The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had huge successes since the release of Iron Man in 2008. With two exceptions, this success came while using B-list characters. The exceptions are Captain America, mostly known through being a patriotic superhero, and the Incredible Hulk, thanks to the 1978 TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Thanks to some questionable deals made to keep the company afloat in the past, Marvel Studios didn’t have access to some better known characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men, both of whom had a number of animated series.
How did Marvel start dominating? As mentioned, Iron Man, while a member of the Avengers, wasn’t a well known character outside comic fandom. Tony Stark also has numerous flaws, like many Marvel heroes. He’s a hero despite the flaws. Marvel Studios did the one thing that could get positive attention – casting Robert Downey, Jr. Downey was ideal casting; he and Stark share a problem with addiction. At the time of casting, Downey had gotten through his addiction and recovered, a journey that Stark has troubles with in the comics. Downey took to the role, providing a human side to Stark, despite the flaws.
Casting continued in the same vein for the rest of the films leading up to The Avengers in 2012. The leads and supporting of the movies leading up to the 2012 film all fit the roles cast. Even in the following phases and into the TV series, the casting remained strong. Casting choices might be debatable at times, but the roles have been filled well. Casting, though, isn’t the only part of the success.
Casting is just the surface. Another element helping in Marvel’s success on the silver screen is the types of stories told. The Marvel movies aren’t just superhero films. They’ve been another genre with superheroes added. Iron Man was a techno-thriller with superheroes. Captain America: The First Avenger was a war movie with superheroes. It’s sequel, Captain America and the Winter Soldier was a political thriller with superheroes. Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera with superheroes. Ant Man was a heist movie with superheroes. The stories are wide ranging. Only the Avengers titled films – The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame – are pure superhero films. They are also the major crossovers, where all the characters appear onscreen together. This isn’t quite a parallel to the comics where crossovers affect every title and Iron Man can appear in his own title, Avengers, and guest star in a Spider-Man title all in the same month. It is close enough, but the crossover is self-contained except for some plot points being set up in the movies leading up to the instalment.
The mix of genres lets each Marvel movie look and feel different, even if the same beats are being used. Captain America had a different tone compared to Ant Man. If someone doesn’t like the genre of film, there’s still the draw of superheroes, or the choice of skipping in favour of a preferred genre. The additional genres gives audiences something else to look forward to, and be able to follow the plot even when the superheroics go off the beaten path.
This mix carries over to the Disney+ series. Wandavision uses classic sitcoms to tell its story. Hawkeye is essentially a Hallmark Christmas special with superheroes. The current series, Moon Knight begins as a horror series. There’s more to the series than superheroic battles; the fights are icing to a multi-layered cake.
The use of B-listers is another facet of Marvel’s success. As mentioned above, with the exception of the Hulk and Captain America, Marvel Studio’s success has come despite the use of lesser known characters. However, since they are lesser known, that gives the cast, crew, writers, and directors a free hand to explore the characters and the setting and put a new twist in without worrying about canon. Moon Knight is the ultimate blank slate here; the character has had a number of different origins that at times conflicted that the TV series can pick and choose details and not worry about getting anything wrong.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been dominating the box office since the release of Iron Man. The secret to Marvel’s success is to have interesting, flawed characters in well written works where the story melds another genre with superheroics. While there are rumblings that the general public is getting tired of superheroics, audiences still go out to watch Marvel’s cinematic works, in part because the films aren’t just about superheroes being superheroes.
Marvel Comics’ has an eclectic team with the Avengers. Brought together because of the threat of Kang the Conqueror, six heroes pulled together to defeat the villain. Hulk was the first to leave, but not the last. Of the original team, Captain America was the last to remain as Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, and Wasp all left for various reasons. Replacing them were the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye, all three of whom were once on the wrong side of the law. Siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Hawkeye, however, began his career as a plain criminal.
Clint Barton grew up as a carny. He grew up hard of hearing thanks to abuse from his father. In the carnival, Clint was trained by the villainous Swordsman to be a criminal. Clint took to archery, using trick arrows. However, he did turn his life around and impressed Cap enough to be invited to become an Avenger. When Cap left the team, Hawkeye stepped up to become its leader.
In his time as a superhero, Clint has taken on many names besides Hawkeye, including Goliath and Ronin. He is the utility infielder of the Avengers, capable of taking on any role needed, including leadership. Hawkeye started up a West Coast branch of the Avengers, consisting of his then-wife Mockingbird, Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, and Hank Pym as a reservist. The team broke up, being replaced by Force Works, but eventually, even that disbanded and Hawkeye returned to being an Avenger.
After the Civil War, the Avengers at one point disappeared and were presumed dead. A group of teenagers with similar abilities, at least superficially, stepped up to take on the role of the missing heroes. Among them was Kate Bishop. Like Clint, Kate had no powers but had dedicated her life to being the best archer she could. When the team broke into the remains of Avengers Mansion, Kate grabbed some gear for herself, including Hawkeye’s bow and Mockingbird’s escrima sticks. The Young Avengers also had to deal with Kang the Conqueror, and managed to defeat the threat much like the original team.
It turned out that the Avengers weren’t dead. Clint found out about Kate and, as Ronin, tested her, then gave her a card with a date, time, and location. The pair teamed up to infiltrate a black market auction and managed to rob the robbers who were robbing the auction where the heads of several major Marvel crime organizations were attending. This act gets Clint and Kate on the wrong side of the Russian mob, notable for their track suits and their vocabulary mostly limited to, “bro.” In a fight against the track suits, one throws a dog into traffic, which did not sit well at all with Clint. He defeated the mob and took the dog to the vet, where he had to fight off the Russians again.
The 2012 Hawkeye series tells the tale of what happens to Clint, Kate, the dog, the Russians, the organized crime gangs, and how Clint learns that he doesn’t have to prove to anyone, including himself, that he belongs on the Avengers. Kate uses her skills to infiltrate Madame Masque’s organization, earning the wrath of the Contessa and of the local police. With help, Clint and Kate defeat the mob that says “Bro”, but are left with being targeted by the collective ire of Marvel’s criminal underworld.
During the lead up to Christmas of 2021, Disney+ aired Hawkeye, a six-part series featuring Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. Jeremy Renner reprises his role as Clint, having first played the character in the 2011 film, Thor, though uncredited, then again in the 2012 Avengers. Hailee Steinfield, who starred in Bumblebee and voiced Spider-Gwen in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is Kate Bishop. The rest of the cast includes Linda Cardellini as Clint’s wife Laura, Vera Farmiga as Kate’s mother Eleanor, Tony Dalton as Eleanor’s fiancé Jack Duquesne, Alaqua Cox as Maya, Fra Free as Kazi, and Florence Pugh as Yelena.
The series begins in 2012 during the Chitauri invasion of New York City, a young Kate (played by Clara Stack), is in her parents’ home in Manhattan, not far from the fighting. Figures whiz by the windows, catching young Kate’s attention. Once she figures out what is happening, she runs downstairs, only to have a wall destroyed in front of her. As she stares at the battle, a Chitauri sees her and flies towards her. In the background, though, Hawkeye notices and leaps off the the building he’s on and fires an arrow to destroy the alien’s flying cycle. Kate notices who just saved her life.
