X-Men ApocalypseToday, the A-Z Blogging Challenge is brought to us by the letter X.

X is a tough one.

When I was a kid, and we would go on road trips, my mother would try to keep us occupied with alphabet games.  It was the kind of educational entertainment that she favored.  We would run through the letters, thinking of things that started with each one, and we would get to X and someone would say “xylophone” and that was okay and then the next person would say “x-ray” and the judges would have to consider, but it would get through because it was X we were dealing with here, and it was tough to come up with words.

But now I’m thinking, what about X-Men?

My mother wouldn’t go for it, since she had no use for superheroes, but the rest of us might find it hard to ignore the X-Men, because a movie about them comes out every couple of years or so, featuring a Millennial cast of thousands.  Jennifer Lawrence keeps showing up, in spite of all her Oscar nominations, and in this next installment she takes on a leadership role which should be pretty straightforward after all that Hunger Games nonsense.  The bad guy she’s fighting is called Apocalypse, and that’s interesting because we haven’t seen it before, a villain bent on ending the world who has a mission-appropriate nickname.  Oscar Isaac jumps into the Apocalypse role, hopefully reaping a big payday in exchange for saying grand things like, “Everything they’ve built will fall! And from the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one!” (You know, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the bad guys would try to end the world just because it seemed like a cool idea.  Those were simpler times, I guess.)

X-Men: Apocalypse hasn’t been screened for anyone, but best I can tell, it’s the sort of movie where everybody battles (almost) to the death, and then the good guys win, and then we all head out to the back yard for a Memorial Day barbecue.

Seems like a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Possibly better than an alphabet game.

Are you an X-Men fan? Do you think Jennifer Lawrence is wasting her talents? Can you think of a lot of words that start with X?

Ta-Nehisi and T’Challa

Black PantherI was checking Twitter one morning, looking for news and information and maybe a retweet of something clever I had written, when I noticed Ta-nehisi Coates tweeting about Daredevil, one of those Marvel Comics superheroes who is featured in a noirish series on Netflix.

Ta-nehisi Coates is a serious political journalist, he writes for the Atlantic and he recently won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for Between the World and Me, a sharply written discussion of being black in America.  It contains some of the best writing I’ve ever encountered.

And this guy loves comic books.

I wasn’t allowed to read comic books when I was a kid, because my mother didn’t believe they counted as reading, so she wouldn’t buy them. My sister sometimes blew her allowance on an Archie or two, most likely to read about Betty and Veronica, and Mom would find us pouring over those and shake her head.

“Why don’t you read something worthwhile?” she would say.

“These are worthwhile,” we would insist, and she would shake her head some more.

After a while my sister found that some of her friends’ brothers had comics they were willing to give away, and we dove into the worlds of Superman and Batman, passing them back and forth between us, studying the elaborate pictures and sorting out the plot lines.   In adult hindsight I can see that it was a love of story that got us lost in those colorful pages, simple but satisfying tales of the battle between good and evil, expressed with an economy of words and lavish illustrations.  And then there was the part where the meek had heroes who could save the day, or in some cases, the meek become heroes themselves. Mild mannered minister’s daughters, we liked that part too.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a new gig: he’s writing the reboot of Marvel’s Black Panther series. The Black Panther was the first black superhero, originally appearing on comic book pages in 1966. Out of costume he is T’challa, the Chief of Wakanda, a fictional African nation with large resources of vibranium, a valuable made-up mineral useful in things like Captain America’s shield.  According to Marvel the Black Panther is “is a brilliant tactician, strategist, scientist, tracker and a master of all forms of unarmed combat.” He’s African but, like most Marvel superheroes, he ends up in New York City, and gets involved with both the Avengers and Daredevil.  Look for him in the upcoming Captain America movie, the one where Cap takes sides against Iron Man. He gets his own movie in 2018, starring Chadwick Boseman and directed by Ryan Coogler, who pulled off the Rocky reboot last year. Black Panther will probably join up with the Avengers a few more times, too.

And Ta-Nehisi Coates is planning eleven comic books.

(Are you a comic book fan? Did anyone ever tell you that they weren’t worth reading? Do you think superhero movies will be the downfall of American filmmaking? Speak your mind in the comments!)

Jessica Jones

Jessica JonesI have a friend who is a hot shot attorney and a huge fan of comic books.  He’s also highly opinionated, and when I told him I had gone to see Batman v. Superman because it was the worst superhero movie ever made, he shook his head in disgust.  “Wolverine Origins,” he said.  “That’s the worst superhero movie ever made.”

