Great Moments In Comic Book History: The First Appearance of Werewolf By Night


From 1954 to 1971, comic book readers across America were safe from werewolves. The Comics Code Authority, that set of rules instituted to get Dr. Frederic Wertham to stop declaring comic books to be the greatest menace to the American way of life since the horseless carriage, forbade any supernatural characters. Werewolves were not allowed to fight alongside or against any of the super heroes published by D.C., Marvel, or any of the other comic books companies governed by the CCA.

The CCA started to relax their rules in 1971, especially after Marvel published an issue of Spider-Man that did not get the CCA’s seal of approval because it featured a friend of Peter Parker’s getting hooked on drugs. When the issue not only sold well but also generated a lot of negative publicity about how out-of-touch the CCA was with what comic book readers were actually having to deal with, the CCA started to relax their rules.

Marvel reacted by introducing a whole host of supernatural characters who had previously been banned under the CCA. Throughout the 70s, Captain America, Spider-Man, and others often shared their pages with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and sometimes even Satan himself.

Werewolf by Night was Marvel’s first werewolf. (The title had previously been used before the CCA went into effect, back when Marvel was still known as Atlas.) He made his first appearance in the 2nd issue of Marvel Spotlight. By day, he was Jack Russell. He was also Jack Russell by night, unless there was a full moon. Then, he was Werewolf by Night! He was different from most Marvel characters in that he lived in Los Angeles instead of Manhattan. However, one thing that he did have in common with a surprisingly large amount of comic book heroes is that his story started with a mugging.

At first, Jack thinks this was just a dream. It’s only later in the issue that his mother confesses that Jack’s father was a werewolf and apparently, the curse has been passed down. Jack is not happy to hear that and after promising to never attack his stepfather, Jack runs off into the night. Later, when Jack nearly breaks his promise, he realizes that a werewolf cannot have a family. A werewolf must always be alone.

From such simple beginnings, one of Marvel’s most venerable characters was born. Many of the Marvel horror characters disappeared after a few issues but Werewolf by Night has remained an active member of the Marvel Universe. Though my favorite Marvel werewolf remains Man-Wolf, Werewolf By Night has had his moments. My personal favorite was when he, Spider-Man, and Franenstein’s Monster teamed up to take down the Monster Maker. It’s not easy being a werewolf but Jack Russell (and, when the series was recently rebooted, Jake Gomez) has always done his best.

Marvel Spotlight Vol.1 #2 (February 1972) — “Night of Full Moon — Night of Fear

Writers — Roy Thomas, Dean Thomas, Gerry Conway

Penciler and Inker — Mike Ploog

Letterer — John Costanza

Editor — Stan Lee

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night
  11. Zombie!
  12. The First Appearance of Ghost Rider

Great Moments In Comic Book History: The First Appearance on Ghost Rider


Marvel Spotlight was a comic books that existed so Marvel could introduce new characters and showcase heroes who were being considered for a full time series.  Think of it as being the Marvel equivalent of pilot season.  In August, 1972, Marvel Spotlight #5 introduced the world to Johnny Blaze, the motorcyclist who once made a deal with the devil.  Johnny Blaze was better known as Ghost Rider!

While riding through Manhattan on his motorcycle, Johnny spots two criminals committing a murder.  He wants nothing to do with it and tries to drive away.  The two criminals follow him and corner him in an alley.  And then this happens:

The rest of the story is simple.  Ghost Rider makes flames emerge from the ground.  The criminals, who are named Clyde and Dingbat, run away.  How does one criminal end up named Clyde while the the other has to settle for Dingbat?  The rest of the issue is a flashback, telling how stuntman Johnny Blaze sold his soul to Satan (later revealed to be a disguise of frequent villain Mephisto) in order to save the life of his cancer-stricken stepfather Crash Simpson.  Though Crash survives the cancer, he still dies when he attempts a dangerous stunt.  Satan still wants Johnny’s soul but is vanquished by Roxanne, Crash’s daughter who is pure of soul and has been reading up on occult practices. However, every night, Johnny is transformed into Ghost Rider.

It’s nothing complicated but, from such humble beginnings, legends are born!