In the years since, Kate pushed herself physically, winning archery and martial arts competitions. She wanted to be as good as her personal hero, Hawkeye. Kate gets volunteered by her mother to help at a charity. Not one to leave well enough alone and suspicious of her mother’s fiancé, she follows Jack down to the basement and discovers a black market auction. On offer, items removed from Avengers Mansion. A third party, the Tracksuit Mafia, aka the Russians who say “Bro,” attack. Meanwhile, Clint, is trying to have a good Christmas with his family, though Rogers: The Musical isn’t helping. He hears about the fighting, packs his kids into a cab, then rushes to find out what’s going on. At the core of the fight are three items, a watch and the sword and costume of Ronin, a hero known in criminal circles for killing gang members.
The Tracksuit Mafia manage to get the watch. Jack picks up Ronin’s sword, far cheaper than bidding on it, and Kate uses Ronin’s costume to hide her own identity. Clint sees the costume and goes after the new Ronin, only to be surprised that she’s a fan of his. He sends his kids on home ahead of him to deal with the new situation, with the goal of getting home before Christmas. He and Kate investigate, running into Maya and her Tracksuit Mafia, Yelena who has a beef against Clint over her sister Natasha, and a group of boffer LARPers.
The series takes its cues from the 2012 Hawkeye series. However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has long gone in its own direction. Clint Barton is a former SHIELD agent, not a former carny. The Avengers have not died or gone into hiding. There are no Young Avengers. So some things do need to change. That said, the 2021 series still has elements that appeared in the comic. The Tracksuit Mafia, the Russians who say, “Bro,” are a main threat. Clint and Kate wind up sharing the “Hawkeye” moniker. The car chase in the third episode does feature four cars chasing Clint and Kate and a 1972 cherry red Challenger. However, it’s Kate firing the arrows, but she does still complain about Clint not labelling what each one is.
Both Clint and Kate have a character arc. His is to come to grips with his past, both being Ronin and the loss of Natasha Romanov. Kate learns that her family has secrets that need to be brought out to the light of day. Both learn how to work together, much to the Russian mob’s dismay.
The series also makes the best use of Christmas music since Die Hard. Traditional Christmas music and more modern classics like “Linus & Lucy” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr., Grinch” act at times to set the scene and other times to create a mood whiplash to drive home what happened.
While not a one-to-one adaptation of the 2012 comic series, the 2021 Hawkeye series keeps to the tone of the original, a mix of humour, action, and drama, with the main characters, Kate and Clint, recognizable. The credits use a similar art style to the covers of the 2012 comics. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but with the MCU going its own way, it comes close. As a series on its own merits, it is worth watching.
And if you watch the series, don’t turn off the credits at the end of the sixth and final episode. There is a mid-credits sequence worth watching for its audacity.
In the past fifteen years, Marvel has made strides with theatrical releases. Iron Man, released 2008, paved the way for a number of movies that are now part of The Avengers Initiative. However, during that time, superheroes on television have been the realm of DC, starting with Arrow in 2012. The Arrowverse, though, was separate from DC’s cinematic universe.
Disney’s acquistion of Marvel in 2009 would become a game changer. Disney has the money to spend to compete. Disney also has the money to buy the competition. The company’s acquisition of Fox and its subsidiaries took two years with the transition ending in 2019. However, before the acquisition, Fox managed to make one of the most comic book movies ever, Deadpool. The other most comic book movie ever is, of course, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, distributed by Universal Pictures. Once Disney had Fox’s assets, could Marvel Studios make a comic book TV series?
Enter Vision and the Scarlet Witch. Both characters have extensive history in the Marvel comics. Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, has been both hero and villain. She was once a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants under Magneto and later a member of the Avengers and its spin-off team, the Avengers West Coast. In both cases, she was with her twin brother, Pietro, aka Quicksilver. Wanda’s powers, her mutant ability to manipulate probability combined with witchcraft, put her as one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. The Vision is a synthezoid, a synthetic android with a Solar Gem that provides him sentience. He was built by the villainous sentient robot, Ultron, using the template of the original Human Torch android and was given the goal of destroying the Avengers. The Vision’s powers include superhuman strength and reflexes, a durable body shell, and the ability to control his density from superdense to intangible.
Wanda and Vision met as Avengers, fell in love, and got married, becoming one of the rare superhero couples, though the West Coast Avengers also had Hawkeye and Mockingbird. As a couple, they had two volumes of their own series, Vision and the Scarlet Witch, for a total of 16 issues combined. In the second volume, Wanda became pregnant with twins. However, her happiness didn’t last long. Vision was destroyed and rebuilt, now with chalk white skin and no emotions or memories. Wanda’s twins later started to disappear, leading to a string of nannies at the West Coast Avengers’ compound in California. After consulting with Agatha Harkness, it was determined that Wanda’s children weren’t real, created by her desires and her powers but with no substance when her attention was focused elsewhere.
Team superhero titles are soap operas, really.
All of the above leads to WandaVision, a nine episode series on Disney+ first available September 2021. WandaVision stars Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda, Paul Bettany as Vision, Kathryn Hahn as Agnes, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, Randall Park as Jimmy Woo, and Kat Dennings as Dr. Darcy Lewis. The first episode begins with the usual Marvel Studios bumper, but at the end, it switches to 1.33:1 aspect ratio instead of widescreen, black & white instead of colour, and mono instead of stereo. The episode itself is homage to sitcoms of the 50s, particularly The Dick van Dyke show, and shows the titular couple trying to live a mundane life in the sleepy town of Westfield. The effects reflect the era; no CGI for Wanda’s magic, just wires.
The second episode brings the show up to the 60s, in the style of Bewitched. However, little things start looking odd for Wanda, such as a red helicopter with a sword logo landing in her front yard. very odd, considering the show was in back and white until the final minutes when colour appeared. The colour remains for the third episode, now in the 70s and in the style of The Brady Bunch. Wanda has television’s fastest pregnancy, giving birth to twins at the end of the episode.
Episode four goes behind the scenes of Wanda’s show, with a look at what’s happening outside Westfield. A barrier surrounds the town in the shape of a hexagon. Agents from both the FBI, including Jimmy Woo, and SWORD, the Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division, Monica Rambeau’s agency, are trying to figure out what is going on inside the hex. One of the scientists, Dr. Darcy Lewis, examines the wavelengths emitted and finds one worth tapping into. The wavelength requires and older TV, but once it’s on, Darcy is able to watch WandaVision.
Episode five returns into Wanda’s show, this time in the style of Family Ties from the 80s. As the episode title says, it’s, “A Very Special Episode”, with the twins aging up, twice. As with any very special epiusode from the 80s, a tragedy happens, and Wanda has to help her boys cope with the loss. The next episode leads into the 90s, with shows like The Wonder Years, and Wanda starting to notice that things aren’t going as expected. Episode seven leads to the 00s and reality television and the return of Wanda’s brother Pietro, who was killed in Avengers: Age of Ultron. However, Pietro is played by Evan Peters, the Quicksilver of the X-Men films.
The final two episodes pull all the strings together, with the eight episode ending in the reveal of the villain. The final episode has Wanda fighting for not just her life, but the life of the citizens of Westfield, Vision, and her twins, and, ultimately, her own sanity. The entire series is about Wanda and her grief over the loss of the people she loves, her parents, her brother, her husband, and her children, and learning more about her abilities. The sitcom reality she created was based on what she watched to escape reality as a child, and what she watched with Vision as they fell in love. But her fantasy held people prisoner, hurting them unknowingly while she grieved.
WandaVision shows the strengths of streaming. There is no need to add extra episode to suit the requirements of a network series of being a set episode length for twenty-two episodes. Each episode of WandaVision was the length it needed to be, and nine episodes was the right number to have. Without the restrictions, the writers could get everything they needed to get in, including era-appropriate ads, to get the surface plot and the underlying arc all worked in without stretching or squeezing.
