Win a Cross Marvel Tech2 Collection Pen worth £30

The movie Captain America: Civil War pits Cap against Iron Man in a long brewing conflict that began in The Avengers in 2012. It also features the first appearance of Spider-Man as part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

To celebrate this exciting cinematic event which sees these iconic characters together on the big screen for the first time, CROSS have created this set of three special pens, inspired by the trio of heroes Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man, and we have an Iron Man one to give away (RRP £30). The Tech2 series of pens are finished in a shiny metallic lacquer, which probably makes the Iron Man one the most appropriate!

The pens are dual use – they are a ballpoint as well as a stylus pen for use on touchscreen technology.

My daughter loves to draw on our iPad, and this pen will be a useful way for kids (and adults) to use drawing, colouring, and painting apps in a more effective and satisfying way than just using their fingers.

For your chance to win an Iron Man Marvel Tech2 Pen, please enter the giveaway below using as many of the options as you wish.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’ve been a Marvel Comic fan since before I could read, and my favourite superhero has always been Spider-Man. As a child I identified with him because like me he was a shy and insecure, but it was empowering that he grew into a confident, smart, and selfless adult. His origin, involving his own selfishness leading to the death of his de facto father Uncle Ben, has always resonated as a great morality tale.

Because I love the character so much, CROSS were kind enough to send me one of their Tech2 ballpoint & stylus pen Spidey pens (they also have the evolutionary Century II rolling ball style that retails for £95).

The Cross Marvel collection can be purchased online at www.cross.com and at select retailers. You can access the online store locator for more detail

This is a sponsored post.

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Which one of these three superheroes featured in Captain America: Civil War is your favourite and why? Please comment below.

 

Toy Review: Marvel Super Hero Micro Mashers

These Marvel Super Hero Micro Mashers are pint-sized versions (2.5″) of the standard sized Mashers line (6″). Hasbro’s Mashers line, which are where Marvel, Star Wars, and Transformers action figures that are designed to come apart anb be combined to create cross character and property mash-ups.

The Marvel Super Hero Micro Mashers come in 2-packs, and we received two sets – Hulk vs Loki, and Captain America vs Iron Skull (Red Skull with armour).

As you can see, there are only male characters in these sets. In fact there are only male characters in the entire Hasbro Mashers line.

The lack of female Hero Mashers could be because it was deemed troubling to mix male and female characters in mash-ups; Perhaps excluding female characters was seen as making it easier to market the line to boys; Maybe the female characters were deemed to not be popular enough? Whatever the reasoning, the lack of female figures in all of Hasbro’s Hero Mashers line is obvious and unfortunate, as they are missing out some great characters.

Marvel Super Hero Micro Mashers
The Marvel Super Hero Mashers Micro series – like their larger counterparts – only feature male characters. This could be because it was deemed troubling to mix male and female characters in mash-ups, or another reason. This doesn’t preclude little girls from playing with them.

The look of the Marvel Super Hero Mashers Micro figures is very cartoony, but overtly inspired by their big screen MCU counterparts. My daughter hasn’t seen The Avengers movies yet, but has seen the first Thor and Captain America ones. She also has a few clothing items with the characters on.

While she also hasn’t seen the Hulk in any of his live action or cartoon versions – he is still probably one of her favourite characters. She plays with a few of my old Hulk collectables, and she has had a large posable Hulk on her wall since she was a baby. Green is also her favourite colour.

So he was the most important character draw to her. While she had some fun pulling the apart and recombining, she mostly enjoyed putting them back together the way they should be.

The figures lack most points of articulation, and the playability comes from being able to swap parts – which are basically the hands and heads, as well as some accessories. The only parts that move are at the joins with the removable parts.

Some of the Marvel Super Hero Mashers Micro figures come with specific accessories, such as Captain America’s shield, or Loki’s staff. The packs also include what I can only describe as additional action limbs, such as Cap’s shield with some energy around it, Red Skull with a Hydra weapon, and Hulk has a large translucent green fist. While these add a little interest, they are so oversized that most of the figures can’t stand up properly with them, because they are so imbalanced. It’s likely that these are intended for use more with the standard Mashers line (as these Micro Mashers are compatible).

Who are Marvel Super Hero Micro Mashers for?

