Saturday, May 18, 2013

Reading Western Comics (A Literal "Journey into Mystery")

The entire point of this blog is to banish ignorance.

I should clarify that I mean my own ignorance.  Living in the internet age as we do, and being a fan of comic book TV shows, video games, and movies, it should be easy to learn more about the source material, right?  We have blogs, forums, encyclopedias...  All the answers are right at our fingertips!  More often than not, however, I find myself somewhat alienated by comic book veterans.  It usually goes something like this...

Me: Black Widow and Hawkeye seem to have a budding relationship in "The Avengers."  Does anyone know if that's canon in the comics?

Anonymous: Of course it is you fuck-twit.  In issue ______ of ______ they totally _________ and then __________.  How could you not know that you stupid asshole scum?!

Me: I'm... I'm sorry...?  Thank you for telling me?


Me: I'm really sorry, calm down!  I just haven't had a chance!


Me: [commits ritualistic seppuku]

That kind of offensive attitude online isn't exactly conducive to learning.  I always feel like I'll "never know enough" even if I do try to read the comics, or else I fear becoming an asshole snob like the ones who do.

Nonetheless, this raises the question, "if I liked comic book-based media before, why am I only just picking up comic books now?"  Honestly, it has nothing to do with the holier-than-thou attitude of comic book readers online (though it's certainly not helping), and more to do with the stigma towards Western comic books that I grew up with.


I grew up with a father who really enjoyed comic books as a child and saw nothing wrong with them, but was no longer reading them and didn't have any in the house.  Thus, I had little exposure to the "source material" of the shows and movies I was enjoying.  By the time I was eleven or so, all my male friends had moved on and I was learning how to befriend girls who absolutely hated comic book media.  I was also attending a school with an enormous Asian population, so most of my "comic" exposure was in the form of manga (of which I was a casual reader at best).  In college, I became a Japanese major, so most of my friends were strictly manga readers.  For the last few years I've been living in Japan, where Western comic books are fairly unknown (until recently, but that's a whole other topic I'll write about later).


Because  of the world I grew up in and the people I knew, there were certain stigmas about Western comic books that I ran into over and over again.  Because most of the boys I played X-Men action figures with drifted out of my life as a child, I was left with the feeling that "girls shouldn't read comic books."  Comic books were for boys, right?  That was reaffirmed by the fact that the girls I started to hang out with all thought that stuff was "weird" and probably covered in cooties.  I went through a pretty extensive tomboy phase, and I felt like the only way to start fitting in was to put all that stuff behind me, no matter how many times Batman Beyond made this face at me:


My little elementary school brain found it very interesting, however, that while Western comic books were seen as "manly," Japanese comic books weren't... if you knew which ones to read.  For awhile I resisted, since I didn't want to be seen as a "nerd" (I was such a fool), but I was slowly drawn into reading manga after awhile.  Despite my personal preferences (not girly), many of my friends were fully immersed in shōjo (girl's manga).  Of course, it seemed a lot of them were in it just for the art.  The difference between Western comic books and Japanese comic books, you see, is that manga is "pretty" and Western comics are "ugly."  And how could I disagree?  We've all seen what vintage comic books look like.

I mean, how can you compare this:

*cue a choir of singing angels*

 With this:

Uh... what.

That kind of old-fashioned comic book style was the only thing I could picture when people talked about "American comics."  Hard, rigid lines with dull, uniform colors.  Simplistic animation and awkward angles.  Maybe shōjo manga's content made me want to vomit, but I sure knew which art form I'd rather look at.

Which brings me to the next stigma: content.  On top of being "prettier" and "more artistic" than the childish animation of Western comics, it was drilled into my head over and over that Japanese comics had better stories.  With plenty of notable exceptions, Western comic books, as far as I knew, were always simple hero vs. villain stories.  Guy gets super powers, fights other guy who has super powers, guy gets girl, villain returns to commit evil because he hates Mondays.

But manga?  Oh, no, manga is all about stuff, man!  So much stuff!  Crazy stories with love trapezoids and world wars and vampires and half-demons with cat ears and robots and "omigawd, this one is such a mindfuck you have to read it."  To my child-self, this seemed to be true.  Manga didn't follow that hero vs. villain formula.  Manga heroes were just as likely to be conflicted as the bad guys, and the villains were just as likely to be sympathetic like the hero.  Moreover, it wasn't uncommon for the hero and the villain to be - gasp - siblings!  Or estranged lovers!  Or the only two remaining kin of a lost world!  Some manga didn't even have a hero or villain story line at all!  What madness!  Such absurdity!  Manga's where it's at, man!

But with age comes wisdom and, slowly, manga began to seem just as formulaic and boring to me as the Western comics the people around me scorned.  The same patterns and story lines kept reappearing so many times that I could predict every plot twist in my sleep.  Furthermore, manga wasn't really that pretty.  The big eyes and gangly limbs started to seem alien and even horrific to me at times.  Even while living in Japan, I just stopped reading manga all together.  I just couldn't get into it.

So the conclusion I reached was that both Western comics and Japanese comics (with notable exceptions) were garbage.  And then I went back to watching "Kick-Ass" in a dark room by myself where no one could see my shame.  

While I was still in Japan avoiding all forms of comics, Marvel was doing its freaky little tap dance around the movie industry and mainstreaming B-level comic book characters into stars.  In between my first year in Japan and the two years that followed, I spent a year in the U.S. and fell completely in love with Marvel's Phase 1 movies.  I remember watching "Iron Man" and "Thor" and thinking, "wow, I guess the only way to make Western comic book movies awesome is to make them not at all like the comic books they're based on.  Go team!"  After all, unlike the comics, the movies were pretty and multidimensional and interesting.  What a novel idea!

It was after "The Avengers" that I decided I really wanted to give comics a try.  At that point, I decided the movies didn't just appear in a vacuum.  They had to come from something, even if that something was no more two-dimensional than roadkill.  There had to be an inkling of that movie glory in the source material, right?

Well, thanks to Nolan's "Batman" trilogy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Western comic books have finally taken off in Japan (I would dare say it's becoming a fad)!  That means I finally have access to imported comic books in English (because fuck dealing with kanji, seriously).  While browsing Kinokuniya, I picked up a few issues from the Western comic book selection and glanced at the covers.  My eyes nearly bugged out of my head.  I was expecting that Superman orgy up above, but instead, I was seeing shit like this:

Did you hear that?  That was the choir of angels dropping dead from the beauty of it all.

