Face Front, Marvelites!: RIP Stan “The Man” Lee


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I know it’s popular these days among a certain coterie of Comic Book Buffs to bash Stan Lee’s contributions to the medium in favor of artist/collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko . You’ll never find me in that crowd. Not ever. I learned to read (with the help of my dad) at the tender age of three through comics… simple stuff at first, funny books like YOGI BEAR and BEETLE BAILEY. As I progressed into the realm of superheroes, my vocabulary improved thanks to writers like Gardner Fox, John Broome, and especially Stan Lee, who took me to Asgard and Outer Space with Shakespearean-styled dialog and college-level words that made me keep a dictionary always at the ready. Screw you, Dr. Frederic Wertham!!

The Titanic Trio: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko

Stanley Martin Lieber was born December 28, 1922, the eldest son of immigrant parents (his younger sibling Larry…

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Rest In Peace, Stan Lee


In 1939, a 17 year-old aspiring writer named Stanley Lieber landed a job at Timely Comics in New York City.

At first, Stanley’s job was just to get coffee, make sure that the inkwells were full, and occasionally proofread copy.  In 1941, when the third issue of Captain American Comics needed a text story so that it could be shipped as a magazine instead of just as a comic book, Stanley was assigned the job.  Because the young man had an ambition to some day write the great American novel and felt that being associated with comic books would make it more difficult to convince publishers to take him seriously, Stanley Lieber wrote the story under a pseudonym, Stan Lee.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  Timely eventually became Atlas and then Atlas was rebranded Marvel and, through it all, Stan Lee remained at the company, providing continuity from one decade to another.  Ironically, for someone who originally feared being too associated with comic books, Stan Lee went on to become not only the face but, for several decades, the voice of Marvel Comics.

Among comic book historians, Stan Lee is an often divisive figure.  By his own admission, Lee loved the spotlight and it can be argued that he unfairly overshadowed his publicity-shy colleagues.  To solely give Lee the credit for creating characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four does a disservice to the work of artists and writers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and so many others.  As a company, Marvel has a deserved reputation for not treating its artists with the respect or the financial compensation that they deserved.  How much of the responsibility for any of that falls on Lee’s shoulders is a controversial subject and will continue to be so for years to come.

What isn’t controversial was that,  whether he hitting the college lecture circuit, recording the introductions for the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show, or giving interviews with publications like Playboy and Rolling Stone, there was never a bigger cheerleader for comic books than Stan Lee.  At a time when DC comics was busy imitating the campy Batman TV show, Marvel Comics were, in their own way, dealing with world in which their readers lived.  From the platform of Stan’s Soap Box, Stan Lee spoke against racism and prejudice.  When the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Lee to do a story about the dangers of drug abuse, Lee did it in defiance of the Comic Codes Authority.  Three issues of Spider-Man were released without the CAA’s seal of approval, opening the way for all comic books to deal with real world issues.

Stan Lee as Mr. Fantastic in What If #11 (as drawn by Jack Kirby)

For many comic book readers who might have otherwise felt that they didn’t fit in, Stan Lee said, “Here, you do belong.”  Today, it might seem easy to poke fun at Lee’s endless enthusiasm, his cries of “excelsior,” and the way that he called Marvel readers “true believers.”  But for many readers,  there was much comfort to be found in Lee’s corny sayings.  Lee had a way of making readers feel as if they were all in it together.  Whether you were a true believer or a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, you belonged.  For kids who felt like outsiders, Lee was there to tell them that everyone was capable of being a hero, whether they had super powers or not.

In his twilight years, Lee was rediscovered by a new generation of fans.  Spotting Lee’s trademark cameos became one of the pleasures of watching any Marvel film.  Sometimes, he was a postman.  In Deadpool, he worked in a strip club.  More than once, he was a janitor.  I once saw him driving a bus.  In the second Guardians of the Galaxy film, he was sitting on the moon and telling the Watchers about his adventures on Earth and it just seemed like he was right where he belonged.

Stan Lee passed away today at the age of 95.

I knew I’d have to write this some day but I always hoped it wouldn’t be any time soon.

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee.

