Sunday, September 30, 2012

Marvel: The Avengers DVD Review/Thoughts about Nick Fury

Marvel: The Avengers DVD Review/Thoughts about Nick Fury.

My reviews are for the converted, they are for those who read and enjoy comics. Here, I am specifically reviewing the DVD and Blu-Ray not just the movie.

There are no spoilers here. I will remind people, however, that many of the super-hero movies (Both Marvel and DC) have scenes during and after the credits and you should stay to the end see them. The Avengers follows that tradition. But first let me mention somethings about Nick Fury.

At first glance, there are three major characters in the Marvel Universe that should not be black: The Hulk, the Silver Surfer and Nick Fury.

I use the term “black” and not “African-American” in science fiction and comics for very simple reasons. Some characters, such as the Black Panther are not American; they are African so the term “American” should not be used here. Also, black characters from other planets do NOT have African roots so the term would not be correct here either. In sci-fi we often do not know the “origins” or “birth places” of many characters.

Sgt. Fury was a unique character in a unique series. At a time of the civil rights movement, Lee and Kirby presented ordinary but common men, a Jew, Izzy, an Italian, Dino, a Southerner, and a black man, Gabe Jones, in extraordinary and horrible conditions. Comics featuring black characters were not always popular. Dell released Lobo in 1966, the story of a black western hero and stores in the south refused to display them. It was cancelled in two issues. So it took courage to do have a racial mixed Sgt. Fury.

W.W. II was a war about race and Fury showed that a group of men of different backgrounds can truly become a band of brothers; this was 30 years before Stephen Ambrose wrote his book, The Band of Brothers about the 101st Airborne Division, known as the “Screaming Eagles.”

Sadly, the armed forces during W.W. II were segregated. There could be no black sergeant leading such a group in W.W. II. So Lee and Kirby, and later Lee and Dick Ayers, showed Fury growing up in the lower east side on New York, just like Kirby did. They developed the conflict between black Gabe Jones and Southerner Reb Ralston and then showed how they became comrades in arms and good friends. So for Sgt. Fury to make sense, Fury needs to be white, the story doesn’t make sense if he isn’t.

 So, how can Nick Fury be black?
Well, first, you have Samuel Jackson playing the role, perfectly, so how lucky can you get? But, honestly, my first thought was, what if it he played Gabe Jones? And make Gabe Jones the head of SHIELD. Then I saw the movie of Captain America and saw Cap fighting with the Howlers, but there was no Sgt Fury. Well, in 1965 you could have Nick Fury, veteran of W.W. II, then about 40, leading SHIELD. But while Cap was frozen, Fury wasn’t, and he, like me, would be too old today. So the movie world had a choice: Either Sgt. Fury was there in 1941 or he will be here in 2012. We can’t have both. So, it was as if the Living Eraser went back in time and eliminated him!

So this isn’t my Sgt. Fury. It’s also not Lee’s or Kirby’s or Ayer’s or Steranko. This the modern, Fury, based on their Ultimate series. The history of this Fury's early life and career has not been fully established. My Fury had a family and a brother; this one may be an orphan.  Both are war heroes, but in different wars.

My Nick Fury lost his eye during World War II fighting the Nazis. On the Avengers TV Show, Nick Fury explains that he lost his eye fighting the Winter Soldier who I knew as Cap’s partner, Bucky.

Because my Sgt. Fury was such an important part of comic book history, I am sorry to see him go. But in seeing Samuel Jackson up there on the screen, in charge of everything, I think, maybe, in the end, Nick Fury won his war after all. Thank you Stan and Jack!

Don’t yield, back SHIELD!

 Since this is a review of the DVD and Blu- Ray, let me start with the extras.

The word disappointing here would be a bit unfair, but there are only two special features here that I enjoyed. First, an 11 minute (9 minutes with two minutes of credits) “Marvel One Shot.” A small new movie, SHIELD sends Jasper Sitwell to recover a missing alien weapon. This scene takes place after the continuity of the movie. It also seems to reaffirm the death of Colson, who, among my friends, no one believes he is really dead.

In “Assembling the Avengers” we get a 9 minute obligatory piece, where the actors complement each other and tell us how great everyone was. They always mention a short list and who was on top of it to get a certain role. If you change the names this could have gone on a million other DVDs.

In “Imaging the Movie” they don’t show how they did the special effects, but just lift scenes from the movie which you have just seen.

The gag reel runs about 4 minutes and is not really funny; the actors actually say that they blew their lines to appear in it.

