The Thunderbolts – Underrated and Underappreciated

I wanted to take today to talk about one my favourite teams to ever come out of the Marvel comic universe and that would be the Thunderbolts. Most people aren’t very familiar with them if at all, and those that are familiar tend to view them as Marvel’s Suicide Squad.  While the Suicide Squad did come first by quite a few years, the Thunderbolts have been right smack in the middle of some of the Marvel comic universe’s biggest events and played a big part in the original Civil War.

The Marvel Thunderbolts is a team made up (originally) of Super Villains that masqueraded as heroes and fooled the world into believing they were heroes. It was revealed in the final page of Incredible Hulk #449 from January 1997, that they were a team of villains (the Masters of Evil) led by Baron Zemo.  Throughout their early publication the team became more and more heroic to the point where they ousted their leader Zemo and became heroes in their own right. Eventually Hawkeye led the team and continued to do so for many years. The team went through many re-launches and revamps through their short publication history until Warren Ellis took over the title making the team a black ops government sanctioned team that was tasked with rounding up fugitive superheroes during Civil War. This was by far the most successful run of the team and they even appeared in several tie in runs with Secret Invasion. The team was revamped during the MarvelNow! publications to operate as singular unit functioning outside the law and government sanction.

The team has gone through so many incarnations and revamps that it would take forever to list the teams and their respective rosters. That being said the following three rosters are the most popular from their publication history and have been present for some of the biggest events in Marvel Comic history.

#1 – Zemo and his Thunderbolts

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This first incarnation of the team as stated before were the Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes after many of the heroes had been killed by the Onslaught event.  This team consisted of: Baron Zemo, Goliath, Beetle, Fixer, Moonstone, and Screaming Mimi. As previously stated during their first foray into production, the team donned heroic personas to act as heroes after Onslaught had killed most of the main continuity heroes. The heroic personas they took were as follows:

Baron Zemo – Citizen V

Goliath – Atlas

Beetle – MACH-1

Fixer -Techno

Moonstone –  Kept her name

Screaming Mimi – Songbird

The team’s first mission was to rescue Goliath and kill the Avengers, obviously with the Avengers having been killed by Onslaught the team decided to fill the void left, learn the secrets of the Avengers and SHIELD and sell the secrets to the Criminal underworld.

#2 – Osborn’s Thunderbolts

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The next most popular incarnation of the team is the one that came to popularity immediately after the events of Civil War. This team was led my Norman Osborn and served as the first step to him eventually being named director of SHIELD ( which he renamed HAMMER) and his Dark Avengers. Osborn assumed control over the team and began hunting down the remaining fugitive heroes who avoided the Superhuman Registration Act. One of the heroes that they attempted to take down after he killed Black Knight at a Pro- Registration rally to save the innocent people attending (more on that in a later post) was Moon Knight; at that point the team was made up of the following members:

Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) – Leader

Moonstone – Field Leader

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Penance – Speedball from the new Warriors who caused the Civil War

Radioactive Man

Songbird

Swordsman

Venom

This is arguable the most popular incarnation after the team. I say arguably because the original team led by Zemo was fairly popular and their reveal of who they really are is #11 on the Greatest Comic Moments Ever. 

This team went on to repel the Skrull invasion on Washington D.C. during Secret Invasion and was played up to have had a much larger impact on the outcome of the invasion by Osborn. After Secret Invasion the team wen through a few more line-up changes most notably when Luke Cage handpicked the new Thunderbolts from Raft prisoners and became their field leader.

#3 – Red Hulk and the Thunderbolts

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The third most popular team comes from the MarvelNow! run which was a complete revamp of the team and was made up of anti-heroes and a few villains. The team was recruited by Red Hulk and their mission were decided at a turn by turn basis. Each member put their names in a hat and General Ross (Red Hulk) would draw one name out, whoever he drew got to pick the mission and nobody could complain or say otherwise. Once your mission was done your name was left out of the next draw until everyone had a chance to pick a mission and then everyone’s names went back in. The system worked for the entire run with only a few minor hiccups. This team consisted of:

Red Hulk

Punisher

Deadpool

Elektra

Agent Venom

The Leader – After the first issue

Abigail Mercy – Midway through the run

 

Eventually during their run Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) would join the team and assist them in some supernatural missions as well as testing their security. One such example was when the team tested if they could take down the Venom symbiote should it become unattached from Flash Thompson (Agent Venom). The battle was a little bit of a one sided event with the symbiote dominating until the Leader stepped in and subdued it. Punisher eventually quits the team and is almost killed by a bomb that was placed in one of his hideouts, in retaliation he goes after the Thunderbolts and takes them down 1 by 1.  The run ends with Ross disbanding the team once the true culprit behind the attempted murder of Frank is revealed.

