Trailer Released for Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Our friendly interweb iTunes has debuted the first trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, due out April 4, 2014.  The trailer looks great, and some of my remarks follow below.


The new costume looks sleek and stealthy while retaining the emblematic quality of the heavy canvas-like original and the lighter, sportier sequel in The First Avenger and The Avengers.  So far, the filmmakers have not ventured the chain-mail of the original comic book, but I, for one, can muster no complaint.  Perhaps Steve Rogers would not disagree with me.Image

Good, and the design is clearly reminiscent “super soldier” uniform that Cap wore briefly in the monthlies, which was a design that I found appealing.

Other things: allies, both familiar (Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow) and new (Anthony Mackie’s Falcon); a dubious authority (Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce); and a mysterious foe (Sebastian Stan’s The Winter Soldier).


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The Rolling Helps: Marvel Studios Barrels Forward

Marvel Studios is barreling forward with its film and television projects.  Upcoming films are Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter SoldierGuardians of the GalaxyAvengers: Age of Ultron, Ant Man, and further unnamed films.  On the television side, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has already premiered on ABC, and with high ratings, and the tapering of those ratings is no source of angst, since the network has purchased a full season.

Still more interesting is the “sixty episode package” that Marvel is rumored to be shopping around at various outlets, including Netflix and Amazon.  Reportedly, the sixty episodes may comprise four series and one miniseries.  My wager for the four series would be on Daredevil, Punisher, Runaways, and Captain Marvel.


Captains Marvel and America in action against Absorbing Man

Other likely projects to my mind are Doctor Strange, Avengers Academy, Hulk, Alias (Jessica Jones), and Heroes for Hire.  I feel that I am missing something that would rank with Iron Man in the pitch from magic to technology, but I cannot think of a character that recommends himself or herself.

This supervillain heist plot may lack a crack team of thieves.

This supervillain heist plot may lack a crack team of thieves.

For the miniseries, I hardly have an opinion, but the gentlemen of Modern Myth Media tender the enticing idea that the miniseries, being shorter, could budget more money per episode in a plot that would cross over the four series and angle them toward a feature film.  They cite various comments in support of the idea also that some of these episodes will supply series about the Inhumans or Agent Peggy Hill, but I would be much surprised by either and even more surprised if both.

They said that car chases couldn't be done in sequential art.

They said that car chases couldn’t be done in sequential art.

Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, and Cloak and Dagger are probably not soon to headline their own television series, and the film rights to Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and X-Men are still held by other studios.  I believe that that keeps Venom well out of the realm of possibility, although a compelling story could be based on the recent run first by Rick Remender and Tony Moore and then by Cullen Bunn and Declan Shalvey: Flash Thompson, the bullying classmate of Peter Parker turned emulator of Spider-Man come legless war hero, melds with the symbiote for short-term military missions.

Shalvey uses expressionism to depict the military-sanctioned Venom (Flash Thompson) face off against the villain who originally held the name (Eddie Brock).

Shalvey uses expressionism to depict the current Venom (Flash Thompson) face off against the original villain (Eddie Brock).

Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s bumbling-villains-ensemble Superior Foes of Spider-Man or Matt Fraction and David Aja’s “on that Avenger guy’s days off” Hawkeye would thrill me, but so much of the success of these titles comes from the narrative style of these writer-artist teams that the greatest difference could be made by the talent chosen to derive television from them.

Peer Gynt “In the Hall of the Mountain King”

I asked my special someone to the ballet the other day. Yes, I asked her. Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt was playing.

Grieg’s music for the ballet is well-known–specifically “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” which will be familiar to those in the classical music scene and outside of it. “Hall” is just a few minutes long, but gripping. The gradual build from quiet melody to swirling frenzy is unforgettable.

So remarkable is it, that various artists from the metal scene cover it.

Apocalyptica, the heavy metal cello quartet from Finland, recorded a curiously simplified version on 2000’s Cult–sadly simplified, because they delete the key change in the modalized melody, and that change of key is especially sweet.

Epica did the tune great justice on their live album, 2009’s The Classical Conspiracy. The Dutch symphonic metal band, note for note, true to Grieg’s spirit, seems to have “moved every zig,” to lift a phrase from Zero Wing.

Also, Trent Reznor, the frontman of Nine Inch Nails, arranged a delightful industrial-themed version for 2010’s The Social Network in his new stint as a film composer.

The Texas Ballet Theater did a wonderful job with the production. Particularly fortuitous was the “found harmonium” of the dancer cast as the dark stranger who abducts Peer and imprisons him in an insane asylum.

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Love, Death, Bravery, Immortality: Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

Part I: Review

Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Tolls (1940) tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American dynamiter fighting against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.  His mission is to fall in with a band of guerrillas and destroy an enemy bridge.  Do not read the rest of the paragraph before reading the book.  He falls in love with a young woman whom the band shelters and succeeds in his mission, but he is severely wounded and covers the others’ escape.

I never read Hemingway until now.  I cannot explain why.  I have heard Metallica’s track, of course, and Corey Stoll’s portrayal of the man was one of the great delights of Woody Allen’s already all-ar0und delightful film, Midnight in Paris (2011).

Perhaps I will not be misunderstood when I attribute the read to a certain instinctual belief that now was the time.  The title itself suffices to attract a man’s attention.  Its words bring doom, that fearfully sacred thing (mysterium tremendum), unbearably and yet enticingly near–a virtue of poetic language.  The words are indeed, as I distantly remembered, a line from a poem.  Hemingway takes the title from Meditation 17 in John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

I would love to attempt a lengthy comparison of doom in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Chris Nolan’s Inception (2010), or just the magnificent score that Hans Zimmer wrote for it.  Zimmer has introduced another “fanfare of terror” into the art form, as Richard Wagner might put it.

