WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew watches the recent Netflix-made video game documentary series, High Score, and gets inspired to finally check out the very strange––and controversial?––game, Night Trap. D. Bethel finds serenity as the ferryman of the dead while playing Thunder Lotus Games’ Spiritfarer, a game that is a far cry from their previous games.
DC DECONSTRUCTED: News of a major restructuring of DC Comics by WarnerMedia last week set the comics world ablaze with speculation and worry. D. Bethel and Andrew try to parse the information and speculate on what it could mean not only for DC Comics but for comics in general.
LOWER THE SHIELD: Over seven seasons, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to a close. Our hosts’ appreciation for the show––especially this final season––has not been a secret. Now that is has ended, they finally––finally––talk about the final season and the show it brought to a close. SPOILERS ABOUND for the final season, especially the two-part finale.
NEWS BLAST (COVID-19 EDITION): A lot of stuff is going on amid the global pandemic, and Andrew and D. Bethel are here to talk about it (if Dan actually was able to record his audio this time). They talk about the AMC theater chain shunning Universal Pictures amid Trolls World Tour‘s success, Civilization VI‘s bold new plan for a year’s worth of DLC and expansions, Marvel and DC Comics are shipping books again, The Flash has an abbreviated season (ending on somewhat of a downbeat), and New Mutants gets a theatrical release date…again.
This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. Today we have a look back at the nerdy things that came to a close by Taylor Cassell & Taylor Katcher.
Having three major franchises end in the same year brings a lot of societal excitement that engages even the initially un-engaged. My girlfriend, Taylor, being one of those initially un-engaged folks feeling the nerd zeitgeist (and my non-stop jabbering about Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars) was a gateway into wanting to be a part of all three as they ended in 2019. This is not an easy task – We’re talking about catching up on 8 seasons of Game of Thrones, 23 Marvel Movies, and 10 Star Wars Films in a matter of months. Below is the result of all three and how we both felt about them. We are listed as our initials, since we’re both named Taylor, and it’s more confusing in writing than in our daily lives. Taylor Katcher will be referred to as TK, while Taylor Cassell will be TC.
Game Of Thrones
[TK] There was a lot to like in the first half of the final season of Game Of Thrones (Arya being “The Prince That Was Promised” being a highlight), but man did they fumble the ball in the very end. A definite bummer for all those who had been watching for ~eight years, but it doesn’t take away from the journey. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.
To be honest, we used the “The Long Night” episode from this last season––the part where it pans past each character so that you, the viewer, were reminded that no one is safe––to pause and explain what happened to that character since season 1 and then watched the remaining episodes together. But it was perfect for Taylor since she hadn’t seen an episode since Season 1, so Winterfell was a known locale and most characters were back together again for the first time since Season 1.
[TC] I have a knack for avoiding spoiler culture by avoiding…culture. When I started dating Taylor, I noticed my ability to get spoiled increase. Now, my brain registers words like “tesseract,” “vibranium,” and “OLED.”
I fell off the GoT train after one season. After season 1, episode 10, the next episode I watched was season 8’s, “The Long Night” and, for me, it was like no time had passed since we were in Winterfell.
Taylor got to catch me up on about 70 episodes worth of TV in a 45 minute span. (I didn’t have to ask––I could tell it was the best date he’s ever been on.)
A brief recap of my thoughts, questions, and exclamations:
The dragons are all grown up.
What’s the red wedding? (There was a purple wedding?)
Do you agree with Sansa Stark’s rape or was it gratuitous?
Holyfuck, WINTER HASN’T COME?!
I was a part of the GoT zeitgeist for about three weeks, speculating if a woman would take the throne and unpacking fan theories with my coworkers. It was a blast and I could have taken eight more years of this feeling.
Final thoughts: I feel bad for all the people who named their kid “Daenerys” and got a six-episode final season with an accidental Starbucks commercial.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
[TK] Seeing Avengers: Endgame in theaters opening night was one of the best theater experiences I have ever had. We gasped, cried, and exclaimed together in harmony. Leave it to the biggest media franchise of all time to gift its fanbase with the biggest fan payoff of all time.I know this isn’t “the end” of the MCU but it was the end of the first 10 year Phase that began with Iron Man in 2008, which is a significant chunk of lifetime for most viewers.