For a moment I thought I'd been duped.  I mean, these couldn't possibly be Western comic books, could they?  So I decided it was just the covers that were pretty, because how else do you get people to buy them?  Not with Superman orgies, that's for sure.  The comics were wrapped in plastic, however, so I couldn't be sure what mysteries lay within.  I'd bought manga in the past that looked pretty on the cover and looked like Picasso took a shit on the inside, so I was prepared for the worst.

Willing to give Western comic books the benefit of the doubt, I decided to buy the above Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself as well as Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself Fallout.  Why those two?  Well, the "young Loki" saga had been recommended to me many times as an "Avengers" fan, and because I really enjoy the "Thor" cast.  I have a bit of a soft spot for fantasy, and an even bigger soft spot for villains.  If there was a degree in villaintology, I would've become a villaintologist in college instead of a Japanese major (or, if I wasn't a fucking moron, I would've gotten a degree that could help me become a writer, but Captain Hindsight needs to go away before I punch his face off).  Having been a huge fan of Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki in "The Avengers," I was curious to see the primordial ooze his character sprang from.


Alright, so I get home, and pull open Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself

My expectations: dull colors, gawky proportions, stiff artwork, cheesy dialogue, predictable story lines, black and white heroism, and excessive rolling-on-the-floor laughter on my part.  Basically, what I expected was this:

Face... palm...

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the above comic, of course.  Back in the 1960's, that kind of material was perfectly fine.  Printing and coloring was far more difficult and limited, and there were no computers, either.  The target audience was also far younger, so the stories were simpler and more straightforward.  That's fine, but things have changed.  People demand more complex stories with more natural dialogue these days.

The problem was that I didn't think Western comic books had kept up with the times enough to change.

So imagine my shock when I opened up Journey Into Mystery volume 622 (good lord...) and saw... a beautifully painted, poetic and philosophical journey of seven magpies through the Nine Realms of Norse Mythology?

Wait, what?

I closed the book and checked the cover.  Yup, it's Journey into Mystery alright, there's the little MARVEL sticker at the bottom.  The hell's goin' on?  I returned to the story, strangely enthralled and enchanted by this lovely little tale of seven magpies and how they each perished on the glorious quest that they, themselves, did not understand.  How... delightfully charming and unexpected.  That is, until the seventh magpie reached Loki, said half a word and exploded.

Not only was I sitting there stunned by the beautiful artwork and poetic narration, I was also dying with laughter as Loki, splattered with blood, shouted, "gross!"  That... was not what I expected.  First of all, the beautiful artwork of the cover was maintained on every page of the comic book.  The story was charming, well-written, and actually funny at times!  Not funny as in, "haha, this book is so bad that I'm laughing," but funny as in "haha, this running joke is still hilarious twenty pages later."

So I read on, my eyes widening with pleasant disbelief at every page.  The story was fascinating.  There was action, drama, emotional complexity, interesting characters, humor, sadness...  In all these years, I'd never realized Western comic books could be so... intriguing.  I thought the movies were just sorta made up on the fly based off some old panels that had been thrown together, but that wasn't the case at all.  This was where it all began, right here in the pages of a comic book.

One of the things that surprised me most of all was that the things I considered "girly" in manga confidently appeared in the comic.  The protago-antagonist (seriously, I don't know what to call him) is a young Loki, and along with his youth are the fears and sorrows of any lost child.  Tom Hiddleston's Loki is known to cry a lot, but I figured this was acceptable artistic license because the movies have more emotional depth than the comics.  Imagine my surprise when I found several scenes in Journey into Mystery in which young Loki also cried for perfectly acceptable reasons.  I didn't expect Western comic books to really, well... deal with emotions, to be perfectly honest.  I thought that was a "manga" thing, but clearly, I was wrong.  The comic book I was reading had complex characters with complicated hopes and dreams, just like the characters found in Japanese comics.  Seeing Loki's teary face painted into a comic panel made me realize just how ignorant I'd been about such a popular and prevalent form of literature in my home country.  I realized I had a lot to learn.

As soon as I was done with the first book, I hungrily ate up the second.  It ended on an extremely bittersweet note that made me desperately wish I had access to the next issue.  I think I might pay for the Marvel Unlimited database so I can digitally view more comic books without paying outrageous prices.

I can safely say that, prior to actually opening a comic book, I never thought I'd be willing to pay money to see more.  So far, the artwork I'm finding in these comics is even prettier than the artwork I've found in manga (with the exception of Angel Sanctuary (天使禁猟区 ), which I'm pretty sure was drawn with the tears of newborn angels), and has a story just as complex, unique, and interesting.  Young Loki's story has no true heroes or villains, and it relies just as much on intelligence and puzzle-solving as it does on action sequences.  I never expected that in a million years.

And now I'm just left wondering why I didn't read Western comic books sooner.  I've missed out on so much.

So now that I've opened the door, I'm going to walk right on in and have myself an awesome time.  I'm going to continue reading comic books and writing "articles" on this blog about the interesting things I discover on my journey into becoming less of a n00b.  I hope it'll be a fascinating experience! 

Any thoughts or opinions on my "Journey into Mystery?"  Similar experiences or interesting information to add?  Feel free to say whatever you'd like in the comments!  Comments are always welcome!

As a final bonus, here's my dog being vanquished by Thor's hammer:

He was a good sport :-)  Special thanks to my dad for getting the dog to lay still.

See y'all next time!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Iron Man 3 Ramen!

As a follow-up to my Iron Man 3 review, I decided to actually try the funny Iron Man ramen I found in Japan.  Here's what it looks like for anyone who didn't catch the review:

For some reason, I could only find it at the Daily Yamazaki in Asakusa.  Every other convenience store I checked didn't have it, but I was determined to find it.  Eventually, my friend and I found the ramen and brought it back to the hostel we were staying at in Tokyo (we were on a vacation that is now tragically over).

When we were done letting the ramen cook, we were surprised to discover tiny yellow stars inside it!

Look how cute!!!

