#ArtCred: Tips for Properly Crediting Comics Creators

The past week or two has seen the comics Twittersphere abuzz with discussion about credit – specifically, giving artists the credit they deserve for their work. One of the main instigators of the conversation was this retailer survey, particularly the note that people are almost 7 times more likely to buy a comic because of a writer than an artist. There are a number of reasons that this could be the case; mainstream superhero comics are far more likely to see a long-term writer supported by rotating artists than the other way around. Writers are seen as the masterminds behind the story, while artists are treated more like visual translators than storytellers in their own right. Writing takes much less time, so a writer can be working on multiple books (for multiple companies) at once, while artists tend to be confined to one or two. Listing multiple people on art duties (pencillers, inkers, colour artists….) leads to confusion about what a person at any of these stages actually does. It doesn’t help that publishers give far more credit to writers than artists (and many books still don’t put inkers or colour artists on covers). Covers will almost always display the writer’s name before the artist’s, although there are exceptions – starting with issue 25, Saga co-creators Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan alternate top billing with each issue. It’s a start.

33.3% will order a book for a writer - 4.8% for an artist

33.3% will order a book for a writer – 4.8% for an artist

None of this is new information; the fight for creator rights and credit has been going for for decades, but it’s been a hot topic lately. If you haven’t been following it, I recommend checking out the #ArtCred tag on Twitter, and reading this post by Matt Fraction about collaboration (incidentally, this came a week after Fraction was left off the ballot when co-creator of Sex Criminals Chip Zdarsky was nominated for a Harvey Award for the series and refused the nomination unless his partner was included too). I don’t have anything to add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said, but I think this is an important topic, particularly as I meet more artists and see how hard they work.

It’s one thing if individual fans get more excited about writers than artists, but it’s a different matter for comics journalists. Publishers, retailers, and journalists help curate conversation around comics, and it’s important that we give credit where it’s due. I know that’s easier said than done – I’ve been writing about comics steadily for about 2 years now, and I don’t always properly credit everyone involved.

Artist Fiona Stapes is credited before writer Brian K Vaughan.

Artist Fiona Stapes is credited before writer Brian K Vaughan.

I grew up reading voraciously – but not reading comics – and graphic literature was barely present in my university English studies. So it’s easy to talk about the story, characters, and plot, but I’ve had to teach myself how to discuss art. Once I started reading comics, I immediately latched onto the work of particular artists since I quickly found that their distinct styles (as well as their interests) tend to lend themselves to certain kinds of stories, and I follow their books the same way you might follow the work of a particular actor or director. Still, I know a lot of readers who find that the writing impacts their enjoyment of a book far more than the art – and that’s okay! We all have preferences! But in a setting that requires a balanced and informed opinion (such as a review), it’s important to balance personal feelings with educated critique that recognizes all of comics’ components. If you like or dislike something, you should be able to articulate why, and you’re hardly supporting your argument if you ignore or discount such a huge component of the visual storytelling (and one that frankly takes a lot longer).

Learning on such a broad topic can be daunting, but I’ve tried to put together a list of tips for improving conversation about art in comics reviews and journalism. As a newbie, these are all things I’m still learning too, but I hope this helps anyone else who struggles to talk about comics art in a meaningful way:

1. Do research! If you’re going to be reviewing comics, you want to have at least a basic understanding of what you’re discussing, and there are tons of people out there who are willing to help you! This post by Matt Romeo at Multiversity gives a great overview of how to talk about art in comics reviews. Here’s a brief how-to on colouring by Amy Reeder, and the basics of lettering from Todd Klein. The internet is full of resources put together by professionals for amateur artists, and they’re just as useful for new journalists. There’s also Scott McCloud, whose Understanding Comics should be required reading. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from a few Google searches!

2. Learn your vocab. This is easy enough to do by reading other reviews and conversations on social media, but it takes some getting used to (here’s a list of basics on Wikipedia). I’m surprised how often I see folks generally use incorrect terms, so if you’re unsure, look it up! Learning proper terminology will also help you credit people correctly, another issue I see frequently, especially on books with bigger teams. It’s easy enough when you’re looking at a comic by one cartoonist, or by a single writer and artist (such as the team on Saga), but things can get complicated, particularly in cape comics – what does “finishes” mean? How about “layout assistance”? And don’t forget the trusty letterer, they’re doing important work, and you should at least know how to consider how the letterer’s job affects the whole.

