If you’d’ve told me ten years ago I’d be writing a piece like this I’d’ve thought you were crazy. First, I wasn’t blogging or doing any kind of writing outside of journaling then so it would’ve been hard to imagine. Second, I didn’t know who the Guardians of the Galaxy were (outside of a single card in my binder of 1992 Marvel Universe trading cards which didn’t feature a single character I recognized). So I could’ve never predicted falling in love with these characters and their story so completely one fateful summer day in 2014. Nor could I foresee Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 becoming my favorite movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How then could I have predicted those films leading me to read all their comics from 2008 to the present? And TheGuardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special becoming a must-watch part of my Christmas viewing? Well, I doubt I could’ve pictured any multiverse where that was a thing. Yet this all came to pass. So here I sit, writing of how James Gunn’s brilliant and beautiful Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 brought these characters’ story to a conclusion in such a way as to make it the MCU’s best example to date of what a superhero story can really do.
Note, SPOILERS for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will follow and will be clearly marked.
Years ago, out to lunch with one of my best friends, he made an observation, “You know, I think you’d be happy never getting married. You’re comfortable on your own. You don’t need someone else to enjoy life. But if you get married, I think you’ll marry a single mother. Lots of guys wouldn’t. Lots of people avoid dating single parents. But you don’t. You’re good with kids. You love kids and you’d love her kids, which would be great for everyone.” While this friend knew me better than most (at the time, we’ve lost touch a bit), he rarely weighed in on my personal life. So it was unexpected but I didn’t disagree. It felt authentic. Still, I’d’ve never guessed this would be a bridge to see a little of myself in the Joker :8. Gah! The Clown Prince of Crime. The Harlequin of Hate. The Jester of Genocide. The King of Arkham Asylum. This is the guy – thanks to HBO Max’s mind-bendingly brilliant and sensationally subversive Harley Quinn – I’m now empathizing with?? Color me surprised.
It’s Christmastime again, so ‘tis the season for me to read and watch a buncha Christmas specials and use them to reflect on what Christmas means to me just like Stevie Wonder does in the very song which inspired this series. And, just like Stevie Wonder sings about, “All these things and more, darling (all these things and more) / That’s what Christmas means to me, my love,” Christmas means a lot of things to me, too! This time I’m turning my attention towards The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, debuting on 25 November 2022 on Disney+. Speaking of the special to Radio Times, James Gunn said, “The Holiday Special is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s totally ridiculous, and every day we can’t believe that we’re making it. We all completely love it. It is unlike anything that anyone’s ever seen before. I can’t wait for people to see it.” I was stunned! Greater than Guardians of the GalaxyVol. 1 and 2?? Greater than The Suicide Squad?? This wasn’t anything I expected it to be (save fun, I expected it to be fun!) but I absolutely loved it! It left me with warm Christmas feels, too.
Note, spoilers for The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special follow.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is, in my humble opinion, the most important show (it’s finale in particular) to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It cuts loose the albatross which has hung around the neck of the MCU since Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were released. If the MCU is to continue for another ten years, if it’s to stay relevant and interesting, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law must become the Bible for Marvel’s cinematic storytellers. And ok, I see how my title and these opening sentences may seem a bit clickbait-y. It may seem like a “hot take,” purposefully framed to invite shocked, curious, or even hate reads. But here’s the thing; I honestly, completely, wholeheartedly believe this. For all their EPICNESS, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame inadvertently set off a problematic chain reaction within the MCU’s fandom which will plague the MCU until it’s set right. How do you stop this reaction? She-Hulk SMASH. Salvation, it turns out, comes in a sensational She-Hulk-sized package.
Note, this piece contains SPOILERS for the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law finale.
I’ve often heard it said we’re living in the era of Prestige Television (or Peak Television, if you prefer). Regardless of the terminology, there is the general sense among people who think, write, and talk about these things that the 21st century has seen the rise of a Golden Age – if not The Golden Age – of Television. The caliber of what’s being offered on TV is generally considered to have risen. There are more “high quality” shows generating more critical acclaim than ever before. The line between “TV star” and the once-more prestigious “movie star” is blurring. In fact, these TV shows with shorter seasons, renown casts, and complex storytelling, are often touted as six (or ten (or thirteen)) hour movies, broken up into smaller installments. You couple this with the rise of streaming services (and the accompanying “streaming wars” where each service tries to outperform the others to earn your subscription fee) alongside the culture of binge-watching and our experience of television’s been transformed. It is a remarkable time to be consuming such content and the excited query, “Have you seen [fill-in-the-blank-show] yet??” drives our pop culture conversations like never before.
