Episode 47 – Runaways: Pride and Joy (With Matt Goldberg)

In this episode, Curt and Kevin take the midnight train going anywhere, joined by Collider.com senior editor Matt Goldberg, as they mark the debut of Hulu’s new Runaways series with a discussion of Runaways: Pride and Joy by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, published by Marvel Comics!

All kids think of their parents as villains on occasion. But Alex Wilder and his adolescent friends have just discovered that their well-to-do parents are actual supervillains – members of a criminal cabal called the Pride! Stunned, our hormonal heroes steal away into the California night, determined to expose their felonious fathers and murderous mothers! Along the way, superpowers are discovered, secrets are revealed, superheroic identities are (briefly) adopted … oh, and someone gets a pet dinosaur!

Can these pubescent powerhouses stay a step ahead of their evil elders and avoid the most severe grounding of all time? And can our teen titans find placement in that home for wayward young Avengers known as ? The Comics Canon?

Things Not Discussed in This Episode:

  • Runaways editor C.B. Cebulski’s new job as editor in chief of Marvel Comics (mainly because this was recorded before the promotion was announced)

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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Despite Heroic Efforts, Justice League Fails to Rescue the DC Extended Universe

Review by Curt Holman

Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the main things that struck me while watching Justice League, and that stayed with me afterward, was how bad the villain is.

I don’t mean the relative evil of Steppenwolf, an ancient warrior space god bent on finding three artifacts to remake the Earth. I mean how thinly he’s written and how terribly he’s rendered as an all-CGI character. Respectable actor Ciarán Hinds provides an utterly generic voice performance, the character has scarcely more than one facial expression – the most threatening thing about Steppenwolf is that you’ll see him and die of embarrassment for the cast and filmmakers.

But it’s not like Justice League botched a classic character. Steppenwolf is an obscure sidekick to Darkseid, one of the most powerful and iconic villains in DC history. So why isn’t Darkseid the villain in Justice League, the theoretical flagship film in the DC Extended Universe? Good question: it seems as though the filmmakers wanted to use Justice League to gather the team and drop hints about Darkseid, who’ll show up in a sequel, when things will supposedly really pop off.

Which is the problem with nearly most of the DCEU movies to date: They’ve been so intent on setting up an Avengers-like franchise down the road while ignoring terrible decisions about the movies right in front of them. Justice League attempts an obvious course correction from the joyless murk of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but still proves ugly and sloppy, despite some saving graces.

Snyder returned to direct Justice League, but left in the spring following a family tragedy, and Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon came aboard for reshoots and rewrites. (Whedon shares screenplay credit with Chris Terrio, suggesting extensive revisions.) Justice League tries to lighten things up, but you may not notice those efforts for almost an hour. An early sequence conveys how the world has lost its hope since Superman died with a sadness montage set to a Leonard Cohen cover.

Superman’s death seems to have more consequences than mass psychological trauma. Batman (Ben Affleck) has detected an incursion of winged goblin creatures, which he suspects are scouts ahead of an alien invasion of the defenseless planet. Batman reaches out to his new ally Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to help track down new super-powered individuals, following clues left in the previous film. Boozing biker-type Aquaman (Jason Momoa) seems more interested in protecting the oceans than the surface world. Socially awkward speedster the Flash (Ezra Miller) is eager to sign up and make friends, but deeply phobic about fighting. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is a young prodigy given a mechanical body due to otherworldly technology (which proves directly connected to Steppenwolf).

Not only does the film introduce new heroes, they each have at least one supporting character, serving to clutter up an already choppy, overcrowded story (that reportedly had a mandate to run no more than two hours). You can be simultaneously pleased to see, say, J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon and annoyed that he’s only in a couple of scenes. Even a grieving Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Ma Kent (Diane Lane) are on hand for wearying speeches that take the fizz out of Adams’ signature effervescence.

Justice League delivers plenty of action scenes, including Batman hunting a “parademon” in Gotham, Wonder Woman foiling terrorists in London and Steppenwolf wreaking havoc on Atlantis and the Amazons’ home. Most feel perfunctory – the ones with Steppenwolf look like videogames – but once the team assembles, the filmmakers allow themselves to have fun. In one scene, a character proves able to see The Flash running at super-speed, and the Flash is shocked to see them SEEING him – it may be the most delightful moment in all five DCEU films that doesn’t involve Wonder Woman.