If you or your kid like pulling your dolls and figures apart, and creating mash-up characters, these could be the toys for you. However, my daughter’s biggest criticism was that the legs don’t come apart like the arms – and in fact don’t even move at all.

That’s one of the drawbacks of this budget Micro line – they might be ok as mash-up fodder, but offer limited playability as action figures. And no matter how creative your mash-ups are, you still won’t be able to come up with a female character.

Marvel Super Hero Micro Mashers in pieces, Marvel Super Hero Mashers Micro Figure 2 Pack, Captain America and Red Skull, Hulk and Loki
If you or your kid like pulling your toys apart then these Marvel Super Hero Mashers Micro could be the toys for you

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Disclosure: We were given these toys free of charge for the purposes of this review.

Family Fever

 

Is Black Widow’s Hairstyle Sexist?

Captain America: Civil War features the first appearance of a much-anticipated icon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). No not Black Panther, but Black Widow’s new hairstyle.

Black Widow made her first MCU appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010), and that was followed by The Avengers (2012), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and now the Captain America: Civil War (2016). She has sported a different hairstyle in each movie.

Black Widow's hairstyle, black widow hairstyle, scarlett johansson black widow hairstyle, scarlett johansson black widow haircut, black widow avengers short hair, scarlett johansson avengers haircut, scarlett johansson avengers short hair, black widow hair winter soldier,
From L to R: Black Widow’s hairstyles in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War. All images © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I don’t recall any such attention to detail being paid to the locks of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, or even Thor.

This scenario of constantly updating the hairstyle of Scarlett Johansson’s female hero, reminds me of Star Trek: Voyager. The show aired between 1995-2001, and starred Kate Mulgrew (now more famed  for playing Red in Orange is the New Black) as Katherine Janeway – the first ever female captain lead in a Star Trek show.

Kate has frequently lamented that ‘the suits’ spent more time worrying about her hair than they did about her character development. She grew increasingly frustrated at the constant messing with it. For those not familiar with the show, this video sums up pretty well how it was.

Is messing with Black Widow’s hairstyle sexist?

Kate Mulgrew reflects that this is a scenario that a male actor is unlikely to face, but female actors constantly do – especially in films and tv shows that have a large male fanbase.

The tinkering of Black Widow’s hairstyle – compared with her fellow Avengers – appears to be further evidence of this. It implies that – as far as the creatives and ‘suits’ are concerned – appearance is more important factor for a female character than a male one. And by extension, a female actor has to be more concerned about her appearance than a male one does.

I also wonder, like Captain Janeway before her, if Marvel Studio execs spend as much time talking about Natasha’s character development as they do about her hair?

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “Action is character.” Perhaps, for female characters, we need to amend that to “Hair is character.”

What do you think Black Widow’s changing hairstyles tell us about her?

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Marvel UK’s 1978 Star Wars Weekly Comic

While recently rifling through the boxes of stuff I still have cluttering up my parents house, I found one containing my old Star Wars Weekly comics from the seventies.

For many a young Star Wars fan in 1970’s Britain this was their first exposure to the galaxy far, far away.

While the movie was released in London at the tail end of 1977, over half a year after it debuted in the US, it took many months to reach the rest of the country outside the capital. The Marvel Comics adaptation first appeared on UK shores in the shape of a reprinted large format 2 issue US Treasury Edition, but more widely in February 1978 with Marvel UK’s immensely popular Star Wars Weekly.

The 6 issue monthly US run was divided and published across 12 black & white weekly UK issues – with various age-innapropriate back up stories making up the rest of the comic.

While it shared a few covers with its monthly US cousin, the vast majority were different – and at times bear little resemblance in terms of look, plot, or character to the actual movie. What they do have in spades is bombast and melodrama.

This was the way I understood Star Wars until I was actually taken to see it (in April 1978, a year after it’s US release). Seeing these covers reawakened evocative memories of those months before I saw the movie, of what I thought was happening in the story, rather than what actually did.

So here they are – to experience for the first time or to rekindle childhood memories – the first twelve Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly covers.

