Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Marvel Comics: The Way It Began...For Me!!!

I have read over 15,000 comics in my life and two thirds of them have not been Marvels.  Most had been DCs. I started reading comics in the late 1950s when DC dominated the superhero field. I was not immediately attracted to Marvel, contrary to popular belief; my favorite at the time was Challengers of the Unknown. Of course Superman was still a daily treat on TV, I watched it on WPIX, Channel 11 in New York. Who knew then of the incredible connection between these two!!! Marvel’s comics, as well as those of ACG, at first seemed a bit smaller, with not only less vibrant colors, but also less sharp printing than DC’s or Dell's. In fact, when I was very young, I once thought ACG and Marvel were the same company. And with Steve Ditko drawing for both Charlton and Marvel in a very distinctive style, I thought Charlton and Marvel might also be the same.

We all know that the Justice League’s success prodded Marvel to get back into the superhero line.

To a young reader at the time, Fantastic Four #1 did look like it was inspired by an existing superhero group, but not the JLA which featured DC’s stars. It looked like DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, which had similar members. Sun Boy had heat powers similar to the Torch, the Invisible Kid had powers like Sue Storm's, and Jimmy Olsen as the Elastic Lad had powers similar to Reed Richards. Also, unlike the JLA but like the Fantastic Four, the Legion seemed to live together, often like brothers and sisters.

I was not immediately a big fan of the Fantastic Four - that would take until issue #19, “Prisoners of the Pharaoh.” I enjoyed many of the comics until that point, but for some reason that comic seemed so much different than anything else. Issue #4 had featured the Sub-Mariner. When it came out I had no idea that there was a “Golden Age” of comics in the 1940s, that would take until Feiffer’s “The Great Comic Book Heroes” published in 1965. So I thought, as with the Fantastic Four, that the Sub-Mariner was a copy of another DC character, Aquaman.

I had then become a fan of Marvel’s full length comics, but I was not thrilled by their anthology ones: Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery.  I really began to miss those five page stories, especially the ones done by Kirby and Ditko. I was not a big fan of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk or Ant-Man either. It took until Steve Ditko redid Iron Man in issue #48 and the introduction of good supporting characters (Pepper and Happy) to bring me strongly aboard. Tales to Astonish was never a favorite when it just starred Ant-Man. When he fought a small villain, such as the Scarlet Beetle, I wondered why he just couldn’t grow to full size and step on it.  He also had full conversations with ants, who alerted him to bank robberies. How does an ant know about bank robberies? It got better when the Hulk was added to the comic. Then Marvel once again called on Steve Ditko and he recreated the Hulk and added strong supporting characters to the mix.

Thor, in Journey Into Mystery, was fun in the beginning, but when he started fighting Earth-bound villains, like in “Prisoner of the Reds,” or the Cobra and Hyde, it was all a bit dull to me because they never seemed a powerful as Thor. I renewed my interest in the series when Lee and Kirby returned.  They introduced Tales of Asgard, giving Thor great new characters and a back-story, and me a great comic to look forward to.

The Human Torch stories in Strange Tales were rarely fun in the beginning, but got better and funnier when the Thing was involved. However, I slowly got taken in by Dr. Strange, which I still feel was some of Ditko’s best work. And Marvel’s.

While the Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Nick Fury, and Dr. Strange stories were not full length in their anthology homes (their stories were ten to twelve pages), they were able to develop longer and more complicated plots by frequently having continued stories. At first there were a lot of two parters, but eventually they went much longer than that, Dr. Strange has the record for going 17 issues. .

These days, I occasionally read articles critical of the promotion and cross referencing Marvel did in the early 1960s, as today it seems  over the top and distracting. Many of the comments come from people not around then.  Nowadays it seems that Marvel was always going to be successful, but back then, they really had to fight for their market share (and news stand space) to survive. Yes, it did help when a new character, Ant-Man, the Hulk or Daredevil showed up in a comic you read to promote their new title.  Also, Stan’s Special Announcement became more and more important and interesting as he connected with the fans and told us what to look for on the stands.  There were no comic book stores; you often had to look for these comics!

I had traded away, or just not kept, several of those early anthology comics, perhaps ten in all. I noticed in myself that I was buying Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors' Item Classics to get the stories I had given away. In those days older comics often cost less than new comics and new comics only cost 12 cents. So by 1964 I got them all back and I have kept everything!!!!!

Sgt. Fury was the only Marvel comic I did not read from the beginning. I wasn’t interested in war comics although I had picked up issue #1. But I borrowed issue #8, “The Death Ray of Dr. Zemo,” which tied Fury strongly into the Marvel Universe, and then I started to collect the back issues. Of course, issue #13 where Captain America starred was wonderful, with one of the best covers of that era! Oh, I didn’t know of Captain America until he appeared in Strange Tales #114.
Spider-Man was unusual from the beginning, but really began to kick into high gear for me by issue #9, with Electro, and #10 with the Enforcers.

Daredevil had great potential, but most of his early villains including the Stilt-Man and the Matador, seemed silly. Then, when Wally Wood came in and did Daredevil #7, with the Sub-Mariner, I was hooked. I hated when he left, but really enjoyed Johnny Romita’s take on Ka-Zar.

I enjoyed the X-Men, but for me the series took off when the Stranger was introduced. Why? Magneto was about their only villain and he got banished in that issue. Soon we had the Sentinels. I wish to this day that Kirby had stayed on a little longer to establish that series. The stories he co-plotted were wonderful.

The Avengers got me with issue #3. The Hulk had resigned and now, for the first time in my comic book life, it seemed that a resignation would be permanent. Of course, Captain America in the next issue elevated it even further. 

Then in issue #16, the comic that was most like the Justice League changed its members and removed it big stars. This was different!

I enjoyed Captain AmericaSub-Mariner and SHIELD series from the beginning, although at the time they were 'Latecomers."  I enjoyed Gene Colan on Subby, in spite of the Colletta inking. Nick Fury was great - then, as so many artists came and went, it declined until Steranko took over and made it one of the best runs ever. I enjoyed Cap, even when George Tuska took over and gave us the Sleepers. But Kirby's Cap was always the best in TOS.