The thing is, my answer is almost always “no.” Like 9/10 times it’s “no.” And here’s why.
Yes, this title is clickbait. It’s probably the most clickbait-y thing I’ve ever written. Given the MCU has earned a not insignificant $15,558,746,560 at the global box office to date (which doesn’t include all the profit it’s generated in merchandise sales and Disney+ subscribers) it’s not like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in trouble. It is a cultural juggernaut and like…well, like the Juggernaut, nothing seems to stop it. It’s not in need of saving per se so it’s not like She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is salvifically sweeping in to salvage a once thriving interconnected cinematic universe flailing on the brink of cultural irrelevance. But I chose the title to be an eye-catching invitation for readers (those intrigued, those enraged, and those in agreement) to dialogue with what this piece has to say. Showrunner Jessica Gao’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is intelligent, goofy, sassy, funny, and self-aware; it’s everything that made me love She-Hulk more than the Hulk when I was a kid. It’s also important to the future of the MCU in several key ways and we should talk about it. So yeah, I said She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is saving the MCU. Here’s why.
Be aware this piece contains some spoilers for the first two episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
I try to guard myself against the “it’s newest so it’s the best EVER” reaction that often permeates fandoms. We can tend to live and breathe a movie or a show as soon as it premieres, reworking our rank lists to show how this is the best ever…until the next new movie or show in that universe comes out. I get the excitement. I often share it myself! But I’m always cautious about saying “best” when reflecting on a new movie or show. Yet it’s impossible to deny the sheer beauty and joy of Disney+’s Ms. Marvel show. Each episode fills my heart in a way nothing else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has. As far as I’m concerned, it is easily the most joyful entry in the MCU. I think it’s far and away the most important show Disney+ has done so far, too. And it may well be the best. We’ll see ;D. So I want to explore these emotions through the lens of how Kamala’s powers changed for the Disney+ show…in a way that’s far closer to her comic roots than I first realized.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ first full trailer began with Stephen looking at a ghastly house and speaking of a recurring dream. “Every night,” he narrates while facing this dilapidated building, “I dream the same dream. And then, the nightmare begins.” As trailers go, it was a clever hook. As someone who has his fair share of weird, wild, and/or horrifying dreams, I was eager to see where this was going (and if this was even in the movie as Marvel has pulled the ol’ trailer bait and switch more than once). Well, I saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and now I have context for this quote! That’s what this piece explores. It will have the lightest of spoilers as I’ll discuss a line of exposition in the first 10-15 minutes of the film but won’t do much with it beyond that. Outside of that line, no other major or minor plot points or any twists will be discussed or even alluded to. The broken-up title for this piece is my (maybe?) clever way of saying this piece is about Doctor Strange and it’s about strange dreams I’ve had and it’s about Doctor Strange’s dreams and it’s about the multiverse.
This weekend, in anticipation of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I returned to a favorite tradition of mine – marathoning old movies before I see the new one! The size of the Marvel Cinematic Universe means the last time I watched every movie was my marathon for Avengers: Endgame. Now, saner (and healthier!) parts have prevailed. Instead of ruining my life by trying to watch the twenty-eight different films and nineteen different TV series with thirty-six seasons between them that make up the MCU (at the time of this writing), I’ve just chosen to watch Doctor Strange (2015), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), WandaVision (2021), and Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). Rewatching Doctor Strange a question struck me: whatever happened to Dr. Christine Palmer?
As soon as I saw Black Widow last summer I felt this thought wiggling around in my brain. Is it…? Could it be…? Is…is Black Widow now my favorite Marvel movie?! Because I’m me, I certainly couldn’t say definitively. First, I’m not the type of person who can throw a term like “favorite” around lightly. To say I like or love something is one thing. But to say it’s “my favorite” or “the best” or “the greatest” of all-time? That requires a lot of thoughtful discernment for me. Second, there’s this odd reaction/habit within our culture, especially within our fandom cultures, where whatever is newest is automatically the best. It’s new! It’s shiny! It’s the best ever!!! So, while that’s never been me, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t having that sort of reaction when I first saw Black Widow on July 8th. I said I loved it. I said it was easily one of the best films the MCU has to offer. And I said it may be my all-time favorite movie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, I needed time before I could say that with any certainty. Now I know. Black Widow is the best Marvel movie of all-time! And here’s why…