Episode 201: A Smash Rate of A New Yorker per Second

The Overthinkers tackle The Avengers.

Overthinking It PodcastMatthew Wrather hosts with Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, Josh McNeil, and John Perich to overthink Marvel’s The Avengers, including: forming the team for Avengers 2; the destruction of Manhattan; the proper use of power and authority; the Joss Whedon factor; the problem of sequel escalation; and the potential for a Justice League movie.

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Further Reading

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City on Wikipedia

Astro City: Life in the Big City on Amazon

17 Comments on “Episode 201: A Smash Rate of A New Yorker per Second”

  1. John Perich OTI Staff #

    In this week’s installment of “Things Perich Got Very Wrong on the Podcast”: T’Challa is the NAME of the Black Panther. The country he’s from is actually called Wakanda. Thank you to regular OTI listener Justin M. for pointing this out.


    • McNeil OTI Staff #

      In the category of Things Wrather Got Very Wrong on the Podcast Post:
      My name is Josh, but I AM the crown prince of John.
      It’s an easy mistake to make, even when you’ve been friends for 14 years.
      T’Challa and I get it all the time.


  2. Skab #

    So for blowing things up when the team can’t handle the problem, I’d like to reference both the core and WarHams 40kay.

    There is a weapon called the “Exterminatus” that comes in many flavours all of them reserved for “Oh well” moments.


  3. Tulse #

    Great podcast as always, gang. A couple of comments:

    While it’s common to reference 9/11 whenever a modern superhero movies destroys a city, especially New York, it’s worth noting that urban destruction first became a movie trope in 1954 with Godzilla, a film that itself followed the real-world destruction of local urban areas. In other words, powerful forces destroying cities has resonance more generally — it’s not just a 9/11 thing.

    The discussion of authority in the superhero world is hugely interesting. While we like to see superheroes as “heroic”, such a term in the real world does not generally connote acting outside of the structures of formal governance — instead it typically evokes notions of courage and abilities beyond those usually seen, but exercised within existing authority structures (e.g., firefighters, police, soldiers, etc.). Indeed, when individuals are realistically portrayed in film as working outside of legal structures to accomplish societally-desireable goals, we generally don’t apply the term “hero”, at least not problematically (e.g., is Dirty Harry a hero?). That in fact may be why it is so difficult to make a good Punisher film, precisely because the character is far too realistic to make his actions non-problematic and conventionally “heroic”.

    For super-heroes, however, there is the basic difficulty of being able to force them to obey authority. For us mundanes, governance is, at the ultimate, imposable by force (the police, the military), and so we either have to obey, or risk physical injury or death. This is not generally an issue for superheroes, and so the problem becomes WHY do they defer to authority at all? And how is society supposed to keep such people in check, when the tools of compliance available to society are ineffective?

    This is one of the major issues explored by the X-Men films in some depth. I think they do a very good job of making clear that, in effect, mundanes have to rely on the good graces of superheroes as the only means of “control”. Frankly, I was with Senator Kelly and the Mutant Registration Act — how else are we mundanes supposed to exert any control whatever over super-powered beings? I really appreciated those films (at least the first few) exploring those issues, because most portrayals of superheroes are largely apolitical. I think it would be interesting to consider those issues in the Avengers as well. What happens, for example, if Captain America decides that his good old-fashioned morality requires him to destroy abortion clinics, or disrupt gay marriage ceremonies? Why should an Asgardian god be concerned with such things as “democracy” and “egalitarianism”? What does keep Tony Stark from going from asshole to a superpowered psychopath with an invincible suit? If I were a mundane in the world of the Avengers, those are questions I’d be very interested in getting answered.

    One piece of that answer may be in an article I read comparing Nolan’s Batman to the Avengers (I wish I could remember the author). The premise of the argument was that, in Nolan’s world, becoming a superhero cuts you off from humanity, whereas for the Avengers, it is being superheroes which gives them their humanity. Bruce Wayne has to hide his crime-fighting self, keep that essential part of him from everyone he cares for and loves (except Alfred) and that identity constantly threatens to overwhelm him. By contrast, Tony Stark actually becomes a much better person, a man with goals and even a sense of morality, when he adopts the public Iron Man persona. Thor was basically a lout until he finds Earth and puts it under his protection. Cap was whiny weakling who turns in to a leader. In other words, in these cases it is the very act of becoming a superhero that makes these individuals better people, whereas arguably Batman makes Bruce Wayne a worse person (even though he is an effective crime-fighter). It’s interesting to see these two opposed visions play out.


  4. Howard Member #

    It was great chatting with my smart, funny internet friends, the Overthinkers! It was a little weird seeing faces to go with voices, but still a lot of fun.

    Something I thought was interesting that we didn’t get to talk about is how comfortable the Marvel universe is with killing. Even though the DC movies are darker and more grim, they’re pretty adamant about not killing anybody, explicitly so in Batman Begins. The Avengers have characters who are more militaristic, like Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow, who just straight shoot people. In Captain America’s movie, he’s constantly using guns, though they shy away from that with him in the Avengers. I mean, Captain America tosses a guy off the helicarrier! While it’s in the air!

    It’s less clear with the more whimsical/fantastical characters, Thor and the Hulk, since the effects of their violence would be so much more visceral. Iron Man is a little out there as well, but his weapons are conventional, missiles and lasers and such.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      This is a good point – Superman and Batman have very strong “no killing anyone” codes, which none of the Marvel heroes share. Maybe Spider-man, that’s it.