Marvel Spotlight Vol.1 Issue 5 (August, 1972)

Great Moments In Comic Book History: Zombie!


Back in 1954, Marvel Comics was known as Atlas and, like most publishing companies, it was putting out its share of horror-themed comics.  In those days, before Fredric Wertham declared that comic books were destroying America’s youth and the industry sought to protect itself by creating the Comics Code Authority, comic books were full of stories about monsters, killers, and macabre revenge.

Published by Atlas, Menace was one of many horror comics to populate the nation’s newsstands in the 50s.  It was an anthology series and today, it’s best remembered for featuring work from Golden Age artists like Bill Everett and George Tuska.  The credited writer for the first eight issues was a young Stan Lee, decades away from becoming the public face of Marvel Comics.

Menace only ran for 11 issues but during that time, it introduced one character who would later make a comeback and become a part of the Marvel universe.  That character was The Zombie!

Zombie was introduced in the top story of Menace #5 (July 1953).  At the time, he had no name and was given no past, beyond having a daughter.  Living in the swamps of Louisiana, he is controlled by a madman who orders the Zombie to mug someone in New Orleas.  The Zombie goes down to the French Quarter (where, humorously, no one notices anything strange about him) but his attempt at mugging is thwarted by a policeman.  The Zombie returns home, where his angry master orders the Zombie to attack the young woman that the master is in love with.  His master wants to rescue the young woman and win her love.  However, the woman reminds the Zombie of his daughter so the Zombie strangles his master instead!

It was a typical horror comic stuff, not quite as graphic as what EC was producing but still more macabre than what Marvel would later be known for.  Though Menace only lasted for 6 more issues and the Comics Code would temporarily put an end to the horror comics boom, the Zombie would eventually return, with a slight makeover.

In the 1970s, when the Comics Code Authority finally started to loosen up, Marvel returned to publishing horror with vengeance.  Along with comic books featuring Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Werewolf By Night, Marvel also published black-and-white horror magazines, which were not regulated by the Comics Code and could therefore include graphic violence, tame profanity, and cleavage, lots and lots of cleavage.  Among those magazines was Tales of the Zombie.

The Zombie returned, now with longer hair and a backstory that established that he was once a millionaire named Simon Garth until his former gardener (his master from the original story) put him under a voodoo curse.  The first issue of Tales of the Zombie featured an extended retelling of the first Zombie story.  The subsequent issues followed the undead Simon as he haunted the bayous of Louisiana and fought other supernatural creatures.  It turned out that there wasn’t really much that could be done with a mindless zombie and Tales of the Zombie only ran for 10 issues, one less than Menace.  In 1975, Tales of the Zombie ended with Simon Garth finally reaching his final resting place and dying a second time.

But you know Marvel!  No one, not even a zombie, dies forever.  Simon Garth has since been resurrected, though he’s only been used sparingly.  There’s not much that can be done with him but his first appearance in Menace remains popular and has since been included in many horror comic anthologies.

You can’t keep a good zombie down.

Menace (Vol.1 #5, July 1953)

“Zombie!”

  • Writer — Stan Lee
  • Artist — Bill Everett
  • Inker– Bill Everett
  • Letterer — Bill Everett

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night

Spider-Man (1977, directed by E.W. Swackhemer)


When a college student named Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond) is bitten by a radioactive spider, he’s stunned to discover that he can now do everything that a spider can.  He can climb walls.  He has super strength.  He has super senses.  And, once he invents a sticky web serum, he can shoot webs and swing around the city!  All he has to now is sew himself a red and blue costume and he’ll be ready to fight crime in New York City!

It’s not a minute too soon because New York is dealing with a crime wave that only Spider-Man can deal with.  Seemingly ordinary people are suddenly going into hypnotic trances, stealing money and committing suicide.  An extortionist sends words that, unless he’s paid a lot of money, he’s going to unleash a wave hypnotic chaos on the city.  Could it have anything to do with a sinister New Age guru and hypnotist named Edward Byron (Thayer David)?

