‘Agent Carter’ Season Two Finale: Is it Better to Go out With a Big Bang?

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So, we all remember Agent Carter and her wonderful Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. prequel show, right? Peggy runs around as an Agent of the SSR post-war intelligence, aided by Howard Stark, his butler Jarvis, and various and sundry other characters in a 1940’s-style wardrobe with enough moxie to out-do every single one of these men! This season, Agent Carter was sent to Los Angeles and finds herself embroiled in strange miraculous scientific doings, dark cabal murder plots, internal agency corruption and yet there’s still time for some epic slices of romance!

Originally Agent Carter, after showing up all her male counterparts right smartly as she often does in the New York SSR branch, went to L.A. in theory for some enforced vacation time. It turns out Agent Sousa, a kind of love interest from season one, is now Captain of the L.A. offices of the SSR, and of course, Peggy has to go visit him and find out what’s hopping here in California. Unsurprisingly, smart Stark butler and Jarvis of all trades, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), is out in L.A. keeping Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) ridiculous house with his wife while Howard concerns himself with making movies. Peggy meets very smart scientist Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) while hot on the trail of murderers and something scientifically out of this world, called Zero Matter. Secret genius and sultry starlet Whitney Frost gets involved with the Zero Matter too, causing all sorts of ripples in the secret society world of her politician husband Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham), and thug underworld boyfriend Joseph Manfredi (Ken Marino), too.

So, how does it all stack up against some of the admittedly best ever television series about superheroes, on-going right now? I adore you, Peggy Carter, I really do, but it just  doesn’t seem like enough. The expected popularity of the series was based on two things: the badassery of Agent Carter herself, and the prequel setting-up of S.H.I.E.L.D. back during the original Captain America times. And while Peggy is forever the epitome of togetherness with her smart dresses, perfect makeup and hair, always ready with a witty comeback whenever she’s slighted by her male coworkers, season two of Agent Carter proves, once again, that she simply cannot do it alone. Having Jarvis as a walking, talking helper (as opposed to the dis-embodied voice Tony Stark uses), like Watson to her Sherlock, is always a treat, and does provide a backward continuity of sorts. Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), sent by various good and bad guys from New York to L.A. to keep an eye on whatever the hell Peggy’s up to, plays a good double agent, we’re never quite sure what he’ll respond with. As Ward clearly demonstrated on Agents of SHIELD, just because I help you once, that does not make me an actual good guy. And Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), well, he tried to make a life out here in the sun, with a pretty little nurse fiancé even, which went all to Hades just as soon as Peggy showed up.

So Whitney Frost is, aside from being your typical diva starlet, a super-secret scientific genius, and as soon as she learns about Zero Matter, oh, she is hot to trot for it and anything, and anyone, else connected to it! Dr. Wilkes manages to get himself infected with Zero Matter during a tussle, too, and now has a bit of a seriously lacking-weight problem. He also has a bit of a troubling attraction to Peggy, who does seem to reciprocate his interest, at least somewhat, but this introduces the unfortunate eggshells part of the show. To “walk on eggshells” basically implies tiptoeing very carefully around mentioning anything that could offend, entice, or otherwise anger other people, right? Well, the fact that Dr. Jason Wilkes is a handsome, intelligent scientist and a black man in 1940s America means his choices for employment are extremely limited, and he’s actually generally considered lower on any totem pole than even Peggy herself. But approaching that unpleasant truth in a superhero show would be tantamount to suicide, so Agent Carter touches this fact lightly, and only once or twice, nor does Peggy for even a moment consider his race a factor in her attraction to him.

And, it does have to be mentioned, they brought back perhaps the best villainess from the first season: Dottie Underwood! Rotting away in prison with her no-longer peroxide-blonde hair, our Peggy comes to spring Dottie because, well, she’s got a snatch-and-grab job that needs help and Dottie (Bridget Regan) is the perfect foil to Peggy’s armor!

The sets used are perfectly serviceable, standard Marvel tropes as far as fighting in abandoned tenement buildings or warehouses, and the show went to great pains to have age-appropriate cars and window shading. Season two even had a 1940s musical number featuring — what else — men, and some women too, fighting over Agent Carter! But it’s the costumes themselves, given to us by designer Gigi Ottobre-Melton, that really truly make Agent Carter seem like it sashayed out of the 1940s. The men’s suits are cut from the finest broadcloth, and the women’s dresses, patterns, and even colors are just to die for. No one wears it better than Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter herself, and the sharp, bold coloring of what she wears makes her stand out nicely against the lighter and occasionally deliberate sepia tones of the surrounding show. Visually, the show is an absolute treat, there’s no question about that.