Without enough time before the theatrical release of Endgame, Taylor and I started her journey with the intention of watching Endgame upon home release. From May through October, we watched every single MCU movie (except The Incredible Hulk) so that Endgame would be as impactful as possible. And it was––Taylor gasped, cried, felt the impact of The Snap, and the death of Tony Stark. Watching all of these movies again really showed how inviting they were and was a great time for both of us (and the occasional friend popping in to see Chris Evans bicep curl a helicopter). I would recommend both a rewatch for seasoned fans and the full series for newcomers as Disney/Marvel really knows how to make fun films.
[TC] I knew Iron Man was cool because I knew Robert Downey Jr. was cool. The marketing agency I worked for had even snagged RDJ for a Microsoft OneNote campaign called The Collective Project, awarding us our first-ever Cannes Gold Lion as an agency. I bragged to Taylor about this on our first date, probably failing to mention that I had no idea who or what Iron Man was.
Man oh man, did Iron Man live up to his Robert Downey Jr. affiliation. Iron Man ended up being my favorite, with a three-way second place tie of: Bruce Banner (boring but Mark Ruffalo), Captain America, and T’Challa.
My favorite part of our journey through the MCU was how much it united my best friend and roommate, Lauren, and Taylor. In addition to bonding over encroaching on her roommate/best friend territory, soon we could all bond over a missed dance with Peggy Carter, Bruce Banner’s secret, and ON YOUR LEFT jokes (just kidding, only Taylor makes those jokes).
At a Wonder Woman 5K Run recently, the MC said “I love you 3,000” to the lone man dressed as Iron Man and I smiled dopily; I was officially a part of the fandom.
[TK] Let’s be clear – I love Star Wars. I think that rewatching all ten movies before The Rise Of Skywalker only solidified how much I truly love Star Wars. However, it also made me come to terms with how much I kinda dislike most of the numbered films. I found that I was annoyed that I had to watch any of them in full to get Taylor caught up––especially the Original Trilogy. If anything, only Taylor wanted (needed?) to watch them, and me getting upset every time she fell asleep during a space battle only solidified my dislike of the films because I wasn’t as happy to lead her through them the way I was with the MCU, and it showed in an ugly way. It turns out I like the idea and lore of Star Wars, as The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Madalorian are the best of Star Wars IMO. Although, I LOVE rewatching my favorite scenes and quoting them from the films, I never need to watch them in full because, in reality, the world George Lucas created is better than the world he wrote most of the time.
The Rise of Skywalker (TROS) was THE MOST Star Wars, but only because it was done as safely as possible. Say what you will about The Last Jedi (a personal favorite film), but at least it tried to say something and make a stand about elements of Star Wars––mainly who can use The Force. TROS walked a lot of that back but seemingly to only not upset anyone. But again, this isn’t about me or you, it’s about Taylor enjoying the shit Reddit argues about for the thousandth time…for the first time.
[TC] In my world, I was the first to ship Reylo. I was the only one aware of how sexy Princess Leia is in a gold bikini. Jar Jar was un-ironically my favorite character and my dad liked Yoda, not yours.
First we tried watching them in release date order. I fell asleep for long stretches throughout. So did Taylor. At one point, we took a break from the viewings for a few months. Every so often, Taylor hinted: “We don’t have to watch them, babe.”
Then, as we got dangerously close to the Episode IX release, we tried again, starting with Rogue One and ending with Solo for fun. Here’s Taylor’s prescribed watch-order (in case you’re wondering):
After Solo, The Last Jedi was my favorite. When Rey moonbeams her saber to Kylo, I literally gasped. I could have watched an entire film of just Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver’s sexual tension.
I don’t remember this but apparently, after we finished the MCU, I said to Taylor, “How could Star Wars be half as good?” Now, I love you 3,000, Star Wars.
(I think it’s important to note that while we were binge-watching the Skywalker Saga, we were also watching The Mandalorian in parallel. And if Taylor Katcher can’t make you love Star Wars, baby Yoda sure can.)
[TK] What we are trying to say is, don’t get too intimidated to start watching and enjoying these universes. Fans of these franchises want to share these universes with you, and whether you’ve watched them for 42 years or 3 months, you’ll become a fan as well.
This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. We start by having co-host, D. Bethel, talk about––of course––the X-Men.
