30 Day Anime Challenge – Day 22: Favourite Weapon, Gear, or Armour Used in an Anime

This post is part of The 30 Day Anime Challenge Series alongside the Cosmic Anvil Kickstarter campaign. Click here to read the introduction, and click here to check out and support the campaign to help us fund the printing and distribution of our first collected volume of our manga-inspired comic series, Age of Revolution.


Jess Hardcastle Marketing Whizz Kid

My favourite weapon has to be the Psycho Pass Dominator from Psycho Pass. Not only is it super-cool looking, but it has the ability to switch from non-lethal ‘stun’ to ‘kill’ in seconds. It can also only be used by the registered user, meaning that if anyone was to get hold of one not belonging to them it wouldn’t work.

Lethal_Eliminator

Lethal Eliminator, Psycho Pass

Also, check out how awesome the transformation of the weapon is:

Honorable mentions: 3D Maneuver Gear (Attack On Titan), Sealing Wand (Cardcaptor Sakura) and Death Note (Death Note).


Hannah Collins Co-Founder and Artist

This was a really close one for me between Cloud’s Buster Sword (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children), Allen Walker’s “Crown Clown” form (D.Gray-Man) and Erza Scarlet’s “Heaven’s Wheel” armour (Fairy Tail), but in the end, I think I’m going to have to go with the latter.

Ezra heaven's wheel armour fairy tail 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Erza’s “Heaven’s Wheel” Armour, Fairy Tail

I MEAN… Just look at it. Stunning and deadly – just like Erza. If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for in any anime involving fighting it’s combining magic and weaponry, and although I’ve fallen way behind on watching Fairy Tail, Erza remains one of my favourite female characters and her armour one of my favourite abilities.

Erza’s magic allows her to equip herself from a choice of over one hundred different types of armour and over two hundred different types of weapons, which means that unlike fellow Guild-mate Lucy Heartfillia – whose magic relies on summoning Celestial Spirits to fight for her – Erza’s means she also has to be fully trained for physical combat too. No disrespect to Lucy, but I just prefer to see a female character getting more stuck into the action.

Here’s a few more of Erza’s awesome armours:

Ezra's Black Wing Armour Fairy Tail manga 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Black Wing Armour

Ezra's Adamantine Armour Fairy Tail manga 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Adamantine Armour

Ezra's Armadura Fairy Armour Fairy Tail manga 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Armadura Fairy Armour

Honourable mentions: Scissor Blade (Kill la Kill), Sakura’s Sealing Wand (Cardcaptor Sakura), the Death Note (Death Note), Tanuki Balls (Pom Poko), 3D Maneuver Gear (Attack On Titan), Black Lustre Soldier’s Armour (Yu-Gi-Oh!), InuYasha’s Tessaiga sword (InuYasha), San’s mask (Princess Mononoke), Cloud’s Buster Sword (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children), Kanda’s “Mugen” Sword and Allen Walker’s “Crown Clown” form (D.Gray-Man).


Huw Williams CO-Founder and Writer

There are so many weapons! Which one is my favourite!? I can’t choose! 😦

Wait… I know. My favourite weapon is the Swiss Army Knife of epic anime swords: The 10 Commandments from Rave Master.

10 Commandments - Eisenmeteor

10 Commandments – Eisenmeteor

The 10 Commandments sword is the blade used by the ‘Rave Master’. Pictured above is the current Rave Master Haru Glory, the protagonist of Rave Master. This blade is huge, and strong enough to be able to cut through anything, even magic shields, but that’s not what makes the sword awesome. During the story of Rave Master, Haru unlocks the ten different forms that the 10 Commandments sword possesses. The first is the Eisenmeteor, which I talked about earlier.

10 Commandments - Explosion

10 Commandments – Explosion

The 10 Commandments sword has nine other forms, and above is the second to emerge. ‘Explosion’ does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a smaller sword, but can create huge explosions when it strikes another object. As the show progresses Haru unlocks more and more powers: ‘Supersonic Speed’; ‘Magic Absorption’; ‘Dual Blades’ that can create Ice and Fire; ‘Air Blasts’; a bigger sword that can break everything; ‘Darkness Destroying Light Beams’; a ‘Berserker Mode’ and finally ‘The Star Raver’, which is the strongest blade form. Ability: just nails.

10 Commandments - Melforce

10 Commandments – Melforce (Air Blasts)

Every form of the 10 Commandments has a beautiful design, all completely different from the last, and the story makes each reveal a big event. What will it look like? What powers does it have? How can they be used? It’s so fun, and you’re never bogged down with just one ability, the only downside is that you have to switch between forms, but let’s be honest: who cares when you look this good doing it:

Haru Glory using Blue Crimson (Fire and Ice)

Haru Glory using Blue Crimson (Fire and Ice)


Written by The Cosmic Anvil Team.

Check out our own Welsh-manga (or ‘Wanga’) series, AGE OF REVOLUTION on our official site and Comixology! And if you want to join the fight to get the AGE OF REVOLUTION Volume printed check out our Kickstarter page

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30 Day Anime Challenge – Day 20: Anime Character that Gets on Your Nerves

This post is part of The 30 Day Anime Challenge Series alongside the Cosmic Anvil Kickstarter campaign. Click here to read the introduction, and click here to check out and support the campaign to help us fund the printing and distribution of our first collected volume of our manga-inspired comic series, Age of Revolution.


