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Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver (left) and John David Washington in ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Do you find yourself flooded by Trumpworld only to wish you could zone it all out? That frenzied state of distraction is exactly what the Donald is aiming for. Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, aims to give us clarity and put things in perspective.

Topher Grace in BlacKkKlansman

Anyone familiar with Spike Lee’s work appreciates its integrity. 1989’s Do The Right Thing deftly confronts American race relations. That is a powerful movie. Lee brings that same energy and intelligence to 2018’s BlacKkKlansman. As a cartoonist, I often wonder about how the comics medium, in all its varied forms, can best address the current Trump crisis. I think Jim Carrey’s cartoony paintings, with their raw quality, have a much greater impact than perhaps most professional editorial cartoons. As for anything remotely falling under the “graphic novel” category, I’d have to give a lot of credit to John Oliver’s parody of Mike Pence’s Bunny Book. That said, whatever the art form, it is the measured response that ultimately wins the heart and soul of the viewer.

White nationalists clashing with counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., last year. With an anniversary rally planned in Washington on Sunday (8/12/2018), the authorities have planned for weeks to avoid a repeat of last year’s clashes.CreditJoshua Roberts/Reuters

Spike Lee has certainly given careful consideration. Based upon a true story, Lee’s main character is a young and idealistic African American man conflicted by serving his local police force and serving his community at an activist level. The narrative masterfully weaves in the 400-year-old American racial experience: past, present (1972), and future (2018). There are those moments when everything comes to such fine point, especially after the newly-minted undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has gotten settled into his job. One fellow officer talks with him about how white supremacists are steadily going mainstream and it will eventually lead to the White House. Ron shakes his head in great disbelief.

BlacKkKlansman

It is Ron’s job, which he carved out for himself, to infiltrate the local chapter of the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan. He is obviously in need of help since his phone conversations quickly lead to an invitation to meet in person. That’s where a second Ron Stallworth (Adam Driver), in the flesh and Jewish no less, comes in. And the KKK connection just keeps getting complicated, not to mention dangerous. Soon, the original Ron Stallworth is on the phone establishing quite a friendly relationship with the young KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Lee continues to thoughtfully and gracefully connect the dots, as painful as they are–without a heavy hand. And it is that cumulative effect that adds up to the most powerful film I’ve seen this year. The final moments bring us to our present with a fiery defiance and a remembrance of Heather Heyer, may she “Rest in Power.”

Spike Lee delivers a good dose of reality that can stir the soul. We don’t do this much anymore (maybe for Star Wars and superhero movies) but this film will have you in the mood to clap at the end. This movie got me good and I was clapping. I even yelled out that folks can applaud. I did it in that communal spirit that many of us in Seattle respond to. Well, not only in Seattle. And, like a chain reaction, people did applaud. It didn’t last very long since, as I say, we really don’t applaud movies anymore. But it did happen all the same, even if momentarily. We Americans need to respond to the current American crisis every chance we get. BlacKkKlansman responds to that very real need. It’s a start and it will, no doubt, inspire others to do much more, like voting.

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Filed under African American, Charlottesville, Donald Trump, Spike Lee, Trump

Movie Review: CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin.

Imagination has its own reality. Imagination is strongest in childhood. It takes a certain sensibility to carry you back into that world once you’re an adult. In the new movie, Christopher Robin, we see the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s vulnerable stuff. It’s made up of dream-like creatures like Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. In this movie, we see A. A. Milne’s celebrated characters from Hundred Acre Wood depicted as the very creatures of childhood we remember them as in our mind’s eye.

Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin. This clever idea is refined into something much more. These two seemed to be like two peas in pod: dreamers in pursuit of nothing, happily stumbling upon something because sometimes something comes from nothing. And then the boy had to leave for boarding school and the greater world beyond and bid farewell to his childhood friends who had to stay behind. It is the grown-up Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor, who must reconcile his youthful dreams with his adult reality.

Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends.

A movie about an adult coming to terms with his childhood may sound a bit heavy but it fits right in with the Disney cornerstone of embracing childhood. Any family understands the delicate balancing act between honoring the needs of adults and children. Conflicts are never too far behind. Christopher Robin, the man, is up to his eyeballs in conflict as he juggles family life with corporate life. It is on the weekend that Christopher must work overtime on budget cuts, and most likely layoff workers, that Winnie-the-Pooh stumbles back into his life.

The beauty of this movie is in its understatement, alternating between a foggy and hectic post-war London to a foggy and mellow Hundred Acre Wood. And, at the heart of this low-key approach, is Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. These characters do not light up the screen with manic frenzy like in the Toy Story franchise. Even Tigger gives off a more ambiguous vibe. These characters are not supposed to be so much larger-than-life as part of the stuff of life. You have to experience the movie for yourself to truly appreciate it. Essentially, the characters have been brought down to a childhood scale: sort of rumpled up as if left out in the rain once or twice. They look and feel as if lived-in, as if personifying childhood: milk and cookies, warm pajamas, and bedhead. What could be more wonderful?

Whimsy and Quirk Butt Heads with Harsh Reality.

Ah, the conflict between adult reality and childhood dreams. Thankfully, Ewan McGregor is up to the task of playing a Peter Pan in reverse. He is definitely all grown up and now must struggle to rediscover his inner child. McGregor, a naturally athletic and playful actor, is certainly up to the task. Also compelling is Hayley Atwell as Evelyn Robin. And, as the heir to the Pooh childhood, Bronte Carmichael is enchanting as Madeline Robin. All in all, you have just the right level of whimsy and ethereal quirk. I should mention here that The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, written by Richard and Robert Sherman, gets it due as Tigger is easily triggered into singing it in any scene he’s in.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

For late summer entertainment, Christopher Robin is just right. Think of it as the other side of a coin that includes Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. While the Cruise flick is relentlessly action-packed, the McGregor flick is relentlessly contemplative, even a bit melancholic, but in a very good way. Come to think of it, even the Cruise movie has its share of wistful moments! Both star men who somehow manage to defy age. Both can be Peter Pan if they care to be. And both can certainly entertain.

Visit the official Christopher Robin site right here.

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Filed under Childhood, Disney, Family, Movie Reviews, movies, Winnie-the-Pooh

2018 ACE Comic Con in Seattle: June 22-24

2018 ACE Comic Con in Seattle

ACE Comic Con is coming to the Pacific Northwest! From June 22 – 24, you can see Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (Vision), and Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter – “Captain America”) of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe will join previously announced talent Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) at the WaMu Theater & CenturyLink Field Event Center, Seattle.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Chris Hemsworth has cancelled. Hemsworth tweeted his apologies citing last-minute scheduling conflicts that would prevent him from attending the first-ever ACE Comic Con at the WaMu Theater and CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. ACE said that two Marvel Avengers have been assembled to take Hemsworth’s place: Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) and Anthony Mackie (The Falcon).

Other confirmed guests include Grant Gustin (Barry Allen/The Flash) of CW’s “The Flash,” cast member Camila Mendes (Veronica Lodge) of CW’s “Riverdale,” and WWE Superstars Shinsuke Nakamura, Carmella and Becky Lynch.

ACE Comic Con

A sneak peek sample of special programming for the weekend includes:

A solo panel with Spider-Man’s Tom Holland
Vision & Scarlet Witch panel with Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen
Thor panel with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston
A solo panel with “Riverdale” star Camila Mendes
WWE Superstars discussing their journeys in and out of the ring

If you are in Seattle this weekend, be sure to visit ACE Comic Con.

