regrettable supervillains

regrettable supervillains Jon Morris’s The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains is a natural sequel to his The League of Regrettable Superheroes. Let’s face it: Without anyone to fight against, the superheroes are just a bunch of folks running around in funky spandex underoos. Let’s also face that very few supervillains will have the gravitas of Magneto, the moral certainty of Thanos, or the creepy menace of the Joker. Morris is here to once again tell us about all the also-rans who didn’t let their deficiencies stop them.

No matter the shape, size, or strategy of the four-color finks gracing these pages, every one of them had the potential to join the ranks of comicdom’s icons of iniquity. It was only poor sales, inopportune timing, and occasional overshadowing from bigger baddies that consigned so many of these scoundrels to the scrapheap of comic book history. Until now!

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Morris documents a remarkable assortment of semi-menacing figures that are very much the products of their times. The thirties and forties saw an awful lot of gangsters and confidence men–as well as Mother Goose, Satan, and Captain Black Bunny–before the comics went to war. The fifties and sixties ushered in a bunch of do-badders like Cat Girl and Tino the Terrible Teen, who would fit comfortably in a Batman episode. The seventies and beyond took both oddly concrete and weirdly conceptual turns, with Generic Man, Captain Law, and Uzzi the Clown all serving up exactly what their monikers promise.

regrettable supervillains
MODOK, as lovely as ever

Several of these menaces to society did go on to have fairly (by Regrettable standards) long careers. Batroc the Leaper hassled Captain America over multiple issues. The Human Flying Fish caused trouble for Aquaman, on and off. Swarm stuck around to threaten Black Widow, Ghost Rider, and a few lesser X-Men. And MODOK became the go-to adversary for Marvel, taking on Ms. Marvel, Deadpool, Iron Man, the Hulk, and a slew of other A-list superheroes.

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The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains offers an evildoer for every taste. These are a few of my favorite also-ran bad guys:

From the Golden Age of comics (1938-1949):

  • Nazis: Captain America wasn’t the only Nazi-puncher of the Golden Age. Nazis were a favorite–and obvious–target for pretty much everybody in the 1940s. It’s not like Captain Murder, the Human Fly, and Mister Banjo didn’t deserve it.
  • The Jingler: “The Jingler (aka “the Jingler of Death”) begins his career not as a vile poet, but merely a pretty bad one.”
  • Reefer King: “One Mary Jane-laced menace is the so-called Reefer King, a shady dealer of ‘funny cigarettes.’ (At no point in this story are the illicit cigarettes referred to as marijuana or cannabis.)”
regrettable supervillains
Mod Gorilla Boss–stylish and surly

And from the Silver Age (1950-1969):

  • Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man: “Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral…it’s all three! That’s some good science.”
  • The Human Flying Fish: “a villain so remarkable he deserves two adjectives in his nom du crime.”
  • Mod Gorilla Boss: “We never learn his name, nor how he discovered his transformational fluid, or even why he was into mod fashion. In fact, the story sheds absolutely no light on the backstory of this bizarre villain.”

And lastly from the Modern Age (1970-present):

  • Ghetto-Blaster: “Ghetto-Blaster hearkens back to a trend in comics when writers clearly named the villain after something sitting on their desks or stored in the hall closet.”
  • The Golden Fuhrer: Proving that Nazis never go out of style for punching–“Who knew that the reanimation of Nazi corpses could be such a good career opportunity?”
  • Tapeworm: “Tapeworm would be one of the most unnerving supervillains in existence even without considering that apparently he smells terrible.”
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regrettable supervillains
Good ol’ reliable Nazis

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains relishes the inherent silliness of these awkward bad guys, but it comes across to me as less gleeful than Morris’s earlier book on superheroes. The tone may be unavoidable, though, since villains are not generally known for their fun-loving ways, and their roles are by definition dark. But there are still plenty here who are not so much wicked as just cranky and misguided. There are even a handful who occasionally turn good. Morris’s snarky descriptions of the unlikeliest criminal minds continue to be a fun read.

Overall, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains serves up some truly remarkable examples of how polite society’s fears get translated onto a comic books pages. It’s an interesting, four-color peek into the back pages of history.

Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War
Infinity War

Let’s face it: Avengers: Infinity War does not need a review. It’s been out for over a week, the fans (and the box office numbers) have spoken, and anyone who has yet to see this juggernaut should already have a pretty good idea of what to expect. So instead I present a few observations for your reading pleasure.

Spoilers ahead.

Disclaimer: I have no investment in canon. I’m not much of comic reader and I have only seen about half of the Marvel Comics Universe movies out there. My concern about Avengers:Infinity War is only that it be internally consistent and consistent with the rest of the MCU.

Oh, and entertaining in a huge, summer-movie way.

And, of course, it is. Mostly.

The Nice Touches

As grand mash-ups go, Avengers:Infinity War keeps things moving. I appreciate how it begins in medias res by assuming the audience already knows who the players are and how they all connect, skipping a too-long recap of everyone’s backstory (I’m looking at you, Justice League). At two and a half hours, pausing for exposition would derail the momentum entirely. The action rarely stops, but the mayhem is interspersed with enough flashes of character development to keep it from being just a CGI slugfest.

Speaking of action, my favorite part of the brutal opening battle is Loki’s scathing curse, “You will never be a god”.

Speaking of character development, I appreciate the completely believable fondness Tony Stark has for Peter Parker, built over time, which makes Spidey’s dissolution doubly awful.

I also appreciate that Thanos is written as a character in his own right, rather than being just a huge computer-generated monster. Josh Brolin does a terrific job of showing the layers to Thanos’s monomania.

