Let me explain this one for those of you in the viewing audience who are not pathetic geeks like me. Before I do so, however, I'd also like to note that if I were better at this quasi-cartooning, this whole month will have involved terrible puns. Twenty-six terrible puns.
Anyway, Kandor is a city from the fictional world of Krypton, better known as Superman's birth planet. Kandor is best known, however, as the so-called Bottled City. It became such thanks to the supervillain Brainiac (who is much, much more awesome than his name implies, especially when depicted by Geoff Johns, whose version would make for an excellent addition to the Man of Steel's latest cinematic adventures). Brainiac's visit to Krypton was one of the last things to happen to the planet before its destruction. He visits worlds a little like Marvel's Galactus, but instead of eating them he collects representative samplings, which amount to cities, naturally, which he shrinks and bottles (some of this becomes self-explanatory, even if it sounds...somewhat implausible if you're not familiar with comic book logic).
So, for geeks this one hopefully is slightly funnier than usual. For everyone else, Boo will be getting back to her usual cat logic tomorrow!
You can switch off for the rest of this post, because I'll be talking about something with a long history at Scouring Monk: professional wrestling. In some ways, quasi-success has really hampered this blog. I think twice, three times, a thousand times about breaching this topic these days, because none of my readers are particularly interested in it. But this being a journal of my particular thoughts and interests, I'm still entitled to do what I like. And so that's what I'm going to do.
Last night was WrestleMania 30. Big card. And two big things happened, as it turns out. "The Streak" will mean nothing to you, but for wrestling fans, it's legendary and requires absolutely no explanation. But what it means for you other folks is the Undertaker's record at WrestleMania. It now stands at 21-1. He lost. No one else has even performed at as many WrestleManias, not by a long shot. The closest would be Kane (his "brother," who is responsible for a couple of those wins) and Triple H (who owns three of them). His first appearance on the card was back in 1991 at WrestleMania VII, which is better known for the event that saw Sgt. Slaughter, known as one of the most patriotic wrestlers of the '80s, represent Iraq in another of Hulk Hogan's epic confrontations. Perfectly predictable WWE response to Desert Storm. Undertaker defeated Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka that night. (Snuka's daughter competed last night, by the way. She lost.)
The man who defeated Undertaker was Brock Lesnar. A decade ago, everyone would have been very happy about this. Lesnar's active career with WWE ended in 2004 when he left to pursue a football career, which eventually led to a wildly successful MMA career. When he walked away, he threw off the balance of the entire wrestling landscape. He was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. Basically the new Hulk Hogan. That spot eventually went to John Cena (who has done a remarkable job with it, all told). The fans felt betrayed, though. Everything that was invested in Lesnar for a span of only a few years was thrown away in an instant. He returned a couple of years ago as a part-time competitor. All of Lesnar's fights now are considered events just because he's in them. Win or lose, he's afforded a considerable amount of respect from the company. This is about as far as that can go, and it says quite a bit about what WWE thinks of him that Lesnar was given the honor of breaking "The Streak." I think he deserves it. The fact that he came back at all, and is now in the third year of this new arrangement, is far, far more than anyone could have ever expected. His presence has once again shifted the landscape. WWE no longer requires a regular commitment from all of its performers, and this is a hugely positive thing. Professional wrestlers have no off-season. They're on the road most of the year. It was this very thing that caused Lesnar to walk away in the first place. Obviously this spot isn't for everyone. But Lesnar has proven it can work, and he's been rewarded for it. Fans will grumble about it, but I've found fans grumble about everything. So I pay less and less attention to what fans say.
The other big thing was Daniel Bryan's night. (Well, besides Cesaro's night, which was also pretty great.) Bryan beat Triple H in the opening contest to win the chance to compete in the main event, against Randy Orton and Batista (to be seen later this summer in Guardians of the Galaxy). It might be interpreted that Bryan got this moment for the same reason Chris Benoit did at WrestleMania 20, because it's an anniversary card that doesn't necessarily have to rely on what actually happened so much as, say, the fact that Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock were all there to open the show. Benoit was given half the year to prove that he deserved to have gotten that spot. The difference with Bryan is that he's been fighting his way to the top for a couple of years now. What happened last night actually began in December 2011 when he won the world championship and started chanting "Yes!" for the first time. Today's "Yes Movement" is a direct response to that moment. His underdog story, his rebelling against the system story, his crossing the boss story, that's all been developing since then. Actually, since 2010, when he originally came to WWE, which itself was a whole process. Daniel Bryan is no Chris Benoit (thank goodness!). He's earned the spot in every way possible. A lot of baseball players have taken to growing woolly beards. He was there first. (There was an A's player, Josh Reddick, who actively competed against Bryan in this regard. And while I certainly can't prove it, but the World Champion Red Sox and their "Fear the Beard" movement from last season might have everything to do with this trend, too.) He's been in a program that attempts to justify a smaller-than-average competitor in the main event since last summer. He'll very likely still be in it well past this summer.
