WARNING!!! - This page contains spoilers!
I'll be honest, I was never religiously into Marvel as a kid. Of course I loved Spiderman, Iron Man, The Hulk and all their friends and enemies, which kid didn't? But I was never into the scene the way that a lot of kids were. I read comics, but they were usually 'Commando' or suchlike, which were generally war stories or tales of heroes based on real-life events. In fact, I didn't really start getting into the Marvel Universe until I was into my 40's. Yes you read that right, 40's.
I'm not ashamed of that fact though, why should I be? 'Each to their own' I say. I can't remember exactly what spiked my interest in the Marvel Universe. I do know that it was the cinematic universe though, rather than comics and books. I remember watching the later Batman movies (yes, I realise Batman is DC rather than Marvel) and thinking how cool this super hero gig was. I didn't really come to know and love the lore behind it all until much later. Superhero T-shirts were cool to have as a kid, but I didn't know anything of the stories behind the characters.
I think the first Marvel character I came to be interested in was probably Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, and that was through watching the opening scene of a movie which caught me off-guard and fired up my imagination. He and his brother were depicted fighting their way through several wars, never seeming to age, and yet the world moved on around them. Of course he never had his Adamantium skeleton back then, that came later in another story.
After that, I found myself wanting to know more about these characters, who they were, their stories, and the relationships between them. What soon became apparent, was the sheer scale of the Marvel Universe. The vast array of characters and their abilities, the locations and stories, and to me the most magical thing, how it was all connected. How an event in one timeline affected (or was at least referenced in) another story involving a completely different character. I soon came to respect the people behind these stories, the writers, artists, producers, actors and all the other people that make the whole Marvel scene come to life.
The story of the X-Men is by no means the earliest in the history of the Marvel universe, but it's where I became interested, so that's where I'll start. Of course I came to know and love far more characters later on, but I think the X-Men was where it all began. They are mutants, born with superhuman abilities. The X-Men fight for peace and equality between normal humans and mutants.
They're led by Charles 'Professor X' Xavier, a powerful telepath who can read and control minds. Professor X founded the 'School For Gifted Youngsters' which recruits and protects young mutants from around the world. The school is also a front for the home and training grounds of the X-Men. Their arch-enemy is Magneto, a powerful mutant with the ability to generate and control magnetic fields.
Professor X believes peace and understanding between mutants and humans is the future, but Magneto views humans as a threat and intends to eliminate them. However, from time to time the two have found themselves working alongside each other for various mutually beneficial reasons.
The story of the X-Men spans over many years, and involves hundreds of characters. It would take a whole website to explain the ins and outs of each one, and how they are related. The movies varied quite a lot from the comic story lines, including which characters were originally members of the X-Men, but there was an amount of overlap. Without going into a full biography of each character, here's a quick rundown of my favourites and some of their history.
Professor X - Charles Xavier
For the most part, Professor X is paraplegic. As well as being telepathic, he's a scientific genius and a leading authority on mutation and genetics. Xavier resents the violent methods of Magneto and fights for a world where mutants and humans can peacefully co-exist.
Magneto - Eric Lensherr
The once friend of Professor X, Magneto intends that mutants one day dominate the human race, who he sees as non-deserving of their position. As a survivor of the Holocaust, his actions are driven by the purpose of protecting the mutant race from suffering a similar fate.
Wolverine - Logan Howlett
Wolverine possesses the extraordinary ability to heal himself. He also has amazing physical capabilities and animal-like senses. As part of the clandestine 'Weapon X' program, he was experimented upon, and had most of his skeleton replaced with unbreakable Adamantium.
Rogue - Anna Marie (surname unknown)
Rogue considers her powers to be a curse. She has the ability to absorb the physical strength, memories, and superpowers of anyone she touches, but it's an involuntary power she can't control. For this reason she keeps herself covered up as much as possible.
Phoenix - Jean Grey
Born with telepathic and telekinetic powers, she graduated Metro College as a psychology expert. Jean is a caring person but has to deal with being the physical manifestation of the cosmic Phoenix Force. She's also torn between the affections of Wolverine and Cyclops.
Cyclops - Scott Summers
Cyclops can emit powerful beams of energy from his eyes. He finds his powers become uncontrollable so turns to Professor X for help. He eventually falls in love with ex-villain Emma Frost and they run the School For Gifted Youngsters after Charles Xavier steps down.
Storm - Ororo Munroe
After being orphaned at the age of Six, Ororo becomes a prolific thief and first meets Professor X as one of her victims. Years later (now fully aware, and in control of her power to control all aspects of the weather), they meet again when she is recruited into the X-Men.