Though it was released theatrically in Europe, Spider-Man was produced for television and it served as the pilot for a short-lived CBS television series.  Along with The Incredible Hulk, this was one of the first attempts to build a television series around one of Marvel’s characters.  Unfortunately, the series only last 14 episodes before being canceled.  Though it can be hard to believe nowadays with the nonstop hype around every single comic book movie, there was a time when television and film executives were actually weary about trying to bring super heroes like Spider-Man and Captain America to life.  According to Stan Lee (who served as a consultant on Spider-Man), CBS wanted to distance their version of Spider-Man from its comic book origins.  While both the pilot and the series features Peter Parker crawling up walls and shooting webs, there’s no Uncle Ben.  There’s no talk about how with great power comes great responsibility.  Worst of all, there are no members of Spider-Man’s famed rogue’s gallery.  No Electro, no Sandman, no Green Goblin, and certainly no Dr. Octopus.  CBS wanted the show to feature down-to-Earth villains, which is an interesting strategy for a show about a grad student who can climb walls.

The television version of Peter Parker isn’t as insecure and angsty as either the comic book version or even the movie versions.  Hammond is likable and sincere in the role but he is also almost too self-assured as Parker, proof that CBS didn’t understand that a huge part of Spider-Man’s appeal was that he was never as confident as Superman or Captain America.  Instead, much like many of the people who read his comic, Peter was frequently worried and consumed with self-doubt.  The comic book version of Spider-Man was always wracked with guilt for not stopping the thief who eventually killed Ben.  The television version was more worried about selling enough selfies to The Daily Bugle to be able to go on a date with his professor’s daughter.

At least the pilot film featured a villain who wouldn’t have felt out of place in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, though he probably would have had a cool villain name, like the Mesmerizer, if he had appeared in the comic.  Thayer David played a lot of smug villains in the 70s, not to mention the fight promoter in Rocky.  In Spider-Man, David goes all in as the villain and he’s got the perfect posh accent for delivering threats and sarcastic put-downs.  Unfortunately, this version of Peter Parker is not the wise-cracking machine that he was in the comic books and he never really gets a chance to verbally put Byron in his place.

If you can overlook its deviations from the comic book, the pilot isn’t a bad made-for-TV adventure.  Though miscast and playing a far different version of Peter Parker than we’re used to, Nicholas Hammond does his best to make Peter and his transformation credible.  Thayer David, as always, is a good villain and the story, with ordinary people suddenly turning into ruthless criminals, isn’t bad.  Though there are a few convincing shots of Spider-Man web-slinging, most of the special effects are lousy but they’re really not any worse than what you would expect to see in a 70s made-for-TV movie.  Though the series ultimately didn’t work, the pilot is still an enjoyable precursor to what, decades later, would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (dir by the Russo Brothers)


(Minor Spoilers Below!  Read at your own risk.)

So, how long does the no spoiler rule for Avengers: Endgame apply?  There’s so much that I want to say about this film but I know that I shouldn’t because, even though it had a monstrous opening weekend, there are still people out there who have not had a chance to see the film.  And while this review will have minor spoilers because, otherwise, it would be impossible to write, I’m not going to share any of the major twists or turns.

I will say this.  I saw Avengers: Endgame last night and it left me exhausted, angry, sad, exhilarated, and entertained.  It’s a gigantic film, with a plot that’s as messy and incident-filled as the cinematic universe in which it takes place.  More than just being a sequel or just the latest installment in one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame is a monument to the limitless depths of the human imagination.  It’s a pop cultural masterpiece, one that will make you laugh and make you cheer and, in the end, make you cry.  It’s a comic book film with unexpected emotional depth and an ending that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest cynic.  By all logic, Avengers: Endgame is the type of film that should collapse under its own weight but instead, it’s a film that thrives on its own epic scope.  It’s a three-hour film that’s never less than enthralling.  Even more importantly, it’s a gift to all of us who have spent the last ten years exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film itself starts almost immediately after the “Snap” that ended Avengers: Infinity War and we watch as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, returning to the franchise after being absent in the previous film) finds himself powerless to keep his family from disintegrating.  After often being dismissed as the Avengers’s weak link, both Clint Barton and Jeremy Renner come into their own in the film.  As one of two members of the Avengers who does not have super powers, Clint serves as a everyperson character.  He’s a reminder that there’s more at stake in Endgame than just the wounded pride of a few super heroes.  When Thanos wiped out half the universe, he didn’t just wipe out Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Groot.  He also left very real wounds that will never be healed.