Jess Hardcastle Marketing Whizz Kid

This one really made me think, but in the end I’ve decided to choose Yuka from Elfen Lied because not only is she annoying, but she’s also jealous, incestuous, and definitely whines far too much! I can’t stand her – even her voice winds me up! I’ve never wished death on a character before but when it came to Yuka I really wanted Lucy to kill her. If she’s not clinging to Kouta, she’s crying or nagging or just generally being a pain in the ass!

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SO ANNOYING! Yuka, Elfen Lied


 

Hannah Collins Co-Founder and Artist

My choice for this post may be a little controversial as she’s such a fan favourite, but bear with me. The character that gets on my nerves the most has to be Asuna from Sword Art Online.

Double Asuna Sword Art Online

Double Asuna = Double Annoying! Sword Art Online

Some characters are annoying from the very start of a show and your opinion of them never really changes. You sigh every time they come on screen, and you’re pleasantly relieved when they don’t get any airtime for a while. Is there anything worse than a constantly irritating character? Well, how about a character who starts off as your favourite only for you to grow to hate?

Let’s be real here: Sword Art Online started out as a refreshingly original, philosophical, and breathtakingly animated show, but by the end of the first series it’s ideas became tired and some of its characters’ suffered from disappointing arcs. Asuna is one of those characters. Beginning as one of the strongest players in the entire game, Asuna was tough-talking and crazy talented with a sword – even giving Beta tester Kirito a run for his money. As an inevitable but nonetheless sweet romance blossomed between them, Asuna’s vulnerabilities started to come out more and more – as did Kirito’s. But the difference between Asuna and Kirito was that whilst he continued to go from strength to strength in the game, Asuna’s strength and agency fell further and further back, until she seemed to be more a of simpering damsel than the once powerful knight she began as. Eventually, through strange plot contrivances, Kirito leaves her behind altogether and continues adventuring with a different partner.

If you compare Asuna’s character development to that of her nearest equivalent – Cecily Campbell from The Sacred Blacksmith – you can see how nonsensical this regression really is. Cecily is a lone female knight in a fantasy kingdom who begins as an untrained, clumsy novice and grows to overcome the inherent sexism of her faux-medieval setting; her own personal weaknesses; and a traumatic sexual assault to become a well-respected warrior.

Cecily Campbell battling on even with a broken sword.

Cecily Campbell battling on even with a broken sword.

This is not only a satisfying arc for a ‘strong female character’ stereotype, but just generally a satisfying and straightforward arc for any heroic character; making Asuna’s comparative strong-to-weak transition look even more bizarre for the action-fantasy genre that I thought the show was supposedly updating.

Asuna sword art online 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Asuna battling in an early episode…

sword art online asuna 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

…and Asuna later on in the series.

Honourable mentions: Misa Amane (Death Note), Tea Gardener (Yu-Gi-Oh!), Nunnaly Lamperouge (Code Geass), Suzaku Kururugi (Code Geass), Eren Jaeger (Attack on Titan).


 

Huw Williams CO-Founder and Writer

Although I certainly don’t hate this character, her choices annoy the hell out of me. My most annoying character is Chi Chi from Dragon Ball Z.

Chi Chi

Chi Chi, Dragon Ball Z

Chi Chi didn’t always bug me. She started off as a cute kid, then at the end of Dragon Ball she was a fiery individual and the perfect match for Goku. It was in Dragon Ball Z that Chi Chi really started to anger me. Her dreams and aspirations for Gohan were for him to knuckle down with school and one day become a great scholar. However, it is clear from episode one that Gohan was born with great power lying dormant, and he is clearly destined to follow in his father’s foot steps of becoming the world’s next savior.

At the end of the Cell Saga we think that’s going to happen: Gohan becomes a beast, and the very first to master the Super Saiyan 2 transformation. Below is a clip of the final blow he hits Cell with, named the ‘Father-Son Kamehameha’ as Goku (his father) is the one that finally gives Gohan the inspiration to release his full power, and with it he annihilates Cell, and becomes the most powerful Dragon Ball character.

However, Chi Chi destroys this and makes Gohan go to school and he becomes and absolute lame person! Gohan fights back by training in secret, and taking on the identity of the ‘Great Saiyaman’ to fight crime. It makes you think though: what would Gohan’s power be like if he continued on the path he was on during the Cell Saga?

SHUT UP CHI CHI

SHUT UP CHI CHI.

She’s bossy, she’s complains all the time, she doesn’t see the bigger picture, and she’s controlling. The worst thing is that she wasn’t always this way, she used to be adorable and understanding, so I try to remember the good times. Like in this adorable picture:

Aww

Awww!

But now all I see is this annoying woman who tries to make the two most powerful individuals in the world do homework, go to parent evenings, and take driving lessons… but I guess if that didn’t happen we wouldn’t have these hilarious moments:

Brum, brum, beep, beep

Brum, brum, beep, beep!

And Goku loves her, so I guess she can’t be that bad…

Family fun

Family fun

Just let Gohan punch bad guys for crying out loud!


Written by The Cosmic Anvil Team.

