Rants And Raves: Guest Blogger Compares New ‘Avengers’ With Memories Of The Old Comics
Assessing change in Marvel’s ever expanding universe
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Joss Whedon’s new “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is officially opening Friday. This prompted my friend and guest blogger Ramie Tateishi to consider how the films have adapted his beloved comics to the screen:
Long before I encountered Britain’s top secret avenging agents John Steed and Emma Peel in TV syndication, I knew “The Avengers” as the comic book of comic books; the sure-fire way to get the most out of your allowance. You could either buy that month’s issues of “Captain America,” “Iron Man,” and “Thor,” or you could spend a third of that cost on that month’s issue of “The Avengers,” and see all three of those characters in one comic book, working together as part of a superhero team that included many other major and minor players in the Marvel Comics pantheon.
Of all the characters that put in their time with the Avengers, my two favorites as a kid were always Hawkeye and the Vision. Amidst super-powered beings like Thor, Ms. Marvel, and Wonder Man, there stood Hawkeye with nothing but a bow and a quiver full of arrows, yet still holding his own as an equal alongside the others.
Perhaps related to this, Hawkeye also had the most distinctive and appealing attitude when it came to his work as a superhero, conveying his confidence through a jovial sense of humor, with just the right amount of snark and flippancy thrown into the mix. The Vision, on the other hand, was one of the most powerful comic book characters ever, with his density-altering superpower (which, if it had been explored to its fullest extent, could have made him virtually omnipotent). It was also interesting to see how this “synthezoid” maintained a cool, rational demeanor, knowing that he was fully capable of feeling and demonstrating emotion. He was a lot like Spock from “Star Trek,” if Spock could fly and shoot laser beams from his eyes.
While I was happy to see these two characters appear in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the main thing I noticed was, well, that these cinematic incarnations weren’t really the same two beloved fictional characters from my childhood. Of course, no adaptation or reimagining is going to be exactly like its source material, but I was surprised by how much those fundamental characteristics that endeared me to Hawkeye and the Vision years ago had been changed.
Even though this sort of thing happens in the cycle of pop culture media, I was more acutely aware of it in this particular film because it was happening to two of my favorite superheroes. The happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care, wisecracking archer was now the stable bedrock upon which the team rebuilds its foundation after a major defeat (in addition, his personality traits had been transplanted into the Tony Stark/Iron Man character in previous Marvel movies). And then the synthezoid with the coolest superpower of all never gets to use that power, and his origin story was completely altered to align with the plot of the new “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
Comic book fans are used to the idea of parallel universes where familiar things appear differently. We have read stories about multiple Earths designated with various alphanumeric suffixes, and alternate realities observed by different Watchers. That was one possible framework into which I thought I might place this Marvel Cinematic Universe, but mainly, I was watching the film while caught up in my own impressions and memories of those characters confined to one finite period of time. It’s like going to a high school reunion and seeing someone you haven’t seen since you were both 18 years old, and even though you’re well aware of the fact that they’ve grown and changed and gone on to become a different person, you can’t help but make associations and connections back to that 18-year-old you remember. So you are forced to try and reconcile the two.
Pop culture characters can’t stay the same either; they develop and transform over time as different writers and creative teams respond to the eras in which they find themselves. I’m positive that there are folks who started reading “The Avengers” before I was born who think that “my” Hawkeye and Vision are too different from the versions they first loved, just as there are much younger fans coming to “Age of Ultron” with fresh eyes who’ll think that these versions of Hawkeye and the Vision are the greatest characters ever, and that’s fantastic.
So it was through this filter of acceptance that I eventually came to take in and appreciate these new cinematic versions of the characters, with the Vision’s solar jewel now supplanted by an object of far greater significance in this iteration of the Marvel universe. And the extremely low likelihood, based on the events depicted, that Hawkeye will end up marrying Mockingbird.
There was one moment toward the end of the film that should have had me raising my fists and cheering out loud (this shouldn’t be too much of a spoiler: the Vision swoops in and rescues an imperiled Wanda, and as he flies her to safety, she looks at him for the first time). Instead, I merely smiled with subdued satisfaction as this scene played out with characters who were familiar to me, yet who were also strangers.
When Black Widow calls Iron Man “Shellhead,” his familiar nickname from the comic books (that I don’t think has yet been used in any of these films), a tingle of that “high school reunion dissonance” flitted across my mind. Captain America’s closing line in the very last second of the film is another one of these sorts of references, its presentation subverting expectations and cleverly bringing to mind your memory of the comic books while not quite delivering exactly what it is you remember.
Even if I remember perceiving those favorite characters in the ways that I did all those years ago, I could never actually perceive them in precisely those same ways ever again.
Just like the theme of evolution that runs through this film, you can learn to adapt and find new things to love about an old favorite that’s been born anew. Black Widow, a character I appreciated but never thought twice about in the comic books, has become my favorite character in this Marvel Cinematic Universe (and is also the least represented in terms of merchandising). And as each successive Marvel movie takes those old memories as a basic template upon which to build something new, I can look forward to these characters and stories, which are going to be simultaneously old and new, with a sense of anticipation.
We live in a perpetual present that’s always somewhere between our fondness for the past and our hopes for the future, and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is a nice echo of that.
Ramie Tateishi is an assistant professor in the M.A. in English and the M.A. in Film Studies programs at National University.
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