This spring has brought a bumper crop of big-budget films about the adventures of shield-flinging, skyscraper-swinging, mutation-mastering heroes. Supercharge your holdings and movie tie-in book displays by including this selection of preludes, adaptations, story sources and inspirations, and suggested reads about popular Marvel characters.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Cap is back in this recently released sequel (PG-13) to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Transformed from scrawny weakling into ramped-up warrior courtesy of the Super-Soldier program, legendary for his courage and combat effectiveness during World War II, frozen in ice for decades and recently reawakened, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still struggling to adjust to a 21st-century world.
In the wake of his adventures with The Avengers (2012), he leads a quiet life in Washington, D.C., working for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency under the auspices of Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). However, Steve soon finds himself embroiled in a far-reaching conspiracy that threatens the security of the organization and the safety of all humanity. Partnering with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanssan), aka Black Widow, and new ally Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)—an ex-military paratrooper known as Falcon—Captain America must fight off malicious attackers, unravel plots and counter plots, and ultimately face a savage and startlingly familiar assassin—the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Teens can visit the official website for videos, photos, downloads, and more.
With a striking movie-inspired cover, Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Prelude (Marvel, 2014; Gr 7 Up) makes an appealing companion to the film. This sampler begins with a graphic novel adaptation of the first movie, summarizing events as well as the hero’s origin tale. A story set between the two films delivers a taste of the upcoming action, as Cap and his cohorts—Black Widow and Agent Rumlow—reclaim a deadly secret weapon from a team of thugs in Chicago. Classic comics by Stan Lee offer glimpses at the “Daring, Dazzling, Dangerous Black Widow” (circa 1957) who bedazzles a smitten Hawkeye with her beauty, and the first appearance of the Falcon (1968). A snippet from Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier supports the movie plot and whets appetites for reading the entire graphic novel (see below), and an excerpt from Mike Millar’s “The Ultimates” provides a view of familiar heroes (Nick Fury, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and more) set in another Marvel universe, as S.H.I.E.L.D. attempt to re-create the super-soldier serum. Fast-paced and brightly illustrated, this compilation will grab movie fans and serve up tantalizing suggestions for further reading.
First premiering in 2005, Brubaker’s superb Captain America: Winter Soldier (Marvel, 2014; Gr 8 Up) has been published with a movie cover—a close-up of the hero’s iconic and battle-battered shield. It’s the modern day, and Cap has been experiencing strange flashbacks, particularly about World War II and his long-ago young partner, Bucky Barnes, who died as Cap looked on unable to save him. Are these unsettling images caused by memory or manipulation? Meanwhile, his nemesis, the Red Skull, is hot on the trail of the Cosmic Cube, a device of seemingly infinite power that will prove instrumental in his latest nefarious plot. Also hovering on the horizon are Aleksander Lukin, ruthless ex-soviet general and current head of the Kronos Corporation, and a man known only as Winter Soldier, a brutally efficient assassin whose past is shadowed in secrecy.
Seasoned with dramatic flashbacks, the intricately plotted story develops at a satisfying pace, mixing crisp action with riveting revelations and robust character development. Steely gold, gray, and copper hues give the modern-day scenes a contemporary feel, and the artwork’s dark tones, gritty details, and realistic style create a spy-thriller panache. Cap and the Winter Soldier wrestle with issues of loyalty, guilt, regret, and redemption each in his own way, resulting in a work that will resonate for both movie viewers and a broader teen audience.
Larry Hama’s prose novel, The Death of Captain America (Marvel, 2014; Gr 8 Up), an adaptation of Brubaker’s graphic novel of the same title, picks up the action later on. The atmosphere is tense for Cap and his cohorts, who live in an America where the Superhuman Registration Act has caused a schism among the costumed community, Cape-Killer Squads are routinely sent out to dispatch rogue super-powered individuals, and many Americans have turned against their onetime heroes.
Tony Stark is running S.H.I.E.L.D., while an ousted Nick Fury pulls strings from the shadows. The Red Skull and his minions are utilizing mind control and cutting-edge tech to launch their latest power play. When Captain America is shot down in the street, everything seems to fall to pieces. Sharon Carter, Cap’s lover, is devastated and can’t keep track of her actions; the Falcon is hell-bent on revenge; and the man who has been chosen to take up Cap’s red-white-and-blue mantel, once called Winter Soldier, struggles to move beyond the malevolent deeds of his brain-washed past and embrace his inner hero. Hama skillfully integrates established story arcs and character backgrounds into the text, making the novel appealing to comics devotees and novices alike. The viewpoint switches often, and the author creates believable personas and dialogue for a wide range of intriguing individuals. Plot twists, mounting tension, and vibrantly described action keep the pages turning quickly, and gray-toned images add visual kapow.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Once again featuring Andrew Garfield in the title role, the latest installment (PG-13) in director Marc Webb’s Spidey re-launch recently swung into theaters. Still struggling to balance details of his day-to-day life—including a sizzling romance with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone)—with the tremendous obligations of being a web-slinging superhero, Peter Parker is finally starting to find his groove. However, New York City is about to be bombarded by a barrage of bad guys, such as the scintillating Electro (Jamie Foxx), all of whom seem to share a connection to Oscorp Industries, the multi-million dollar sci/tech corporation run by Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). The movie’s website features video clips, photos, online games, and more.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Prelude (Marvel, 2014; Gr 7 Up) collects together an assortment of film-related comics. An adaptation of the first movie provides a quick refresher course on Spidey’s origins and inaugural clashes with the Lizard, culminating with the death of Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy. Another tale, inspired by the first movie and taking place “between the scenes,” expands upon the action, as Peter tests his newfound abilities in the streets of New York City, and Gwen finds a clever way to solve a high school dilemma.