Anyways, the ramen was "red chili" flavored.  Wasn't sure if that meant it was spicy or not, but it turned out to be fairly spicy.  Since spicy food is pretty much my favorite thing in the entire universe, I couldn't have been happier, though my friend barely made it through it.  I swear it wasn't that spicy!  But I also have inhuman taste buds.  I'd say I enjoyed the spicy levels very much:


That was well worth the late-night shopping excursion.

Hopefully I'll have a new post coming soon!  Stay tuned!

Friday, May 3, 2013


Hey, y’all!  It's time to make the first post on my new blog!  For my first post, I'd like to review Iron Man 3!

But please note: THIS REVIEW WILL BE A FESTERING MASS OF SPOILERS.  If you haven’t seen Iron Man 3 yet, do not read this review. 

Anyways, I’m no professional movie critic, and I'm still "getting to know" the world of comic books (which is kinda the point of this blog), but I'm a huge fan of the Marvel movie franchise and a lover of useless opining, so I'm going to review the film!

First things first, I want to mention that I'm still living in Japan and we got the film on February 26th, which was quite a bit earlier than some countries.  Taking full advantage of that, I've already seen Iron Man 3 twice and I’ve had quite some time to think about this review.  Also, I went to the Wald 9 in Shinjuku, which is a pretty awesome theater.  They had a really cool Iron Man display!

They also sold merchandise, which is how I wound up with this badass Stark Industries pen:

Which has a light on top that does this (that's my floor underneath it):

You can even make your cat chase Iron Man!
They also gave us a free clear file when we walked into the theater!



I'm going to use this and be the coolest teacher at my school.

In general, Japan's been pretty awesome about the Iron Man displays and stuff.  That's how I wound up with this idiotic photo of myself outside a store a couple weeks ago:

Why am I only wearing one glove?  No, seriously, I have no idea...

They even have Iron Man 3 ramen in Japan, I'm not kidding:

It says it's "red chili" flavored.  Could be good...

But enough about that, onto the review!

So.  Iron Man 3.  The first film in Phase 2 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and the only current “sequel” to The Avengers (for the moment).  To say I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be an understatement.  “Unhealthy fixation” is probably a more appropriate term.  I usually blame it on the fact that I was a big fan of nerdy comic book characters as a child before traditional gender roles and cultural biases tore me away from them blah blah blah something about recapturing my childhood.  I’ve probably watched every movie in Marvel’s Phase 1 at least four times, and some of the films even more than that.  Also, despite the fact that this blog is literally about me having no fucking clue what I'm talking about when it comes to comic books, I did arm myself with some knowledge of Iron Man's source material before watching this movie, which will factor into my review.

So, needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to Iron Man 3 and the initiation of Phase 2 since the day The Avengers cured me of about fifteen psychological ailments (and probably created a few new ones).  I went into IM3 with a mixture of cautious hope, protective pessimism, and a lot of anxiety.  My first viewing of the film was clouded by all that, so I watched the movie a second time with a clear head (and because I never really tire of watching Extremis soldiers burning shit down).

So (I need to stop using that word), here’s my verdict:

Iron Man 3 is a massive success as a stand-alone film…

But a slight misstep in the Cinematic Universe.

I’ve tried to think how best to sum up my thoughts on the movie, and I’ve decided to format this review with "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly."  “The Good” will be everything I loved about the movie, “The Bad” will be some issues I had with it, and “The Ugly” will be IM3’s place in the Cinematic Universe.  So let’s get started!



First of all, Iron Man 3 is a helluva lot of fun.  It blends humor, action, and drama, and it shows a whole new side of Iron Man.  This is in part due to the fact that the director’s torch has been passed on from Jon Favreau of Iron Man 1 and 2 to Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). 

So let's talk about our protagonist, Tony Stark.  Unlike the first two Iron Man movies, the focus of IM3 shifts from the suits to Tony and his personal journey.  While there are some disadvantages to this approach (such as the fact that Tony spends a lot less time in the Iron Man suits than in previous movies) we also get to see Tony's human talents fleshed out more fully.  The movie focuses on Tony’s genius outside all the high-action super hero stunts, and I thought that was a really interesting angle.  In The Avengers, Tony rather angrily declares, “we are not soldiers,” and I think that really comes through in this movie.  Anyone can learn how to wear an Iron Man suit and kick ass, but Tony is still the mastermind behind Iron Man – the nail and the hammer that piece it all together.  Iron Man 3 brought the franchise back to basics by turning Tony into a mechanic, just as he was in the first movie.  I loved how the movie forced him out of his comfortable labs and workrooms to show off his talents in the real world beyond his fancy mansions.  It brought back memories of Tony MacGyver-ing his way out of the cave in Afghanistan in Iron Man 1 with a barely functional but completely kickass suit (or a "box of scraps" as the movie put it).  In this way, Iron Man 3 brings the Iron Man series full-circle, which was exactly what the film needed to do, since it’s probably the last standalone Iron Man film we’ll be getting.  

As always, Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Tony Stark really carried the weight of the film.  He's suave, sassy, and absolutely hilarious, but without alienating his audience.  The success of the Iron Man films can easily be attributed to Downey Jr.'s performance, and that shines through in Round 3 as much as it does in the other movies.  After seeing the rather dark and gritty trailers, I was concerned about Iron Man 3 getting bogged down in unnecessary amounts of angst and sentimentality.  Don’t get me wrong, I actually like when comic book movies take themselves seriously, but it just wouldn’t fit in with the tone of the Iron Man series.  The first Iron Man film was extremely funny, and the second movie – though a bit more angst-driven – still kept up the laughs.  Tony’s role in The Avengers was almost strictly comic relief, so darkening his character in the sequel to The Avengers would have seemed extremely forced.  Thus, I was really relieved when Iron Man 3 turned out to be as hilarious as its prequels.  The one-liners come at a machine gun pace, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t laughing myself sick during the first viewing.  Some people have complained that there was too much humor – that the movie forced jokes into scenes that should’ve been taken more seriously – but I, personally, felt like the balance was well played.  The movie was funny when it needed to be funny, and it used its humor to loosen the movie’s strings whenever they became too taut.  I could tell from the trailers that the movie would explore Tony’s issues with anxiety after the New York invasion, and at first, I really didn’t like the idea.  It didn’t fit in with the tone of The Avengers at all, and would have been better left with a different Avengers character to deal with.  However, the movie relegated the anxiety to only a few scenes and, to my surprise, dealt with it in a strangely humorous fashion.  Though I still completely hate myself for laughing at something as serious as PTSD, I nearly snorted popcorn out my nose when Harley intentionally drove Tony into an anxiety attack.  Inappropriate?  Yeah, probably – but oh-so-perfect for the Iron Man series.  However, I do want to come back to the issue of PTSD in “The Bad” section, so hold onto that thought!