The Missed Opportunities

I think the Guardians of the Galaxy are poorly used in Avengers: Infinity War. Not wasted–they are too integral to the plot–but at key points they are reduced from fully developed characters into plot devices.

For instance, I think Gamora’s caving in is out of character. I understand her pain at seeing Nebula being tortured, but her weak attempt to run away when Thanos is about to sacrifice her seems–off. I didn’t buy the big reveal that Thanos loves her as strong enough to override her decision to die to keep the stone out of his grasp.

In a similar fashion, I didn’t buy Nebula simply standing by as Quill wrecks the attempt to take Thanos’s gauntlet away. Yes, she had a very hard day, but the Nebula we have seen up to this point is so laser-focused on taking down Thanos she should have smacked Quill into submission before he could screw things up.

And let’s face it, it’s obvious that the heroes killed in Avengers: Infinity War will be back, since we know the sequel schedule. So while there is some shock value to seeing the good guys die and Thanos getting to watch his sunset, the ending leaves far less of an impact than it promised.

The Random Thoughts

Please, please, please let Pepper Potts be dead. Gwyneth Paltrow is so annoying.

I just have to assume that Doctor Strange decided to turn over the time stone to get to the one of the 14 million possible futures where everything turns out all right.

Why was the Hulk even here? Mark Ruffalo had to have had nothing better to do.

Thor and Rocket are a remarkably good pairing. I would totally watch a spin-off about them.

In the second installment of Avengers: Infinity War, Nebula deserves the kill shot. She has more than earned it.

This plotline may be the last best hope to bring Marvel Zombies to the big screen. Who’s with me?

Agree? Disagree? Think I missed the point entirely? Let me know in the comments.

Choosing up sides in Captain America: Civil War
Choosing up sides in Captain America: Civil War

Now that the initial frenzy to see Captain America: Civil War has cooled somewhat, I will venture my opinion. As I told my friends as we walked out of the theater in the wee hours of opening night/ morning, I liked it, it was really good, and I’m glad we saw it, but it won’t leave a mark.

Captain America: Civil War was exactly the glorious spectacle we all expected it to be. The production and effects were flawless. The story was coherent and moved blazingly fast, with just enough dialogue to keep the action anchored to the plot. It was a technical masterpiece, with convincing CGI and the anticipated wild stunts and tricks.

But I can’t help but be disappointed by the shiny, much-lauded blockbuster that is Captain America: Civil War. It was a crazy amount of fun but it left me feeling a little empty when it was over, like eating candy instead of a sandwich for lunch.

As an action movie, it was exceptional. What I missed was the characters. There was only superficial interaction between the main characters for large parts of the movie, with no depth, no real development, no reason to connect and hold on to Civil War instead of just waiting for the next Marvel showstopper to come out in a year or so. It seemed to me that most of the characters (even the major ones) were just doing a walk through, and that they had been written purely to advance the plot and not to grow as actual people.

Accidents happen in Captain America: Civil War
Accidents happen.

Perhaps because they are more seasoned actors (and Tony Stark is pretty well defined by his shortcomings), that effect was less apparent in Robert Downey Jr’s and Don Cheadle’s performances. Sebastian Stan’s Bucky at least had some range to him because of the uncertainties caused by his programming, but he was still put away at the end. And Ant-Man’s sudden inclusion, while energetic and funny, seemed random. Why was he there? What did he care that the Avengers were beefing?

Even the amazingly strong introduction of Black Panther lost some of its power for me when he chose to give his assistance to Captain America. It didn’t seem like the decision a reigning king (and anointed superhero) of a sovereign nation would make—to support the agenda of a man who ignored legitimate governments and national boundaries.

And that’s the missing link to depth in the movie. The split in the Avengers’ ranks played out like a schoolyard quarrel rather than a principled philosophical divide. Iron Man came closest to explaining his stance and even he barely touched on why he felt the way he did about governmental oversight. Captain America opted to be intractably stubborn before even trying to persuade. And the rest chose sides because…there is no because. The rest chose sides to provide a balance of outfit colors, apparently.

For all my complaints, I think Captain America: Civil War was worth every second of screen time as pure action entertainment. There were some astoundingly bright points, like Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spiderman in every scene he was in. It was also good to see familiar faces like Marissa Tomei and Martin Freeman in the mix. But they couldn’t do what the story didn’t need them to do.

What are we fighting for?
What are we fighting for?

For me, it’s hard to remain invested in a franchise that skimps on creating an emotional connection with its audience, especially when the seeds of it already existed in the source material. I think the movie would have been much more epic if we had stepped back from the action long enough for an impassioned argument between the Avengers that allowed them to explain themselves, their convictions, their reservations. They are supposed to be friends and colleagues. Friends and colleagues discuss major issues, either before or during the battles.

Ultimately I blame it on Disneyfication. Disney has owned Marvel Studios since 2015, but even though production on Captain America: Civil War started well before the takeover I can’t believe a steamroller of a company like Disney would let it go forward without some corporate input.  The oversimplification of issues and the hyper-calculated emotional tugging that they use to make you think you care are familiar ground. Frankly, if this had been written with a better eye to the characters’ inner workings, the manipulation would be neither obvious nor needed. Alas.

Maybe I’m asking too much of a movie rooted so firmly in comic books. But I don’t think so. The comic books gave the Civil War some thought. With the A-list acting talent, the technical virtuosity, and the monster financial weight behind the franchise, I don’t think it’s too much to expect more from the big screen version—like a lasting impact.

 

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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