Casting is also important. Olsen and Bettany had chemistry as Wanda and Vision. Without that chemistry, WandaVision would not have had the impact it had. The two portrayed the superheroic couple as a couple, with all the quirks couples have. Even as events started turning dark, the love between Wanda and Vision still shone through. The supporting cast was also key, especially in the town of Westfield, where the characters change by the era of the episode.
The plot takes its cue from the pages of both Vision and the Scarlet Witch and West Coast Avengers/Avengers West Coast. WandaVision is a far better approach to the ideas than what appeared in the comics, really. What helped is that the writing staff was all on the same page with WandaVision, while a change of writer from Steve Englehart to John Byrne led to the massive changes in Vision and to Wanda’s twins. Even given the differences from Marvel’s main 616 universe and the cinematic universe, WandaVision is the better story. Wanda has agency and growth. Vision’s fight with his rebuilt version comes down to philosophy and a discussion of the Ship of Theseus.
WandaVision, as an adaptation, has the task of taking a character arc from the late 80s and bringing it over to a cinematic universe that has been going in its own direction for over a decade while still being fresh. The result is a mini-series that has the twists of the comics while still taking advantage of the medium of television, especially its evolution since the 50s, and improving on the orignal ideas as present in the pages of the original comics.
Lost in Translation continues its retrospective with a fresh look at comic book adaptations.
There has been some uproar in the past few years about the number of adaptations being made by Hollywood. Looking at the past decade, there were no original works among the popular movies, with fourteen adaptations. Of those adaptations, eight came from comic books. Chances are good that if those eight were from a more literary source, which also excludes such genres such as science fiction & fantasy, romance, and all of young adult, there wouldn’t be an outcry.
But comic books are low brow, and thus are looked down on. Comics are for the masses. The studios, though, need the masses to be profitable. Some obscure yet acclaimed literary work just won’t hit screens outside specialty theatres. This isn’t to say that a comic book movie can’t be deep or moving. The issue is accessibility to the general public.
However, superhero movies, separating them from other comic book movies, are spectaculars. They’re big, loud, and filled with explosions. And they’re not going away, not anytime soon. Marvel is having a renaissance with its cinematic universe. DC is having success with the Arrowverse on TV. Until both Marvel and DC have a run of flops, they’re going to keep creating movies and TV series.
The advantage of comic books is that they are already a visual medium. The books can be used as a storyboard; this is what essentially happened with Scott Pilgrim vs the World. There’s no need to hunt through a tome to find descriptions of characters; they’re all there on the page. Superhero comics are built on action and drama with some titles having soap opera levels of inter[character conflict. Everything that a work would want to have.
The disadvantage, though, is that comics have a lot going on that just can’t fit into a 2 to 2.5 hour movie. The more characters there are to spotlight, the less that can be showcased. Finite time requires details to be dropped. With a TV series, there is more time to expand beyond the basics, but the budget per episode can’t match what a studio can throw at a blockbuster. There’s give and take.
One problem that’s starting to creep in that plagues long standing ongoing comics is continuity lockout. New readers can find that details a story leans on is in a hard-to-find long out-of-print issue. Crossovers bring their own problems. A storyline that requires readers to search for the other titles involved is a marketing move to generate more sales by introducing new readers to other titles. The drawback is that if a crossover goes on too long, the regular stories in a title get shunted to the side, especially in a company-wide crossover. Too many interruptions in the regular storyline will drive readers away.
With the Marvel movies, if someone missed a film leading to an Avengers movie, they may not know who a character is and why that character was there. Thanks to some deals made, Marvel Studios doesn’t have access to every Marvel character, most notably mutants related to the X-Men. Yes, there are exceptions, thanks to how fluid teams are in the Marvelverse, which causes headaches in lawyers and writers. Right now, most of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are origin stories, so not knowing how, say, Ant-Man became a hero isn’t important. Missing Captain America: Civil War could affect how a view sees the subsequent Avengers film.
It’s a balancing act. A shared universe means that characters can and will interact. Fans will try to get out to all the films, but it is possible to miss one, either due to timing, budget, or pandemic, and audiences shouldn’t feel like they’re missing a chunk because they weren’t interested in or able to see a specific film.
As with anything, if something is popular, Hollywood will exploit it. Right now, superheroes are big and are in no hurry to leave. They’re filling the role that the Western and the police investigation used to have, with none of the baggage of either. Non-superhero comics can and will slip in with some members of the audience none the wiser. There is plenty of depth to plumb from the medium. We should expect more adaptations and works inspired by comics to keep appearing for some time yet.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been successful with characters that the general public is mostly unaware of, including Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Wildly successful despite licensing their heavy hitters – Spider-Man and the X-Men – to other studios. The early successes came from recognizing that each character had an implied style; Iron Man fits naturally into a techno-thriller while Thor is epic fantasy and Black Panther is ideal for Afrofuturism. Marvel Studios is willing to give lesser known characters a chance as a result, allowing the mixing of superhero with another genre.
Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales issue 110 in 1963, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Doctor Stephen Strange was a top surgeon in New York City, with the arrogance to go with it. However, with pride comes a fall, and the greater the pride, the greater the fall. For Strange, he had a long drop. After a car accident where he drove off the cliff, Strange found his career ended thanks to hands too damaged for even the second best surgeon to heal fully.
Unable to accept his fate, Strange exhausted his wealth to find a way to heal his hands. When Western medicine provided no hope, he switched to Eastern and learned of Kamar-Taj in Tibet. Spending the last of his wealth to get there, he scoured Tiber until he found the Ancient One, the master of Kamar-Taj. The Ancient One refused to heal Strange’s hands and instead offered to teach the doctor about mysticism, which he turned down. However, thanks to a freak blizzard, Strange couldn’t leave. He discovered that the Ancient One’s apprentice, Baron Mordo, was trying to take over Kamar-Taj. Mordo discovered Strange knew about his plans and restrained him with magic. The Ancient One was too powerful for Mordo to overcome, though.
Having witnessed the power of magic, Strange changed his mind about learning mysticism, reasoning that the only way to stop Mordo was to learn magic himself. After years of study, Strange mastered magic and became the Ancient One’s successor to being Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange returned to New York, his hands healed thanks to his mastery of magic. He settled in the Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village along with Wong, whose family line served the Ancient One during his six hundred year lifetime. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange fought such beings as Loki, the Dread Dormammu, Satannish, and the Undying Ones, along with more terrestrial threats like Baron Mordo and Kaecilius, defending the Earth alone and along side teams like the Avengers and the Defenders.
In 2016, the character got his own film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, Doctor Strange also starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Benedict Wong as Wong. The film acts as Strange’s origin story, showing how he went from arrogant surgeon to Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange’s fall is straight from the comic, updated to reflect today’s technology. He is still the top surgeon, he still is arrogant, and he still has a car accident that destroys the function in his hands. This time, the reason for the crash is him trying to use his smartphone while driving. Strange spends his wealth and uses his research skills to try to find a way to heal his hands so that he can return to work. Western medicine again fails, leading Strange to seek out Kamar-Taj.
The search leads to Kathmandu, where Strange meets Mordo. Mordo leads him to where the Ancient One awaits. Strange is hesitant, not believing in mysticism, and gets kicked out of the Ancient One’s building. However, the doctor is persistant, staying outside day and night until let back in. The persistance pays off, and Strange is taken to Kamar-Taj. Strange is put through training, having to learn to accept the idea that magic is real. But once he gets past that hurdle, his learning accelerates.
