Man!", it actually succeeds in emulating the film. Considering considering that Iron Man 2 is widely considered to be the weakest film in the MCU, however, that's a patently terrible strategy, if only in hindsight. I can only imagine how fans who were gearing up for Iron Man 2 felt when they read this monstrosity. If I were in their shoes back then, however, I would have prayed to the most high God with all my heart that the movie was nothing like this comic. Paradoxically, the tone of this comic was spot on in regards to its reflection of the movie, yet somehow much, much worse. (For the record, I found Iron Man 2 to be an enjoyable flick, though admittedly not as good as its fellow MCU films. I hope to complete my Iron Man set of reviews and review it sometime.) At any rate, the only good thing about it was its exploration of the dynamic between Tony and his father, but while that was an oasis of good stuff in a wasteland of mediocrity and awfulness, it is far overshadowed by what we actually saw in the dadblamed movie.

The final bit of stuff related to Iron Man 2 promotion is a story with Black Widow. This story's tone shift early on is jarring, to say the least, going from crazy Mission Impossible/Die Hard/James Bond-esque stuff to a drama version of The Office. What I mean is, we literally see Black Widow jumping out of an exploding plane before going to apply at the Stark International corporate office. The whole time, she's using this awful, grating inner dialogue where she complains about "American inefficiency" (Clearly, the writer did not do his research when writing a defector from Soviet Russia) and the idiosyncrasies of office work. I imagine that under a different, actually competent writer, it would have been pretty darn funny to see Black Widow trying to navigate office politics without seriously injuring someone, but no, that's not what happens. What happens is a dry, humorless story which should have been very entertaining, maybe even interesting. But it is instead very boring, and only succeeds in persuading us that we really did not need to know the answer to the question it poses, that question being, "How did Black Widow infiltrate Stark International?" It's a perfect example of wasting a perfectly good plot.

As if things couldn't get any worse, we are then treated to a similar fill-in-the-blanks plot with the stuff for Captain America: The First Avenger. The story constantly shifts between a generic Cap-fighting-in-World-War-Two stuff and pre-Captain America Steve Rogers training with Bucky. Ordinarily, this would be fantastic stuff, showing Steve and Bucky growing up together. However, it's stifled by the stupid generic Cap-fighting-in-World-War-Two stuff and showing Johann Schmidt's story. (It's not that I have a problem with stuff showing Cap fighting in World War Two, but it's because it's so generic and careless in presentation that I found it to be intolerable.) The basic premise of this comic, in the same vein as televised tripe such as Smallville and perhaps even the upcoming Gotham is to show how our heroes and villains came to be the way they are. There's just one problem: Devoting a whole series, or even a miniseries, to answering that question gets really old really fast. I mean, how many times do you really want to see Steve getting pounded on in an alley before Bucky shows up to be a street fighting badbutt? (And remember, Bucky's supposed to be the sidekick.) Steve's story is basically what this series is, and while it's fairly compelling, it's not the stuff of great comics, because we already know what's going to happen. That's why we have origin stories, not origin series.

The stuff with the Red Skull and Dr. Erskine also had tons of potential, but whoever is writing this carp failed to capitalize on it. The Red Skull is shown in his days as plain old Johann Schmidt, who was apparently some random Hitler-groupie who got noticed by Heinrich Himmler and landed a position in the Waffen SS. The Red Skull's role in the plot is particularly interesting because he was so underdeveloped in the flipping movie. This comic could have been a chance to greatly redeem him as a character, delving into exactly why he wants to take over the world while parading about in an all black leather wardrobe. Unfortunately, despite one or two pretty great scenes with Johann Schmidt, we're mostly left in the dark (again) about these details. There's also a few scenes where Dr. Abraham Erskine is show trying and failing to escape to Switzerland with his family, and that really showed Dr. Erskine's selfless nature. He gets captured by Schmidt, but his manner of escape is blatantly ripped off from the Hong Kong scene in The Dark Knight of all things. And he gets put in his place in the hierarchy of morality by Peggy Carter of all people. Once again, plenty of potential, but poor execution.

Finally, there are a handful of stories focusing on people like Nick Fury and Agent Phil Coulson. These stories should have been awesome, but they failed spectacularly, thanks in part to ugly, ill-suited art, but mostly in part due to crudely put together story. None of the characters sound like their movie selves. Heck, they barely even look like their movie selves. What's particularly galling, however, is that these are the characters who, like Rhodey, Pepper, Bucky, and Dr. Erskine, would have benefited the most from tie-in comics. Instead, they all get this half-baked super-spy nonsense. A terrible shame, really.

In sum, I checked out Road to Marvel's the Avengers in an effort to enhance my appreciation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was disappointed by what I found, and am now reconsidering my plans to check out Fury's Big Week, another lead-up to The Avengers. What I found in this wholly ill-conceived trade paperback was bland characterizations, contorted dialogue, and a worse plot, which, combined with several details contradicted by the films, make for an altogether dull, uninspired story. Please don't add this to your personal library. It's bad enough that it made it into my local public one.

RATING: 5/10

Image courtesy of wired.com