So will Agent Carter be saving the day, yet again, in season three? What will happen to Jarvis and Stark and company, now that they’ve opened (and hopefully closed) a dimensional portal on a movie studio lot? Will Peggy and Dottie finally sit down and have a Ladies’ Night that doesn’t involve fisticuffs together? What about that epic kiss that Peggy finally planted on Sousa? We’ll just have to hope for the best, but don’t forget to raise your voice and be heard in the desire to bring back Peggy’s iconic red fedora for a third round of epic feminine badassery!

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‘Deadpool’: WHAM! Maximum Effort!

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Deadpool is the ultimate anti-hero for the South Park-loving, I-never-grew-out-of-fart-jokes teenager in all of us. He isn’t concerned with saving the world, preventing galactic annihilation, or wearing an X in a circle on his reds. His problem, at its core, is simple – some douche-nozzle tortures him at work, and then gets all huffy and girlfriend-kidnappy when Wade takes offense.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) proves to be a watered-down version of Deadpool’s mouth long before his skin avocadoes, and when he meets the full-grown woman who shares his sense of humor, he is in absolute lusty-love. Nearly everything in the movie comes in montages, so right after the sex-for-all-holidays tribute, comes the devastating news that Wade has seriously bad terminal cancer. Of course, the stripper girlfriend with the heart of gold and the mouth of a sailor, Vanessa, wants to fight cancer with all means available to them. Which essentially means the death-by-inches agony of long treatments and Wade just doesn’t have the patience nor stamina for that kind of dumbassery. Instead, he opts for the Agent Smith recruiting option at his local post-Special-Ops-Agent hangout, and next thing you know it’s off to the mutant factory!

You can expect anyone who’s been hopped up with mutant juice and subjected to many creative tortures, to be a bit cranky with his jailers. Ajax – excuse me, Francis – doesn’t stand a chance in hell of holding the charming-sleazy Brit bad guy of the film role, not in the face of Deadpool’s eternal give-zero-fucks snark. One conflagration later, Wade is determined to rise from the ashes like the most epic anime phoenix ever, slicing and shooting his way through the bad guys to get to the one who turned him into Mr. Potato Head! Francis (Ed Skrein) and his roadblock of a female sidekick, Angel Dust (Gina Carano), prove to be formidable foes, even when met with Wade’s blistering break-the-fourth-wall commentary!

Wade’s early attempts at costumery are terrible and hilarious and exactly what we would find ourselves doing in his boots. Here, we meet his roommate Al, who is about as far from the likes of Daredevil’s Stick as you can get, yet Wade still enjoys bantering with her in his juvenile well-meaning fashion. His bartender friend with the deadpool on when Wade’s gonna kick it does his best to help too – his efforts end up with Weasel (T.J. Miller) as a Shaggy-like sidekick, one of the few who knows both Wade and Deadpool.

The introduction of a CGI-ed to hell and gone Colossus (Stefan Kapicic does his voice) and his little sidekick — this is a mouthful — Negasonic Teenage Warhead, was an interesting choice for the X-Men cameos you just knew we had to have. Tagging Colossus for the unappreciated role of the eternal recruiter of Deadpool to the X-Men seems completely appropriate, considering the lengths Colossus has gone to in other storylines, but the translation of the mega-metal-Russian from the comic books to the big screen wasn’t what I had pictured. Negasonic (Brianna Hildebrand), on the other hand, is clearly the epitome of the New X-Men latter-day class, with her sullen teenage silences, biting commentary and ability to turn herself into a fireball bomb! And, of course, Wade’s wild and wonderful woman, Morena Baccarin as Vanessa, gets many shout-outs for her completely believable portrayal of the woman to die, repeatedly, for!

That’s another thing too many people seem to be overlooking, Wade says it himself – Deadpool is actually a love story, yes, with some horror elements and other stuff thrown in, but still. Wade voluntarily had this done to him so he could live with the love of his life, the woman who shares his corrupted sense of humor and eternally perverse sexual tastes, more or less regardless of what he looks like. Far too many of my fellow geeks and freaks out there would give their entire music collection (I’m betting there won’t be a single Wham! album among them) and then some for a love like that!