Kaecilius is the main problem. While the world is unaware, Kaecilius is working with the Dread Dormammu to weaken the mystic shields protecting Earth. His first attempt to weaken the shields failed; the Ancient One is very capable of self-defense, and decapitation is difficult against a master of the mystic arts. Kaecilius is aware of another way to bring down the shields. There are three Sancta Santorum – one in London, one in Hong Kong, and one in Greenwich Village. When Kaecilius strikes in London, the Ancient One, Strange, and Mordo arrive too late to stop the destruction. During the fight, Strange gets flung through a portal and winds up in the Greenwich Village Sanctum Santorum.
Strange has some time to recover and explores the building. He is somewhat surprised to see that he is back in New York City but takes advantage of the time he has. When Kaecilius and his minions arrive, Strange is somewhat prepared. One of the minions winds up stranded in the Sahara Desert, and the Cloak of Levitation breaks free to help Strange fight the invaders. Kaecilius does wound Strange before leaving.
Thanks to his new knowledge, Strange is able to get to the hospital he used to work at and convince a former co-worker to begins surgery to save his life. He even helps by astrally projecting to give pointers. Kaecilius’ other minion, who was left behind at the Sanctorum, manages to follow Strange to the hospital. There is a fight on the astral, but when Strange begins to flatline, his co-worker shocks him. The electrical energy passes through the astral and into the minion. Strange works out the implications and tells her to up the amperage. The next shock kills the minion, which causes Strange to question himself. While he was arrogant as a surgeon, he did believe in the Hippocratic Oath, particularly, “Do no harm.”
Strange isn’t given time to work things out. The Hong Kong Sanctorum is under attack. By the time Mordo and Strange arrive, it’s too late; the building has collapsed. Strange, not wanting to kill anyone and not wanting Earth open to the Dread Dormammu, uses forbidden sorcery, temporal sorcery, through the Eye of Agamotto. The destruction starts to reverse, but Dormammu, coming from a timeless dimension, is not stopped. Strange decides to take the fight to Dormammu, bringing along time. It doesn’t matter how many times Dormammu kills him, Strange keeps looping in time. Dormammu finally bargains with Strange and Earth is saved.
The mid-credits sequence sees Strange talking with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about being extra-dimensional beings and asking when he will go home. Thor replies that he and his brother, Loki, are searching for their father, Odin. Once Odin is found, all three will return to Valhalla. The post-credit sequence has Mordo beginning a crusade against sorcerers, especially those who break the laws of magic.
Casting for Doctor Strange is perfect. Cumberbatch has the proper look for the character, and the costume doesn’t need as much CGI or skintight material as characters like Spider-Man and Deadpool, Cloak of Levitation aside. Even with a lesser known character, accuracy does help sell the adaptation. As an origins story, things are being set up, so what is shown at the beginning isn’t what Doctor Strange is during the run of the titles he appears in. His most obvious magic items, the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto, are there.
There are some changes made to the background, though minor. Mordo and Strange aren’t rivals at Kamar-Taj, but break apart because of Strange’s use of forbidden sorcery. Strange’s hands aren’t fully healed, but he’s working on strengthening them. The key element of Strange’s background, though, remains intact – the pride, the fall, and the atonement, all done with a fantasy backdrop.
Marvel Studios is well aware that their success has been from being able to adapt titles from the comic page to the silver screen without compromising the characters. Fans and the general public alike can enjoy what’s onscreen. Doctor Strange is no different. The changes are minor and the film delivers a spectacle.
Hello! It has been a while. The reason will be after the review. Suffice to say, it’s been too long, but Lost In Translation is back.
The X-Men have been around a while. Originally created in 1963 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the Children of the Atom consisted of Cyclops, Angel, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and Beast, with Professor X being the team’s mentor. The team evolved over time, with members coming and going along with the writers. Chris Claremont picked up the writing of the comic and would go on to be the longest serving contributor to X-Men lore. Under Claremont, the comic became a super-powered soap opera, as the characters dealt with threats to mutant-kind while bickering amongst themselves.
The various X-titles explored what it was like for outsiders in society. Readers could fill in whatever blank the X-Men filled, whether it’s being Black, Jewish, gay, or trans. The X-Men are Marvel’s outsiders, the ones who don’t fit in to what society accepts as normal. X2: X-Men United plays it up with Bobby coming out to his parents as a mutant. Magneto, one of the best known antagonists of the team, shares the Profiessor X’s goal of having mutants seen as humanity’s equal but is more extreme in how he goes about reaching that goal.
The X-Men have had a number of adaptations, including four animated series, three movies as a team, four prequel films, three featuring Wolverine, two featuring Deadpool, and one featuring the New Mutants, spinning off from the original three movies. There was still one area not yet exploited, the anime segment. This in 2011, along with several other adaptations of Marvel titles, X-Men Animated Series (エックスメン) was created. The twelve episode series was a co-production between Marvel, Sony, and anime studio Madhouse, with Warren Ellis co-writing the story.
The anime uses the team of Cyclops, Storm, Beast, Wolverine, and Professor X. and introduces Emma Frost and Armor as new members during the run of the series. The series begins with the death of Jean Grey, with Cyclops agonizing over having to kill her before the Dark Phoenix runs amok. Jean dies by another’s hand. The story then skips a year. Mutants are disappearing in the Tōhoku region in northeastern Japan, near an area the even Cerebro cannot scan. Xavier sends the team to investigate. During the investigation, the team discovers that the U-Men are active in the area, abducting mutants to harvest their organs.
The team manages to rescue one of the missing mutants, Ichiki Hisato, but is too late for the other, who transforms into a monster and needs to be killed to be stopped. The team also finds Emma Frost, formerly of the Hellfire Club‘s Inner Circle. Frost was also seen by Cyclops in Jean’s mindscape just before her death, so he’s not inclined to trust her. Hisako then manifests her power, psychic armour that augments her strength.
A new problem also manifests – Damon-Hall Syndrome, a syndrome that causes mutants to gain a second set of powers. Emma gains the ability to turn her skin diamond hard. However, if the syndrome is allowed to continue, the infected mutant will lose control. Beast begins work to create a vaccination to stop the syndrome and begins inoculations.
Adding the the X-Men’s problems, when using Cerebro, Professor X keeps running across a young boy instead of what he is looking for. The young boy says nothing, adding to Xavier’s mystery. Xavier’s ex-lover, Sasaki Yui, is also in the area, working with the area’s mutants in a similar way that Xavier’s School for Gifted Children does with one difference; Yui’s research has come up with an experimental medication that is supposed to suppress mutant powers. The actual result, though, is that the medication is a viral mutagen.
The various elements come together for the climax, as the villain behind the U-Men reveals himself and the young boy haunting Xavier appears. Ultimately, it is not a super-powered battle that determines who wins, but the power of love and friendship saving the day.
One thing Marvel does with its various non-comic works is set them in alternative universes. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is listed as Earth-TRN700. The X-Men anime is listed as Earth-101001, allowing for changes to characters as needed. However, the characters are recognizable. Storm’s appearance follows Halle Barry in the X-Men movies, no mohawk here. Characterization follows the comics and other X-Men spin-offs, with tension between Cyclops and Wolverine, Logan’s short temper, and Beast’s wisdom. Even the villains hold to the comics, from the Hellfire Club to the U-Men, who almost turn the series into body horror.