The actors gamely take on the film’s whiplash changes in tone between Snyder’s gloom and Whedon’s snark. Gadot’s poise may be her greatest superpower, and she never seems caught by the gravity that weighs down Affleck, who plays an effective, understated Bruce Wayne but never seems sure of himself as Batman. Miller sells the Flash’s rabbity comic relief pretty hard, but his snappy patter is always welcome. (The super-speed effects never match the Quicksilver set pieces from the recent X-Men movies, though.)

It’s public knowledge that Henry Cavil, who played Superman in the past two films, is on hand here. I won’t spoil the nature of his appearance, but Justice League draws out far more of his charm than its predecessors.

Despite such saving graces, Justice League falls to earth more often than not, particularly during a headache-y finale with overly familiar action beats and CGI landscapes.

And while Justice League is more significantly enjoyable than Batman v Superman, the latter seemed like the film that Snyder wanted to make. It may have been a grueling betrayal of beloved characters’ comic book origins, but at least committed to its ideas. Justice League feels like a film that nobody really wanted to make – at least, not in the compromised form that arrives in theaters. A lot of people put heroic effort into the production, but the effort is almost all you see.

Justice League. C.  Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon. Stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot. Rated PG-13.

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Episode 46 – Kingdom Come

In this episode, Curt and Kevin prepare for the long-awaited release of Justice League with (what else?) a discussion of a kinda/sorta Justice League story: the acclaimed 1996 battle-of-the-superheroes miniseries Kingdom Come, written by Mark Waid, painted by Alex Ross, and published by DC Comics!

In the not-too-distant future, a new generation of super-powered beings has taken the place of the Justice League. But these reckless “heroes” are even more of a menace than the villains they face, and millions of innocents pay the price when one super-battle results in the devastation of the American Midwest!

Wonder Woman coaxes a reluctant Superman out of self-imposed exile to reunite the Justice League. But Batman refuses the call, and the heroes clash over differing ideologies. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor and the U.N. have their own ideas for how to deal with this growing crisis – and one of them involves a nuclear bomb!

Can these costumed crusaders put aside their differences, end the threat of these metahuman miscreants, and avert atomic annihilation? And can they win the keys to that kingdom of caped champions known as … The Comics Canon?

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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Asgardians of the Galaxy: Thor: Ragnarok Takes Comedic Jaunt Across the Cosmos

Review by Curt Holman

If you’re an amateur scholar of Norse mythology; if you’re a longtime follower of Marvel comic book continuity; if you’re a fan of the supporting players in the “Thor” feature films – be aware that Thor: Ragnarok might rub you the wrong way.

But if you’re cool with filmmakers taking liberties with source material in the name of humor, excitement and crazy creativity, you’ll have a blast with the third Thor movie. What We Do in the Shadows director Taika Waititi shows more allegiance to laughter than serious themes or narrative consistency, but also delivers a deliriously kitschy space adventure that’s like a jazz riff on comic storylines like Planet Hulk and Ragnarok and Roll. Continue reading

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Episode 45 – The Mighty Thor: Ragnarok and Roll

In this episode, Curt and Kevin bring the mighty month of #Ragnaroktober to a thunderous conclusion, wrapping up their preparation for Thor: Ragnarok with a discussion of Ragnarok and Roll, the cataclysmic climax to Walt Simonson’s Surtur Saga from The Mighty Thor #349-354, published by Marvel Comics!

As a winter storm sweeps across the planet, the giant fire demon Surtur marches toward Earth with the hordes of Muspelheim in tow! His goal? To storm the gates of Asgard, ignite his sword of Doom with the Flame of Destruction, and set the nine realms ablaze!

Can the God of Thunder, alongside Odin the All-Father, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Beta Ray Bill, the lady Sif, the Warriors Three and the assembled armies of Asgard, prevent this severe case of global warming? And can this host of heroes ascend into that Valhalla of extraordinary epics known as … The Comics Canon?

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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Bonus Episode – The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill

In this special episode, #Ragnaroktober rolls on as Curt and Kevin travel back two years before the release of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok – all the way to the halcyon days of November 2015! Yes, it’s the oft-mentioned, never-before-unveiled Comics Canon “beta” episode, a discussion of Walt Simonson’s The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill (The Mighty Thor #337-340), published by Marvel Comics!