As I was growing up, I felt that Marvel was growing up with me, but that DC was not. The stories became more complex, with more character development at Marvel, not so much at DC. And the Marvel artwork stressed individuality I thought, whereas DC had a corporate, house look. When Marvel expanded, I cut back on my DCs.

Once again my thanks goes out to the generous Kid Robson for his help!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby: Who Created What?

I appreciated so much the wise words of Steve Ditko regarding the five pages Jack Kirby drew of a rejected Spider-Man tale.  The only witnesses to these pages seem to be Mr. Ditko, Joe Simon and Stan Lee.  I have not commented on this, nor have my informed friends because we have never seen these pages.  Never having seen these pages has apparently not stopped many Kirby advocates who seem to know all about these pages. Perhaps that springs from a Jack Kirby interview with Howard Zimmerman in 1981 when he said, “I did a mess of things. The only book I didn’t work on was Spider-Man, which Steve Ditko did. But Spider-Man was my creation.”

These advocates seem to feel that coming up with a title to a character, and a rejected sketch of him, is a complete creation.  Let’s look that that.  Since the beginning of the 20th century, the term, “spider-man” was slang for a cat burglar who climbed up walls and into the windows of homes. As far back as 1934, Ed Wheelen’s comic strip entitled “Minute Movies” had a “spider-man.” character.” Captain Marvel fought one in “Whiz Comics” #87 (1947); “Startling Comics” had one in 1945; and “Beyond Comics” in 1954. There were many more, in fact, Marvel had a few of them in the 1950s, “Uncanny Tales” #26 and “Journey into Mystery” #64.  “Anansi, The Spider-Man” was a popular Caribbean Folk Tale of the 1950s.

Stephen King once said, “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.” I believe Stan Lee when he said he got an idea one morning to do a super-hero named “Spider-Man,” I just don’t think the name came completely out of the blue.  The Jack Kirby drew five pages that were rejected. Much to my chagrin, and with some fatigue, at this point I must remind people that I am a huge Kirby fan. However, many Kirby advocates feel that you are either all in or all out; there is no middle ground for your admiration of him.  Kirby did so much, just not for Spider-Man. Perhaps his biggest contribution here was showing Lee and Ditko what not to do. Jack Kirby drew five pages that were rejected. It would be like giving Derek Jeter an assist after he struck out and Arod hit a homer.

There are aspects to a comic’s popularity, both artistic and commercial, that are just not analyzed enough by those outside the field. We are not just discussing the look of a character but the reasons for its success. To imply that just coming up with a name, or even a costume, made a series so successful is ridiculous. Ditko just didn’t create a new, unique looking Spider-Man; he created all the important elements that lead to its success. 

Let us look at what Steve Ditko, with Stan Lee, gave us:
The Character of Spider-Man: Steve Ditko gave us a great costume, of course, but he also gave us the unique look and movement and poses of the character. And the Spider-Signal!

The Characters of Spider-Man: Where else in comic book history, do you get so many interesting and well defined characters in 25 issues? 

A hero’s secret identity is always the first supporting character. This is because he is always someone who is different from the hero. Clark Kent was different from Superman and Bruce Wayne was different from Batman.  Peter Parker was shy and quiet; he was a “wallflower” and a “bookworm.” Spider-Man was none of those things.  Lee and Ditko developed Aunt May, J.J.J., Betty, Ned, Flash, Liz, Frederick Foswell, Mrs. Watson, and Almost Mary Jane. Then toss in Curt Connors and Professor Smythe. Where else do you get that in two dozen issues of any comic? And each one could be and often was a centerpiece of any story.  Dr. Strange had the Ancient one, and Peter had the older Aunt May. Both elders wanted their younger charges to confide and take advice from them.  What a contrast, Dr. Strange did and Peter didn’t.

Mood and Environment. Mr. Ditko set the mood of these stories from the very beginning.  Although the stories took place in New York, this was NOT the same New York that the Fantastic Four lived in. Ditko’s was often dark and moody; it often was raining or looked like it just had been. Kirby’s city was bright and shining, Ditko’s was often dark and mysterious, like a film noir movie.

Of course the Villains: Where else do you get Doc Ock, The Vulture, the Molten Man, The Green Goblin, Mysterio, The Molten Man, The Enforcers, The Big Man, The Sandman, The Spidey-Slayer (robot) and the Lizard in 25 issues? Even Mysterio, not one of the most powerful villains, is drawn so spectacularly that he fits in perfectly. The concepts and personalities of these villains were priceless and their illustrations were timeless.

Last but not least, the actual stories: Using the elements mentioned above, Lee and Ditko wove together the various elements and gave us a tapestry of stories that were compelling, unique and addictive.  And issues #26 and #27, “The Man in the Crime Master’s Mask!” were even startling.

So just coming up with a character is not enough. Let me give an example:  In his comics, Kirby externalized the quest for knowledge, Ditko internalize it. On a journey to the Infinite Kirby took us to the outer reaches of the universe. On a journey to find Eternity Ditko took us into the minds of the Ancient One and Dr. Strange.  With the Incredible Hulk Lee and Kirby created a creature that turned from man to “monster” by peripheral events: A bomb blast, the sun setting and finally a gamma ray machine. It failed after six issues. It was Steve Ditko who internalized the situation and gave Banner an anger management problem. Now Banner, himself, was the cause of the change. This is what made the Hulk and iconic character. While Kirby look outward to cause the change, Ditko looked inside the person and made him a successful and unforgettable character. This unique insight has made all the difference, for all of Ditko’s characters. It’s not just the costume.
Certainly Lee and Kirby created Sgt. Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and Baron Strucker. In Strange Tales #135, Lee and Kirby placed Nick Fury, a blue collar fish out of water, into his leadership at S.H.I.E.L.D. Yet it was Jim Steranko who mixed up these ingredients and gave us the sophisticated, man of the world, Nick Fury that is still around even today. Steranko also elevated Hydra, formally a “villainous group” used just to introduce S.H.I.E.L.D, and gave it a Nazi past and a great future by making it so technically advanced. It was Steranko’s Hydra that we saw in so many Marvel Comics and the Captain America movie.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Baseball 2013


"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops ... and summer is gone."