The biggest change is art style. Anime brings in its own set of assumptions and tropes. However, so does Marvel’s art style in its comics, with that style constantly evolving. The regular characters are recognizable, though the anime style can be seen in the body horror of the altered mutants and U-Men.
Overall, the anime builds from the comic and the movies. Characterization and character designs follow what has been established, with changes as needed for the shift in medium. The series uses a different villain than seen in other X-Men adaptations, which makes for a refreshing change of pace. There are some changes to canon, such as Xavier’s relationship with Yui, but with Marvel designating the different adaptations as separate, alternate universes, the differences can be smoothed over. Overall, the X-Men anime is a good adaptation of the X-Men franchise.
As for the extended hiatus, I wound up catching COVID-19 mid-January. I wasn’t bedridden, nor on oxygen, but in the worst of it, I was spending half the day in bed, waking up to try to eat something. I wound up losing some of the weight I gained during the pandemic lockdown, but I really don’t recommend this method. I was under mandatory quarantine from the 26th until end of day of the 31st after a positive test. Not that I was capable of going anywhere during that time. I suspect I had just a mild case of COVID-19, with just lingering after effects, including a persistent cough and fatigue that’s finally going away. My apologies for the extended disappearance, but it couldn’t have been helped.
Lost in Translation has covered several Spider-Man adaptations in the past, including Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and its reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Both focused on Peter Parker, the Spider-Man introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man is Marvel’s flagship character. Whenever a new character gets a title, Spider-Man is there to reinforce the idea that the hero is part of the Marvel Universe. As a result, Spidey has met most of Marvel’s heavy hitters, from the Avengers to the X-Men. New York City may be a large city, but heroes will cross each others’ paths.
Peter, though, isn’t the only Spider-Man in Marvel Comics. Thanks to alternate universes, there can be an infinite number of Spider-Men. Indeed, some are from a different Marvel Universe, like the Spectacular Spider-Ham, who first appeared in Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham; Spider-Gwen, the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 who became Spider-Woman, as seen in Edge of Spider-Verse #2; and Miles Morales, from Marvel’s Ultimate line, who took up the mantle of Spider-Man after Peter Parker died, as seen in Ultimate Fallout #4. In a possible future of the main Marvel Universe, Miguel O’Hara becomes Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2099. In the main continuity, Dr. Otto Octavius, Doc Octopus himself, once took over Peter’s body to become the Superior Spider-Man. And that’s just scratching the surface of Spider-Men, not even touching the versions that have appeared in animated series, in live action film and TV, and in video games, nor the Spider-related characters, like Spider-Woman, Venom, and Araña. Marvel released a limited series, Edge of the Spider-Verse, that featured stories of the various version of Spider-Man, bringing them together to fight the dangers of the Inheritors across the Marvel Multiverse.
Marvel does track its multiverses. Anything done under a Marvel logo, be it film, TV, or streaming, Even the company’s comics that aren’t part of the main continuity, like the New Universe and the mangaverse, are part of the overall multiverse. The Peter Parker from the classic cartoon is a different one from Tobey Maguire’s in the Raimi Spider-Man, who is a different one from the main continuity, but they are all Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
Pulling even a fraction of all the available Spider-People is daunting. The general audience is most familiar with Peter Parker, thanks to decades of him being the face of Spider-Man outside comics. Fans will know of the others, but the rest of the movie-going public might not. With a runtime of just under two hours, there’s not much space to introduce all of them in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, even if the number of alternate Spider-Beings is limited.
Into the Spider-Verse opens with Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine) introducing himself as Spider-Man, giving a brief rundown on who he is and what he’s done for ten years, with scenes taken from the various Spider-Media, from comics to film, and the different tie-ins, like the classic cartoon and a Christmas album. Once Peter’s intro is done, though, the focus turns to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a high school student just starting at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions, a private school that only takes the best and brightest. Miles aced the entrance exam, but isn’t sure that he belongs there. At one point, he tries failing a true/false test, getting a zero. His teacher saw through it, though.
Miles’ life is complicated, like most teenagers’ lives are. He does wind up talking to another new student, “Wanda” (Hailee Steinfeld), who laughed at his lame excuse for being late for science class. Miles also sneaks out to meet up with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who shows him a safe spot to practice his graffiti. Aaron still has a shady side gig, the point where he and Miles’ father, police officer Jeff Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) have had arguments about leading to estrangement. As Miles works on his latest project, a radioactive spider, having escaped from Alchemex, lurks, eventually biting the teen.
The next day, the effects of the spider’s bite appear. Miles’ thoughts seem loud to him and are appearing on screen around him. His attempt to put to use some advice his uncle gave him on talking to girls fail horribly with Wanda when his hand gets stuck in her hair, leading to an impromptu haircut for her and stony silence for him. With nothing going right, Miles returns to his dorm room and flips through is roommate’s comics, finding the first Spider-Man comic and realizes that he’s having the same thoughts and problems the Peter Parker in the comic is having. Miles returns to the underground chamber where his artwork is and finds the dead spider. He then hears a fight nearby.
Spider-Man has located the Kingpin’s secret facility, being used to breach dimensional barriers to bring back Fisk’s deceased wife and son. The problem that Spidey has realized is that the device could collapse the space-time continuum, destroying not just Brooklyn, but multiple dimensions. Fisk’s device manages to lock on five other universes before Spider-Man can stop the process. The fight, though, leaves Spider-Man badly hurt. Spidey hands the key that can destroy the device to Miles, who sneaks away. Before he leaves, though, Miles witnesses Kingpin dealing the death blow to Spider-Man.
When news gets out about the hero’s death, New York City mourns. Peter Parker was well respected as both himself and as Spidey. His widow, Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz), is surrounded by well wishers. Miles, still in shock and feeling responsible, attends funeral in the crowd in a cheap costume. He tries to train alone, but while he has Spider-Man’s agility, the rest isn’t there yet. To try to work out his thoughts, he heads to Peter’s gravestone. While there, a stranger approaches him. Miles reacts instinctively, knocking out the man. When he gets a closer look, he discovers that it’s a brunette Peter.
Once he recovers, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), goes through the same intro Miles’ Peter had at the beginning, except this Spider-Man had been around for over twenty-five years, had been married to MJ but later divorced and hadn’t been taking it well. He’s older, heavier, and not quite on his game. The two head out to Alchemex’s headquarters in Harper Valley, where the plan is for Peter to sneak in, retrieve the files needed to recreate the key, now broken after Miles ran from Fisk’s henchmen, grab a bagel, and sneak out. Nothing in Peter B. Parker’s life ever goes smooth. He runs into Fisk’s chief researcher and Brooklyn Visions guest physics lecturer, Doctor Olivia “Liv” Octavius, Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) herself.
Miles and Peter escape the facility, lugging a desktop PC while being chased by armed mad scientists and Doc Ock as Miles is being taught how to use Peter’s web shooter. The competency of Miles’ late Spider-Man, though, means that the villains had to up their own game, and the pair are in deep trouble. However, a newcomer swings in to help. Spider-Woman, from another of the five dimensions, saves the boys and retrieves the computer before Doc Ock could grab it. “Wanda”, or, as she should be called, Gwen Stacy, gives her own backstory in the same manner as both Spider-Men before, this time with her own dimension’s Peter Parker having been the Lizard.
