Categories
Now Showing

Black Widow

Long before the Black Widow movie was even in the works, I thought that it was great subject matter for a stand-alone movie, outside of The Avengers franchise. Through previous MCU adventures, we’ve gotten hints that Natasha Romanoff’s life had been spent as a covert agent and assassin. In my head at least, I imagined what a great opportunity it would be to explore her early adventures, a sort of spin on the Bond and Bourne movies. Awesomely, the Black Widow movie is all of that and more.

For my family, this was our first outing to the theater post-covid. While we felt comfortable knowing that the theater we were going to was still taking multiple precautions for safety, we opted to attend the first show on a Monday, when we knew attendance would be fairly low. For further peace of mind, we purchased a buffer seat on either side of us. Since it was a matinee, it was more than affordable to do.

It was so great to be back, sitting in comfy recliners, chomping on buttered popcorn again. Our family loves going to the movies, and the pandemic really put a damper on that. Needless to say, we were very excited as the house lights dimmed.

If there was any handwringing at Marvel or Disney, over whether or not Scarlett Johannson could carry her own movie, the opening weekend box-office take of $215 million squelched that. Serving as both the star of the film and producer, she was able to flesh out a hero that was in need of fleshing out, beyond occasionally remarking, “Just like in Budapest.” 

As the following was revealed in the trailer, Romanoff meets up with her sister, who appears to have had a similar upbringing as an operative. While the two initially go for each other’s throats, they are equally inquisitive about the sister that they barely know. Their mission turns into tracing their own family tree, and trying to separate fact from fiction.

I really don’t want to say anything more about the plot, because it twists and turns in a few unexpected ways. Coupled with unbelievably first-rate action sequences, Black Widow more than holds its own against any of the Cap, Ironman or Thor outings. In fact, I can’t wait to see it again.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Boppin'

Superheroes On TV

Batman was not the first superhero I saw on TV. That honor belongs to the Man of Steel, the Metropolis Marvel, Kal-El, the one ‘n’ only Superman. Everyone knew Superman, and in the early ’60s, everyone had watched Superman on TV in reruns of The Adventures Of Superman, the venerable ’50s series starring George Reeves. Concurrent to this, all of the kids in my neighborhood also watched chapters of the old Flash Gordon movie serials, as well as Astro Boy cartoons, both of which were shown every afternoon on The Baron And His Buddies, the popular kids’ show hosted by Syracuse’s own local vampire, Baron Daemon. If you also include the Mighty Mouse and Popeye cartoons we all watched, like, everywhere, then it’s safe to say that all the kids in North Syracuse had plenty of exposure to televised superheroics well before the debut of the Batman TV series in January of 1966.

Nonetheless, it was the success of Batman that paved the way for more superheroes on TV. Prior to Batman, nearly all of the super adventures we saw were old–second-hand entertainment, already enjoyed previously by our elder siblings, or even an earlier generation. Superman was from the ’50s; Popeye from the ’30s through the ’50s; Flash Gordon from the ’30s. Astro Boy was roughly contemporary, but a syndicated import, not, y’know, fresh Amurrican entertainment. At the beginning of 1966, Batman was really the only superhero starring in brand-new televised exploits; he would have plenty of company by the end of that year.

(This new superhero fad had its first effect on advertising. I recall seeing superhero motifs in TV commercials for Bactine and Lucky Stripes chewing gum, and I loved ’em. The images of Stripeman and a flying, bat-caped Bactine container were as much a part of my TV experience in ’66 as The Monkees were.)

Almost all of the new superhero shows would be animated. In September, the new Saturday morning cartoon schedule on CBS included The New Adventures Of SupermanSpace GhostFrankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, and even The Lone Ranger, starring another character we all knew (like Superman), but who couldn’t be called a superhero because he was, y’know, a cowboy. On weekday afternoons, we were treated to The Marvel Super Heroes, a series of serialized adventures starring a rotating roster of Captain AmericaThorIron ManSub-Mariner, and The Hulk. These were shown in Syracuse on a show called Jet Set, alongside a collection of whatever other cartoon goodies Channel 5 could get its hands on (including Sinbad Jr And His Magic Belt, in which our seafarin’ hero gained super strength via the wonder of his titular magic belt).

There were live action superheroes, too. Most notable of these was The Green Hornet with Van Williams and Bruce Lee, though there were also two comedy superhero shows, Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific. I was aware of Captain Nice, and even owned a Captain Nice comic book, but never managed to see an episode of the show. I did watch both The Green Hornet and Mr. Terrific, but not many people did; all three series were short-lived.

More animated superheroes followed: Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man on ABC, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS (the latter including additional heroics from The FlashGreen LanternHawkmanThe AtomTeen Titans, and The Justice League of America), and a variety of other super-doers created for the small screen: Mightor! Super 6! Mighty Heroes! Birdman! The Galaxy Trio! Super-President! Surely, evil must tremble before this assembled might of right!