Check out our own Welsh-manga (or ‘Wanga’) series, AGE OF REVOLUTION on our official site and Comixology! And if you want to join the fight to get the AGE OF REVOLUTION Volume printed check out our Kickstarter page!

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30 Day Anime Challenge – Day 19: Most Epic Scene Ever

This post is part of The 30 Day Anime Challenge Series alongside the Cosmic Anvil Kickstarter campaign. Click here to read the introduction, and click here to check out and support the campaign to help us fund the printing and distribution of our first collected volume of our manga-inspired comic series, Age of Revolution.


[SPOILER ALERT: There are some spoilers in this post about character deaths and the results of epic battles!]

Jess Hardcastle Marketing Whizz Kid

For me, one of the most epic scenes I’ve ever seen in anime is in The Irregular at Magic High School, in a scene in which Tatsuya Shiba is challenged by Hanzo Gyoubushoujo Hattori when he is proposed to be added as a member of the School’s council. Because Tatsuya isn’t a particularly strong magic user Hanzo believes defeating him will be a piece of cake… and then Tatsuya kicks his ass:


Hannah Collins Co-Founder and Artist

To love anime is to love its preoccupation with melodrama and exaggeration, I think. Everything from Ichigo Kurosaki fighting on after losing half his body weight in blood in Bleach, to Light Yagami furiously writing in his room and manically laughing to himself in Death Note. Whenever someone mentions epic moments in anime to me, there’s a bunch of scenes that spring to mind, but the very first one nearly every single time is the opening 6-minute battle scene from Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo featuring Asuka battling an Angel in space.

Neon genesis evangelion 3.0 film poster

Film poster for Evangelion 3.0

Evangelion is packed full of WTF and epic moments – both quietly devastating and irrepressibly loud – but this battle, rendered in gorgeous HD and cinematic scope from the Evangelion rebuild series of films in 2013, truly left me gobsmacked when I first watched it. It’s fast, furious, intense, and one of the best pieces of animation I’ve ever seen.

It starts off with nothing but the blackness of space and whispered voices over multiple telecommunications devices. Then, slowly, Asuka’s ship fades into view. The camera follows it, the voices get louder, and the ship becomes clearer. We see Asuka housed in the cockpit – fingers flicking at switches and her breathing raspy and meditated. Then we are swung downwards to see a shot of the eerily red sea of Earth. Asuka begins to lock in on her target, and then suddenly it zooms into a view – an Angel – screaming as though it were human.

Asuka tears through the Angel’s A.T field as though it were jelly, and then rips off her own helmet to scream through her intense exertion. This is when the real fight begins, and you can watch the full 6-minutes and 38-seconds here in all its insane glory – trust me, it’s worth it!

Asuka battle GIF Evangelion 3.0 you can not redo 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Asuka in battle, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo

Honourable mentions: Asuka’s death (End of Evangelion), Tetsuo’s end (Akira), Titan reappears behind Eren (Attack on Titan), Allen Walker fights the Earl and saves Lenalee (D.Gray-Man), “YOU’VE GOT MAIL!” (Digimon – The First Movie), pretty much everything in Death Note, the reveal at the end of Full Metal Alchemist, the Takihoma sacrifice themselves (Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex), Cloud vs. Sephorith (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children).


Huw Williams CO-Founder and Writer

One Piece is one of the most epic anime out there. Everything is big: big moves, big people, big countries, big boats…it’s crazy. So it’s no surprise to me that I turn straight to One Piece in terms of epic scenes. For my most epic scene though it has to be the final moments of Whitebeard.

Edward 'Whitebeard' Newgate

Edward ‘Whitebeard’ Newgate

This is Edward Newgate, otherwise known by his pirate name of ‘Whitebeard’. He is one of the most powerful pirates in One Piece, classified as one of the ‘Four Warlords’, and he and his fleet are seen as one of the biggest superpowers in the world. Back in the day, he was rival to Gold Roger, the King of the Pirates, and was constantly battling him for the title.

Whitebeard may be old now, but he still rightfully deserves the title of most powerful man. He is able to use a technique known as ‘Haki’ which enables him to battle the strongest of the strong. He also boasts a Devil Fruit power which enables him to manipulate vibrations. These vibrations are more like quakes, and with them he can create tsunamis, earthquakes, or just blast through the air and destroy anything in his path.

Ka-Boom!

Ka-Boom!

However, when he goes to war against the whole of the World’s Navy to rescue Luffy’s brother Ace (who has becomes like a son to Whitebeard) he is pushed beyond his limits and is killed in action. However, its what he says and how he dies that makes this scene so epic.

In the world of One Piece, there are a growing amount of people who stop believing in the grand treasure called the ‘One Piece’, and it would seem that the Great Age of Pirates may be coming to a close. However, Whitebeard’s final words are an announcement to the world, to those who are watching the battle that the One Piece is most certainly real. After he says this he dies…standing up. I know this is a cliche in anime and Eastern mythology, but you can’t help but admit that it’s the coolest thing ever. This was also the first time I saw this cliche, so for me it will always be amazing and unique.

So boss.

So boss.

