Alternate Opening for The Avengers, an Improvement

Marvel has released a deleted scene for The Avengers which reveals an alternate opening scene.  Instead of the light-hearted opening with Black Widow casually bantering with S.H.I.E.L.D. as she lays some smack down, the scene would have been a look at the aftermath of the final battle upon New York City.

This would have placed the remainder of the movie as a flashback and changed the tone of the film.  I believe this would have been a positive for the movie, providing a deeper and more mature story that not only showcased the heroes valiant final battle, but also a more nuanced view of the impact of superhero’s and their villainous counterparts on the populace at large.

Check out the scene in HD on Yahoo.

What do you think about the alternate opening? Would it have detracted by making the movie too serious, diminishing the playful adventure tone of the film?  Could it have helped to explain the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its relationship to the U.S. Government? Might it have provided a heavier, more serious overall tone to the movie that grounded the cartoon violence in the lives of average citizens?

Stan Lee, Most Interesting Man in the World

Now I understand why Tony Stark mistook Stan Lee for Hugh Hefner in Iron Man.

(via BuzzFeed)

How The Dark Knight Rises Should Have Ended

For your enjoyment (spoiler warning).

Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft!

H. P. Lovecraft

Today is H. P. Lovecraft’s 122nd birthday.  Born in Providence, Rhode Island, HPL would go on to completely change the field of weird fiction.  His influence is virtually everywhere today from music to films to comics to literature to games to toys and much, much more.

My good friend Annie Riordan has a great article about all the stuff we wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for HPL.  Go read it here because she says it all a lot better than I could.

Lots of people will be posting about HPL’s life and works today so I’ll let them handle that.  What I want to talk about is what HPL meant to me.

When I was in high school in 1978, I wasn’t having a particularly good time.  I was bullied a lot and didn’t really have a lot of friends.  I spent most of my time alone either reading or drawing or watching TV.  One day, I was in the school library (where I spent virtually all of my time when I wasn’t in class), idly flipping through the card catalog, looking for something to read.  I’d always had an interest in horror (both movies and literature) as well as true crime which meant that I would have been at home with the Addams Family.  Anyway, this was back in the day when we didn’t have computer catalogs that can search the entire library in seconds.  If you wanted something, you had to look it up in the card catalog or just meander through the stacks until something caught your attention.

I was flipping through cards when I came upon this entry:

“Lovecraft, H.P. (1890-1937)

THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK AND OTHER STORIES”

This sounded interesting so I wrote down the name, title and call number and went into the stacks.  I’d never heard that name before and, in my ignorance, felt sure that it must be some kind of pen-name.  Surely that couldn’t be his real name.

This is the book that I found:

This is not the actual copy I read but one I bought years later because it was my first HPL book.

“Well, this is weird,” I thought so I took the book home.  I read it through three times before finally, reluctantly returning it to the school library.  The first story in the book was “The Outsider”.  When I reached that terminal climax, “… a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass”, I just held the book down in amazement.  Even though HPL would consider this to be one of his lesser stories, it had an amazing impact on me.  The story, narrated by someone who is forgotten and apart from not just humanity but life itself showed me that this was an author who understood me, who knew what it was like to be an “outsider”.

The Phillips Family Plot at Swan Point Cemetary in Providence, RI.

The next story in the book was “The Rats in the Walls” and I was instantly hooked.  I’d never know anyone who had written like Lovecraft and, until that point, I never knew that anyone could.  The next stories went by in a fevered dream; “Pickman’s Model”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Whisperer in Darkness”, “The Colour Out of Space”, “The Haunter of the Dark”, “The Thing on the Doorstep”, and “The Music of Erich Zann” were devoured eagerly.

I could no longer be stopped.

I made it my mission to find out more about this “H. P. Lovecraft” and read everything he had written.  Back in those days, it was a lot harder.  There was no Amazon so I had to haunt used book stores and check the Books In Print references for titles.  Eventually, I discovered Arkham House and when that first box arrived with copies of DAGON AND OTHER MACABRE TALES, THE DUNWICH HORROR AND OTHERS, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, THE HORROR IN THE MUSEUM, I was happier than I’d probably ever been in my adolescence.

To say that those books had an impact on me would be to vastly understate the event.  Finally, I had found an author who wrote the way that I felt and his view of man’s insignificance to the cosmos aligned with my own.  Eventually, I discovered that there was a magazine devoted exclusively to Lovecraft called, fittingly, LOVECRAFT STUDIES, published by Necronomicon Press in Rhode Island (I was living Connecticut at the time) and I ordered copies of those.  Shortly after, I began corresponding with the editor of the magazine, S. T. Joshi, who eventually invited me to visit him in Providence and meet others of similar ilk.