Sabretooth - Victor Creed
The sworn enemy of Wolverine, Sabertooth's mutation is feral with fang-like teeth and retractable claws for fingernails. He possesses the same inhuman healing ability as Wolverine, and also suffered experimentation as part of the 'Weapon X' project.
Mystique - Raven Darkholme
Mystique is a shapeshifter with the ability to control her cells at a molecular level, enabling her to change her appearance and assume the form of any living creature. Originally befriended by a young Charles Xavier, she eventually changes her beliefs and sides with Magneto.
Toad - Mortimer Toynbee
Toad's mutant appearance was apparent from birth, causing his parents to disown him. He later became Magneto's henchman. His abilities include superhuman leaping, agility, toxic saliva, prehensile tongue and wall-scaling abilities that would rival those of Spider-Man.
Spider-Man is probably the most famous of all the Marvel characters. I'd wager there's not many people on the planet who haven't heard of him and his web-slinging ability. Although the original movies told an interesting and imaginative story of Peter Parker and his unintentional transition into his famous superhero alter-ego, it wasn't quite the same as the comic-book version, but I guess they call that artistic license.
Spider-Man (sometimes known as 'Spiderman' with no hyphen - which is technically incorrect) was first introduced in the 1962 comic 'Amazing Fantasy #15'. He was created by Marvel supremo Stan Lee, and illustrated by legendary graphic artist Jack Kirby with inking by Steve Ditko.
The modern movies (2002 - 2014) are stand-alone stories and Spidey has yet to join the official 'Marvel Cinematic Universe' which has recently been taking the world by storm.
The story of how Spider-Man came by his powers is a well-known one involving being bitten by a radioactive spider. How the spider came to be radioactive in the first place has been open to different interpretations over the years (as demonstrated in the 2002 movie "Spider-Man" by Sam Raimi), but in the original comic Peter Parker was visiting a science exhibit where a spider was accidentally irradiated by a partcle beam. On the way home from the exhibit, Peter is almost hit by a car but he leaps out of the way even without thinking about it, and finds himself climbing up the side of a building. That's when he makes the connection and realises that spider gave him much more than just a bite.
It's interesting to note that the orginal comic panel where Peter was first bitten contained an error where the spider was referred to as an insect. This was only noticed after the comic had gone to press, so was left uncorrected.
Spidey's story was revolutionary at the time. Previous super heroes had all been adults, with the occasional teenager as a sidekick (Batman's Robin, Captain America's Bucky) but Spider-Man broke the mould by being the first teenager as the lead character. As Peter Parker he was a quiet, shy boy, but he was academically superior to his peers, bordering on genius. It was this grasp on science that allowed him to create his trademark 'web-slingers' which were small, wrist-mounted devices. Again, the movie versions differ here by having Spidey actually create and eject the web from his person.
Peter was an orphan living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and became somewhat of a personality as Spider-Man (although no-one knew Peter Parker and Spider-Man were the same person), but one day through cockiness he let a thief escape. That same thief later robbed and killed his uncle Ben, leaving Peter with an enormous weight of guilt. After this event, Voltaire's legendary phrase "With great power comes great responsibility" was irrevocably tied to Spider-Man. From that moment on he decided to use his special powers to fight crime.
As he continued through teenage years, he enrolled at Empire State University where he became best friends with Harry Osbourne (whose father later turned out to be The Green Goblin, Spidey's nemesis). At the same time, Peter's aunt introduced him to Mary Jane Watson who he later fell in love with and married.
Like any Marvel story, Spider-Man lore contains many characters, each with their own background and history. Enemies include Chameleon, Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Lizard, Electro, Mysterio, Green Goblin, Kraven, Scorpion, Rhino, Shocker, Kingpin, Jackal, Black Cat, Hobgoblin, Carnage, and let's not forget Venom!
Spider-Man has certainly had his work cut out for him over the years, and something tells me he's not done yet...
How can you not love the Avengers? A load of heroes bundled together in one kick-ass (though sometimes disfunctional) group? I think it's the differing abilities/specialties spiced with the inter-character relationships that make the story work so well. From a former Soviet spy to a billionaire playboy technology expert, through a biologically altered mutating beast, a genetically boosted guy who was frozen in ice for most of his life, to a Norse God?! Who'd have thought that lot would work so well together?
The Avengers first appeared in 1963, in a dedicated release (The Avengers #1) created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The initial line up was quite different to the one portrayed in the 2012 movie of the same name (although in the UK it was released as 'Avengers Assemble'), and originally featured Iron Man, Ant-Man, The Wasp, Thor and The Hulk. Captain America joined later when they discovered his frozen body in the ice, and revived him. It's believed they were created as a direct response to DC Comics 'Justice League' which set a trend for team-based superhero stories.
