Phase Two of the MCU: Alright Films and One Masterpiece

Ten days away from the release of Black Widow and we are in the midst of a rewatch to prepare for a discussion with members from the Minnesota Comic Exchange. Now, let’s rank Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

6) Thor: The Dark World (2013) Directed by Alan Taylor

Disney, Marvel Studios

This may be the weakest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that being said its very enjoyable. The chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston creates some great moments in this film. Also it was nice to spend more time in Asgard with Jane Foster having to be saved. Thor: The Dark World is funnier than I remember and with the films that came afterwards, the film has redeemable moments like Loki shape shifting into Captain America will always be funny.

Why is this at the bottom of the list? Two reasons, the first being the terrible characterization of Malekith and the Dark elves. To be the villains of a superhero film, you need to be memorable and even just watching Thor: The Dark World I cannot recall any great moments from Malekith. The second reason is Jane Foster. I love Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and look forward to her coming back for Thor: Love and Thunder but feel like this film played too much into the damsel in distress trope.

5) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Directed by Joss Whedon

Disney, Marvel Studios

This film should be higher on this list, but it may be the most troublesome film of the whole MCU. Let’s focus on the positives before diving into why this is my least liked Avengers film. The introduction of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are all highlights in this film, with both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany crafting memorable performances as Scarlet Witch and Vision. Age of Ultron gave Jeremy Renner an opportunity to shine as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, which redeems the character after The Avengers. Also James Spader is great voicing the homicidal artificial intelligence Ultron and a great tease of Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue.

The worst part of this film is how Natasha is treated in this film. Looking at the films that followed this and even another film in phase two, Natasha looks weak in this film opposed to the badass that we know her as. The very awkward relationship between Natasha and Bruce is hard to watch at moments, luckily two talented actors were able to deliver the lines with emotion, otherwise it could had killed the film. The climax of the film could have been better as well, despite the awesome image of Sokovia floating in the sky, Ultron ends up looking weak.

4) Iron Man 3 (2013) Directed by Shane Black

Disney, Marvel Studios, Paramount Studios

This movie is a lot better than I remembered even despite the Mandarin twist. I mean we got to see Ben Kingsley act as a villain and a comedic role in the same movie. This is a very well acted film that feels like the Lethal Weapon of the MCU, which would make sense with Shane Black directing it. Harley Kenner is a nice additional to the MCU as he was created for this film and provided a glimpse of the mentorship role Tony would take on in later films.

If this was the finale to Iron Man’s story, it would have been higher on the list but it feels like this film is just there to complete a trilogy of films for Iron Man. Guy Pearce is alright as Aldrich Killian, taking a backseat to Kingsley’s Mandarin and with the twist of being the villain of the story is a little disappointing. Besides that though, this film is fun with some awesome moments.

3) Ant-Man (2015) Directed by Peyton Reed

Disney, Marvel Studios

Fun and funny, are two words that can perfectly describe this pint sized film. It’s a film that should not work because how could a film that is based on Ant-Man work? Well a script featuring Edgar Wright and directed by Peyton Reed makes the character work and does it extremely well. A perfectly casted film with Paul Rudd being great as Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and Evangeline Lily as Hope Van Dyne. But the best part of this film is Michael Pena as Luis, who becomes a fan favorite within seconds of being on screen.

Its a film that features a very weak villain in Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (a very cliche performance by Corey Stoll). When Cassie saids “It’s so ugly, I love it.” that perfectly captures this film, it is not perfect but damn is it fun. Great teases with the mid credit scene and the Falcon cameo.

2) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Directed by James Gunn

Disney, Marvel Studios

Much like Ant-Man, this film should not work and it became one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Great special effects, action, characters with amazing humor. This film has it all with a star making performance by Dave Bautista, who steals the film from more seasoned actors as Drax The Destroyer. The only negative thing about this film is the weak villain in Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), which doesn’t impact the story one bit as watching this film, the coming together as a team is more important.

While rewatching this, I forgot how emotional the start of the film was. It is very much like that of Up or Bambi with the death of Peter’s mom. Chris Pratt was born to play the role of Peter Quill/Star-Lord. James Gunn’s vision of Guardians of the Galaxy is so hard not to love, its one of the best films of Phase two with one of the best soundtracks in any superhero film.