But it doesn’t stop there. The narrator lists the amount of injuries he sustained in the war, and how many scars he bears on his body: two-hundred-and-sixty-seven sword wounds, one-hundred-and-fifty-one guns shot wounds, he took forty-six cannon shots, he was punched through the torso twice, but as the wind blows his jacket off his back, it is revealed that he has never sustained an injury on his back, as he never retreated or surrendered.

So three epic, epic, points for this scene showed Whitebeard to be a boss, not once, but twice! But not only that, his announcement led to a new era in the Pirate Age, an era in which everyone believes in the ultimate treasure – the One Piece.


Written by The Cosmic Anvil Team.

Check out our own Welsh-manga (or ‘Wanga’) series, AGE OF REVOLUTION on our official site and Comixology! And if you want to join the fight to get the AGE OF REVOLUTION Volume printed check out our Kickstarter page!

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30 Day Anime Challenge – Day 9: Best Anime Villain

This post is part of The 30 Day Anime Challenge Series alongside the Cosmic Anvil Kickstarter campaign. Click here to read the introduction, and click here to check out and support the campaign to help us fund the printing and distribution of our first collected volume of our manga-inspired comic series, Age of Revolution.


[SPOILER ALERT: There will be spoilers about certain anime in this post!]

Jess Hardcastle Marketing Whizz Kid

Most of the anime I have seen have all had really interesting and evil villains in them so it’s hard to pick the best one, but I think I am going to have to go with Shou Tucker from Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Whilst he never actually killed anyone [SPOILER ALERT] he did use alchemy to turn his own daughter and their dog into a talking chimera – which is pretty awful! I was genuinely shocked and upset at his ability to be able to harm them. This is also after he did the same thing to his own wife and that chimera only said, “Kill me”, and refused to eat – basically committing suicide after it couldn’t deal with the pain and suffering of what he’d turned her into.

tumblr_inline_mm6rqfUuRE1qz4rgp

Shou Tucker, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Honorable mentions: Lucy (Elfen Lied), Light Yagami (Death Note) and ALL the Titans (Attack On Titan).


Hannah Collins Co-Founder and Artist

This may seem like an obvious choice, but I have go with Light Yagami from Death Note for my favourite anime villain. There’s plenty of big, bad villains out there in the world of anime to choose from, but what makes Light particularly interesting for me is the fact that he is the protagonist of the story – a role traditionally played by the hero, not the hero’s nemesis.

Light Yagami Death Note anime manga 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Light Yagami, Death Note

Just by seeing the story through Light’s eyes, your opinion of him is constantly coloured by his perspective. Despite his actions as a sociopathic megalomaniac are completely psychotic and morally reprehensible, you also find yourself kind of willing him to not get caught so you can see just how far the story will be pushed. The tension you feel each time Light finds himself cornered is ridiculously compelling, and unlike most Shonen anime – which relies on brawn rather than brain and an assured victory for the hero nearly every time – Death Note’s battles of wits and magic keep you genuinely guessing who will be left alive by the end.

Light Yagami L detective death note manga anime 30 day anime challenge cosmic anvil

Light Vs. L

Conversely, you also find yourself rooting for his opponent – the eccentric detective known only as ‘L’, which heightens the tension even more. Whenever these two are in a room together, the thrill of watching them verbally – and occasionally physically – dance around each other is akin to that of Sherlock and Moriaty.

I always think that the strength of a hero can be measured by the strength of their villain, and Light and L are definitely two sides of the same brilliant coin, and Death Note one of the greatest crime thrillers in modern fiction.

Honourable mentions: Lust, Envy, Shou Tucker and Father (Full Metal Alchemist & Brotherhood), Medusa (Soul Eater), Vicious (Cowboy Bebop), The Earl (D.Gray-Man), Siegfried (Sacred Blacksmith), Gendo Ikari (Neon Genesis Evangelion), The Puppet Master (Ghost in the Shell).


Huw Williams CO-Founder and Writer

A great villain for me has to be many things: they have to be evil (obvious, but true), they have to be powerful, and they have to be perfectly matched to their protagonist counterpart; and as much as you hate them, you also have to love them. But, a truly great villain for me must also have a huge impact on the story that they star in, and it’s for these reasons that my favourite villain is Frieza from the Dragon Ball franchise.

Frieza

Frieza, Dragon Ball franchise

Friza is powerful and likes to let you know that he is. His power is feared by many throughout the universe and during the lead up to Goku’s battle with Frieza, King Kai commands Goku not to fight Frieza as he will surely be killed because Frieza’s power enables him to destroy whole planets with just one blast.

Frieza isn’t alone in the planet destroyers club that is DBZ, but he still stands out. Frieza is regarded as one of the most, if not the most, important Dragon Ball villains. After all, it was Frieza who destroyed the Saiyan home world Planet Vegeta – the event that starts the whole Dragon Ball story as that was how Goku ended up on Earth. Frieza’s actions on Planet Namek were also the major catalyst for Goku’s Super Saiyan transformation, as after Frieza killed Krillin Goku’s rage and needed to be more powerful spilled over, resulting in one of the most iconic scenes in anime. Frieza himself started the trend of transformations as well:

Squad's out.

Squad’s out.