So, I owe an apology to the Geek Twins. The Twins are also known as Nigel and Maurice Mitchell (I have no idea if they have particular preferences as to which one's name is listed first when they aren't referred to merely as the Twins; this could be like Lennon & McCartney, Simon & Garfunkel, Batman & Robin, and now I owe them another apology).
Back on St. Patrick's Day, they talked about an appropriately green-themed topic, the Incredible Hulk, some of the things a new movie might do should Marvel ever get around to it. You can read it here. In the comments section, you can read what I said and why I'm apologizing now, because I've reconsidered. I think it probably would be pretty cool to feature the likes of Rick Jones, Doc Sampson, and The Leader in a new Hulk movie.
Now, it's also necessary to talk about the other Hulk movies to date. There have, of course, been two solo adventures as well as his memorable theft of The Avengers itself. Seriously, isn't that one more appropriately known as Hulk & the Avengers (rather than, say, The Avengers & Hulk)?
I'm actually a pretty big fan of the 2003 Ang Lee effort Hulk. This was one of the original Marvel universe movies. Only Blade, X-Men, Blade II, Spider-Man, X2: X-Men United, and Daredevil precede it (effectively predating Hulk to the whole Fantastic Four and Avengers franchises). While that list certainly makes Hulk seem like a regular Johnny Come Lately, the fact that Lee directed it puts the movie in a different tradition than it's generally considered. Without Lee it's possible we would never have had Christopher Nolan do Batman. Famously, a different actor has portrayed Bruce Banner in each of his cinematic appearances to date. The first was Eric Bana, a hugely talented, unorthodox actor who is known for a subdued presence, which is about as opposite as you can have for the jade giant known as the Hulk. Besides Bana there's also Jennifer Connelly (always an asset) as Betty Ross and Nick Nolte as Banner's father David, who does end up becoming a typically overblown villain. But what I love about the movie is that it also tries to be Shakespearean with the Banner family, which is probably also why fans ended up scratching their heads over the effort. Shakespearean? In a Hulk movie? It's actually the Hulk moments I don't particularly care for, the big dumb idiot bouncing around, battling Hulk dogs, tanks, etc. Everything the movie is otherwise is lost in those moments, as far as I'm concerned exposing the true weakness of the character by demonstrating he can be reduced to something so ridiculously simple, not even a monster to be rooted for. Just the man who doesn't want to become it. And with good reason, all the way around!
Right after the release of Iron Man, the start of the Avengers cycle, the second release was The Incredible Hulk in 2008, starring Edward Norton, another long-time favorite actor, known for his cerebral approach. The fact that the movie didn't really know what to do with Norton pretty much explains everything that's wrong with it, as well as the fact that it was equally at a loss with Jeff Bridges, a year away from winning Best Actor at the Oscars for Crazy Heart. The story certainly does a number of things right, the classic Hulk story of being on the run (which was the whole Fugitive approach of the 1977-1982 TV series starring Lou Ferrigno) as well as the debut of Doc Sampson (portrayed by Ty Burrell!). It ties in well with Hulk's later appearance in The Avengers. Generally, though, this one's considered even more of a failure than its predecessor. You know it had to be when every Avengers flick since then has been favorably received.
Speaking of which, Avengers itself was one of the biggest blockbusters ever, and a considerable portion of its success is owed to Hulk, this time portrayed by Mark Ruffalo. I can't say I'm nearly as big a fan of Ruffalo as Bana or Norton, but I certainly respect him, best known until turning green for his quiet presence in much smaller dramas. And he's absolutely perfect in the role, probably much more natural than the other two, thanks in large part to the fact that in a reduced presence much greater focus was necessary, so that it was much easier to nail what exactly Banner, and the Hulk, needed to accomplish.