1)Captain America: Winter Solider (2014) Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Disney, Marvel Studios

This may be the greatest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not only in Phase Two. This film is just perfect with every character having moments and legendary actor, Robert Redford, in an evil role. Sebastian Stan is great as the Winter Soldier, so much so that I remember the first time watching this, I did not realize that he was the same actor from Captain America: The First Avenger. A marvel film that has zero negatives, just a great film.

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon is a great introduction to the character and the film teases the partnership and chemistry between Sam and Steve. The hand to hand combat makes the action feel real and it is hard to take your eyes off the screen. Despite the film having a political espionage feel to it, the film has great comedy moments with Natasha and Steve. Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Solider makes Phase Two a lot more enjoyable than Phase One.

Celebrating Pride Month with these Graphic Novels

It’s Pride Month, like the title states, and to celebrate I wanted to recommend a few graphic novels that celebrate LGBTQ+ stories. Most of these titles are coming of age and young adult but no matter what age you are, these books should definitely be must read this month.

Poison Ivy Thorns. Sara Kipin. DC Comics

Poison Ivy Thorns may be a DC graphic novel for young adults, but it is truly for all ages. This introduction to Pamela Isley is one that is dark with some horror aspects but filled with self-discovery that shapes Pamela at a young age into the anti-hero she becomes. She is in high school and clearly doesn’t fit in, until she meets Alice Oh who then comes to live with Pamela and her father after an accident in a park. There are a lot of trust issues in this graphic novel, between Pamela and her father and anyone who isn’t family.

Her father uses Pamela as the only way to keep her mother alive to the point where it becomes abusive and wrong. When Alice finds out, they become closer and fall in love. But, Pamela knows that in the end, she has to do what needs to be done no matter how hard it may be. Kody Keplinger’s, author of The DUFF, writing style is fluid. The artwork of Sara Kipin is very fitting and immersive and the story throughout portrays how Pamela finds her true self.

Highly recommend this read!

You Brought Me the Ocean. Julie Maroh. DC Comics

You Brought Me the Ocean is another DC Comics young adult graphic novel. Jake Hyde lives in New Mexico and is told to always “play it safe” but Jake yearns for the ocean and adventure. Then he meets Kenny and they start getting to know each other, find they have a connection after almost drowning Jake saves him. This is when he starts to discover his connections to water. His father does not understand or accept that Jake is queer and his close friend Maria does not know he likes Kenny so Jake starts to spiral a bit.

Jake then tells his mom that he is gay and shows her that the birthmark she thinks he has, is not just that. She then goes on to tell him about Black Manta and how after giving birth to him, she escaped with Aquaman’s help. In the end, this is a tale of self discovery and acceptance. Not just from Jake but from those who love him, and his journey begins here. This is beautifully drawn by Julie Maroh and encompasses the beauty of young self-acceptance.

I also highly recommend this YA graphic novel!

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second

Mariko Tamaki has become a favorite writer of mine, as of late. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is a story that follows Freddy Riley and her on again, off again relationship with Laura Dean. I was surprised at how much this story kept pulling me in, and it was engulfed in one sitting. The artwork style of Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is beautiful and really fits the story. The story is narrated by Freddy, as she is writing into the Anna Vice advice column.

Freddy just wants to be with Laura Dean, but its complicated. This story is about the awkwardness, setbacks and hope of finding love as a teenager. Laura Dean always has a way of telling Freddy that it’s their thing to separate and then get back together, which gets Freddy’s hopes up and seems like that is normal about their relationship. When that’s not the case.

Her group of friends and ones that she meets make her come to realize that in fact, that is not normal but totally toxic. Freddy’s close friend Doodle goes through a tragic situation and they become really close in the end after Freddy pushes her away for the most part throughout the story. In the end, she realizes what is most important. Being a friend and all other things other than being the ex-girlfriend of Laura Dean. Definitely give this three time Eisner winner graphic novel a read!