There are already tons of reviews out there, all about how Deadpool breathed life back into a stale superhero genre and gave them the encouragement they needed to finally put on their big-boy pants and make an ultra-violent R-rated Marvel superhero movie! But you can’t sit there and enjoy Wade crack wise and twirl your cosplay Thor hammer to impart, “Mmmyes, Deadpool’s sleazy charm is just the thing we modern film enthusiasts need.” Deadpool is hardly the first awesomesauce R-rated superhero movie to come out, (see Watchmen for example) it’s coming out at the most serendipitous time, when we’re all so bored with the eternally bright superhero taking on the whole world of evil, we just want to see a foul-mouthed badass do a bit of the old ultra-violence. To win back the girl who’s just as foul-mouthed and awesome as he is, the only one in the entire world for whom Wade would actually be a superhero!

Do yourself a favor, fan-atics of the world – see Deadpool in the theater now! And for fuck’s sake, leave the kids at home! This movie is not suitable for children at all. You’ve been warned. Don’t forget to stay for the Ferris Bueller-style Easter egg at the end, and cast your own vote for who should be Cable in the sequel! And bonus points if you catch the Stan Lee cameo!

And yes, of course, the trailer is all kinds of NSFW, the entire movie is that way and you know you love it!

First ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Trailer Hits Internet

by Agent Nur Hussein (a.k.a. The Robot Whisperer)

The Captain America: Civil War trailer has dropped! Once more, the House of Mouse has unleashed another wave of hype for its properties, and seeks to reap untold millions from excited fans. And what’s not to be excited about, the trailer looks amazing!

If you’re unfamiliar with the comic book origin behind Marvel’s Civil War, it was a big crossover event that spanned almost every Marvel title back in 2006-2007. A bad case of superheroics gone wrong triggered the government to initiate a Superhero Registration Act, where super-powered do-gooders in tights need to reveal their secret identities and report to the government. This leads to two factions of superheroes, one supporting the act, and the other opposing it. The side supporting the government was led by Iron Man, and the side opposing the act was led by Captain America. The story was created in an American political climate where many believed civil rights were being undermined by the government of the day, and Marvel chose to deliberately create a comic book allegory of current events.

Once Disney/Marvel secured Robert Downey Jr. for the third Captain America movie, they went full steam ahead with the cinematic version of Civil War.

The biggest question on fans’ minds now is what’s going to trigger the conflict in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where almost no superhero has any secret identity to speak of. It’s implied in the trailer that maybe problems arise out of Cap trying to save his friend Bucky from arrest, but that may just be a red herring. Also in the trailer; an image of Rhodey’s armor shattered, with Iron Man apparently clutching his fallen friend. Is it another red herring, or are some of the Avengers going to kick the bucket? The trailer also gives us a first look at Black Panther, in full costume!

With a cast that comprises almost all the Avengers, Captain America: Civil War looks like the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been. The stakes need to be high for a big showdown like this, and the Russo brothers will hopefully deliver a solid action film, just like they did with the previous instalment in the Captain America franchise.

Captain America: Civil War will open in the U.S. on May 6, 2016.

The ABCs of Horror: B is for Clive Barker

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Clive Barker is an English artist of multiple talents, considered a Renaissance man of the horror and fantasy world, a titan who shares his pillar with the likes of Wes Craven and John Carpenter.

Clive was born in Liverpool, England, to Joan and Leonard Barker, and studied English and Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. At age four, Barker witnessed the tragic death of skydiver Leo Valentin, and has alluded to Valentin several times in his later writings. Barker began writing in the horror genre early in his career, mostly short stories to be later gathered in collection novels, Books of Blood 1-6.

His next novel, The Damnation Game, was written in a similar style, before Barker began branching out into dark urban modern-day fantasy with the likes of Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show, Imajica and Sacrament. His writings have a distinct style all their own, which Barker commonly refers to as “dark fantasy” or “the fantastique.” His novels are known for detailed and complex worlds that live hidden but coexisting with our own, the interplay of sex and sexuality in the supernatural, and the blurring of reality-set lines between binary opposites like pleasure and pain.

But that’s very far from all Barker’s known for. He wrote the screenplays for the films Transmutations and Rawhead Rex, and then, unhappy with how those were handled, went on to direct what is considered by many his magnum opus, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, a little film called Hellraiser. Though Barker wrote and directed the first film, he didn’t write or direct any of the sequels, of which, to date, there are eight freaking films, that’s how long-lasting a story Barker originally wrote. He went on to do Nightbreed, and the somewhat-relevant-to-his-book-universe and widely misunderstood film, Lord of Illusions, then he went on to create another long-lasting epic saga of a now well-known villain, Candyman. In 2005, Barker created the film production company Midnight Picture Show with partner Jorge Saralegui, which went on to produce The Plague, The Midnight Meat Train, Book of Blood and Dread.