 

The Thunderbolts are one of my favourite teams of all time and I will admit that while I do enjoy the Suicide Squad the Thunderbolts still rank higher in my opinion. The Squad is great and their chemistry is apparent (sometimes) but the Thunderbolts just have that redemption quality that makes you want to believe in them. They started off being heroes in disguise and liked it so much they kicked out their Super Villain leader to be heroes full time, if that doesn’t just warm your heart than nothing will. Not only are most members great redemption stories, they also battle a lot of personal demons and do a lot of growth in the limited number of issues in each run. My favourite  incarnation of the team is probably the Red Hulk’s but that’s because of Deadpool, Punisher and Agent Venom, not to mention GHOST RIDER!!!! I will admit that I haven’t picked up any of the newest incarnation from the All New All Different Marvel, but I have read that Winter Soldier is the new leader of the team, so that can only be a good thing.

 

 

Most Underrated Heroes: Vol. 1 – Ghost Rider

I’ve decided to add a segment to my blog wherein once a month I will outline a hero that I believe to be woefully underrated by most people. These are my own personal opinions and don’t reflect on any of the companies in one way or another. I had to restrain myself from talking about Moon Knight first because it would more than likely become an angry rant at the Marvel Netflix universe for not including him (yet… I have hopes!).

The first hero that I have chosen to talk about is none other than the spirit of Vengeance himself, Ghost Rider.

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The first Ghost Rider in publication, not in Marvel history, is stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze. Blaze is arguably the best known Ghost Rider right behind Danny Ketch and now Robbie Reyes.  Blaze was portrayed by Nicholas Cage in the 2007 film titled Ghost Rider and in the 2012 sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I will be the first one to say those movies are terrible, absolutely horrible. But because of my love for ‘ol Flamehead, I watch them over and over again. Recently in Agents of SHIELD Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider appeared as an antagonist and then ally of the team. Let’s start off with a little bit of background on the character.

BACKGROUND

Blaze was a stunt motorcyclist with his father in the Quentin Carnival alongside Craig “Crash” Simpson. His mother walked out on his father when Johnny was young taking his two other siblings Danny and Barbara with her. Johnny’s father was killed in a stunt and he was adopted by Crash Simpson and his wife Mona. The Simpson’s fabricated a story as to help shield him the pain of coming from a broken family. Johnny and the Simpson’s daughter Roxanne grew close as kids and as they grew older their friendship turned to romance. The Simpson’s began their own stunt show of which Johnny was a part, when Johnny found out Crash had life threatening cancer he was devastated. Johnny turned to the occult in an effort to save Crash. One night Johnny recited a spell and summoned who he thought was the devil, really it was the arch demon Mephistocles (Mephisto). Johnny sold his soul to Mephisto in an effort to stop Crash dying of cancer. Crash awoke the next day cured of cancer, but he died performing in the stunt show a few days later. Johnny confronted Mephisto and declared that he had cheated him. Mephisto said he had stopped him dying of cancer, not dying any other way and thus the deal stood. Roxanne arrived in time to save Johnny’s soul by declaring her love for him which drove Mephisto away. Mephisto, out of rage of not being able to collect Blaze’s soul because of Roxanne’s love, bonded Johnny’s soul with the demon Zarathos making him the Ghost Rider. A leather clad being that controlled Hellfire to punish at Mephisto’s bidding, but due to the fact that he still retained his soul, Blaze would also help the innocent whenever he could.

POWERS & ABILITIES

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In addition to controlling Hellfire and being impervious to damage as Ghost Rider, Blaze also has the ability to control hell chains with his mind. He utilizes a shotgun imbued with Hell energy to fire mystic blasts at his foes that can incinerate instantly. He is strong enough to be able to fight toe to toe with Green Scar Hulk (World War Hulk), and uses the penance stare. The penance Stare is a Ghost Rider’s most powerful weapon. When using the penance stare the Ghost Rider can force you to feel the pain of all the hurt you caused to other and burn your soul inside your body. If you have dealt enough pain to others than the penance stare will fry your whole body from the inside out. There are very few people in the Marvel Universe that the penance stare doesn’t work on, those being Punisher, Deadpool, Venom and Mr. Hyde. Punisher doesn’t regret any of his kills, Deadpool’s biggest victim is himself, Venom is immune from the symbiote and Mr. Hyde is immune because of his transformation.  In addition to controlling hell chains with his mind Ghost Rider also keeps a length of chain which he can use as a whip or he ignites it on fire and can spin it fast enough to create a flame vortex.

FEATS

Ghost Rider has performed many great feats over his long career in publication. Due to the nature of the character they haven’t always been Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, but for the most part they have been. One of the best feats he accomplished was during the World War hulk story arc.

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During World War Hulk the Green Goliath returned to Earth rather pissed after having been banished to a distant planet by the Illuminati. The Illuminati are a secret group of the greatest minds in the Marvel Universe (Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Charles Xavier, etc). The save the Earth from having to deal with another Hulk catastrophe the Illuminati tricked Bruce Banner onto a satellite and then launched him into deep space.  Hulk crash landed on the planet Sakaar and fought in the gladiatorial ring until he eventually was crowned king. He ventured back to Earth pissed off and ready to make the Illuminati pay for what they had done to him. Hulk had claimed a battleground in downtown New York where he waited for the group to show. Ghost Rider was hunting down pieces of Lucifer that he had inadvertently let loose from hell. He encountered the Hulk and they began to fight, a very destructive fight through the NY battleground. Hulk punched Ghost Rider through several buildings and dropped another one on top of him. Ghost Rider then grappled on hulks back and nearly choked him out with his hell chain. The fight ended in a stalemate when Ghost Rider attempted to use his penance stare and was shown that the Hulk was the victim and the Illuminati were the guilty ones.