The first Avengers movie created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe featured Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, The Hulk and Hawk Eye, with the main villain in the movie appearing in the form of Thor's mischievous brother, Loki. Other notable Marvel characters to appear include S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, agents Phil Coulson and Maria Hill, and Dr. Erik Selvig, fresh from his tormented adventures helping Thor return to Asgard.
The look of the characters remain faithful to the original designs, but with a much more modern feel. There is plenty of debate and opinions on the subject, but personally I think the new ones look fine, pretty damned cool, actually. This image shows how the original versions compare to their modern counterparts.
The latest cinematic episode in the Avenger's story, 'Age Of Ultron', introduces more classic characters to the universe, while keeping the same base team as the original movie. Of course we meet Ultron himself, along with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, but for the first time are introduced to 'Vision', a character who will no doubt play a major part in the upcoming Marvel movie 'The Inhumans'. We also get a tantalising glance at an 'Infinity Stone', one of the pillars of Marvel lore.
Interesting note: The Artificial Intelligence system controlling Iron Man's suit is named Jarvis, after his father's butler. Jarvis (and indeed, Iron Man's father, Howard Stark) can be found alive and well in the ABC TV series, 'Marvel's Agent Carter'.
I'll be honest here, I hadn't heard of the 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' until I read about the movie being made. I'd heard of Thanos of course, he appears in many Marvel stories, but 'Star Lord'? 'Rocket Racoon'? 'Gamora'?, 'Drax'?. And who (or what) the hell is a 'Groot'? As it happens, I absolutely loved the movie. The director (James Gunn) got the recipe exactly right in my view, with the perfect amount of action, comedy and emotion. Oh, and dancing... The Guardians are a group of rogues, thrown together by circumstance as much as anything. They are all very different characters, and I think this is what makes the movie work so well.
I don't know much of the back-story to Guardians, so this section is simply about the movie itself. Hey, I have a lot to learn, and I'm loving the journey of discovery I'm on. I intend to update this page when I've found out more about these characters, but for now I'm only able to share my limited knowledge. I know I put a spoiler warning at the top of this page, but what follows is a basic description of what happens in the movie, so if you haven't seen it, I suggest you skip this section. Also, why the hell haven't you seen it?!
The movie starts with a young boy, Peter Quill, being abducted by space pirates. Fast forward twenty six years and Peter Quill has become a petty criminal trying to make a living for himself trading stolen and 'borrowed' artifacts. He also likes to call himself 'Star Lord', but isn't too well known and is constantly disappointed at not being recognised. It seems notoriety is as desirable in the future as it was in the past.
After trying to sell a mysterious orb at a spaceport, he is attacked by Gamora (one of the adopted daughters of Thanos) and the ensuing fight attracts the attention of a genetically modified Racoon (don't ask!) named Rocket, and his, erm... huge plant friend named Groot. Eventually they all get arrested and thrown in jail, where they meet an inmate called Drax. He attacks Gamora because of her association with Ronan (a judicial officer answering to Thanos), who is responsible for the death of Drax's family. Gamora explains that the orb is far too dangerous to be in circulation, and she has contacted a specialist known as 'The Collector' who is willing to buy it. Peter Quill agrees, and convinces Drax he can work with Gamora to get to Ronan, and so the unlikley team is forged.
After escaping jail they head off in Peter's ship, The Milano, to meet Gamora's buyer who opens the orb to discover it contains an Infinity Stone. (The Infinity Stones are legendary in the Marvel Universe, and many stories revolve around them.) While waiting for the deal to be done, Drax gets drunk and contacts Ronan (with a view to killing him) and draws him to their location. When Ronan arrives, he brings with him a small army along with Gamora's sister, 'Nebula', who is constantly at war with Gamora for their father's respect and attention. It's fair to say an almighty battle ensues, and Ronan's army capture the orb. Ronan then embeds the Infinity Stone in his staff, attempting to makes it's power his own.
After Rocket Racoon forces Ronan's ship to crash land on the planet of Xandar (during which Groot sacrifices himself to save the group), Ronan prepares to use his empowered warhammer to destroy the planet and everyone on it, but Rocket manages to disarm him while Star Lord causes a distraction (by means of a dance off!...) and the team go on to use the dislodged Infinity Stone to destroy Ronan. The planet is saved, the rag-tag group become heroes, their criminal records are expunged, and Star Lord learns that his father wasn't human, but one of an ancient alien species, hence his ability to handle the Infinity Stone and live. (It can't be held by mortals).