      Maybe this goes along with Nick Fury’s offhand spying on everyone in the world using their cell phones — basically the Dark Knight machine, but without Lucias Fox being uncomfortable about it. Fury also pretty heavily implies he’s ready to torture the hell out of Loki.

      Although the Marvelverse is way lighter than Nolan’s Batman movies, the Marvel heroes seem way less bounded by a code of conduct. Even when they are playing ball with Shield, it’s not exactly as if Shield represents the will of a democratically elected government. Batman at least recognizes the necessity of working with law enforcement. The Marvel heroes never consider that they may not have the right to play God (hell, one of them IS a god).


      • An Inside Joke #

        I found the heroes’ willingness to kill jarring, particularly given how “light” the set-up movies had been. I hadn’t seen all of the stand-alone movies, but I remembered Thor and Iron Man as being particularly light-hearted romps. Seeing our heroes non-chalantly killing their foes felt disconcerting, given the established Marvel Universe.


        • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

          You forget the first Iron Man movie. When he escapes in the Mark I suit, and later when he goes out to fight the military group using his weapons, he straight-up shoots them dead in massive numbers. The body count is high. Iron Man may want to create world peace, but he doesn’t hesitate to blow up the bad guys. Put aside all the great comedy in the Iron Man movies, you have a really disturbing story about a billionaire playboy who unilaterally picks the winners of every world conflict.


        • fenzel OTI Staff #

          You don’t remember when Natalie Portman ganked that guy with a homemade shiv in Thor?

          That’s gritty realism, bastiches!


    • Skab #

      It seemed to me that they were against killing when there where no other options, It appeared as though every bad guy had individually forced each hero’s hand in every situation.

      Captain America for example had to throw a guy to his death to stop 90,000 tons from being a up state New Yorkers lawn ornament.

      If there was time to stop the alien foot soldiers effectively and quickly I’m sure we would’ve saw some crazy hijinks.

      But speaking of crazy hijinks, wouldn’t the introduction of a no-kill policy have killed some of the action or the dramatic feel of the end fight scene?
      I mean imagine if Spiderman was in the “Grenade ALL the humans” scene, He sees the grenade, webs the guy up and just throws it out the window.

      That to me feels like the scene has suffered.


  5. CrazyLikeAFox OTI Staff #

    In the Podcast you all discuss a little bit the lack of military presence on the streets of New York, and more generally throughout the entire movie – in contrast to the Transformers movie, which had the stuff all over the place. It appears there’s a reason for that:


    For the TL;DR crowd, the Pentagon balked at participating in The Avengers due to the ambiguous political nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it,” Phil Strub, the Defense Department’s Hollywood liaison, tells Danger Room. “To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything” with the film.

    That highlights the interesting political nature of SHIELD in the film, and particularly there decision to um….deal….with the problem in New York at the end. If SHIELD is extra-governmental from the US Federal Government, then SHIELD’s decision could theoretically have triggered a nuclear war if the US public decided it was the wrong decision.


  6. Tod #

    How would one save for retirement in the face of superhero uncertainty? Insurance, of course. Rates would rise in proportion to the amount of damage done from aliens or genetically modified humans… but the real question would be if Thor is excluded due to being an act of god!


  7. Gab #

    I highly doubt a Justice League movie is going to happen. Y’all hinted at it, but I’ll just reemphasize.

    1) The only successful franchise has been Batman’s. As building off of unsuccessful Green Lantern and Superman films would be a terrible way to go, I find it highly unlikely that WB would want to do that. So in order to make a Justice League movie with the same model as the Avengers, WB would first have to reboot the Superman and Green Lantern franchises- or at least Superman, since you just cannot have a Justice League anything without him. They maaaay be able to get away with not having Green Lantern, but I don’t see that very likely.* Plus, they’d also probably have to establish other characters in the DC universe somehow by starting up at least one other franchise, or inserting another DC character into an already- established one’s universe with a new installment ala Black Widow with Iron Man or Hawkeye with Thor. But that leads to…

    2) The “realities” of each pre-established franchise are highly disparate. I suppose the Superman and Green Lantern realities are somewhat similar, but Batman’s world is so incredibly different from theirs that no, I really don’t see any good scenes between him and Hal Jordan or Superman. Just no. Nolan’s Wayne would look utterly ridiculous with the two other superheroes. So again, reboots galore would be needed in order to established a believably shared reality. And the reason is that starting a Justice League movie all by itself would be really awkward. There would be no backstory for anyone. The most sensical way to make a Justice League movie independent of any previous DC films would be to have them already set up as a group at the start of the movie, or have a sort of deus ex machina situation, an outside character acting kind of like Nick Fury to bring them all together. But establishing that character would also need time, so I can’t see a Justice League movie existing on its own.

    *These statements about Superman and Green Lantern come from current expectations of who is involved in the Justice League- I’m aware that Superman and Batman actually didn’t do all that much in the original iterations. They were original members, but had small roles. As it is now, though, my understanding is that the general perception is Superman and Batman are the leaders, and that Green Lantern is their subordinate and not always around.


  8. Avi S. #

    I’d have to agree that a Justice League movie seems unlikely in the future, but more so because the already existing franchise Smallville has its own live-action Justice League. It’s not the conventional JL, using Superman, Green Arrow, Cyborg, Impulse, Aquaman, and Black Canary, but they have several seasons to flesh out the characters and make it work. So much money and effort already went into that, and it succeeded, so it would almost seem silly to try and convert that to movie form, losing a lot of the character development and deeper plot twists that are accomplished in a TV serial. But then, I make no claims as to the common sense of Hollywood.


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