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The Collectibles Review

on Fri, 06/22/2012 - 00:00

Shortly after the Hollywood premier of The Avengers in April 2012, Entertainment Weekly met with the main actors of the film in a hotel conference room for an exclusive interview. The resulting conversation was lively, with good-natured bickering along with discussions on character backstory, fanboy expectations and the mechanics of bringing six superheroes together in one narrative. The Q&A session was also interrupted at times as the actors began playing with the various toys and action figures manufactured for the summer blockbuster that had been placed around the room. The resulting series of videos from the interview thus highlight the inherent difficulties of translating such epic comic book characters to the big screen while balancing the personalities and egos of all involved with the financial expectations that ultimately shadow such a massive endeavor.

The pilot episode of the comedy web series The Collectibles opens with a similar scene, only instead of actors sitting in a conference room it is a collection of six costume-clad crusaders who work together under the pseudonym of the Power Posse. The group has been called together by CorpCo Inc. manager Vance Vermicular (Casey Kinared). It turns out that the corporation considers the collection of superheroes as mere “intellectual property” and is not only concerned about a drop in their popularity but a recent mishap that ended the career of the legendary Crimson Pike. Vance announces that not only does CorpCo plan to fill the current vacancy within the Power Posse, but that “management intends to reorganize ‘challenge areas’ and may shift team hierarchy, creating a potential new management paradigm” as well.

Although the words go over the heads of those in attendance—which includes team leader Super Star (Brian Sutherland), second-in-command Ultrafemme (Lisa Skvarla), superfast The Quick (Dan Humphrey), bubble-inducing Shield Maiden (Wonder Russell), dark ninja detective Death-Wish (S. Joe Downing) and “Latino Lord of Atlantis” Aguaman (Frank Aye)—the negative implications are understood nonetheless. Like characters in a Marvel Universe adaptation of the NBC comedy The Office, the individual members of the Power Posse must suddenly come to terms with such corporate buzzwords as downsizing, restructuring and market share. Marvel and parent company Disney dictated certain elements of the big screen The Avengers and weighed financial returns when devising marketing and merchandising plans, and the same holds true with Corp Co and their living, breathing collection of superheroes.

“The Avengers don’t belong together,” writer/director Joss Whedon told Wired magazine about the central characters of his 2012 movie blockbuster. “Each belongs alone.” The observation leads to verbal bickering and physical blows within The Avengers and while no fists are thrown during the ten episode first season of The Collectibles, the Power Posse is even more dysfunctional than the Marvel superteam. Resentment and insecurity dominate the proceedings, with Aguaman and psychic receptionist Receiver (Trish Loyd) frustrated by their diminished roles while Ultrafemme schemes behind everyone’s back to replace Super Star as leader. Similar to Michael Scott from The Office, Super Star is clueless to the inner politics of the group, and Ultrafemme shares the same leadership aspirations as Dunder Mifflin salesman Dwight Schrute. The Collectibles is also filmed in the familiar mockumentary style of The Office, with each member of the Power Posse given private moments to share their thoughts with the camera.

During the previously mentioned interview with the cast of The Avengers, actress Scarlett Johansson told Entertainment Weekly, “I do think superhero—superheroine—movies are normally really corny and bad. They’re always like, fighting in four inch heels with their (breasts thrust out) like a two-gun salute.” If the Golden Globe nominated thespian believes the superhero genre is tough on actresses, she should hear what the female characters of The Collectibles have to say about being a woman in a male-dominated profession. “My hero rating dropped from a five to a two-point-eight after I got my breast reduction surgery,” Shield Maiden explains to the camera. “Like the only reason they liked me was because they were waiting for a nip slip.”

“Sometime it’s really hard to get them to see past the suit,” wicked sister Evil Hand (Lisa Coronado) later elaborates. “Why do you think my evil schemes are so complex? Hell, I’m way smarter than Dr. Flaming Skull but because he’s the ‘evil genius,’ I have to be the femme fatale.” Then there’s Aguaman, who has been reduced to handling the office filing after an eye injury led to increased drinking, weight gain and the use of the f-word more times than Samuel L. Jackson. “I spent six weeks on my sofa, strung out on oxycontin,” he clarifies. “Of course I’m going to lose some muscle tone. But I’m working out, trying to get in shape and all that, so I can start going back on missions again. I miss my fish.”

The Collectibles bills itself as a “super comedy web series,” but there is more to the creation than mere laughfest. After premiering at the 2012 Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, the episodes began launching on the World Wide Web at the same that The Avengers was making its inaugural debut. Just as Joss Whedon was able to give added depth to the Marvel characters, liberate Black Widow from the bonds of under usage in Iron Man 2 and make superheroes both cool, funny and entertaining again rather than merely dark and brooding, the same holds true for The Collectibles.

The web series, for instance, has hidden layers of psychological insight in regards to a corporate world that is driven by profits and considers its employees as nothing more than commodities, appreciates the female perspective on the superhero genre, and ridicules the ineffectiveness of traditional white collar work environments. That is not to say that The Collectibles isn’t first and foremost a comedy, because it is indeed a highly entertaining one, but its true enjoyment derives from a multitude of levels—from the leadership dilemmas of Super Star, to the alcoholic rage of Aguaman, to the insecurities of Shield Maiden, to an assortment of other mini-narratives involving the various individual characters.

“I know a superhero franchise is sort of a risky proposition, but look at the brand recognition they bring with them,” villain Dr. Flaming Skull (Paul Eenhoorn) remarks during The Collectibles. Marvel gambled with The Avengers, and it paid huge dividends for the company as the film surpassed the box office totals of every film ever made with the exception of Avatar and Titanic. Of course the summer blockbuster features an assortment of iconic Marvel superheroes, a budget in excess of two-hundred million dollars, massive special effects, Academy Award nominated actors and a writer/director with a large cult following. While The Collectibles may not be able to stand toe-to-toe with such a perfect storm of talent, it still succeeds on the smaller scale of the web series just as The Avengers ruled the worldwide box office.

“Power Posse Ho!” indeed.

Anthony Letizia (June 22, 2012)

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