Look! Up In The Sky! Superman: The Movie Turns 40!

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first big budget superhero movie of cinema, Superman: The Movie. It truly is one of the most influential films of all time and is still considered one of the best superhero films ever made. That is no small feat considering all the high-quality superhero films that have taken over Hollywood. But it was not always like this. Back in the day, superheroes were something to be mocked and considered strictly for children. So, superhero films were a rarity. That all changed in December 1978 when Warner Bros. released the large-scale, live-action adaptation of DC Comics’ Superman.

Sky High Expectation – Delivered!

When released in theaters in 1978- a year after Star Wars, Superman was a commercial and critical success. There are several reasons for this achievement, so, let’s go over them. Start with the perfect casting of Christopher Reeve, who many still regard as the perfect Superman. For audiences leaving the theaters back then, and rewatching at home decades later- we hear from so many of them who declare that Christopher Reeve IS Superman. No other actor at the time could have successfully portrayed the greatest superhero of all time.

When it comes to the big-budge superhero film, Reeve was the first one to be perfectly cast. These days, there are so many spot-on castings in superhero films, but he was the first. As a respected Julliard graduate, Reeve’s dual role of the nerdy Clark Kent and the heroic Superman was like opposite ends of the spectrum. It was and still is amazing to watch. As Clark, his intention was to be seen as a shy, bumbling pushover, always tipping his oversized glasses to the top of his nose. Certainly not the center of attention, he purposely puts himself into Lois Lane’s “friend” zone, an unwanted role for any guy (it’s worse than being banished to the Phantom Zone!). But Reeve’s Superman secretly enjoys teasing Lois to make her have to be close to the bumbling Clark. Reeve’s look were perfect for the superhero. When he took the role, Reeve underwent an intense bodybuilding regimen and it showed! Not only that, he had the face of Superman as seen in the comic: square jaw, leading man looks and a robust mane of hair fashioned with the distinct “S” curl. Even in today’s comics, most artists draw Superman with this curl. For fans, this completes the look.

The film boasted a star-studded cast whose talents complimented Christopher Reeve; notably Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Each actor set the template for how their alter egos were in live-action that in many cases have not been topped.

Then, there was the perfect directing by Richard Donner, who demonstrated a true understanding of the heroic, epic and sincere tone  for the film. Unlike many potential directors considered for the job, Donner respected the character and it showed on screen. He helped present a Superman that was true to his comic book image and made him someone anyone could look up to.

Let’s not forget the timeless score by John Williams. His soundtrack was so stirring and epic. It captured the essence of Superman to the point that 40 years later it is still considered the character’s theme. Hum a few bars of the theme and anyone can tell it’s the Superman theme. Sorry, Hans Zimmer.

Another person who helped elevate Superman: The Movie was costume designer Yvonne Blake, who made Superman’s costume look like it leapt straight out of the comics. Richard Donner asked Blake to make Superman’s costume true to the comics. She referenced the Bronze Age Superman from DC artists Curt Swan, Neal Adams and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. The costume was so accurate, it was impressive! The way the cape stemmed from an open collar in pleated folds; the oval yellow belt buckle, the “M” shaped top of the boots; the yellow S in the back of the cape, and the colors were just perfect. The other costumes were also cool to see- the white, glowing Kryptonian outfits, each with their own family crest symbol on the chests and the three Kryptonian villains dressed ominously in jet black.

When Superman: The Movie premiered a key concern among fans was over the special effects. It was vital that the film, as its tagline promised, made us “believe a man can fly”.  Superman’s flying effects had to deliver, and they did. Christopher Reeve’s aerial acrobatics were so fluid and natural that even though the effects are dated now, back then they sold the tagline. The Oscar-winning special effects utilized analog optical effects, and many techniques were invented for the movie itself and used in other productions thereafter.

The set designs by John Barry were just jaw dropping, including the otherworldly crystalline planet Krypton, a starship literally designed to look like a Art Deco depiction of a star and its rays; and the imposing and majestic Fortress of Solitude.

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The Endgame Starts In The First Avengers: Endgame Trailer

The wait for the next Avengers film, the next offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), was quite intense rivaling that of Avengers: Infinity War. But after being delayed by a couple of days the Avengers; Endgame trailer is finally here!

