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

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Top 10 MCU Villains

mcu villains

The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are beloved by many but one complaint lodged against the MCU is over its villains. Critics point out that the main flaw with the MCU films are its lightweight villains. This is a valid criticism since many times the MCU films featured forgettable foes that didn’t resonate with viewers. However, there are some truly outstanding villains in the MCU, and some underrated ones, as well, that have broken this mold lately. Here for your consideration are the best MCU villains. Needless to say spoilers will follow.

Thaddeus Ross

10. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (The Incredible Hulk)

Obsessed and prejudiced against superpowered beings, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) has proved to be a hindrance to superheroes in the MCU. First as a general in The Incredible Hulk, Ross played a Javert-type by relentlessly chasing Bruce Banner throughout the Americas. His actions led to the creation of the Abomination and fractured his relationship with his daughter, Betty.

Ross next turned up in Captain America: Civil War as an obtuse Secretary of State determined to bring all the superpowered beings of the world under control by imposing the Sokovia Accords. This truncation of freedom and individual rights put him at odds with Steve Rogers and his teammates, which ultimately led to the Avengers breaking up.

Hela

9. TIE: Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)/Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger)

These two are prime examples of villains crazed with world conquest. Hela is the Asgardian Goddess of Death who destroyed Thor’s hammer, conquered Asgard and helped cause its destruction. More than a match for her half brother, Thor, she was portrayed with great gusto by Cate Blanchett.

Born in the fires of World War II, the Red Skull/Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) outgrew the Nazis and formed the Hydra terrorist organization thanks to his severe nihilistic mindset and access to superweapons. While not as layered as other villains on this list, the Red Skull in the first Captain America film was quite memorable and his recent reintroduction into the MCU sparked new interest in him.

8. Aldrich Killian (Iron Man 3)

Despite the controversy surrounding the third Iron Man film, it can’t be denied that Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce) was not only the best Iron Man villain to date but one of the MCU’s top foes. Not only was Killian a notorious business competitor to Tony Stark, but he was the mastermind behind A.I.M. and the Mandarin. His machinations to topple the U.S. government and destroy Tony Stark by implementing the Mandarin’s terrorist campaign are nothing short of genius.

However, it was his vendetta against Stark that made Killian somewhat relatable. Years ago, Killian was a nerdy scientist who was dismissed by a pre-Iron Man Stark. This inspired him to achieve Stark’s level of success and fueled his hatred for Stark. This bit of history also illustrated how Stark’s callous past had caught up to him in Iron Man 3 and nearly undid him.

7. Alexander Pierce (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

As the U.S. Secretary of Defense (the MCU is a fertile ground for evil politicians, isn’t it?), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) developed a S.H.I.E.L.D. project using preemptive strikes that targeted world leaders and important figures like Tony Stark and Stephen Strange.

What is worse is that his actions against Steve Rogers and his supposed friend Nick Fury revealed that Pierce was a Hydra leader who had infiltrated and corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D. to its core. A big factor in his successful infiltration was his charming exterior which hid his cold interior. What made Pierce even more frightening and formidable were his immense resources and clout. He actually had the law on his side, which he used to take out to try to take out Captain America and his allies.

6. The Winter Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Nowadays it may be difficult to think of Steve Rogers’ BFF as a villain, but that was not the case in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the first Captain America film, James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastain Stan) was Steve’s Depression-era buddy and joined him in World War II before ultimately dying in the line of duty. Or so we thought.

The second Captatin America film resurrected Barnes as a vicious and brainwashed Hydra assassin who was more than a match for Captain America. He even caught Cap’s famed shield in mid-air as it was thrown at him! The level of ruthlessness and deadly skills he displayed was as intimidating for us to watch as it was for the film’s heroes to endure. At the same time we felt for Steve and Bucky because of their past history and the fact that Bucky was forced by Hydra to carry out heinous acts.

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Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko (1927- 2018)

A short time ago, a comic book giant passed away. Not one of the MCU characters that got Thanos’s Death Snapture; this giant was a comic book artist. Not just any comic book artist. He was Steve Ditko.

Known to many as Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko was also part of the first decade of the creation of Marvel Comics. His main character contributions and sequential issue work are Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but during Marvel’s initial years, he also drew plenty of issues featuring Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, along with issues of The Avengers, and all sorts of double feature issues.