You would think that would be the end of it, but Drax isn't happy to stop at Ronan. He wants to take on Thanos himself...
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an Avengers spin-off made for TV by ABC.
When former HYDRA leader Grant Ward was told what S.H.I.E.L.D. stood for (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), he quickly pointed out that '...someone really wanted our initials to spell out shield', and it does seem a very handy name for an organisation who's purpose is to protect the people of earth from alien or mutant attack.
I watched the first few episodes and didn't think too much of it, but I gave it a chance and it really grew on me. Now it's one of my favourite shows. It deals well with the reasoning behind Agent Phil Coulson being alive (when he appeared to be killed by Loki in the first Avengers movie), tells the story of Daisy 'Quake' Johnson well, and ties in nicely with the rest of the lore. In fact, 'Avengers : Age Of Ultron' was released mid-way through season 2 of the TV show, and the writers did some nifty but subtle script work to tie in with the events of the movie.
The series is quite unique in a number of respects. Not only does it regularly feature characters from Marvel movies, breaking down barriers between the small and big screen, but many of the characters from the show have been retrospectively introduced into the comic world. That's unusual because normally, comics are where the stories originate.
There have also been cameos from some major stars in the show too. Samuel L Jackson often appears as Director Nick Fury, the ever-gorgeous Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, and Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill, these all fresh from their silver-screen outings in the various MCU movies.
The binding force of Agents has to be Agent Phil Coulson, portrayed by the amazing Clark Gregg. Not only has Clark starred in many Marvel movies (and games) as Agent Coulson, he also wrote the story of 'What Lies Beneath' (starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer), and has appeared in such major releases as 'Labor Day', 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'A.I.', and 'The Usual Suspects'. The guy is basically talent on a stick.
The story arc of 'Agents' is well written, and the show explores the history of some of the characters by means of flashbacks, a well-established practice. The sometimes awkward relationship between Agents Fitz and Simmons (collectively known as Fitzsimmons) contrasts against the full-on, in-your-face one of Hunter and Morse. There is obviously a lot of history between Agents Coulson and May, and even if you're not conversant with the comics, this is made obvious and is very well done by the writers of the show.
If you get the opportunity to watch Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., you should check it out. Give the characters chance to grow, and it'll expand into a great story. I love it, and I'm pleased it's recently been approved for Season 3.
Ah, Agent Carter, my favourite S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, and not just because she's portrayed by the awesome Hayley Atwell.
She's a strong, inspirational lead female character, something grossly lacking in the world of super heroes. Agent Carter has no super-powers, just a strong will and a stronger punch. She was the girlfriend of Steve 'Captain America' Rogers until that fateful day when he crashed into the icy waters while battling the 'Red Skull'. He was preserved in the ice to be awoken years later and become the leader of The Avengers, she meanwhile grew old and faded away, but not before making her own mark on the Marvel universe.
The TV show follows the exploits of Peggy Carter who works undercover at a law enforcement authority in 1940's America. She's drawn into a secret mission to prove the innocence of Howard Stark (yes, the father of Tony 'Iron Man' Stark) who's been accused of supplying his advanced weapons to a terrorist faction. With the aid of Stark's butler, Jarvis, Peggy fights enemy spies, uncovers sinister plots and generally kicks ass. Of course all this is based in the 40's, and the costumes, locations, vehicles and props are simply stunning.
Peggy Carter had quite a major role in the first Avengers movie, portaying the no-nonsense military officer assigned to evaluating and training new recruits under the command of Colonel Chester Phillips. It was during this post that she first met the frail (but very determined) Steve Rogers, identifying with him straight away having had her professional opportunities limited due to being a woman. Steve was continually denied acceptance to the US military because of underlying health problems, but it was his honesty, bravery, and strength of heart that eventually won him a place on the super soldier project.
Peggy Carter is still oppressed, even after the war is over. Women in the 40's came second place in a man's world. Thankfully that is changing now, but back then it's how things were. Even with her exemplary military career behind her, and her association with America's hero, Steve Rogers, she finds her self resigned to filing documents and making tea for the men in the office. Luckily, this works in her favour as no-one would suspect a simple office clerk to be a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent...
Peggy has an arch-nemesis (in Season 1 at least) in the form of Dotty Underwood. Dotty (played by the amazing Bridget Regan) is a Soviet assassin who's assumed the identity of a small-town girl from Iowa. She's well versed in all forms of hand-to-hand combat as well as espionage techniques, and manages to befriend Peggy Carter in order to undermine her efforts and gain access to Howard Stark's advanced technological inventions.