Now the big question is does it live up to the hype? No. That is to be expected because of all the build up following Avengers: Infinity War and what Avengers: Endgame represents. Still, this is a good, solid trailer that is a true teaser.

Basically it sets up what has happened in the aftermath of the Decimation (the official MCU word for Thanos’ Snapture). First we see Tony limping along home in the Benatar, the ship belonging to the Guardians of the Galaxy. He is at the end of his rope, defeated, food and water gone, and he is ready to say his goodbye to the mortal realm. A quick glimpse of Thanos then takes us to Earth where we see the aftermath as people struggle to cope with the fact that half of all life is now gone.

The remaining Avengers mourn the lost including Spider-Man and Shuri, Black Panther’s sister, who many have hoped would have been around to help salvage the situation. From there we witness the return of Hawkeye, missing during Avengers: Infinity War, but now taking up the mantle of Ronin.

The last moments show us a determined Black Widow and Captain America ready to undertake a final, desperate mission…cut to the title reveal. Lastly, a moment of much needed levity arrives. Scott Lang aka Ant-Man literally shows up on the doorstep of the Avengers’ headquarters with the machine that can save everyone. That is the quantum bridge machine that stranded him in the quantum realm as shown in the post-credits scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Obviously, Scott found a way out and thus his importance rises in the MCU. Of course, that is the way it should be: a plucky, underpowered hero will be the key to victory.

The trailer for Avengers: Endgame isn’t explosive or jammed with appearances ofall the MCU heroes as the first Infinity War trailer was. But it shouldn’t have been. It needed to give us a sense of despair and hopelessness and it did so perfectly. Then, it delivered a sliver of hope with Ant-Man’s arrival. It was similar to how the post-credits scene in Avengers: Infinity War ended on a hopfule note the summoning of Captain Marvel. Speaking of her, she was unexpectedly absent from this trailer, as was Rocket Raccoon, one of the survivors of the Snapture. But they’ll probably appear in the next trailer. On a related note, aside from a quick look at Spider-Man (or rather Peter Parker), none of the Decimation victims are shown. This is appropriate because we know in the end they’ll be brought back but the focus should be on the survivors. So kudos to the trailer for not featuring them taking part in some dazzling fight scene and undermining their supposed deaths in Infinity War.

On the whole, it’s not the best trailer, but it’s the one that hits the right note for the mood it sought to convey. Can’t wait for the next one! That’ll probably happen during the Super Bowl. In case you haven’t seen the Avengers: Endgame trailer yet, here it is for your viewing pleasure. But if you’ve seen it before, check it out again, it’s quite awesome.

Daredevil Cancelled

Daredevil, the crown jewel in the Marvel Netflix Universe, has been cancelled by the same streaming service. Many saw this coming in light of recent developments, nevertheless, the news still hit us fans pretty hard. After all, it is the best of the Marvel Netflix shows and we’re still celebrating its triumphant third season, which was released just weeks ago. Now many are asking what’s next for Daredevil? Will Disney pick up a fourth season to stream on its upcoming streaming service, Disney+, or promote the character into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?

Here is what is known. After Daredevil was canceled by Netflix on Thursday, November 29, Marvel quickly released this statement on the same day:

“We are tremendously proud of the show’s last and final season and although it’s painful for the fans, we feel it best to close this chapter on a high note. We’re thankful to our partners at Marvel, showrunner Erik Oleson, the show’s writers, stellar crew and incredible cast including Charlie Cox as Daredevil himself, and we’re grateful to the fans who have supported the show over the years. While the series on Netflix has ended, the three existing seasons will remain on the service for years to come, while the Daredevil character will live on in future projects for Marvel.”

On another statement released on Friday, November 30, Marvel added, “Marvel is extremely grateful to the huge audience that loved Marvel’s Daredevil. From the moment of young Matt’s first act of heroism to the birth of Page, Murdock and Nelson, it has been an unbelievable journey. We are incredibly proud of the amazing showrunners and writers starting with [exec producers] Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight, Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie and Erik Oleson, [stars] Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio and our casts who brought our characters to life with such excellence, and every one of the fantastic crews in NYC. We look forward to more adventures with the Man without Fear in the future,”

Looking Ahead

So what does this mean? Is there hope we haven’t seen the last of Daredevil and the other heroes of the Marvel Netflix Universe? Sure, Jessica Jones and The Punisher have new seasons coming up, but with Daredevil’s cancellation, the writing is on the wall for those shows and the Marvel Netflix Universe. Well, trying to read between the spin, the real message is mixed…and most of us won’t be happy.