Bart Giamatti

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stan Lee: WNYC Radio Interview, October 15, 1970

             Stan Lee: WNYC Radio Interview, October 15, 1970

Lawrence Van Gelder: There was a time about fifteen or twenty years ago when I guess most of the people our age stopped reading comic books, they thought they were too old for them, they thought t1-ley had grown uninteresting. But something new is going on today, and you're the man who I think is most responsible for it.
Can you tell us what is new and what is surprising in comic books today?
Stan Lee: Well of course none of it is surprising to me since I'm right in the middle of it. I guess the thing you're referring to as "newness" is the so-called relevancy that seems to be in the comic book magazines today. Jr stead of just a superhero trying to fight a villain who wants to blow up the world, or little green-skinned monsters from Mars, we try to set our
stories in  in the real world. A character like Spider-Man will be involved in a campus protest and things of that sort.
Lawrence Van Gelder: Do you find that this has an impact among young people, that you get a response?
Stan Lee: Well, I would guess we get a response amongst people of every age. Actually we don't knock ourselves out for the so-called "relevancy" in the sense of getting political issues and so forth and dragging them in. We've been trying to do this for the past, I guess, ten years since Marvel Comics started its so-called "New Wave of Comics." We tried to get relevancy before there were these big burning questions that are playing out now, in the sense that instead of superheroes that are obviously cardboard figures, why not treat our superheroes as real people living in a real world. I think that the theme that we've had is that these are like "fairy tales" for grown-ups, but they were to be completely realistic except for the one element of a super power which the superhero possessed, that we would ask our reader to swallow somehow. You had to believe that somebody could climb a sheer wall or that his body could burst into flame or that he was a green-skinned monster. But excepting those sort of ridiculous points which just made for colorful stories, we tried to do everything else as realistically as possible. For example, if a hero had a superhero power, we didn't, ergo, just assume that he'd be lucky in love and have all the money in the world and everything would come his way. We tried to show that nothing really brings total success, and just because you have big muscles, this doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have big triumphs. And we wouldn't have a character in a silly costume walk down the street and have people not notice it, as they had been doing in comics for years before. We'd likely as not have another character in the story say, "Who's that nut in the skin-tight underwear prancing down the street?" and so forth. We felt that we were being relevant even then; we were trying to get people to act the way real people would act given a set of circumstances.
Stan Lee: well, in trying for realism of course, if something is going on today and something we're all concerned with, it's really almost , it's  impossible to keep it out of a story. Now for example, pollution. We've had ecology stories in Sub-Mariner. One of our writers, Roy Thomas, has been doing many stories of that sort with great bearing on problems that concern people today. We've had ecology stories, I guess. . . . In fact we're big in ecology stories today, in Iron Man comics, Daredevil. . . . The one in Sub-Mariner dealt with the so-called surface race, which is polluting the seas, and Sub-Mariner, who as everyone knows is the king of Atlantis, he took a dim view about all this. We've had, as I've mentioned, stories about campus riots. We've had Captain America involved in student dissents. We've tried to do more than just involve the characters in these contemporary problems. We try to also show how our characters themselves react to the problems. And well, one thing that I try and do in my own limited way is to show that nothing is really all black and white. Captain America can't—although he's considered an establishment figure really—he's beginning to have second thoughts about the whole thing. He realizes he can't really side with the establishment 100 percent. He realizes that there are a lot of things that are wrong, and it seems that many of these things that are wrong, well, it seems to be no real simple, legal, effortless way to correct them short of extreme measures. By the same token he's always fought for law and order. He's afraid that too much violence will breed too much violence and where do you stop it. And, well, obviously this is really my own philosophy too. I have the toughest problem in the world in taking a definite stand on almost anything, and I have ambivalent feelings about virtually everything, and this is either going to make our stories extremely dull or extremely realistic. I don't know.
Lindsey Van Gelder: Well are these issues calculated because these are what kids care about or are these issues that your artists and writers and you yourself spend time off the job worrying about?
Stan Lee: Oh, I think you have to say that it's what we care about. I mean, after all, we writers and artists and editors are really, well, we were kids not too long ago, a little longer for some like myself. But we live in the same world as our readers, and certainly what our readers are concerned with, we are concerned with. And I think this is another reason that our books are somewhat successful over the past few years. We've never tried to anticipate our audience's desires. We never thought of ourselves as separate and distinct from our audience. We are our audience. And we've always felt that if we can do stories that interest us, stories about themes that interest us, well, they have to interest the public because we're part of the public. So far it's worked out.
Lawrence Van Gelder: In dealing with some of these problems, you take on problems that some people don't think are problems. I mean, they think that always the police are right, that always the establishment is right, always that the government is right. So in a way you are taking a political stance certainly in the eyes of some people who may disagree with you. Does this lead to a lot of critical comment from readers? Do you get mail from certain parts of the country from people saying, "Now look, this is wrong and how can you do it? You poison people's minds."
Stan Lee: We get such a minuscule amount of that type of mail. I'd think we might say that we almost get none. We either have the most broadly-minded, clear-thinking audience in the world, or else the nation isn't in as bad a shape as everybody thinks. Well, that may sound like a very self-serving statement, in other words, "if you like our stories, then the country's in good shape," I didn't mean it to sound that way. But what I mean, we get many letters from people who disagree with some of the points that we have in the books and take issue with us, but they are very rational well-reasoned letters. And as much as I can tell, they seem to be the letters of fairly reasonable people who have an opposing point of view. Well, my god, we have people in our office who have opposing points of view. I was working on a piece, booklet, for Ken Koch, the poet whose new book just came out—plug—and he's on the staff of Columbia, and the two of us were working on a comic book which would hopefully inform the voters as to which congressmen to vote for who might help end the war in Vietnam a little sooner. And we asked one or two of the people in our studio, the bullpen as we call it, to illustrate the book, and a few of them were desperately anxious to do it, and a few of them said, "Oh golly no, I'm no big dove. I wouldn't want to do anything like that." So even in our bullpen we have divergent opinions, which is something of course if you think about it, everybody belongs to a family, and how often in a family is there ever complete concurrence on every issue? And when you try to think of making the whole world harmonious, or getting people who are so totally different and have different interests throughout a nation to agree on any issue, why it's just a staggering concept.
Lindsey Van Gelder: I want to ask you about the age groups of the people who read Marvel. I've noticed that the letters to the editor column read like a, well, sometimes like a SST session. But usually it seems to be older people arguing very
cogent political points. What kind of letters do you get from kids, eight, nine, who might not be steeped in this, or are they?
Stan Lee: Younger people arguing cogent points. No, actually luckily we still seem to have a lot of young readers. We receive as many letters from the younger readers. Usually we don't print as many so it seems like we have perhaps an overwhelming amount of older readers. I think it's pretty well balanced though. You see, we try to keep our letters page interesting and indicative of the feelings of our readers.
Lindsey Van Gelder: They're great.
Stan Lee: Thank you. But what happens is that most of our younger readers will write letters such as "Gosh! Wow! Your last issue was groovy!" or "Take Stan Lee out and shoot him! That last issue was terrible! We know he can do better!" And that's about the extent of it.
Lindsey Van Gelder: Do they pick up on politics though?
Stan Lee: Not as much as the older readers, no. But they'll say things like "Sub-Mariner's trunks should always be purple, but in one panel they were green." Well, you can only print so many of those kinds of letters. It doesn't make for a real philosophical situation. So for that reason we do print the more interesting letters, which are nine times out of ten from older readers. But to answer your question a little more specifically, I guess I've strayed all around the point. We do get, an unexpected—unexpected, a few years ago—amount of letters from our readers which deal with politics. In fact, I just wrote a Soapbox column for a future bullpen in which I mention a fantastic thing, in Captain. . . . Oh, I might preface this by saying selfishly I use the letters to help me edit the magazine. It shows me what the readers want and don't want. And for the most part I try and follow their dictates because they're the ones that buy the books. Well, I've been very frustrated with our Captain America magazine. I find it's as if I've been left alone on an ice floe somewhere and I got to shift for myself. I don't know what the readers want
because every letter we've gotten for the past three months for Captain America has merely dealt with political issues. Nobody's said a word about the stories or the artwork themselves. Now I don't know if people are just reading the magazine just to pick out whatever philosophy or political connotations there might be. I don't know if anyone cares if we have super villains or if there's any action or anything. I put a little notice in the Soapbox asking a few readers to just kinda drop us a line and let us know if they are still reading the book.
Lindsey Van Gelder: How did you get the idea for the women's liberation issue of the Avengers?