There’s yet more?! Of course there is. Clive Barker is known for his artwork and highly original paintings and sketches, and has made his own illustrations for many of his books, including the extra-special YA novel The Thief of Always, a personal favorite of mine, as well as the Abarat series. His paintings were first seen wide on the covers of his ’90s fan club magazine Dread, and have been featured in art galleries in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. His art has been gathered into collections, such as Clive Barker, Illustrator and Visions of Heaven and Hell, and a comprehensive viewing of his gallery can be found here.

Barker lent his talents to two horror video games, Clive Barker’s Undying, where he voiced the character Ambrose, and Clive Barker’s Jericho. And what about the comics? Oh, man. Barker’s written for Marvel Razorline with five freaking titles; eight titles under Epic Comics including Hellraiser, Pinhead and The Harrowers; and seven titles for Eclipse Books. There’s also his art for Dark Horse Comics, Fantaco Books and Sirius Entertainment. Boy, does he get around!

Barker suffered severe polyps in the throat in 2008, for which he had to undergo two surgeries and give up cigars. Clive Barker has been openly gay since the early 1990s and has had a few long-lasting relationships. Barker is a member of the board of advisors for the hopefully upcoming Hollywood Horror Museum. But really, his personal life pales in comparison to his fantasy life, the universe-spanning imagination that Barker shares with us every single time he introduces something new to our darkling world, in whatever medium. Through his pains and his pleasures, our eyes are opened to possibilities never dreamt (or nightmare’d) of, and we forever love our gravelly-voiced artist, the master of pushing aside the veil between all worlds, Clive Barker!

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Can’t get enough of Clive Barker? Check out Pandora’s review of The Scarlet Gospels, wherein the final battle between the Hell Priest (as he prefers to be called, his name was never Pinhead) and Barker character mainstay Harry D’Amour comes to a head. And another collection of Barker’s short stories and poems, Tonight, Again, is available for pre-order now and out early 2016!

2015 Salt Lake Comic Con Earns Place in Guinness World Record Book

by Agent Sheralyn Pratt (a.k.a. The Sin-sei)

It’s official: Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 is the new Guinness World Record holder for largest gathering of people dressed as comic book characters in a single place. Convention organizers brought together 1,784 cosplayers Friday night to claim the record over China’s Joyland, which set the previous world record in 2011 with 1,530 participants.

A Guinness representative was present at the Salt Lake Comic Con not only to count participants, but to ensure that only qualifying costumes made the cut. Costumes that were disqualified from the count included characters from:

  • Video games
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Doctor Who
  • Animated series

Even cartoon characters with strong comic ties, like Harley Quinn, were turned away, leaving only traditional comic book characters to be included in the record attempt.

In the end, Salt Lake Comic Con may have beat the previous record by more than 250 cosplayers, but the event came dangerously close to setting no record at all. After everyone in the hall was counted Friday night, it was discovered that they was actually 100 people shy of breaking the record.

Even worse? Some of the participants who hadn’t planned on the world record attempt taking more than a few minutes started bowing out — deducting from the event’s total.

At first count, not only was Salt Lake Comic Con short of the numbers they needed, but they were breeching.

Unwilling to accept failure as an option, event organizers got on the overhead speakers of the Salt Palace, broadcasting across the nearly 700,000 sq. feet to ask anyone dressed in a costume to head over to Hall E for the world record attempt. Everyone in the building heard the call, including Manu Bennett, who finished his panel in the Main Ballroom, donned an eye patch, and made his way over dressed as Slade Wilson.

How long it took for the other 253 participants to show up and generate the numbers needed to break the record, no one could probably tell you. Everyone was too busy giving Manu Bennett their full attention. Manu kept all the gathered cosplayers entertained until organizers gave him a nod and the Guinness representative stepped forward to request that the area be locked down for five minutes.

No one in, no one out … because those are the rules for setting a world record.

This is when a five-minute dance party began, leading out with “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey. The countdown to the end of the five minutes was reminiscent of New Year’s Eve, after which the Guinness representative gave Ryan Seacrest a run for his money in drawing out the announcement of the new world record: 1,734. The Guinness official then handed a certificate to event organizers, Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, who held up the certificate with Manu Bennett.

And then, in the words of Monty Python: There was much rejoicing … and a MASSIVE group picture.

It’s worth noting that this record-setting outcome is exactly the reason co-founders Farr and Brandenburg declared Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 to be #EPIC. Farr and Brandenburg know their fans, and they had complete faith that attendees were up to the task of setting a world record. After all, Salt Lake Comic Con may only be in its third year, but it already has some records under its belt.

In its first year, Salt Lake Comic Con set the record for largest inaugural Comic Con, with over 70,000 attendees. Year two brought in about 120,000 attendees, and while the numbers for 2015 have yet to be released, it’s pretty safe to say that they will be impressive by any standards.

