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!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stan Lee doing Stand Up!

This is all Roy Thomas’s fault. In 2008, he made a funny, causal comment saying that he’d like to see Stan Lee do a Stand Up comedy act.  So, I sent Roy these very bad jokes. So while I am on a summer hiatus I thought I’d put them up.  So please blame Roy if you don’t like them!!!!

“Fans always asked me about the  Hulk and his cloths.  When Banner changed into the Hulk his pants stretched.  When he became Banner again, what kept his pants up? That’s easy, the Comics Code!

And who wants to be the Thing? Last month he had was a victim of
identity theft. They called two weeks later and wanted give it back! He wouldn’t take it!

Who stole the identity? The Wizard. The Wizard started the Frightful
Four, but Paste Pot Pete was the glue that held it together!

Hey, and what about Clint Marko: Being the Sandman is no day at the beach…well maybe it is a little bit.

Take the Ant-Man Please. And what's the buzz on the Wasp? They not only talked to ants, they played Jeopardy with them.  And they did better than me!

And what about the Human Torch and Toro—A match made in heaven. Or at least, matchsticks make in heaven.

People talk about the Silver Surfer. Kirby gave him form, I gave him
substance. But neither of us gave him pants!

And take Tony Isabella. They ruined Black Lightning for him. So he
is starting a new strip: Jewish Lightning. His only problem, on
Saturdays someone has to come in and turn on his lightning!

Bruce Banner goes into his doctor: Doc he says, every morning I get up
I have a great headache. The doctor says, Bruce, how any times do I have to tell you, when you get out of bed it's feet first!

Don Blake goes to the Doctor: Doc, my leg hurts what should I do?

Dr. Strange called his assistant to tell him he’d be late for dinner, but got the Wong number.

At DC all the super-heroes had to have secret identities all of them,.  Even their pets.  Batman’s dog even wore a mask, so the other dogs wouldn’t recognize him and threaded his family! Don’t ask don’t smell. The Elongated Man revealed his identity and still wore a mask. Now that’s stretching it!

You ever notice that during the Marvel Age, all heroes had to be single when they got their powers? Peter Parker, Sue and Reed, were all single. It’s called getting powers without a hitch!

What’s up with Superman coming to earth: The planet is exploding and they have
minutes left to live. Jor-El tries to put his wife and child into the rocket ship. She
refuses, with just minutes left to live she says. “My place is with you, Jor-El.”
 At Marvel we would have Jor-El say “Alright, you stay; I’ll go.”

Poor Iron Man: in Tales of Suspense #56 he is fighting the Unicorn, having heart problem and does not answer The Avengers call. So what do they do? Suspend him. From what? Their baseball team?  Do The Avengers meet in the mansion and play pool together? No, he is suspended from saving the  Earth from total destruction. Do they also withhold his pay?

At Marvel How come villains recruit new villains, How come the good guys don’t recruit? Why are they so far behind? Wouldn't

they be trying to employ costumed, super powered good guys? It would be great to see a costumed hero punching in at the beginning of a shift. He could fight for truth, justice and health insurance!

Hey, you notice how much longer stories are these days: In fact, if they re-re doing John Buscema’s book and calling it “How to Draw Out Comics the Marvel Way”

Whenever we wanted to have two heroes on the  cover fighting each other we used Mind Control.  The Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker were great at this. But Diablo was the best he had Dragon Man. Dragon Man was a statue!  That’s right, Diablo used Mind Control on creatures that didn’t have minds.

And finally Tony Stark.  For his first ten years he fought the cold war. He kept  fighting Khrushchev and Russia. That’s right; the man with no heart in a tin suit paid no attention to the man behind the Iron Curtin.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

That's Not my Superman or Spider-Man or even The Hulk

Many people write their blogs from either an investigative or current point of view, often worrying about production details and credit. I have always sought to write this blog from a reader's point of view, trying to keep the perspective of a fan who read this wonderful material in chronological order when it originally came out, not knowing what the future would bring. I also did not know that this era was, or would be called, “The Silver Age of Comics.”

There is no one Superman, Spider-Man or Avengers. They have been redone, restored, recreated, rebooted, retired, resurrected, refrigerated (Captain America), reincarnated, reconstituted, rethought, regurgitated, relinquished, restored, and made over so many times. Spider-Man began as Amazing, but he has been Spectacular, Ultimate, Avenging, Sensational, and I think, my favorite, “The Inebriated Spider-Man.”

