The weather has turned and winter is firmly on its way. It’s dark in the morning when I get up for work, and it’s dark when I’m making dinner. Probably not coincidentally, several of us have been very into making pies, and I have some advice as the resident pie-making expert on Team Advantage: Please don’t use shortening or oil unless you have an exceptionally good reason. Butter or lard has a much better flavour and really isn’t that much more difficult to work with. For a truly flaky crust, replace half of your ice water with chilled vodka (the alcohol cooks off) and roll your fat into the dry ingredients with a rolling pin to create long, thin layers of butter or lard, instead of rubbing the fat into the typical pea sized pieces with your hands. If I were you I’d try making a pie, galette, or tart at some point between this newsletter and the next.
“It’s just old clips but I’m still into it,” a fellow Team Advantage member admits while watching the trailer for The Infinity Saga, which is both the name given to the first 23 (!) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the $549.99 USD Best Buy-exclusive box set thereof. Audiences, with some sheepish self-awareness, still seem pleased to pay for more of the same, such as literal previously-available products in new packaging. Marvel Studios, for its part, is keen on recycling old material to maximize capital accumulation. It’s their super power.
This run of films (2008-2019) featuring the Avengers superhero team and its various members, formations, and allies, is the sprawling narrative of our age; not the Age of forgettable one-and-done villain Ultron and the like, but more deliberately and sustainably developed Thanos. His in-universe Malthusian ambitions (randomly halving the population of all living beings so that those remaining can live comfortably) might not have much coherence, but his key role in the cultural North American media metaverse is assured.
Thanos is the catalyst of the two-film climax of the saga, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the latter of which happens to boast the biggest-ever box office earnings for a film (and was specifically re-released into theatres with new footage just to snatch the top spot from James Cameron’s Avatar). The Infinity Saga is an iteration of the story capital tells about itself, boldly but with little self-critique. Capital extracts not only inert natural resources to survive, but also shapes and conditions the human creative imagination, imbuing and instilling it with new desires. Product is sold to audience members who might feel, in a sense, saturated with possibility - immediately dazzled by visual effects and emotionally invested in high narrative stakes - yet feel deliberately limited in another, not feeling the agency of omnipotent beings or hidden but omnipresent organizations like SHIELD or the CIA.
To effectively adapt this saga to screen, Marvel Studios took many tropes common in comics and intensified their use for cinema. Serialized storytelling has been employed in television and film since their beginning, but cliffhanger/crossover/crisis sales phenomena have been honed by superhero comics publishers in distinct ways since the 1970s. In that decade, superhero and monthly comics moved from being sold at grocery and general stores to specialized retailers. Facing a more limited market and older demographic (teens and adults vs. kids), DC Comics and Marvel Comics (the Big Two) published more complicated, interconnected narratives that encouraged readers to become collectors.
DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (starting in 1985) was a landmark 12-issue series that ramped up several practices that are today’s comics cliches: character title tie-ins to a concurrent series, an “epic” main storyline title, a villain whom hundreds of known characters must gear up to fight, and relaunches of popular titles (like starting over at Superman #1) in the event’s aftermath. The story the characters live on the page is fully driven by the need to sell books: in this case multiple dimensions of Earth are merging into one – so you can’t possibly miss what happens next!
Marvel responded with the similarly-titled, six-issue Infinity Gauntlet in 1991, followed by The Infinity War and the Infinity Crusade. Writer Jim Starlin had been seeding the elements of this limited series in his work for Marvel since the 1970s (a tactic that today’s moviegoers will recognize in the MCU, especially with the post-credits scenes). Thanos first appeared in an Iron Man issue in 1973, developed from Starlin’s college doodles. Marvel editor Roy Thomas instructed Starlin to “beef up” Thanos, so the character would be more reminiscent of a Jack Kirby character owned by DC Comics named Darkseid.
It’s fitting that Thanos is a variation of a Jack Kirby creation. Kirby is considered by many to be the best superhero comics artist of all time, adding dynamic page compositions, vivid character movement, and wild landscapes and backgrounds to the medium’s visual vocabulary. (It’s a revealing exercise to juxtapose any Kirby ‘60s-era spread with any frame of an MCU film and see that the former is much fresher and richer.)
Kirby created the character Captain America with Joe Simon in 1941 along with hundreds more superheroes and villains with writer and editor Stan Lee through the 1960s, including The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the X-Men. Kirby’s characters, from the widely beloved to the obscure and absurd are, admittedly, all variations on a few archetypes. Under Marvel and DC’s work-for-hire contracts, the characters and their stories have been established for other writers and artists to use and riff on.