An interlude set between the two films foreshadows events as the web-slinger tangles with a new organized crime ring, emerging successful but somewhat battered and in need of a new suit. Throughout, sleek artwork and fast-paced scripts spotlight the familiar characters. Finally, two facsimiles of classic comics re-live the debuts of Electro (1964) and the Rhino (1966) with narrative verve and bright primary colors. A fun read for movie fans.
Collecting together comics originally released in the 1980s and ‘90s, Stan Lee and Gerry Conway’s The Amazing Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys (Marvel, 2014; Gr 7 Up) highlights two of the most significant events in Peter Parker’s life. First, Spidey’s arduous battle against mad-scientist Dr. Octopus and his almost-indestructible mechanical arms unintentionally results in the tragic demise of Captain Stacy, who asks Spider-Man to take care of his daughter, Gwen, with his final breath. Unaware of her boyfriend Peter’s secret identity, Gwen blames the wall-crawler for her father’s unhappy fate and resolves to rid the city of the hero, but an unexpected encounter with the Green Goblin results in her death, a heartrending loss that leaves Peter stunned and ridden with guilt (…and also leaves the door open for the charismatic Mary Jane). The action is dynamic, the emotions are bigger than life, and the crisply reproduced artwork is stunning. Readers will enjoy delving into this epic moment in comics, and comparing the characters and events to their movie incarnations.
Mark Waid and James Robinson’s Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business (Marvel, 2014; Gr 9 Up), an original graphic novel, provides a riveting standalone tale about the web-head. The focus is on Peter Parker, who is whisked away from a dangerous situation by a woman claiming to be his sister. So begins a whirlwind adventure that takes the two to exotic locales across the globe, reveals truths about Peter’s enigmatic secret-agent parents, and pits the allies against the dangerous villain, the Kingpin of Crime. The fast-paced happenings are deftly balanced with plot twists, hush-hush agendas, hidden treasure, high-tech enigmas, and simmering suspense. The script percolates with staccato dialogue and delightful Spider-Man snark, and the painted artwork is elegant, emotive, and action-packed. A tantalizing ending leaves opportunity for a sequel. This is a great pick for teens who want to venture further into the world of Spider-Man without worrying about background knowledge or continuity.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
This latest entry (PG-13) in the film series blasts into theaters on May 23, as the X-Men launch a desperate crusade for the very survival of the mutant species that spans two time periods. The characters from the original trilogy (2000’s X-Men, 2003’s X2: X-Men United, and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand) team up with their younger selves (featured in 2011’s X-Men: First Class) to try to win a cataclysmic battle that will change the past, and hopefully alter a bleak future. The ensemble cast includes Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and many more. Teens can view videos and photos at the movie website, and flip through eye-catching portraits of the mutants displayed along with their unique abilities.
Viewers will discover many of the movie plot elements in Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s X-Men: Days of Future Past (Marvel, 2014; Gr 9 Up), a comic-book storyline that first debuted in the early 1980s. The tale begins in a bleak futuristic New York City (circa 2013) where most mutants have been hunted into extinction by robotic Sentinels and the few that remain have been isolated in internment camps. The Sentinels are about to take their reign of terror worldwide, and the remaining X-Men send the adult Kate Pryde’s mind back in time to inhabit the body of her younger self. Once there, she must enlist the help of the current-day X-Men to prevent a watershed moment in history from occurring, the assassination of an influential senator by Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Though Kate’s mission appears to be a success, time is a formidable foe, and the impact of the altered events remains unclear. This handsome, vividly reproduced volume presents this story arc along with other classic tales featuring the same dystopian alternate timeline, adding up to a time-vaulting, mind-spinning set of adventures that abound with super-powered skirmishes, smoldering personality clashes, and shocking events.
In Mike Carey’s original graphic novel, the X-Men have split into two factions—one led by Cyclops and the other located at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning with Wolverine and Storm acting headmasters. One day, the mutants wake up and are astounded to discover that there are No More Humans (Marvel, 2014; Gr 9 Up). The two groups form an uneasy alliance as they investigate the cause behind this distressing occurrence and try to figure out how to bring the missing humans back, but it soon becomes clear that not all members of the species Homo sapiens superior are eager to have their less-evolved brothers and sisters return. Featuring slick-looking muscle-chiseled characters and explode-off-the-pages action, this standalone foray into the X-Men universe deals with themes of setting aside differences for a common goal, responsibility to others, and the importance of listening to one’s inner moral compass, worthy quandaries for contemplation by mutants and adolescents alike.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Prelude. Marvel. 2014. pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-8877-3.
BRUBAKER, Ed. Captain America: Winter Soldier. illus. by Steve Epting, Michael Lark, & Mike Perkins, et al. Marvel. 2014. Tr $34.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-8794-3.
HAMA, Larry. The Death of Captain America. Adapt. from the graphic novel by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. Marvel. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-8996-1.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Prelude. Marvel. 2014. pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-5416-7.
LEE, Stan & Gerry Conway. The Amazing Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys. illus. by Gil Kane & John Romita SR. Marvel 2014. pap. $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-6727-3.
WAID, Mark & James Robinson. Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business. illus. by Gabriele Dell’Otto and Werther Dell’Edera. Marvel. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-8440-9.
CLAREMONT, Chris, John Byrne, et al. X-Men: Days of Future Past. illus. by John Byrne et al. Marvel. 2014. Tr $39.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-8442-3.
CAREY, Mike. X-Men: No More Humans. illus. by Salvadore Larroca. Marvel. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-7851-5402-0.
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