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SIFF Review: EIGHTH GRADE

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade

An honest portrayal of youth can make for a revelatory and refreshing movie, which is exactly what Eighth Grade is. Written and directed by Bo Burnham, it follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) during her last five days in middle school. It is easily the highlight to this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

You have to let kids be kids, and then maybe some magic can happen. That is the approach Burnham takes while still being able to craft a finely-structured script beforehand. At the start, there is this jittery and spontaneous vibe as we see raw and pixelated footage of Kayla talking about herself and kids in general on her YouTube channel. She stammers, she seems to just speak in circles. But it’s all actually in the script, word for word–and wonderfully performed by Elsie Fisher. And then, as it was later revealed to the audience at SIFF, it was Fisher’s idea to add in her own trademark sign-off. She makes an O-kay sign and says, “Gucci.” 27-year-old Burnham claimed to not know the popular meme reference prior to 15-year-old Fischer offering it up.

To tap into vulnerable and awkward youth is one of those mighty artistic quests. As a celebrated multi-talent in his own right, Burnham is certainly up to that ambitious goal. For filmmakers and writers, it is a right of passage to answer the call to addressing the whole issue of coming of age. That has resulted in everything from George Lucas’s American Graffiti to Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Of course, the list goes on. Too often, such a teen flick is cast with older characters. You raise the bar higher when you have actors that are also actual teenagers, like in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club.

Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton in Eighth Grade

You feel like you want to protect Kayla as she ventures out, looking for love, friends, and a purpose in life. At first, I was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop and we find that Kayla is going to be setup and hurt along the lines of Stephen King and Brian De Palma’s Carrie. Well, for one thing, this movie definitely does not fall within the horror genre. Still, there’s that fear for Kayla along the lines of Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, with a wickedly unstable Ingrid played by Aubrey Plaza. What will help Kayla stay safe? Part of the answer is her father, Mark, played by Josh Hamilton. He ends up getting a healthy amount of screen time which is greatly deserved. By providing this warm and sensitive parent as a counterbalance, there are clear signs of hope beyond the rabbit hole of social media.

EIGHTH GRADE

After that first flickering image of young and desperate Kayla attempting to engage with the internet, there are various scenes that drive home the point that Kayla’s life is severely isolated. This begs the question of whether Kayla is closer to being an at-risk misfit or being a typical teen. What we come to find is that Kayla is indeed far more closer to what we are all like than we may care to admit. Kayla struggles to fit in with the “cool kids,” battles her painful shyness, and is mortified time and again on her journey of self-discovery. The coming-of-age theme is not the great Moby Dick prize for ambitious talent to harpoon for nothing. It IS the prize that can blind lesser aspirants. Burnham does well to let his young cast help him keep his clarity while he’s at the helm. In the end, we can all enjoy an authentic experience and give it an O-Kay sign and say, “Gucci.”

Eighth Grade goes into wide release in the U.S. on July 13, 2018.

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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, Social Media

Comics Review: XERXES: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DARIUS AND THE RISE OF ALEXANDER #1

Frank Miller is back, baby!

Frank Miller is back, baby! What a treat to see our Dark Knight master cartoonist returning to this long-awaited companion to his masterpiece, 300! As I like to point out, there’s nothing quite like having a masterful storyteller in charge of both the writing and the artwork. You have Greeks and Persians battling it out left and right, all following the vision of Miller. And, best of all, you really want to pick up this comic book in print form as it has a deluxe format. And it is colored by Alex Sinclair, the colorist for Miller’s Dark Knight Master Race, third installment of his Dark Knight Returns master trilogy.

XERXES #1

Frank Miller returns to the world of 300 with this sprawling historical epic! Persian King Xerxes sets out to conquer the world to avenge his father Darius’s defeat and create an empire, unlike anything the world has ever seen. That is until the hardy Greeks produce a god king of their own, Alexander the Great.