The cancellation of the prime-time Batman in 1968 signaled the ebb of the public’s interest in superheroes. Although Batman quickly returned in a new cartoon series in the fall of ’68, the costumed hero fad had run its course.

With the plethora of superhero movies and TV shows available now, it’s odd to look back and realize that it did once seem like a fad that had ended. In the early ’70s, Superman and Wonder Woman made (perhaps incongruous) guest appearances on a Saturday morning cartoon series based on the kids from The Brady Bunch; an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie called “Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter” teamed the super sailor-man with other characters from the King Features stable, including Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician; and Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman and Robin united in a new cartoon series called Super Friends.

Me? I was 13 by the time Super Friends debuted in 1973, and it wasn’t at all what I was looking for in televised superhero entertainment. I wanted a gritty new Batman series–no, not “Batman,” “THE Batman!” I wanted something that would reflect the perceived (by me) maturity of the 1970s Batman comics stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams; in my mind, Medical Center star Chad Everett was born to play The Batman in a serious crime drama, with British actor Christopher Lee as the megalomaniacal Ra’s al GhulThat’s what I wanted, not kids’ stuff like Super Friends.


Alas, I never really liked any of the live action superhero TV fare of the ’70s. Well, at the time, I confess I did kinda like the atrocious Wonder Woman TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby, and the awful late night TV adaptation of the musical It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman. The original Captain Marvel had become one of my all-time favorite comics characters, but I couldn’t warm to his banal escapades in Shazam! Lynda Carter was a freakin’ knockout, but I found her Wonder Woman series to be too campy, and this young man had outgrown camp, see? IsisSpider-ManThe Incredible Hulk? None of these was ever quite what I had in mind.

It took decades before there would be a superhero TV series that would captivate me. I loved Smallville, the tale of the boy who would be Superman, from the moment of its debut in 2001. Nowadays, I have all the superhero TV entertainment I could ever want, from all those DC Comics shows on The CW to Marvel shows on Disney + and Netflix. From feast, to famine, to an endless bounty, all within my lifetime. Up, up, and away.

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch

This was originally posted at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on July 11, 2018. As Marvel’s fantastic WandaVision TV mini-series concludes its run on Disney + today, we reprise this look back at how columnist Carl Cafarelli first discovered Wanda (and her brother Pietro) when he was a kid in the ’60s.

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

You can’t keep a band together.
–Jazz legend Del Paxton

When you’re six years old, you may believe that some things can remain stable, unchanging. At least that’s what I thought when I was six, in 1966. The Beatles were The Beatles, four specific guys, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and they would always be The Beatles. The kids I knew on my block were the kids I knew on my block. Family was family: Mom, Dad, my brothers Art and Rob, my sister Nina, and an extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents. The death of my Aunt Connie, my Godmother, in 1965 was the first existential threat to my sense of comfortable consistency, but even though her passing shattered my little heart, and even though I now feared the possibility of more loved ones being taken away from me, I still had faith that things could remain in place, secure, unchallenged. Safe. When trouble appeared, Mom and Dad could chase it away. And on TV and in comic books, evil could be vanquished by superheroes. Like Batman and Robin, The Dynamic Duo–you could always count on those two. In the summer of ’66, I discovered an entire team of superheroes: The Mighty Avengers!

It was a back issue, a copy of The Avengers # 13 from 1965, but any book you ain’t read yet is a new book. It introduced me to my first superhero group, comprised of five characters I’d never seen before: Captain AmericaThorIron ManGiant-Man, and The Wasp. I was fascinated, and secure in the knowledge that this crusading quintet would always be there to thwart the machinations of nogoodniks like Count Nefaria.

And the next time I saw an issue of The Avengers, the old order had already, like,  changeth-ed. What the…?!

Captain America–then and now, my favorite Avenger–was still there. The Wasp was still there. Dumbass that I was, I didn’t realize that the big guy now called Goliath was good ol’ Giant-Man in a different costume. Thor and Iron Man were gone. In their place were three more unfamiliar heroes: the archer Hawkeye, and a pair of siblings, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch.

Oddly enough, I think I took this confusing challenge to the status quo in stride. At six, I still didn’t quite understand all the busy little business occurring in superhero comics, especially in the comparatively denser experience of Marvel Comics. I just kinda held on, and exulted in my best thing ever: More superheroes! I think this second exposure to The Avengers predated my first exposure to The Fantastic Four, so Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch were likely the first brother-and-sister heroes I ever saw (before The FF’s Sue and Johnny Storm, The Invisible Girl and The Human Torch). A superhero family? I mean, I sorta knew Superman‘s pretty cousin SupergirlSuperboy‘s supposed older brother Mon-El, and had read a touching imaginary story about Lex Luthor as Superman’s brother. But sibling superheroes seemed new, perhaps even reassuring. In tumultuous times, what could be more reassuring than family?