When the film jumps forward by five yeas, we discover that the world is now a much darker place.  When we see New York, the once vibrant city is now gray and deserted.  Our surviving heroes have all dealt with the Snap in their own way.  Clint is now a vigilante, killing anyone who he feels should have been wiped out by Thanos but wasn’t.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drinks and eats and feels sorry for himself.  Captain America (Chris Evans) attends support groups and, in one nicely done scene, listens as a man talks about his fear of entering into his first real relationship in the years since “the Snap.”  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living as a recluse and is still blaming himself.  Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is now an avuncular, huge, and very green scientist.  Only Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) remains convinced that the Snap can somehow be undone.  She’s right, of course.  But doing so will involve some unexpected sacrifices and a lot of time travel….

And that’s as much as I can tell you, other than to say that the film takes full advantage of both the time travel aspects (yes, there are plenty of Back to the Future jokes) and its high-powered cast.  With our heroes — which, along with the usual Avengers, also include Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) — hopping through time and space, we get a chance to revisit several of the films that led up to Endgame and it’s a thousand times more effective than it has any right to be.  Yes, one could argue that the cameos from Robert Redford, Tom Hiddleston, Hayley Atwell, and others were essentially fan service but so what?  The fans have certainly earned it and the MCU has earned the chance to take a look back at what it once was and what it has since become.

Indeed, Avengers: Endgame would not work as well as it does if it hadn’t been preceded by 21 entertaining and memorable movies.  It’s not just that the MCU feels like a universe that it as alive as our own, one that is full of wonder, mystery, sadness, and love.  It’s also that we’ve spent ten years getting to know these characters and, as a result, many of them are much more than just “super heroes” to us.  When Tony Stark and Captain America argue over whether it’s even worth trying to undo the Snap, it’s an effective scene because we know the long and complicated history of their relationship.  When the Avengers mourn, we mourn with them because we know their pain.  We’ve shared their triumphs and their failures.  Tony Stark may be a guy in an iron suit but he’s also a man struggling with his own demons and guilt.  Steve Rogers may be a nearly 100 year-old super solider but he’s also every single person who has struggled to make the world a better place.  As strange as it may be to say about characters known as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Widow, we feel like we know each and every one of them.  We care about them.

Needless to say, the cast is huge and one of the great things about the film is that previously underused or underestimated performers — like Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, and Karen Gillan — all finally get a chance to shine.  As always, the heart of the film belongs to Chris Evans while Robert Downey, Jr. provides just enough cynicism to keep things from getting to superficially idealistic.  Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo get most of the film’s big laughs, each playing their borderline ludicrous characters with just the right combination of sincerity and humor.  Of course, Josh Brolin is back as well and he’s still perfectly evil and arrogant as Thanos.  But whereas Thanos was the focus of Infinity War, Endgame focuses on the heroes.  If Infinity War acknowledged that evil can triumph, Endgame celebrates the fact that good never surrenders.

As Endgame came to an end, I did find myself wondering what the future is going to hold for the MCU.  A part of me wonders how they’re going to top the past ten years or if it’s even possible to do so.  Several mainstays of the MCU say goodbye during Endgame and it’s hard to imagine the future films without their presence.  It’s been hinted that Captain Marvel is going to be one of the characters holding the next phase of the  MCU together and, fortunately, Brie Larson is a quite a bit better in Endgame than she was in her previous MCU film.  Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the future, Marvel and Disney will continue to entrust their characters to good directors, like the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi.  (Wisely, Disney reversed themselves and rehired James Gunn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film.  Of course, Gunn never should have been fired in the first place….)

And that’s really all I can say about Avengers: Endgame right now, other than to recommend that you see it.  In fact, everyone in the world needs to hurry up and see it so we can finally start talking about the film without having to post spoiler warnings!