In the early 90’s Fantastic Four cartoon there was an episode where Galactus attacked the earth. The Fantastic Four had tried everything they could to stop him but nothing was working. The Fantastic Four had run out of options and were trying to think of a plan to get rid of Galactus. In rides Ghost Rider, and tells the Fantastic Four that he will help. He rides up Galactus’ body and delivers the penance stare right to him. Galactus being a world eater, had consumed a lot of people and had a lot of guilt and pain stored up. This act was enough to banish Galactus at least for the time being while he healed from his wounds.

Circling back to why Ghost Rider ran into the Hulk in World War Hulk, he was in the process of hunting down and killing Lucifer.  Long story short is that Satan had trapped Ghost Rider in Hell (go figure!). Lucifer disguised himself as a worm helping Johnny to break the barrier between Hell and the normal world. When Johnny broke through Lucifer split into 666 pieces and fell to the Earth. Each piece took on a persona/possessed someone and began wreaking havoc.  Angels were dispatched to help Johnny but slowly one by one, Johnny killed all the pieces of Lucifer until only 1 remained. The trick was that with each piece Johnny killed the remaining pieces would get stronger. The two Angels that were sent to help Johnny ended up sacrificing themselves to provide Ghost Rider with the power he needed to destroy Lucifer and banish him back to hell.

REASONS HE IS UNDERRATED

There really is no definitive answer here besides the fact that he is a dark character. When people think of Marvel comics they think of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men, etc; all very colourful and for the most part family friendly characters. Ghost Rider isn’t a hero, he’s an anti-hero; one of those guys like Deadpool, and Punisher and Wolverine who are willing to kill to make sure their mission is accomplished. Not only that but once a Rider uses the penance stare there is no going back. it will inflict the maximum amount of damage to you that you deserve. There is no settings knob on the penance stare just like there is no setting knob on Ghost Rider’s morality. Ghost Rider like Punisher is very black and white, they both punish evil doers. Will they kill you for stealing a candy bar from a convenience store? absolutely not. Will they put the fear of God in you? absolutely.  The rider knows when it’s true evil like a serial killer or just minor evil like a vandal spray painting a building, and can adjust accordingly.

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Ghost Rider has a high kill count, not as high as say Deadpool or Wolverine, but he definitely is not a nice guy. Ghost Rider is very much a character aimed at an older audience. The humour and content of the Ghost rider comics tends to lean towards a mature audience and some of the content can be rather gruesome. In the family friendly MCU there really isn’t a place for someone like Ghost Rider. The Netflix universe however… that’s a whole different story, but in all fairness he wouldn’t be my first choice for that… my first choice would wear more white.

 

 

Anti-Heroes: More Realistic Than Classic Superheroes

Superheroes provide hope, and idea to strive towards. They’re someone you can always look up to and can trust that no matter what is facing them, they will do the right thing. While this is an admirable stance to take, even if it’s not very realistic. Finding someone who is good for the sake of being good is a one in a million chance. Most people like to think that they are good at heart but when the chips are down and their back is against the wall they will do whatever it takes to win, even if it is sometimes a very morally grey area. I’m not trying to say that I think people are evil, they’re not. People are just people and each person has a breaking point. A point where self preservation takes the driver’s seat and everything else takes a side seat. Some people can reach this point very quickly, while others take quite some time to get there.

If any of you have seen the movie American Sniper, you’re probably familiar with the little speech Chris’ father gives him after saving his brother from a bully. “There are 3 kinds of people in this world, there’s wolves, sheep, and sheep dogs. Wolves try to hurt the sheep and it’s the sheep dogs job to protect them, so are you a wolf or a sheep dog?” I’m paraphrasing the speech, but that’s what it boils down to. This little tid bit is actually taken from a book by LTC retired Dave Grossman titled “On Killing”, the books is quite extensive and dives deeper into the comparison of sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. There is also a quote from Heraclitus that goes like this…

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back”

To bring this back to my main point if Superheroes are the sheep dogs then anti-heroes are like wild dogs. They may attack the sheep on occasion but for the most part they only go after the wolves. There are quite a few heroes that fall into both categories (Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Arsenal), there are also quite a few that stay far past the line (Punisher, Grifter, Deadpool, Red Hood). While superheroes tend to have tragic backstories, anti-heroes tend to have a backstory so caked in violence and blood that it’s amazing they didn’t turn into a villain themselves. Three of my favourite anti-heroes are Deadpool, Red Hood, and Punisher, because of everything that happened to them they still somehow come through in the end (even if just barely).