Comic book creations and pop culture relevance is by now well ingrained in the minds of moviegoers and audiences worldwide. people now understand that many superheroes began as characters seen in published comic books. Newsprint paper, four-color separation and halftone color patterns were props behind the stage. Distributors and retail stores were their curtains and the hands and eyes of those who bought these issues were the audiences. Comic book fame spun off into animated and live-action TV shows, video games, movies and merchandise. The most profitable characters were the superheroes.

Among this web of inter-related media was the thread of the creator. Someone had to come up with the story Someone had to come up with the character design – the color and shape of the costume and character faces. Someone had to come up with their signature moves.

There has been much discussion in the past as to what degree of involvement Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had in creating Spider-Man. How much of Spidey was adapted from Jack Kirby’s initial design? How much of Spidey was in Lee’s brief written synopsis? What was Ditko’s actual contribution in regard to the amount of content – character designs, costumes designs, characterizations, signature moves, etc. ? It’s a discussion that may never be resolved.

For a character who is arguably the world’s favorite Marvel Comic character, his origin is still unclear even though he was introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Back in 1961, Marvel Comics Publishing Group was such a loose and flowing House of Ideas, that any iteration which lead to the creation of the Spider-Man look we all know and was only loosely documented. Some of it was Kirby. Most of it was Ditko and approved by Lee. But there’s no doubt, the look that Ditko presented is a handmade costume, big eyes, a webbing motif on the red portions of the costume, and mechanical web shooters. Ditko had a penchant for quirky action poses and Spider-Man’s signature poses no doubt came from Ditko. None of Kirby’s characters moved like that. All of Ditko’s characters moved kind of quirky and not quite natural. His landscapes ranged from urbanely gritty to fantastical. The distinctive realms he drew for the Dr. Strange stories have been compared to Salvador Dali paintings. The characters’ look for both hero and villain were all Ditko. Even the “surfer dude hand sign” which is used by both Spidey and Dr. Strange is a signature Ditko design.

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Avengers: Infinity War—Aftermath & What’s Next For the MCU, Part I

the Infinity gauntlet

Okay by now, half the world has seen Avengers: Infinity War. So, it’s safe to start discussing the ramifications of the film and not be too worried about spoilers. But if you have not seen Avengers: Infinity War yet then what are you waiting for? Bookmark this page, run out and see it, then come back to this article. With that said, let’s get started.

 

SPOILERS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those of us who have seen Avengers: Infinity War know that in the end Thanos wins. Our favorite heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) could not stop the Mad Titan with his scheme to wipe out half of all life in the universe. It was frankly shocking to see the villain triumphant. In these superhero films, and for that matter most films, the bad guy is always on the verge of winning until the hero pulls it off at the last minute and defeats the foe. Not this time. Despite all the efforts of the collective MCU heroes they fell short. This failure culminated with Thanos’ infamous snap of his fingers that took out most of the new guard. So, what’s next? How do the Avengers and the others MCU heroes recover? Is Thanos unbeatable? What will Thanos do now that he’s achieved his goal? (Besides watching the sun with a satisfied smile on his face.)

Thanos triumphant

Avengers Assemble!

A common, but favorite trope in the Avengers comic books is one where the team is thoroughly defeated or breaks up. The cackling supervillain of the month is on the cusp of total victory until a slapped-together version of the Avengers is assembled and come to the rescue. Examples of this include the “Under Siege” and “Breakout” storylines that were well received. Avengers: Infinity War has a version of this theme and it has to be considered as part one since we’re at the stage of the story where all hope is lost. Part two concludes the story by having the Avengers and their allies making their comeback. Part of the fun with this story is seeing the recruitment of unlikely, retired and underpowered heroes who somehow help turn the tide.

Captain Marvel to the rescue!

We already saw in the post-credits scene of Avengers: Infinity War that Nick Fury managed to send out a distress call to Captain Marvel before he turned to dust. Captain Marvel is supposed to be the most powerful person in the MCU according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. For the sake of the universe, that better be true, but we’ll get an idea when Captain Marvel premieres on March 2019. Like what Black Panther did for T’Challa, Captain Marvel will tell the heart of her story and have her do a deus ex machine cameo in Avengers 4 (whatever it will be called) and contribute to the defeat of Thanos. Sort of like Superman in Justice League, only this time there won’t be any shoddy CG mustache removals.