For now, I’ll just say that Avengers: Endgame is a powerful, emotional, and entertaining conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic sagas ever.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Teaser and International Trailers


spider-man far from home

Spider-Man: Homecoming was the Spider-Man that fans have been waiting for. It was able to balance the character of Peter Parker and his alter-ego of Spider-Man. Where the Sam Raimi version was able to make the former stand-out at the cost of the Spider-Man alter, the Marc Webb version swapped the two dynamics. Webb’s version had a great Spider-Man but had a Peter Parker whose moral compass was a bit skewed.

Jon Watt’s Spider-Man and Peter Parker were a nice balance. It helped that the character was now free (to a degree) to play in the huge cinematic sandbox that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Last we saw Spider-Man and Peter Parker, he was dusted just like half the living things in the universe following the Thanos Snap. The question that gets brought up whenever Spider-man: Far From Home, the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, gets talked about is does this film take away from the emotional sucker punch that was Avengers: Infinity War and it’s upcoming sequel, Avengers: Endgame.

From this teaser trailer and it’s international version has shown, the question still remains as both teasers mention nothing about the Avengers and keeps the timeline of the film vague enough to make one wonder if this sequel happens before Avengers: Infinity War.

I guess fans will find out on July 5, 2019 when the film is released worldwide.

….and here’s the International Teaser trailer

Trailer: Captain Marvel


Captain Marvel

Tonight we finally get to see the official trailer for Marvel Studio’s upcoming entry to their ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just like Marvel Universe-616 which was born at the Big Bang and continues to expand ever outward there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the MCU suddenly collapsing under the weight of fan expectations and the imagination of the writers and filmmakers who have been tapped by Kevin Feige and group to usher in the Golden Age of Comic Book films.

This past summer, fans of the MCU were treated to the spectacle (and surprisingly emotional) that was Avengers: Infinity War. Those who stayed for the final stinger at the end of the credits of that film were treated to a clue as to who may just save the MCU from Thanos’ snap.

Captain Marvel will be Marvel Studio’s first female-led entry to the series. Some have been in the camp that Marvel took too long to do such a project while a small, albeit very vocal group think Marvel have been bit by the SJW bug.

For the most part the majority of fans are just excited to see the adventures of one Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel finally up on the big screen. We shall see this March 8 whether Captain Marvel lives up to the hype and excitement that has been building since the end of Avengers: Infinity War.

Face Front, Marvelites!: RIP Stan “The Man” Lee


cracked rear viewer

I know it’s popular these days among a certain coterie of Comic Book Buffs to bash Stan Lee’s contributions to the medium in favor of artist/collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko . You’ll never find me in that crowd. Not ever. I learned to read (with the help of my dad) at the tender age of three through comics… simple stuff at first, funny books like YOGI BEAR and BEETLE BAILEY. As I progressed into the realm of superheroes, my vocabulary improved thanks to writers like Gardner Fox, John Broome, and especially Stan Lee, who took me to Asgard and Outer Space with Shakespearean-styled dialog and college-level words that made me keep a dictionary always at the ready. Screw you, Dr. Frederic Wertham!!

The Titanic Trio: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko

Stanley Martin Lieber was born December 28, 1922, the eldest son of immigrant parents (his younger sibling Larry…

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Rest In Peace, Stan Lee


In 1939, a 17 year-old aspiring writer named Stanley Lieber landed a job at Timely Comics in New York City.

At first, Stanley’s job was just to get coffee, make sure that the inkwells were full, and occasionally proofread copy.  In 1941, when the third issue of Captain American Comics needed a text story so that it could be shipped as a magazine instead of just as a comic book, Stanley was assigned the job.  Because the young man had an ambition to some day write the great American novel and felt that being associated with comic books would make it more difficult to convince publishers to take him seriously, Stanley Lieber wrote the story under a pseudonym, Stan Lee.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  Timely eventually became Atlas and then Atlas was rebranded Marvel and, through it all, Stan Lee remained at the company, providing continuity from one decade to another.  Ironically, for someone who originally feared being too associated with comic books, Stan Lee went on to become not only the face but, for several decades, the voice of Marvel Comics.