Close up of the family marker.

That was my first exposure to others who also enjoyed the writings of Lovecraft.  During that first visit, I met not only S.T., but Marc Michaud (publisher of Necronomicon Press), Jason Eckhardt (artist for Necronomicon Press), Bob Price (writer/editor/publisher of CRYPT OF CTHULHU) and Don & Mollie Burleson (Lovecraft scholars and writers).  As odd as it may seem, I was finally accepted.  I was a member of a group who shared my interests and didn’t think I was weird or ‘odd’.  Through Lovecraft and these friends I gained the confidence I never had before.  It gave me the confidence to become a writer myself.

None of which would have happened if I hadn’t found that slip in the card catalog back in 1978.  For all the great stories, I thank you, H.P.L., but I thank you mostly for helping me realize that I wasn’t alone in the universe and for all the friends and great people I’ve met through the years simply by saying, “Have you read H. P. Lovecraft?”

Legacies

Does anyone else here remember Multivac?

Multivac was the creation of the brilliant Isaac Asimov, who has long been an idol of mine. When I was ten, my grandfather gave me a copy of his short story compilation I, Robot. It was the first piece of hard science fiction I have a clear memory of reading, and I loved every word of it.  Once I finished it, my grandfather made one of the most expensive statements to ever pass his lips when he said, “I’ll buy you as many books like this as you want.” (This statement was later amended to, “I’ll buy you no more than three books like this a week when you are visiting.” It still cost him thousands.)

I wandered far afield with that passport. I reveled in the near poetry of Roger Zelazny, strolled through the light fantasy of Piers Anthony, wandered the blistering sands of Frank Herbert’s Arrakis . . .it was all magical and wondrous. But at the end of my wandering, I always came home to Isaac Asimov. I was drawn to the cold, yet brilliant  Susan Calvin, robopsychologist for U.S. Robots and Mechanical  Men. I was inspired by the genius of Salvor Hardin, the first Mayor of Terminus in Foundation.  If you’ve read any of my posts before this one, you know Psychohistory fascinates me.

Many of Asimov’s creations linger in sci- fi and the real world to this day. Lt. Commander Data of Star Trek the Next Generation has a positronic brain, the core invention of US Robots and Mechanical Men. The man invented the word “robotics.” His Three Laws of Robotics are iconic. (Ten points to anyone who can, without looking them up, tell me what the Three Laws are.)

But where is Multivac? Where is the supercomputer owned by the government that can resolve a presidential election by questioning one man, in the short story Franchise from 1955? Have you seen it anywhere? You can’t count HAL from 2001. He’s not in the same league, as impressive as A.I. can be. HAL doesn’t data mine that deeply. The internet is closer, but less focused and directed.

We get much closer with Watson, the computer that won Jeopardy. Watson is able to listen to a question and go looking for an answer. Don’t get me wrong, that accomplishment beggars the imagination, but its got nothing on Multivac. In many ways, Multivac bears a powerful resemblance to Psychohistory. It can mine data to extrapolate to an amazing degree, answering complex questions on a national, if not global, scale. It lacks the predictive faculty of Psychohistory, but it has now pretty much figured out. Could such an astounding creation truly be forgotten?

Fear not, gentle reader. Multivac is not forgotten. It is alive and well in the form of the Machine, from Person of Interest. 

You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a Machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the Machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes affecting ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant.

This is Multivac. This is another of Asimov’s visions to echo down science fiction to the mass media. The Machine filters through all the electronic data you produce, that everyone produces, and predicts violent acts. Take a moment and think about that. How many times do you call people on a phone? That, my friends, is data. How many of you carry cell phones? If you have your GPS enabled, that is location data. What else did you look at before you started reading this? Yep, you guessed it, more data. Email is notoriously insecure.

Wanna get really scary?

How many electronic security cameras did you walk past today? How many webcams do you have in your house? That’s data too.

In fact, it’s a truly staggering amount of data. I take comfort in that fact. There are projected to be over 314 million people in this country right now, each generating some fraction or multiple of that staggering amount of data. No one can see it all. No one would have time to draw meaningful conclusions from it if they could.

It still bears thinking about, though. All it really takes is the right question, the right reason to look, and someone can learn an awful lot about you. Right now, we provide the questions, and therefore the focus point of whatever data we uncover. More pointed questions require more justification to be legal, but the information is still there, whether anyone is legally entitled to it or not.  Multivac gathers everything into one place, sorts it and collates it. Ask the right questions, and Multivac provides the answers, right there at anyone’s fingertips. The Machine, by contrast,  provides a clear focus point for its inquiries, but it initiates the inquiries itself. These properties fundamentally alter the relationship between man and machine, not to mention the relationship between my privacy and your right to know.