Stan Lee: Oh, I didn't. That was probably Roy Thomas's idea. He wrote the thing. But I would imagine it's a question that almost answers itself. Women's lib is so big now, how can you not have a story or two about it?
Lindsey Van Gelder: Do you think you might let the Black Widow or Invisible Girl get her own book?
Stan Lee: Well, that won't have as much to do with women's lib as it does with if the book will sell or not. Actually we put the Black Widow in her own strip in one of our books.
Lindsey Van Gelder: She's with the Inhumans.
Stan Lee: That's right. It's either an "Amazing" or "Astonishing." I always get those two mixed up. We're just waiting for some sales figures. I think it will do well. If it does sensationally well, we'll take the two strips that are appearing in the one book and give them each their own book of course.
Lawrence Van Gelder: There was a time, and I'd like to go back a little to the fifties, when every time you picked up a newspaper or listened to a speech, some psychologist or some congressman was taking on comic books. That they were too violent, too gory. What's happened since then? It hurt the industry at that time, and I think it left a lot of people who are parents themselves with the idea that they didn't want their kids exposed to it. What governs you now?
Stan Lee: I'm sorry that every question seems to cause a speech on my part. I'll try to answer simply. We are living in such a fast-changing world that things that were bad, or . . . well, even women's clothes, if you could ever see a girl wearing her skirt as high as they've been wearing them in the mini-skirt age of a year ago, ten years ago it would have been impossible to even conceive of in the street. Now we accept it. I remember the Beatles' haircut when they first came out and everybody saw the Beatles' hair, you know. "Wow, how can they go out in public that way?" I just saw some old pictures of them recently, and they seemed so conservative. You sort of wondered what all the fuss was about.
Well, the reason I mention that in the age of Dr. Wertham and all the ... I shouldn't really say "all"—he was the leading opponent of comics and the most vocal one. At the time when he was having his big harangue against comics, people were very concerned about violence and sex and about,
well, I guess anything Dr. Wertham wanted to mention. And he would point out a panel in a book somewhere where a person was being killed, and he would make it sound so terrible, and the fact that he was a psychiatrist, this impressed parents and they began to think, "Golly, what's going on in these comics?"
Today—and this is why I mention it's a quickly changing world—today, and it's certainly not an original thought on my part, it's been said so many times, there's so much real violence in the world that we live in, you just have to pick up a newspaper. I don't think there's anything we could do in a comic book that would even approximate the terrible things that are going on in the world about us. Not that we attempt to. But I think it's been put in its proper perspective now. Comic books are just an entertainment medium. They are certainly written far better, illustrated more beautifully than they were, they are probably written better than your average TV show or grade B movie. Unfortunately most adults aren't aware of this because they don't think to pick up one and read it. They tell an exciting story with more imagery, more imagination, more fantasy and wonder than you can get anywhere else, except in an occasionally good new science-fiction story, and even that won't be quite as imaginative. That will just cover one point usually, whereas a comic book just seems to explore the whole realm of fantasy and wonder, and it's all for fifteen cents, and it's all in pictures. And I think a person would have to be paranoid to start criticizing comics today. I think they are virtually a public service, and they should be subsidized by the government! (everyone laughs)
Lawrence Van Gelder: Looking at the covers of them I think parents will notice that there's a little seal on them "Approved by the Comics Code," "Approved by the Comics Code Authority," and that is something that came in after the massive attacks on comic books in the fifties. Could you tell people a little bit about this code? I think it might set some parents' minds at rest.
Stan Lee: Well, it's headed by Leonard Darvin, a most capable attorney and most conscientious code administrator. And Len Darvin and his staff of experts or censors or critics or observers, I really don't know what to call them, his staff. They read everything that goes into the comics, and they put their seal of approval on every book before it goes to the engraver. Now this is not just a cover-up. It's not just some window dressing to impress people. Oh, we spend a lot of time arguing with the Code: "Why can't we have a story like this or a theme like this or a picture like this?" And he says "Well, you got to remember it may be okay for older readers, and I know you have many of them, but we still have a lot of younger readers, and we have to think of them." And he very often sets us back on possibly the right path of worrying about the really young readers. . .. So I think this mentioning of the Code, which I don't always agree with, as far as any parent being concerned with a young child reading these magazines; I think these magazines are policed as carefully and possibly more carefully than motion pictures or really anything else a child will read. I might add that because I am a big fan of children's books. I know many of the authors and illustrators, and I look at them occasionally. There is far more liberalism as far as giving an author and artist free reign to do things that might not have been able to have been done a few years ago for the children's market. There's more liberalism in the children's books then there are in comic books, and the average parent is not going to worry about children's books.
You know an interesting thing about my continuing argument with the Code. I've been wanting for the longest time to have stories that involve the theme of drug addiction, just as we have ecology and civil rights and demonstrations and so forth. And this is one thing the Code is very staunchly against. They think more harm can be done than good if we even mention drug addiction. My point, of course, is that it's a fact of life. It's like not mentioning the Sun, if for some reason you don't approve of the Sun. At any rate, just yesterday I received in the mail—and I can't wait until they contact the Code—I received something from the government, oh I forget which office, the office of health, education, and welfare or so, and from somebody apparently highly placed with all sorts of brochures, a lovely letter that I'm going to keep. "Dear Mr. Lee, we understand that Marvel Comics is very influential among young people and so forth. We'd consider it a very fine thing if you would mention drug addiction and do what you can, and here's. . . ." They enclosed a number of pamphlets to give me background. And I felt, by god, I cannot wait to call this guy and say "Don't send me the letter, call the Code and tell them this." Which is what I'm going to do as soon as I get off the mike here.
Lindsey Van Gelder: Stan Lee, what about sex and comics? I know that your competitors have story lines having Superman and Batman pretty well running away from women, and you don't. You've had some pretty racy implied sex which may have been in my imagination, but it's the last place you can read stories and use your imagination. I wonder how that can be handled within the framework of the Code.
Stan Lee: You scared me for a minute when you said sex and comics and your competitors had Superman and Batman. . . . You finished the sentence pretty quickly. . . . Well, actually as far as we're concerned we try to be reasonable and rational. Where you wouldn't see a girl wear her skirt above the knee years ago, but now you do, there might be situations. . . . For example, I can't see anything wrong if there's a married couple and you want to show them waking up in the morning in a double bed. But we don't concentrate on those things. I don't even know how the Code would feel about it. I don't even recall if we've done that yet. But we certainly have our characters fall in love, have romantic problems. Again, we try to make everything as realistic as possible without offending anyone. Without offending what we'd consider to be any reasonable person. Now, of course, you could have a radio show on "what is a reasonable person?" But we really have so many older readers and younger readers whose parents look at the books also—we've had no letters of complaint. So, as far as sex, I think we're probably handling the thing perfectly fine, and I know the Code has not complained, and I don't think we're doing it in the way you just described like the cowboy who will only kiss his horse. We sort of give the idea that our characters are reasonably normal human beings who won't turn the other way if a pretty girl comes by. We're not selling sex in our stories. Let me put it that way. We don't attempt to play up the sex in anyway. But if a story should call for somebody who is attracted to somebody of the opposite sex or whatever, we try to put it in so that it makes sense.
Lawrence Van Gelder: There was a time, I know, and I think it still goes on, when you go out and do a lot of lecturing on campus. I gather you get ideas from students. I wonder what feelings you get when you talk to them generally about the magazines.
Stan Lee: The same thing seems to happen. We start out talking about the magazines. And they are tremendously interested in the magazines, which is why I do receive so many invitations to lecture at about every college in the free world I guess. But a strange thing occurs. After we've been talking about oh, five or ten minutes about the magazines. Suddenly one student will say "Well, what do you think about Vietnam?" or "What do you think about Angela Davis?" or whatever.
And we're off and running on things that are far more relevant possibly than on whether Spider-Man should marry his girlfriend. And this takes up almost the whole seminar. In fact these things go on for hours. They're totally fascinating. If I've learned anything from the kids on campus, the thing I've learned is that you got to make your comic magazines or your televisions shows or your movies or whatever relate to the real world because unless they do, you have meaningless cardboard characters, and that's not really what people are into today. They want stories that will tell them something about the world they are living in now. If you are clever enough to make those stories entertaining or exciting and to use continuing characters that they want to read more of, I guess that's the ideal solution. But I've never known anything like [the way things are now].... Why, years ago I used to lecture, and the whole lecture was just about the comics. But now it seems every age group, whether they are radicals or whether they are conservatives, they want to know what about today? What about what's happening now?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Review of Peggy Carter and the Iron Man III DVD/Blu Ray