This is an utterly gorgeous work, right down to the lettering. While he could be using a font, I doubt it. This looks like hand-lettering, and we’re talking very precise and professional–with the added bonus of the artist in full control of where he wants his text boxes to hit in relation to compositions and action. Miller offers up plenty of compelling action sequences, by the way. It is a pleasure to linger over how to arranges his military formations, often alternating between crisp details set off by silhouettes. There is a genuine urgency here, a joy of cartooning that brings to mind such happy warriors as Jack Kirby and Stan Sakai. I love this book and can’t wait for more.

10/10

Back to 300!

XERXES #1 is available as of April 4, 2018. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Frank Miller

China the New Hollywood? And with Superhero Movies?!

THE ELECTRIC STATE, a graphic novel by Simon Stålenhag, soon to be a major motion picture.

China is the new Hollywood. Who knew? Big studio director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) left Hollywood in favor of China years ago. Indeed, China is the world’s fastest-growing movie market. That said, China is poised to deliver its own blockbuster. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, much depends upon the Russo Brothers. Never heard of them? Well, you’ve definitely heard of the movies they’ve directed for Marvel. You know, some of the ones starring Captain America and the whole merry crew of Avengers. They are currently completing the next installment, “Avengers: Infinity War,” due for release on April 27, 2018.

Abra, Odessa Young, Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse appear in Assassination Nation by Sam Levinson, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The Russo brothers have recently joined with Agbo, a production company backed by China’s largest private film company, Huayi Brothers Media Corp. The goal is for Agbo to make its own superhero movies and/or related blockbuster movies. However, just because you could bankroll a successful superhero movie doesn’t mean you have the golden touch. There’s a whole graveyard of clunker superhero movies backed by buckets of money. But Agbo has cherry picked from the best. They also have the writers from the next Avengers movie working on projects. And there have been some very interesting developments.

Directors Joe Russo, left, and brother Anthony Russo at a press event last year at Durham Cathedral in England, a location for their forthcoming ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ slated for release in April. PHOTO: MIRRORPIX/COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION

The most exciting project is an adaptation of “The Electric State,” a science-fiction graphic novel the brothers see as having franchise potential, directed by Andy Muschietti, best known for last year’s “It.”

Another exciting prospect, in conjunction with the new independent distributor Neon, is a $10 million buy for distribution rights to “Assassination Nation,” a teen-girl revenge thriller that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

So, China is the New Hollywood? Well, not exactly but definitely on the right track.

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Filed under China, graphic novels, movies, Superheroes

Rod Serling’s Original Planet Of The Apes Adaptation Comes To Life At BOOM! Studios

Planet of the Apes: Visionaries cover by Paolo Rivera

I have things I want to tell you and share with you–I’m that sort of guy. I value the time and effort involved in putting together any post that is more than just posting a press release–but sometimes you really can’t help yourself and you want to share a press release, especially one you may have missed. Any nerd worth their weight in gold can easily attest to the fact that Rod Serling was originally picked to write the screenplay for “Planet of the Apes.” But then, Hollywood being Hollywood, an opportunity at something deliciously original was pissed on. Well, they kept his idea of the Statue of Liberty sunk neck-deep on a beach. Fast forward, gulp, fifty frickin’ years and now we can enjoy a graphic novel adaptation of what Rod Serling would have done, had he been given the green light. Thanks to the bright minds at Boom! Studios, we will finally get what we should have gotten well-nigh a lifetime ago! Seek it out this August. Press release, as promised, follows:

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Filed under Boom! Studios, Comics, pop culture, Rod Serling

Emerald City Comicon 2018: March 1-4

Emerald City Comicon 2018: March 1-4

Emerald City Comicon is and integral part of the fabric of Seattle. It is a tradition that has grown and developed into an impressive and highly anticipated annual event. ECCC is one of the first, if not the first stop, for many creatives as they embark upon their comics convention tours–and a most welcome one. That has a lot to do with ReedPOP‘s leadership. And, of course, it has a lot to do with so many loyal fans of a uniquely Pacific Northwest celebration of pop culture. Maybe folks are more polite and mellow in this region. We won’t dissect it any further and just be grateful. Now is the time to get ready and to keep an eye out for updates on all things ECCC.