Bedlam

Ryan Browne’s erratic lines, Jean-Paul Csuka’s intense colours, Riley Rossmo’s character design, and Kelly Tindall’s fractured captions collaborate to create this panel’s sense of paranoid terror. From Bedlam.

3. Know the difference between art that’s bad and a style that you don’t like. I won’t name any names, but there are artists whose work I’d argue is bad; artists who steal from other artists, or don’t seem to grasp basic human anatomy. But there are also artists who encompass the facets of good art, but whose style doesn’t work for me. It’s important to consider the difference if you’re going to be critiquing.

4. Read a wide variety of comics. If you’re only reading Marvel and DC superhero books, you’re only being exposed to a tiny sliver of what comics can look like and can be. Read comics from the other major publishers, like Image and Dark Horse and Boom! Read indie and self-published comics. Read experimental comics. Read web comics, and manga, and European comics – these will all expose you to different art styles, and while you’ll have preferences, the more you’re exposed to, the wider your idea of what “comics” means will be.

Frazer Irving is responsible for the storytelling and emotion for silent Black Bolt.

Frazer Irving deftly handles the storytelling and emotion for silent – and masked! – Black Bolt. From Silent War.

5. Understand how the art impacts the storytelling. Now this one’s tougher, and could come as a sub-point of my first one. It’s also something I’m still learning myself! What I’m trying to do is look at artists whose work I really like (or really dislike), and try to determine what differentiates their work. I try to look at how panels are arranged, how characters are placed in relation to each other (and to the reader), and how the colour and font choices contribute to mood or character. Also look out for striking or unique choices – creative page layouts, odd angles, or more detailed panel borders, for example. More than the other points, I’ve found this one comes with time, and will also benefit from research. It’s vital that journalists treat the art as an integral part of the storytelling, not as window dressing for the story. If other people have recommendations for this, I’d love to hear them!

This is just a start – there’s a lot more you can do, and that I have to do to improve. This is a visual medium, so the visuals are important. Storytelling relies heavily on the artist, and it’s important that they start being recognized for their work. Unfortunately, there’s no guidebook or lesson plan for being a comics journalist, so we’ve got to figure it out as we go along, but the more we do to learn, the better our writing will be!

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Knocking Down the Geeky Gatekeepers

Hey guess what this is – yep, another post about being a geek girl and all of the frustration that comes with it! I might sound like a broken record, harping on this topic, but gosh, it never ceases to be relevant…

I read this article about the “Tumblr fans” who ostensibly go to conventions out of love for things they’ve only seen in pictures on the internet. That article and recent conversations have got me thinking about gatekeepers in geek culture. In this context, the term refers to people with certain credentials who attempt to control access to certain media and decide how everyone should consume and appreciate that media. Within geek culture, gatekeepers have traditionally been dudes, but that’s not always the case.

Image via this fantastic article at Comics Alliance

Image via this fantastic article at Comics Alliance

I’ve written before on my experiences being quizzed on my knowledge of something before being allowed to be a “fan.” I was talking to a cosplayer recently who told me that she went into a comics shop and was asked if she needed help finding a gift for her boyfriend. This woman was the picture of the kind of cosplayer who gets derided for making sexy “attention-seeking” costumes, but I never once wondered whether or not she was a “real fan” or any crap like that. We just wanted to talk comics. In contrast, a guy in my office has superhero toys on his desk and we argued about superheroes, but he admits he’s never read a comic. Yet he still calls himself a fan; a guy can do that, but a girl can’t be a “fan” of something unless she’s read and researched extensively, even in the eyes of other girls.

The cosplay community can be terrible with this, and that includes people of all genders. I constantly see people talking shit about cosplayers like the one I was talking to, who make costumes that show off their bodies and seem to get the most attention from photographers – I guess the work they put into their costumes is less valid because the end result shows more skin? And if your end goal in making a costume is to get lots of attention for it, I don’t know why you wouldn’t do whatever you could to increase its appeal to a large audience. This attitude seems fueled by the idea that some ill-defined prerequisite reading comes along with cosplaying – since intimate knowledge of a character is necessary to sew and build and create a costume. And that attitude extends into all areas of geekdom.