Moving on...  Robert Downey Jr. might play an unforgettable Tony Stark, but he certainly can't hold up the entire film on his own.  So how about the supporting cast?  I would definitely put them in "The Good" section.  Honestly, I think the side characters hold up the film almost as much as Tony.  Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is as great as ever.  She's completely adorable, yet she still maintains that no-nonsense, ball-buster attitude that makes her such a one-of-a-kind lead female.  She's the perfect counterpoint to Tony's reckless behavior.  I think my favorite Pepper moment is when Killian is strangling her, and Pepper still makes a desperate grab at his face, as though she's trying to tear his skin off.  Pepper, you are such a badass.  Also, them abs.  Guuuuurl.  But enough about that.  Iron Man 3 is also the first film where I feel like Don Cheadle's character, Colonel Rhodes, really gets his chance to shine.  After a fairly minor role in Iron Man 2,  IM3 really explores Rhodey's dynamic with Tony, which is a lot of fun.  Rhodey doesn't come off as a sidekick so much as an Iron Man version 2.0.  He never needs to be rescued, he's really funny, and he always holds his own.  Sometimes, he steals the entire scene with his badassery.  I've also gotta give a shout-out to Ty Simpkins as Harley.  Normally, little children in movies are unbelievably annoying, and I groaned the moment I realized we were going to be teaming Tony up with a small child.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, when Harley became one of the highlights of the film.  He was absolutely hilarious, and he and Tony bounced one-liners off each other with natural ease.  Not only that, but Harley was never used as a replacement damsel in distress (since we all know Pepper's not going to be one).  Harley was able to kick as much ass a small child ever could, and I think we might have a future Iron Man in the making!

So Iron Man 3's got a solid protagonist and a fantastic supporting cast but – in my highly biased opinion – every comic book movie is only as good as its villain.  After all, if there's no conflict, there's no hero.  That being said, I’m sure anyone reading this (anyone?!) is wondering…

What did I think of the Mandarin plot twist?

Honestly...?  I loved it.

Yeah, I'm probably in the minority on that one, especially since I just stated above that I came into the film with knowledge of the source material - but let me explain!  During my first viewing of Iron Man 3, the plot twist sent me through several stages of emotion.  I went from shocked to amused to indignant to disappointed and then I was just straight-up impressed.  On the second viewing – after getting over the initial mindblow – I decided the plot twist was brilliant through and through.  I know a lot of people hated it – in fact, for a lot of people, the movie simply died in that moment, never to be resurrected again.  But in my opinion turning the Mandarin into an actor was a daring and successful move.  First of all, from a completely superficial standpoint, I loved the plot twist simply for getting the better of me.  I’m not easily fooled.  I guessed the ending to the Sixth Sense and Fight Club within minutes.  I rarely expect a plot twist to work on me and yet, somehow, Iron Man 3 had me completely fooled.  I think I fell for it because of the way the film was marketed.  Marvel fed its audience teaser after teaser depicting the Mandarin in a very specific way, knowing that fans of the source material would think they were seeing the real Mandarin, and those who weren't familiar with the comic books would just accept that they were previewing the movie's bad guy. 

And we did accept it.

We ate it right up.

Just like the people in the movie.

And that’s why it’s brilliant.

In the comics, the Mandarin is a mostly out-of-date, racist caricature.  If not for the fact that the first Iron Man movie included the Ten Rings terrorist group, I don’t think anyone would’ve expected the Mandarin to make an appearance at all (I’m gonna come back to that later, though).  What this film did, was acknowledge the Mandarin as a character in the comics while still making him relevant and topical.  Comic book movies are often criticized for being childish and unintelligent, but the Mandarin plot twist actually makes a very good point: people are more likely to fear something singular and recognizable.  A terrorist group is only as scary as its mascot.  The Mandarin plot twist was daring, but the fact that the movie even name-dropped Osama Bin Laden and Ghadafi as examples of real-life Mandarins was brave because it's kind of true.  We live in an age where our TVs are plastered with terrorist mascots, and the media easily manipulates the public.  Iron Man 3 preyed on those weaknesses to make their point, by using clips and trailers to convince their audience that there was something to fear while the true villain skulked in the shadows.  Some people didn’t like the plot twist because they felt like it insulted their intelligence, and, well… it did.  I’ll admit, I was insulted, too, at first – until I realized I was just mad at myself for buying into the lie.  Admittedly, I was disappointed when I realized Sir Ben Kingsley’s formidable villain was going to be reduced to mere comic relief, but – once I’d gotten over that disappointment – I realized how genius the plot twist really was.  It may have come across as a mockery of comic books (and I do understand why some people were offended), but it was also a mockery of what happens in real life, everyday, all around the world.  It was actually relevant.  And for that, I respect the rather bold decision.

Which brings us back to the topic of the film’s villain, which is the Mandarin: Aldrich Killian.  I’m including Killian in "The Good" section because I thought he and his Extremis soldiers were actually pretty cool.  Somewhat vague motivations aside, Killian gave us a pretty formidable villain.  Films that include Iron Man have a tendency to feature underpowered bad guys.  Iron Man 1 gave us an old man in a rusty suit, Iron Man 2 gave us a badass villain with barely any screen time, and The Avengers gave us Loki, who… okay, someday I want to seriously have an entire post about Loki, because there’s a lot to say there.  Yes, Loki managed to throw Tony out an eighty-story window with one hand, and yes, Loki has godly magic and training and blah blah blah, but Loki wasn’t given the chance to truly show off those talents in the movie.  Loki, I love ya, but you’re still wearing your villain diapers.