Among comic book historians, Stan Lee is an often divisive figure.  By his own admission, Lee loved the spotlight and it can be argued that he unfairly overshadowed his publicity-shy colleagues.  To solely give Lee the credit for creating characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four does a disservice to the work of artists and writers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and so many others.  As a company, Marvel has a deserved reputation for not treating its artists with the respect or the financial compensation that they deserved.  How much of the responsibility for any of that falls on Lee’s shoulders is a controversial subject and will continue to be so for years to come.

What isn’t controversial was that,  whether he hitting the college lecture circuit, recording the introductions for the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show, or giving interviews with publications like Playboy and Rolling Stone, there was never a bigger cheerleader for comic books than Stan Lee.  At a time when DC comics was busy imitating the campy Batman TV show, Marvel Comics were, in their own way, dealing with world in which their readers lived.  From the platform of Stan’s Soap Box, Stan Lee spoke against racism and prejudice.  When the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Lee to do a story about the dangers of drug abuse, Lee did it in defiance of the Comic Codes Authority.  Three issues of Spider-Man were released without the CAA’s seal of approval, opening the way for all comic books to deal with real world issues.

Stan Lee as Mr. Fantastic in What If #11 (as drawn by Jack Kirby)

For many comic book readers who might have otherwise felt that they didn’t fit in, Stan Lee said, “Here, you do belong.”  Today, it might seem easy to poke fun at Lee’s endless enthusiasm, his cries of “excelsior,” and the way that he called Marvel readers “true believers.”  But for many readers,  there was much comfort to be found in Lee’s corny sayings.  Lee had a way of making readers feel as if they were all in it together.  Whether you were a true believer or a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, you belonged.  For kids who felt like outsiders, Lee was there to tell them that everyone was capable of being a hero, whether they had super powers or not.

In his twilight years, Lee was rediscovered by a new generation of fans.  Spotting Lee’s trademark cameos became one of the pleasures of watching any Marvel film.  Sometimes, he was a postman.  In Deadpool, he worked in a strip club.  More than once, he was a janitor.  I once saw him driving a bus.  In the second Guardians of the Galaxy film, he was sitting on the moon and telling the Watchers about his adventures on Earth and it just seemed like he was right where he belonged.

Stan Lee passed away today at the age of 95.

I knew I’d have to write this some day but I always hoped it wouldn’t be any time soon.

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee.

 

Lisa Reviews Avengers: Infinity War (dir by Joe and Anthony Russo)


(Warning: There are spoilers in this review.  They’re not necessarily huge spoilers but they’re there.  Read at your own risk.)

Avengers: Infinity War is a lot of things.  It’s big, it’s thrilling, it’s emotional, it’s colorful, it’s loud, it’s flamboyant, and, clocking in at two and a half hours, it’s occasionally a bit exhausting.  It’s overwhelming but it’s never boring.  It’s a nearly perfect example of pure cinema, where the story is less about what happens and more how it’s told. It’s a tribute to not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also to the audiences who have been flocking to each movie since Iron Man was first released way back in 2008.  Avengers: Infinity War is a pop art masterpiece, one that provides the first part of a climax to a saga that’s been unfolding for ten years.

In the days leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the main selling point was the assumption that this movie would feature every single character that’s been introduced as a citizen of the MCU so far.  Though the film comes close to including everyone, there are still a few characters who are notable for their absence.  Ant-Man and the Wasp are nowhere to be seen.  None of the Marvel Television characters show up, which is a shame because I’m sure Jessica Jones would have had some choice words about the potential end of the universe.  Two familiar SHIELD agents make a brief appearance, though you have to wonder where they were when New York and Wakanda were being invaded.

That said, all of the big heroes show up.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) flies into space with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) teams up with Rocket Racoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively).  When Wakanda is attacked, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) are all present to defend it.  Meanwhile, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) continue to pursue their odd relationship while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) search for Gamora’s father, Thanos (Josh Brolin).