I get that it’s weird sometimes, when you assume a person shares your love for something based on what they’re wearing or saying, but they turn out to be a more casual fan. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can just walk away. Ultimately their fan “level” doesn’t have to have any affect at all on your life. Still, I feel that impulse too, that desire to maintain some concept of what being a fan does or doesn’t mean, although I don’t know that I can explain why. I guess we feel like it’s a part of our identities, so we want to see the label only go to people who have somehow “earned it.” But when I see fans’ love or knowledge being questioned, the targets are almost exclusively women.

This kind of fandom policing is so common that even though I know my shit, I find myself embarrassed when I think I might come across as a “fake geek girl.” I found some Daredevil comics at a used bookstore the other day, and I hesitated to pick them up because I knew how it would look, a girl getting into the comics because because of a popular TV show. I could imagine the guys at the counter (who, I’m not even making this up, were talking about all the porn they’d just gotten in) laughing at me after I left, “she probably just thinks Daredevil is hot.” And they would be RIGHT, Charlie Cox is a beautiful dude with perfect lips and a physique right out of a comic book. But more importantly, enjoying the show seemed like a good prompt to finally start reading about the street-level heroes, a huge part of the Marvel Universe I don’t know much about – but I couldn’t even take the books off the shelf. (Ultimately I didn’t buy anything because they didn’t have any trades labelled “Vol 1” and I’m not about to start in the middle okay). Now I’ve had plenty of great experiences in comic stores too, where I was treated as an equal and wasn’t shamed for things I didn’t know. I’ve even debated which Marvel hero would have the best butt with male pro artists (since everyone knows that it’s Nightwing at DC). But I’ve also argued with guys behind the counter about the name of a comic I was looking to buy, and I once watched a male artist at a con try to convince three women that women don’t buy or care about comics.

I should pause to acknowledge that this experience is even tougher for people with less-privileged identities than mine; they often have to deal with being completely excluded from the stories in question, and are silenced or bullied when they try to express frustration. As a privileged white cis-lady I don’t have as much to complain about. Thankfully, online spaces like Tumblr give us the opportunity to create safe spaces where we can have frank conversations about media that might not be possible elsewhere. My first experience going into a store to buy comics was fantastic (thanks, The Beguiling!), but it’s been Tumblr that’s ultimately helped me become the comics fan I am today. I’m now editing comics (even writing a bit!) and I would never have gotten here without connecting with other fans on Tumblr.

While I’d rather discuss social issues on Tumblr than Facebook or Twitter, the site has its own set of problems, especially where emotional, immediate responses tend to be louder than more thoughtful, nuanced commentary. And while it may be portrayed that way sometimes, Tumblr isn’t a hivemind – it’s made up of thousands of people with different opinions stemming from different life experiences, and because this is the internet, people loudly and violently disagree. There are tensions and contradictions even within “Tumblr fandom,” which itself isn’t free of gatekeepers, and this time they’re largely not men. I’ve witnessed the harassment of the so-called “Tumblr Fan” firsthand, posts where people were told to (and I quote) “fuck off and die” if they call themselves fans without doing some arbitrary amount of reading first. No matter where you go, unless it’s your own living room with some close friends, you’re likely to encounter these attitudes.

So let’s get some discussion going. Are there benefits to gatekeeping when it comes to creating and maintaining a safe space? Why do we get so angry with people in geek spaces who haven’t “earned” a space there? What separates a “real” fan from a “fake” one? What does being a fan or a geek even mean these days – how do we decide?

Looking to the Future: A Panel Discussion on Superhero Films in 2014

I participated in this panel about superhero movies, for those interested. Watch me go off in a completely different direction from the other panelists on 2 of the 3 questions. The fact that I forgot that The Wolverine was a thing this year probably didn’t lend me credence either. OH WELL.

