“Let’s begin with the past in front
And all the things
You really don’t care about now.
It’d be exactly where I’m at.”
If you have any doubts at all about the old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, you merely have to look at two of the major pillars of my upbringing to find strong support for its validity: Star Wars and LEGO. Where on Earth would we all be as a people without these transcendent powerhouses fostering our entertainment, our imagination, and most certainly our education and understanding of the world? A tough one to answer. Now, or any time soon, seeing as how they’re both more relevant and influential than ever, and show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
That is not to say they both haven’t evolved over the years. While one started out in the theater and the other on the toy aisle, both have had widely successful ventures on to each other’s turf. The advancement of technology and the never-ending quest to be more kick-ass than last year’s model have polished their look over the years, sometimes for the better. And as long as you don’t let yourself get tractor-beamed into the fool’s gold glimmer of “the way it used to be”, it’s pretty easy for the forty-something to enjoy today’s offerings from both, even simultaneously (have you seen the LEGO Death Star? Yeah, I want it too).
As formative things like these progress and span generations before our very eyes, we are constantly challenged with the inner turmoil of nostalgia vs actual improvement (or nostalgia vs tastefulness, or nostalgia vs general acceptance of a New Normal that moves way too fast for my aging brain to keep up with). Seldom though do we appreciate the overall evolutions of these things in and of themselves, as a phenomenon. As I get older and tend to see things from the top of the hill rather than down amongst the herd, I become more interested in the overall timeline of things in their entirety. Every point from beginning to end having an equal relevance, rather than just scrutinizing the current manifestation against fuzzy memories of the past. And this is not just with Jedi Knights and colorful building blocks. Bono used to belt it out at the top of his register, now he relies heavily on the falsetto – I have favorite songs from both voices. I used to spend hours browsing Tower Records only to make a purchase based solely on the coolest looking album cover, now I find exactly what I want and preview a sample of it first in just minutes on iTunes – my playlist contains sacred gems from both glorious methods of exploration. Bias towards any particular standard, whether past or present, has pretty much faded. If I were Rust Cole, I guess this is where I’d say something about time being a flat circle. I must say though it has sort of become my perspective on a lot of things that make up our cultural ingredients.
What was then is now, and is still to come.
So anyway, with all that being said, that brings us to the discussion at hand, for which one thing needs to be made clear. Of all the things that did have a formative impact on my childhood, comic books were definitely NOT one of them. I was certainly aware of them as something some kids were obsessed with, like I was with my Star Wars figure collection, but for whatever reason it just never occurred to me to get that interested in them. I didn’t necessarily turn my nose up to them, it just wasn’t my bag. And so as time went on and skateboarding and concerts took over my priorities, the notion of comics (and especially any movies based on them) had become completely disregarded as anything of possible importance. Which would make my sudden and rather unorthodox appreciation for them later on in my college years a completely unexpected epiphany, brought on by my best friend and roommate at the time – but wait, more on that later. Let’s back up again just a sec….
The world of art and creativity WAS something that was going to take hold of me at an early age and continue on in perpetuity, just not on the illustrated page. 1982, eleven years old, I saw Blade Runner in the theater. That was it. Five minutes into the film and I knew I had to make movies. Went home and told my mom all about it, and received a warm smile accompanied by a nice pat on the head. That’s nice, now run along and play. And since I was fucking eleven, that’s pretty much all I could do. Four years later though, at fifteen, I saw A Clockwork Orange on Cinemax at a friend’s house. Again, a game-changer, but not exactly with the same parental reaction this time. It did however motivate me to contemplate actual plans to realize this dream, even if they were still a bit premature. So what was it going to be then, eh? NYU? UCLA? Maybe an internship at ILM? Even the sky isn’t the limit at that innocent age….
Well, I didn’t go to film school, but I majored in film at the school I went to. Or, I at least tried to. Or, I guess to put it accurately, I sifted through the ashes of a defunct bare-bones film program, closed down a few years before my arrival and homogenized into a half-ass video program in the name of progress (and MUCH cheaper maintaining costs). But that didn’t matter. The film equipment was still there, locked in a storage closet and available to any persistent fresh-faced go-getter that persuaded the skeleton crew faculty that YOU were worthy of its resurrection (and YOU would pay for film and developing out of your own pocket, of course).