Asimov’s Multivac is a controlled system. The government, usually a benevolent force in the 1950’s when Multivac was born, keeps a tight rein of the massive computer. The Machine, on the other hand, is completely autonomous. It is the only thing that can access the data it uses. The show puts this forward as a justification for why it is a legal system. The Machine is a black box. No one sees how it works, only the conclusions it draws. Since no person has access to the data, no one’s rights are violated.  Are they? If we are merely part of an equation, not subject to judgment, do our rights change?

Science fiction as a medium exists to ask questions. Isaac Asimov asked many such questions. Some of them still echo through our culture today. The questions posed by Multivac have become considerably more relevant today than they were sixty years ago when he first posed them. I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. I’m not sure it matters if Big Brother has feelings or ambitions, or just quietly goes through the math. But you know what? These days, I think about them more and more.

Does anyone else here remember Multivac?

Don’t you think maybe you should?

Joe Kubert (1926-2012)

Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert has died.

For many readers of DC comics in the 1960s and 70s, Kubert was one of the most recognizable artists of the company.  You literally couldn’t pass the comic rack in those days and NOT find a comic that he either drew or did the cover.  His accomplishments were many and legendary in the field not the least of which is the fact that he created the only school to specialize in the teaching of “Cartoon and Graphic Art”.

I never met Joe Kubert personally.  I never had the pleasure of working with him.  Despite my fondest desires, I never attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.  All I did was read his comics and be a fan.  Because of his decades of work in the field, I don’t think there was ever a time when I did NOT know who Joe Kubert was.

I was born in 1962 and don’t have many clear memories of the 1960s.  Oh, sure, I remember my friend’s names and playing games with them on our street in New Milford, CT.  I have vague recollections of television shows (like STAR TREK) and the toys I had and major events like the Moon Landing and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  What I remember most of all were the comic books.

I grew up reading comics.  I think I probably started when I was about 5 or 6 years old and mostly because my older brothers (9 and 10 years older than I) used to read them.  My oldest brother, Carl, had a massive collection that he had started around 1959 or so and allowed me free access to all of them.  By the time I was 10, I had read his collection through at least 2 or 3 times.  Even though he had a great collection of Marvel comics, I was drawn to the DC comics.

And many of those that drew me in were drawn by Joe Kubert.

I started with the early Silver Age appearances of Hawkman.  I had no idea who the hell Hawkman was or that there had been another Hawkman decades earlier or that the same artist had worked on both.  All I knew was that those comics were amazing and, even at 10, I knew that they were cool.

The artwork drew me in immediately.  It stood out from the usual art in the Superman and Batman books.  It had a gritty ‘realism’ to it that I hadn’t seen before.  This hit me the hardest when I eventually moved onto Kubert’s war comics like Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace (soon to become one of my most favorite characters).  This artwork wasn’t safe or clean like what I was used to seeing in superhero comics.  It was tough and earthy.  You could almost smell the sweat on Sgt. Rock and feel the noble dignity of Enemy Ace as he cursed the war he fought.

Throughout the years, as I would find more and more of Kubert’s art, what struck me most was the integrity.  No matter the project, Kubert gave it his all.  One of my first exposures to Tarzan came when DC began their TARZAN comic book with, of course, Kubert doing the art.  I devoured those comics.  Others will talk about how Burne Hogarth or Hal Foster were the best Tarzan artists but, for me, Kubert was THE Tarzan artist.  He defined how I saw the character and, when I close my eyes, Kubert’s artwork is what I see.  Because of those comics, I sought out the TARZAN novels and then the John Carter of Mars novels and so many more.

One of the sad realizations of today is that we are losing or have lost many of the great comic artists.  Kirby, Kurtzman, Buscema, Joe Simon, Eisner, Toth, Swan, Heck, Colan… the list goes on and on.  These were giants who walked among us and left us tales of gods and men.  Their like will never come again.  Today, I will sit down with a stack of Sgt. Rock comics, the hardcover collection of VIKING PRINCE and the SHOWCASE edition of ENEMY ACE and I will remember the greatness which Kubert left for us on those pages and be thankful that, for a brief time, he shared these with us.

Godspeed, Joe.

Order! Order!

This was probably the most anticipation I’ve felt coming into a summer movie season ever. With Dark Night Rises, Marvel’s The Avengers, and The Amazing Spider-Man all hitting theaters within months of each other, it was a tough summer to wait for.  Now that I’ve seen them all, it’s time for judgment. SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen any of these movies yet and still plan to, best not read on. I don’t plan on going into tremendous detail, but I am going to give stuff away.