Aldrich Killian, however, kicked things up a notch.  While I enjoyed his character during the first viewing, I didn’t truly appreciate him until I saw the film a second time.  Killian was the kind of villain the Marvel franchise needed after The Avengers pitted Iron Man against an extraterrestrial Viking god.  Unlike Obadiah Stane and Ivan Vanko, who were weakened by lesser technology and being, well, human, Killian brought a human up to the level of a god (though certainly not an extraterrestrial Viking).  The Extremis virus made Killian extremely powerful but, unlike other super hero movies with “super soldier” villains (like Red Skull), Killian was almost completely indestructible.  Phase 1 had two villains survive the Hulk (both the Abominable and Loki), so it's definitely time to start revving up the strengths of the bad guys.  The Extremis soldiers were formidable because they could regenerate almost indefinitely and they weren't phased by physical combat.  There were moments when their fights scenes brought to mind Terminator villains rather than comic book villains.  I found that very refreshing after how easily the Chitauri were taken down in The Avengers.  Killian himself was not only incredibly powerful in physical combat, but his plans were well executed and successful.  He sought to control the world (or something – it was vague) and very nearly succeeded.  He was able to hide in the shadows and let some poor actor take the blame while he slowly built himself a nearly indestructible army, got the vice-president of the United States eating out of the palm of his hand, nearly dismantled Stark Industries, kidnapped the president, and used the media to control the fear-levels of the entire world.  Killian is an efficient villain, and he'd already accomplished quite a lot before the movie even started.  Furthermore, he’s not just a cliché advisor whispering into the ear of a king – he can stand on his own two feet in a real fight.  While I do want to dock some points from Killian for vague motivations (even if it’s revenge, it seems pretty damn petty), I really enjoyed him as the movie's "final boss."  But we’ll come back to that later.

So, to sum it up Iron Man 3 is a great standalone film that holds itself together much better than the second one did.  The acting is phenomenal - seriously, regardless of the plot twist, I don't think anyone will soon forget Sir Ben Kingsley's performance - and the supporting cast was awesome as well.  The movie's action-packed, funny, had an effective villain (who can breathe fire for God's sake – how cool is that?!), has shocking plot twists, and there were actually some interesting ideas fused into the story.  The movie is a lot of fun to watch.  We really get to spend a lot of time with Tony, and the action sequences with him leaping from suit to suit are a true feast for the eyes.  The film is a truly entertaining experience and I had a great time both times I watched it.  I was positively giddy after my first viewing.

But, of course, I would never say Iron Man 3 was perfect, and there are plenty of things I took issue with.  So let’s move onto our next topic:


Mostly... the last ten minutes of the film.  Iron Man 3 holds its own up until the end, where it suddenly unravels for absolutely no reason.  

But let's take a step back for a second.  From a general standpoint, Iron Man 3’s weaknesses include Aldrich Killian's rather vague motivations, the fact that the movie felt more like a Tony Stark movie than an Iron Man movie, and some very uneven story-telling and pacing.

As much as it pains me, I have to include the Iron Man suits themselves in "The Bad" section (I'm so sorry...).  As many on the internet have already pointed out, the strength of the Iron Man suits and the strength of the Extremis soldiers seemed extremely random.  In The Avengers, Tony's suits can withstand the heat of Thor's lightning, which can reach almost 55,000 degrees Fahrenheit, yet it can’t withstand the 3000-degree temperatures of the Extremis soldiers?  They can handle being hit by Thor’s godly hammer, but not a truck?  I understand that the Mark 42 was built to break apart and come together in pieces, but don’t you think Tony would’ve built the suit to hold together better once it formed solid armor?  His world had just been rocked by the appearance of hostile gods and aliens whom he has anxiety attacks over, so this just doesn't make sense to me.  I know it’s nitpicking, but it kept taking me out of the film, and it made the Iron Man suits seem more like toys, rather than armor.  Sometimes it felt as if the suits existed just to get torn into pieces.  I watch Iron Man movies to see those suits kick ass, not to watch them fall apart every time the wind shifts direction. 

Furthermore, the Extremis soldiers also seemed to have rather convenient moments of weakness.  For example, Killian was put inside a suit, the suit exploded, and he survived that, but when Pepper threw a bomb at him, he died.  So he can survive being exploded inside a bomb, but not a much smaller bomb being thrown at him?  How does that make sense?  The other soldiers also had somewhat questionable deaths as well, which left me wishing the movie would pause for a moment to truly explain the virus to us.  What are its limitations?  How far can regeneration go?  Explain it to me, movie, I'm dumb!  I also found the whole “some people explode from the virus and some people don’t” thing to be rather silly and pointless.  If you’re going to put that kind of variable into your film, you’d better flesh it out or just not include it.

Another issue I took with the film is, oddly enough, something I praised above.  I still don't like the fact that the movie included Tony's PTSD.  They should have either taken it out entirely, or developed it further.  I simply don’t buy the idea of Tony Stark having anxiety attacks after New York.  Throughout The Avengers, he was laughing and making jokes and seemingly unconcerned about everything was going on.  Even when Loki had him by the face and was about to send him through an obscenely high window, the scene was played up for laughs.  When Tony woke up after his near-death experience in space, he immediately started cracking jokes.  And that’s fine, I loved it, but turning the conflicts of The Avengers into serious psychological trauma in IM3 just breaks up the continuity of the tone.  I would've accepted the idea that Tony was just "coping" by using humor in The Avengers if Iron Man 3 had gone in-depth with it, but they didn’t.  The anxiety attacks only happen a few times, very quickly, and without much reason.  There are better ways to explore Tony’s psyche than trying to convince us that a hole in the ground somehow gives him flashbacks to an alien portal.  It just seems awkward and forced.  It’s a shame, because I like when comic book movies take themselves seriously and explore the real issues behind the heroes.  In fact, I actually took some issue with how The Avengers avoided the serious human toll the alien invasion had on Earth.  Even though a lot of people must’ve died, we see very little bloodshed or death, and the threat is never taken that seriously.  In the end, I think that worked fine for The Avengers, and I expect Thor: The Dark World to deal with the alien invasion in a somewhat more serious fashion, but IM3 just wasn’t the time or the place to get angsty about it.

