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Friday, May 11, 2018

Comic Cuts - 11 May 2018

The sun was scorching last Saturday when we went on a little walking tour of Colchester, visiting a handful of sites of literary significance. The "Literary Trail" tour is part of the Colchester Life initiative and was hosted by local author Alex Clare, who read extracts from six books that had ties to the locations we visited.

I'm a local of some 25 years, but haven't really explored the town; I know the history in broad strokes – it is Britain's oldest town, the location chosen by the Romans because it is on a hill. Not in the sense of rolling hills that you get in the Lake District, but a bump in the mostly flat Essex landscape. That was about 40AD. Then some stuff happened about which I'm a bit hazy, and I moved over here in 1992.

The literary trail took in the Dutch Quarter, Mile End, the Castle and the former Greyfriars Books, which moved to Tindal Street some years ago, but which seems to be always closed when I'm in town on Saturday mornings.

Extracts were read from books, including Ian Sansom's thriller Essex Poison, Melvyn Bragg's Now Is the Time (about Colchester priest John Ball, who played a leading part in the Peasants' Revolt) and Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders – Defoe having lived in Colchester. Next up was a scene from Blackwater by James Henry set in Castle Park, followed by The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and the opening of Tristan Bernays' Boudicca... although she did burn the town down so I guess we ought to have mixed feelings about her.

After that, we walked back to the Red Lion bookshop for a talk/Q&A with Jack Henry (James Gurbutt) himself, whom we've known for a couple of years. His Blackwater novel was set locally and a sequel, Yellowhammer, is due out in a matter of weeks.

The whole thing was a great success and much of that was down to the enthusiasm of our guide, Alex, who had to cope with quite a large crowd (there were 30 or so people on the tour), all of them with differing walking speeds and a desire to wander, cars and vans wanting to use the roads, a bit of a tech problem which meant nobody could hear a recording of a local madrigal... minor problems that couldn't mar the enthusiasm of the trail-goers. She has a blog if you want to know more about her novels.

A group of us went to see Avengers: Infinity War on Monday, which was 2 hours 40 minutes of slam-bang action. Thankfully the second part of the movie brings this era of Marvel movies to an end because we're getting to the point where so many characters have so many impossibly vast powers that writers have to find ways – usually inexplicably stupid ways – to stop them using their powers. Like making Hulk so grumpy he refuses to manifest. Or you sideline them, as in Captain America: Civil War, which removed Thor and Hulk from the battle, leaving it to the guys in suits (Iron Man, Ant Man, Falcon, War Machine) and the highly trained / physically enhanced / slightly lesser-powered (Black Panther, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Winter Soldier, etc.).

This time they couldn't even be bothered to feature Hawkeye. Mind you, they should be investigating that quiver of his, which can fit more arrows than it has physical size to contain. He just keeps reaching in and firing 'em off. There's something multi-dimensional going on... maybe something akin to Terry Pratchett's L-Space.

When they're not dialling down their powers, they're dialling down their IQs. Vision seemed particularly useless in Infinity Wars. He seems to be an A.I. with all the smarts of a person with access to Wikipedia but a patchy broadband connection.

I went in with a couple of misgivings: for example, would the film be able to give space to all of the characters, not only those from the Avengers/Captain America movies but also the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange? The answer is, yes. And the directors (the Russo brothers) did a really good job of keeping the film motoring along without losing anybody in the plot. I am a fan of these films, but not so much that there isn't a risk of a "Hang on, who's that?" moment. Thankfully that didn't happen.

My other big misgiving did. Lots of characters died, beginning with Loki. Now, Loki has been dead before. But this time he's really dead, says everyone connected with the movies. Well, they would, wouldn't they, to misquote Mandy Rice-Davies. The problem with choosing Loki as the first major death in the movie is that we've been there before and, you know what? He got over it, which removes any impact the scene might have had. And when others start to die, you're already in the mindset of "Well, if Loki can come back, so can Gamora." And Vision... he's an A.I., and a supposedly smart one at that. Do you not think he has a back-up somewhere?

And then half the Avengers and Guardians die. Sadly, Marvel's publicity machine is very good at keeping fans informed of upcoming movies, so we know that Spider-Man will be back for Homecoming 2 in 2019 and that Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is due in 2020. So they won't be dead by the time the Infinity War sequel ends next year. Oh, and Doctor Strange reviews millions of possible futures and finds one where Thanos doesn't win, so I'm guessing that every action he takes after that point will get us to that one bright future. We've already seen Doctor Strange's ability to alter time, so there's a distinct possibility that he'll somehow recover the infinity stone that gives him his time-bending powers and that will save the bulk of the presently dead heroes.

Comics and movies use death as punctuation rather than attempt to deal with it in a genuine and truthful way. It can be done, and done well. Logan, which came out last year, has some truly harrowing moments in a story that deals with old age and death.

Despite my misgiving, I enjoyed Avengers: Infinity War a lot. The Marvel Cinema Universe (MCU) has a good mix of films, some great thrillers (of which I'd say Captain Marvel: The Winter Soldier is my favourite), some joyful space opera (Guardians of the Galaxy) and some laugh-out-loud comedies (Thor: Ragnarok). There hasn't been one duff movie since Iron Man came out ten years ago (although there have been a couple of low points... the first Thor movie wasn't great, although Thor is now one of my favourite characters in the MCU).

One thing to look forward to in the sequel: Captain Marvel will be making an appearance. She's to be introduced in the Captain Marvel movie due out 8 March 2019, played by Brie Larson. This will be an origin story, set in the 1990s. I'm guessing there's a reason nobody on Earth seems to have heard of her and wasn't invited to save New York during the earlier Avengers movie. Maybe she's clumsy and Nick Fury only calls her as a very last resort. Now, that's a film I'd watch.

Random Scans... I'd lose my blogging license if I didn't let the Literary Trail inspire this week's choice of paperback covers...

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