 

A Movie A Day #279: The Ambulance (1990, directed by Larry Cohen)


Josh Baker (Eric Roberts) is an extroverted artist for Marvel Comics who meets Cheryl (Janine Turner) while walking around New York City.  Josh and Cheryl hit it off but when Cheryl suddenly collapses, she is picked up by a mysterious ambulance.  When Josh goes to the hospital to check on her, he is told that Cheryl was never brought in.  Soon, Josh discovers that people all over New York have been put into back of the ambulance and have never been seen again.  Unfortunately, nobody believes Josh.  Not the veteran NYPD detective (James Earl Jones) who Josh approaches with his suspicions.  Not the staff of the hospital.  Not even Stan Lee!  The only people willing to support Josh are an elderly investigative reporter (Red Buttons) and an inexperienced detective (Megan Gallagher).

Yes, Stan Lee does play himself.  While he had made a few cameo appearances on television and had previously narrated a French film, The Ambulance was Stan Lee’s first real film role.  Josh works at an idealized version of Marvel Comics, where the artists are well-paid, no one is pressured into producing substandard work, and Lee is an avuncular father figure.  It is the Marvel Comics that I used to imagine working at when I was growing up, before I found out about what actually happened to artists like Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Steve Ditko.

Idealized though it may be, the Marvel connection is appropriate because The Ambulance is essentially a comic book adventure.  It does not matter how many times Josh gets hit by a car or falls out of a window, he always recovers in time for the next scene.  When Josh does discover who is behind the ambulance, it turns out to be a villain who would not be out-of-place in a Ditko-era Spider-Man story.

The Ambulance is another one of Larry Cohen’s New York horror stories.  Like most of Cohen’s films, it is pulpy, cheap, and entertaining.  Eric Roberts is as crazy as ever and the movie is full of good character actors like James Earl Jones, Red Buttons, Richard Bright, and Eric Braeden.  The Ambulance may be dumb but it is always entertaining.

 

 

A Very Red Band Deadpool Trailer for Christmas


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Twentieth Century Fox has had a stranglehold on the film rights to one of Marvel Comics’ biggest properties: the X-Men and every character associated with them. So far, the studio has only taken the core X-Men and Wolverine properties and adapted them onto the big-screen to mixed results. Some fans of the properties have even come to see the Fox vision for these mutant characters as tame and water-down version of the classic comic book characters.

One such mutant character which had languished in development hell within Fox was the character of Deadpool. The so-called “Merc with a Mouth” had an off and on development cycle throughout the years. The character finally appeared in the forgettable Wolverine stand-alone film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The character was played by Ryan Reynolds and just like another superhero film (this time for DC as the classic character of Green Lantern) he starred in, this one bombed and he was starting to be seen as a curse on superhero projects his named gets attached to.

If there was one major effect that Marvel Studios’ success with their Marvel Cinematic Universe has had with the rest of the Hollywood studios was to force them to treat their comic book property licenses seriously. They had to embrace the comic book nature of the properties they held the license to and work with it instead of against it.

It looks like Fox might be doing just that with their R-rated attempt at the Deadpool live-action adaptation starring the star who campained long and hard to produce and star as the title character: Ryan Reynolds. If the tone we’ve seen with the Comic-Con trailer and this latest red band trailer is any indication then the Ryan Reynolds superhero curse could be ending in early February of 2012.

Deadpool is set for a February 12, 2016 release date.

5 Heroes From Marvel’s Golden Age Who Deserve Their Own Movie


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Captain America is the best remembered and most prominent hero from the Golden Age of Marvel Comics (or, as the company was known back then, Timely Comics).  One reason why Captain America: The First Avenger was so successful was because it exploited the nostalgia that audiences had for that golden age, a time when the world was united against the greatest evil known to man and there was no doubt who was fighting for good and who was fighting for evil.

However, Captain America was not the only Marvel super hero fighting gangsters and Nazis during the 1940s.  If Marvel Studios ever decides to take another trip back to World War II, these five Golden Age heroes would be worthy additions to the MCU.

The Blonde Phantom

The Blonde PhantomCreated by Stan Lee and artist Syd Shores and first introduced in 1946, The Blonde Phantom was a part of Marvel’s post-war attempt to appeal to young female readers.

Originally from Hoboken, New Jersey, Louise Grant was the secretary to private detective Mark Mason.  Bored with her job and in love with Mark, Louise would regularly grab a .45 caliber pistol, don the sultry disguise of the Blonde Phantom, and help her boss solve his cases.  While Mark barely noticed his loyal secretary, he fell in love with the Blonde Phantom.

It would be tricky to reimagine the Blonde Phantom from a modern perspective but I think it could be done.  Instead of emphasizing Louise’s unrequited crush on the sexist Mark, a modern Blonde Phantom film would focus on how becoming the Blonde Phantom allows Louise to discover her own inner strength.  As Agent Carter proved, there is an audience for a strong female character in a period setting.