Anyways, I want to come back to my original topic, which is the unraveling of the last ten minutes of the film…  In my opinion, the movie’s ending is extremely sloppy.  First of all, the fight scene where all the different suits coming to the rescue is unnecessary.  They don’t seem to be much of a match against the Extremis soldiers, to be honest, and there isn’t a whole lot of tension because the audience doesn’t really care if a hollow hunk of metal gets destroyed.  Again, I don’t want the suits to look like toys.  They should be cooler than that.  I also took serious issue with Tony blowing up all the suits for Pepper, and here’s why:

1) It makes Pepper seem like a needy girlfriend, when we all know she’s way more awesome than that.

2) Pepper had just approved of the suits, so what was the point in destroying them?

3) When the suits show up, Tony tells Rhodey the suits are for him.  For helping to protect the world.  For “privatizing world peace.”  Not only does Tony choose Pepper over Rhodey (which is just kinda pointless), he chooses Pepper over the safety of the world!  You’re a superhero, Tony, remember?!  Did you forget about the gods and the aliens who can threaten your planet at any moment?!  You know, if the Chitauri decide to seek revenge on Earth tomorrow, you’re probably gonna be thinking, “shit, I probably shouldn't have destroyed that robot army, huh?”

4) When the suits explode, one of those suits is holding up a crane that's about to fall.

5) When the suits explode, Pepper is wearing the entire arm of a suit, yet it didn't blow up for some reason.

6) At no point did the movie assure us that, when the suits exploded, Rhodey wasn’t still inside the Iron Patriot (or that his suit isn’t programmed to blow up under the Clean Slate).  Seriously, I was freakin' out.

The whole ending scene just… wasn’t… necessary.  I think the movie was going for a romantic moment with all the fireworks and stuff, but it just made Pepper seem needy, made Tony seem selfish, and it seemed like another excuse for more pointless explosions. 

Also, about Pepper.  I take issue with the entire scene where she falls into the fire.  What point was the movie trying to make with Tony promising to catch her and failing?  That she doesn’t need him?  That he can’t keep promises?  That he’s an asshole?  That scene did nothing but piss me off.  Furthermore, Tony didn’t even shed a goddamn tear.  There was no sadness or drama in the one moment when the movie should’ve put a stop to the humor and taken itself seriously.  It was like, “oh no, I just killed 'the one thing I can't live without.'  Well, anyways, I gotta finish this boss fight before Mom calls me in for dinner.”  That whole thing… was… pointless.  And made me really mad at Tony.

Another issue that I want to bring up is the fact that Tony is rarely responsible for any of the heroics in the movie.  All the suits in the final fight are controlled by JARVIS, Rhodey is the one who saves the president, and Pepper kills Killian.  Hardly a single victory goes to Tony at all, even though he’s our protagonist.  Plus, he spends so much time virtually controlling his suits from afar that he starts to seem like a coward.  If Tony's life is never at stake, there's no tension in the film.  After nearly sacrificing his entire life to save New York City in the climax of The Avengers, this just seems… weird.  And pointless.  Again.

So all of this brings me to the last scene of the movie: the removal of the shrapnel and the arc reactor.  Personally, I think it was a bad call.  The whole point of the arc reactor is to remind the viewer of Tony’s fragile humanity, despite his money and power.  I get that he wants to be a regular man and that he's coming to grips with actually being Iron Man, but the arc reactor was a symbol, and now they’ve taken it away.  Furthermore, it leaves us with the question: why didn’t Tony have the shrapnel taken out sooner?  If he could’ve done it at any time, it obliterates the conflict (and the point) of the entire second movie.  I know a lot of people theorize that Tony could only have the surgery now after injecting himself with enough Extremis to survive the procedure, but the movie never says he injected himself with Extremis or that that’s the reason he had the procedure done.  Maybe it'll come up in a future movie, but for now, it just makes the second movie look utterly pointless.  Which leads me into the issue of Iron Man 3’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Iron Man 3 doesn’t really fit.  It feels like a puzzle piece that got tossed into the wrong box.  It doesn't uphold the continuity of Phase 1, and it’s not much of a setup for Phase 2.

Compared to Phase 1, Iron Man 3's tone clashes really strangely.  The issues that Tony acted lighthearted about in The Avengers now give him anxiety attacks, and some of his behavior seems off-the-wall compared to previous films.  For example, if Pepper is the one thing Tony can’t live without, and he goes so far out of his way to protect her in previous movies, why did he threaten a terrorist organization with his home address and then forbid Pepper from leaving the house?  I know previous movies depict Tony as reckless, but not stupid.  Not like that.  Not in a way that could seriously kill Pepper.

Also, where the hell was SHIELD?!  In Phase 1, SHIELD was the string that held all the film together.  They were in Every.  Single.  Movie.  You can’t tell me SHIELD just stood by with their thumbs up their asses while the president of the United States was strung up in the air like a parade float.  No freakin’ way.  The movie could’ve easily written it off by saying that SHIELD was on the case in an invisible way, or they could’ve sent a few agents into a scene as backup characters - no further explanation needed.  You can’t tell me all the newspapers declared Tony Stark was dead and Fury did nothing.  When Tony was dying in Iron Man 2, Fury personally showed up to deal with the situation.  You could argue that, in the face of more global and intergalactic issues, SHIELD has bigger problems to deal with than Tony Stark and the U.S. president, but you have to bear in mind how we met SHIELD in the first Iron Man movie.  Agent Coulson showed up because he wanted to debrief Tony on his escape from the Ten Rings in Afghanistan.  So SHIELD is obviously keeping track of the Ten Rings.  So where was SHIELD?!  While the Ten Rings were setting off human meat bombs in major public areas, was SHIELD off smoking a dooby?  The hell?  I know it's unnecessary nitpicking, but it still bothered me.  I'm hoping a later film will explain it the same way the Iron Man 3 Prelude thing (that I never watched, so sorry if I'm wrong) supposedly explained why Rhodey's War Machine wasn't around during The Avengers.

So yeah, furthermore, where were the Avengers?  Are you gonna tell me Captain America just stood by while his president was strung out like laundry?  I mean, I didn’t expect any Avenger cameos because this isn't an Avengers movie, but I expected the film to at least explain the Avengers away.  You don’t need to drag the actors into the film to at least mention the issue.  Of all the Avengers besides Thor, Bruce is the one I would least expect to get involved.  Nonetheless, I found it rather hard to swallow when, in the post-credits scene, Bruce acts as if he hasn’t even heard about what happened with the Mandarin.  Are you kidding me?!  All the newspapers declare Tony Stark is dead and Bruce doesn’t even care enough to find out what happened?!  What happened to the team?!