A. A. Omer

I love superheroes and this year was just one giant present filled with costume clad characters. I’ve already counted down and commented on the 5 superhero movies of 2013 over at Paper Droids but while that was about looking back, I decided to look forward.

I got 5 people who love superheroes and superhero movies to discuss the films of 2013 and what that’ll mean in terms of the expectations we’ll have for the 2014 batch. They come from all walks of life. They either reside in the United States or Canada. Some read comics while others haven’t. They do share one thing in common and it’s superheroes on the screen so let’s hear what this panel has to say…

What’s your most anticipated 2014 film and why?

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

Allison O’Toole: 

I can’t confirm that it will happen in 2014, but there seems to be a John Constantine show in development…

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Fake Geek Girls: The Only Kind, Apparently

So you’ve probably heard by now about recent misogyny at a Television Critics Association event, when Todd Macfarlane and other significant creators claimed that comics are a man’s world, and that creators shouldn’t have to write about non-straight-white-dudes, because who else is reading comics? Apparently he also doesn’t understand the difference between idealization and sexualization, between a power fantasy and a sexual one, since he believes that men are objectified to the same degree that women are (and he uses the term “stereotype,” which shows a blatant misunderstanding of the issue). 

I know I write about this topic A LOT but given this crap (and after Tony Harris’ ridiculous sexist comments about female cosplayers last year), it seems like time I posted this piece, originally written for the Queen’s Feminist Review.

Some content was taken from another post I wrote last year, but overall I think this piece is stronger and more concise.

In addition to identifying as a woman and a feminist, I identify as a geek – a difficult mix. I am surrounded by hyper-sexualized representations of women in all streams of media, women characters dying to torment and motivate the men who love them, conflicting messages about how I should look and dress and act, and men decrying my audacity at complaining about any of this.

I first learned that girl geeks are treated differently than the boys when I received the Lord of the Rings books for my tenth birthday, about six months before the first film was released. I adored the books and movies to the point that my grade school nickname was “Mr. Frodo.” Yet boys in and outside of school could never accept that I was a “real fan” like they were. They assumed that as a girl, I was only watching the movies for the cute boys, so I’d be asked if I’d ever played the video games, exactly how many of the appendices I’d read, and minute trivia about the books and movies to prove my legitimacy as a fan. I’d always win these contests, of course; I’d read the series twice by the time I was twelve, I knew a thing or two about it. I would prove myself to be a worthy fan in their eyes, unlike the “fangirls” only in it for Orlando Bloom’s face.

Hostility in geek culture can be neatly summed up in the fact that fangirl is held as a derisive term. According the geek community, fanboys are a little too interested in their geek interests, but fangirls are only interested in attractive men and romantic plots. Not only do these concepts ignore the potential for women to have different interests, they delegitimize the sorts of media that are associated with femininity; there is nothing in romance to make it inherently inferior to other genres aside from its association with women. Society has very strict ideas of what women are allowed to like and engage in, so exploring media outside this bubble is treated as suspect. As a result, women are shamed for enjoying traditionally feminine interests, but are told we only seek male attention if we enjoy the more masculine. Women gamers are constantly assumed to be less skilled than the men, and women who cosplay (creating realistic, detailed costumes for conventions) are criticized for wearing the revealing costumes assigned to women characters by their often-male creators. According to masculine-heavy sections of the internet – fans and men in the industry – women cosplayers select the skimpiest costumes they can find in the hope that they will be showered with praise from male nerds. Yet again, the idea that women could be genuine geeks is not within their realm of possibility.

Basic belief in the difference between legitimate and false nerds is present in less obviously hostile ways however, such as the prevalent concept of the Fake Geek Girl. Pictures, articles, tweets, and every other form of Internet expression have been written at length criticizing the women who conform to all of the stereotypes I’ve discussed; women who know nothing about their chosen geeky interest, or express their love for it in the wrong way, or don’t love the right aspects of it. Even other women will lament losing nerd cred by proximity to these Fake Geek Girls – but I’ve never witnessed any women who fit this mould. If women don’t know as much about something as other geeks, they are shamed for having newly discovered it, or for having less investment in it than others do. In the end, women are discouraged from liking anything, and can be scared to admit their interests, because no matter what they do, someone will question their validity.