Scenes are often left out of a movie for three reasons:
  • Time. They need a certain running length.
  • Although the scene is good it slows down the movie.
  • The scene just does not work.
Well, we now demand to see the scenes that don’t work. Sometimes they even release DVDs and include them in the actual picture and call it “The Director’s Cut” when it is really not. So how can I say that deleted scenes are good, when they may not be? So it was interesting to see such things as the Maria Hill alternate beginning and end and agree it didn’t fit. Others screens also include Loki & Barton Strategize; Nick Fury & World Security Council; An Extended Viaduct Fight Fury & Hill Discuss the World Security Council; Banner and a Security Guard.

“Steve Rogers - Man out of Time” was the highlight of the deleted scenes and, actually, I not only wish it was longer, but it would have made a good ten minute movie. Chris Evans is perfect is showing a man our sync, lonely and sad. It really gave great insight into the Lee and Kirby 1960s Captain America. And speaking of Lee, he has a cameo in this clip.

This is one damn good movie! I enjoyed every minute of it. From beginning to end you say “wow!” My favorite comic book movies were the Richard Donner Superman and his version of Superman II. This is up there with them. I give it an A+.

Of course, the Avengers feature the super-heroes of the last few Marvel movies: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk. Clint Barton as Hawkeye, the Black Widow and Nick Fury, are also here.

The major plot line carries over from the Thor movie. Loki comes to Earth (just as he did in Avengers #1) and causes an event so big that the heroes have to unite to save him. The event features him trying to gain custody and control of the Cosmic Cube, which is a cross-over from the plot of the Captain America movie (and several Captain America comics).

One of the strongest attractions of this movie is that you did NOT have to see these other movies to completely understand what was going on. And rather than take a huge amount of time showing the origins of all the characters, their origins and powers were just simply explained, bring everyone up to date, quickly.

Robert Downey Jr. is so perfect and appealing for the role of the “leader” that there was a danger of this becoming Iron Man III, especially when the other heroes, such as Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth arrive a bit late. But as strong as Downey is, director Josh Whedon seems to have carefully balanced the scenes with Chris Evans (Captain America) and especially Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner and the Hulk) so well that Downey helps bring out the best, and inner truths of these characters. And boy does Evans look like Kirby’s Cap.

The Hulk is perhaps the most complex and trickiest of these characters to portray and Ruffalo is the fourth actor (or fifth if you count Bill Bixby) to play him. Ruffalo’s Hulk far exceeded my expectations for a number of reasons. The Hulk in this movie is a supporting character, while Banner is more than that. Whedon plays with the audience; he knows you know about the Hulk, so much is handled with great fun and humor. The Hulk finally looks like Banner and you can believe the two entities are the same man.

Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner play the non-super members of the Avengers. But as in the comics, their participation is essential for the team’s success.

I was surprised to discover that the beautiful and talented Gwyneth Paltrow is in the movie. She has a long scene with Tony Stark and agent Coulson who is played with great comic timing by Clark Gregg. This scene is important because it adds great depth all the characters involved. (Ms. Paltrow was in the movie Sky Captain, which copied the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and gave Angela Jolie the role of a spy leader with an eye-patch, like Nick Fury’s, in 2004.)

Samuel Jackson was wonderful and gives a strong performance. If I have one small objection to the movie it is simply that this character faces ethical choices that have become typical, if not formula, to leaders of law enforcement.

I am saving some of the best for last. Tom Hiddleston, in his second movie as Loki, just nails the character. He is delightful wonderfully cruel, devious, tricky and gives a simply powerful and memorable performance as an actor. He takes us through the entire movie.
In the past, many movies based on comics had weak writers, weak actors and weak production. Not so here. This is a grand cast, a great director, first class production, with great writing and special effects.

In the most exciting scene all the heroes line up and prepare for battle a tear came to my eyes. Really. My only thought was: “I wish Jack Kirby and Don Heck were here to see this.” Heck was responsible for Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye; Kirby for Thor, Hulk, Nick Fury, Loki and, of course, Captain America. I am glad that Lee and Lieber, Ayers and Sinnott, are able to see what they wrote and drew on screen.

The movie looks great on Blu-Ray, but my 3-D projector is down for a month so I cannot tell you what the home 3-D looks like!

The era of my comics is long over. The creativity and originality, the artists and writers, are forever gone, and, though I never discuss it, you don’t know how sad that makes me feel. While I can see bits and pieces of the past on the silver screen, I urge everyone one here to celebrate those who we still have left and just enjoy those comics. We shall not see their like again. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Crusader Fanzine Interview 1964: Stan Lee

A long time ago, in a city far, far away, it was rare to find a comic fan magazine or an interview with a comic book person!!!! These publications were often done on forgotten rexograph or ditto machines in someone’s basement and sent out to very few people.