See, here’s the problem: in The Avengers, Phil Coulson died so that the heroes would finally band together and become a team.  IM3 seems to enforce as much as possible how much they are not a team anymore.  There’s no mention of the other Avengers (outside of a few Thor jokes), Tony never thinks to ask for their help, and when one of the Avengers does show up, the guy doesn’t even care.  So what did Coulson die for, then?!

Furthermore, the fact that Tony was held hostage by the Ten Rings in the first movie is never brought up.  We know Tony knows who’s holding him captive in Iron Man 1 because Yinsen tells him about it.  Nonetheless, Tony never mentions this in IM3.  I’d think Tony would be neck-deep in research – seeking revenge after all the torture the Ten Rings put him through for three months in Afghanistan.  Shouldn't he have a personal vendetta against Killian?  Was Killian the mastermind behind the Ten Rings in Iron Man 1?  Was Killian after Tony in this film because of what happened?  The movie never explains it at all.  In fact, that whole situation never even comes up.  No mention of revenge, and no mention of the fact that the Ten Rings inadvertently forced Tony to become Iron Man in the first movie.  On top of all of Tony’s anxiety issues, he never expresses any concern that the Ten Rings might be after him again.  In fact, he just blatantly threatens them to come fuck him up - and his girlfriend.  This is such a huge break in continuity that it actually gives me a headache when I step back and think about it too hard.  It's as if the first movie suddenly no longer matters.  It's as if Iron Man's entire origin story no longer matters.  I know Iron Man 3 wants to be a standalone film in the franchise, but its disruption of Phase 1 is simply too much.  It’s like the one goddamn domino that doesn’t fall.

I’m also concerned about IM3’s role in the rest of Phase 2.  My background knowledge of Iron Man is somewhat limited, but from what I do know, the Ten Rings are ten pieces of alien technology that the Mandarin discovers on Earth.  The rings grant him special powers.  Obviously, this wasn’t the case in the movie, since the Mandarin and his rings are revealed to be fake.  Unfortunately, to me, turning the Ten Rings into fakes seems like a missed opportunity.  After a movie in which gods and aliens descend upon New York City, a human possessing alien tech is the logical next step in the series (especially now that the Guardians of the Galaxy movie is being made).

Some people argue that the Ten Rings wouldn’t have fit into the Iron Man series because they’re about magic, and Iron Man is about technology, but I completely disagree.  The Thor movie emphasizes over and over that, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, magic and science are “one and the same.”  The Ten Rings are alien technology.  It could have easily been played off as science instead of magic.  I mean, in The Avengers, we have a scene in which Loki uses a magical alien scepter on Tony.  So how do the Ten Rings no longer fit into the story?  If anything, I think it would’ve been revolutionary and exciting to see Tony finally face a technology he doesn’t readily understand, rather than turning the movie into another science vs. science dick-size contest like the other two.

Basically, by turning the Ten Rings into a fake in Iron Man 3, they lost the opportunity to blend Iron Man 3 into Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy.

What I’m trying to say is, revealing the Ten Rings be a bunch of prop pieces was a perfectly fine move for Iron Man 3 as a standalone film, but seems rather shortsighted in the long run.  It seems like a strange move to shy away from magic when the next movie takes us back to Thor and Asgard.  As much as I loved the Mandarin plot twist and enjoyed the “modern” way of portraying an out-of-date character, I still see it as a missed opportunity to try something new with Iron Man.  The genius of Phase 1’s lead-up to The Avengers was how patient, focused, and well planned the films were.  They almost read like a… well, like a comic book series.  Iron Man 3, however, seems to lack the kind of foresight that made Phase 1 so clever.  SHIELD never shows up, there are only awkward mentions of the Avengers, a dismissal of the significance of Iron Man 1 and 2, and a missed opportunity to flow into Thor: The Dark World.  The post-credit scene, while very cute, didn’t even hint at a future film (another complete departure from the pattern of Phase 1).  In the flow of the Cinematic Universe, IM3 seems like a sour piano note. 

Of course, it’s too soon to bang the gavel, and I know I’m over-thinking like I always do.  Marvel could still throw a few more twists and turns our way, so I shouldn't judge too early.  I really want to emphasize that, despite "The Bad" and "The Ugly," I still think Iron Man 3 is a great film.  I’ve seen it twice, and I would totally see it again.  It’s a ton of fun.  The acting is fantastic, Tony Stark is hilarious, Pepper Potts is awesome, Rhodey's a badass, and both Mandarins are great.  Sir Ben Kingsley’s performance is absolutely unforgettable, and Guy Pearce really isn’t getting enough credit as Aldrich Killian.  He was a lot of fun, and also made me very upset about my lack of fire-breathing abilities (boy, that would keep my students in line...).  The film's dialogue is great, the action is great, the story has some very interesting moments, and the plot twists actually managed to shock me while still having an interesting point.  As a new installment in the Iron Man series, I think Iron Man 3 is a fantastic addition and a more solid release than Iron Man 2.  Really, despite my ranting above, I loved the movie.  While there were things I didn’t like about it, those things were mostly outweighed by the positives, and I barely notice the negatives while watching the film.  The issues I have with it only stand out when I step back from the film and think about it in an overly-critical fashion.  

When it comes to Iron Man 3, just sit back and enjoy the ride.  You'll have a great time!


As always, I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks!  Comments, criticisms, inaccuracies that need to be pointed out?  Feel free to let me know in the comments section below!  I'm trying to learn through this blog, so I've got an open ear!

I’d like to end this review with a funny story: 

So, when Iron Man 3 was over, they showed the Thor: The Dark World trailer.  I’ve already watched the trailer on my computer several times (shut up!), so there were no surprises for me, but I think the Japanese audience wasn’t aware of the early release of the trailer and were really surprised to see it.  Two things you should know about Japanese audiences: 1) they never, ever leave before the credits are over, even if it’s not a Marvel film with a post-credit scene, and 2) unless something is beyond hilarious, they are very quiet movie watchers and won’t make a sound. 