It might also be noted that one of the strengths of Ruffalo's portrayal was that he had someone to work off of, Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow. And this is where my apology begins. I originally noted in the Geek Twins' observations that the character of Betty Ross (who in Incredible Hulk was played by Liv Tyler) served the function of the bridge between Banner and Hulk adequately and therefore it was unnecessary to present someone else in a similar position. I didn't see how it would do much good to have another comic book character with a basically similar dynamic (albeit minus romantic elements!).
Then I started absorbing the trailers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I've never really understood the point of the Falcon character. In the comics, as far as I can tell he's just kind of there, a random partner. In Marvel logic, you can throw anyone together as a team. It just doesn't matter. Luke Cage & Iron Fist. Cable & Deadpool. Spider-Man & the Avengers. Captain America, of course, once had the sidekick Bucky, who was lost in WWII.
But in the trailers, Falcon shows up and...he's seems to become the bridge. He's someone who accepts Captain America as something other than the dude who was woken up from the WWII era to become a member of the Avengers. No other member of the team has an ally like that. Thor certainly wouldn't consider Loki that way, not even the Warriors Three. Iron Man? James Rhodes sort of counts. Okay, he's about as close as they come. (It doesn't hurt that Rhodes has been played by a couple of excellent actors in Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle, just as Falcon is by Anthony Mackie, who's been a favorite since We Are Marshall.)
Hulk probably needs someone like Falcon. And he's got some supporting characters like that, including Doc Sampson. I didn't want to consider Doc a possibility, because I feared he'd become just another idiotic foe who smashes things on the screen. In the comics, he can be enemy and ally. In the movies, it seems guaranteed he would an enemy, at least at some point in the story. He's one of several characters who has also gotten a dose of gamma radiation, which has had vague effects on him. What Doc could easily do is give Hulk a counterpoint, something that could give him hope and also show how things could be worse. He could even become a professional athlete, subtly point out the PED analogies that already exist in the character of Captain America that haven't really been addressed. He could even be the bridge between Hulk and the Captain (which as of Incredible Hulk also exists in the movies as part of their origin stories). That would be pretty awesome.
The Leader I was equally fearful of, because two Hulk movies have already given us a pair of villains who have been blown up to Hulk proportions to give him another monster adversary, and no matter what Leader's character description in the comics, you know the movies would want more of a fight than a cerebral showdown. But it could work both ways! The Leader's gamma radiation made him smarter. Like Doc Sampson he got something totally different from it than Bruce Banner. He serves, then, as a counterpoint to our main character. He could very easily taunt Banner, goad him into becoming, well, a big dumb monster, the opposite of the Leader, force Banner to either evolve or die. That sort of thing. (The Twins also wanted Hulk to talk a little more. This would certainly force that.) Even if they don't actually fight each other, it could be Leader who forces Hulk into becoming known as the public menace that the comics like to make him out to be (such as in the "World War Hulk" arc or the original Ultimates comics that also gave us, well, the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury and the Avengers movies themselves). And that would be pretty epic.
Now what to do with Rick Jones? I objected to Rick because, well, he's a scrawny little thing who's...just kind of Hulk's friend. The comics have often had a hard time figuring out what to do with Rick, too. At one point he was drafted into becoming Marvel's surrogate for Billy Batson when it decided to make its Captain Marvel more similar to the other Captain Marvel, the human who changes places with the hero. He was Marvel's Snapper Carr. Have no idea who Snapper Carr is? Well, that's about as much about Rick Jones as I need to explain. He's an anachronism, basically totally unnecessary for modern requirements.
But. As the Twins themselves point out, Rick is also kind of the reason Bruce Banner became the Hulk in the first place. And so maybe it's Rick who carries the guilt that works so well in other Marvel properties like Spider-Man, who is perhaps used as a pawn by the Leader. (I tend to connect everything together. So of course if Doc Sampson, the Leader, and Rick Jones exist at all in the movies, they have to be part of the same story.) If Rick is the reason Banner was irradiated in the first place, that guilt he's been carrying around since then could become a tremendous bargaining chip.
Hulk does kind of need these figures in his movie appearances. He needs people to ground him, put him into context. That's why his appearance in Avengers had such an effect, because it was filled with context. When the Hulk shows up, he's not some freak who smashes things, a monster who must immediately be removed from any regular context in order to work. He's a Hulk who interacts, not just smashes. And the more characters you give him to interact with, the better.