I hesitated in including this in my Man of Steel review because it may a sound a bit hypocritical and maybe it is. I don’t know.

When I go see a movie, or read a comic, I want to see something that I haven’t seen before. That doesn’t mean I always need to see totally new characters, but I do want to see a fresh story with an unpredictable outcome. The bad thing in the hero movies, super or otherwise, is that we know that the hero is going to survive, so I want the surrounding story to have some suspense to keep my interest.

The Man of Steel showed Superman in a new light. If you don’t know the end of the movie you can keep reading until I tell you to stop!

This certainly was not my Superman, but is that a good thing? My inspiration for that belief comes from Steve Ditko. And I’ll get back to that point in a minute.

It was always unlikely that we were ever going to see comic books or movies featuring brand-new characters, only the familiar ones that we have known for at least forty years, being brought back.
If you did not live through it, I cannot tell you what a joy it was to read the Marvel comic books in chronological order as they were being published in the early 1960s. Everything was new. The heroes, villains, the stories were all something I had not seen in DC, Charlton or Dell comics. In those Marvels, there were no footnotes that referenced stories that took place 20 years ago to fill in the details. For example, when the Riddler was brought back in a Batman comic in 1966, the editor referred to a Riddler story that appeared 20 years earlier. This was a comic that DC waited another 30 years to reprint. How, in 1966, was I ever likely to see the beginnings of Edward Nigma? 

However, everything at Marvel started off new and fresh and I really enjoyed that.

DC already seemed a little stale to me even as a kid, with dozens of years of continuity on each character. I felt that I was reading my parents' comics whereas, with Marvel, I felt like I was reading my own. Every succeeding generation is like that. Each one has its own music, clothes, slang and popular fictional characters.

I thought the new Star Trek movie was enjoyable, but I did not think it was in the least bit original. And many people gave me some static on that. They felt that it was a good movie and it didn’t matter if it wasn’t original, merely rewriting original scripts and recasting the main characters. I was disappointed because I wanted them to go where no past episode had gone before.

So what does Steve Ditko have to do with all this? Ditko redid three Marvel characters - the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and Doctor Droom. In every case he was able to reach inside and see the essence of the character. So he understood what made the character interesting. He would then change their costume, their supporting characters or their environment and still keep the important qualities that were developed earlier. Not a lot of writers and artists had this ability. So his Iron Man propelled the character into the modern jet age. Originally, in the Jack Kirby costume, he wore his uniform like a British Knight. The character was most often defensive; his big heavy armor protected him. Now, he could be sleek and offensive, having the agility to attack and not just defend.

Ditko’s Doctor Strange is so different from Dr. Droom that it may be hard to see the connection. Maybe that is why, unlike the Hulk, Ditko gave us a whole new character and didn’t just redo Droom. Ditko placed the magician in incredible psychedelic worlds, so not only was this Caucasian magician with powers rooted in Asia (just like Droom) different, his world was totally changed. Oh yes, one of those psychedelic realms was Greenwich Village.

Spoiler Alert: You may want to stop reading here.

Superman at the 1939 World's Fair

What disappoints me about the new Superman movie (and here’s where I’m hypocritical) is that they did give us a new character, but they did not keep the essence of what I considered important about the old one.

It first startled me when Pa Kent, played by Kevin Costner, suggests that Clark should not have saved someone’s life because it gave away his powers. The movie shows Clark standing and watching his father die when he not only had the powers to save him, but the opportunity for the situation never to have ever occurred. I remember Jeff East, as young Clark Kent, so regretting the death by heart attack of his father in the 1978 movie. “All my powers…”

And I am certainly bothered at the end when Superman took the life of General Zod when the writers could have come up with a way for him to avoid it. So here I am saying I want to see something new and different, a character that I haven’t seen before, and I’m complaining that they did not keep the essence of the character that I grew up with.

We are not going to see a major new character from Marvel or DC. They cannot create new ones anymore. Creative people no longer see comics as their future. They want to have ownership and revenue, but they will not get it from the comic book industry so they look elsewhere. Marvel must rely on a stable of characters that is 50 years old and DC uses a reserve that is 75 years old. Yet the corporations freely give those creative rights to people who do their TV shows and Movies, just not the comics

I have no solutions, no suggestions and no alternatives - but that doesn't stop me from being a bit disappointed that this is not the Superman that I knew and want to know.