But first, a word on how I watch movies. I see maybe six movies a year in theaters. Because of that, I only go to movies I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. I believe actors and directors have the right to re-imagine a character taken from somewhere else.  I have the right to hate it, but I’ll watch with an open mind. I am a very forgiving audience, for the most part, although advancing age has made me  easier to bore I am becoming a bit more discerning with experience. As a general rule, if I walk out of the theater feeling entertained, I’m happy. This summer, I have been consistently ecstatic.

It was tough for me to pick a favorite on this list. Competition was very, very strong. But at the end the day, my favorite was The Avengers, and for only one reason. Joss Whedon came closer to the comics with his movie than Christopher Nolan did with Dark Knight Rises. Joss captured so many of the little touches that made Marvel Comics new and different so long ago.  One of the best of those was the ancient Marvel axiom that says when superheroes meet for the first time, there’s a fight. And what a collection of fights we have! Thor and Iron Man square off. Captain America gets involved in that one,  to spectacular effect. Cap and Tony face off out of costume. Thor and Hulk go a few rounds.  Black Widow demonstrates what a sane person does when facing the Hulk, as only the Widow can.  Hawkeye gets to shoot at everybody.  And at no time do the fights feel contrived. They flow naturally from the story, logical outcomes for the situations.

Another thing that makes The Avengers shine is the fact that everyone mattered. There isn’t a single member of the team you win the final battle without. If Hawkeye isn’t on overwatch they get overwhelmed on the ground. Without Cap calling the shots the battle is lost, and there are huge civilian losses. Without the Black Widow you don’t close the gate, and without Iron Man, Thor  and Hulk on the front lines you’ve lost before the battle starts. And of course, it is Iron Man who strikes the decisive blow.

The Dark Knight Rises comes second for me. This is not to suggest it was a bad movie. On the contrary, Christopher Nolan can rightfully call this trilogy a masterpiece, with this movie a fitting final offering. The story is internally consistent and compelling. His characters are complex, well realized and well played. Anne Hathaway did a magnificent job with Catwoman. Tom Hardy was a compelling and frightening Bane. I think Michael Caine could have phoned in Alfred and still been good, but since he didn’t he is excellent. Bale’s Batman is convincing, and Bruce Wayne deepened as a character.

If  it had really been Batman, it would have been perfect. But it wasn’t. Why do I say this? The Batman out of the comics is flatly incapable of doing the things he does in this movie. Oh, not the fights or the gadgets or the escapes. That stuff was on target.

Bruce Wayne would never give up. There would never be an eight year hiatus. There certainly never would have been an arranged death, at least, not so he could retire. As a tactical move and part of a larger plan, absolutely. But not to retire. As long as it was possible for him to do so, Batman would continue. It’s the central fact of his character.

Finally, we come to The Amazing Spider-Man. I liked this movie. I will confess to a slight bias, here. Spider-Man is probably my favorite character in all of comics.  It is a major tribute to the other two films that I am putting this movie in third, because I think Marc Webb put together a good story. He even gave me the villain I wanted to see in the Lizard. We  get to see Spidey cracking some jokes, which I missed in Tobey Maguire’s performance. The story stays close to the Ultimate Spider-Man story and thus true to it’s source material. The action looked great. The scenes where he learns about his powers are priceless. I will never forget watching him accidentally tear the bathroom apart by trying to brush his teeth.

I’m torn on the issue of web-shooters. Part of me enjoys the nostalgia. But Peter didn’t invent webbing in this movie. Oscorp did. Did I miss the scene where Peter learned to make his own? I saw him build web-shooters, but I don’t remember seeing him make web fluid, or biofiber, in this case. So where’s it coming from? Simple. He steals it from Oscorp.

Wait! Peter Parker does what? He steals with hardly a second’s thought? This is a man who agonized for like six issues over whether it was okay to sell a gold notebook he . . .okay, acquired . . . from  a building  turned to solid gold by the Beyonder in Secret Wars II. (He finally did, only to get hosed by the fence he had to sell it to.)

Please, tell me I’m wrong. Call me a fool and tell me where you saw Peter make his own webbing. Give me a reason to go back to the theater. I’ll thank you, because otherwise he’s a thief, and that doesn’t work anywhere near as well for me.

Now that it’s over, (it is over, right?I haven’t forgotten anything?) I will look back at this summer movie season as a great one. I left a lot of theaters ( . . . okay, three theaters.) very happy. Feel differently or disagree with my rankings?Tell me why.

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