The James Clayton Column: Avengers disassemble, Captain America joins a clique

Will The Avengers be the Mean Girls of comic book movies? James has been wondering just what Marvel might be up to...

The First Avenger has finally arrived and that means that the rest of the Avengers can now follow. With Captain America on the silver screen, Marvel’s primo supergroup, “Earth’s mightiest heroes”, have their leading light and can fly into action. Avengers assemble! Excelsior!

If all goes to plan, Captain America and his compatriots, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow, will be hitting cinemas on May 4th 2012. Building up slowly, the Marvel comics movie machine has handled this epic geek event pretty niftily, considering how complex an Avengers ensemble picture is.

Sprinkled throughout with sly cameos, in-references and obligatory post-credits sequences featuring Nick Fury (Sammy L. Jackson with an eye patch), the stand-alone superhero flicks have served us tantalising teasers. Captain America: The First Avenger is the last of the solo numbers before the big ensemble piece is released, so this marks the point where the full glare of the spotlight falls on Marvel’s event movie.

To construct an elaborate and confusing, but possibly effective metaphor, the point we’ve now reached is the part in the story where Captain America has climbed up the mountain and done the grunt work, in order to reach forward to an epic new horizon beyond. At the top he finds his team (I don’t know how they got there. Cosmic Cube, maybe?) and with a Hulk smash they start to roll down the mountain, a storming avalanche of cool power from celestial heights, ready to blow away the world beneath them.

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Momentum increases, hype snowballs and all opposition to the superhero strike is crushed, as the cultural landscape is engulfed under the Avengers’ mighty power.

(If you’re wondering, my superpower is the ability to summon up stupid metaphors. At least it’s a natural, innate ability I was born with, and not one that had to be injected into me by the US Army. So, great bolshy yarbles, then, to you and your Super-Soldier serum, Steve Rogers.)

I expect this to be the case, bearing in mind the film will pack beloved icons Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk together in the same picture. As well as having Marvel’s biggest stars sharing screen time, The Avengers has cult legend, Joss Whedon, as writer and director.

Furthermore, it’s an adaptation of comics lore, and that ensures the attention of an entire planet of obsessive, dedicated enthusiasts with epic expectations. (Actually, development on The Avengers production is probably being intensely scrutinised by the geek population of several planets, alongside a multitude of fictional universes, alternate dimensions and meta-realities.)

So far, they’ve released an official teaser poster and shown the Internet an on-set photo of some personalised cast member deckchairs in front of the Avengers crest (though Thor, surely, deserves some kind of throne). From here the hype escalates, as Whedon shoots the superhero bonanza, hammers it through post-production and then hands it over to the marketing people ahead of eventual exhibition, no doubt accompanied by so much buzz and promo material that pop culture might collapse and have to spend a week on the beach in Malibu to recover.

Though Batmania is virulent, with The Dark Knight Rises also landing next year, the 2012 blockbuster scene could be completely overcome by Avengers fever. As I trip off to the flicks this weekend to enjoy Captain America: The First Avenger, I can feel anticipation rising and am excitedly awaiting next May, when I get to cheer on Cap and the rest of “Earth’s mightiest heroes”.

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Except I don’t want to cheer them on. In fact, I think I want to see the S.H.I.E.L.D. initiative fail and fall by the wayside in ignominy, with the Avengers acrimoniously splitting up and going their own separate ways.

You know what I say to The Avengers? Yarbles! Great bolshy yarblockos to them all and everyone involved at S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m flipping the bird at them and then standing defiantly against the combined superhuman majesty, making a squinty Clint Eastwood face and spitting out, “Blast you all and damn your eyes!” (Or, in Nick Fury’s case, “damn your eye!”)

This may strike you as an averse, unreasonable reaction to what promises to be the most exhilarating event in comic book movie history, but if you look at it in a different light, and consider the concept from another perspective, antagonism to The Avengers is justifiable.

Could it be that, in gathering together a gang of superheroes, the Marvel costumed hero film is going the way of Mean Girls? Could it be that The Avengers embraces an attitude of cliquey-ness that undermines the essence of the key protagonists, and the qualities that make them appealing to legions of followers?

Hardcore fans may now find their hero worship experience polluted by the behaviour and emotional experiences that formed their high school nightmares. The Avengers could open up the psychic wounds and traumatically trigger the most introverted comic nerds when they just wanted some entertaining escapism.

That’s no way to treat the most devout members of your fanbase, and it’s my conviction that, by forming special hero gangs, the exalted icons betray their purpose and the principle ideals they represent.

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The ultimate superhero is an outsider, a socially-conscious loner committed to aiding and defending the wider humanity that they aren’t a part of, by virtue of the fact that they’re a mutant, an extraterrestrial or essentially just non-mainstream. They’re rejected by respectable society, which is sad, but also liberating. Unattached, they’re free to enjoy their powers and do good in unorthodox, unconventional fashion, ultimately serving as awe-inspiring alternative role models.

Most of the time they take their ‘reject’ or ‘outsider’ status and turn it into something positive and progressive, as opposed to, say, Travis Bickle-style vigilante psychosis. Once they’re all ganged together in a group, though, that admirable empowered individual ethos is lost. It’s like they’ve sold out and shunned their true nature to hang with the cool kids.

It’s easier to relate to protagonists like Captain America and Thor when they’re isolated and don’t quite fit in (because Earth is very different to Asgard). It’s harder, however, to identify with a band of hotshots who seal themselves off in an elite gang because they’re better than everyone else.

Maybe it’s just me and my inferiority complex, non-conformist edginess and social ineptitude. Perhaps I’m just bitter that no gang ever wants me, or that I’m not a Norse god or an awesomely powerful mutant. I’m so sad. Someone get me some Super-Soldier serum.

James’ previous column can be found here.

You can reach James on his Twitter feed here, see his film cartoons here and more sketches here.

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