Bye, bye HMV - now bring back the books

The HMV closures are to be expected - it's Waterstones we should be mourning over.

The space which used to be my local Borders has turned into an Urban Outfitters. Just down the road there is a Waterstones, and just up the road an HMV.

Recent news that the company which owns these two stores is planning on closing down 60 premises around the country is mildly saddening (especially if they all turn into the horror that is Urban Outfitters), but not exactly ground-breaking news.

In fact, the forty HMV stores which are set to close as part of a cost-cutting measure barely sadden me at all, and I consider myself something of a music lover. The last time I went into a music shop (gosh, it sounds terribly quaint, doesn't it?) was probably when I bought myself B*Witched's single on cassette in 1996.

I don't own a single CD and here's why: they're inconvenient, expensive, lifeless and ugly. If I'm going for a digital format Spotify does the job brilliantly. A few clicks of a keyboard and I've got an endless supply of songs at my disposal. If I want the warm fuzzy feeling of a record turning I play my vinyl.

CDs fall somewhere in between, with no redeemable feature whatsoever. The death of Spotify would make me shudder - the imminent death of HMV makes me roll my eyes thinking "it's still around?!".

If there was ever an opposite reaction though, it would be at the thought of 20 Waterstones stores shutting down - and not just because I'm scared of pretentious clothes shops popping up in their place.

As irritatingly middle-class student-y as it may sound to fawn over the "soul" of real books (and I promise I don't say this over a Starbuck's bagel), I admit, slightly embarrassed, that when it comes to literature I am a true paper-and-pen-loving Luddite.

With the contempt that the fashion-savvy save for Topshop, or food connoisseurs feel for Jamie Oliver, I loathed high-street bookshops more than words can describe, taking myself on journeys to find dusty copies of Dostoevsky in a basement in Lewes every Sunday.

But however tragic the demise of the small bookshops and libraries may be, the reality is that they don't draw people to literature - Borders did. Waterstones, hanging by the thread of its teeth, still might.

A book on a folding screen does not in any way provide a more convenient, cheap, exciting or aesthetically pleasing experience and I am at a loss to understand people's attraction to e-readers.

Reading is just about all I have left in my life which hasn't been invaded by cold, hard robots and it helps me sleep well to know that there's nothing anyone can do to take away the pleasure I get from holding a real book.

Nothing except closing down all the bookshops.

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Marvel has moved past the post-credits teaser, and it's all the better for it

Individual stories are suddenly taking precedence over franchise building.

The lasting contribution of 2008’s Iron Man to contemporary cinema comes not from the content of the film itself, but in its Avengers-teasing post-credits scene featuring an eyepatch-sporting Samuel L. Jackson. While post-credits scenes were not invented by Marvel, their widespread adoption in other blockbusters is a testament to Marvel using them to titillate and frustrate.

Fast forward nine years and Marvel’s direction has significantly altered. Having moved to a three-film-a-year structure ahead of next year’s climactic Infinity War, their two releases this summer have featured less explicit connective tissue, using post-credits scenes that are, in typical Marvel fashion, self-reflexive and fun – but this time with no teases for films to come.

Where previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films have trailed characters donning superhero mantles, confrontations to come, or more light-hearted team ups, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decided to lovingly poke fun at Marvel grandmaster Stan Lee, leaving him stranded on a godforsaken space rock in the outer reaches of the stars. Spider-Man: Meanwhile Homecoming targeted filmgoers who had stayed until the end in expectation of a tease, only to receive a Captain America educational video on the virtues of “patience”.

That isn’t to say that connective tissue isn’t there. Marvel seems to be pursuing world building not through post-credits stingers, but through plot and character. In the past, teasing how awful big bad Thanos is ahead of the Avengers battling him in Infinity War would have been done through a menacing post-credits scene, as in both Avengers films to date. Instead Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses character as a tool to explore the world at large.

Nebula’s seething rage is, rather than just a weak excuse for an antagonist’s arc, actually grounded in character, explaining to Sean Gunn’s loveable space pirate Kraglin that Thanos would pit his daughters, her and Gamora, against each other, and replace a part of her body with machine each time she failed – and she failed every time. It’s effective. Thanos’ menace is developed, and you feel sympathy for Nebula, something Marvel has historically failed to do well for its antagnoists. Her parting promise – to kill her father – not only foreshadows the events of Infinity War, but also hints at the conclusion of a fully formed arc for her character.

In the high-school-set Spider-Man: Homecoming, the stakes quite rightly feel smaller. The inexperienced wall-crawler gets his chance to save the day not with the galaxy at risk, but with an equipment shipment owned by Iron Man alter-ego and billionaire inventor Tony Stark hanging in the balance. While such a clear metaphor for widespread change in the MCU might be a little on the nose, the set-up is effective at plaing the film at street level while also hinting at overall changes to the structure of the universe.

Stark gifting Peter a new (and oh so shiny) suit is a key set piece at the end of the film, whereas in 2015's Ant-Man’s Hope Pym inheriting her mother’s own miniaturising suit it is relegated to a teaser. Peter’s decision to turn it down not only completes Peter’s transition past seeking the approval of Stark’s unwitting father figure, but it also leaves the Avengers in an as-yet unknown state, still fragmented and incomplete after the events of 2016’s Civil War. To anticipate Spider-Man joining the Avengers proper is to anticipate the forming of the team as a whole – keeping our collective breath held until we stump up for tickets to Infinity War.

With this happy marriage of the macro and the micro, individual stories are suddenly taking precedence in the MCU, rather than being lost in the rush to signpost the foundations for the next instalment in the franchise. It’s a refreshingly filmic approach, and one which is long overdue. To suggest that Marvel is hesitant to overinflate Infinity War too early is supported by their refusal to share the footage of the film screened to audiences at the D23 and San Diego Comic Con events in recent weeks. Instead, the limelight is staying firmly on this November’s Thor: Ragnarok, and next February’s Black Panther.

Stan Lee, at the end of his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post credits scene, cries, “I’ve got so many more stories to tell!”, a hopeful counterpoint to a weary Captain America asking “How many more of these are there?” at the end of Homecoming. With Disney having planned-out new MCU releases all the way into 2020, entries in the highest-grossing franchise of all time won’t slow any time soon. We can, at least, hope that they continue their recent trend of combining writerly craft with blockbuster bombast. While the resulting lack of gratuitousness in Marvel’s storytelling might frustrate in the short term, fans would do well to bear in mind Captain America’s call for patience.