I don’t recall which issue of The Avengers introduced me to Pietro and Wanda, the speedster Quicksilver and his pseudo-magical sister The Scarlet Witch; I suspect it was either The Avengers # 29 (June 1966) or the following month’s The Avengers # 30. But I felt an immediate attachment to them, and to Hawkeye, too. I accepted this new group as The Avengers. My Avengers. My next issue was probably The Avengers # 33 (October 1966), then # 42 (July 1967), and I tried to keep up with The Avengers as often as I could thereafter.

In the ’80s, writer and artist Mike Tiefenbacher said something to the effect that kids who are attracted to superheroes–and specifically to groups of superheroes–are drawn by the look of costumes as much as by any other factor. I agree. At six and seven years old, I thought Quicksilver’s bold white lightning bolt against a green body suit was mesmerizing, enhanced by his silver hair and its unique horn-like tufts. The Scarlet Witch was basically wearing a bathing suit with a cape, but my affection for her look wasn’t merely prurient, and it had more to do with her distinctive helmet, or whatever that was that framed her face. I didn’t know anything about Jack Kirby, and Dashing Don Heck was the artist on my earliest Avengers adventures anyway. It would be a few years before I learned that Wanda and Pietro had first appeared as conflicted minions of the evil Magneto in the pages of The X-Men, designed and rendered by King Kirby.

Anyway. Although I continued to follow The Avengers as best I could, I missed more issues than I read. Somewhere in there, Wanda and Pietro slipped away, Avengers no longer. I found them again as antagonists in The X-Men, and involved in an inter-title X-Men/Avengers crossover serial. New Avengers joined. One of them, a synthezoid called The Vision, won The Scarlet Witch’s heart, and they were married in the ’70s. Quicksilver’s costume coloring changed from green to a light blue. His mercurial temper and imperious nature resulted in Pietro not being an Avenger quite as often as Wanda was. I caught up on much of Wanda and Pietro’s back story in 1970, when my sister’s boyfriend gave me all of his old comic books, which included many early ’60s Marvels. By then, I no longer called my sister Nina; I had begun calling her by her real name, Denise, as she left home for college.

Things change. When I was a kid, The Avengers was my favorite comic book. I still buy new comic books, often including The Avengers, but the current run just doesn’t interest me, so I’m dropping it from my pull list this week. I’ve very much enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of The Avengers, and look forward to many more MCU movies. I’m still a version of that six-year-old kid, enthralled when I saw Captain America throw his mighty shield, enthralled even now with the notion of good triumphing over evil, order over chaos, stability over disarray.

On Monday morning, I was a pall bearer at my Aunt Mary’s funeral. It’s okay; she is in a much better place now than she had been in the recent past. In the limousine, some of the other pall bearers were men who only remembered me from when I was a kid, their friend Maryann’s weird and pesky little superhero-obsessed cousin. Aunt Mary was 94, the last of my Dad’s siblings. They’re all gone now, beginning with their little brother Arthur (killed in a car accident as a child), then my Aunt Connie in 1965, Uncle Danny in 1970, Aunt Helen, Uncle Tot, Aunt Rose, and then Dad in 2012. My mother is in a nursing home. She wanted to attend Aunt Mary’s funeral, but decided she just wasn’t up to the effort on Monday.

As the limo made its way from funeral home to church to cemetery and back, I heard these men talk about their memories of Aunt Mary. More than one of them said that they would have probably wound up in jail if Aunt Mary hadn’t provided them with a place to hang out, a place to be, instead of being out there somewhere getting into real trouble. She was a superhero, as powerful with her Italian cookies and macaroni and meatballs as The Scarlet Witch with her hexes, and Quicksilver with his speed. Avengers assemble. Lemme tell ya: even the baddest of bad guys would have been no match for Aunt Mary’s cookies.

The Beatles broke up. Robin went off to college, leaving his mentor to fight crime alone back in Gotham City, just as my sister Nina–Denise–matriculated her way out of North Syracuse. Some of the kids on the block moved away. Family and friends–so many have been claimed by time, circumstance, and mortality. I’ve welcomed newer members of those groups, too. “The Old Order Changeth.” That was the title of the story where Captain America returned from an adventure to discover he was the last of the old Avengers, charged with the task of whipping these new recruits Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and The Scarlet Witch into shape. Things change. The only constant is change.

Our faith in the value of what we knew, though…well, that doesn’t have to change. We remember. We believe. And we persevere, as our heroes taught us.

I may still have a tiny crush on The Scarlet Witch. She was just so damned cute in that helmet, or whatever the hell it was supposed to be.

Oh, it was a tiara! Of course!

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.