Here is the first of many interviews and articles which may have been lost or forgotten.

This is one of Stan Lee’s first interviews. In fact, the questioner asks Stan if he minded being interviewed!!!!  We know the answer to that now!

If you like this sort of thing, please check out Nick Caputo's blog, a good friend, he has been essential in collecting material such as this. 

And thanks to Patrick Lemaire for helping out! 

Ed: Before we start, is there anything you’d like to say to fandom?
Ed: Which MARVEL super hero to do you consider to be your favorite?
Stan: Well, really, I like all of them. It’s like your own children- you like all of them.
Ed: Where do you get your ideas for story plots?
Stan: I just sit down - and think!
Ed: Have you ever worked for any other company in the past besides MARVEL-ATLAS-TIMELY
Stan: No.
Ed: How did you get started in Comics?
Stan: They needed a writer. I started writing captions for a mag.
Ed:      Where did  MARVEL COMICS GROUP get its name, ?
Stan:  Well, there was a book long ago called MARVEL.    We liked the name so we called it MARVEL.’
Ed: Do you study any background information for writing stories for your super heroes?
Stan:No,  unfortunately, I haven’t got the time.’
Ed:Are you planning to bring back CAPTAIN MARVEL, as you did CAPTAIN AMERICA, or don’t you have the rights to revise him?
Stan: Actually, it’s up for grabs. However, we don’t like copying, and we like to stick to our own work, so probably not.
Ed: Is there any reason behind the fact that you are always changing the WASP’S costume?’
Stan: ‘We really aren’t satisfied yet!
Ed: Do you consider any one of your heroes to be the worst of the group?
Stan: No, not really.
Ed: Do you mind being interviewed?
Stan: No, not if it is by mail, I don’t like to give in-person interviews too much, because it isn’t really fair to other zine editors, who could not come to NY or an in-person interview.
(EDITORS NOTE: The above shows one more reason why we are greatly in debt to STAN LEE for letting us interview him. Also, we are very grateful to VINCE COLLETTA for making the interviews possible.)
Ed: Do you mind it when a satirical strip is done on one of your super heroes?
Stan: No - because it means that they read the comic.
Ed: Are you planning to start any new super heroes in the near future?
Stan: Of course - One of them will be (CENSORED at MR. Lee’s Request)
Ed: Do you keep your own personal collection of comic books?
Stan: I sure do: I keep a file cabinet of them at home.  I don’t have all of the issues but I do have everything I’ve done in the past three years.
Ed: Did you do most of the CAPTAIN AMERICA stories of yesteryear?
Stan: Yes.
Ed:      Do you plan to have the revised CAPTAIN AMERICA fighting the Russian communists or the Red Chinese?
Stan: No.
Ed: Do you particularly favor any of your villains?
Stan: LOVE OUR VILLAINS: All of them. I like the villains as much as the heroes.
Ed: Why did you kill off  WONDER MAN(who appeared in the AVENGERS)?’
Stan: Well, that is a very interesting story. We intended to bring him back, but, we found out that DC had a story about a year ago, concerning a robot named WONDER MAN. I myself never saw him or heard him. The head of NATIONAL comics wrote to us and informed us of the fact that he had already used the name WONDER MAN. We do not want to use anyone else’s name, so only for that reason, we are not bringing WONDER MAN back. And, besides, we can’t, because don’t copy anyone!
Ed: Are you planning to give CAPTAIN AMERICA his own magazine?
Stan: There is only one thing stopping us, Jack (Kirby) doesn’t have the time to draw it, and I don’t have the time to write it. But, sooner or later, whether it be a year from now, or ten years from now, we will find the time to do it!
Ed: Are you planning to have any of your heroes be killed off?
Stan: Not in the immediate future
(EDITORS NOTE: -not again?- -yes:- HERE, Stan Lee told us a little bit about JACK KIRBY, AND HIS ART STYLE.)
Stan: It’s a funny thing with Jack’s artwork. You never know just how good Jack really is. - If he gets a good inker, he looks good. If he gets a bad inker, he looks bad. But Jack Kirby’s penciling is so magnificent no inker can really do it justice
Ed: Do you save any of your original manuscripts?
Stan: As a matter of fact, there really are no manuscripts to save! The way I do it now, I write the story in synopsis form, and then give it to the artist. He pencils the drawings, and I get it back again. Then, I write the words above the panels, and these are eventually lettered in. So, we work so fast, that there almost aren’t any real manuscripts
Ed: Is the original HUMAN TORCH artist ever going to draw the modern version of the HUMAN TORCH?
Stan: That was CARL BURGOS, and he isn’t going to be drawing the new MODERN version of the HUMAN TORCH. As a matter of fact he stopped drawing for comics. Actually, I wanted to use him just out of sentiment. He may came back later, but at the moment, he is not doing any work for us.