It’s a packed film and the fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to the power of perfect casting and movie star charisma.  At this point, we feel as if we know these characters.  We know that Tony Stark is going to be haunted by what happened the last time Thanos’s minions involved New York.  We know that Spider-Man is going to be desperate to prove that he belongs with the adults, just as we know that Dr. Strange isn’t going to be particularly impressed with anyone he meets.  Needless to say, some characters get more screen time than others.  Despite a good deal of the film taking place in Wakanda, Black Panther largely stays in the background.  I personally wish that both Natasha and Captain America had been given a bit more to do.  Considering just how talented both Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle are, it’s a shame that neither one of them ever gets to do much in these films.  At the same time, Infinity Wars allows both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to come into their own and Chris Hemsworth again shows that he may be the most underrated star in the MCU.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of certain actions taken by Peter Quill towards the end of the film but actually, it’s exactly what you would expect his character to do in the situation and, up until that moment, Chris Pratt is a welcome presence.  It’s important to have someone around who appreciates good music and who can make you laugh, especially considering that Thanos is planning to wipe out 50% of the universe’s population…

Oh yes, Thanos.  After spending years lurking in the background, Thanos finally steps forward in Infinity War.  In fact, it can be argued that Avengers: Infinity War is actually much more of a Thanos film than an Avengers film.  While our heroes are continually spending the film trying to catch up to Thanos and reacting to his latest action, Thanos is always one step ahead.  Thanos is the one who steers the narrative and, for once, you really do believe that an MCU villain views the heroes as being mere distractions.  Thanos is the one on a quest and the film follows him through every step of his search.  In fact, the film’s most emotional moments belong to Thanos.  For all the death and destruction to be found in the film’s surprisingly dark narrative, Thanos is the only character to ever shed a tear.  Like all great villains, Thanos doesn’t view himself as being evil.  Instead, Thanos speaks very sincerely of his desire to bring balance to the universe.  The scary thing about Thanos isn’t that he claims that he’s being merciful when he slaughters millions of beings.  The scary thing about Thanos is that believes it.

Thanos, you see, is a bit of an intergalactic environmentalist.  As he explains it, the universe only has a finite number of resources.  By killing half of the universe’s population, he is ensuring that the other half will be able to survive in peace and harmony.  Most people would call Thanos’s actions genocidal but Thanos would probably say that he’s merely making the difficult decisions that others don’t have the courage or intelligence to make.  It may all sound rather far-fetched and melodramatic until you consider that, just last week, bureaucrats and doctors in the UK decided it would be better to starve a sick infant to death rather than allow his parents to take him to be treated in another country.  With his mix of narcissism and absolutely belief in his own moral certitude, Thanos is a far more familiar villain than a lot of viewers might want to admit.  As opposed to the forgettable villains who have appeared in so many MCU films, Thanos is a compelling and complicated figure.  It’s interesting to note that two of the best performances of the year so far were given by actors appearing as villains in MCU films, Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther and Josh Brolin in this one.

As befits the film’s subject matter, Infinity War is a sprawling film, one that skips from world to world.  The visuals are frequently spectacular, as are the many battles.  From the opening attack on New York to the final battles in Wakanda and in space, the action is non-stop and thrilling.  (It helps that, as opposed to some of the previous MCU films, it’s always clear who is fighting who and why they’re fighting.)  For me, though, the most memorable scenes are the scenes where Thanos looks and considers the worlds that he’s destroyed.  There’s a scene where an exhausted Thanos rests on a placid planet and it’s one of the strongest images in the history of the MCU.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t worry too much about all of the characters who are killed over the course of Infinity War.  From what I’ve been told, it’s apparently something of a tradition in Marvel comics to kill off a bunch of recognizable characters and then have them come back to life an issue or two later.  And the fact that the sequel to Infinity War has already been filmed and is set to released next year leads me to suspect that nothing’s permanent.  I mean, if all of these people are really dead, there aren’t going to be many heroes left to make any more movies about.  That said, I still got far more emotional than I probably should have at some of the unexpected demises.  Especially … well, no.  I won’t say the name.  But seriously, it was upsetting.

2018 is shaping up to be the year of Marvel.  So far, Marvel has released two of the best films of the year.  To be honest, a film as huge as Infinity War shouldn’t have worked and yet, it does.  It’s a masterpiece of pop art.*

* For a totally different response to Avengers: Infinity War, check out Ryan’s review by clicking here!