Luisa Now and Then. Carole Maurel. Humanoids Life Drawn

Luisa Now and Then, originally written and drawn by Carole Maurel, French artist and adapted by Mariko Tamaki, was a book I found at the local library. Seeing Mariko Tamaki’s name got me to grab this book and I am SO glad that I did. I had never heard of this book before, and want more people to know about it as well. The story and artwork style blend so well together.

This story follows Luisa Arambol who is struggling with her life, relationships and job in her early thirties. She is a queer photographer that takes pictures of food, while at lunch with her friend Farid, he asks what she would say to her younger teen self in a joking manner. Little does she know, there’s a young teen version of Luisa that falls asleep on a bus and wakes up to the neighborhood where older, current time Luisa, lives. Luisa’s neighbor across the hall, Sasha finds young Luisa and brings her up to her place. They discover that Luisa’s apartment was her relatives. Luisa freaks out and tries to figure out who this person could be. Until she finds out that it is truly her younger self!

Luisa’s neighbor, Sasha becomes a love interest to Luisa and also younger Luisa. As the story goes on, younger Luisa and Luisa start to discover that since they are both in each other’s presence, they start to almost dissipate and morph into each other, in a sense. Luisa starts to spin out of control with her emotions, when younger Luisa starts to bond with Sasha. She is still coming to terms with being able to fall in love with women and at the end of the book, when she meets up with her mother to come out, the older version continues on in life after leaving the younger version alone to go back into her life.

The way this story is drawn and written is beautiful and important to self-discovery and teaches to just be who you are and love who you want, no matter the circumstances. After reading this library book and really enjoying it, I am hoping to purchase a copy to own.

Let me know of any LGBTQ+ graphic novel recommendations you have! I know there are probably a few that I have read and left off this short list, and ones that are still on the shelf to be read.

The Beginning of a Universe- Ranking Phase One of the MCU

As we prepare for the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film since Spider-Man: Far from Home, with the release of Black Widow (Finally!) on July 9th, 2021, we decided it was time to do a rewatch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So why not do a ranking of each phase? Yes we are planning to watch all 23 films before the release of Black Widow.

Once we are finished with the rewatch, we plan on doing a full ranking of the films and teaming up with the Minnesota Comic Exchange for a video.

6) The Incredible Hulk (2008) Directed by Louis Leterrier

Hmm! This is one of those films that could have been great and ends up being just average. Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk , Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, William Hurt as General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination round out a brilliant cast. William Hurt and Tim Roth are the highlights in this film, especially with Hurt being a perfectly casted “Thunderbolt” Ross. Comparing all phase one films, Edward Norton feels more like an actor playing a role instead of getting lost in the role, which could be where a disconnect happens with us and this film.

It’s a forgettable film and while rewatching it, it easy to understand why Norton was recasted. Its on the short side of MCU films with a runtime of 112 minutes with most films going over 2 hours. Highlights of the film besides Roth and Hurt is the climax between Hulk and Abomination. It was an awesome shot seeing them collide in front of the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Stan Lee’s cameo as a man that gets radiation poisoning is pretty funny along with the Lou Ferrigno cameo.

Biggest wasted opportunity of the film would have to be the introduction of three characters and never expending on their arcs. We were introduced to a forgettable Doc Samson (Ty Burnell), Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) was teased to become the Leader, and we never hear about Betty ever again in the MCU. Despite it being forgettable, even the lesser MCU films are enjoyable.

5) Iron Man 2 (2010) Directed by Jon Favreau

It is funny how much taste can change, when this movie came out, I loved it! Now 11 years later and I find it to be one of the weaker films of phase one. That being said, it is still very enjoyable with some hilarious moments. We do get introduced to Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Don Cheadle takes over the role of Rhodey and we get one of the most underrated performances in the MCU by Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer.

But what puts Iron Man 2 so low on this list, is due to Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. The villain can truly make or break a film and this a perfect example of that. Besides the introduction battle between Iron Man and Whiplash during a Formula 1 race, which is awesome and a lot of fun, there is no redeemable factor to his performance and the way he is defeated at the end is very lackluster.

Highlight of the film is the court hearing scene, which may be one of the funnier moments in phase one. The interactions between Robert Downey Jr, Sam Rockwell and Garry Shandling is hilarious and shows the brilliance of Tony and the meaning of the Iron Man suit. Despite Scarlett Johansson being a highlight in this film, the hyper-sexualization of her character is very blatant when you know where her character ends up in future films. Also Stan Lee’s cameo as Larry King will never get old.