One of the defining traits that all anti-heroes seem to possess is the innate knowledge that no matter how hard you try, you can’t save everyone every time. This also goes hand in hand with the belief that sometimes in order to save someone you need to use lethal force. One of my favourite lines comes from MarvelNow! Punisher: War Zone, wherein Frank Castle (Punisher) has pissed off the Avengers for the last time. Before the final showdown with the Avengers, Wolverine is approached by Captain America. Cap basically tells Wolverine that because of his close relationship with Frank that he will have to sit this one out. They banter back and forth and the final line comes from Wolverine when he says ” The difference between guys like us and guys like you Cap… is that we understand sometimes… people have to die”. This one line perfectly illustrates what makes anti-heroes so much more relatable than clean cut superheroes, they understand that some people are just bad and they will continue to be bad until they are stopped.

Batman once said “If you kill a killer , the number of killers in this world remains the same”.  While this philosophy might work for Batman and potentially other heroes like him (Superman, Flash, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc) one has to ask how many people died because they refused to do what was necessary. There is a quote from Wonder Woman on her New 52 run that goes like this ” There’s a reason why I don’t have a list of enemies as long as yours, or Bruce’s or even Barry’s, because when i deal with them.. I DEAL with them”. Wonder Woman is one of the few clean cut superheroes who takes lives, but she also doesn’t do it willy nilly. She heavily weighs the cost of her actions against whether or not it’s for the greater good. If the greater good wins she acts, there have been a few exceptions (Maxwell Lord pre Infinite Crisis) for example, where her emotions got the better of her, but they are few and far between.

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One of the questions I get asked quite a bit when explaining comics to people is “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”. Without going into a HUGE debate on the psychology of the two of them there really is no right answer. Batman doesn’t kill the Joker because then Joker wins, but Joker won’t stop until Batman kills him, it’s a catch 22. The animated film Under the Red Hood actually introduced a lot of people to the Red Hood for the first time. Jason Todd (Robin #2) was beat with a crowbar to near death and then blown up by the Joker. Feeling guilty for having brought Joker into it Ra’as Al Ghul revived Jason using a Lazarus Pit. Jason came back but was pretty insane and fled for several years. He begins taking over the Gotham underworld until the final confrontation with Batman and the Joker. The final confrontation has a particular line that hits the issue to the core ” Why is he still alive? Ignoring the friends he’s crippled the graveyards he’s filled…”; Jason delivers that line while pointing at the Joker. Batman tells him that if he kills the Joker he will never stop killing. This is what draws me to Batman as much as other characters like Punisher and Ghost Rider, he is a Superhero, but he is barely past the line between anti-hero and superhero and on several occasions he has crossed that line.

The 2008 film Punisher: War Zone showed us just how gritty and brutal a Punisher film could be if done right. I stand by Thomas Jane and the 2004 film with John Travolta, but Ray Stevenson just looked the part. It also brought a great line from a police detective who tried to “stop” the Punisher. When talking with Detective Soap, he basically says that the reason the Punisher hasn’t been caught is because the police don’t want him to be caught. He gets to do to those guys (mob families and criminals) what cops only dream of getting to do. While this train of thought might extend to superheroes as well normally the police forces of the comic worlds are stuck behind red tape and can’t act on someone they know is guilty. anti-heroes don’t care. They will find out if you’re guilty and they will make you pay.

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I realize it seems like I’m saying anti-heroes don’t have a conscience, but that is very wrong. while some like Punisher and Red Hood have become so jaded they no longer care, some like Deadpool use humour to cover up their true feelings, and sometimes they don’t cover them at all. In Deadpool’s brief stint on the X-Force he quickly came to butt heads with Wolverine. They were tasked with killing the reincarnated Apocalypse, the only problem was that he was reincarnated into a kid named Evan who was still in primary school. Wade immediately objected and voiced his objections, Wolverine and the rest of X-Force knew what a full grown Apocalypse could do and were resigned to killing Evan. Wolverine and Deadpool had some words and Wolverine called Deadpool “…a soulless, spineless, money grubbing mercenary”; as Wade turned to walk away he responded with ” Ya. But I never killed a kid”. This altercation caused Fantomex to regret his decision and clone Evan (it’s get weird just go with it) and teach Evan right from wrong enough to get Evan enlisted in Xavier’s school for Gifted Youngsters.

Superheroes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities; they can be star spangled awesome like Captain America, the big blue boy scout like Superman, or a tortured human like Batman. No matter who they are, superheroes give us something to strive toward. They provide us with a direction to orient ourselves towards, a light to find our way in the darkness. But sometimes the darkness is fought with darkness, while superheroes are the light, anti-heroes are the shade. The grey area between the darkness and the light, not fully dark themselves but not fully light either. They’re willing to plunge their hands in the filth so that others can keep their clean. While most of us strive to be an incorruptible and perfect hero we know that sometimes we’re not perfect. We can’t all be sheep dogs after all, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to become wolves.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Best Spider-Man film to date

*This article will contain some Easter Egg spoilers. You have been warned!!! *

If you’re like me, an avid Spider-Man fan, then you’ve probably been to see the latest installment to the MCU which is Spider-Man: Homecoming. I will flat out say that while the original 2000’s Sam Raimi films hold a very special place in my heart, this film is the best Spider-Man movie ever made.  They took Spider-Man back to his roots without forcing another origin story down our throats. Gone are the days of Peter Parker being a struggling photographer for the Daily Bugle. Back are the days of awkward teenage flirtation and social awkwardness we all experienced in high school. Tom Holland was amazing in his role as Peter Parker, he brought all the charisma and hilarity of his Civil War role into his full length role.