So here’s what happened: When the trailer started, we still had a full crowd and, to my surprise, there was a lot of excited shifting and whispering in the audience.  I was totally taken aback by the uncharacteristic behavior.  But of course, after the initial jitters, everyone fell silent to watch the trailer.  No one made a sound as they watched Thor, and Jane, and Malekith, and explosions, and some awesome hammer-smashing, and more explosions, etc. etc.  Then the trailer does its big Thor: The Dark World logo and goes dark.  And then, of course, you hear that voice.  The Loki voice, saying, “you must be truly desperate to come to me for help.”  When he said that, there was this weird, high-pitched keening sound in the audience, like a teakettle boiling over.  Before I even had a chance to wonder what I was hearing, the trailer showed Loki in his cell with his bed-hair saying, “when do we start?”  And then some girl near the front row fucking screamed.  I’m not talking a little squeak or a squeal, I mean a full-blown horror film scream.  Meanwhile, this group of girls near me erupted into a spaz-fit of excited flailing.  And I... lost it.  I laughed so hard I doubled over with my head on the seat in front of me, tears streaming down my cheeks.  A lot of people laughed at the scream, but I completely lost my shit.  After sitting so tense and anxious during my first viewing of Iron Man 3, I was like a balloon suddenly stuck with a pin.  I could Not.  Stop.  Laughing.  After I sat up, a bunch of Japanese guys standing in the row in front of me were having a seriously good laugh at my tears.  It took me several minutes to compose myself long enough to gather my stuff and get out.  I just kept hearing that scream over and over again in my head.  I think that might've been one of the funniest moments I’ve ever experienced in a theater.  Congratulations, Loki.  All you have to do is slightly tilt your head and you turn girls – even quiet Japanese girls – into screaming mental patients.  I hope you're happy (I'm sure he is).

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Alright... first post GO!

This is my new blog, entitled "Comically Overblown."  Those of you who arrived here because of my other blog are already aware of this, but I've been running a fairly successful blog entitled "Twisted in Tokyo" (, which chronicles the three years I've spent in Japan being ridiculous at Japanese rock concerts.  But no worries!  Despite indefinite hiatus, that blog isn't going to be deleted, so if you're interested in what's behind Door #2, go ahead and check it out!

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and I'll be leaving Japan and returning to the United States in about three months.  There's simply no point in keeping up a blog about Japan or Japanese concerts if I'm not actually in Japan.  Furthermore, the blog was becoming a scattered mess of topics without any real focus.  For this blog, I want to try something a little more... thematic.


It's about comics!  Get it?! Yeah, I know it's awful.

Okay, so it's not just about comics.  It's about rediscovering the inner-nerd, which can be anything from comic books to video games to movies, although I'd like to keep a slight focus on comic book-related material when I can.


Well, I was raised on the stuff.  When I was growing up, I was pretty much the only girl in my neighborhood, so I wound up spending all my time hanging out with boys my age instead.  While other girls were off playing My Little Pony, I was hitting other kids with Nightcrawler action figures, watching Batman Beyond, kicking Bowser's ass, and tunneling into the Neolithic Age beneath my neighbor's sandbox.

So... what happened?

Life.  Got to school and discovered that the boys no longer wanted to hang out with me, and the girls all thought I was weird.  In a desperate attempt to fit in, I quietly changed the channel from Dragon Ball Z to Sailor Moon, pushed the Pokemon cards under my bed, and tried to figure out why all the girls were so into horses.  After about several years of awkwardness and confusion, I just kinda forgot about who I used to be, and eventually I grew into the (still awkward) adult I am today.  But over the course of the last few years, there's been this sort of Nerd Renaissance, where all the things I was so ashamed of as a child once more became popular among my age group.  Slowly - very slowly - I began to remember who I really was.  I woke up one day and realized I'd become a parody of myself - or, rather, a parody of who I thought I should be.  So I said "no!" to oppression and whipped out a copy of Batman Arkham Asylum to try and find myself again.

Sometime around the release of The Avengers (two fucking months late in Japan!) I threw my arms up in the air and shouted "FUCK IT!" to the world.  "This is what I like!"  "This is who I am!"  "You gotta problem with it, kiss my overgrown ass!"

But there's just one problem...


Besides the fact that I've completely forgotten how to draw...

I don't know anything anymore!  I've become a lost soul!  I've been avoiding the nerd scene for at least fifteen years and I have no idea what's going on!  Comic book characters that used to be household names to me have been completely forgotten.  Movies I used to love have faded into the back of my mind, and movies I should've watched have never been seen.  Worst of all, despite how much I've been enjoying the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies, I'm completely unfamiliar with the source material!

And I'm not okay with that.

So here's what I want to do...


I'm going to dedicate this blog to learning all the things I should've learned before.  Little by little, I'm going to read comic books, watch movies, get to know nerdy stuff, and record my adventures here.  If you think I'm not serious about this, you should know that I already have a four-day pass for the New York Comic Con and I don't even live in New York.

Of course, I'm perfectly aware of what this means - it means I'll look like a fucking idiot.  Comic book lovers will roll their eyes at me and call me a n00b, and I'm sure people won't hesitate to call me out on my poorly-formed opinions.

But hey, we all have to start somewhere, right?  So what if I'm twenty-three?  Better late than never.

So help me out, people!  If I write something that isn't factual or shows a poor understanding of the subject material, lemme know!  I'm here to learn!

I'm also here to write.  Like "Twisted in Tokyo," I'm using this blog as a chance to improve my skills.  I'm hoping to find some kind of career in writing, and this blog gives me the chance to test myself out.  My favorite part about writing over at "Twisted in Tokyo" was the random opinion posts, rants, and reviews.  So now I'm going to make a whole blog out of that!  And, for those of you who have ever read that blog, you already fully appreciate what "Comically Overblown" is referring to.  Hint: it's my inability to shut the fuck up. 

And that's basically it!

So I'll end this introduction with a series of pictures of me making an ass out of myself at an Avengers display in Tokyo:

In my defense, Gangnam Style had just come out.

Don't worry, if you follow this blog there will be plenty more pictures of me making a fool of myself in public!  It's a personal hobby!

First post up will be my Iron Man 3 review, so stay tuned!