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

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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

Daredevil Season Three Is A Triumph!

Daredevil S3 poster

When Netflix dropped the third season of Daredevil a few weeks ago, viewers witnessed why Daredevil is the best of the Marvel Netflix shows. As the first of these streaming shows, Daredevil was an immediate hit with critics and fans, although it faltered in its second season. Then following the missteps of other Marvel Netflix shows, many doubted the quality of them, including Daredevil. Fortunately, the third season of the Marvel superhero show re-affirmed our faith with a triumphant season.

The third season takes place after the events of The Defenders where Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the blind superhero with enhanced senses, was presumed dead. He barely survived and is in the care of Sister Maggie Grace (Joanne Whalley) in the church where he grew up. As he recovers, the notorious crime boss, Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), is in prison thanks to Daredevil and carries out a complex scheme to get out of prison and manipulating members of the FBI to serve him as he re-enters public life. Part of the scheme includes destroying Daredevil’s reputation by having an impersonator murder people in cold blood. While this goes on, Matt goes through a crisis of self and faith as he struggles with his ideals when dealing with Fisk and his lackeys. One of them happens to be FBI Agent Ben Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), a deeply disturbed man with a supernaturally deadly aim. Fans know that this is the villain Bullseye and he is more than a match for Daredevil. He is so deadly with his skills that he defeats our hero on more than one occasion, and these fight scenes were actually terrifying to watch with their brutality.

daredevil vs bullseye

Speaking of fight scenes, the third season of Daredevil continues the tradition of presenting “one-take” fight scenes that are so memorable and the one shown in the fourth episode (“Blindsided”) does not disappoint fight fans. In fact, the fight scene, which takes place in a prison, probably tops these scenes with its elaborate and long nature. It features savage fisticuffs, lines of dialogue and a well-choreographed riot scene that all lasts over ten minutes! One has to wonder with the intensity of these fight scenes why it is so difficult for the other Marvel Netflix shows to match the ones featured in Daredevil.

On the other hand, other episodes pack emotional punches and are haunting character studies. One of them, “Karen” explores the back story of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and it features some powerful acting by Woll as we learn she is not the innocent person Matt and his buddy Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) believe her to be. There are several surprising twists and revelations. Some are inspired by the comic books while others keep us guessing. We’re never sure who will live or die and its often unexpected and tragic.

What makes Daredevil such a triumph is that it focuses on characters, which are perfectly played by topnotch talent. Cox, D’Onofrio and Bethel are the standouts in the stellar cast as they exude raging demons within them and we see how each of the three grapple with their inner turmoil. Charlie Cox continues to sell his Matt Murdock as a decent, tortured man who is pushed to the edge and has to find a way to center himself. Meanwhile, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin (called by that name for the first time in this Marvel Netflix show) is a terrifying monster who is barely able to control his inner fury. There are some wincing moments when he lets his volcanic temper explode which you can’t help but watch. Bethel’s Poindexter is a true psychotic but great pains are taken to show what led this FBI agent to fall from grace. There is a new character who has an impressive arc. That being FBI Agent Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), an honorable man who is tragically ensnared in Wilson Fisk’s complex web.

The season may come off a bit slow in the first couple of episodes but after having seen the entirety of Daredevil season three it is clear that the quieter pace of the early episodes were needed to set up the characters and situations. The payoff starts fairly soon and it is worth the wait.

Daredevil season three proves that not only is it the best of the Marvel Netflix shows but the best superhero TV show out right now. It would be a shame if Netflix were to cancel it given the recent uncertainty of the Marvel Netflix shows. The showrunners were hoping to have the show run five seasons and there is plenty of story left to tell with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Besides without not given too much away, it would be nice to see Matt don the red suit again.

Lewis T. Grove

The Disney/Fox Speculation — Welcome Home X-Men & Fantastic Four?

Xmen-Avengers-Fox-Marvel-Studios

The big news for the past week has been about Disney in talks with 21st Century Fox to buy a bulk of its film studios and its intellectual properties. While the initial news had it that talks have stopped the possibility remains that both parties will resume negotiations. What is driving Disney’s desire to expand its entertainment empire is the need to bolster its upcoming streaming service when it is available in 2019. The film studio 20th Century Fox has a huge film library with many viable franchises such as the Alien films, Avatar, and Planet of the Apes. But more importantly, Fox still has the rights to the original Star Wars films and the missing pieces in Disney’s Marvel films: the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

The following I wrote back in September 23, 2017 for another site that is going defunct soon. It’s related to the current situation and illustrates how wildly things have changed from just a few weeks ago. I decided to repost it here and will add some final thoughts afterwards.