In addition to Tom Holland killing it at Peter Parker we were also given Michael Keaton in the role of Adrian Toomes aka. The Vulture. The story does a great job of maintaining the seriousness of a superhero flick without getting too over dramatic. In addition to the vulture there are several great nods and cameos of some other members of Spidey’s rogues gallery: The Tinkerer, Shocker and Prowler. One of my personal favourites was the inclusion of Mac Gargan into the MCU. Mac Gargan is the real name of the villain Scorpion who is one of Spider-Man’s most prominent foes. He hasn’t gotten his exo-suit yet and right now he just has a small role, but it’s obvious that this movie is meant to set up a larger Spider-Man universe.

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One of the best Easter Eggs from the movie comes from Donald Glover’s character, Aaron Davis. Fans of the Ultimate universe of Marvel comics will note who this character is and his significance to the story. Aaron Davis is the Prowler, a thief who likes to steal tech from major companies. In the ultimate universe he has a nephew, Miles Morales. Miles is bitten by the same spider that bit Peter all those years ago (Oscorp kept the spider for unclear reasons). While Miles gets roughly the same Power set as Peter he is also given the ability to camouflage himself and his clothing into his environment, his spider sense is weaker and only warns him of immediate danger as well as a “Venom Sting” in which he can paralyze anyone with just a touch. In the film Aaron actually goes as far as to say that he has a nephew in this neighbourhood which is why he will help.  This one scene gave so many people what they wanted which was the inclusion of Miles in the MCU, though now we will not be able to see fan favourite Donald Glover portray the character as he is far too old and he was cast as his uncle.

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One of my favourite Easter Eggs in the film comes when Peter is trying to track down some bad guys and disables the “training wheels protocol” Tony installed in his suit. When preparing to apprehend some bad guys the suit asks Peter if he would like to ” Instant lethal”. When the suit asks this the eyes turn red and narrow, and the placement of the shadows make the blue of his suit look red. This Easter Egg will be familiar for fans of the 90’s Clone Saga comic run. Kaine Parker, one of the clones made by the Jackal took on the moniker of Scarlet Spider, after the original Ben Reilly Scarlet Spider died. Kaine suffered from murderous tendencies and due to him being an imperfect clone he was supposed to die, but he didn’t. He healed and left New York moving down to Texas where he became the vigilante of Scarlet Spider with a precondition to lethal force.  Of all the Parker Clones that came out of that convoluted mess of a story arc, Kaine undergoes the biggest character development and is in my opinion the best one.

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Without giving any of the plot away I will say this, Michael Keaton played Adrian Toomes so well! there is a scene where he and Peter are i n a car and Toomes is laying down how things are going to play out and it is one of the best scenes of the entire MCU to date. Keaton has such a demanding presence in the film without being over dramatic. This might just be my personal opinion, but his time as Batman (however brief) provided him with a stoic ability to express his point without using many words. The Vulture suit is also just awesome. The studio moved away from a pair of bird winds on a green leotard and made him a rig which is basically a personal jet engine that straps to his back. They also gave him gripping claws for picking up large amounts of weight which is important to the plot of the movie.

The supporting cast of the film was stellar as well. Peter’s best friend Ned played by Jacob Batalon is one of the funniest characters in the MCU. This is coming from a guy who thinks both Deadpool and Rocket Raccoon are comedic gold and memorized most of their lines the first time I saw their respective movies. Batalon and Holland have a great chemistry that most actors try to emulate but few ever can. He is situationally funny as well as delivering some killer one liners throughout the film. I am very excited to see some more of him in the future installments of the Spider-Man stories as well as possibly a cameo or two in some upcoming Avengers movies. A shown in the trailer for the film Ned learns pretty early on that Peter is Spider-Man which leads to some great shenanigans on his part and some of the most hilarious grilling Peter could ever receive about his night time endeavours.

All in all the film ranks (for me) as one of the top 5 films in the MCU so far. It’s a great family film with some very serious undertone. I would rate this movie as a 9 out of 10 and recommend everyone goes to see it. It’s not just your typical good guy wins and everyone is happy story. It’s about Peter becoming the hero he wants to be and the hero others believe he can be. He has to find the balance to his life as Peter and his responsibility as Spider-Man. After all, we all know… with great power, comes great responsibility.

 

Moon Knight – Next Logical Step for the Marvel Netflix Universe

With the release of the next installment of the Marvel Netflix series, Defenders, due out in August, I can’t help but ask what their next step should be? Every time I think about it the next step is clear… Moon Knight.

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The Marvel Netflix universe will reach it’s culmination with the release of the Defenders, a show they’ve been building up to since Daredevil first began streaming in 2015. Since that first season we have received a second season of Daredevil as well as individual seasons for each member of the Defenders team.  Daredevil will take the role of Tony Stark in that he will be the driving force behind the team. Luke Cage the righteous street warrior of Harlem will balance him out as the surrogate Captain America. With that being said the title Defenders does have a little bit of a different roster when you look at the Marvel Comics releases.