4) Thor (2011) Directed by Kenneth Branagh

This was way better and funnier than I remembered! When I first saw this film, I thought it was awesome but I preferred both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk over it. Chris Hemsworth was Thor and Tom Hiddleston was Loki from the start, both actors really captured what it meant to play the characters. The design of Asgard was stunning and the character development were two things that make this film so damn enjoyable.

Thor does have flaws especially when it comes to the battle with the destroyer and the film could had spent more time on Asgard. Also giving Idris Elba more time as Heimdall would made this film a tad better. But during this rewatch, I found myself doing less nitpicking and having a blast watching it. Originally I did not like Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, but now I really liked her performance, which could mainly be in anticipation for her coming back in Thor: Love and Thunder.

The overall impact that this film had on the MCU was really under appreciated in my opinion. The Introduction of Loki, Clint Barton/Hawkeye and Darcy all had great benefits to the future of the MCU. Also Kat Dennings as Darcy was always scene stealer. A hilarious cameo by Stan Lee as the old man trying to pull mjolnir with his pick up truck. If you haven’t rewatched Thor in awhile, I believe you would enjoy it more than you did than the last time.

3) The Avengers (2012) Directed by Joss Wheldon

What? I know what you are thinking, How is this not #1? Well it is still a lot of fun, but two other films are better in my opinion. There is not much to nitpick in this film and all the films lead to this, but I would rewatch Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger before The Avengers.That being said Mark Ruffalo is truly the best version of Bruce Banner/Hulk that we have ever seen on the big screen.

There is one problem in this film that bugs me and that is how they use Clint in this film. Feel like putting Clint as a mind controlled character, ruined a character that could be great. But, that is my only complaint for this film.

Loki feels more like a villain in this film compared to Thor and proving that he can be a menace to the entire avengers team. This film also gives each character a moment to shine, even giving Maria Hall (Cobie Smulders) a moment to shine. Film feels like an amusement park ride, but in the best kind of way. It’s non-stop action and humor. “Puny god” will never get old!

2) Iron Man (2008) Directed by Jon Favreau

This is where all began, the moment this film came out Marvel fans freaked out and guess what, it is still a great film. The way that Robert Downey Jr comes in and dominates the role is still astonishing. This film deserves so much credit for creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet it can be enjoyed on its own.

I don’t think we knew at the time of release how much of an impact that Robert Downey Jr. as Iron man would have on pop culture and turn the character into one of the most popular characters in film history.

Jeff Bridges is great as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger which honestly may be the best villain in all three Iron Man films. The Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) end credit scene is unforgettable looking back at phase one. The film is extremely quotable and has some of the most badass shots in phase one. Also the Stan Lee cameo as Hugh Hefner is still hilarious. If it wasn’t for the next film on the list, this may have been the best super hero origin film.

1) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Directed by Joe Johnston

In a matter of 10 years, this film went from being my least liked film to most liked film in Phase one. At first I was bored and did not like the fact that the film takes place during in World War II. But the older you get the more your taste changes. Rewatching this and I had more enjoyment of this over Iron Man and The Avengers. Chris Evans was born to play Captain America and he proves it in his first film as the character.

The character development is what I love about this film, from the skinny kid who refuses to give up to becoming the representation of what it means to be a hero is a great story. Also the chemistry Steve Rogers has with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is unbelievable and something I love seeing all the time. This has one of the best supporting casts in any Marvel film with Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, and Domininic Cooper. But Sebastian Stan is really likable in this film and to see his evolution in films that follow, I forgot how much I liked him in this film. Also Hugo Weaving is underrated as the Red Skull.

If you are thinking I may have bumped my head to not have Iron Man and The Avengers as my top two give Captain America: The First Avenger another chance, despite the ending it is such as feel good film in phase one.

And Now……We Have a Logo!