But it’s not just the numbers that make Salt Lake Comic Con remarkable. Even more noteworthy is how an event can be so big and genuine at the same time … like a second Disneyland. Somehow the Salt Lake Comic Con manages to perpetuate a friendly and family-like vibe to all those in attendance, and the events leading up this successful world record attempt is a perfect example of the top-to-bottom mood present at Salt Lake Comic Con.

Take Manu Bennett, in this case. He could have finished his panel and been done for the day. It’s 7:00. Why not head out, have dinner, and relax? There’s nothing in Bennett’s agreement that says he needs to entertain 1,500 people while organizers round up more cosplayers to claim a world record. It’s also unlikely that Bennett came to the con intending to dress as Slade Wilson and be part of the official count, but he did both things.

Why? Because he chose to.

And that’s part of the magic of Salt Lake Comic Con: Guests who want to be there, organizers who are involved on a ground level, and attendees who are respectful and enthusiastic in equal measure. All of these things combine with courteous staff, top-notch vendors, and hundreds of fan-focused events to create a geek-fest that is only going to be bigger in 2016 … which begs the question:

With all this positive momentum and good mojo, which record will Salt Lake Comic Con break next?

1734 cosplayers gathered at Salt Lake Comic Con

1734 cosplayers gathered at Salt Lake Comic Con. Photo credit: Sheralyn Pratt

Family-ish Photo: Deathstrokes and Deadpools with Manu Bennett

Family-ish Photo: Deathstrokes and Deadpools with Manu Bennett.  Photo credit: Sheralyn Pratt

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Marvel Reveals Daisy Johnson’s New Costume for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

by Agent Nur Hussein (a.k.a. The Robot Whisperer)

In television news today, Marvel has released an official photo of Skye/Daisy Johnson/Quake/Mary Sue Poots’ costume/uniform, befitting her status as a newly minted superhero on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Her Quake costume very closely resembles the one from the comics, which is a black jumpsuit with gauntlets. Daisy/Quake has the superpower to cause earthquakes and other extreme vibrations. She is played by Chloe Bennet on the show.

In the comics, the gauntlets appear to focus her seismic powers, making Daisy able to aim her energies with pinpoint precision. In her first comic appearance, Daisy was Nick Fury’s secret weapon in an unauthorized attack by a covert team of superheroes against Latveria. The comic book origins of Daisy Johnson’s powers were a little hazy — at first, she was described as being “born with abilities,” but not a mutant. In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, Daisy’s abilities manifest because she is Inhuman, and this seems to have been retconned into the comic books, too.

Bennet, clearly estatic about the new look, tweeted about the costume, “Everybody say hello to #Quake! What you don’t see is my wedgie but still, Look! Mom! Dad! I’m a superhero!”

Bennet has said her gauntlets are a “practical” part of the costume, although in real life, they are “not that practical.”

The outfit was designed by costume designer Ann Foley, who was inspired by the comic book design of the character. Foley paid close attention to detail, as the Quake symbol found on the comics gauntlets is reproduced on the show’s version of them, and also at the back of Daisy’s jumpsuit. Foley revealed in a tweet that the gauntlets and the utility belt were the creations of visual effects studio Legacy Effects, who have worked on such films such as Marvel’s very own Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and Terminator:Genisys.

In the previous season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daisy’s gauntlets were foreshadowed when she received special casts from Agent Simmons designed to minimize the damage her earthquake powers causes her. While she was known as “Skye” in previous episodes, in the upcoming season she seems to have fully embraced her real name (which she recently learned from her father, the insane Calvin Zabo).

Season 3 of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins on September 29th on ABC.

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K-Pop Kapow! It’s Going to be a YG September

by Agent Zoe de Lellis (a.k.a. Han-ji)

Welcome back to K-Pop Kapow! Your one stop for all things K-Pop.

With BigBang’s impending last single release, “E,” they’re switching it up. The single will be released on August 5, and will feature a BigBang song and a GD & TOP song. YG CEO Yang Hyun Suk has been teasing clips of the upcoming music video. The official title of the song is “Let’s Not Love” and from the looks of the short clips, this release will feature a more emotional BigBang. Along with their album release on September 1, new group iKON is set to debut September 15, after a while of their debut date being undetermined, and international smash hit Psy is also preparing for a September comeback. Looks like YG Entertainment will have their hands full in the next few months! Although iKON hasn’t debuted yet, YG and the group has built up quite a following already. Will Psy and BigBang battle it out for the number one spots on the charts, or will iKON debut to an all-kill?