Founding Avengers get their spotlight

Other expected heroes are Ant-Man and Hawkeye, who were both noticeably absent in Avengers: Infinity War. Behind-the-scenes photos of the fourth Avengers film confirm that both characters will join the fray. It is always fun to see undervalued heroes coming to the rescue and playing important roles. On a side note: it will be fittingly awesome if Ant-Man and the Wasp officially join the Avengers for at least one film. After all, they were the founding members of the superhero team in the comics. Who knows? Maybe the quantum realm angle, which is Ant-Man’s domain, will provide a key to defeating Thanos.

Time On Their Side

Many of the behind-the-scene photos for Avengers 4 feature Ant-Man fighting alongside Iron Man and what looks like Captain America as seen in the first Avengers film. In it, Captain America donned a more spandex-like outfit and the scenes look like recreations of that film’s famous battle in New York.

Avengers 4 BTS

Avengers, Back to the Future, Part II style

These scenes suggest the obvious: time travel will most likely be an element in the film. Our heroes have to travel back in time to somehow undo Thanos’ damage and alter history. For all we know when Doctor Strange gave up the Time Stone to Thanos, he could’ve put a spell on it that allow the Avengers to make a temporal jump. They just have to figure out what they have to do exactly. It seems like a fun development similar to Back to the Future, Part II.

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Celebrating The MCU 10th Anniversary

marvel studios ten years

Marvel Studios is certainly on a roll. For the past couple of years their films have been well received by fans and critics and the success just keeps building. After delivering three epics last year, Marvel Studios expanded on that success with the unbelievable reception to this year’s Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

To think, it all began when a B-list Marvel Comics superhero made his big-screen debut ten years ago.

That character, of course, is Iron Man. Back in May 2008, the Golden Age of Superhero Films had arrived with the premiere of Iron Man. Superhero films had gained prominence in the first years of the 21st century with explosive adaptations of Marvel Comics characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man and DC properties like Superman and Batman. When Iron Man was announced, many thought it would be another fun and entertaining big-budget film. What few realized was that it would spark a phenomenal interconnected film universe that became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). From that moment, the MCU exploded and captured our imaginations (and wallets). Which is why we are here celebrating the MCU 10th anniversary.

Many know by now the history of the MCU and how it came to be. Marvel Comics in the 1990s was bankrupt and sold the film rights of  many of its characters to various film studios. While this saved the comic book company in the short term, this act left Marvel’s beloved characters in the hands of others who made their own changes when it came to the films. When Marvel formed Marvel Studios to have creative control over its characters the company had a dilemma in that their A-list characters weren’t available. In fact, the initial characters in the MCU where in the hands of other film studios. However, Marvel Studios was able to regain the film rights for all except a few like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. This forced the studio to rely on their less popular characters and this allowed them to fully realize their potential on film.

Birth Of A Film Universe

When Iron Man premiered, many saw how special it was since it focused on the flawed main character. Whereas, the main draw of the DC films at that time were the villains, such as in The Dark Knight, the first MCU film set a standard where the title character was the primary focus, not the foe. This led to a common problem with MCU films which had weak villains, but fortunately, the heroes were so endearing that audiences forgave the films.

Avengers

There was one thing that enabled Iron Man to stand out from the other blockbuster superhero films. Those who stuck around through the film’s ending credits found out what it was when they were tantalized with the idea of interconnected films. The hero Tony Stark was greeted by the mysterious Nick Fury who informed him he was not the only superhero around. Fury presented Stark with the idea of the Avengers Initiative, thus the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. This budding film universe was given a boost a month later when The Incredible Hulk premiered. While it is kind of dismissed these days, the second Hulk film was a vast improvement over Ang Lee’s pretentious and over-the-top Hulk, but it cemented the MCU. Aside from its many Marvel Easter eggs, at the end of The Incredible Hulk, Tony Stark appeared, which connected the two films. From there, the MCU continued growing. A few short years later, Iron Man had a sequel and two more MCU films came out (Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) that helped lay the groundwork for the culmination of the MCU at that time: The Avengers. Needless to say films were never the same.

Here we are at the MCU 10-year anniversary, celebrating it with their newest smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Many film studios tried and failed to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These include Warner Bros. and DC’s DCEU, Universal’s Dark Universe, and Sony’s Spider-Man film universe. 20th Century Fox came close with their X-Men films but their films were hit or miss.

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