Marvel (and Disney) owns Daredevil, the character. They have the right and the power to bring him back immediately in any form, whether as an animated film, a live-action movie, appearances in MCU films, etc. But it seems that Netflix owns the rights to the current incarnation, that is the one starring Charlie Cox, who made the character his own. Think of it this way, if Disney got back the rights to the X-Men, but didn’t have the right to use Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or showing the mutants in those black, leather outfits. They could do that now since they own 20th Century Fox, but just imagine this situation as to what might occur with Daredevil.

From the statements, Daredevil will return, but most likely as a reboot. The same way Marvel Studios recast and rebooted Spider-Man, and from all indications it appears that Marvel Studios will do this with the future X-Men films. In Spider-Man’s case, the rebooting was welcome since Sony Pictures’ latest films had fallen short. As for the X-Men, their films have been a mixed bag and lauded stars like Jackman and Patrick Stewart were done with their characters. This situation with Daredevil is especially stinging because the show is so damn good and the third season is arguably its best and lived up to the full potential of the character. The casting was perfect, starting with Cox as the down-to-earth and conflicted superhero and D’Onofrio’s Kinpin just crushes it.

So what is next? Marvel Studios may use the character but not for a while. There is recasting and such to deal with. Disney+ won’t pick up the show for new seasons because Daredevil is more adult-oriented, meaning violent. It would not gel with the family-friendly image of Disney. Perhaps Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney, could pick it up. We would all like that, but it’s not likely. Ditto with the character appearing in the MCU in the short term. No, it most likely means that Cox and the others are out, we won’t see the Man Without Fear for some time and this confirms that the Marvel Netflix shows were never really part of the MCU anyway.

Why Cancel It?

How can Marvel let this go? There were reports that a fourth season of Daredevil was being prepared before the cancellation. The correct question is why did Netflix do this and effectively kill the Marvel Netflix Universe?

Doomed Defenders

There isn’t an official reason for the cancellation. Some theorize that viewership was down, even though the third season received rave reviews and buzz, but Netflix won’t release its numbers. The writing has been on the wall with the Marvel Netflix shows ever since the announcement of Disney+. Tensions between Disney and Netflix came to a boil with the announcement because Netflix will lose many of the Disney films and shows currently airing on the streaming service.

By creating and promoting new episodes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Netflix is promoting one of the brand IPs of their new competitor. Why would anyone do that? Plus, Netflix reached a deal with Mark Millar to create new non-Marvel superhero shows so why spend resources for their competition? Given how successful Netflix is, the service didn’t need the Marvel brand to pull in subscribers as in the past. It’s hard to fault Netflix though we don’t like the decision.

This development is just terrible, but at least we have the three seasons (and his appearance in The Defenders) to rewatch and enjoy over and over again. Unlike other superhero adaptations, Daredevil hit it out of the park from the very start and we have to thank Netlix and Marvel for finally bringing us a version of the Man Without Fear that lived up to its potential and surpassed it.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Personal Reflections About Stan Lee

Heroes aren’t born they’re developed, and Stan Lee created a universe full of Superheroes. It’s sad we have lost the greatest mind in the history of comics.

When I was young, I wrote to Mr. Lee with a storyline and an idea for a comic. Basically, it was about a cabbie who picks up Spider-Man characters like J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson and gets different viewpoints of Spidey. I also gave him an idea about doing a comic on how to create your own versions of Marvel costumes. I was surprised that Stan personally wrote back to me and actually liked my ideas. He gave me the names of the people I should contact at Marvel Comics. It was too bad that nothing came of it but I was grateful for Stan’s input and advice.

Years later, I actually got the meet Stan the Man at Shea Stadium, the former home of the New York Mets. Spider-man was getting married to Mary Jane Watson in the Marvel comic books and in the newspaper comic strips that Lee was writing at the time. He decided to have a wedding ceremony for the super couple the same week the wedding happened in the print versions. Back then I worked at Starlog magazine and we ran stories covering Spider-man’s wedding in Starlog and Comics Scene magazines.

I spoke to Lee after a photo shoot inside the stadium. I told him I had written to him and that he personally replied. He shocked me by saying he remembered the letter.