Nick Caputo is waiting for his Fantastic Four to return

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Review of "Man of Steel" From a 1960s Comic Book Fan's Point of View

I write these reviews not for the casual fan, but for the comic book enthusiasts who probably have seen all the previous movies and want to know not just how good this movie may be but how it stacks up to the previous editions of the characters, including the ones in the comics.
I write these first paragraphs a few days before Man of Steel opens to express my expectations for the movie. I have seen all of Superman’s live-action movies, from his first two serials in the 1940s, “Superman vs. The Mole Men” which served as the pilot of the TV show in 1951, to the five Christopher Reeve movies (if you include Superman II The Donner Edition) and the awful Superman Returns (where he is a stalkerr.

I have viewed so many of the live-action (and animated) Kryptonian sequences explaining how and why Superman came to Earth in both the movies and the TV shows, including Lois and Clark and Smallville. I loved so much of the 1978 movie: the casting, the story, the effects and the attitude. I guess I could have done without the Otis character and would have preferred a stronger Lois Lane, but I would give that movie 3.5 stars out of 4. I know now that for the theatrical release of Superman II, they fired the director, Richard Donner, who had shot more than half of it concurrently with Superman, and made the second movie sillier with less impact. I gave that 2.5 stars. Just a few years ago, Warner’s released “Superman II The Donner Edition,” a wonderful 3.5 star movie that continues in tone and substance where the first one left off.

Superman I and II display Kal-El’s Kryptonian origins, the Phantom Zone and General Zod. Are we going to get anything new in “Man of Steel? Will there be any originality in “Man of Steel?”

“This is no fantasy... no careless product of wild imagination” are Jor-El’s first words in the 1978 movie and you can see that this is where the Man of Steel wants to be. And, as a comic book fan, it surprised me and succeeds.

 I have to adjust to the fact that there will always be a new Superman. He will no longer fight for “truth, justice and the American way.” Thank God, I will always find my Superman in the DVD’s of the TV show, the Blue-Rays of the Reeve movies and in those old comic books.

On a comic book scale of one to four stars, I give this movie 1.5 stars. For people not interested in comics, it’s probably closer to a 1. This is a very different Superman, devoid of bright colors, humor and joy, which is replaced by action, violence and without insightful dialogue. The movie is dark - even the skies are cloudy throughout the movie.

This is certainly not the Krypton of 1978. Instead it is a darker work. Not just Superman’s father, Jor-El, knows that the planet will blow up, the entire population knows. In his earlier incarnations, Jor-El (here played by Russell Crowe) argued with the elders of Krypton. Now his main antagonist is General Zod, played superbly and creepily by Michael Shannon.

To be honest, I would not have minded if a Superman movie opened with a rocket landing on Earth, dispensing with all of the Krypton Krap.  Now the TV shows and movies keep giving us a longer and longer backstory. Once again Jor-El interacts with his son as if he (Jor-El)were still alive. Death in comic book movies is no longer fatal.

I did find that the 1980 Superman II movie did influence this production in several ways. In both movies, General Zod and his crew survive Krypton’s explosion by being placed into the Phantom Zone. Jor El has a long afterlife, being able to talk to his son long after he (Jor-El) dies. In Superman II, a woman named Ursa and a big guy called Non are Zod’s allies and they fight Superman in Metropolis. Here, Faoura-Ul (AntjeTraue) and a masked nameless guy have basically the same role. Kevin Costner as Pa Kent tells young Clark, as Glenn Ford did, “You were put here for a reason.”  However, here Clark Kent has a harder time finding that reason.

Here and in the TV show Smallville, Lois does NOT meet Clark for the first time at the Daily Planet as she had in virtually every other version.

The movie intends on building a new foundation for ongoing stories and does it best to get in the major plot points and introduce the characters. Here, for me, is one of the biggest failure of the 2.5 hour movie. Characters, including Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni), Lana Lang and Pete Ross are not given enough screen time or decent dialogue to develop their characters. Their characters are basically replaceable and not integral to the story.  I understand many people complained that in “Superman Returns” there was not enough action. Here the fight scenes go on forever and there is too much of that.