ECCC and SYFY WIRE

JENNIFER MORRISON at ECCC 2018

Whether it is a chance to see two of the legends from “Back to Future,” Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Tom Wilson (Biff Tannen) or a favorite talent at Artist Alley, there is something for everyone at ECCC.

BACK TO THE FUTURE at ECCC 2018

ECCC Artist Alley 2018

ECCC Artist Alley 2018

As usual, Comics Grinder will venture out and report back from various panels, activity on the showroom floor, and whatever should catch the eye. If you are in Seattle, and love comics and pop culture, then make sure to be part of Emerald City Comicon.

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Filed under Comics, ECCC, Emerald City Comicon, pop culture

Movie Review: BLACK PANTHER

BLACK PANTHER

Marvel Comics, and Marvel Studios, has a solid track record for keeping in step with the zeitgeist, sometimes with uncanny relevance. “Black Panther” arrives in theaters not a moment too soon. What gives this movie added significance is clear as day and it wears that role well with wit and grace. You know, the original Black Panther comic book came out at a fractured time such as we experience today. The first appearance of the character was in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) in the Silver Age of comic books. Fast forward to the present, and Black Panther is needed more than ever. Just look at this week’s TIME magazine with Chadwick Boseman gracing the cover. Yes, this is a significant movie now projected to take in about $165 million for the opening weekend.

You certainly don’t have to be a loyal geek follower of all things to do with Wakanda. You don’t need to already know about the origin story involving a magical meteor composed of the miracle element vibranium (more powerful than uranium) that collided thousands of years ago with the remote settlement of Wakanda and energized it into a super civilization. But now you know this. And it gets cooler. The story of Wakanda is a story of isolationism in reverse. As far as the outside world is concerned, Wakanda is one of the poorest countries in the world but, in fact, it is hiding the most sophisticated technology in the world. A monumental struggle plays out as rival forces fight for Wakanda’s destiny: will it guard or share its resources with the rest of humanity?

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman plays the role of the noble new king, the legendary Black Panther, easing his way beyond the borders of Wakanda. There are outsiders who have made off with chunks of vibranium and that threatens not only Wakanda but the whole planet. Then you add to the mix a ferocious challenger to the Black Panther’s crown and you have all the action you could hope to enjoy in one of these Marvel Comics epics.

Right up there with the action is a whole lot of heart. If you’re looking for an uplifting story, with compelling character-driven twists and turns, this is it. When you stop and think about it, Black Panther is reaching out to audiences on a similar genuine level as last year’s Wonder Woman. Both of these origin stories are wonderful comic book fantasy but also grounded with a hefty helping of food for thought, addressing heartbreaking struggle in the real world. That struggle continues, no doubt, and the burden is lifted just a bit, even if only for the length of a movie, if only for one child. The fact is that this movie will do quite a lot of people some good.

BLACK PANTHER

I will throw in a tiny tad of a spoiler. This isn’t really taking anything away but I just wanted to report back to you that the whole audience I was part of dutifully waited through the credits since we’ve all grown to rely upon some Marvel extras after the main show. And there are two so don’t leave too soon. Let’s just say there is a little more right at the end and then there’s the quick teaser at the very, very end. And I’ll just say here that it involves another nerdy fact: one of the materials used to construct Captain America’s shield is vibranium. It’s important to know that moving forward. Enough said.

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Filed under Black Panther, Comics, Marvel Comics, Movie Reviews, movies

Superhero Movies Face No Kryptonite as They Soar into 2018

A great year ahead for superhero movies.

Author: Anna Galich

When it comes to fighting for the share of a film audience, the battleground is extremely tough. However, amidst the blockbusters, period pieces, and Oscar fodder, one genre has risen above all others and against all odds reigned supreme both in terms of commercial success and cultural reception. That’s right, superhero movies provide us with some of the most lucrative and successful films in recent years, and their star is only going to continue to rise. But what does the future hold for superhero films? And will the current trajectory ever slow down?