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The original Defenders team consisted of Dr. Strange, Namor the Sub Mariner and the Hulk. The team was originally formed to combat a interplanar threat from the Undying Ones. Due to the popularity of the series Marvel Comics continued publishing the series and added Valkyrie to the team to “provide extra texture to the group” as stated by Steve Engleheart (one of the original writers of the series). Throughout their publication history since their first inception in December of 1971, the team has gone through many different incarnations and variations. Most recently the team consisted of Valkyrie, Misty Knight, Danielle Moonstar, and Warrior Woman and adopted the moniker of Fearless Defenders (2013). To coincide with the release of the Netflix series of the Defenders, Marvel Comics revamped the team to consist of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist; this series is due to release in August around the same time as the series comes out on Netflix.

During the Secret Empire series it is unclear what has happened to the Defenders after they were last seen combating villains for what happened at Pleasant Hill, they disappeared after Nitro detonated himself.

Moon Knight

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Moon Knight has been in Marvel publication since he was first introduced in August of 1975 in Werewolf by Night as a villain hired by the Secret Empire (no relatio nto the current Marvel event) to kill the main character in a two issue story arc. Due to the popularity of the character Moon Knight was brought back again in a limited series under the Marvel Spotlight title. By 1978 he was recast as a hero who had masqueraded as a villain in order to infiltrate the Secret Empire and dismantle it from within. he briefly joined the Defenders when they were fighting the Zodiac Cartel but wasn’t given his own solo series until 1980. Since that first series he has gone on to have many different series’ and many different teams of which he is an active member.  As I said before he has been a member of the Defenders, Avengers, Marvel Knights, and even Captain America’s Secret Avengers. His most recent series is written by Jeff Lemire written under the All New, All Different Marvel title card.

Why Moon Knight?

The reason I think that Moon Knight would make a great addition to the Marvel Netflix universe is the tone and content of his comic. Whether you read his classic stories or his more modern tales (Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run is the best in my opinion), his content always leans towards a more mature audience due to its graphic content.  The character of Moon Knight suffers from MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) he has 4 distinct personalities: Steven Grant (billionaire fat cat), Marc Spector (ex mercenary and black ops soldier), Jake Lockley (New York cabby), and Khonshu (Egyptian God of the Moon and Revenge). His real personality (as in his identity) is Marc Spector, son of a Rabbi who lied about his age to enlist in the marines. After his extensive career in the marines as well as a CIA black team operative he became a Mercenary where he met his long time ally Henri Duchamp (Frenchie). In a botched raid on  an Egyptian temple Spector had a change of heart and tried to help the prisoners, he was killed by his group’s leader, Raoul Bushman. Spector ended up saving the prisoners but suffering from multiple gunshot wounds in the process. Spector crawled to the feet of the statue of Khonshu and died in the arms of one of the prisoners, Marlene Alraune. Khonshu appeared to Spector in an after death sequence and promised him life he would be his avatar on Earth. Spector agreed and was revived by the God. He donned the mantle of the Moon’s Knight and used his fortune from his years a mercenary to set up in New York City.

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The brutality and the graphic content of his comics would fit right at home in the Marvel Netflix Universe, not to mention his cross overs with the Punisher.

Moon Knight & The Punisher

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At the end of the 2006 run which saw Moon Knight as a card carrying member of the Avengers, hunted by the Thunderbolts, fake his death after killing Carson Knowles; he ran down south and hid out in Mexico. During his exile in Mexico he moonlighted as a bare knuckle boxer to make cash and kept his head down. It wasn’t until a member of the local cartel saw him fight that he was hired by the cartel leader to get his daughter back from the police. He initially agreed until he learned what the daughter was being held for, as state’s witness against her father for his crimes. He allies with the daughter but not before incurring the wrath of the cartel and their hired thugs. He runs into the Punisher who is there to take out the Cartel and they team up for the final assault.

They literally already have a story made that can introduce him into the Netflix universe! At the end of the Punisher series (which we are getting in November of this year) have him run to Mexico to hide out and run into Spector. Have Frank ask him what he’s doing there and just have Spector reply with ” It’s a long story… we’re gonna need more tequila”  BOOM! Moon knight series kicks off with him explaining why he is hiding out in Mexico and every episode is a flashback until the final episode when he decides to head back to New York.

It might just be my own bias because of my love for the character but i cannot stress enough how perfectly Moon Knight would fit into the Marvel Netflix Universe. His dark and gritty stories, not to mention his brutality would fit perfect and it would create for some interesting dynamics amongst the other characters. Daredevil would be appalled whereas Iron Fist would agree that sometimes the only way to stop someone is to kill them.  It could potentially set up their own version of a civil war, not that I’m hoping for that, that would be a stupid idea… or would it?