Star Wars Weekly, Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 1
The same cover as the US Marvel issue 1. Quite how Luke was on course to destroy the galaxy remains to be seen. The promise of the cut-out X-Wing far exceeded the reality.
Star Wars Weekly, Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 2
I love the colours of this cover, and the scene depicted is a striking one that really made me want to see the movie. The cut-out Tie Fighter was even less exciting when assembled than the X-Wing.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 3
I love the fact that this cover (a US one) shows Luke taking charge in the cantina fracas – when of course we know he was pushed around while Ob-Wan dealt with it.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 4
Enter Han Solo, but with Luke once again shown taking charge and telling everyone what to do. As a kid, I always thought the faces looked more like they originated from Asia.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 5
I can only assume this cover has some kind of Close Encounters of the Third Kind idea going on with the 3 phases concept. And of course we didn’t see Luke – or anyone – battle the Death Star yet. Han looks far more scared than his onscreen space pirate persona was.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 6
Our first look at Princess Leia on this (badly) reprinted US cover, who looked more ‘exotic’ to me than the photos I had previously seen. I was also struck with how completely unlike the real actors Han and Luke had also been drawn here. Having said all that, it was a pretty exciting looking cover.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 7
I loved this cover. Great colours, dynamic action – and pretty fair to the scene in the movie too.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 8
I always thought this was a rather mundane cover given the part of the story that’s being depicted.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 9
Again a fairly functional cover, but I like the panel approach.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 10
A wonderfully melodramatic scene of what was one of the calmest parts of the story – going to the rebel base. I think by this time I had seen the movie, and it was my first realisation that you shouldn’t judge a (comic) book by it’s cover. It’s interesting that the base is referred to as “The Hidden Fortress” – the name of the Kurosawa movie that was cited by George Lucas as a key inspiration on Star Wars.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 11
A rather loose interpretation of Luke’s part in attacking the Death Star (or “Death-Station”). I remember I kind of wished this scene had happened, as it looks like Luke’s X-Wing is about to fly into the same room as Vader, who is then going to fight it off with his lightsaber.
Marvel UK Star Wars Weekly Comic 1978 - issue 12
This cover made me realise what the film was missing – a lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. As it is, this is a nice rendition of the conflict in both spirit and (filmic) reality – although the way Luke is holding his lightsaber has always annoyed me.

Checking out these covers was quite a blast down memory lane. One thing I do remember is that I was often more excited than my friends about the latest issue coming out. For instance I have a vivid memory of taking issue 5 out on the playground to read (in the rain) because I couldn’t wait until later, while my friends just wanted to run around. Even then it seemed I was a bigger Star Wars fan than my peers.

Star Wars is now back with Marvel Comics (as they are both owned by Disney), and a new generation of Star Wars fan is going to grow up with their own movies – starting with The Force Awakens – and hopefully a Marvel Comics adaptation too.

I can’t help but wonder if my daughter will have her own memories of Star Wars comic covers, as vivid as those I have for these British ones.

Star Wars Weekly Cover Gallery

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Check out the latest Star Wars comics and graphic novel collections.

Get Star Wars Weekly back issues here.

A Dispatch From The Gender Frontline (I Went to Some Toy Shops)

Needing to kill an hour or so, I took a stroll around the Westfield London shopping centre this week. I naturally gravitated towards the toy shops, and I decided to amuse myself by indulging in a spot of gendered toys mystery shopping.

The first shop I went into was The Entertainer. They are a large independent toy retailer, and I have a particular soft spot for them as they began with one shop in my home town neighbour of Amersham, Bucks. But sentimentality aside, I had no idea what they were like as a toy shop these days.

I was pleasantly surprised and really impressed with the way they categorise their toys – eg. ‘Action & Adventure’, ‘Arts & Creative’, ‘Cars, trains, and planes’ etc – not by gender. This seemed like such progressive (and logical) way to sort toys, that doesn’t exclude on the basis of gender – at least in how product is grouped. Bravo Entertainer!

The Entertainer toy shop
The Entertainer toy shop

What I didn’t realise (until I tweeted about it) was that this came about because of a campaign by Let Toys Be Toys (we were living outside of UK when this happened). So bravo to them too. 🙂

I didn’t buy anything, but I will definitely be back to shop here, another branch, or online.

I was expecting the worst with the next shop I visited. I have written about the divisive way LEGO creates and markets its product before. The beloved Universal toy of my youth is no more. I have resigned myself to not buying any new LEGO, that in all likelihood my daughter will be playing with our ample hand-me-down supply throughout her childhood. So I went to the LEGO shop all prepared for their gendered marketing tricks.

But then I spotted this.

Lego Female Scientists set, Lego Female Scientists kit, Lego Female Scientists sold out, female scientist lego
Lego Female Scientists

Yes!