I understand some of the motivation between distancing yourself from a ‘fake’ geek. Being a nerd is cool now, so we want to have some kind of exclusivity to our title. But there’s no number of hours one has to log in order to be a geek. No one was expelled from the womb with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Batman. A geek is just a person with a lot of enthusiasm for something that has been deemed geeky. Yet this extends further than nerd culture; girls who like sports or hardcore music can face similar problems with perceived legitimacy. In any of these areas, decrying fake fans – especially when we only attack women – results only in women being afraid to express their love for things, not in some kind of exclusive identity. We should be working to make this a supportive community, rather than policing arbitrary concepts of geek purity.

Girls, we don’t need to be afraid to express our love for the things we like. Being a geek is cool, and there are safe spaces to share the love and learn about new things. Be a geek, be proud, and don’t listen to the guys who say that your love is less legitimate than theirs or that you love it for their attention. I never would have made it through elementary school if I’d let their attitude get to me; I survived on my one Lord of the Rings zinger question, since none of the boys could remember what Éomer’s sword is called.

(By the way, it’s called Gúthwinë).

This was originally published in Vol 21 of the Queen’s Feminist Review (2013).

Geek Culture: A Girl’s Dilemma

The other day I walked into a comic store to get a new comic, a one-off, so I couldn’t be sure where it was being kept on the shelves. Well, it was in a counter-intuitive location alphabetically, so I spent a few minutes staring at all of the books. Part of me wanted to ask the sales guy who was standing right there, but I was terrified of being judged by the 12 or so male customers whose eyes I could already feel on my back. No, I don’t mean they were doing anything untoward, but I looked like I didn’t know what I was doing, and I could tell that they were judging me for it, in a way they weren’t the browsing male customers. The only other women in the store were the woman working cash, and a female customer heatedly conversing with the aforementioned sales guy. Seeing such a heavy male-to-female ratio is a common occurrence in comic stores, as anyone can attest who’s ever been in one. And sometimes, especially if there are already a bunch of guys in there, it can feel intimidating to just be a woman – which is a problem I’ve noticed in all of geek culture.

I use the example of comics, which is a new thing for me, but this is far from a new phenomenon. This is the sort of problem faced by women in all aspects of “geek” culture; women gamers are constantly viewed as being less skilled or knowledgeable (as a recent Oatmeal comic clearly demonstrated), and can face all kinds of harassment if they try to play online. When I was a kid, boys were constantly questioning and testing my love for Lord of the Rings. I’d be asked if I’d ever played the video games, exactly how many of the appendices I’d read, and minute trivia about the books and movies to see if I was actually a fan. Issues with “real fans” being judged by encyclopedic knowledge aside, I would always “prove” myself in their eyes. I was a “fanboy” by every aspect of the definition, other than the physical. I still am forced to identify as a fanboy rather than a fangirl, because the latter comes with a depressingly negative connotation. I’d love to call myself simply a “fan” but that doesn’t quite hold the right weight. A fanboy can show you every instance of visible sound equipment in a given movie and write an essay on why, exactly, Han has to have shot first. A fangirl cried the first time she saw Edward Cullen onscreen and she only watches her favourite shows for the hot boys. Do I think these are fair definitions? No. Yes, there are people out there who conform to these definitions, but they are in no way entirely representational. However, ask most people in fandom, and they will admit that these are the stereotypes.

One of the reasons that fans seem to be overwhelmingly male is simply that most of the creators are too. Most stories in any medium are about men and from a male gaze. Twilight may be poorly written and horrible in its portrayals of gendered interactions (or so I’m told, I couldn’t get past the third page), but at least it’s about a woman and uses a distinctly heterosexual female gaze – so it makes sense that it would be popular among young women who don’t want to read about shopping or whatever it is teen “chick lit” is about. I actually have no idea. I’m generalizing, and I’m sure there is a lot of great literature out there that I haven’t read yet, but I have always gravitated toward the more traditionally “geeky” stuff. While I do avoid the more blatantly misogynist examples (like Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men), many of my favourite “geeky” passions are about men. However, there are prominent creators out there, Joss Whedon most famously of all, who are trying to write interesting, relevant stories about strong women. Now, Joss’ work is not without flaws certainly (River Tam is one of the most pathetic attempts at a “strong woman” I have ever witnessed), but Buffy Summers, Fred Burkle, Zoe Washburne, and recently his version of Marvel’s Black Widow are shining examples of women whose stories can appeal to men and women alike. Natasha Romanoff was so well received in her Avengers role that a prequel movie is allegedly in the works. Whedon alum Felicia Day is gaining fame with her webseries The Guild, and showing that a cool, funny girl can be as huge a geek as your average fat, cheesy-covered weirdo living in his mother’s basement, and women are slowly becoming more prominent in other areas of geekery – except maybe DC Comics.