The three decide that the best place to try to figure things out is at the home of Peter’s Aunt May (Lily Tomlin). Aunt May had been expecting them and isn’t surprised at seeing her nephew at the door despite his funeral. She leads Miles, Peter, and Gwen to her Peter’s underground lair and introduces them to the other dimensional travellers – Peter Parker (Nicholas Cage), from 1933, in black and white, a masked detective in a noir pulp style; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her SP//dr mecha which she copilots with a radioactive spider; and Peter Porker (John Mulaney), the Spectacular Spider-Ham. The three go through their backstory in unison, much like the previous backstories.
With the five extra-dimension Spider-beings now gathered, the plan turns from stopping Kingpin to getting everyone home then stopping Kingpin. The problem is that there should be six, but the one from Miles’ dimension is dead. To avoid having anyone left behind, though. Miles has to step up, control his abilities, and become the new Spider-Man for his dimension.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may have done the impossible. The movie introduced Spideys that weren’t Peter Parker, provided their backstory, gave them all credible motivations, and made them all interesting, while still keeping to their comic origins. Even the animation styles used for the characters kept to their original titles. Spider-Ham’s animation harkens to both Disney and Warner Bros; Spider-Man Noir’s kept to black and white, including the dots that older, pre-computer inking used; Peni was straight up anime-style. Yet the styles didn’t clash. By the time they appeared, the idea of dimensions colliding was well in effect in the film.
Introductions were quick, getting the point across, becoming a running gag, then turning into a proper ending with Miles’ version. The movie is Miles’ story, but there’s room for the other Spideys. Relationships between characters were real. The relationship between Miles and his father showed all the awkwardness when a teenaged boy is trying to become his own person but is still dependent on his parents. Peter B. Parker’s life falling apart, especially in contrast to the successful Peter of Miles’ dimension, shows a man who lost his direction. Yet, that Peter hasn’t gone to the extremes that Wilson Fisk did by creating a means to break dimensional walls to get his wife and son back.
There is the required Stan Lee cameo, this time as Stan, the owner of a comic book shop who gives Miles some advice. “It [the costume] always fits, eventually.” While the costume Miles bought didn’t fit, when he stepped up, he made the costume his, and it did fit who he is. The quote from Stan Lee during the credits really does apply to Miles, and to many people in real life, “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it’s the right thing to do, is indeed, without doubt, a real superhero.” Even when he was trying to deal with his new powers, Miles did help Spidey because it was the right thing to do.
To emphasize that Miles’ dimension was different, little things changed. Some were obvious, some were in the background. His father was an officer of the Police Department of New York City, or PDNY. Koca-Soda has the ad at Times Square. Movie posters had familiar pictures but new titles, like Simon Pegg’s From Dusk to Shaun. Getting details right is a key element that can make or break an adaptation. Into the Spider-Verse went beyond that here.
As a film, Into the Spider-Verse will be the Spider-movie that all others will be judged against. While the movie is Miles’ story, the different Peter Parkers brought a nuance to the character not seen in any of the movies so far, an older Peter instead of the high school and university students portrayed so far. The movie managed to hit the right tone, a bit of comedy, a bit of drama, a bit of superhero action, just as in the comics. Spidey couldn’t solve his problems using his powers in his comic titles, and neither could any of the Spideys in the movie. Peter B. Parker eventually realizes that he was in the wrong and he needed MJ in his life. Miles and his father reconcile. Gwen opens a little to letting people get close to her.
The humour comes through in appropriate times. When the Spider-Man of Miles’ dimension dies, it is a sombre moment. Later, though, as Peter and Miles steal Dok Ock’s computer, the tone lightens. The scientists recognize Spidey, since he was wearing the costume, and one yells out, “It’s Spider-Man! He’s stolen a bagel!” before they break out their lasers. Even in the climactic fight, all the Spideys keep up with the patter, a Spider-Man trademark.
As an adaptation, the movie doesn’t adapt The Edge of the Spider-Verse, nor was it meant to. It took the concept from the mini-series and from the video game, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and brought it to film. The characters, though, are true to their original works, complete with appropriate animation style. The result is a film that embraces its comic book heritage instead of ignoring it.
Do stay past the credits. An eighth Spidey, Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), makes an appearance, travelling back to when it all began, 1967. Worth staying for and is a brilliant adaptation on its own.
In previous examinations of works adapted to gaming, Lost in Translation focused on just one original work being turned into a game. This time around, multiple original works are being adapted into just one game system, the Cortex and its successor, Cortex Plus.
The ideal works to adapt as tabletop role-playing games provide a larger setting, one where the original provides for a larger setting than what the main characters there experience. This is the case in three previous game adaptations examined, Star Trek, Star Wars, and 007, where players can take on similar roles as the main characters in both franchises. Even the Buffy RPG could delve into both past and future, allowing players to take up the mantle of the Slayer in a different time. At the same time, if players want, they can still take the roles of the existing characters. RPGs need to keep that flexibility and allow for new characters with similar capabilities as existing ones.
The Cortex system debuted in its early form with the Sovereign Stone Game System, which was based on Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Sovereign Stone novels. Since then, the Cortex system was refined and was used as the base for a number of licensed games published by Margaret Weis Productions – Serenity, based on the movie*; Battlestar Galactica, based on the rebooted series; Demon Hunters, based on videos by Dead Gentlemen Productions; and Supernatural, based on the CW TV series. A stand-alone version of the Cortex rules, the Cortex System Role Playing Game, came out in 2008, after Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, and Demon Hunters had been released.
The works adapted share some common features. Both Serenity and Battlestar Galactica are science fiction set far from Earth and have characters who spend much of their time in spaceships. Demon Hunters and Supernatural both deal with supernatural threats. All four original works have a devoted fan base, one that is likely to play RPGs. At the same time, each of the original works has its own tone. Serenity, the movie, was based around a government cover-up that affected one of the core characters. Battlestar Galactica showed the last of humanity escaping a relentless enemy intent on exterminating every last human. Demon Hunters is a comedy. Supernatural is the story of the Winchester brothers fighting against destiny, Hell, and Heaven.
Fortunately, game mechanics don’t always set the tone. While there are games where the mechanics were written to support the tone of the game, a more generic system can be adapted to the desired result. The Serenity RPG presents the game in terms of the players being the crew of their own small ship trying to make a living while staying true to themselves. Battlestar Galactica focused on survival in an environment that is inherently deadly, with the push to find the lost planet, Earth. Demon Hunters focused on comedy, with additional writing from Dead Gentlemen contributors and bonus orientation DVD. Supernatural placed the focus on the players being a small group of supernatural hunters that banded together. Each release added rules needed for the setting. Serenity and Battlestar Galactica had rules for starships, with Galactica having expanded rules for dogfighting in space. Demon Hunters added rules for creating demons and spending plot points to summon the Purple Ninja. Supernatural also had rules for creating the supernatural and exploiting their weaknesses.
What helped Cortex be flexible enough for the range of adapted works is its simplicity. The core mechanic involves using dice – the full range of regular polyhedrons – for attributes, skills, traits, and complications. Players roll the dice from appropriate attribute, skill, and, if any, trait against a difficulty number set by the GM, modified by dice from the character’s applicable complications, again, if any. Skill lists can be modified by setting; where Pilot would be a given for a Colonial Warrior to have in Battlestar Galactica, a group of hunters in Supernatural might just have the one character who can fly a small plane. Adding setting-specific rules, such as details about the Cylons, builds on top of the existing core rules, allowing for specialization.