Ed: Would you name a few of the other heroes you did back in the forties and fifties?     
Stan: Other than Captain America I did Father Time, The Destroyer, Hurricane and some others.
Ed:      Did you do all of the Human Torch stories?
Stan: Yes, I did quite a number of HUMAN TORCH stories.
Ed: :Would you give us same ideas about the MMMS.
Stan: Well , let me ask you, .Do you think it is a good idea?
Ed: It sounds really great; It  is sure to be a hit
Stan: I tell you, we have already received dollars from fans who don’t want to wait, and who want to be sure to get it fast. We are sending the dollars back. We want all fans to use the coupon which will appear in November. There will be a full page ad in all of our superhero books. The ad tells you what to get a big button that says I belong to the MMMS and there will be 10 stickers that you can paste on things. The stickers have a picture of the Thing. Later on we are going to have some printed up for those who don’t like the MMMS and I think they say something like: Help get rid of the MMMS. Then we are going to have a membership card which on the back has the Pledge of Allegiance to the MMMS.
Ed: What inspired you to write Spider-Man?
Stan: Well I wanted to do something different I figured let’s get a superhero who is different than any other hero and that’s what we tried to do.
Ed: When did you start writing?
Stan: I started writing in 1940 when I was 17.
Ed: What happens to original artwork after a comic is finished?
Stan: We send it to a warehouse and it just sits there. If you want to know why we don’t just give the original art is just a case where we don’t believe in giving our readers  things...We will give our readers our time and our best effort. But we don’t believe in bribing our readers. with this kind of deal where “if you send us letters will send you artwork.” I believe if you do this the stories are not good enough to hold the reader’s attention and if this is true you might as well give up. Actually there is no way of be fair. If you sent something to somebody and somebody else who deserves it doesn’t get anything it’s just not fair. That is the reason we have a no prize contests. I hate it when a kid takes all the time to send in a letter to enter a contest and he doesn’t get a thing for it. It’s not that we don’t want to give anything away it’s just that I hate to see losers.
Ed: Why is there no mentions of Monsters To Laugh With and any of your mags?
Stan: We would like more readers to find out about Monsters to Laugh With but the Comics Code won’t let us advertise it in our mags because they did not approve any of it.
Ed: Do you get any of your ideas from books or movies?
Stan: I think that people get ideas from everything that they see and hear.
Ed: What else have you done besides from the comics you were doing?
Stan: Well of course years ago I did Secrets Behind the Comics but I understand there aren’t many copies around.
Ed: Do you read the fanzines that are sent to you?
Stan: Yes,I read every one of them and I’m going blind.  I like looking for my name.
Ed: What other awards have you won besides Alleys?
Stan: I won awards for all types of organizations for books I did included being the State Department.
Ed: Did you choose the name Daredevil for your hero because of the former Lev Gleason publication?
Stan: Actually we had thought of the name and then realized that there had been another Daredevil. We liked the name and we figured what harm would it do because they were out of business.
Ed: Which comics are your biggest sellers?
Stan: Well of course Fantastic Four but Spider-Man, Sgt. Fury, and the Avengers are all big hits and all of a sudden Thor is becoming a big hit. But it’s a funny thing, because all of a sudden Suspense and Astonish are becoming vogue because we have added the Hulk and Capt. America. And the X-Men are really selling so we really don’t have a bad seller. This is just great
Ed: What do you think will happen to comics in10 years?
Stan: Your guess is as good as mine but I do think they will  improve a lot. I know our books are better than what started with  Fantastic Four.
Ed: What about your competitors?
Stan: I think they’re improving too and that all comics are improving. If we get fans interested they will buy our comics and others too so everyone is off better. I think you should level with your readers and do the best job you can. You shouldn’t just bat out any old thing for the comics but you should give the readers good stories.
Ed: Just what gives you ideas for story?
Stan: Actually there is very little inspiration involved. You just sit down and figure it out. Do I need a new villain? What have and I usefor? And what do the readers like?