Many people view 2019 as the coda for the entire decade, wiping away the expectation and skepticism that has built up over the last nine years as we head into the twenties. I don’t usually subscribe to such notions because time is ever and always a series of causal relationships, but––stepping back from the year as December ends––the evidence certainly points to this year closing a lot of doors. With Game of Thrones coming to a close, Avengers: Endgame definitively ending the first era of the MCU, and even Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker concluding a supposed nine-movie arc, 2019 does actually seem to be not only winding down the year but, in some cases, doing so for decades-long cultural monuments.
However, 2019’s sense of closure and finality landed nowhere more––across multiple mediums––than on the house that Charles Xavier built. At least to me.
Of course, the X-Men aren’t dead nor are they going anywhere; in fact, many look at the events of 2019 that Marvel’s merry mutants went through––20th Century Fox’s purchase by Disney and Jonathan Hickman’s takeover of the comics––and anticipate the beginning of a promising new age.
To me, however, the theatrical release of Dark Phoenix and the comic book reboot with House of X and Powers of X marked a definitive end to eras of the team that mean so much to me.
The much derided Dark Phoenix landed with a thud, but more importantly (and as unwarranted as the derision was) it marked the last main installment in the 20th Century Fox-owned X-films. Its finality (and finale) hit me hard as I realized that this series I followed since it redefined superhero cinema in 2000 actually kind of became “my” X-Men.
Through the ’90s, I developed a codified portrait of what this superhero team meant to me in an intense and focused consumption of this property––mostly built upon the triptych of X-Men #1 (1991), X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, and X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men––and, with that done, it kind of went dormant in my mind as I grew up and started absorbing other things.
And then these movies came around.
For all of their successes and flaws, they wove a tone and ethos that very much aligned with “my” X-Men, and I appreciated and eagerly supported each film released (except for X-Men Origins: Wolverine; that movie is hot garbage).
Again, whether you like them or not, Dark Phoenix ended this era (though we still wait for New Mutants to find a way out of the vault). I very much liked these movies––especially Dark Phoenix––and think that it handled its own mortality (though unknown at the time) with grace, maturity, and one hell of a good movie. In a summer where Avengers: Endgame became a powerfully emotional moment for the folks who are longtime Marvel Universe readers as well as those who literally grew up with the MCU (starting with 2008’s Iron Man), Dark Phoenix stands as an astonishing and powerful goodbye for me and my superheroes. Yes, in terms of emotional resonance, Dark Phoenix is myAvengers: Endgame. Don’t @ me.
The movie affected me profoundly, made worse by the vitriolic discourse around a movie that is, at the very least, perfectly fine or, by my estimation, very good. Because of how much I enjoyed it, I expected myself to go to the mat for it in discussion; however, because it so infuriated me how people treated this movie, I realized exactly how much emotion I had invested in it.
It got to the point where I had to disengage from any conversation around it because I just assumed everyone was on the offensive. So, Dark Phoenix became a very personal movie for me, one for me to enjoy on my own and quietly. That’s okay; I gladly place it on the “just for me” shelf with my other beloved films like Willow, The Postman, and Highlander––movies people love to insult but have a profound and private meaning (while fully aware of their flaws).
Although, I eagerly await the Dark Phoenix retrospectives five or ten years from now when nerdy critics reconsider their stance after the hot takes have cooled and just appreciate it on its own merits.
HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X
When Marvel announced that fan-favorite writer, Jonathan Hickman, would be revamping the mutant sector of its universe, the speculation became a non-stop hype train. Before the books even released, Marvel was proudly declaring thatthe dual titles that launched this reboot––House of X and Powers of X (HoX/PoX), the latter pronounced “Powers of Ten”––already earned a place on the shelf with the other important moments in X-history: the first reboot, Giant-Sized X-Men #1; the industry-shifting story The Dark Phoenix Saga; 1991’s record-breaking X-Men #1; and Grant Morrison’s daring revamp with New X-Men in 2000. HoX/PoX was that important. The hubris of it made me skeptical but intrigued if only because I wanted to get excited about the X-Men comics again. I wanted to jump in at a clean start like I had years ago with X-Men #1. I wanted to become an X-Mencomics super-fan again.
Marvel published HoX/PoX weekly as interweaving limited series, bouncing back and forth between the two very oblique and mystery-laden books, I had a lot of fun diving into this new premise populated with familiar characters. Hickman’s story was big and the sheer scope across the globe and millennia was striking in its boldness.