Just to fill you in…
Superhero comics were a product of the depression and their popularity had waned by the early 1950s. Only characters from the DC Universe - Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - remained on the newsstands, with Batman on his last legs.

The original Captain America, published by Timely Comics (now Marvel), was cancelled in 1950. He was brought back for a handful of issues in 1954, but then went under again.

Spurred by the success of DC’s Justice League, Marvel re-entered the super-hero field in 1961 with the Fantastic Four. Then Marvel introduced most of the heroes we know today, including Iron man, The Hulk, Ant-Man, and Thor. In 1963 the new heroes were combined into a group called “The Avengers” and with issue #4 re-introduced Captain America. As he did with the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, Stan Lee, writer and editor, erased the blackboard of previous continuity and treated Cap as a new, not established character. Marvel’s new Captain America had his past redone. Yes, he had been given the super solider serum, but unlike Timely’s original model, this Cap would not make it to 1950. 

While saving the world in 1944, the story goes, he was caught in an explosion over the ocean and frozen in a Capisicle for 20 years, then found and defrosted by the Avengers in 1963.

The complete story of these events are best told by Roy Thomas and John Buscema in Avengers #56, 1966.

Since only 20 years had gone by, Cap was able to reunite with old friends, including Nick Fury and his former girlfriend, Peggy Carter. Peggy, now two decades older, thought that Cap was long-dead. Soon Cap would meet her sister, Sharon Carter, a SHIELD agent, and a romance began. This begins in Tales of Suspense #75 in 1966, and Sharon would be known for years only as SHIELD Agent 13. (Remember when Barbara Feldon was known only as Agent 99?) Sharon’s resemblance to her sister is so great it causes Steve Rogers to reminisce about the woman he met and lost during WWII (Peggy). She was then a French resistance fighter who got amnesia, ending their brief romance.