Claire Voyant

Claire_Voyant_(Earth-616)Introduced in 1940 and created by George Kapitan and Harry Sahle, Claire Voyant (who was also known as The Black Widow, long before the first appearance of Natasha Ramanoff) is considered to be the first costumed female super hero and also one of the darkest.

A medium, Claire is possessed by Satan and used to put a curse on the Wagler Family.  After most of the family is killed in a car accident, the sole remaining Wagler shoots and kills Claire.  Claire immediately goes to Hell, where Satan himself gives her the power to kill by simply touching her victim’s forehead.  Satan then sends Claire back among the living, on a mission to kill evil doers so that Satan can claim their souls before they have a chance to repent and ask for forgiveness.

Along with her dark origin story and her flirtatious relationship with Satan, Claire Voyant was distinguished by both her lack of remorse when it came to killing and for having the sharpest eyebrows of almost any character from the Golden Age.  As the star of her own MCU film, she would provide an interesting contrast to the wholesomeness of Captain America.

The Destroyer

The DestroyerA journalist-turned-spy, Keen Marlow was captured behind-the-lines in Nazi Germany.  Held in a prison-of-war camp, Marlow met Prof. Eric Schmitt, an anti-Nazi German scientist who had created a serum that was similar to the one that was used to transform frail Steve Rogers into Captain America.  After taking the serum, Marlow donned a mask and a dark costume and used his new powers to battle the Nazis from within Germany.

The Destroyer was a popular character during the Golden Age, though he was never as prominent as Captain America, The Human Torch, or the Submariner.  The Destroyer became far more interesting when his origin was retconned in the 1970s and it was revealed the Keen Marlow was an alias used by British aristocrat Brian Falsworth.  Before the start of World War II, Falsworth had been a prominent supporter of appeasement.  By becoming The Destroyer, Falsworth both defended his country and sought redemption.  When Falsworth eventually took on yet another costumed identity (Union Jack), his friend Roger Aubrey took over the role of the Destroyer.

The Destroyer was one of the first super hero characters to be created by Stan Lee.  Not only is his origin similar to Captain America’s (Cap was introduced in March of 1941 and the Destroyer made his debut nine months later) but it is also a forerunner to Iron Man’s.

Namor the Submariner

SubmarinerNamorCreated by artist and writer Bill Everett, Namor was the son of human boat captain Leonard McKenzie and Fen, the daughter of the emperor of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis.  As a hybrid, Namor had the ability to live under water but, with his human appearance, he could also go above the surface and safely mix with human society as well.  While the arrogant and hot-tempered Namor had little use for humanity (with the exception of New York City policewoman Betty Dean), he did side with the Allies in the war against the Nazis.

Despite being a prominent member of the Marvel Universe for over 70 years, Namor has yet to even appear in a movie.  Not only was he one of the most popular of the Marvel Golden Age heroes but his battle with the original Human Torch has regularly been cited as being the birth of the Marvel Universe.  Unlike many Golden Age characters, Namor remains active today, sometimes fighting for humanity and sometimes trying to destroy it.

There have been efforts to make a movie about Namor but, so far, none of them have been successful.  Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has said that there are many deals and contracts that need to be sorted out before it can be definitely determined who owns the rights to the character.  It will probably be a while before the Submariner swims to a theater near you.

The Phantom Reporter

The Phantom ReporterThe Phantom Reporter is actually Dick Jones, a former all-American fullback who was also a college boxing, wrestling, and fencing champion.  As a reporter, Dick always tried to protect those who could not defend themselves.  When he couldn’t help them as a journalist, he would put on a mask, a suit, and a cape and he would battle evildoers.

The Phantom Reporter only appeared in one Golden Age comic book, 1941’s Daring Mystery Comic Books #3.  65 years later, he was brought back as one of the lead characters in The Twelve, a limited series about a group of World War II super heroes who, after spending decades in suspended animation, are revived in the 21st Century.  Returning to his career as both a costumed hero and a journalist, The Phantom Reporter also develops an unlikely relationship with Claire Voyant.

The perfect Phantom Reporter movie would be a cross between the screwball comedy of The Front Page and the heroics of Captain America.  It would be a reminder that not all heroes have super powers.  Some of them just have the desire to do the right thing.