He’s powerful, he’s iconic, and most importantly: he’s also pure evil to the core. He’s seeking the Dragon Balls to gain immortality and he was willing to do anything to get them. When faced against Goku he had met his match and was willing to do anything to beat him. He will do anything, and everything he does is for himself. The worst thing of all was when he was forgiven by Goku, who also gave him enough energy to escape the dying Planet Namek, Frieza chose to use that power to try and kill Goku again. This was when Goku launched his final attack and killed Frieza. Even when he was given a second chance he still chose to kill Goku, proving that his hatred for the Saiyan race and Goku burns stronger than his need for survival.

Yet you also can’t help but like him: he’s so devilishly evil that he almost becomes a cartoonish villain in the Disney mold of Scar (Lion King) or Jafar (Aladdin). He’s so well liked that Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball‘s creator) brought him back in the most resent film, and with a new form. It’s also rumored that Toriyama was going to bring Frieza back after the Cell saga, but was advised by his editors not to. Frieza’s cool, powerful, and fabulous. What more do you want from a villain?

Come at me.

Come at me, BRAH.


Written by The Cosmic Anvil Team.

Check out our own Welsh-manga (or ‘Wanga’) series, AGE OF REVOLUTION on our official site and Comixology! And if you want to join the fight to get the AGE OF REVOLUTION Volume printed check out our Kickstarter page!

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An In-Depth Review of Avengers: Age of Ultron (50% Spoiler Free!)

There’s snow on the ground, in the trees, in the air – snow everywhere. The sky is grey and the landscape scrubbed white by winter. We see men in black running; hear shots being fired; words being shouted in a foreign language. Flashes of familiarity rush past – Hawkeye’s arrows; Thor’s lightening; Captain America’s shield; Black Widow’s guns; Hulk smashing; and Iron Man whizzing in and out of view. It seems like confusion, but as they weave and duck in and out of each other’s way a sense of organised chaos begins to emerge, and these seemingly disparate heroes are drawn closer and closer together until they suddenly assemble as one and leap into a beautifully choreographed slow-mo (money) shot.

Iron Man gets the first line: ‘SHIT!’

This is how Avengers: Age of Ultron begins – with a bang, and the pace rarely let’s up from that point to the end. In fact, you may have to run at superhuman speed to keep up with it.

For those who have yet to see it, I will keep this first half of the review relatively spoiler-free, and then head into some major spoiler territory later on to discuss the finer points of the Avengers: Assemble sequel, including how it has laid the ground for spin-offs and further sequels.


Synopsis

 Following the creation of the Avengers Initiative and their success defending New York from an alien invasion lead by Loki (Thor’s Frost-Giant/Asgardian adopted brother), the team are on the hunt for Loki’s pokey-stick which has fallen into the hands of Hydra.

Loki pokey stick

The Loki pokey-stick.

The Avengers successfully obtain the Loki pokey-stick from Baron Von Strucker (manacle-wearing nefarious dude heading up Hydra) despite the efforts of the super-powered Maximoff twins: speedster Quicksilver (who has also appeared in Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past) and his sister the Scarlet Witch who possesses telekinesis and reality-manipulation powers. These two are pissed at Tony Stark as his tech was responsible for killing their parents, and gained their powers through surviving Hydra’s twisted experiments.

Twincest, anybody?

Twincest, anybody?

Back at Avengers tower, Tony convinces Dr. Bruce Banner to help him use the gem contained in the Loki pokey-stick to realise his dream of creating artificial intelligence so that the Earth can be better protected against the threat of alien invasion. He names the project ‘Ultron’. Banner reluctantly agrees, but when Ultron is “born” he attacks Jarvis (Tony’s computer system) and then the off-guard Avengers, interpreting his “mission” from Tony to bring “peace in our time” as the extinction of mankind so that Earth can evolve into something better. “All that shall remain will be metal”.

Ultron: Cover Girl.

Ultron: Cover Girl.

To aid his cause, Ultron recruits the Maximoff twins; equips himself with the strongest metal on Earth (Vibranium) and even decides to create life – the Vision – a more biologically composed version of himself powered by the gem from the Loki pokey-stick.

The Avengers finally track him down to a small city called Sokovia, where Ultron’s plan to destroy the Earth culminates in a difficult moral conundrum for the team: Do they sacrifice the lives of a few for the lives of many?


What does the film do well?

 The biggest question for any sequel is whether it matches up or surpasses the original, and considering just how successful Avengers Assemble was both critically and commercially, this question must have been making director Joss Whedon really sweat during the film’s entire production. Short answer? Yes, it definitely matches up to the quality of the first film and I think some of the audience may say that it even surpasses it. The strongest points of Assemble – a dynamic team made up of distinctive well-written characters kicking butt and snapping jokes – is replicated in Age of Ultron to the same degree of success and entertainment. The difference this time around being that with their group dynamic already established, no time needs to be wasted on introductions and sizing each other up. The pace is full-throttle, the stakes are high, and you’re never quite sure which is more fun: the gang beating the crap out of each other or getting drunk and trying to lift Thor’s hammer (not an innuendo).

Thor Hammer

Totes worthy.