Stan wrote to us and said he enjoyed the stories and really loved the photos especially the one of him on the shoulders of his superheroes. He asked if we could send him a print copy, and we sent him a few 8x10s of the photos he requested. We were more than happy to do so, and it turned out to be a blessing. From that moment on, Marvel Comics always sent us press materials at a faster rate than before.

I later gave him copies of the other pictures when I saw him years at a NY Comic Con. I was thrilled that he loved them all.

Below is the story with some photos of our coverage of Spider-man’s wedding that appeared in the September 1987 issue of Starlog:

“Webbing Bells, It’s a Marvelous Life

He has escaped the villainous clutches of Dr. Octopus, the Kingpin, the Hobgoblin, the Green Goblin and even Kraven the Hunter, but the friendly neighborhood Spider-man was finally snared on June 5, 1987 before a sellout crowd of 51,402 at New York’s Shea Stadium.

The superhero’s co-creator Stan Lee was there to join the web-slinger to his longtime love, model/actress Mary Jane Watson in weblock. The wedding party included Spidey super friends Firestar, Iceman, the Hulk and Captain America. The Green Goblin made a rare return-from-the-dead appearance. The bride and groom entered through centerfield in separate limousines, making their way to the white heart-shaped altar from which Stan the Man presided over the ceremony.

“Now, in the sight and presence of a coterie of our other costumed crusaders, please prepare to recite your vows,” announced Lee. “Do you, Spider-man, being of sound mind and super body, take Mary Jane to be your lawfully wedded bride, forsaking all other superheroines? Do you promise to never leave footprints on the ceiling, or cobwebs in the corners? And do you agree to pinch-hit for the Mets if they ask you?” Spider-sense tingling, the groom replied, “I do.”

“Mary Jane, do you, being of sound mind and spectacular body, agree to forsake other masked Marvelites,” Lee continued, “to never, ever swat a spider, and to hug, comfort and kiss away any bruises incurred after a long day of bashing bad guys—and stay out of the Mets’ locker room?”

After a moment’s thought, Mary Jane echoed, “I do.”

“The rings please,” said Lee, “Repeat after me—With this ring I thee web,” and both participants did so.

“By the power vested in me by Marvel Comics,” said Lee, “I now pronounce you Spider-man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

With this, Spidey carried the new Mrs. Peter Parker off to their limo and they drove off to tumultuous applause. The remaining superheroes and villain hoisted Stan Lee on their shoulders and carried him off the field.

Jim McLernon”

I’ve always treasured those memories of meeting Stan and am touched that he loved those photos. It was a small way of giving thanks to him in person for all that he has done for us and the Marvel Universe.

Thank you, Stan for creating a whole universe.

Jim McLernon

 

More Reflections on a Comic Book Legend

Stan Lee was the greatest superhero pop culture celebrity and the last of the great original co-founders of Marvel Comics.

He gave us characters and stories that strongly resonate with us even to this day. He was a powerful storyteller whose literary ideas and words would pair up with talented visual artists. Together, they would come up with colorful heroes and wild adventures that are recognized all over the world.

On a personal note, I met him a couple of times in the comic book conventions.  On both occasions he was as we always saw him to be—energetic, and quite inspirational.

I first met him at a NYC convention in the mid 80s. There was a huge line to meet Stan even back in those days, but I didn’t wait for long. When I finally had the moment to say hi and take a picture with him, he also gave me some great advice about improving my little art sketches and doodles.

For someone who changed the course of pop culture, Stan enjoyed being playful about his celeb status. He really was both insightful and self-deprecating, and sincerely enjoyed being with the fans.

Thank you, Stan for providing more than seventy years of heroes winning the day.

Rest In Peace.

‘Nuff said.

GEO

Stan Lee—The Man, The Legend

We’ve been expecting this for some time now given his frail age, but today’s sad news that Stan Lee passed away still hurts. Why? Because Stan the Man is a comic book legend and his influence not just in comic books, but in our culture resonates so powerfully. That may be a bit hyperbolic, but appropriate given Lee’s penchant for promoting the Marvel Comics superheroes he co-created.