The female scientists minifigure set, that I had in my own little way campaigned so furiously for, that had finally been released only to be sold out everywhere… It was back! I stopped looking around the store, grabbed the set, and headed straight for the counter.

As I paid, I asked the staff about it. They told me they had only been delivered a small number of sets in the original release, and everyone in the company was surprised how popular it had been. The staff were keen to point out that they now have a much healthier stock of it. So if you’re thinking of buying some LEGO for your child (or you!), then I would strongly suggest that you get this one. I’m intending on saving it until Christmas day. Hopefully I can resist the urge to put it together it until then.

LEGO Research Institute 21110
My daughter’s LEGO Research Institute 21110

That’s all I can say about the LEGO shop. They could have had an entire wall of pink Friends sets, with a sparkling sign proclaiming ‘LEGO FOR GIRLS’, and I wouldn’t have noticed. That’s how chuffed I was to finally have this awesome set in my hands.

So it had been a really positive experience so far. My final stop was The Disney Store, which I entered with trepidation. I love Star Wars & Marvel (both acquired by Disney) as much as I do not love princess culture (pretty much created by Disney).

IMG_4015Given that Disney & gendered marketing to kids go together like the Empire & the Death Star, I tend to browse Disney’s virtual and actual aisles with frustration. This occasion was no exception.

Starting with Marvel, there was nothing in the store featuring a female character. No Black Widow in the Avengers line, no Gamora or Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff, no additional female superheroes, nothing. *sigh

On to Star Wars.

There’s large section of the store devoted to movie merchandise, primarily the original trilogy. The lack of Leia merchandise was an early issue on this blog, so I was keen to see if things had improved at all. At first glance, it hadn’t. There was a prominent display featuring Han Solo, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and a Stormtrooper – but no Princess Leia.

IMG_4040I scanned the large selection of Star Wars stuff here, and eventually found a Leia. In fact I found a couple. They were each part of different play-sets figures. One set was Jabba’s palace, which of course means one thing – Slave Leia.

An eagle eyed fan on Twitter also spotted a Torryn Farr figure. Who is she? The blink and you’ll miss her Rebel Comms officer from The Empire Strikes Back. She may not be the most active character in the trilogy (she sits in a chair and relays orders), but I guess at least she’s a female Star Wars character figure.

That’s not all the Star Wars gear the shop has now though. There’s a big display of merchandise from the brand new TV show Star Wars Rebels. It’s early days for the show, but it has TWO major female characters that are prominently featured in the artwork of the toy display. So I was curious about what the the product would be like.

Product? What product?

IMG_4009IMG_4037

That’s right. There was nothing, nothing, featuring either of the female characters of Sabine or Hera. Not an action figure, not a t-shirt, nothing. I asked a member of staff about this. She looked surprised, had a glance at the section, and then kind of shrugged “No, there’s nothing with any of the women”.

What’s a girl gotta do to get into the Star Wars line at the Disney Store? It seems even a pink skinny waisted Boba Fett with a boob plate can’t break the gendered marketing glass ceiling far, far away…

So in this flagship Disney Store, in one of the premier shopping centres in Britain, there were just three items including any female characters in the whole of their Marvel & Star Wars sections – nothing in Marvel, and Star Wars had a classic Princess Leia (as part of a set), Slave girl Leia (as part of a set), and an individual figure of a rebel who says “Stand by ion control…Fire!” and nothing else.

Apparently, Sabine & Hera will be included in the second wave of Star Wars Rebels figures being released by licensee Hasbro. Staff also told me “We’re going to get Princess Leia stuff soon. But they keep saying that”. They had no idea about female Marvel characters.

I didn’t buy anything, and I’m not planning on going back. I left the shop more frustrated than ever about the fact that The House Of Mouse now own Marvel & Star Wars. I really hope things change for the better, and they embrace the female – and girl – market for these brands.

I reflected that my previous positive toyshop experiences were both due to the willingness of brands/retailers to engage with feedback, listen to those seeking change, and take a good look at their offering.

In conclusion, in terms of gendered marketing and division of toys: The Entertainer good, The Disney Store sadly not, and the LEGO shop? Well, they had me at female scientist minifigure set and was the only shop I spent money in.

So while this may have been an unscientific survey, in the end it was all about science.