Not always a regular in the comic, during the first few years Sharon is usually the very strong damsel in distress, sent out on various SHIELD missions (against Modok, Batroc, The Red Skull, etc.,) with Cap invariably turning up to rescue her.

It takes until 1973, in issue 161, for the relationship between Sharon and Peggy to be more fully explained.

50 years later:
There is a newer Marvel Universe and it is on our movie screens. To make Cap current, the story has him frozen for 70 years and waking up in the year 2011. Although aging in comics is a funny and inconsistent concept, Cap’s WWII buddies and girlfriend would be too old to be the supporting characters they once were. Samuel L. Jackson is the new Nick Fury. This Fury was not around in 1940 and Marvel cements him firmly in their current universe.

So whatever happened to Peggy Carter?” Marvel answers that in a new 15 minute film on the Iron Man III disc.

In the 15 minute short, director Luis Esposito fills us in. It's 1945, one year after Captain America has disappeared and WWII is over. Peggy Carter, played by Haley Atwell, is working for a top secret government spy agency, but only doing menial work and being treated very badly. When the “guys’ all go out for drinks, she is not invited. And good thing too! Alone in the dark office, she is handed an important mission designed for three or four people, but she goes it alone (and without permission).

After her success, Howard Stark (sitting next to Dum Dum Dugan, played by Neal McDonough) invites her to help run his new organization: SHIELD!
This is a fun, inexpensive, 15 minute short with no special effects. While there is nothing surprising in the plot here, the whole thing works because of Hayley Atwell. She is just terrific. In the Captain America movie her character was often a bit restrained by the storyline, but on her own she does a memorable and wonderful job. And it finds a proper place for a great Marvel character that could have been lost in time.

If Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD takes off, there is a rumor that this could be turned into a series.

I already reviewed the movie, ( let discuss the other aspects of the DVD/Blu Ray. 

  • The picture and sound are perfect; both get a 5 on a 1 to 5 rating. The 3D effects were okay, nothing special. This was obviously not made to be a 3D movie.
  • The DVD extras show how the airplane sequence was done. To my surprise it was NOT mostly computer generated effects, but they actually had people jumping out of the airplane. This was done by the same person who did it in the opening of the movie Moonraker, 30 years ago!
  • The gag real is short and barely okay, but you can see that the actors knew they were doing a gag reel.

A SPECIAL Thanx to Kid Robson!!!!!!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Keeping Up With Marvel: The Unofficial Handbook of Updates From Markus Mueller

           The writing of my book has introduced me to some wonderful people including Nick Caputo, Mike Vassallo, Kid Robson, Batton Lash and Markus Mueller.

I worked so hard on my book, especially when listing credits, so I was totally impressed by Markus’  site of “The “Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators." The site can be seen at: It also reads: Since the fall of 2001 the "Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators" is an Authorized Marvel Fan Site.

This site is incredible….and it is also multi lingual! It has so much information; I don’t know where to begin!

I contacted Markus and we have been friends for a long time now. We have exchanged comments, corrections, additions, and comics and have helped each other out. Markus is Austrian and had a very different view of Marvel comics. He could not get them off the stands like I did. So while I saw them in strict chronological order, he saw the reprints as they often were often randomly printed. This changed my own perspective on my book, I knew that I had to write in a way to preserve that wonderful chronology. Also, comics were censored at that time in Germany and other parts of Europe. Nazi symbols, such as the swastika could not be shown.  This meant that certain comis were not reprinted their at all, and many of the Captain America stories had to be redrawn in parts to eliminate the Nazi references and symbols.

But you are probably wondering why I called you all here today.  While Markus has kept up with the evolving Marvel Universe, I have not and Markus has filled me in.  It all started with him asking me about some “current events” as of December 2007 that I did not know about. So I asked, “Please give me the details on the Hulk or Captain America or even  Spider-Man now that his identity is revealed.”

Here was his response from 2007. He has kept me updated ever since! And beneath that is his MOST current update from July 2013!!!!!

Here we go:



Let me start with the most recent events which is after the Marvel series "House of M". Before that, the Hulk was basically the same person he was for a long time. Depending on the writer, he was either stupid or intelligent or smashed or tried to help people. (The Hulk has multiple personality disorder and so depending on how the writer needs him, he is either grey, childlike, a brute or the "Professor". The only exceptional part I remember was in the Defenders limited series: Umar captured the brute Hulk and used him to satisfy her sexual needs - after all his stamina is legendary. After that, the Hulk turned back into Bruce Banner and was so relaxed that nothing could turn him into the Hulk again for quite some time.)

A little ret-con: After the Kree/Skrull war several heroes united to a secret kabal called "The Illuminati" in order to exchange information for preventing another disaster of that magnitude. The heroes were: Tony Stark, Reed Richard, Charles Xavier, Stephen Strange, Namor and Black Bolt. The Black Panther was invited to join, but refused.

"Planet Hulk": Now, after the Hulk went on another rampage, the Illuminati (except for Professor X, who was absent) with the help of Nick Fury, decided send the Hulk to another planet. They lured him into a spaceship and sent him off into space.  At this time The Hulk  had normal intelligence and full strength. Alas, due to a unforeseen event, the Hulk landed on the alien planet Sakkar. This was a savage, barbarian world, merciless ruled by the Red King.

Due to a very rough transit, the Hulk had lost most of his healing powers. For some time and was imprisoned and used as gladiator. During this time, the Hulk - now called "Green Scar" - befriended several other prisoners including:

Miek, an insectoid; a Brood warrior; Lavin Skee of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard; the woman Elloe; Hiroim, a Shadow Warrior; Korg (the brother of Margus, the leader of the Stone Men from Saturn from Journey into Mystery #83! Therefore Korg knows legends about the Hulk and other Earth-based heroes.). They called themselves "Warbound".

Controlled by "obedience disks" on their chests, the Warbound fought a lot of battles Because they were never defeated they became more and more popular. There was an old prophecy about the Sakaarson, who will come to heal the planet or break it. The Hulk becomes a prime suspect of being the Sakaarson - much to the dismay of the Red King.