Most of us know his biography better than our own. Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, Stan Lee was introduced to the world of comic books when he began working for Timely Comics in 1939 and soon started writing for the company. Before long, he became an editor and worked on numerous titles and was quite prolific. During his tenure he came up with the pseudonym “Stan Lee” (a playful jib of his first name) because he wanted to use his real name when he got around to writing his Great American Novel. Although that never happened, what he created would have more of an impact in American pop culture than any old Great American Novel.

Eventually, Timely Comics morphed into Marvel Comics and in the early 1960s, Lee wanted to help boost sales for his company’s books. Seeing that the best-selling title in rival DC Comics was the superhero team book Justice League of America, he decided to create Marvel’s own superhero team. He teamed with his longtime collaborator, artist Jack Kirby, to create the Fantastic Four, thus the Marvel Age of Comics was born.

Comes the Marvel Age

From there, Lee and Kirby quickly grew the Marvel Universe and introduced such iconic characters and teams like the Hulk, the Avengers, Black Panther, Thor, Silver Surfer, Iron Man and the X-Men. Lee also worked with other artists, which resulted in his greatest creation and contribution to pop culture. That being Spider-Man, who he co-created with Steve Ditko.

What set his creations apart from traditional, square-jawed superheroes was that the Marvel heroes were flawed and relatable. This was best seen with Spider-Man, who broke the mold of a superhero, and was Lee’s favorite character. His alter ego, Peter Parker, was an insecure everyman type who like us had to grapple with real-life, ordinary problems like paying the rent or trying to get a date. It seemed like the more Spider-Man won a battle, the more Peter would lose a war in his personal life. Other superheroes and even the supervillains were just as conflicted and dimensional.

Lee’s books introduced novel concepts and explored themes of bigotry and social strife and issues as seen with The X-Men and The Amazing Spider-Man. His works also ushered in more diverse characters such as Black Panther, the first black superhero, and Daredevil, a disabled superhero. Readers reacted positively to these innovative comic books and the result was that Marvel Comics exploded into the pop scene.

Lee’s bombastic personality and prolific writing helped promote the books. During his time as editor and editor-in-chief, Lee helped create the “Marvel Method” of creating comics that would become controversial when it came to designate whom was actually responsible for Marvel’s success. Being that he was writing so many titles and pressed for time, Lee would come up with a basic plot and pass it on to the artists. They in turn would flesh out the stories and when they were done, Lee would add the snazzy dialogue.

Over time, many artists were irked over the growing perception from the outside world that Lee was solely responsible for Marvel’s success. This would eventually cause Kirby and Ditko to leave Marvel. They went on to work on their own creations but looking at their post-Lee work it is easy to see how much of an impact Lee had in the Marvel works since the artists’ solo efforts lacked the pizzazz and sharpness that Lee’s dialogue added.

As the so-called Marvel Age of Comics began, the superheroes became a large part of popular culture when the heroes appeared in cartoons and were featured in merchandising. As this went on, Marvel’s biggest spokesperson and cheerleader continued to be Stan Lee himself. He always came off as energetic and jovial in interviews, appearances, and his column, which appeared in Marvel Comics. Often his posts were lettered with his memorable one-liners like “Face front, true believers!” “’Nuff said!”, and “Excelsior!”.

Marvel Mascot

Eventually, Lee stepped down from his day-to-day writing and editing duties at Marvel and took on the ambassadorial role for Marvel full time. During this period, the 1970s and 1980s, Lee worked to bring the Marvel heroes to live-action medium. The results were not great with many movie projects stalling out and TV efforts being sub-par, although The Incredible Hulk was well received. Regardless, his efforts paved the way for the later success of Marvel films years later.

Still, Lee would continue to write when time permitted and penned several comics for Marvel and even did a notable stint for DC Comics where he re-imagined heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.

In recent years, Lee’s status and standing with fans grew and grew as he embraced his role as a mascot for all things Marvel. These were best seen with his numerous cameos in Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, the Spider-Man films, and the Captain America films. Many of these appearances were crowd-pleasing scene stealers.

By this time, Marvel and comic books grew out of their niche and became a prominent part of our culture. The phenomenal success of superhero films and the cultural presence of superheroes can be attributed to Lee’s efforts.

As we look back fondly on Stan Lee, it is best to keep in mind that while we mourn him, it’s best that we continue to celebrate what he has created. For truly his works will endure for generations to come.

Thanks, Stan. Rest easy now.

Excelsior!

José Soto