It’s The Beginning Of The End In “Empire Of The Dead : Act Three” #2


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Okay, if we want to be technically accurate about things, I guess we could say that last month’s opening installment of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead : Act Three was the “beginning of the end,” since it appears that some combination of editorial decision-making on Marvel’s part and agreement among the book’s creators (specifically, I’m sure, Romero himself) has come about to wrap this four-color epic up a bit sooner than originally announced (after three five-issue “arcs” rather than the previously-mentioned four or five — that’s what selling fewer than 10,000 copies a month does, ya know), but it didn’t really feel like the big wrap-up was imminent until this second issue hit the stands today. Gone is some of the dilly-dallying that had slowed down previous issues here and there, gone are a fair number of the supporting players (although they’re sure to be back), and, most crucially — gone are the zombies!

Seriously. There’s not a one of ’em to be found in the pages of this book. And that’s more than just a little weird.

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Wih the “shamblers” having temporarily shambled off-stage, our erstwhile “street urchin,” Jo, takes commands the spotlight for about the first half of this issue, as she makes a new friend in her detention center/concentration camp, and the two of them quickly try to effect an escape once they figure out —or at least make an educated guess at — the true purpose of their new “home.”  After that,  it’s back to the “palace intrigue” swirling around Mayor Chandrake, his less-than-faithful wife, and his quickly-falling-apart-at-the-seams political opponent, Chilly Dobbs. Trust me when I say if our vampiric sitting chief executive of New York can’t beat this guy, well — he just plain doesn’t deserve to stay in office.

Dr. Penny Jones pops up for a brief moment — as seen below — but don’t expect any appearances from Paul Barnum. Detective Perez, or Xavier this time out — the action here is pretty concentrated and generally of the “set-up-for-a-big-climax” variety. The “rebel crew” once — and possibly still, to some extent — allied with Dixie Peach has a big part to play, though, as they reveal an audacious scheme to rip off the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the midst of all their otherwise-random destruction — and that destruction finally begins in earnest as this issue wraps up.

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As you can see from the preview pages I’ve included with this review (feeling decidedly un-lazy today), Andrea Mutti continues with his obviously-Maleev-influenced ways here and the art looks pretty good on the whole, certainly a step up from what we were served in the second act, while Romero, for his part,  has thrown all subtlety out the window with his scripting and is painting his characters with pretty broad brush-strokes at this point. Yeah, it may be clumsy at times,  but it  serves the purposes of the story just fine now that we’re in “time is definitely of the essence” mode.

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So, yeah — the end is nigh, and in Empire Of The Dead : Act Two #3 you can definitely feel it fast approaching. The once-sprawling chessboard is getting tighter and tighter as the pieces move ever closer together and the moves they’re able to make become reduced exponentially. I have a pretty solid feel of where it’s all going and where each of our players is going to end up once it’s finished, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past Romero to still have a wild card or two left in his hand (shit, I’m mixing my game metaphors here) that he’s saving for precisely the right moment.

 

 

 

Ant-Man Keeps the Marvel Train Moving Along


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Will Marvel Studios have it’s first misstep when Ant-Man arrives in theaters this July? Or will it surpass many people’s expectations the way Guardians of the Galaxy did when it came out late summer of 2014? These are questions that fans and critics alike have been pondering since the rather underwhelming teaser trailer which was released earlier this year.

Now, with Avengers: Age of Ultron just weeks away from bulldozing over everything in it’s way it looks like Marvel and Disney have turned their attention to getting the Ant-Man hype train up to speed. If any film needs some fueling up it would be this one which has had a more than contentious production. It loses it’s original director in Edgar Wright after he and the heads at Marvel Studios (Kevin Feige) disagreed on how to proceed with the film. The search for a director to replace Wright became a game of which comedic filmmaker would pass on the project next (Peyton Reed finally was the last man standing).

When the teaser finally came out the tone it gave seemed too serious for a film that was being billed as a sort of action-comedy or, at the very least, an action film that included more than the usual comedic beats than past films in the MCU.

Today we see the first official trailer for Ant-Man and gone is the super serious tone of the teaser and in comes a mixture of action and comedy. It’s a trailer that actually gives us an idea of the sort of powers the title character has outside of being just being tiny. Then we get more than just a glimpse of Scott Lang’s main antagonist with Corey Stoll in the role of Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket.

Maybe this film will still end up giving Marvel Studio it’s very first black-eye, but this trailer goes a major way in making sure it doesn’t happen.

Ant-Man is set for a July 17, 2015 release date.