When Nora and I started this journey, it was simply to chronicle the two of us finding love in comics and sharing a hobby together. We have achieved that and our love for each other and comics grow more and more each day. One of the best things that came out of starting Noggin Comics, is finding a place in the comic community and the relationships that we have created over the last couple years. On May 27th, the kindness of the comic community shined bright as a great friend gifted us with something that was much needed….. a logo!

Created by the amazing artist Jaime Coker and his wife Trisha (she deserve so much love) this logo is a perfect representation of Noggin Comics. The brain represents me, no thats not saying I am genius or anything in a cocky nature. The brain ties into the name Noggin but it also represents the idea of constant thinking and growth. The glasses represents Nora, as she is the geek and wears the glasses (she would say wear the pants as well) in the relationship, I joke. The glasses allow a perfect blend of the two of us. With the brain and glasses looking into a comic book, it crafts an idea of who we are.

This logo not only represents us, but I believe it represents the comic community as a whole. This logo shows the kindness and friendships that come from this community. There is seriously no other community like the comic community.

Thank you so much for creating this logo Jaime and Trisha. It will always be a part of us!

MPLS Sound Proves the Sound Will Live on Forever

When asked what is your favorite Prince song? I struggle to answer that question, it changes every day. One day, it could be “Partyman” from the Batman soundtrack and the next day it would be “The Morning Papers” from the Love Symbol album. As a Minnesotan, a day does not pass by without being influenced by Prince and to be honest the last five years Minnesota has not been the same. When it comes to Prince and comics, there is a connection that goes beyond his soundtrack for Batman. The late great Dwayne McDuffie and the amazing Denys Cowan worked on Prince comics and in the upcoming Batman 89′ series, a character based off of Prince’s design from “Partyman” and “Batdance” music videos. But, no other graphic novel or comic has ever captured what Prince meant to Minnesota and music as well as MPLS Sound.

Life Drawn by Humanoids, Jen Bartel

Co-writers Joseph P. Illidge and Hannibal Tabu and artist Meredith Laxton create a fictional tale in an environment and era of music that proves to be perfect for a graphic novel treatment. Growing up in Minnesota, the Minneapolis sound has influenced the music that comes out from our state. Let’s be honest, while you are listening to “Juice” by Lizzo or “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars or anything by Janelle Monáe, you are hearing hints of Prince and the Minneapolis sound. MPLS Sound is able to capture that with the creation of the band Starchild.

After a very well written forward by Josh Jackson, the co-founder and president of Paste Magazine, we are introduced to Starchild, a band filled of all different personalities and provides a great reminiscence of The Revolution. Theresa, the lead singer who comes across a poster for Prince’s Controversy while walking home from the market, feels inspired to create a band herself. Joined by her church choir singer Ezzie, rock musician and guitarist James, Dani the drummer that has never been apart of a band, the keytar player Slim, a classically trained pianist that loves Funkadelic, Lizzie and Theresa’s brother Ellis on bass.

Meredith Laxton, MPLS Sound

MPLS Sound tells the story of how a band found success during the eighties in Minneapolis, with Starchild having to create a record to get on the radio and catching the eye of the purple yoda himself. As the band continues to find success, they have battle of the bands with Morris Day & The Time. (for those who didn’t grow up in Minnesota or on Purple Rain, they are the band at the end of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back) After giving a hell of a performance and a night that Morris Day would never forget.

After being giving the chance of a lifetime, Starchild has to choose between fame or keeping their identity. In a story that felt like a tribute to Prince, turns into a story that would make Prince proud with the theme of staying true to yourself. The creative team could have spent the whole time focusing on Prince, but they did the complete opposite and that is a major benefit for the story. The Minneapolis sound is truly the main character of this story and Prince is only in the book for a few panels despite playing a major part in the story.

By the time the story was over, I was attached to every character and at certain points felt a tear rolling down my face. Joseph P. Illidge and Hannibal Tabu’s script has great pacing and they truly created great characters. The only problem that MPLS Sound has is the fact that it could have added more pages for character development and the desire of more story. It’s not a bad problem to want more from a story.

I do wonder how much I would love this book if I was not a Minnesotan and a giant fan of Prince. But the cover alone from Jen Bartel (also a Minnesotan) should recommend this graphic novel to anyone. So throw on your favorite Prince album, find some purple tinted lights and read this book!