That Thanos is a iteration of Darkseid (and Galactus, Doctor Doom, Black Bolt, etc.) is not the result of creative bankruptcy but the production model for the comics medium, which demands ever more titles, characters, and narratives with sufficient novel appeal. Restrictive contracts from the turn of the 20th century up to today have ensured that writers and artists for Marvel and DC almost never earn royalties when their work is adapted into films, TV shows, games, or merchandise. While some creators eventually receive recognition through advocacy and lawsuits, many never become well known.
Marvel Studios takes as its source material 80 years of inadequately compensated labour in an industry that still pays top talent less cash than a typical office worker. It’s especially clear in The Infinity Saga that the producers and writers draw on superhero comics tropes to keep audiences returning and anticipating the next installment.
Endgame’s main plot device is time travel, and its format not unlike a TV clips show or comic book giant-size annual: a mix of previously seen material (reshot for consistency) and new/retconned scenes. Only 10 of the 23 MCU films are origin stories, and the others are sequels or ensemble pieces. The Avengers win by ceaseless repetition.
Still, every installment holds the promise of a new world or a new vision, as easily achieved as Thanos snapping his finger to alter reality to his liking. In Endgame, he at least imagines conjuring a universe in his image, like Kirby and thousands of others both known and unknown, creating life within blank pages. But with each further adaptation of an original idea, the possibilities blur and dull and and all that remains for audiences is powerless defeat. Heroism is shown, by Iron Man and company, to lie in restoring the status quo and satisfyingly shrink-wrapping it for Best Buy.
-Karen, Team Alberta Advantage
💸Norway’s largest pension fund is selling its stock in Alberta’s oilsands companies, citing environmental concerns. This doesn’t worry me because I know that this time, the boom will last forever.
🌞Calgary’s city council has no interest in declaring a climate emergency because of course they don’t.
👊If you read anything from this newsletter, make it this comprehensive rundown of the complex relationship between social democrats and trade unionists in Alberta.
🏴Just in case you were feeling cheerful today, you live really close to a mass grave and you benefit daily from the system that created it!
🎃If you were planning on vandalizing any houses this Halloween, might I suggest this beautiful mansion near Centre Street, heretofore owned by the Shaw dickhead who raised your internet cost (but not speed) every three months until he died.
🙅♂️Jason Kenney is going to find those DANG NAB FOREIGNERS who are being RUDE to our OIL and if any citizens want to know how he’s doing it they can GO AND just FUCK THEMSELVES.
🥫Over half of Calgarians struggle to afford food and shelter. This is the direct result of a society that allocates goods and resources based on the ability to pay for them. If we had a society that was good, it would be from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
🔥Local condo board totally cool with woman burning to death so long as they can save a $7000.
💣Fossil fuel subsidies in Canada amount to $1,650 per person. Forgive me for thinking that this is absolutely fucked.
💾The petroleum lobby is arming itself with the personal data for its supporters in preparation for a federal election where climate is a top issue for many Canadians. This is a classic example of the type of ‘deep astroturfing’ Dr. Shane Gunster outlined in his recent interview with us.
🏠Toronto rents are growing at double the rate of Toronto incomes.
📰We know hedge fund vampires will eventually shut down anything resembling an antagonistic media internationally, but it especially sucks when the wreckage swallows a vertical covering niche labour issues that carried a strong legacy of union boosting. RIP Splinter, you were a good website.
👮♀️The most incarcerated zip code in America isn’t where you think it is.
📚Using Amazon to unionize Amazon is praxis.
✊A blueprint for a general strike in our time.
➗If you are a huge fucking nerd who loves thinking about labour law, you’ll love this article on the Rand Formula and its benefits and challenges for Canadian trade unions.
💰Pass this article along to your uncle who thinks that the Rockefellers or George Soros or whomever the fuck are funding environmentalists in Alberta.
🛠️A sharp salute to the Edmonton woman running in her 21st election for the Communist Party of Canada. We sincerely thank you for tilting at that windmill. A sharp middle finger to the people of Edmonton, who vote strongly for the fake leftist party but won’t vote for the meaningfully more leftist, if imperfect, leftist party.
📅The Alberta Labour History Institute is selling its calendars for 2020. I buy one every year and they’re really great.
📢Progress Alberta will be doing a live taping of their podcast The Progress Report with special guest Tzeporah Berman on November 4 at the University of Calgary Arts Lounge. Tickets and information can be found on Facebook and Eventbrite.