Audible has been releasing a whole bunch of Marvel prose stories — of which there have been a ton going back to the late 1960s, including a huge line that I edited from 1994-2000 — in audio form. My 2005 Spider-Man novel Down These Mean Streets and my two Spidey short stories in 1994’s The Ultimate Spider-Man and 1997’s Untold Tales of Spider-Man have already been released, and two more that don’t feature the web-head are now apparently out….
In 1998, I wrote “Playing it SAFE” for The Ultimate Hulk. This anthology — which covers the Hulk’s career from its earliest days to the present-day at the time I wrote it in the late 1990s — is read by Jeffrey Kafer. “Playing it SAFE” features the Hulk facing the U-Foes, aided by an organization we created for that 1994-2000 line, Strategic Action For Emergencies, or SAFE.
The second anthology we did in the series in 1995 was The Ultimate Silver Surfer, which has the unfortunate distinction of being the worst-selling book in the entire line we did. My boss, the late Byron Preiss, was a huge Surfer fan, and really pushed for this. Sigh. My story is called “Improper Procedure” and, typically for me, has the Surfer teaming up with the NYPD. The anthology is read by Andrew Eiden.
Amusingly, Kafer pronounced my last name right; Eiden did not.
Still waiting for X-Men Legends (with my Changeling story “Diary of a False Man”) and Spider-Man: Venom’s Wrath (which was my first ever novel, written with Jose R. Nieto) to be audio-ized.
Because all the men responsible for this movie can think to do with Wanda Maximoff is make her the mother from hell, turning a grieving character struggling toward heroism in several previous movies and a TV series into a mass-murderer who will commit any depraved acts necessary as long as she can be a mother. Because that’s all the ladies really want, am I right, fellas?
When I first saw the movie, it wasn’t bothering me as much, because I know from the comics how foul the influence of the Darkhold can be, but this movie doesn’t do nearly enough to sell it. Maximoff’s redemption arc is weakly done, and requires her to kill herself, which is just horrible. It’s especially galling after the complex meditation on grief that was WandaVision. To have the character be so completely capital-E evil this time is disappointing, lazy, and not fair to a character who was finally given some depth on Disney+, only to be shit upon in the cinema. It’s a bad look for a cinematic universe that has already shit upon Gamora, the Black Widow, May Parker, and Jane Foster in recent movies, not to mention the sidelining of the Wasp in favor of the much-less-interesting Ant-Man and taking way too long to have a movie headlined by a woman.
His banter with Matt Smith’s Milo is fun in the early parts of the movie, before the plot kicks in, and if the movie was just Leto and Smith limping through Manchester-disguised-as-New York and snarking at each other, it would’ve been a lot more fun. But that’s dispensed with in fairly short order, and most of the movie is a desultory checking off of all the boxes of an action-adventure movie, and doing so in as sodden a manner as possible. For instance, I knew Milo was going to kill Nicholas pretty much from the nanosecond it was established that Nicholas was the adult Milo’s caretaker, which was less than an hour into the film, and since neither Jared Harris nor the script bothered to imbue him with any kind of personality, it was hard to give a damn when the inevitable finally happened.
The acting is stupendous here. Nobody ever went wrong casting Jeffrey Wright in anything, and he just kills it as Gordon. Zoë Kravitz is an extremely worthy addition to the pantheon of great live-action Catwomen alongside Newmar, Meriwether, Kitt, Pfeiffer, Bicondova, and Hathaway. Paul Dano is devastating as the most psychotic iteration of the Riddler yet, Colin Farrell is barely recognizable as he plays the Penguin as a goombah gangster right out of a Scorsese film, and John Turturro practically steals the movie as the sunglasses-wearing Falcone, who just oozes pure nastiness.
Though that leads me nicely to the even bigger problem, which is that the movie’s real climax was the glorious fight against Rasputin. First of all, Rhys Ifans’ wild-eyed, kinetic performance is gloriously over the top. He’s a magnificent antagonist, throwing himself completely into the mad monk’s hedonism, insanity, and cleverness. The fight with Orlando, Shola, Conrad, and Polly is a masterpiece of choreography, with Rasputin incorporating Russian dancing into his moves, and it’s truly brilliant.