What rankles many fans of Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that two of Marvel Comics’ top properties, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are not part of it.

The obvious reason for this is because the film rights for both properties are being held by 20th Century Fox, who is determined to hold onto them. Long before The Walt Disney Company brought Marvel Comics, the comic book company sold the film rights of its characters to many film studios, including Fox. Over the years, even before the success of the MCU, Marvel Studios sought to regain the rights to its characters. For the most part they have succeeded and the top prize for the studio was getting to share the film rights to Marvel’s top character, Spider-Man.

But the only major hold outs were the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Fox has had great success with their X-Men films even though some of them were reviled by fans and critics for not being faithful to the source material and being downright terrible. Meanwhile, their efforts with the Fantastic Four never took off. The most recent failure being the DOA 2015 reboot that buried director Josh Trank’s career.

Given the poor track record with their Fantastic Four films, one has to wonder why Fox would want to continue making them. Despite the negative reaction from their reboot, the film studio is still trying to develop more films based on the superhero team and even spinoffs featuring Dr. Doom and the children of Reed and Sue Richards. Naturally the reaction to the news is one of despair and anger. Most fans see that the Fantastic Four would fit naturally into the MCU and their villains are some of Marvel’s greatest. Marvel Studios cannot use Galactus in their films because he is a Fantastic Four villain, the same thing goes for Magneto. While the X-Men films did a terrific job with their presentation of Magneto the same cannot be said for Dr. Doom and Galactus. In fact, in his onscreen debut, Galactus was just a giant space cloud!

what-it-takes-for-fox-to-give-up-the-fantastic-four-x-men

There were rumors that after the reboot debacle, Fox was ready to sell back the rights to Disney/Marvel but a snag in negotiations derailed that idea. Many were hopeful that after Marvel allowed Fox to start making TV shows based on the X-Men properties that perhaps the deal was that the Fantastic Four would go back to Marvel. But that does not appear to be the case.

Right now, there are only vague allusions to Marvel being allowed to use the two properties but in far off terms. One curious thing is that Marvel Studios still has not announced what the Phase 4 MCU films will be. This gives hope that maybe the Fantastic Four could make a splashy debut. It is possible; when Spider-Man joined the MCU it was a surprise.

What it took for Spider-Man to join the MCU was the failure of his recent films and the shaky status of Sony Pictures. Fox does not have the same financial problems of Sony, so they can afford to weather out the storm of bad films until they strike gold. This almost happened with their attempt to reboot Daredevil, but the rights lapsed and Marvel regained him. From there, Marvel saw great success with their Netflix version of Daredevil. Perhaps Fox executives feel that they can find the right formula and are more patient. At that rate, it will be quite some time before Marvel Studios regains the Fantastic Four. That and an insane amount of money.

With the X-Men films doing so well, it is ridiculous to think that Fox would ever relinquish the rights to Marvel. For this to happen, fans would have to vigorously boycott all X-Men-related films and TV shows. The property has to be seen as too unprofitable for Fox to want to keep, but this scenario may not happen. Look at what is going on with the Fantastic Four, their films are poorly received and the property is not as popular as the X-Men yet Fox still won’t let them go.

So, is it just a pipe dream? Are the Fantastic Four and X-Men doomed to never join the MCU? Well, it can happen but be prepared to wait and protest.

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The Heart and Soul Of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2


GOTGV2 poster

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (GOTGV2) is exploding onto screens everywhere and kicks off the summer season with a big blast that goes for the heart. For those keeping count the sequel to the hit film Guardians of the Galaxy is the latest offering from Marvel Studios and its popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Like most sequels, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 tries to outdo the original, despite what writer and director James Gunn claims. It does not quite get there but like a true, notable sequel it sets out to be different and in that aspect Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 succeeds so overwhelmingly.

The film takes place shortly after the last film as the Guardians of the Galaxy are doing mercenary work for a galactic civilization called the Sovereign. The opening credits showcase the galactic misfits at their very best and reunite audiences with the loveable bunch. The team includes Earthling Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), former assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the too-literal Drax (Dave Bautista), the cybernetically enhanced Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the tiny plant being Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Right off the bat the adorable Baby Groot steals the spotlight with his oh-so-cute antics as the rest of the Guardians fight this gigantic monster squid thing. His scenes throughout the film will bring many “Awwws” and laughs and sure he is an obvious merchandising wonder, but Baby Groot is just so endearing that only truly embittered grouches will mind him.

baby groot and bomb

As with the previous film, GOTGV2 starts off with a toe-tapping soundtrack of oldies but goodies during the opening credits. The selection of songs is quite good, but unlike the original which featured some rousing classics, the songs for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are more reflective of the film’s themes.