Super Success

2017 was a good year for superhero flicks. According to Box Office Mojo Wonder Woman grossed $412,563,408, and was the 3rd highest grossing film of the year, while Thor: Ragnarok achieved $312,641,320 and 7th place, and Justice League closed out the Top 10. The success shows that superhero movies are still drawing in the public and achieving box office targets. As long as the targets are being met, the studios will still continue to produce films about superheroes. The first female-led superhero movie bolstered the position for DC, with Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman being highly praised – and with that success comes a possible new subgenre for countless other female superheroes who may have been overlooked over the years.

Hope for the Future

2018 looks to continue the rise of the superhero movie genre, with Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Ant-Man and the Wasp providing sequels of previously successful films. Based on the eponymous villain, Venom will offer an alternate view of the Spider-Man series – which itself received a revamp in 2017, replacing Andrew Garfield with Tom Holland for the Spider-Man Homecoming origin story. Revamps are common in the genre and actually in fitting with the comic books they are based on, which regularly kill off characters, such as when Spider-Man was killed in 2012 only to be revived again. The trick the studios have to pull is to stick to the genre’s roots while finding new and exciting ways to explore superhero backstories and mythos.

Fresh Meat

But with the regurgitation of heroes in sequel after sequel (Iron Man and Captain America both have 3 films each, with appearances in crossovers and the everyone-involved Avengers films), and the retelling of the same story (Spider-Man has had 3 different actors; Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland in only 15 fifteen years), there leaves little space for new superheroes to change the genre up. However, one hero, whose exploits were documented in the 1986 movie Highlander, is in the pipeline for a remake. The remake will introduce newer fans to the character, who already has a fan base and in niche areas even appeared as a popular game on the homepage of Betway Casino, featured as an online slot game. The game features content from the classic franchise and can give you a sense of how popular the movie (directed by Chad Stahleski of John Wick fame) will be.

Superhero movie franchises abound.

Franchise and Fans

The superhero movie continues to see a positive return at the box office due to the franchise nature of the genre. The films are based on premises, not plots, which are conducive to expanded arcs, backstories, and fleshed out worlds of characters long forgotten in comic books. As many are based on comic books, which have established audiences, and come from a genre, which also has dedicated fans, studios are more likely to produce superhero movies due to the likelihood of a higher turnout. The established fan base could explain why so many superhero films are given the green light, but easy fans wouldn’t account for the genuine financial success the films achieve.

Marvel vs DC

The Marvel vs DC battle, which dominates the comic world, and has begun to dominate the world of cinema, is another factor that keeps superhero films alive. If only one franchise existed, filmmakers could grow complacent and produce subpar stories knowing people will watch them. The healthy competition and so-called battle the companies are involved in helps keep each franchise fresh in order to stay ahead of the competition. With DC’s release of the Wonder Woman film, Marvel are already considering further exploring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in her own feature. The character starred in many of her own comics, which explored the backstory revealed in Age of Ultron. The opening of major action movies to female leads provides a wealth of avenues that the superhero films can go down – just don’t mention Halle Berry’s 2004 flop as Catwoman!

The Comic Book Industry

The superhero genre of films also helps keep the comic book industry alive. By introducing fans to a character, they can then delve into the entire back catalogue of that character, and everything they have done before. Given that many started in the 1950s, fans potentially have a large amount of material to sift through, helping to build the franchise effect that keeps audiences interested film after film.

The superhero genre, after years of hard work and failed attempts, has finally solidified itself as the head of the box office and a creator of sure-fire hits. The future of the genre looks bright, and filmmakers have to just decide which aspect to focus on. While flops can still occur, the unwavering success of the last spate of films shows just how successful the genre actually can be.

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Filed under Comics, Commentary, Guest Column, movies, superhero movies, Superheroes, Superman