Cortex worked well for settings that focused on action. However, not all settings focus on action. Gaming has seen a movement to expand towards a more narrative-driven focus, moving away from the hobby’s wargaming background. The intent is to tell stories, not chop down opponents. While Cortex might not have been able to take advantage, its successor, Cortex Plus, was developed to do just that.
Cortext Plus developed into three streams – Cortex Plus Drama, focusing on the relationships between characters; Cortext Plus Action, looked at what the characters did; and Cortex Plus Heroic, which combined the Drama and the Action. The core die mechanic remained but was heavily modified as needed. The game also added more details for characters, including character distinctions that could help or hinder depending on the circumstance. Traditional hit points fell by the wayside. Instead, characters could suffer from stress or complications imposed on them. If either got too high, the character would be forced out of the scene, either because of injuries, exhaustion, or escaping.
The first Cortex Plus game released was the Smallville Roleplaying Game, licensed from the Smallville TV series. The RPG used the Cortex Plus Drama system, reflecting how what the characters on the show were driven by their relationships with each other. Instead of rolling attribute and skill, players rolled value and relationship, adding in relevant resources and assets, and keeping the best two dice rolled. Players wouldn’t always be rolling against the GM; sometimes, two characters could work at cross purposes, coming into conflict. Character creation was a group effort; relationships between player and non-player characters were set up in the first session. The main drawback with the game was that a large number of players meant that the relationship map grew complex, It also meant that all the players had to show up for the first session, something not all groups can handle. That said, the system reflected the show; the values, replacing attributes, went to what motivated the characters. Clark Kent’s highest rated value, Justice, and lowest, Power, were true to his appearance on the show.
The first Cortex Plus Action game released was based on the TV series, Leverage, which was about a group of five con artists and thieves using their skills to help the average person who is being run over roughshod by the powerful and corrupt. Leverage used the same attributes that were in the Cortex games above, but instead of skills, characters had roles. The roles came directly from the TV series – Mastermind, Grifter, Hitter, Hacker, and Thief. Every character would have a key role, a minor role, and roles that would make things interesting for them. Each attribute and role had a die type assigned, which would be added to the player’s dice pool when it came time to raise the stakes. Characters also had distinction, which could work for or against them in the dice pool. For example, if Parker, the thief of the Leverage crew, needed to break into an office on the 34th floor of an office tower, she could decide to repel down the side of the building from the roof. To do this, Parker’s player would her Strength die, her Thief die, and could add her “Crazy” distinction and her “No – Really Crazy”, giving her four dice, though only the highest two would be added together. Parker’s player could decide that “Crazy” merited the usual d8 for the distinction, but then say that, because she’s going down facing the ground, “No – Really Crazy” would add just a d4 and provide a plot point.
The Leverage RPG added rules to reflect the show’s episode structure, which included flashbacks to show the characters setting up twists to defeat the Mark. The game allows for players to set up their own flashbacks, allowing them to get an advantage when needed. This allows the crew’s thief to place a convenient smartphone in a drawer where the crew’s hacker can grab it later without the players spending two hours of gaming working out all the contingencies before committing their heist. The Leverage RPG works to keep the story flowing; there’s no real need to spend hours on a plan when the players just need to work out a general idea of what they want to do.
The next Cortex Plus game out was also the first to use the Heroic approach. The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game featured the characters from Marvel Comics and was the fourth licensed game based on the Marvel Universe. The game pulled in ideas from both Smallville and Leverage, adapted to reflect the needs of the new setting. Instead of Smallville‘s values and Leverage‘s attributes, Marvel Heroic used affiliations, or how well a character worked with others. There were three types of affiliation, each getting a different die type – Solo, for characters like Daredevil and Wolverine, who worked best on their own; Buddy, for characters like Spider-Man who often works with another hero; and Team, for the likes of Captain America and Cyclops, who work most often with a large group, such as the Avengers or the X-Men.
Marvel Heroic also uses the stress system from Smallville, again, modified. Instead of taking six different types of stress, Marvel Heroic characters only have three sources – physical, mental, and emotional. It is possible for Spider-Man to keep up his constant wisecracking to force an opponent to break down and give up, a result that the previous three Marvel-based games didn’t have a mechanic for. Skills were replaced by specialties, though their use is similar. The mechanics remain the same; a player builds a dice pool and takes the best two results and add them together.
The most recent game from Margaret Weis Productions was the Firefly RPG. The license for the Serenity RPG had expired, but the company had worked with Fox to get the license for the TV series*. The Firefly RPG uses Cortex Plus Action, modified from its first incarnation as the Leverage RPG and taking some ideas from Marvel Heroic. Firefly has attributes, but only three; Mental, Physical, and Social. The skill list is shorter than Serenity‘s, but are broader. The game introduced rules for spaceships, since the TV series was set on one. Players could not only create their characters but their own ship, turning the vessel from a stat block into something that the players and their characters could care about. The game also modified the distinctions. Instead of just giving a bonus die for the player’s dice pool, distinction had some extra mechanical bits that helped players distinguish their characters. The rule book also uses scenes from the TV series to illustrate how the mechanics work, giving players a way to follow the action.
With four licensed games using Cortex and another four using Cortex Plus, how did the adapting fare? At its core, Cortex is a simple, flexible system, in the same vein as the Cinematic Unisystem rules used by the Buffy RPG. This allowed the developers to tailor the mechanics to the adapted setting by changing skill lists and adding and removing talents and complications. It is possible for characters from one of the published games to be used in another; it would be odd to see a member of the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch on board the Rising Star, but less so if that same member met the Winchesters.
With Cortex Plus and its different streams, adapting the mechanics to the setting was a design goal. This means that characters from the different games wouldn’t interact as easily – Spider-Man has no relationship ties to anyone from Smallville, for example – but the games reflect the TV series they’re meant to portray. Smallville is a super-powered soap opera while Leverage is a series of heist mini-movies, and their games reflect those realities. The key is to choose the correct Cortex Plus stream to reflect the core of a work. So far, the developers have been able to do just that.
Speaking of the developers, Cam Banks, has licensed Cortex and Cortex Plus from Margaret Weis Productions. The end goal is to create a game, Cortex Prime, that takes in all the prior work mentioned above and produce not just the rules but settings that aren’t necessarily licensed works. His studio, Magic Vacuum Design Studio is running a Kickstarter, with stretch goals that will include a number of pre-made settings with the new game.
* The Serenity and Firefly licenses had an inherent problem – different studios held the licensing rights. Fox has the rights for Firefly, but Universal had the rights for Serenity. This split meant that information in one work could not appear in the licensed game of the other. Players, however, aren’t restricted and can pull in characters and ideas from both works, but any work needed to stat up something not covered by the game fell to the GM.
Marvel is riding high with the live action movie adaptations of its books. This wasn’t always the case. The first Marvel comic to be adapted for the big screen laid an egg. However, Marvel had a better record on television, with The Incredible Hulk lasting from 1977 to 1982. The success of Hulk brought the character into mainstream attention, with the series having an influence on the character’s movie entry in Marvel’s Avengers Initiative. That same success led to the first authorized Captain America movie*.
Captain America was a 1979 TV movie starring Reb Brown, known for his roles in Yor and Space Mutiny, as Steve Rogers. Steve is an former Marine turned drifter artist, hoping to travel along the California coast line in his van. He receives a telegram from Simon, played by Len Birman, who wants to talk to Steve about his father’s research. The Full Latent Ability Gain, or FLAG, is a serum that can maximize the human body’s potential. FLAG has a drawback; the serum causes cells to degenerate faster, leading to death. Steve declines the offer to test the FLAG serum on himself. and heads out.