In a battle against the imprisoned Silver Surfer, the Surfer regains his  self-control and frees all gladiators from the obedience disks. They rise against the Red King and join the rebels. The fight for freedom lasts four issues, and they are joined by Caiera, a Shadow Warrioress, former the right hand of the Red King. Hulk and Caiera develop a love relation. After the Warbound defeat the last ace of the Red King, the aliens called Spikes, the Hulk battles the Red King and beats him to a pulp. The Hulk is made the ruler of Sakkar, Caiera becomes his queen.

Now, everything is fine for the Hulk: He finally has a place where is not considered a monster, where he can use his strength as he likes it and has even a queen and a child coming. Alas, the space ship that brought him to Sakkar is discovered and for unknown reasons the reactor exploded, killing Caiera. This drives the Hulk over the bend. He gathers the Warbound and uses another space ship to go to Earth. He blames the Illuminati for sending him to Sakkar and for destroying his happiness.

Back on Earth, the She-Hulk learns what the Illuminati have done to her cousin and she goes rampage on Iron Man. Also, the young genius Amadeus Cho (called "Mastermind Excello") who is a big fan of the Hulk, gathers some heroes from Hulk's past: Namora, Angel, Hercules.

On the Moon, the Hulk beats Black Bolt to a pulp, then he goes to NY and give the Illuminati 24 hours to surrender before he destroys the city, presenting them the beaten Black Bolt. [This story line is called "World War Hulk" and gives place for many specials, limited series and introducing new characters. I'll stick with the most important ones.]

Believing that the Hulk's cause is just, Cho and the other heroes help him fending off Earth's fighting forces.

Hulk's first target are the X-Men, as he wants to know on which side Professor X stands. Hulk beats every single X-Men and X-Woman, but it is the young Mercury who convinces him that his attack is not just.

As said, the first Illuminator to fall is Black Bolt, followed by Tony Stark in a special Hulkbuster armor. Dr. Strange, the Avengers (Mighty and New), the Fantastic Four, all try to stop the Hulk and his Warbound.

To no avail. She-Hulk tries to talk sense into her cousin. No luck. The US army - again - has no chance against the green goliath.

Strange's magic reverts the Hulk to Banner, but when Strange comforts Bruce, he turns green and smashes Stephen's hands. In a desperate attempt to stop the Hulk, Strange gives himself over to Zom, the demon berserker. This seems to help, but then Strange hesitates, seeing the people hurt in their fight, and the Hulk gets the upper hand again.

Now there is only one hero left standing: The Sentry (imagine a blonde Superman). There was a time, when the Hulk and the Sentry were friends, and so his is reluctant to fight the Sentry. But not for long, then they have a slaughter fest. [That you have to see, it is hard to describe.] After a big explosion, the Sentry is powerless and the Hulk has turned to Banner. But not for long, then he is the Hulk again and the fights start over. But now, the Hulk has to learn that one of his Warbound betrayed him: Miek knew that the people of the Red King were going to kill the Hulk, but did not say anything as he wanted no King Hulk, but a fighting Hulk. Tony Stark uses this moment to unleash a powerful ray upon the Hulk. And for the last time the Hulk turns into Banner, who is comatose and transported away. End of "World War Hulk", but there are some aftermath series.

The Hulk series goes over to "The Incredible Hercules", but there a is new red Hulk appearing in a new series. I do not know anything about him yet.

Captain America: Still dead. The series goes one, with the Winter Soldier, Agent 13, Falcon, Black Widow, all trying to figure out who is behind the killings. The Red Skull and Dr. Faustus do their best that they don't find out. (After all they ARE behind the killing. Faustus brainwashed Sharon to deliver the killing blows; Red Skull set up an attack by Crossbones as diversion.)

Spider-Man: After revealing his secret ID, everything was fine for Peter. He was the hero of the people, everyone loved him. Except J.J. Jameson and all his former enemies. Some of them attacked him, like Mysterio who even took Peter's pupils prisoners (Peter teaches at Midtown High. Another teacher there is Flash Thompson, who has a hard time of accepting the meek Pete is his big idol.)

But over time, Peter gets doubts about the plans Stark and Richards are implementing, and in the middle of the Civil War, Peter switches sides.

That makes him an outlaw, he loses his red-gold armor that Stark designed for him and has to go back to his red-and-blue costume.

Peter, MJ and Aunt May go into hiding. While he is helping the anti-Registration Act forces and the Mighty Avengers in costume, he tries to protect his family while out of it. Alas, the Kingpin (who is still in prison), puts an assassin on Peter; but the bullet hits Aunt May and puts her into a coma. Peter and MJ bring her to a hospital under a false name; then Peter - donning his black costume ["Back in Black" crossover] searches for the killer. This time, the gloves are off. No fancy banter, just hard knocks and broken bones. He finally finds out that the Kingpin is behind it and goes into prison, humiliating Fisk in front of the other prisoners. He lets him live - with the promise to kill Fisk when Aunt May dies. And then he gives a warning to all other prisoners to let his family alone.

Alas, a police detective finds traces of Aunt May (unrecorded gunshot), and Peter and MJ have to transfer May to another hospital. During that, Peter has to break at least 10 laws - and has to realized that he has become the menace Jameson always said he were.

Now we are in part three of four of "One More Day". Mephisto makes Peter and MJ an offer: he saves Aunt May, but the two will have to separate, all memories of their love erased. How will Peter decide? Which woman will he lose? Can the devil be trusted? And why keeps us Marvel waiting for so long?!?

After that there will be "Brand New Day" a promised new beginning for Peter.

And Now: The Current Stuff!

Uncanny X-Men #5-8

In "Uncanny X-Force", Angel became possessed by Apocalypse and in order to accelerate evolution, he detonated a bomb powered by Celestial energy in Montana, wiping aout a small town with 5000 people. His team mate, Fantomex, however, containd the effect of the bomb by putting a time dome over ground zero. Still, within the dome time rushed on for many millions of years.

After a few hours the dome collapses and the Uncanny X-Men (lead by

Cylops) travel to Montana to investigate. They find strange, evolved life forms and primitive humanoids who worship superheroes as gods.

Psylocke (Elisabeth Braddock) is part of the group and although she knows what happens (as she is also a member of X-Force), she does not tell anyone, except Magneto when he blackmails her.