Beyond the explosions, dick jokes, bromance, and Tony Stark’s excellent sunglasses collection, the introduction of artificial intelligence to the Marvel cinematic universe sparks some heated and emotional debates between the team about responsibility, scientific ethics, the ‘greater good’, and complicated parallels between the monstrous and the heroic. Considering this, it is especially fitting that the cyborgian being ‘Vision’ is finally gifted his life by the lightening strike of Thor’s hammer, deliberately invoking the most famous of all artificially made creatures – Frankenstein’s monster.

During the battle for Loki’s pokey-stick at the start of the film, Scarlet Witch uses her reality manipulating mojo to mess with Iron Man’s head and bring to life his greatest fears. In his vision, he sees his fellow Avengers dead and the Earth laid open to an incoming alien invasion that he is powerless to prevent. “We create the things we fear,” Ultron monologues later on. Not only does Scarlet Witch put the fear of God in Tony Stark, but also she allows him to take the gem in the Loki-pokey stick. Does she see a bit of Dr. Frankenstein in Stark and hopes that he will create a monster of his own? It’s not quite clear.


What doesn’t the film do well?

 Let’s get nitpicky. Age of Ultron is a solid and character-led action romp and I have little complaints about it, but I did find a few small things to gripe about concerning Ultron. Ultron, as a follow up to fan-favourite Loki, has some big Asgardian shoes to fill. Does he fill them? Well, nearly. Ultron’s first appearance in corporeal form is a limping, skeletal robot, and dripping with oil – as though he really has been birthed from some sort of artificial womb. Very creepy. The next glimpse of him is even more sinister; as he sits alone in an abandoned church, draped in holy cloth and philosophising to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, he definitely sends out some cool Dr. Doom vibes (the Fantastic Four’s arch nemesis and perhaps Marvel’s most melodramatic of villains).

Ultron on his Throne

Age of DOOM.

However, as Ultron’s character develops – and the more he tries to distinguish himself from his baby-daddy Tony Stark – the more like wise-cracking Stark he sounds. Seeing as he essentially copied and pasted a large part of Stark’s personality, this makes sense. After all, if Stark did create what he fears, his narcissism means that he fears himself most. Ultron is all the worst parts of his personality. But, personally I wanted more psychopath and less jokes as the comedy kind of lessened his menace.

My other little gripe with Ultron is a mild spoiler, so you may want to skip this paragraph if you don’t want to hear any. Without revealing too much, Black Widow becomes Ultron’s prisoner for a short time in the second act. Whilst imprisoned by him, she is able to alert Hawkeye to Ultron’s location, and is then able to escape. There’s one big problem with this: Why did Ultron even imprison her in the first place? Why didn’t he kill her? His first directive – before global destruction – is to destroy the Avengers. He has one right in front of him… and doesn’t kill her. If he wanted her to draw the Avengers into a trap, then why didn’t he kill her once her purpose was served? It seems a little sloppy for a supremely intelligent robot. If anyone can offer up an explanation I’d be happy to hear it.


MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

 If you’ve seen the film already, or if you’re okay with spoilers, then keep reading. If not, STOP. You’ve been warned.

Right, for those still reading, let’s discuss some finer points of the story and uncover some of the teasers dropped for Infinity War, Civil War, and other upcoming Marvel films that may or may not be about wars.


 Black Widow & Bruce Banner

Black Widow and Hulk

What is love, baby don’t hurt me… No seriously, don’t hurt me plz.

 Who’d have thought it, right? I mean, these two? The pairing up of Widow and Banner is a bold step away from the continuity of the comics, but provides a clear point of separation between them and Marvel’s cinematic universe, which I think is necessary. For the comic book fans scratching their heads at Widow and Hulk’s compatibility, the film again uses its central theme of the monstrous twinned with the heroic as an explanation. At Hawkeye’s safehouse, Bruce tries to dissuade Natasha from pursuing a romantic relationship with him, reminding her of the green-skinned danger she could be in. She in turn reveals to him that she too harbours a ‘monstrous’ secret. During her training as an assassin she was sterilised in order to also sterilise any empathy that may make her less efficient in her murderous profession. As a woman who cannot have children, she implies that she too feels less than human, and seeing her interact with Hawkeye’s children so affectionately brings this pain to the surface.

Hawkeye’s loving and naturally created family also provides a stark contrast to the man-made monstrosity of Ultron grown in a lab by two “mad scientists”. As the AI genre always dictates, meddling with the natural order of things produces wholly unnatural children.


Infinity War: Part 1 & 2 (2018 & 2019)

Avengers Infinity Wars

 THIS is what Marvel has been building towards since the end of Phase One and throughout Phase Two. To cut to the chase, the infinity gems are super powerful on a cosmic level, and when collected together form the infinity gauntlet, which the maniacal Titan Thanos (the big-chinned pink dude first seen in Avengers Assemble) is looking to possess for universal annihilation. For a comprehensive summary on which gem has appeared in which film so far, check out this article on Screen Rant.

In Age of Ultron, we get the first name drop for the infinity gems from the beautiful bearded mouth of Thor. After Scarlet Witch gives Thor a scary vision of a dark Asgardian brothel (?) complete with creepy dancing girls and a blind Heimdall, Thor also glimpses a red face for a split second. He decides to take time out from the main plot to visit his old drinking buddy Dr Selvig, who takes him to a mystical pool (yes, this really happens) that enables Thor to see his vision again.