Black Panther: Africa’s Hero

With the release of the first teaser for the upcoming MCU addition of Black Panther, we were gifted with some amazing shots of the film and the story it entails. This is the first MCU film to employ a vast number of native Africans in native African roles, as well as being shot almost entirely in Africa. While there have been many incarnations of superhero movies featuring black actors (see Steel and the Blade trilogy) this will mark the first superhero film to have a 90% African cast. The DCEU fired the first salvo with Wonder Woman and the MCU is firing back with Black Panther. For those who don’t know Panther’s origins, I will give you a quick rundown.

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ORIGINS

Black Panther is not a singular person, it is a ceremonial position much like the Arbiter from the Halo series, bestowed upon their king/greatest warrior. The main continuity Black Panther is T’Challa who would take over the mantle after his father T’Chaka is killed. In the MCU his father was killed in Civil War when Zemo disguised as Winter Soldier set a bomb off at the UN gathering to bring the Sokovia Accords into effect. In the comic continuity he has a few different origins because comics are always retconned for continuity issues. The widely accepted “true” origin of T’Challa is that his father is killed by Klaw (Andy Serkis from Age of Ultron) with some sort of sonic weapon. T’Challa arrives too late to save his father but turns Klaw’s weapon against him and drives Klaw off while maiming him. T’Challa then went on to study in both Europe and North America before returning to his homeland. T’Challa bests his uncle S’yan, the existing Black Panther, in single combat to win the heart shaped herb. The herb enhances his abilities to superhuman levels and connects him to the Panther God Bast, gifting him the senses of the Panther. As the Black Panther and king of Wakanda, T’Challa proceeded to turn his country into the most technologically advanced nation on the planet.

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As a child his father taught him to always be 2 steps ahead of your enemies as well as 3 steps ahead of your friends, which caused him to see the super beings of the world as potential threats to Wakanda. As such he invited the Fantastic Four to Wakanda only to put them through a series of challenges only to ally with them against the returning Klaw. He infiltrated the Avengers originally to spy on them and learn of their weaknesses should he ever need to stop them. After a brief period of being a member of the team he became to regard them as his friends and allies in his crusade to make Wakanda the greatest nation on the planet.

It is also worth noting that Black Panther is probably the richest character in comics and potentially fiction the world over. Vibranium sells on the Stock Market at $10,000/gram, with the only supply of Vibranium on the planet found in Wakanda his networth is estimated to be in the hundreds of trillions of dollars.

Most Recent Run

During the MarvelNow! run of the Avengers by Hickman, Black Panther was an active member of the Illuminati (Secret team of the greatest minds in the Marvel Universe). After having gone to war with Atlantis and Atlantis retaliating by sinking the capital city, T’Challa swore that he would kill Namor (king of Atlantis) for the murder of innocent women and children. He stepped away as ruler of the country and had his sister Shuri take over as Queen. He maintained the title of Black Panther as nobody was able to best him in combat, but for his failure to stop the attack and subsequent sinking of the capital city he exiled himself to the city ruins now dubbed the Necropolis. During the final incursion in the Hickman run on Avengers, T’Challa and Black Bolt devised a plan to get revenge on Namor. The anchoring platform between the two incursions was where they made their move with Panther stabbing Namor in the heart with a Vibranium blade and Black Bolt whispering “Farewell”* to Namor blowing him off the platform and onto the Ultimate universe side of the incursion.

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*Black Bolt’s voice has extremely destructive capabilities and as such he never speaks. His voice is said to be able to crack the earth with just a whisper.

I could write a whole post just on the Hickman run of the Avengers and I may in the future, just understand that the incursions are bad news bears and were the cause of the reset to the Marvel Comics Universe.

The Trailer

This past weekend we were gifted with the first teaser trailer of the upcoming Black Panther big screen outing, and it was amazing! The scenes showing the “real Wakanda” (I say real because of the dialogue between Ross and Klaw) were breathtaking and looked to be taken straight out of a comic book. As I said before this movie was shot almost entirely in Africa and uses a cast of over 90% of native African actors.

Chadwick Boseman knocked it out the park with his introduction as T’Challa in Captain America:Civil War and looks to be continuing on his high streak with this film. Civil War was as much a character development story for several MCU characters as it was about the disagreement for the Sokovia Accords. This movie looks to be capitalizing on the development of T’Challa’s character from Civil War and expanding it into the struggle of a young man living up to his father’s legacy. The first introduction to T’Challa we get is a young man who is in awe of the king his father is and his legacy to be the next king of Wakanda. After the death of his father he is so filled with hate at the Winter Soldier that he goes on a revenge rampage to kill him for his father’s death. This upcoming film looks to bridge the gap between revenge seeking son and wise ruler of Wakanda. It is very much going to show him coming to terms with his actions in Civil War and how he can move forward as both the leader his people need and the hero he knows he can be.