They encounter specifically two sentient beings who are the last of their race: An armored man who gives them a hard fight, before he escapes. And a woman who - after the usual misunderstandings - tells the X-Men the history of her race, like that the armored man was a scientist who wanted to break out of the dome.

The woman also tells them that the armored man wants to release the remaining Celestial energy, but without dome that would effect all of Earth. She brings the X-Men to the former palace where they find the armored man. They try to talk him out of his plans, but fail. Again, they fight, again the armor man escapes.

But one last task remains: When the dome vanished, so did the only protection against the UV rays of the sun. Therefore Scott informs SHIELD and they build a new protective dome over the habitat and define it as protected area to keep humans out of it.

Beside the main story, we learn that Colossus finally realizes that he cannot control the Juggernaut-side of himself; Emma Frost's arm is attached again; and Namor pays a visit to the local underwater queen of the habitat and starts diplomatic relations. (As these relations also seem to contain a physical side and the queen is anything but human in figure, a shocked Hope asks him "You didn't really Imperius Sex her?")

Villains for Hire #0.1, 1-4

Some time ago, the Purple Man manipulated Misty Knight to start "Heroes for Hire", intending to use Misty to get rid of unwanted competition.

But when he sees that he no longer has control over her and her partner Paladin, Killgrave decides to start his own group "Villains for Hire".

One of the villains Misty and her crew takes down is a new Stilt-Man, who is actually a woman insisting to go by the traditional name.

Killgrave's team is: The Shocker, Avalanche, a new female Death-Stalker and a new Scourge (male). Their first mission: Rob the PDA of a Maggia boss, that is moved as evidence in an armord car. But they meet unexpected resistance from another group of villains: Tiger Shark, Bombshell, Crossfire and Nightshade (actually an LMD).

And it is this other group that gets away with the PDA which contains the account numbers of several Maggia off-shore accounts. Killgrave is not happy and would be even less would he know that the victourios group of villains was secretly hired by Misty Knight.

Killgrave next target: Adamantium-etched ISO chips. He sends Bushmaster, Death-Stalker and Monster (Brady Briedel, who can change into the worst fear of his opponent). But Misty's crew (Stilt-Man, Crossfire and Speed

Demon) is also there and Speed Demon gets away with the chips.

Now Killgrave declares war on his opponent. He gives Tiger Shark and Bombshell a lot of money in exchange for information about their boss.

And while that info leads him to Misty Knight, he still does not believe that Misty went over to the dark side. (And he does not want to kill her just to be sure 'cause that would bring the super hero community down on


Paladin, who cares a lot about Misty, also does not believe that she is now employing villains. Until she obviously kills him. Seeing this, Killgrave finally is sure he targets the right person.

Killgrave's crew attacks Misty's HQ and she calls her own crew for defense. The fight between the two crews ends in a super-villain team-up when Misty's crew learns that a) they have been working for a super hero and b) Kilgrave is offering a lot of money to capture Misty.

Now it is just a matter of minutes before Misty is captured, disarmed

(literally) and brought to Killgrave. Alas, he has to learn that there is another player in this game - the Puppet Master, who is looking for revenge on Killgrave for framing him.

Puppet Master and Killgrave fight for control over the villains. Misty uses this opportunity to attach her bionic arm back to herself. The fight for mind-control ends with the unexpected result that the villains get their free will back. Now they turn on Killgrave (and his right hand woman, Headhunter) and on Misty. Misty uses a gas that negates the Purple Man's powers and put out most of the villains. The others flee - except the Scourge, who turns out to be Paladin in disguise.

In the end we learn that a month ago Misty and Masters made up a plan to put out the Purple Man. Paladin's death was staged to convince Killgrave that Misty had gone bad.

Killgrave and the captured villains are rounded up by the police, the Puppet Master turns himself over because he wants to proof that he was framed by Killgrave and to resume his civilian live.

And Misty and Paladin enjoy their first quiet evening since a long time.

Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #525-529: The Kingpin of Wakanda The Black Panther made a promise to Daredevil to keep an eye on Hell's Kitchen, while DD went away after the Shadowland event. That put him into direct opposition to Wilson Fisk, who now holds control over the assassin guilde, the Hand.

The Kingpin targets the board of directors of the Bank of Wakanda's branch in NYC. He kills two of them, but the Panther is in time to stop the assassination of the third member. Several Hand warriors, Lady Deathstrike and Typhoid Mary give him a hard fight, still T'Challa escapes with the saved woman alive.

He leaves her in the care of a friend, then goes looking for the last member of the board who went undercover. When he finds the last member, he sees that it is a trap set up by the Kingpin. T'Challa takes out the Hand warriors, then learns from the frightened member that the Kingpin wants to control the Bank of Wakanda and through it the country itself.

The Panther sneaks into Fisk's HQ and warns him to stay off Wakanda.

So far he has acted exactly as Fisk predicted and Fisk is satisfied that his plan goes well. But he does not know that T'Challa knows that. And that T'Challa brings in two of his friends, the Falcon and Luke Cage.

Then T'Challa goes searching for a rat in the Bank who works for the Kingpin. When he finds the man, he forces him to sign over his bank job to T'Challa.

Next, T'Challa lures Lady Deathstrike and Tyhopid Mary into a trap, from which both just barely escape.

Enraged, the Kingpin deploys his Hand warriors in a direct assault on the royal palace in Wakanda's capital. But warned by T'Challa, his sister, the princess regent Suri (the new Black Panther), and her body guards easily defeat the Hand ninjas.

Then she attends to a meeting of the board of directory of the Bank of Wakanda, where she manages to stall the decision to sell the bank to Fisk for a week.

IN NY, T'Challa distracts the Kinpin with a fight, while one of his friends hacks into the Hand's computer and hands over all information about their illegal operation to the FBI.

Together with the Falcon, Cage and Suri (who came all the way from Africa for the showdown), T'Challa defeates the Kingpin, his ninjas, Lady Deathstrike and Typhoid Mary, while all over the world the police starts cleaning up Fisk's operations.

In the aftermath, T'Challa gets an unexpected from Matt Murdock, who has come back to Hell's Kitchen (and his own third series). His promise fulfilled, the Panther returns to his homeland.