And then it’s over and Rasputin is dead, and sadly, much of the movie dies with him. The Shepherd is a perfectly serviceable antagonist, as are Hanussen and Mata Hari and Lenin, but the latter two are practically ciphers, and while Daniel Brühl is brilliant as always as Hanussen, his subdued performance is a less apt fit for Vaughn’s general lack of subtlety and restraint.
One of the things I absolutely adore about this movie, though, is that it—in a kind, compassionate, not at all mean-spirited way—calls out one of the biggest flaws in the Raimi and Webb films, which was that most of the villains ended up dead in the end: Norman Osborn (both times!), Harry Osborn (only once), Otto Octavius, Eddie Brock, Curt Connors, and Max Dillon all die. Flint Marko is the only one of the five in this movie who is guaranteed to survive when returning to his universe. And that never sat well with me, especially in movies about a hero who won’t kill.
And this movie pushes back against that tendency—which has been a trope of action movies forever, which has bled over into far too many superhero movies—by having Spider-Man work, not to stop the villains, but to save them.
Each film has at least one worthy element, though in the first it’s not enough to save the movie’s plodding, and in the second it’s not adequately dealt with.
For starters, a lot of McComb’s dialogue—written in 1994—is remarkably prescient for a lot of the campaigning and policies of the forty-fifth President that we saw from 2015-2021. It’s actually kinda eerie to hear him talking about the desire to make the rich richer, and anyone who doesn’t like it can move to Mexico, and doing anything possible (if not ethical) to get more money. I wonder how the Marks Richardson and Verheiden feel about their predicting the coming of President Trump twenty-two years ahead of schedule…
Plus, the issues brought up in The Berlin Decision are worth discussing. Not that the movie actually discusses them in any meaningful manner. It would’ve been nice if the discussion that we saw between Chang’s father and the younger Miller about time-travel ethics had gotten more play. Or if they really focused on what killing Hitler in 1940 would mean. (Well, for starters, not as much as one would like, as the war was already well underway by then. The time to kill Hitler and make a difference would be some time prior to 1932, when he ran for president and was later appointed chancellor, which was when his political career really got started.)
For whatever reason, this has been a major short-story year for me. With today’s official release of both Zorro’s Exploits and Tales of Capes and Cowls, I now have six stories published this year, with another five planned between now and the end of 2022.
“What Do You Want from Me, I’m Old?” in The Four ???? of the Apocalypse
“The Rat’s Tail” in The Further Adventures of Grignr
“Ticonderoga Beck and the Stalwart Squad” in Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2022
“Stop Dragon My Heart Around” in Ragnarok and a Hard Place: More Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet
as-yet-untitled Luminosity story in Phenomenons: Season of Darkness
Of the five remaining for this year, I’ve written “The Rat’s Tail,” I’ve outlined “Ticonderoga Beck and the Stalwart Squad,” I have a basic idea of what both “What Do You Want from Me, I’m Old?” and “Stop Dragon My Heart Around” will be, and I only have a vague idea what the Luminosity story will be, though I can say that it will involve several other characters in the Phenomenons milieu including Sarcastic Fringehead, Red Sky, and La Colosa y La Particula.
By contrast, I haven’t had a novel out this year, and may not unless we get Phoenix Precinct or Feat of Clay out by year’s end, but I’m not entirely optimistic about that. Sigh. Though I guarantee that both will be out before the end of 2023…..
(I still will have a graphic novel — Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness–The Beginning — and a short story collection — Ragnarok and a Hard Place — out this year, at least….)
However, the biggest issue with this movie is the disastrous casting of Anthony Herrera, who has absolutely no charisma whatsoever. Mandrake is supposed to be a performer, but all his magic act serves to do is put the viewer to sleep. He has no stage presence, no spark, no verve, no nothing. His “romance” with Jennifer is laughably absurd.
I never saw Bob Holiday perform the role onstage, though I’ve seen some footage of him, and I gotta wonder why they didn’t cast him in 1975. He’d done the role as recently as four years earlier in a commercial for Aqua Velva. Based on the aforesaid footage, he actually took Collyer and Reeves as his inspiration for how to portray the Man of Steel.
Wilson, by contrast, seems to be using John Travolta’s portrayal of Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter as his inspiration. Seriously, his Superman sounds less like the man of tomorrow and more like a goombah from Belmont or Bensonhurst.