Thor

You mind doing that scene again but slower, Chris?

Meanwhile, nerd-mates Tony Stark and Bruce Banner decide to mess with the natural order of things once more and put the not dead Jarvis into the bio-tech hybrid body Ultron has been creating for himself. Just as Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Hawkeye arrive to shut the fun down, Thor storms (literally) through the ceiling to bring the body to life with his lightening, having ascertained that the face he saw in his vision was The Vision. At the centre of the Vision’s power – and forehead – is the gem from the Loki pokey stick. Whether this gem is an infinity gem or not is kind of up to debate at the moment, especially since the gems’ colours have changed in translation from page to screen, but seeing as Loki used it to take control of people’s minds previously, it seems to be a safe bet that it’s the Mind gem.

Vision

Ummmm.

Then there’s Thanos’ little cameo in the post-credits scene. This is the most intriguing Infinity Wars teaser of the film. We see Thanos reaching out towards the gauntlet, pulling it over his fist, and uttering: “Fine. I’ll do it myself.”

WHAT?!

Was Thanos in control this whole time?? I mean, Thor does mention that he suspects someone has been “pulling the strings” when he explains what the infinity gems are. But if so, what has Thanos even been controlling? Could it have been that strangely fortuitous moment when the formula for creating Ultron just magically solved itself the second Banner and Tony left the lab? Or maybe it was the moment that Scarlet Witch decided to let Tony take the Loki pokey-stick? Or is his pawns failing him in Guardians of the Galaxy? I NEED TO KNOW MARVEL.


Civil War (2016)

Civil War

 Those not familiar with the comics would have probably missed any Civil War hints, but for the eagle-eyed (and eared) fans, there were some palpable undercurrents of what is to come nestled in the dialogue. Most notably, the existing tension between Captain America and Iron Man resurfaces more than once as they clash on some fundamental ethical issues surrounding Stark’s way of doing things. This is essential for the prelude to Civil War, which pits Cap and Iron Man squarely against each other upon the introduction of the Superhero Registration Act.

Plus, given the mass destruction that is dealt by the team to various miscellaneous Asian and East European cities, it’s not a jump to expect that public opinion will start to turn sour towards the self-proclaimed ‘heroes’ that have essentially been cleaning up their own messes, and the registration act seeming more and more imminent to curve their activities.


Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The most obvious hints at the Black Panther film was the visit to Wakanda – home of the Panther – and the name check for Vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth that makes up both Cap’s shield and Ultron’s armour.

But I have reason to suspect that there was originally supposed to be a lot more featured from Wakanda than the final cut of the film gave us. Cast your memory back to the trailers for Age of Ultron and you may remember a shot of what appeared to be a woman disrobing in front of the mystic pool that Thor took a dip in to go down memory lane. This woman appeared to be African, and many assumed she was Wakandian. This entire scene was interestingly nowhere to be seen in the cut of Age of Ultron that I saw here in the UK.

Woman in the Cave

Who dat?

One plausible explanation is that Black Panther was originally going to fulfil the important role that Spider-Man plays in the Civil War story, but after Marvel retrieved the rights back from Sony for the web-slinger, Whedon could have been forced to take some Black Panther content out at the last minute as it was no longer important to establish his presence strongly. But that’s just a theory… A comic book movie theory. (Sorry MatPat, I couldn’t resist.)


Written by Hannah Collins. Check out her own blog on pop culture and gender representation here.

For original manga-inspired comics, head to the Cosmic Anvil website and Comixology.

Young Avengers: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

“Read the book that understands that hyperbole is the BEST! THING! EVER!”

Phonogram: Rue Britannia Cover

Phonogram: Rue Britannia Cover

One of the great joys of the comics industry for me is following a writer and artist partnership from success to success. I borrowed Gillen and McKelvie’s Phonogram: Rue Britannia from my local library – which was my one-stop-shop for graphic novels and manga when I was teenager (because I was just that cool.) Mixing Britpop, mysticism, and a distinctively British dark sense of humour, Phonogram’s black and white world left such a lasting impression on me; I instantly bought Marvel’s Young Avengers: Style > Substance without a second thought upon seeing their familiar names on the cover.

I had already been following the YA through creators’ Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s run, and as a huge Teen Titans fan, I think it was pretty easy for me to also fall in love with Marvel’s teen equivalent. But if it was Heinberg and Cheung who got me to bite, it was Gillen and McKelvie’s subsequent run that got me hooked and reminded me just how good they were together.

I’ve always thought that the hardest thing about writing as a teenage character is that you’re never really the right age to do it. Children can’t do it because they’ve obviously never experienced it, teenagers themselves can’t do it because they’re too close to it to have any proper perspective, and adults can’t do it because they can’t remember it properly. It’s a hard job… but not impossible. Gillen not only cracks it in YA, but he makes it look easy, and beyond even that – he makes it look convincing.

“I have no powers and not nearly enough training. But I’m doing this anyway. Being a Super Hero is amazing. Everyone should try it.”

The underpinning of Gillen’s writing on YA amplifies relatable and believable problems and heartaches of everyday teenagers through their larger-than-life super-powers within the chaotic and bizarre Marvel universe around them. This makes it sound deceptively serious, and although there is a fair share of angst and arguing, the thing that makes the book the most appealing is that it’s fun. It’s just really good fun. And the characters are really funny, too. Kid Loki in particular – I mean, how can an amoral Norse God trapped within the body of a teenage boy not be hysterical.