A lengthy comparison, however, would necessitate a proportionately lengthy exploration of the themes.  In short, I say: the bells’ doom tolls for all men in each man and each man in all men; the horns’ doom blares for one man himself alone.  “Non, Je ne regrette rien [No, I regret nothing]” does not express the idea of Dostoevsky’s Father Zosima that “all are responsible for all.”

The sole flaw of the book, in my opinion, is its pace.  Ostensibly, the action of the novel is the demolition of a bridge, but little progress is made toward that goal over many chapters.  I found the slightness of the progress to be a source of aggravation.  Perhaps, on a second reading, I would find the novel’s tensions more well-balanced.

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The Essence of a Superhero, and the Genuine Thing: “The American Way” (Diverging from Deconstruction)

Diverging from Deconstruction: Vigilante, Enforcer, Oppressor, Stranger

DC’s Wonder Woman is a Greek goddess.  Marvel’s Thor is a Norse god.  But even they are not essentially superior to Steve Trevor or Jane Foster, their respective human lovers, nor do they understand themselves to condescend to them, however elevated the gods’ sense of their own stations.


The idea that superheroes are superior to human beings—legally (vigilantes), politically (enforcers), morally (oppressors), or in their being (strangers)—has not been argued at length in any essay that I know.  It has only been posited in the occasional perfunctory retort.  But it has been amply explored in superhero tales.

The foremost representatives of superheroes who are vilified as vigilantes are Batman and Spider-Man.  One better example than them is Frank Castle, the Punisher.  Castle very simply murders criminals, although he understands himself to be executing their punishment.  He makes a better example because the Punisher is an antihero but he must be understood at an angle from superheroism.  Superman himself is opposed as a vigilante by the establishment in Grant Morrison’s “Bruce Springsteen” reinvigoration of the character with Action Comics #1, part of DC’s “New 52” relaunch last September.


Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority is said to explore superheroes as enforcers or oppressors.  The Authority is a team, complete with a Superman analogue named Apollo–but there my knowledge ends.  In the animated Justice League series, the League of another dimension enforces their own fascist oppression after the death of The Flash.  They call themselves the Justice Lords.  The episode in which they appear, “A Better World,” has its basis in a 1964 story in Justice League of America about mirror images of the JLA, a team called the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, complete with Superman analogue Ultraman.




The locus classicus for the theme of a superhero as an enforcer or oppressor may be Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is also being adapted into animation.  A thrilling, moody Part 1 is out now, and Part 2 will be released in the coming months, both true to the graphic novel’s spirit.  In the graphic novel, an aging Bruce Wayne retakes the cowl and faces off against Superman himself, who has become an unquestioning agent of the US president.  The theme continues in parody form in a tribute to TDKR, “Time and Punishment” of Disney’s Darkwing Duck.  No Superman analogue appears, but Darkwing himself becomes a sort of enforcer, who targets even jaywalkers with near-to-extreme prejudice after he believes Gosalyn dead.

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The Essence of a Superhero, and the Genuine Thing: “The American Way”

The American Way


Superman is known for fighting “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”  The phrase does not seem to originate from the pages of Siegel and Shuster.  Brian Cronin writes: when the “never-ending battle for…” phrase originally appeared, it was in the popular Adventures of Superman radio series that ran from 1940-1951.  But the phrase is relatively “ancient” and by now well-attested.  More importantly, it seems to give expression to Superman’s morality.

The phrase may seem too earnest for a nation whose citizens have endured a glut of half-supported wars and political scandals.  In the 70’s, Captain America exchanged the stars-and-stripes for a dark costume and assumed the alias, Nomad.  In 2006’s Superman Returns, Perry White did not complete the phrase but said, “truth, justice, all that stuff.”  The theme of that film was succinctly expressed in the title to Lois Lane’s major piece, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”

“The American way” is pertinent, though, not only for making a nice turn of phrase, but also for signifying an element of morality that superheroes do not share with all other heroes.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Here, in The Declaration of Independence, is the morality of a people for whom principles take priority over regional boundaries.

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The Essence of a Superhero, and the Genuine Thing: “The Genuine Thing, Superman”

The Genuine Thing, Superman

Superman is the genuine thing.  First of all superheroes, sometimes cited as the best of all superheroes by other DC heroes, and generally accepted among readers as the foremost superhero, if not the most interesting.  The invention of the character, by two young Jewish boys in Ohio, is itself legendary.  Jerry Siegel lay awake one night, perhaps tossing and turning, when the concept came to him: a strongman, like Hercules, Samson, and other legendary, mythical heroes, who uses his strength for good.  Throughout the night, another piece of the character’s story would come to him, he would write it down in his notebook, and he would lay back again before another piece would come.

In the morning, he ran twelve blocks to his friend and creative partner, Joe Shuster.  Shuster drew a muscular man in skintight blue and red bearing a shield with the letter “S” on his chest.  Shuster outfitted him like a gymnast or a circus strongman with a belt, briefs, boots, and cape.  More can be said about colorful tights as a design choice, but for the time being I will point readers toward Michael Chabon’s intriguing reflection, “Second Skin: An Essay in Unitard Theory.”

1932 rolled over into 1938 before Superman saw publication.  One publisher told Siegel and Shuster that the hero would never catch on.  They were also told that the character was too juvenile.  Another publisher accepted the boys’ story pitch, if only they would rewrite it in prose.  Interestingly, they felt that their story belonged in the visual medium of sequential art, and when Action Comics #1 hit stands, Superman was an immediate sensation.  This is confirmation of the iconic quality of superheroic action—that it belongs in the frames of an image rather than in fluid text.

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