Big news for Marvel and K-Pop fans! BTS’ leader Rap Monster (Kim Namjoon) is set to release a single in conjunction with the upcoming superhero film, Fantastic Four, on August 4. He previously released his first mixtape to much critical success, and participated heavily in the production and writing of BTS’ most recent album The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, Pt. 1. It’s no surprise seeing him growing as an artist, but this is a big deal! The track is called “Fantastic,” and he wanted to capture the trials of the Fantastic Four and to make it exciting. This news comes as a great relief from all of the negative news surrounding Rap Monster, and we wish him all the success for this upcoming release, and future endeavors.

SM Entertainment recently revealed they are in the midst of a lawsuit against former EXO members Kris and Luhan and their associated companies in China. They are suing them for breaching their contracts, and for using fame from EXO to appear in movies, television, and commercials. Luhan’s lawsuit was announced earlier this year and their decision to pursue legal action against Kris was announced in a press release this week. Kris and his studio released a response to this announcement on July 31, claiming discrimination from EXO’s manager at the time, unfair distribution of compensation, and a decline in health due to stress and tension, ultimately resulting in Kris being diagnosed with symptoms of myocarditis, or inflamation of the heart muscle. This announcement comes in the wake of Tao leaving EXO and releasing a solo mini-album under the name Z.Tao, and leaves fans wondering if this is what is in the future for Tao as well. With all of this drama surrounding EXO, the future of the Mandarin-language subgroup EXO-M is a bit undetermined. Lay is the only Chinese member left, with Korean members Chen and Xiumin learning and singing the Mandarin versions.

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Movie Review: ‘Ant-Man’

by Agent Nur Hussein (a.k.a. The Robot Whisperer)

The idea for an Ant-Man movie began circulating very early on in Hollywood, even before the current success of the Marvel movie hype-train. I became aware of the project when I saw Edgar Wright’s name attached to the project, which was about a decade ago. As a long-time fan of Wright, I was beyond excited about what he could do with the character. After almost a decade of development, it was announced last year that Wright was leaving the director’s chair due to creative differences with Marvel. I was pretty disappointed; as much as I found the idea of Ant-Man to be fun, I was also looking forward to another Edgar Wright movie with the trademark quips and quick cuts.

When Wright left the project, it was uncertain who would fill Wright’s shoes, and finally, Peyton Reed was chosen as the director. The only work of his I was familiar with was the cheerleader comedy Bring It On; I was subjected to it on a long bus ride, and it was not a film I particularly enjoyed. While I still looked forward to Marvel’s Ant-Man, I did so with some trepidation. My fears were unfounded, though; Ant-Man was thoroughly entertaining. It seems like Marvel, for better or worse, has perfected their cookie-cutter movie formula so that it doesn’t matter who sits in the director’s chair; they more or less consistently delivers something entertaining for the masses.

Part of Marvel’s formula is to take a genre of film, and then do a superhero version of that genre. The first Captain America film was a war movie (with superheroes). Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera. The second Captain America film was a spy thriller. And now, Ant-Man is Marvel’s version of a heist movie: a goofy, nonsensical sci-fi comedy heist movie. However, that is part of its charm, along with lead actor Paul Rudd’s charisma. We are happy to go along for the ride, because despite the development problems, all the pieces come together pretty well. Also, despite Wright’s departure, you can still feel some of his fingerprints all over the movie.

If you want to know nothing else about the film, stop reading now, as mild spoilers follow after this paragraph; I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a fun and funny summer movie to cap the mid-year movie season.

Mild spoilers ahead

Ant-Man begins with a cold-war era prologue, where we see Henry “Hank” Pym (Michael Douglas) storming off from his job at S.H.I.E.L.D. because of objections to how the government wants to use his research. There are some nice cameos here for fans of the Marvel cinematic universe, and you can probably guess who they are, but I won’t reveal it, as to not spoil your fun. Fans of the comic will know Hank Pym is the original Ant-Man, and in this movie he serves as a mentor figure to our protagonist. Pym invented the Ant-Man suit, which lets the wearer shrink to insect size and grow back at will. While shrunk, the wearer has incredible strength and speed. Pym felt the technology was too dangerous, and did not want it getting into the wrong hands.

We skip to the present day, where we meet our hero, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Portrayed as a heroic Robin Hood kind of criminal who just got released from jail, Scott tries to live a clean life while finding out just how hard it can be for an ex-convict to get employment. Scott desperately wants to clean up and be able to afford to pay child support for his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), who is a police officer.