Fate, however, brings him back. Steve finds his friend, Jeff Hayden, injured in his own home, attacked by a thug sent by Harley, played by Lance LeGault, on the orders of Brackett, played by Steve Forestt. Brackett wants a filmstrip** of Hayden’s work to use to complete a neutron bomb and wants Steve out of the way. Harley lures Steve with the knowledge of who killed Jeff. Steve shows up at the out of the way location at night, where Harley demands the filmstrip. In the ensuing chase, Steve is forced off the road and over a cliff on his motorcycle.
To save Steve`s life, he is given the FLAG serum while in ER. Unlike the previous test subjects, there is no cell rejection; the serum works. Steve’s healing accelerates under the influence of the serum, but he has no desire to find out what else FLAG has done for him. He doesn’t get to stay ignorant; Harley kidnaps him from the hotel, taking him to a meat plant. Steve breaks away from his captors and plays cat-and-mouse among the sides of beef. His newfound strength lets him take out Harley and his men, including through the use of a thrown slab of beef, the only object thrown in a fight in the movie.
Steve talks with Simon, who mentions the elder Roger’s nickname as a crusading lawyer, Captain America. Simon offers a job as a special agent, which Steve accepts. Simon arranges for extra equipment, updating Steve’s van, adding a new motorcycle with jet assist, and a bulletproof shield that can be thrown as a deadly weapon. While he tests out the new motorcycle, Brackett sends men to chase him down by helicopter. Thanks to the new motorcycle and FLAG-enhanced abilities, Steve manages to turn the tables.
Brackett is busy working on Hayden’s daughter Tina, using her to figure out where the filmstrip was hidden. He pieces together what Hayden meant when mentioning his wife with his final breaths and finds the filmstrip. Brackett takes Tina hostage and the filmstrip to his weapons expert, who can finish the neutron bomb with the information on the strip. The bomb gets loaded on to a truck and shipped out. However, Steve’s enhanced hearing picks up a clue on where Tina could be, leading to an oil refinery owned by Brackett.
Simon provides one last present to Steve, a costume to help hide his identity as Captain America. Cap heads to the refinery to rescue Tina and stop Brackett. He sneaks in but is spotted. The alarm sounds, but Steve’s enhanced abilities are no match for the guards. Tina is rescued, but the neutron bomb plot is revealed. With some research, the target is located. Steve and Simon fly off to stop Brackett.
A second made-for-TV movie, /Captain America II: Death Too Soon/, followed, with Reb Brown back as Cap and Christopher Lee as the terrorist, Miguel. Miguel holds a town in check with a virus that causes rapid aging. Unless paid or unless Cap can stop him, Miguel plans to gas a city and withhold the antidote, letting the city die of old age in hours.
The TV movies take liberties with Cap’s background. Captain America: The First Avenger shows the origins well, with Steve Rogers volunteering for a super soldier program and gaining super abilities as a result, and only being frozen after a fight against the Red Skull. In the comics, Cap is found by Namor, is thawed, and becomes one of the founders of the Avengers. That is a lot of backstory to fit into a two-hour TV movie, so the change to an former Marine makes some sense. Steve became an artist once thawed out, so that part is accurate. In 1972, thanks to the Watergate scandal, Steve gives up the role of Cap out of disgust with the government and becomes Nomad, a wandering hero. That storyline, though, only lasted a year. The change to California is explained by keeping costs down; the studio was based in the state.
In the Seventies, the main names when it comes to live-action superheroes were Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman, all characters with similar power sets – super strength and endurance, all easily portrayed with practical effects, camera angles, and sound effects. The cost of energy blasts in post could be prohibitive, as seen with the original Battlestar Galactica, but jumping higher than normal uses the simple camera trick of running the film of someone jumping down in reverse. A drifting hero working for the government covers all the TV series mentioned; it’s a concept audiences should be familiar with and works for Captain America.
Reb Brown, while not the best actor around, is earnest as Captain America and, just as important in a superhero series, has the physique needed. The earnestness helps when considering that Cap was often considered a Boy Scout in the comics of the time. The music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter is very Seventies with brassy horns and doesn’t quite survive the passage of time. The concept, a hero working for a secret organization, is common, from the OSI in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman to the Foundation for Law and Government in the later series, Knight Rider.
Captain America and its sequel are very much Seventies-era made-for-TV movies, suffering from budget limitations. They take liberties with Cap’s background, but keep close to the characterization of the time. The needs of gaining a television audience forced some changes. The movies are definitely curiosities, and make a valiant effort, but fall short as adaptations.
* The Turkish film 3 Dev Adam, released in 1973, featured Captain America fighting Spider-Man and was not authorized by Marvel.
** A filmstrip is a series of still photos placed on a strip of photographic film as a means of presentation, much like an early version of a PowerPoint presentation, often with an accompanying recording on cassette, vinyl, or reel-to-reel with signals to let the viewer know when to change the slide.
Marvel Comics had several big announcements since the last news round up. Let’s get to what’s being adapted and by whom.
Marvel and Sony come to a deal over Spider-Man.
Spider-Man is moving into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining the likes of the Avengers. Sony Pictures still has the rights to create movies with the character, but the deal should allow Marvel to use elements from the Spider-Man comics such as the Daily Bugle in its own releases. Marvel has shuffled its release schedule to bring the next Spider-Man movie out without competing with the Marvel Studios releases.
X-Men TV series in the works.
Fox has confirmed an X-Men TV series is in development, pending Marvel’s approval. Little of what the series would entail has been revealed.
Casting for AKA Jessica Jones announced.
David Tennant joins the cast as the villainous Zebediah Killgrave, also known as the Purple Man. Tennant joins Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones and Mike Colter as Luke Cage.
Who you gonna call?
Meet the new Ghostbusters for the gender-flipped remake. Melissa McCarthy has signed on while negotiations with Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon are ongoing.
Fushigi Yuugi gets stage treatment.
The manga and anime, Fushigi Yuugi is making the transition over to the stage. Fushigi Yuugi, which translates as Mysterious Play, follows the adventures of Miaka as she falls into another world filled with magic and danger.
Indiana Jones reboot may be in works.
Disney bought the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise and are looking at Chris Pratt as the eponymous hero. Pratt is going to be busy…
Chris Pratt in talks for The Magnificent Seven remake.
The remake of The Seven Samurai is being remade. Denzel Washington has already signed on for the remake.
Harper Lee releasing a follow up to To Kill a Mockingbird.
The sequel, Go Set a Watchman, features Scout Finch as an adult. The novel had been written during the 1950s, but was set aside on the advise of Lee’s editor at the time. The new novel will hit bookstores mid-July.
LEGO announces next licensed set, featuring Doctor Who.
Everything is more awesome in LEGOland as the Doctor and his companions join the massive LEGO line up. The project just left the judging phase, so it may take some time before the LEGO TARDIS hits the shelves. Also announced, a LEGO Wall-E set, with the submission made by one of the movie’s crew members.
Stargate reboot movie signs writers.
Roland Emmerich’s reboot/remake of the original Stargate movie has signed Nicholas Wright and James A. Woods as screenwriters. Emmerich will direct and co-produce, along with original co-writer Dean Devlin.
The Man from UNCLE trailer now out.
The first look at Guy Ritchie’s take on the TV series, The Man from UNCLE, is now out. The movie stars Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, originally played by Robert Vaughn and should be out in August. Armie Hammer is on board as Illya Kuryakin, previously played by David McCallum.