While confronting a menacing spacecraft, the mighty Thor comes into conflict with the noble alien warrior Beta Ray Bill! Imagine the son of Odin’s shock and dismay when this extraordinary extraterrestrial grabs hold of his hammer … and is granted the power of Thor, God of Thunder!

Can Thor and Beta Ray Bill sort out this intergalactic identity crisis in time to repel the horde of gruesome space demons that threaten Bill’s defenseless people? And can they overcome a host of Herculean hurdles to hasten into that hall of heroic histories known as  … The Comics Canon?

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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Episode 44 – Planet Hulk

In this episode, Curt and Kevin prepare for the Nov. 2 release of Thor: Ragnarok with the first of three action-packed installments! The month of #Ragnaroktober kicks off with a spirited discussion of Greg Pak’s swords, sandals and sci-fi epic Planet Hulk … specifically, The Incredible Hulk # 92-95 and 103-105, published by Marvel Comics!

Exiled into space by the brain trust known as the Illuminati, the Hulk ends up on war-torn Sakaar, forced to fight in the arena of the tyrannical Red King! Is he, as some suspect, the storied savior known as the Sakaarson … or could he be the whispered weapon of mass destruction known as the Worldbreaker?

Can the green-skinned gladiator and his warbound allies survive against wildebots, spikes and the Silver Savage and overthrow this deranged despot? And can they fight their way into the winner’s circle of that cosmic Colosseum known as … the Comics Canon?

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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Episode 43 – My Friend Dahmer

In this episode, Curt and Kevin take a break from superhuman battles of good and evil to discuss a harrowing look at a very human form of evil, and one young man’s unsuccessful struggle against the darkness within: Derf Backderf’s graphic novel memoir My Friend Dahmer, published by Abrams ComicArts.

In recounting his experiences and relationship with Jeffrey Dahmer through high school in the 1970s, Backderf sketches a chilling portrait of a troubled loner, neglected at home and largely ignored at school. Could his murders have been avoided if even one adult had recognized the warning signs in his increasingly erratic behavior?

Working from his own recollections, research and interviews with teachers and fellow classmates, Backderf shows us the demons that tormented Jeffrey Dahmer, setting him on a seemingly inevitable path to infamy as one of history’s more notorious serial killers.

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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Episode 42 – New Avengers: Illuminati

 

In this episode, Curt and Kevin convene in secret to decide the fate of that clandestine conclave of Marvel Universe movers and shakers known as the Illuminati, as seen in New Avengers: Illuminati: Road to Civil War and New Avengers: Illuminati #1-5, published by Marvel Comics!

Iron Man! Reed Richards! Professor X! Black Bolt! Prince Namor! Doctor Strange! Together, they’re one of the most powerful superteams ever assembled! Trouble is, they’ve assembled behind closed doors to make decisions that affect the entire world – and those decisions tend to keep coming back to haunt them, endangering the lives of millions!

Can this secret society of superheroes end the threats of the Incredible Hulk, the Beyonder and the shape-changing Skrull Empire once and for all? (Spoiler alert: No.) And can they stop fighting amongst themselves long enough to be inducted into that covert coffee klatsch known as … The Comics Canon?

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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Episode 41 – The Batman Adventures: Mad Love

In this episode, Curt and Kevin analyze the most violent mental health professional this side of Hannibal Lecter! We’re talking, of course, about psychologist turned psycho Harley Quinn — and more specifically, her origin story in the Eisner Award-winning one-shot The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, published by DC Comics!

Poor Harley Quinn! She just wants to settle down with her psychopathic paramour, the Joker. But the Clown Prince of Crime is interested in someone else — Batman! As Harley plots to get rid of the Caped Crusader once and for all, we learn who she is, and how she came to be.

Can the lovelorn jester of injustice accomplish what her boyfriend never could, and kill the Dark Knight Detective once and for all? Can she finally shake free of Gotham’s most criminally codependent couple? And can she get herself admitted into that funny farm known as … The Comics Canon?

(Note: This episode was recorded before the passing of Jerry Lewis and news of a new Joker and Harley Quinn movie in development.)

Things Discussed in This Episode:
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