This film is quite exciting and funny, in fact, many skits and jokes outperform the original. However, one drawback it has when compared to the original is that its main plot meanders at times. There is a story, and it deeply affects our heroes, but GOTGV2 focuses more on character. The plot isn’t as important to the film as is exploring the heart and soul of the Guardians.

Without revealing too much, the Guardians go on the run from the Sovereign because Rocket stole some batteries from them. The Sovereign are a snooty bunch of religious fanatics who are deeply offended that Rocket stole from them and start hunting down the Guardians.

Peter quill and ego

As our heroes evade the Sovereign they also have to deal with their old foes the space pirates called the Ravagers and Peter Quill meets his father, Ego (Kurt Russell). Encountering his father leads to Peter on a journey of self discovery as he learns about his true, half-alien heritage. Meanwhile, the other members of the team come to realize some truths about themselves and how they feel about others. During all this self-reflection the Guardians of the Galaxy stumble upon a terrible revelation that threatens the entire galaxy.

Rocket and baby Groot

Whereas, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a great big adventure that kept building up to a climax and had a clear villain, this sequel has a different approach. GOTGV2 starts off as another whacky day filled with thrills, jokes and putdowns, but the pace lets up in the middle. This sacrifice in momentum and pace was done to give the characters development that adds dimension to them. It may turn off some people expecting a retread of the first film, but others will appreciate the successful efforts to develop not just the main characters, but returning supporting characters.

The central theme Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 focuses heavily on is that of family and friendship. Peter Quill and the others are given time to reflect on family and what that concept means to them. Sometimes these ponderings and musings are too on the nose and are part of the reason the film’s pace slows, but in the end, they help us to care more about the characters. More importantly their growth as characters are more genuine and earned. On the whole, this different atmosphere gives the film a more mature tone with appropriate heart-tugging moments.

The one standout character who benefits from the film’s tone is the Ravager leader Yondu (well played by Michael Rooker). His character is unexpectedly more developed and he is allowed to show that underneath his tough exterior he has a heart that redeems him. The scenes with him and Rocket run the gamut from hysterically funny to poignant as their souls are laid bare to each other. They make a terrific team and are some of the film’s highlights.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-Yondu-and-Rocket

Even the film’s villain is given screen time to show different characteristics. Unlike the first film’s one-dimensional Ronan, the villain of GOTGV2, who is eventually revealed later in the film, is a more interesting character which allows the final confrontation with the heroes to feel more personal. The gradual unveiling of the villain is another reason for the sequel’s slower tone, whereas with Ronan it was clear he was the main foe and this kept the Guardians constantly on the edge. Here, the characters contend with lesser villains like the Sovereign, who are as monotone as their gold skin tone and Yondu’s Ravagers. As to how GOTGV2’s main villain measures up is hard to say. The MCU has been criticized for featuring relatively weak villains, but the one featured in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is more notorious and stands out more.

All told, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is not an inferior sequel. It stands up quite well to the original and is solidly in the upper echelons of the MCU films. It has so much to offer and though it tries a bit too hard to be something different and more introspective it is more heartfelt than the original. The worlds explored, especially Ego’s planet are truly stupendous and otherworldly. Each scene fills the eyes with bizarre colors and images and most of the jokes and sight gags come at the right moment with near-perfect timing. The action scenes are wild and dizzying with terrific special effects and are strengthened by the presence of the beloved characters. Without all the character development the big action pieces, particularly in the final act would have had less impact, and we would have been less emotionally invested in these endearing characters. Each of the main team members are allotted amble screentime to display many nuances from Peter’s insecurity over his attraction to Gamora to Rocket’s caustic act being used as a way to hide his inner pain. There is much more than can be listed here. This is why in the end, James Gunn is validated for spending more screen time on these quieter and pensive moments.

Even though, the film isn’t well connected to the Earth-based MCU, it is bursting with many Marvel Easter eggs and shows many potential stories that can be developed later. It will take more viewings to spot all of them. By the way, be sure to stick around during the credits; there are five post-credit scenes, a couple of which portend to some intriguing new directions for the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. The best throwaway gag involves Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and his connection to the Marvel Universe.

The best way to think of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is to compare it to…yes, The Empire Strikes Back or Back to the Future, Part II. Both sequels were enjoyable but more serious in tone as is GOTGV2. In time, many have come to embrace both sequels with many feeling that Empire was superior to the first Star Wars. This could happen with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, but that assessment will come in time and after many deserved repeat viewings of this wonderful and emotional film.

José Soto