Henry Cavill plays his super straight, humorless character well. He looks like Superman and in some scenes, he looks like Christopher Reeve. The character is played too straight, too insecure for me. Amy Adams is just always good. She quickly becomes Superman’s protector and partner and it doesn’t take her 50 years to catch onto his identity. But there is no humor, no color anywhere, as if they were copying the tone of the previous Batman series. I wish more...or any... of Lois' quirky personality came through. The same can be said for the perfectly cast General Zod, Michael Shannon. Better dialogue would have helped. I enjoyed it when he explains his motivations for trying to kill all life on Earth.

The movie totally loses me in two scenes.  In a major flaw of the movie, Pa Kent tells Clark that he might have to let people die rather than reveal his identity. This is not the Pa Kent I knew, or wanted to know, and a major shift in the character.My Pa Kent would have always thought life, children's lives, were more important than a secret identity. My Superman cared about life more than anything.

And Superman let's his father die, not just to rescue a dog, but to keep his identity a secret. Again, this is just not my Superman, my man of steel.  Mine would have found a way to save his father under any circumstances. The movie totally loses me at this point.  I did not care for or about this Superman.

The John Williams score of the first movie (and adapted for the next few) was wonderful. It was at times dramatic, at times poetic, and gave us the perfect theme, the perfect opening march to the movie. Not so here. The music by Hans Zimmer was just loud and constant. I really wanted to shut it off at points. It’s true that he had no opening sequences, or for that matter slower sequences, like John Williams did, but he had opportunities that he missed.

I This movie was primarily shot with a bumpy hand held camera and not in 3D. The 3D was added later. showing. But once again the sound was overwhelmingly loud.

Small Spoilers

There was no Superboy in this Smallville, Kansas. We know it is Smallville because of the signs on the buses, water towers and Sears store. In flashbacks that featured Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) and Ma Kent (Diane Lane) we see the growth of the alien boy into the  man of steel. There a few changes here too. Ma Kent does not make his costume; it is given to him by Jor-El. And,

There is now a “Marvelazation” of the DC characters. While this started on Smallville, it gets deeper here. On Smallville, Pa Kent dies, Clark thinks, because of something he unintentionally does. And Clark, like Peter Parker after the death of his uncle, is tormented by it. Here, in a ridiculous and unneeded scene, Clark does something INTENTIONALLY that causes the death of Pa Kent. The whole set up of that sequence makes NO sense whatsoever.

There was a Marvel Comics, Spider-Man influence in In Batman Begins also. Young Bruce feels guilt about the death of his parents because they left the theater because of him and then were killed by a burglar.

As the super-beings destroy the city, the crowds appear and disappear on a regular basis. We know in New York that it took 13 years to rebuild the World Trade center. Here, the damage is far more extensive, but I bet it will be repaired by the next movie.  There were a few trucks that had "Lexcorp" signs on them, but there was no sign of Luther in the movie.

As the buildings collapse, thousands of people must have died. We saw what that looked like on September 11, 2001. Here there are no bodies, no injuries, and we are relieved when just one young girl is rescued. 

This is not my Superman. But he’ll have to do until the next one comes along.

June 19th Update: Major Spoiler Alert:

Screenwriter David S.  Goyer discusses the end of "Man of Steel"

One of the lessons that Chris and I learned from Batman was that if you're going to revitalize an iconic figure like that, you have to be prepared to slay some sacred cows and you have to be prepared to weather the slings and arrows of some people. You have to respect the canon, but constantly question the canon. If you don't reinvent these characters -- and they are constantly being reinvented in the comic books -- then they become stagnant and they cease being relevant. We were feeling -- and I think a lot of people were feeling -- that Superman was ceasing to be relevant.

Killing Zod was a big thing and that was something that Chris Nolan originally said there's no way you can do this. That was a change. Originally, Zod got sucked into the Phantom Zone along with the others. I just felt it was unsatisfying and so did Zack. We started questioning and talked to some of the people at DC Comics and said, "Do you think there's ever a way that Superman would kill someone." At first they said, "No way. No way." We said, "But what if he didn't have a choice?" Originally, Chris didn't even want to let us try to write it. Zack and I said, "We think we can figure out a way that you'll buy it." I came up with this idea of the heat vision and these people about to die. I wrote the scene and I gave it to Chris and he said, "OK, you convinced me. I buy it."

I think it makes some people feel uncomfortable; other people say, "Right on." That was the point. Hopefully what we've done with the end of the film is we've gotten people -- the mainstream audience, not the geek audience -- to question [the character]. Hopefully we've redefined Superman.