In that desperation, he decides to revert to crime. Scott’s best friend Luis (Michael Peña), who was his cellmate, along with shady (albeit comedic) characters Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), cajole our hapless hero into a job where he unknowingly breaks into Hank Pym’s home. These events turn out to be masterminded by Pym himself, as he and his estranged daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need Scott’s help. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), a former protégé of Pym has re-created the Ant-Man technology that Pym fought so hard to conceal.

So they plan a heist with Scott wearing the Ant-Man suit, and the exact details of the plan require comic book techno-babble and some suspension of disbelief, but at this point, we don’t quite question the goofy “science” any more. The tone is very comedic in nature, so we can let that slide. However, this hurts the “heist” aspect of the film; a good heist movie relies on the cleverness of the ruses and trickery the protagonists need to use to pull it off, and the hand-waving silliness required for the plot to move along does not help the story. I won’t reveal the details, but I will say this: If our hero can already shrink to the size of an ant, it’s hard to imagine good ways to keep him from entering any building or area.

The visuals of this movie are really good; the nature of the character means this movie needed to play with scale and perspective a lot, and it delivers on that promise. When Scott is ant-sized, we see him contrasted with the enormousness of the mundane world around him from his perspective, and he expertly uses his shrinking and growing abilities for maximum impact when fighting his opponents.

Pym also developed a device that can let people communicate with ants, so while he is tiny he can summon ants and use them as his allies. The CG ants used do look a bit fake, but they exhibit some character, and you may find yourself getting attached to them just like our protagonists do. I saw the film in IMAX 3D, and the format really helps sell the scale of events unfolding around our hero. Both the size-altering powers and control over ants is used very effectively by our heroes, and this is communicated very well on screen which helps you overlook the plot holes of the film.

Ant-Man is a refreshing change of pace after the mediocre action-fest that was Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you want some superhero fun this year, this is the movie to watch. I regret that I didn’t get an Edgar Wright Ant-Man movie, but I am happy enough with the finished product and that Wright had a lot of input into the direction of the project.

If you’ve seen the movie and are hungry for more Ant-Man, check out the Ant-Man Annual #1 comic published recently that seems to be tailor-made especially for new audiences who enjoyed the film.

I give Ant-Man 4 out of 5 ants. Er, I mean stars. Don’t forget to stick around for the mid-credits and after-credits scenes!

XXX

Captain Logan’s Comic Directive #15: ‘Ant Man Annual’ #1

by Agent Captain Logan (a.k.a. Agent Captain Logan)

Ant-Man Annual #1

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artists: Brend Schoonover and Ramon Rosanas

Publisher: Marvel

This is a really informative and hilariously entertaining self-contained story that’s perfect for anyone largely unfamiliar with Ant-Man. It’s especially fun if you just saw and enjoyed the movie and want to know how it compares to the comics. It seems tailor-made to be compared to the film; you’ll find it has the same the quirky and often goofball tone. The movie is very faithful to the source material in terms of how ant man’s suit works and the notion of Ant-Man as a legacy character, but you’ll also notice a lot of deviation from Scott Lang’s origin and, of course, the reason Hank Pym berates himself for being a failure, namely that he created Ultron. Odd that Ant-Man and Age of Ultron were both released this year and, yet, that version of Hank Pym has nothing to do with Ultron’s creation. If you’re like me, it’ll make you appreciate some aspects of the movie more (specifically, for me, the witty banter) and others less (like I said, I’m not real in love with the convulted and unbelievable way Scott Lang and Hank Pym are brought together in the movie and, reviewing the comic book origin here, I think it would have suited the movie better and made Scott’s motivations a little clearer and maybe even made him more sympathetic). But, I digress.

This is an oversized, five-dollar comic that gives you plenty of bang for your buck. While the comprehensive history of both Ant-Mans (Ant-Men?) is at the heart of this story, it’s not a flashback or a reprint issue. Spencer expertly weaves in the recap material so that isn’t intrusive for those in the know, and it feels like a necessary part of the story that’s being told so the uninitiated can be caught up to speed without feeling like the story keeps stopping to explain things.

The art is a faithful-yet-modern homage to the ’60s comics it references throughout, and it reminds me a lot of Chris Samnee’s work on Mark Waid’s Daredevil. It’s a hysterical throwback to silver age Marvel that tastefully and cleverly lampoons comic book motifs from that period as well as specific Marvel tropes. One of my favorites is when the apparently-classic but long forgotten Ant-Man villain, Egghead (not to be confused with Vincent Price), complains that the phrase “Avengers assemble!” makes no sense. “What does he mean by that, anyway? They’re already there! Pointless.” But, in keeping with the traditional Marvel method of storytelling, there’s a good, human story at the center of the comedy, as Scott tries to live up to his mentor’s legacy. The point, by the end, is that Ant-Man is a mantle for screw-ups on a path to redemption, men who did bad things with the best of intentions and hope to do good things, having learned from their mistakes, to make up for them.