If you didn’t hear about this, DC Comics has been meeting a lot of backlash since only a measly 3% of their staff are women, and then again for some horribly sexist representations of prominent characters Catwoman and Starfire. Their response to this backlash was basically to tell fans that the issues are not important. Nice one, DC. Not to say that other comics are pristine, but Marvel is trying – Ms Marvel, one of their most popular women, is getting her own series this summer, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. That said, this will be their only female-helmed series after they cancelled X-23, their only comic left with a woman protagonist. EDIT: I’m oblivious to DC, but kind reader Kelly has reminded me that their current Batwoman (or Batgirl?) series by Gail Simone is excellent, and portrays the leading lady in a very favourable light. I’ve also heard excellent things about their Wonder Woman series, in the interest of being fair to the company.

Even from the links I’ve provided here, it’s obvious that I am not the first person to notice this issue. But how couldn’t you notice, when women are subjected to this kind of crap? (Edited in later, but this example was too golden not to include). Award-winning comic artist Tony Harris went on a rant against women cosplayers (dressing in costumes to attend conventions), claiming that we only cosplay for male attention while shunning it in the real world, that we “aren’t hot,” and that worst of all, we don’t actually read comics. It’s a really fun read if you enjoy rage-induced aneurysms. Thankfully, many people of all genders in the community and in the industry explained to Harris exactly why he was wrong, but he hasn’t backed down from his original statements, and many men expressed agreement on the original post. Women get the short end of the stick in all forms of media, let’s get real here, but I don’t find such overt hostility in most other areas.

Boys, having some female superheroes aren’t taking away from the male ones. I like a lot of stories the way they are, but sometimes I want to see ME – or at least someone I can aspire to be – reflected back to me in the stories I love so much. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

EDIT: Here’s a really excellent article from The Mary Sue about “Fake Geek Girls” Check it out.

Review: The Avengers

I’ll admit upfront that I had huge biases going into this film. I’ve been a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s for years, and I’ve more recently fallen in love with the Marvel movies, so I was predisposed to love it.  I can say that my nerd overrode my film critic, but honestly, I don’t believe you should judge all genres by the same criteria. A good a comedy is not good for the same reason as is a drama, or a horror film, or a romance. They have different requirements, so why do we put down superhero movies as something lesser; why do “good superhero movie” and “good movie” have to be separate labels? A movie like The Dark Knightis more grounded in realism, so it can be more, well, realistic. That was never an option for this movie. So no, I’m not going to say much about the cinematography and the mise-en-scene and the other stuff you’d critique in a Bergman film. It had a good story, characters I was invested in, and was a blast to watch; I think this was a good movie, and I don’t really care if it isn’t “high art.”The plot is simple: Loki, last seen as the hero’s villainous brother in Thor, has come to Earth with the intention to subjugate its population. And, as you know if you’ve seen the previews, he has an army. Loki steals the tesseract (which you may remember as the glowing blue cube in Captain America: The First Avenger), a portal through deep space of unknown power. Faced with this seemingly unbeatable threat, Nick Fury decides to call together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. They have to overcome their clashing values and personalities to SAVE THE WORLD.