That handful of really good instructors, and the one wise old professor that presided over them all (whose persona was somewhere between Gandalf and JK Simmons’ character in Whiplash), were unquestionably a major influence. Mentors in each their own way for a million reasons, but mainly because they collectively instilled in us an appreciation of the process. While going in most of us relished to idea of the do-it-all-yourself auteur, we were gradually and painstakingly taught (kicking and screaming) the invaluable lessons to incorporate those around you as a potential benefit. That true collaboration is more full-filling than going rogue. That learning the rules was an important precursor to breaking them. And that ultimately, breaking them was really no reason for great reward. The real trick was to operate without bias for either adhering to rules or disregarding them completely, just confidently and competently go with whatever the situation called for to create a good product. To me, and to the handful of really good friends passing through with me, it was formative years all over again. An era that became more important and sacred than any other on the timeline, now two decades gone.
We all made films, but alas, we did not go on to be filmmakers….
So then. The aforementioned best friend and roommate. We were pretty much inseparable through my college years except when I was actually at school – he did not share in my interest for collegiate achievement and had a general disdain for any institutions of authority. Not surprisingly, he was an absolute comic book guy, and embraced many of the old stereotypes that my generation tended to place on guys like him – a loner, not exactly a social butterfly, extremely smart and smarmy, sometimes too much for his own good. Worked part-time at a hobby shop, but worked full-time at buying, reading, discussing, arguing, and probably dreaming about comics. Oh yeah, and he could draw like a sonofabitch – which focused a lot of his opinionating on the artwork and the artists that created it.
This is what I initially took notice of. I remember in particular some comic artwork he showed me by Neil Gaiman, whom I had never heard of, and being very taken by it. Very dark and subliminal, and not at all like anything I had seen in a comic book before. Frank Miller was another. As I became more interested and inquisitive about the different artists, my friend explained to me the process of how comics are created – not just by one person doing it all alone (a naïve notion I unconsciously presumed), but a staff of writers, illustrators, inkers, etc., all working to make one finished creative product – kinda like making a film. This I related to, and in an instant had a whole new perspective on the comic book world
Now I didn’t exactly run out and start buying The Sandman series, and definitely had NO interest in debating it vs The Dark Knight (maybe this is a good time to mention – I have zero intention of trying to convince (or be convinced) of what any type of creative art should be, say, or do, or whether it’s good, bad, whatever, no matter what the format – comics, film, painting, music, whatever). That’s a quagmire I just don’t have the desire to sludge through. It’s the discussions and discoveries of new art and artists that has continued to intrigue over the years, and the recent rejuvenation of the Marvel comic genre is no exception. Particularly the movies derived from them, which until recently I never had much use for, but seem to have gotten better and reached a bright spot on their timeline. Not to disregard my earlier appreciation of those DC geniuses, it’s just that as of late, Marvel seems to be the one to get its creative shit together.
And so in paying more attention to the growing hype created by this new and improved wave of cinematic comic book installments, I’ve been lead to believe that the upcoming Avengers sequel is going to be something that absolutely cannot be missed. Even if you don’t read a lot of comics or frequent the movies, Age of Ultron poses to be the most anticipated cinematic event this side of the new Star Wars. But this is only the latest (and you can bet your bottom $10 not the last) in what has become a whole new era for films derived from comics, and leading the charge (by a mile) are the Marvel releases. Just put your ear to the zeitgeist, and you’ll hear rising above the media static the collective insistence that this whole new take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (that’s MCU to you and, as of a day ago, me) is something to be appreciated. That at long last, both film and comic book camps agree, it is finally being done “right”.
The Force IS with us, everything IS awesome….
So as a fun study, I’m going to watch all the MCU movies in order and comment on them. Not wearing any particular hat, especially not that of Film Expert or Comic Book Naysayer (I don’t consider myself either), I’m just going to watch them and talk about what stands out the most. The accompanying television series too, as I’m told they play an important part on the MCU timeline. A lot to take on and make time for, but I think I’m up for the challenge and it should be a lot of fun to talk about along the way. One last thing – I like to have a smoke when I write, so I’ll probably talk about that too – an Aging Room M21 was keeping me company for this initial entry. Burning evenly down to a nub, its changing taste over the last hour is what cigar regulars usually call “complex”….
“And to think you got a grip
Well look at yourself
Your lips are like two flaps of fat
They go front and back and flapity flapity flap”
- from White Pepper by Ween
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