One of the other things that drew me to YA initially was its inclusion of a more diverse character roster. In terms of race, gender, and sexuality, I have to applaud YA for not just using the ‘outsider’ theme as a metaphor, but also actually embodying it with characters such as Patriot, Miss America, Hulkling, and Wiccan. Moreover, I have to applaud Gillen for making Hulkling and Wiccan’s relationship – in particular – more than just ticking an equality and diversity quota box, but fleshing it out into one of the most fully realised and emotionally charged in the Marvel universe that I’ve come across, and one of my favourites.

Hulkling & Wiccan

Hulkling & Wiccan

In terms of the artwork, I’ve been trying to work out why McKelvie’s style resonates with me so much as it’s not the kind of artwork I normally favour. My all-time favourite comic book artists are people like Dave McKean and Alex Ross – artists who are far more painterly and…’fine arty,’ for lack of a better word. However, as a Tintin fan since childhood, I think McKelvie’s clear-line style owes a huge debt to Hérge and makes me all nostalgic and tingly when I see it. It’s also a deceptively hard style to pull off. If you’re someone like Frank Miller with an unrealistic – almost abstract – way of drawing, you can kind of get away with not being a master of anatomy. If you’re a clear-line artist like McKelvie, there’s nothing to hide behind, and of course, he doesn’t need to. His neat and slick approach perfectly meets and compliments Gillen’s similar stylistic execution of the story and dialogue.

McKelvie's GLORIOUS layouts

McKelvie’s GLORIOUS layouts

What I love the most about McKelvie’s artwork for YA in particular though is his layouts. I don’t hear people talking a lot about layouts when they talk about comic artists, but as an artist who is still learning her craft, I really appreciate seeing creative and unique layouts in a book. A layout can be more than just telling the story in a series of pictures – it can be a whole, cohesive idea. Going beyond just square boxes on a comic page takes guts, skill, and most importantly: passion. Someone who is passionate about what they do will always go that extra mile to show that passion off, and seeing a really wacky and fun layout when you turn the page is the earmark of an artist who loves what they do and is also having fun doing it, which makes you as a reader have fun looking at it.

I’ve read YA: Style > Substance twice to date, and there are very few books that I revisit besides well-worn copies of my childhood favourites, so for re-readability alone I recommend it, as well as the other collections – Alternative Cultures and Mic Drop at the Edge of Space and Time. And if you read and like those then please track down Phonogram, too. It needs more love.

Variant Cover by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Variant Cover by Bryan Lee O’Malley

FYI: For die-hard fans, my favourite YA variant issue cover to track down is the one by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley (pictured right).

Written by Hannah Collins.

JUNK: Record of the Last Hero by Kia Asamiya

Originally Posted on Cosmic Anvil on Friday 29th August 2014.

The cover of JUNK grabbed me as soon as I laid eyes on it: “What is this, some kind of Gothic Power Rangers? Power Rangers: Goth Fury? Power Rangers: Watchmen-Batman-Rises?”

My curiosity was peaked – I had to read it. I was certainly not disappointed.

JUNK: Record of the Last Hero is a tale focused on Hiro Yuuki, a high school student who has become a shut in after being bullied at school. Barely leaving his room, his connections to the world have been narrowed down to his parents, his love interest Ryoko, and the Internet.

JUNK Cover Art

JUNK Cover Art

Online, Hiro stumbles across JUNK. There is no explanation as to what JUNK is exactly, but Hiro signs up anyway. JUNK turns out to be a project that attempts to increase human potential. JUNK Users become empowered by a suit that appears on them when activated. The manga takes a lot of inspiration from Superhero Tokusatsu shows like Super Sentai (Power Rangers), Ultraman, and Kamen Rider (or Masked Rider…anyone remember that?) JUNK, however, takes this genre and puts a dark twist on it. Think of what Frank Miller did to Batman in the 80s, Kia Asamiya has done the same but to the stereotypical Japanese Superhero Tokusatsu genre.

JUNK Page

JUNK Page

 Asamiya asks this: If a person with these powers existed in our world, how would the world react?

JUNK Page

JUNK Page

This isn’t a new concept. Many comic book writers in the 80s applied this question to a variety of Marvel, DC, and original characters, withWatchmen being the most notable. However, up until now I have never seen it applied to Japanese Superheroes. It’s cool as well to see the amount of destruction shown (that is of a typical Japanese Superhero show) has real world consequences, rather than it being A-OK in the next episode.

If I could sum up JUNK in one word, it would definitely be ‘dark’. Violence, sex, drugs… These are just a few of the vulgar and all too real themes that are in this manga. But JUNK also has strong overarching political satire. All good comic books/manga are satires in some shape or form, and JUNK does it to the extreme. That’s not to say that it’s short of laughs though – the characters are sarcastic and just as wacky as any other great Shōnen character. If you are looking for something new (well, it came out in 2004-2007, so relatively new!) and something with a twist on a genre you already love, then JUNK is a strong recommendation from me.

Written by Huw Williams.