I felt kind of sorry for him.  He loves Wolverine.

So I didn’t ask him how he felt about Jessica Jones, one of the giant pantheon of Marvel characters who is emerging into the comic conversation not on the big screen but on Netflix, in 10 episode seasons you can stream all day long. Jessica Jones is a smart, wisecracking, edgy young woman with a nearly soulful fragility that occasionally peeks out from under her tough exterior. She came into her superpowers when she was in a car accident that killed her family and exposed her to some sort of chemical; months later she awoke from a coma with super strength and near invulnerability. And she could fly, sort of – she says it’s more like jumping.

The cool thing about Jessica Jones is that she quickly loses interest in the superhero gig.  Turns out there are a bunch of Marvel characters who aren’t looking to hang with Tony Stark and the Avengers crew (oddly, they all seem to live in Hell’s Kitchen). These folks just want to be left alone, to lead their lives like regular folks, maybe getting the better of a bad guy now and then if they don’t have to go out of their way.

But you know how it is, trouble finds super people like this.   So Jessica Jones, living a near Spartan existence in a gritty, film noir version of Hell’s Kitchen, crosses paths with an evil old lover who can get people to do things –  even life threatening things – through simple voice commands.  He and Jessica never had a real relationship, he just compelled her affections, but he is obsessed with getting her back.  So he sets traps and terrorizes her loved ones and generally tries in a satisfyingly twisted way to force her into his arms again.

But Jessica isn’t having it.

The first season of the show is about this battle between the woman with super strength and the man with super persuasive powers. These are mismatched abilities, and overcoming her evil ex requires Jessica to use ingenuity, as well as courage and her amazing muscles. Krysten Ritter plays Jessica and she is terrific in the role; her opponent in season one, the evil Kilgrave is played by David Tennant, who nails his performance and apparently had a blast doing it too. Whether you like superhero stories or not, Jessica Jones is worth your while; it’s smart, funny, and thought provoking, and features one of the best female heroes currently playing on screens. Check it out.

Jeri: You’re coming across as paranoid.
Jessica: Everyone keeps saying that. It must be a conspiracy.

(A-Z Blogging Challenge: J is for Jessica.  And Jones.)

Iron Man

Iron ManI’m a big fan of Robert Downey Jr. I like his comic timing, and the way a slight turn of his head and a cocked eyebrow can visually convey more than a half page of dialogue.  The guy is good at what he does.

Which doesn’t mean that I love the Iron Man films, although I am generally a happy camper at a good superhero movie.  I like the moral simplicity of those worlds, where there is good vs. evil and good triumphs, usually after some fight scenes that, admittedly, become tedious by the end of the film. Robert Downey Jr. brightens up all this stuff, his comic timing and rapid fire delivery keeping us entertained and yet entirely in the moment. He never breaks character. When he’s on screen – even if all we can see is his face reflected in the gizmos of the Iron Man mask – I’m having a good time.

But about Iron Man: he’s essentially an invented superhero, a man in a suit that makes him nearly indestructible, and gives him the ability to fly and turn himself into a weapon.  It’s nothing more than a big chunk of great technology, but a lot of the Marvel (and DC) superheroes are the result of science either run amok or gone awry – Captain America, The Hulk, Spiderman.  They’re all human, which means they are often conflicted and at odds about how to accomplish their many world saving missions. This makes them more interesting than a guy like Superman, who only has one difficult-to-exploit weakness and who is mostly interesting because of the impact he has on the regular humans – friends and enemies – that surround him.

Tony Stark, on the other hand, has a great ability to annoy and exasperate those around him, although his appealing charm generally keeps him in everyone’s good graces.  That is, except for Captain America, that defender of liberty who generally has a frenemy sort of relationship with Iron Man.

Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?

Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

Which leads us right to the next big Marvel movie, Captain America: Civil War, where old Steve Rogers is determined to fight for the American way no matter what laws or Constitutional Amendments he violates, and Iron Man – oddly enough, given his independent streak – is thinking that the Avengers might need a little oversight. This creates some tension, as the Avengers take sides against each other and William Hurt, playing the Secretary of State, does his part to mix things up.

I’m pretty sure that I would line up with Iron Man, even though I find Captain America sort of hilarious, in a good hearted country boy kind of way.  But I haven’t developed the sort of affection for Chris Evans that I have for Robert Downey Jr.,  so for now, I’m sticking with the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist and his suit of armor.

Blogging A-Z: I is for Iron Man.

So, what do y’all think? Are superhero movies a waste of time and money? Is RDJ an over paid sell out? Are you looking forward to Captain America: Civil War?