Dotty is both cute and creepy, coming across as being prim and proper, yet deadly when she needs to be, and she's oh so casual about it. I love her character! (Though that might have a lot to do with Bridget Regan, she was also mindblowing in ABC's 'Legend Of The Seeker'). Any scene featuring Dotty is mesmerising!
Another major character in the show is Edwin Jarvis, the butler of Tony Stark's father, Howard. (Jarvis is also the name of the A.I. program controlling the Iron Man suit. Coincidence? Nope.) Jarvis is played perfectly by James D'Arcy. He's a typical stiff-upper-lipped Englishman in 1940's America who respects family life and is totally dedicated to his employer, Howard Stark. Yet Jarvis secretly yearns for adventure, and enjoys his exploits with Agent Carter a little more than he really should.
Thankfully, by popular demand, Marvel's Agent Carter has been renewed for a second season, so we'll be able to keep up with Peggy's ongoing adventures. I can't wait to see what the creators bring to the next episodes. If it's as good as season one, we're in for a real treat!
Daredevil has been recently re-imagined by online streaming company Netflix, and what a great job they've done of it! I was impressed by how dark and gritty Marvel have allowed Netflix to be with Daredevil, and it makes a welcome change from the 'clean-cut, never see any blood or broken bones' ethos of most Marvel productions. Some of the fight scenes are so good you'll want to watch them twice, and the season one villain (Wilson Fisk, played by Vincent D'Onofrio) is just the right balance of gentleman and psychopath.
Daredevil himself is the alter-ego of Matt Murdock (the blind son of murdered boxer Battlin' Jack Murdock), who is a lawyer by day and a crime fighting martial arts expert by night. He's supported in his day job by his lifelong best friend Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson, and company secretary Karen Page who he rescued from a would be assassination attempt. Things get complicated when Foggy finds out that his buddy Matt is really the masked figure who's been fighting crime across the city at night. Friendships and honesty are questioned, sometimes stretched to the limit, and it's the relationship between the three main characters that really drives the story. The fight scenes are an added bonus! ;)
Netflix really haven't scrimped on budgets, and the result is a well-written and produced show, with some amazing locations and great effects.
Fresh from his expoits in AMC's The Walking Dead (which was also adopted from a comic series), actor Jon Bernthal has been confirmed to take on the role of Frank 'The Punisher' Castle for Season 2 of Daredevil. It'll be interesting to see how this character pans out because in the comics, he's a bit of a nutter. I'm not about to write off Wilson Fisk either, he's just about crazy enough to scrape his way out of any situation...
I'm loving the current trend of Marvel characters being made into live-action TV shows and movies, and if they continue to be anywhere near the quality of Daredevil, Agent Carter, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., then I'll be a happy bloke.
Deadpool - February 12th, 2016 - Wade Wilson, after being subjected to an experiment which leaves him with new abilities, takes on the persona of anti-hero 'Deadpool' and hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.
Captain America : Civil War - May 6th, 2016 - Steve Rogers leads the new team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. After another international incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability and a governing body to determine when to enlist the services of the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers while they try to protect the world from a new and nefarious villain.
Doctor Strange - November 4th, 2016 - Talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond.
Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 - May 5th, 2017 - The Guardians are back in action, this time saving the galaxy from a much more personal threat.
The Spectacular Spiderman - July 28th, 2017 - Spidey's first foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thor: Ragnarok - November 3rd, 2017 - Thor and Loki together again. Hang on to your panties, ladies!
Avengers : Infinity War (Part 1) - May 4th, 2018 - Again, details are sparse with this one, but it's a safe bet that it's going to introduce new characters from the upcoming 'Captain Marvel' and 'The Inhumans' movies, before they themselves feed into Avengers: Infinity War Part 2.
Black Panther - July 6th, 2018 - Black Panther is a varied character combining high-tech equipment, high-adventure extreme activities, and a swashbuckling style. It should make for a great movie.
Captain Marvel - November 2nd, 2018 - It'll be interesting to see how Marvel create a movie based on a character they were forced to keep alive purely for legal reasons.
Avengers : Infinity War (Part 2) - May 3rd, 2019 - Infinity War is obviously too big for a single movie! Captain Marvel and The Inhumans team up with The Avengers to take on the mighty Thanos! (Well, they do in the comics at least...)
Inhumans - July 12th, 2019 - Inhumans characters and abilities are already being introduced on ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so it was only a matter of time before a movie was announced. There's also the possibility that Peter 'Star Lord' Quill's father is amongst their ranks... I told you it's all connected!...