Civil War II – Underwhelming and Unnecessary

** This article contains spoilers for Civil War II, Infinity and Marvel Now! Avengers

 

With the release of Captain America: Civil War the better part of the world knows the cause and fallout of the MCU version of the event that divided Marvel comic readers down the middle. The original Civil War from 2006-2007 was a one of the most talked about Marvel events of all time, and it’s fallout can still be felt in some of their printings today.  With something as significant as the Civil War, why did Marvel feel the need to sully the memory of it by creating a cheap second Civil War with literally no reasoning. For those unfamiliar with the story behind Civil War II it goes something like this:

With the release of the Terrigen Mist by Black Bolt at the end of Infinity came a new wave of Inhumans. The mists have become a sort of storm front that moves about the Earth causing people with the dormant Inhuman gene to basically cocoon until they emerge mutated into a fully fledged Inhuman. One such instance created the Inhuman known as Ulysses. His powers were that he was able to see the future, though it was unclear how reliable his visions were. Captain Marvel and her followers think that the potential for someone to commit evil is enough to warrant their arrest prior to the act; Iron Man and his followers think that you need to wait for the crime to take place before acting and that they need to test Ulysses powers before blindly relying on them.  This causes a split among the heroes of the Marvel Universe and the subsequent Civil War II.

The event comes literally stepping on the heels of Marvel’s previous event Secret Wars which was the culmination of the Hickman run of Avengers which saw the end of the Marvel Universe as we know it. While most fans were still reeling from the Secret Wars and trying to digest the meaning behind the event, they were force fed this half baked story about the fate of the new Marvel Universe.

There are some great points in this arc that really highlight the characters and their beliefs, but mostly it’s a lot of cat and mouse chasing, with whining on both sides. In addition to the fairly cookie cutter plot from the first Civil War, there’s the unnecessary shock value of the deaths included in the arc.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

To start off the issue we are greeted with the brutal slaughter of War Machine. I say brutal slaughter because that’s all it was, there was no finesse in it; during a confrontation with Thanos (who had teleported to Earth to retrieve the cosmic cube) he punched War Machine through his middle effectively separating his spine from his body. There was no overall goal for it, there was no sacrifice, he was killed because they needed a reason to set Iron Man and Captain Marvel against each other. When Iron Man found out what had happened he did the only rational thing he could do, kidnap Ulysses from Attilan and start a global manhunt for him. Not long after this and the reclaiming of Ulysses by the Inhumans we are greeted with the second and frankly useless death from the run.

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The second death comes in the form of Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk). During the debate between Iron Man and Captain Marvel once they had recovered Ulysses; the debate got heated and Ulysses collapsed on the ground. He said he had a vision of the Hulk killing all the heroes and laying waste to the city of New York. Understandably afraid of the kind of devastation the Hulk could wreck, all of the heroes ( like literally everyone on both sides of the conflict) pay Bruce Banner a visit at his secret lab in the middle of rural USA.  After a brief confrontation with Banner he is struck in the head by an arrow that kills him instantly. The culprit is discovered to be Hawkeye who fired the arrow from a tree on the edge of the woods near the farm.

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During the following trial it was revealed that Hawkeye had been approached by Banner several months before and given the arrow with the instructions that if he (Banner) were ever going to change again that he was to use it.

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This is easily the death that was thrown in merely for shock value to add further stakes to the conflict (Hawkeye being on team Iron Man and She-Hulk being on Team Captain Marvel). During the trial for the murder when asked why he did it Hawkeye recounts this story as well as adding that he saw his eyes fleck green (which is a precursor to Banner changing into the Hulk) which nobody else saw.

The Third and final death is probably the one that is the most ridiculous of the lot.  IN the final confrontation at the capitol in D.C. Iron Man and Captain Marvel clash in the skies above.  Ulysses had another vision that showed Spider-Man (Miles Morales) killing Captain America (Steve Rogers) by beating him to death on the steps of the capitol. Captain Marvel arrived to arrest Spider-Man for a crime he hadn’t committed yet, while Iron Man arrived to stop her. Iron Man generated a force field around Captain America and Spider-Man to stop Captain Marvel from taking either of them and then takes the fight to Captain Marvel in a new suit.The battle ends with Captain Marvel dismantling the suit around Tony and delivering the final blow. Tony crashes to the ground apparently dead. It’s later revealed that he is merely in  a coma from which he might never wake up from. Beast and several others put Tony into a stasis chamber to keep him alive and well until he wakes up.

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The entirety of this run was made solely to draw in more readers and to jostle the roster of existing heroes around to allow for a more diverse Marvel line up. With the death of Iron Man, Riri Williams (a female African American teenager) was set up to take over the Iron Man mantle. Instead of giving her a back door introduction in an event she had very little to do with, she should’ve been introduced and been mentored by Tony before this happened. That would give her the drive to take over as Iron Man until he recovers.

All in all this was a fairly disappointing event and it could’ve been done a lot better and waited longer before releasing it. As I said before Secret Wars had just finished and then this arrived making the entirety of Secret Wars seem like a bad dream while this was the real crisis. While I enjoyed the characters and some of the banter it didn’t capture the grandness that the first Civil War did. I would rate it a solid C- just based on the fact that apart from the deaths I mentioned above there is absolutely no reason to read this story arc. This was supposed to be the shock that brought Marvel back to the forefront with DC who had been squashing Marvel in comic sales with their Rebirth re-launch and it failed. This is one of the very few races that DC is actually kicking Marvel’s butt.