Joss Whedon manages to do the near impossible: he brings together a group of solo acts and makes them all coexist as one performance, where everyone gets near-equal chances to shine. His action scenes are fun, fresh, and actually surprising. The final act is huge, with a number of memorable action scenes peppered throughout. Amidst those though are a number of brief but powerful character moments. My only qualm is that both Thor and Loki feel slightly off at times; Whedonesque dialogue is perfect for Tony Stark, but occasionally feels awkward coming from the mouths of these “gods.” Still, overall he does very well, even with the Asgardians, and his ability to shift seamlessly between drama, action, and humour is on in full form in this film, and the tone perfectly brings Marvel Comics to life.

The characters are the most important part of this film, and they are all well represented, even if some outshine the others. Surprising to me, the character I most loved was Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk. Ruffalo finally injects some much-needed humour into the character, and with that, comes pathos. Banner was a funny, intelligent, endearing character, but always with the legitimate threat under the surface. Even more impressive though, is the Hulk, created by WETA Digital over motion capture actually performed by Ruffalo, making him the first actor to play both Banner and “the other guy.” Hulk’s first appearance is a scene worthy of a werewolf movie, and after that he too develops a sense of humour and pathos. The midnight crowd at my theatre went wild every time any character turned up on screen, but Hulk got the loudest cheers by far. With both roles, Ruffalo completely steals the show, and I look forward to future Hulk films – something I never thought I’d say.

The strong presence of Scarlet Johansson as the Black Widow was a similarly pleasant surprise. I should have expected this from Joss, but he develops her from her minor role in Iron Man 2, giving hints of her past while still leaving it mainly shrouded in mystery. No, she doesn’t have superpowers to match those of her teammates, but she is unquestionably a capable asset to her team.

Robert Downey Jr is flawless, as usual, as Tony Stark, and unsurprisingly gets his fair share of screen time. He gives the performance we’ve come to expect, balancing humour, vulnerability, and straight badassery. He fits most comfortably into Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue. I was pleased too to see Gwyneth Paltrow back as Pepper Potts, because Tony Stark really isn’t Tony Stark without her. Other memorable supporting performances are given by Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, and Clark Gregg as the ever-awesome Agent Phil Coulson, who finally gets the development and screen time the fans have been demanding for him.

For the leader of the team, Chris Evans as Captain America does not get as much dialogue as his teammates. That said, he is more human, I think, than he was in his solo film. Some beautiful comedic and dramatic moments come from his misunderstanding and mistrust of the modern world. He and Tony Stark butt heads immediately, since Tony represents everything that Steve dislikes about the new world. I can’t wait to see the two of them together in future films, as they had great chemistry (as did Downey Jr and Ruffalo).

Hawkeye gets very little development, unfortunately, but Jeremy Renner manages to make Clint Barton memorable and capable, despite just being the guy with the bow. I hope that we get to learn more about him in subsequent films.

Finally, my favourite Avenger, who I really wish had been more present in the film: Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. As the only character with ties to the villain, I wish their relationship had been better explored, and that we had had more than one short scene looking at Thor’s feelings toward Loki’s actions. However, each of his scenes with his brother pack a powerful emotional punch, brief as they are. For his part, Tom Hiddleston is once again in top form as Loki, playing a more manic, malicious, and dangerous version of the character. Gone are his tears and justifications, replaced my evil grins and condescending sarcasm. His one-on-one scenes with each of the Avengers are superb and often chilling, but each is memorable for its own reasons. The scenes with Thor especially reveal that Loki’s insecurities are very much still present, and that he is still motivated by jealousy despite his new cocky posturing. Their dialogue could have used some work, but they did well with what they had.

The action scenes are huge, bigger than anything Marvel has done before. The closely-guarded identity of Loki’s alien army is insignificant, but revealed early in the film. They pose a threat, but not one as large as the mysterious force behind them, revealed in a mid-credit sequence to be a formidable villain from Marvel comics, one who I eagerly await to see in later films. I enjoyed the pace of the film, allowing for ample character development, but I can see how it could feel slow to someone desiring average popcorn fare. If you’re in North America, be sure to stay until the end of the credits for a lovely surprise in Whedon’s usual style.

Overall, this is a fun, heartfelt, fresh superhero film, and the perfect summer blockbuster. While you could watch it without having seen the previous films, it is really worth giving them a watch first, as they make the character moments in this one so much more potent. The Avengers will make you want to go back and watch them now – whether you have seen them before or not.