Egghead returns, cheesy monologues and melodramatic blustering and all, with the brilliant and ridiculous plan to destroy the Avengers with old robots he stole from Hank Pym, which Pym created in his pre-Ultron days that Egghead calls the A.I.-vengers. It’s a laugh every panel. Egghead recruits an unwitting lackey whom Pym accidentally forced out of a prestigious research position due to corporate politics, so he ends up a lowly I.T. guy at a Geek Squad-esque service called Techbusters (and yes, Spencer gets some Ghostbusters reference mileage out of it). Egghead assumes the tech guy will want revenge and he indifferently agrees, after it takes him a full page to realize that his being there has nothing to do with fixing Egghead’s Macbook.

One of the best gags is the tech guy questioning Egghead’s plot, saying that he can’t replace the Avengers with these silver age-looking versions because, in the current Marvel status quo (pre-Secret Wars, of course), Captain America is a black guy and Thor is a woman. So, Egghead settles for just using the robots to kill the Avengers instead. I also love Pym’s embarrassment when the past comes back to haunt him and the A.I.-vengers start talking about how he’s the best scientist in the world and how much they love working with him. “All right, all right,” he says. “I built them for … positive affirmation.” There was a time when Hank Pym was just movie Tony Stark. And while this situation is wonderfully absurd, I like how it gets to the core of what Hank Pym is all about — he’s a throwback from another age, who’s learned his big lesson but who caused so much damage back in the day, he’s still cleaning up his old messes.

There’s also a neat surprise at the end as this title gears up to finish its run and kill off the original 616 versions of these characters to transition to Battleworld that furthers the strange and counter-intuitive tradition of the Ant-Man mantle.

I’m going to miss all these callbacks to in-continuity stories told fifty years ago as the Marvel Universe is being rebooted. I’m sure writers who want to get in their time machines and revisit the Merry Marvel Marching days will find clever excuses to do it even past Secret Wars, and I’d be very surprised if there weren’t some untold tales from before the multiverse’s implosion sprinkled throughout the new spread of books. But, even if you’ve never read Ant-Man and couldn’t care less (and I would have counted myself among you a year ago), if you’re a fan of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby days of Marvel, this issue is bound to put a smile on your face. And if you saw the movie and you’re curious about where in the world this wacky character came from, this is an easily accessible and engaging way to catch up on the character’s history.

XXX

‘Daredevil’ Season Two Casting News: The Punisher Comes to Hell’s Kitchen!

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror) 

Marvel Entertainment announced today that Jon Bernthal has landed the role of The Punisher in Marvel’s breakout Netflix series, Daredevil, season two!

Bernthal is perhaps most well known for his stint of two whole seasons as the man with the best hate-love-hate fan relationship, Shane Walsh on AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead. He’s also starred in Eastwick, Mob City, Grudge Match and The Wolf of Wall Street. Bernthal is also set a pivotal role in the upcoming Show Me a Hero, a TV mini-series based on the Mayor Wasicsko crisis in Yonkers, New York in 1987, set to air in August 2015.

For the Daredevil version, The Punisher is a violent vigilante who aims to clean up New York’s Hell’s Kitchen by any means necessary, with vengeance delivered Biblical-style. The character is also privately known as Frank Castle, a martial arts master and U.S. military veteran who is an expert with a variety of weapons and guerrilla warfare.

Previous incarnations of Punisher included Dolph Lungren (1989), Thomas Jane (2004), and Ray Stevenson (2008). “Jon Bernthal brings an unmatched intensity to every role he takes on, with a potent blend of power, motivation and vulnerability that will connect with audiences,” Marvel head of TV department Jeph Loeb said. “Castle’s appearance will bring dramatic changes to the world of Matt Murdock and nothing will be the same.”

I fully expect to see the iconic white death-skull on the black background that is Punisher’s sigil interlaced with the fiery double D’s that denote Daredevil in season two somewhere, that would be awesome-sauce. We here at the Super Villain Network, while greatly pleased at this news, cannot be held responsible for any real damage occurred to Punisher, or Daredevil for that matter, as they take on our villainous brethren  in the bowels of Hell’s Kitchen!

Sadly, we won’t be graced with this kind of combined ass-kickery until 2016. Until then, enjoy a video of arguably one of the best fight scenes of Daredevil season one.