Whether Hickman’s HoX/PoX becomes the paradigm shift Marvel and Hickman touted it as being, I noticed I slowly slid off of it the further it went on throughout the year, especially as HoX/PoX came to a close and the “Dawn of X” (DoX) titles (the disparate titles spun out of the events of the HoX/PoX limited series) started getting published. HoX/PoX definitely lived up to its promise of building a new status-quo from the ground up, but I realized that meant burning down what came before, echoing what will surely be done on the movie side of things when that happens.
While not wholly ignoring the fifty-six years of continuity, Hickman certainly subverted it, making the comic’s printed history merely a series of “things that happened” while the actual, more important story was going on underneath. To that end, HoX/PoX effectively closed the book on the epic socially-conscious soap opera that started in September of 1963, a wave I jumped in on mid-way through but had fun learning about what came before as I rode the wave forward at the same time.
That, however, has been freeing as the HoX/PoX run and the subsequent DoX books feel like a brand new series cast with actors I know––the same faces in a new context. So, there’s no catch-up the reader needs to do. As the prominent anti-continuity voice on the show, that’s only a good thing and it’s amazing that Hickman was able to pull it off not only with the readers, but with Marvel. Admittedly, it’s much smarter than arbitrarily slapping “#1” on the cover and hoping for a sales spike.
HoX/PoX fundamentally turned the idea of the X-Men on its ear from my holy texts of X-Men #1, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, and Pryde of the X-Men. Instead of being a thinly veiled and often problematic metaphor for social injustice set in a superhero world, it is now an eco-sci-fi-utopian-political experiment, and maybe that’s what mutants need to be in 2019, 2020, and onward.
I don’t expect franchises to grow with me and my tastes, but part of the excitement of hopping on HoX/PoX was to get in the ground floor and, with hope, be a part of the audience for whom this becomes “my” X-Men. But it hasn’t done that, and it’s likely because my nostalgia got in the way and not a fault of HoX/PoX. And that realization, combined with my powerful reaction to Dark Phoenix, forced me to fully examine my fandom for the X-Men. It showed me what it means to me, and––more importantly––how I want to interact with it.
That’s important going into 2020 when Hickman’s plans gain more steam and continue to define and refine what the X-Men are now. It’s also important as we get closer to whenever Marvel Studios does what it decides to do with these characters in the MCU. I’m incredibly excited to see where both of these things go, but as I get older such excitement becomes academic rather than gleeful appreciation.
TRAILER SEASON: With the year coming to an end, it’s all about looking forward for nerdy and geeky entertainment. Lately, it seems a lot of trailers for new movies and television events have been dropping that are getting people talking. This week, Andrew and D. Bethel talk about the new trailers for Black Widow, No Time to Die, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Doctor Who: Series 12.
ANDREW IS OLDER: We start by celebrating Andrew’s birthday a little bit. So, what did he do? He watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan again and also went to see Weird Al Yankovic in concert during his “Strings Attached” tour where Yankovic and his band toured with a 41-piece orchestra.
FARTHER FROM HOME: The news this week was kind of bad for Marvel Cinematic Universe fans as Sony and Disney apparently stepped away from the deal that brought them together in the first place. What this means (as it currently stands) is that future Spider-Man films can’t interact with the MCU or Avengers-based films. Andrew and D. Bethel talk about what’s going on here and what are the ups and downs of this news story.
CAN YOU SDCC ME NOW?:Though San Diego Comic Con is ostensibly about comic books, the biggest announcements that seem to come out of the show revolve around cinematic and televised properties. Andrew and D. Bethel focus on the announcements that not only ignited their excitement but also triggered their critical processes, from the Cats trailer to the next big DC/CW “Arrowverse” crossover event to the new Star Trek show to Marvel’s Phase 4 lineup.
ENDGAME POSTGAME: SPOILER WARNING Andrew and D. Bethel have both seen Avengers: Endgame and, conveniently, the Russo brothers lifted the spoiler ban on Monday; so, our hosts dive right into soup of scenes, moments, narrative threads, and surprises that make up this landmark movie.
AVENGERS CODA: With the release Avengers: Endgame this week (this is SPOILER FREE since neither have seen the film yet), Andrew and D. Bethel decide to examine a few aspects of the MCU and, especially, what and how Avengers: Infinity War set up this big finale. They discuss an analysis of Thanos as a sympathetic villain, what they’re looking forward to after this movie’s release, and briefly discuss Andrew’s attempted rewatch of 11 years of MCU entries.